by Kristina Wright
It was the beginning of May and the beach was deserted. Michael preferred it that way. Sitting under the slow thunder of the surf in Nags Head, North Carolina, reading the latest thriller, Michael looked like the contented bachelor he was supposed to be, except he kept rereading the same page over and over because his mind kept straying. When could he go back to work, back to life?
Then he saw her.
She was pretty; dark hair brushed her shoulders and long, long legs danced across the sand. It took him a minute to realize she was chasing after two little dark-haired children.
It had been so long since he'd had a date, he wouldn't have known how to approach her anyway. Rest and relaxation, that was what he needed. A solid month of nothing but his own company: doctor's orders. It should have been a dream vacation, but it felt like hell. Relaxation wasn't a part of his life, but life had a funny way of kicking him in the balls just when he thought he was on top of the world.
He hid behind his sunglasses as he watched her on the beach. It didn't matter that she was probably half his age and was playing with two kids who were likely her own and had a husband who was probably a big, dumb hulk. She was cute and sexy, and his cock hardened as he watched her follow a red beach ball toward the surf. A little fuel for fantasy wouldn't hurt. If he couldn't get laid, he could daydream.
He saw her again the next day and this time the husband was there, too. He'd been right about him being a hulk -- he was well muscled and as model-perfect as his pretty wife. They seemed like the perfect little family, but the couple rarely looked at or spoke to each other. When they did, it seemed to be in reaction to the children.
The kids and hubby wore swimsuits, the little girl in a bright purple suit, the boy and father in matching yellow trunks. The woman, though, wore shorts and a baggy pink T-shirt. The T-shirt hung low enough to nearly cover the shorts. She seemed to have a nice body, so he wondered what she was hiding. He looked down at his own white T-shirt and black trunks and shook his head. He needed to get back to work, to stop speculating about strangers' lives.
He spoke to her on the third day. The kids were nowhere to be seen. He'd come out earlier than usual because the afternoon promised rain. She was walking along the surf's edge, arms wrapped around her slender torso as if she were afraid the wind would snap her in half. It seemed as if it might. A gust caught the baseball cap she wore and tossed it across the sand in his direction. He ran half a dozen steps toward it to grab it before it was blown into the ocean.
She was breathless when she reached him, a healthy flush in her cheeks. "Thanks."
He gave her the hat and their fingertips brushed. "No problem. Kids inside today?"
She looked surprised for just a moment, wary the way women sometimes are when a strange man has taken a little too much notice of them. Then something in her face relaxed. Perhaps she remembered him from previous days. "My husband took them to Kitty Hawk for the day. A kite competition."
He looked up at the sky, growing dark with thunderclouds. "Not a good day for kite flying."
They stood there awkwardly. He wanted to say something witty, something charming, but he felt twenty years too old for witty and charming.
"I'm Michael Levine," he said, extending his hand, wanting to touch her once more.
She hesitated a moment before extending her hand. It was cool and soft in his grasp. "Kate Gallagher."
"Is this your first time here?"
She shook her head, wind tossing the long strands of her sable hair in all directions. "No. My in-laws own the house. We come down every year for a couple of weeks."
"Well then, we'll be seeing more of each other. I'm here for the month."
He couldn't read her expression. "How nice."
"If you ever need anything -- I'm usually here, on the beach." He tried not to make it sound like a line, but he knew it did. He wanted her. It made no sense and wasn't based on anything of consequence, but after a couple days of watching her, he knew how her body would feel beneath his, how her moans would fill his mouth when he fucked her.
"Well, I -- um -- thanks." She took a step back, smiling nervously. "I guess I'd better get back. My husband will be home soon." He knew by the way she said "husband" that she was reminding him. He didn't need reminding.
Michael thought about her that night as he stroked himself to orgasm. Something about the way she kept herself covered, not showing much above the legs, made him want to strip her. Slowly. Teasing himself, teasing her.
When he came, he groaned her name.
He didn't see her for two days. It rained steadily, the ocean churning up black, angry waves. He stood at the picture window sipping decaf and brooding. He wanted to see her again. He pulled on his rain slicker and tugged the hood over his head. He had no destination in mind, he told himself, just distraction. Somehow he found himself walking in the direction of her beach house.
He knew he would make a fool out of himself, but he kept walking until he was climbing the rickety wooden stairs to her front door. There wasn't a car in the driveway and he felt a stab of disappointment when he realized she wasn't home. He started to turn away without bothering to knock when he saw her standing just inside the screen door.
"Hello," she said, as if she'd been waiting for him.
Today she wore a navy blue T-shirt that skimmed her thighs. He couldn't tell if she was wearing anything underneath it. She probably was, she didn't seem the type to be running around in just a T-shirt. There was something about her that was very proper. Ladylike. He thought it was sexy as hell.
