I nodded and rested my head against his shoulder as he spoke.
“Eventually they got divorced, and both of them were so much happier, so much nicer to everyone around them. It taught me that people shouldn’t make life so hard. If they aren’t happy, they should change it. They should do what makes them happy. We only get so long in life, why spend any of that time being with people who are bad for you or doing things you don’t really want to do?”
“How old are you?” I asked, thinking he sounded pretty wise for someone that looked so young.
“School isn’t really my thing.”
“Art is though,” I said, reaching out once more to finger the design on his board. “You painted this design, didn’t you?”
“So you surf by day and bartend by night.”
“Sometimes I give surf lessons and I’ve made a couple custom boards and done some artwork for some friends. Bartending at night just frees up my days, and the money is pretty good so I can save up for that surf and board shop I was telling you about.”
“The view’s not bad either, right?”
He laughed. “Yeah, the view doesn’t hurt.”
“Have you ever dated a stripper?” When I took the job at the Mad Hatter I never thought about what other people would think, probably because I hadn’t planned on telling anyone. I certainly hadn’t thought about what a guy would think—a guy that I might want to date. Date. Did I want to date Cam?
I got this uneasy feeling, not because I wanted to date him, but because I thought he might not see me as relationship material because I took my clothes off for other men. How could he respect someone like that? How could he be okay with it?
“Define date,” he replied, giving me an ornery grin.
I sat up and gave his shoulder a shove. “Spent any time with one with clothes on.”
“Then, no, I don’t think I’ve dated a stripper.”
I nodded, my suspicions confirmed. I guess I couldn’t really blame him. I probably wouldn’t get in line to date a stripper either. Heat flooded my cheeks when I thought about earlier this morning. I’d certainly enjoyed his hands and mouth all over me. He probably thought I was some loose floozy who had sex all the time and took off her clothes for everyone.
“Hey,” he said. “Where’d you go?”
“Nowhere. I’m still here.”
His eyes narrowed on my face. “You know just because I haven’t dated a stripper doesn’t mean I wouldn’t.”
I didn’t answer because it seemed like every answer I could give would be the wrong one. If I said “good,” then that would imply that I was trying to date him. And seeing as how we just met, he might think I’m some crazy stalker. But if I told him my real thoughts, about how strippers might not be good girlfriend material, I would basically be insulting myself (not to mention Roxie and all the other girls at the club).
“So you actually going to get on this thing?” he asked, patting the surfboard.
“Well, I do owe you.”
He flashed a grin and stood, reaching for my hand to pull me up with him. He used one hand to pull off his T-shirt and toss it into the sand next to my bag. He eyed my cover-up so I slid it off, letting it fall around my ankles and then kicking it over beside his shirt.
“Day-um,” he said, a low whistle slipping between his teeth.
The desire from earlier that still swirled inside me threatened to overtake me like a really strong tidal wave, and I did my best to ignore it as his eyes perused every single curve of my body. I adjusted the string bikini bottoms and then the top. The string around my neck had loosened and I turned my back to him and pointed to the string at the back of my neck. “Can you tie this a little tighter?”
His warm fingers felt like a soft caress to the back of my neck and I resisted the urge to shudder. Geez, he was going to think I was a nympho if I kept reacting like this every time he touched me. He worked awfully slow, untying the top completely, adjusting the strings, and then retying them snuggly at the base of my neck.
“How am I supposed to forget about this morning when you’re wearing the sexiest bikini I’ve ever seen?” he whispered into my ear from behind.
“Want me to put on your shirt?”
“Hell no. The thought of all this,” he said, running his hands across my shoulders and then down my sides to play with the ties at my hips, “rubbing against my shirt could quite possibly send me over the edge.”
“I have a cure for that,” I said, turning and smiling at him ruefully. I grabbed his hand and tugged him a few feet toward the water just as a swell rushed up and splashed over our feet and up our calves.
“It’s cold!” I squealed.
“It’s not that bad,” he scoffed.
“So you’re a morning person and you like cold showers?” I said, making an appalled face. “We can’t hang out. You’re like an alien to me.”
He grabbed me around the waist and tossed me over his shoulder, wading farther into the waves. I pounded on his back with my fists, demanding he put me down.
“You asked for it,” he called over the sound of crashing water.
I started to protest, but it was too late.
He dumped me into the surf.
I slipped under as the chilly salt water closed around me. I started to stand and a wave chose that moment to pummel me, knocking me off my feet and tossing me around in the churning dark water.
Strong arms wound around my waist and towed me up, pulling me against his chest. I sputtered, wiping the water from my eyes and pushing my saturated hair out of my face.
“Harlow, are you okay? I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said, the concern in his voice genuine. Another wave crashed over us and his arms tightened around me and he turned so it broke into his back and his body shielded me from the worst of it.
“Harlow?” he said again once the waves calmed.
I pushed back and looked up, hiding my grin. He was watching me warily, probably wondering if I was going to dissolve into tears.
I launched myself at him, a cry slipping from my lips. I leapt, wrapping my legs around his waist as he caught me, but he wasn’t ready for my weight and we both toppled over into the water. We both surfaced several seconds later, both of us still sitting on the sandy floor and laughing.
Our little water war lasted for a while, both of us splashing and leaping at the other. When we tired of the game, we let the waves carry us to shore and I waited while he grabbed his board and brought it out to the water.