“Hey, there, little mermaid.” His eyes burned through her as he knelt by the edge of the pool. “Does it feel as good as you hoped?”
What was the message in his gaze? Did he find her beautiful? Did he see her the way she used to see herself? She’d caught him many times over the last few months, watching her with that same look in his eyes. She hadn’t recognized the expression of admiration because she hadn’t remembered what it felt like to know your own beauty from the gleam in a man’s eyes. But here in the water, this older, less hopeful version of Autumn recalled how it felt to steal a man’s gaze, to have power over him because of her loveliness.
Her legs dangled under her, hidden from his eyes. If she imagined them as a mermaid’s tail, could she swim next to Trey? “Come in?” she asked.
Like an excited kid, he plunged into the water just feet from where she clung to the side. As he sank to the bottom, bubbles rose to the surface. She held her breath, irrationally frightened that he might not return. Seconds later, he erupted out of the water with the force of a sea titan. Of course he came back up. He could swim. And so far, he’d always returned to her. “God, this feels good, doesn’t it?” He grinned at her, again reminding her of an excited boy.
“Yes, yes it does.”
His sinewy arms moved through the water in a practiced breaststroke toward her. When he reached her, he stopped and rested one arm on the edge of the pool. “This is the life, right?” He shook the water from his hair.
She squealed as a few droplets dotted her face. “You’re like a puppy. Don’t you know it’s bad manners to shake your wet fur on a lady?”
He shook his head once more. “They’re very loyal, you know. Puppies.”
“Is that right?” She laughed and splashed water at him.
“You should get a puppy. I wouldn’t worry about you living alone if you had a dog.”
“I don’t have time for a dog,” she said. “And I wouldn’t be able to walk one. They pull too hard on the leash.” She splashed him again. “You worry about me living alone? I didn’t know that.”
“Sure I do. I wish you’d gotten the security system Rafael suggested.”
She’d thought about it, but the cost seemed outrageous considering how safe the community of Cliffside Bay was. “I don’t need one. Who would want to harm me?”
“You never know,” Trey said. “There are all kinds of scary people out there. Especially now that you’re dating so much. You don’t ever tell them where you live, do you?”
“No. I know better.” She thought of Art. He’d said the same thing. Why did men seem to think women needed help figuring out something so simple? “Not before the first date. So far, there have been no second dates.”
Trey’s eyes glimmered as he looked away from her. “It’s best to have high standards.”
“I do. I guess.” That was just the problem. No one compared to Trey.
He gestured toward the house. “Is this the kind of man you’re looking for? A Brody Mullen type?”
“You mean rich or athletic?”
Trey laughed. “I meant the rich part.”
“A pool would be nice, given my shyness about showing my body in public. But I never think about money that way. I’d rather have a good man than a rich one.” She turned to rest both arms on the pool. He matched her pose. They hung there, like two kids on the side of a dock. Again, the feeling of the old Autumn washed over her. The water made her young. “Why’d you ask me about that?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’ve been wondering what you’re looking for.”
I’m looking for a guy like you. That thought came before she could push it away. “Someone decent, smart, and who makes me laugh. Someone not so good-looking that he needs his wife to match him. A few scars might help. That way we’d match.”
Trey’s shoulders rose and fell. Air whistled between his teeth as he let out a long sigh. “People are scarred in ways that can’t be seen on the outside, you know.”
“It’s not the same.”
“It is. Wounds of the heart can be deeper than any physical one.”
Tess Thompson is a USA Today bestselling author of small-town romance and historical fiction, with nearly 20 titles across multiple series that focus on heartwarming journeys of triumph and humanity for colorful characters you’d love to be friends with in real life.
Tess holds a degree in theater from the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), and can be found most days at her desk in suburban Seattle, where she also makes her home with the hero of her own love story and their blended family of two sons, two daughters, and five cats.
Tess loves music, dancing, books, bubble baths, cooking, wine, movies, snuggling, Seahawks football, and hearing from her readers. Drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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