"Hi," he said, jamming his hands in the pockets of the slicker. "I was just walking --"
"In the rain?" she interrupted.
"Yeah. Stupid, huh?"
A hint of a smile played at her full lips. "Actually, I think it's great. I used to love to walk in the rain."
He wanted to ask her why she didn't any longer but he was afraid she would stop smiling, so he didn't ask.
"Anyway, I thought I'd see if you and your family might like to come to dinner." He didn't know where that had come from. He didn't want them over for dinner. Correction, he didn't want her husband and kids for dinner. He wanted her to himself, which was even more stupid than walking in the rain.
"Oh, well, I don't know."
"Right. Sorry, I didn't mean to bother you," he said, angry for being so foolish.
The screen door squeaked open. "Wait! I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be rude." Her voice was soft, warm. "Come inside. Have a cup of coffee with me."
He knew without asking that she was alone. "Thanks." He shrugged out of his slicker and hung it on a hook by the door.
He followed her into a beach house that was a mirror image of his own. The kitchen was to the left, rather than the right, though the living room faced the ocean just as his did, but the fireplace was on the opposite wall. The house was dark, and it made it more intimate to be there with her.
"Would you like some coffee? I just made it."
He didn't want coffee, he wanted to pull her close and learn the shape and feel of her body. He nodded. "Sure, sounds great."
She went into the kitchen and returned with two oversized mugs. She sat in a chair by the window and he took the chair across from her. They drank their coffee in silence for several minutes, both of them staring out the window as the rain lashed the ocean.
"Where is --" He realized he didn't know her husband's name. "Where's everyone?"
"They drove up to Virginia Beach for the weekend. My in-laws live there."
"Why didn't you go?"
She didn't seem to mind his invasive question. "I wasn't feeling well. I thought a couple days' rest might help."
There was truth in what she said, but he could also sense the lie beneath it. "Well, I hope you won't be offended if I say I'm glad you weren't feeling well."
She didn't smile, but she didn't look angry, either. "Me, too."
Something shifted between them. The difference between strangers and friends was gone. They continued to drink their coffee, but now they were watching each other. He saw the way her hand trembled slightly as she held her mug. Her gaze was steady though, watching him watch her.
"Are you married?" she asked finally, her soft voice cutting through the sound of the rain on the roof. "Kids?"
"Divorced. Five, no, six years." He shook his head. "Never had time for kids and too old now to think about it."
She sat her mug down and tucked her legs under her. "You're not too old. You could find some younger woman who would want to have children with you."
He tapped his chest. "Who'd want me? I'm fifty-six years old, going bald, bursitis in my shoulder, and someone else's heart."
Surprise flitted across her face. "Really? Wow."
He hadn't meant to tell her, didn't know why he had. "Yeah. I probably had a month to live, had gotten my life -- and death -- in order when a heart came through."
"That's pretty amazing."
He set his mug on the table beside him. "I guess. Sometimes I wonder what's the point? I'm alone, I can't do a lot of things I used to. My best years are behind me. Maybe prolonging things wasn't a good idea."
She put her feet on the floor and leaned forward, staring at him intently. "But you're alive. That means something. That's everything. You're alive." She said it so fiercely, with so much passion, he didn't dare argue.
"I'm grateful most of the time."
She sat back as if content with his response. "I know. It's hard, isn't it?"
"Carrying around the secret of your own mortality, knowing most people haven't got a clue."
He hadn't thought about it that way, but she was right. He would be out with friends and wonder if they had any idea what it felt like to know that today could be the last day. Or tomorrow. Or a week from Tuesday, so there was no point in TiVoing CSI: Miami. He wondered if they even ever thought about dying, his friends. He hadn't, before. Then one day his heart started doing funny things and he'd given up all the foods he loved and quit playing golf and put on twenty pounds. He'd hated the thought of dying, then he'd accepted it and been ready to welcome it. Now he was back to hating it -- fearing it.
"How do you know that?" he asked.
She watched him, searching his face. Memorizing him, it felt like. "I've been there."
He was about to ask her what she meant, figuring they were already so deep in unknown territory that it wouldn't matter if he got just a bit more personal, when she stood up. He thought she was going to leave the room, or tell him to leave, but she didn't. Instead, she hooked her fingers in the hem of her T-shirt and pulled it up over her stomach.
She wore a pair of running shorts, just as he suspected. He was startled by the paleness of her belly in comparison to her tan arms and legs, but his breath caught in his throat as she pulled the T-shirt higher, over her chest. She didn't wear a bra. Her right breast was pretty and plump, the nipple a pale, creamy pink. Where her left breast should have been there was only an ugly, pink scar bisecting the left side of her chest.
The T-shirt hid her face as he stared. His eyes kept drifting from one side of her chest to the other, from perfection to deformity, from healthy to ill. Though he supposed she was as healthy as she could be, now that they'd removed the sick part of her.
