Matt Fletcher stood on her front porch in a black T-shirt and jeans, thumbs hooked into his front pockets, a hint of a smile on his lips, totally at ease. Without even trying, he made every gym-toned banker and golf-playing engineer her parents had ever pushed at her seem overdressed, insecure, and uninteresting. He was so entirely male, so completely comfortable in his own skin. Her insides danced with a mix of lust, rebellion, and Chardonnay.
“You look pretty.” His gaze brushed her bare shoulders before settling firmly, warmly, on her face. The tiny hairs on her upper arms tingled in awareness. “Might want to bring a sweater, though.”
Allison flushed with heat and wine. She’d spent twenty minutes digging in her closet for an outfit that didn’t make her feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder, finally unearthing a halter top from spring break five years ago and a pair of skinny jeans. She had good arms. And decent legs. But despite what Gail had said about Matt’s reputation, he was obviously in no hurry to talk her out of her clothes. Maybe she should suggest that he keep her warm? But she needed more daring for that.
Or another glass of wine.
Wordlessly, she fetched a cardigan from her bedroom.
“Thank you for going out with me,” she said when they got to the truck.
“My pleasure.” He shifted gears with one hand, steering with the other. He had great hands, she noticed. Working hands, tanned and strong, with a thin line of white scar across his knuckles. “Thank you for saying yes.”
“I asked you.”
He glanced over in surprise.
“Tonight,” she explained as he backed smoothly out of the driveway. “You asked me for tomorrow. I asked you tonight.”
“Yeah, you did.” Another sideways glance. “Why did you?”
To spite my mother didn’t seem like a tactful reply. Or even a very good reason.
She cleared her throat. “My mother called. I told her I had a date to get off the phone.”
A corner of his mouth kicked up. “And you don’t like to lie to your mother.”
“Yes. No.” Allison took a deep breath to still her jittery stomach. If she wanted honesty from Matt, she owed him honesty in return. This wasn’t about her mother. Allison was a grown-up, old enough to make up her own mind about what she wanted, what she needed.
And woman enough to change it.
“I wanted to go out. With you,” she said, so there could be no doubt. “I’d like to get to know you better.”
The echo of her previous words charged the air of the cabin. I don’t jump into bed with someone I don’t know. She wiped damp palms on the thighs of her jeans. Did he remember?
“Most women from off island don’t care about getting to know me. They’re just looking for a good time.”
“Which you no doubt provide.” She meant to sound teasing, not wistful.
He slanted a smile at her. “I can.”
The two words thumped softly in the pit of her stomach. The buzz was back, collecting on her skin like static before a storm. She had asked Matt out as a gesture of independence, a show of control over her life, her destiny. But she didn’t feel in control of herself or the situation.
He sounded so sure of himself. Of her.
But then, she thought crossly, she was practically throwing herself at him. He had every right to sound confident.
“So is this how you entertain your dates? By bringing them . . .” She leaned forward to peer out the windshield at empty road and shadowed, silent dunes. “Where are we, anyway?”
“I told you I’d show you my island. This is it.”
Gnarled live oaks on one side; an uneven line of erosion fence on the other; marsh grass and sea oats everywhere.
“There’s nothing here.”
His teeth showed in a smile. “Give it a chance.”
Their headlights jumped across the road. He turned left toward a gap in the line of pickets. She felt a bump as the pavement ended and their tires dropped onto sand. Shells crunched. The engine rumbled. She gripped the door handle as the truck lurched, aware of leaving something behind, of venturing off the road she knew into the unknown. And then the dunes fell away and the beach opened below, stretching away into the dusk on either side, gray sand and silver sea under a twilight sky.
Allison drew her breath in wonder.
Matt circled the truck to face the dunes, parking perpendicular to the water. He cut the engine. Silence rushed in, cool and laced with the scent of the sea.
Allison craned her neck to look out the windows. “Wow. Just . . . Wow.”
The horizon ran with paint box colors, purple, red, and gold. Low breakers rolled toward shore, dissolving in a flurry of foam against the flat sand.
Matt came around to help her from the truck. “Easy.” He steadied her as her heels sank into sand.
“I’m okay.” She was not drunk. “I wasn’t expecting a walk on the beach.”
“We’re not going far.”
She glanced down the shoreline at the glowing line of lights over the water. “Is that the pier?”
“What is it, like a mile?” She could walk a mile if she took off her shoes.
“We’re not walking. We’re parking.” He went to the back of the truck.
The soft sea breeze was clearing her head. “I didn’t know you could park on the beach at night,” she said conversationally.
“Now, yeah. Not during the season.”
“Because of tourists?”
He grinned and lowered the tailgate. “Because of turtles. Sea turtles lay their clutches in May. They hatch at night, follow the moon’s reflection to the sea. Headlights confuse them. And they can get trapped in tire tracks. But this time of year, it’s not a problem.”
He grabbed a quilt from the back and spread it over the truck bed. “Up you go.”
He boosted her onto the tailgate, his hands hard and strong. She caught her breath as he swung up beside her, the truck bouncing beneath his weight. His thigh brushed hers, his body warm and close. He stretched an arm behind her, making her heart beat faster.
Making his move, she thought.
He dragged a cooler forward from the back and began to unload it. A picnic.
Her lips curved as he laid out grapes and cheese and wrapped sandwiches. She found the simple spread more appealing than her mother’s themed and catered menus, more romantic than an overpriced meal in some fancy restaurant.
Matt lifted a bottle of wine from the cooler.
And far more seductive.
from CAROLINA HOME, on sale July 3