After what seemed like minutes but couldn't have been more than thirty seconds, she tugged her shirt down. Her face was blank, expressionless, but he knew what it had taken for her to expose herself like that. Not just her flesh, or her scar, but the part of her no one else could see. The vulnerability.
She stood there, watching him. Waiting.
She nodded sharply. "We're quite a pair, aren't we?"
"Yeah. We are."
"I don't know why I did that. I think I'm just to the point where I don't care anymore," she said softly. Her fingers played with the hem of her T-shirt. "Eric -- my husband -- he doesn't like to talk about it. He doesn't like to look at me."
"What do you want, Kate?" There was so much else he could have said, but that seemed to cut to the heart of things.
She didn't speak. She stood there with her baggy T-shirt hiding her pain and stared at him. Then she slowly reached out a hand to him. Her shell pink nail polish was chipped at the edges, pretty but imperfect. Like her.
He leaned forward far enough to take her hand. A flash of something -- surprise, maybe -- flitted across her face before she let herself be pulled onto his lap. Once there, she nestled against him as if she'd needed that exact thing. He enjoyed the weight of her, the way her bare legs rubbed against him and her arms slipped around his neck. The weight of her ass across his lap made him hard and he started to shift her so she wouldn't notice, but she clung to him, burying her face in his neck.
"Don't move," she breathed against his skin. "Let me feel you."
So he sat back and held her, his arms around her waist, his chin resting on top of her head. The scent of her, so warm and fresh, surrounded him. He was aroused, almost painfully so, but he wouldn't move. Not until she wanted him to.
She finally tilted her head up and looked at him. "Tell me if I'm making a horrible mistake."
He had no idea if she was making a mistake, but he had no intention of turning her away. "What do you need?"
"I need...I need..." Her voice trailed off. "I don't know. I just need."
Her voice broke, echoing the ache in his chest. He bent down and brushed his lips across hers, not waiting for permission. Soft at first, then harder. Hard enough to feel the press of her teeth behind her lips. He was torn between being gentle with her and being as rough as both of them could take, to erase everything they'd been through. She didn't resist the kiss. If anything, she pulled him closer and kissed him harder. She shifted in his lap, straddling him, her thighs pinned between his legs and the arms of the chair. Her hands fisted in his hair, tugging, urgent. They kissed with a fierceness he'd never experienced, or at least didn't remember. His tongue invaded her mouth and his cock throbbed, aching to enter her body.
He slid his hands under her shirt, spanning her back, pulling her down on his crotch. She tensed for just a moment as his thumbs curled around her rib cage. One thumb grazed the velvet underside of her breast. The other thumb found only the ridge of scar tissue. It didn't startle him. He never broke the kiss. He knew, and it didn't matter.
She broke away after a moment, both of them breathless. She stared at him. Her eyes were green with flecks of brown and gold, her pupils dilated.
"Is this -- should we --"
He put his fingers against her lips, still moist from his mouth. "Don't ask that. Don't."
She hesitated a moment, then nodded. She climbed from his lap and he bit back a groan as her knee grazed his erection. She extended a hand to him and it seemed a gesture of trust, of vulnerability. He stood and took her hand, letting her lead him.
He knew where they were going. His house was laid out just the same. The master bedroom was at the end of the hall, its door open. Before they got there, they passed the other two bedrooms, each strewn with toys and clothes. She looked straight ahead, as if afraid to acknowledge the other pieces of her life.
The bedroom was done in blue and gray, like the sky and ocean outside.
"Just tonight." Her fingers skimmed down the front of his shirt as they stood in front of the bed. "This can't happen again."
He smiled, wanting to lighten her mood. "Just tonight? You have the weekend, don't you? Are you sure you want to give up this for the rest of the weekend?" he asked, thumping his chest.
She blinked at him, as if unsure how to take his words. Then a slow, easy smile touched her lips. "You're right. We'll see how tonight goes then, huh?"
"Oh man, talk about pressure." He smiled.
Rain pounded the roof, making the whole house vibrate. Kate knelt in front of him on the bed, her head level with his shoulders. She began to undress him, unbuttoning his shirt with slow, awkward movements.
He put his hand over hers, stilling her. "It isn't pretty," he warned. "I can leave my shirt on, if you want."
She looked up at him. "Do you want me to leave my shirt on?"
Her vulnerability, so powerful, he felt it in his bones. He shook his head. "No. I want you naked. I want to kiss every part of you."
She focused on his buttons, but there was a blush in her cheeks when she said, "Good."
Soon enough, his shirt was unbuttoned and she was spreading it open, much the way they'd spread his chest to give him a new heart. He waited for her to flinch. He hadn't been with a woman since the surgery, but he knew what it looked like. She didn't flinch. She leaned forward and pressed a kiss over his heart. It was his undoing.
He hauled her close, his hands under her shirt now, under the waistband of her shorts. She was naked under the shorts. That surprised him, excited him. He squeezed her bare ass under her shorts, kissing her until he thought his cock would burst the front of his pants.
Again, she pulled back. Her eyes were heavy-lidded, her breathing as ragged as his. She reached and undid his jeans. The rasp of his zipper seemed louder than the driving rain. He was hard and heavy in her cool hand and he groaned when she squeezed the tip of his cock. He watched her, watched the intense concentration mixed with lust on her face as she stroked him harder. It had been too long, way too long, for him to let her touch him that way, but he didn't have the heart to tell her to stop. Somehow, she sensed his impending loss of control and slowed. "I need you," she murmured, head bowed, and he wasn't sure if she was speaking to him or his cock.
He gently took himself from her grasp and pushed her back on the bed. Her shorts were already tugged low on her hips and he quickly removed them. Her T-shirt still protected her modesty, but he didn't intend to let it remain that way for long. He stretched out beside her, his cock still poking out of his jeans. She threw a leg over his hip, his erection brushing against her thigh. They both groaned. He tugged at his jeans and boxers, needing them off before the zipper bit his cock. She watched, amusement playing on her face as he eased himself free of the heavy cloth. She looked predatory, hungry, not at all the reserved woman she'd been in the living room. He wondered for a fleeting moment if he would be up for whatever they were about to do.
He reached for the hem of her T-shirt. She gently pushed his hands away and took it off herself. Then she lay back, her arms at her sides, and let him look his fill. It was a gift he didn't take lightly.
She truly was stunning. In the wan light of the thunderstorm, she seemed perfect, whole. Her healthy breast lay flat against her chest, the nipple hard and dark. Though he'd never seen her any other way, he mourned the loss of her other breast. It seemed a cruel thing to steal such beauty.
She lay there, her body tense, as if she feared his rejection. He smiled. "You're beautiful."
"You are." He didn't give her a chance to argue. He covered her body with his own, pressing his scarred chest to hers. His cock nestled between her thighs, finding warmth and wetness. "I have to do this slowly," he said, almost apologetically. "I have to be careful of my heart rate, at least for awhile."
"Can you do that?" she asked, her eyes wide and innocent.
"I can try."
She contemplated him for a moment. He could feel the tension slipping from her body as she eased her legs around him, opening herself. He didn't push into her, he didn't need to. She was so wet and he was so hard, it was as if she absorbed him.
She tangled her fingers in his hair and pulled his head down, taking his moan into her body the way she was taking his cock. With the barest tilt of her hips, he was buried inside her. Home.
He clung to her, arms wrapped around her body and tucked under her ass, as he drove his cock into her. When his thrusts became almost animalistic, he felt her fingertips soothe his shoulders.
"Easy," she whispered. "Slow, go slow."
He thought he was hurting her, then realized she was saying it for him. "Fuck it," he said through clenched teeth. "I need you."
She didn't argue as he plunged into her again, pushing her up the bed. She wrapped her legs tighter around him, her nails digging into his shoulders. Her soft whimpers drove him crazy; he wanted to fuck her until his body gave out. Her body tensed under his and she angled her hips. It limited his thrusting, but he knew she was doing it for her own pleasure and that pleased him. She slid her hands down to squeeze his ass and he let her control his hard, shallow thrusts.
"Yes," he panted against the delicate shell of her ear. "Come, Kate. Come."
She arched her back and cried out. His cock nearly slipped from her spasming cunt.
His own orgasm hit him like a wave, dragging him under even before he could catch his breath. His heart jack-hammered in his chest, but he was beyond caring. All he knew was Kate's arms and legs around him, her warm body sucking him in, squeezing and milking his cock.
Finally, his breathing returned to normal and even his heart slowed to a rate that seemed safe. Kate trembled beneath him and he thought she was crying. He rolled off her and propped himself on one elbow. She was laughing.
"That's not exactly the response I was hoping for," he said, though her laughter was contagious and he found himself grinning like an idiot. "Hardly a vote of confidence in my abilities."
"I was just thinking. I'm glad your new heart is stronger than you led me to believe."
They stared at each other, silence heavy as shadows took over the room. The rain had quieted, the sky gone dark. Finally, she spoke.
He laid his fingers across her lips and she kissed them. Then he gently trailed his hand across her cheek and down her neck. He felt her tense, but he soothed her fevered skin with a gentle touch, over her collarbone and down to the scar on her chest. It was smooth and cool to his touch, cooler than the surrounding skin. Older than his scar and not as raw-looking, but still a scar.
He watched her face, saw the tears come and didn't try to talk her out of them. He lay there, touching her ravaged skin and letting her cry.
She was right. They were both alive. That's all that mattered, really.