Theresa spent the rest of the afternoon exploring while Garrett worked in the shop. Because she didn't know Wilmington well, she asked for directions to the historic district and spent a few hours looking through the stores. Most of them catered to tourists, and she found a few things that Kevin would like, though nothing that suited her tastes. After buying him a couple of pairs of shorts he could wear once he got back from California, she went back to the hotel to catch a quick nap. The last couple of days had taken their toll, and she fell asleep quickly. Garrett, on the other hand, faced one small crisis after another. A shipment of new equipment arrived just after he got back, and after packing up what he didn't need, he called the company to make arrangements to send back the rest. Later in the afternoon he found out that three people who had been scheduled for dive classes this weekend would be out of town and had to cancel. A quick check of the waiting list proved fruitless. By six-thirty he was tired, and he breathed a sigh of relief when he finally closed up for the night. After work he drove first to the grocery store and picked up the items he needed for dinner. He showered and put on a pair of clean jeans and a light cotton shirt, then went to the refrigerator to get a beer. After opening it, he stepped out onto the back deck and sat in one of the wrought-iron chairs. Checking his watch, he realized that Theresa would be here soon. *  *  * Garrett was still sitting on the back porch when he finally heard the sound of a slowly idling motor making its way down the block. He stepped off the deck and went around the side of the house, watching as Theresa parked on the street, right behind his truck. She stepped out wearing jeans and the same blouse she had worn earlier, the one that did wonderful things for her figure. She looked relaxed as she walked toward him, and when she smiled warmly at him, he realized that his attraction had grown stronger since their lunch this afternoon, and it made him a little uneasy for a reason he didn't want to admit. He walked toward her as casually as he could, and Theresa met him halfway, carrying a bottle of white wine. When he got close to her, he smelled the scent of perfume, something she hadn't worn before. "I brought some wine," she said, handing it to him. "I thought it might go well with dinner." Then, after a short pause: "How was your afternoon?" "It was busy. Customers kept coming in until we closed, and I had a load of paperwork I had to get through. In fact, I just got home a little while ago." He started toward the front door, Theresa right beside him. "How about you? What did you end up doing the rest of the day?" "I got to take a nap," she said as if teasing him, and he laughed. "I forgot to ask you earlier, but do you want anything special for dinner?" he asked. "What were you planning on?" "I was thinking of cooking some steaks on the grill, but then I got to wondering if you ate things like that." "Are you kidding? You forget I grew up in Nebraska. I love a good steak." "Then you're in for a pleasant surprise." "What?" "I happen to make the best steaks in the world." "Oh, you do, huh?" "I'll prove it to you," he said, and she laughed, a melodic sound. As they approached the door, Theresa looked at the house for the first time. It was relatively small-one story and rectangular shaped-with painted wooden siding that was peeling badly in more than one place. Unlike the homes on Wrightsville Beach, this home sat directly on the sand. When she asked him why it wasn't raised like the other houses, he explained that the house was built before the hurricane building codes went into effect. "Now the houses have to be elevated so that the tidal surge can pass under the main structure. The next big hurricane will probably wash this old house out to sea, but I've been fortunate so far." "Don't you worry about that?" "Not really. There's not much to the place, and that's the only reason I could afford it. I think the former owner finally got tired of all the stress every time a big storm started moving across the Atlantic." They reached the cracked front steps and walked inside. The first thing Theresa noticed upon entering was the view from the main room. The windows extended from the floor to the ceiling and ran along the entire back side of the house, overlooking the back deck and Carolina Beach. "This view is incredible," she said, surprised. "It is, isn't it? I've been here for a few years now, but I still don't take it for granted." Off to one side was a fireplace, surrounded by a dozen underwater photographs. She moved toward them. "Do you mind if I look around?" "No, go ahead. I have to get the grill out back ready anyway. It needs a bit of cleaning." Garrett left through the sliding glass door. After he left, Theresa looked at the pictures for a while, then toured the rest of the house. Like many beach houses she had seen, there wasn't room for more than one or two people to live here. There was only one bedroom, reached by a door off the living room. Like the main room, it also had floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the beach. The front portion of the house-the side closest to the street-contained a kitchen, a small dining area (not quite a room), and the bathroom. Though everything was tidy, the house looked as though it hadn't been updated in years. Returning to the main room, she stopped at his bedroom and glanced inside. Again she saw underwater photographs decorating the walls. In addition, there was a large map of the North Carolina coast that hung directly over his bed, documenting the location of almost five hundred shipwrecks. When she looked toward his nightstand, she saw a framed picture of a woman. Making sure that Garrett was still outside cleaning the grill, she stepped in to take a closer look. Catherine must have been in her mid-twenties when it was taken. Like the photos on the walls, it looked as though Garrett had taken it himself, and she wondered whether it had been framed before or after the accident. Picking it up, she saw that Catherine was attractive-a little more petite than she was-with blond hair that hung to midshoulder. Even though the picture was slightly grainy and looked as if it had been reproduced from a smaller photo, she still noticed Catherine's eyes. Deep green and almost catlike, they gave her an exotic look and almost seemed as if they were staring back at her. She put the photo down gently, making sure it was set in the same angle it was before. Turning around, she continued to feel as if Catherine were watching her every move. Ignoring the sensation, she looked at the mirror attached to his chest of drawers. Surprisingly, there was only one more photo that included Catherine. It was a picture of Garrett and Catherine smiling broadly, standing on the deck of Happenstance. Because the boat looked as if it had already been restored, she assumed the picture must have been taken only a few months before she died. Knowing he could enter the house at any time, she left his bedroom, feeling a little guilty about poking around in the first place. She walked to the sliding glass doors that led from the main room onto the deck and opened them. Garrett was cleaning the grill top and smiled at her when he heard her come out. She strolled to the edge of the deck where he was working and leaned against one of the rails, one leg over the other. "Did you take all the photos on the walls?" she asked. He used the back of his hand to wipe the hair from his face. "Yeah. For a while there, I took my camera out on most of my dives. I hung most of them at the shop, but because I had so many, I thought I'd put some up here as well." "They look professional." "Thanks. But I think their quality had more to do with the sheer volume I took. You should have seen all the ones that didn't come out." As he spoke, Garrett held up the grill top. Although it was charred black in places, it looked ready, and he set it off to one side. He reached for a bag of charcoal and dumped some into a grill that looked thirty years old, using his hand to make sure they were spread evenly. Then he added a bit of lighter fluid, soaking each briquette for just a moment. She spoke in the same teasing voice she had used before. "You know, they have propane grills now." "I know, but I like to do it the way we did it growing up. Besides, it tastes better this way. Cooking with propane is just like cooking inside." She smiled. "And you did promise me the best steak I've ever had." "And you'll get it. Trust me." He finished with the lighter fluid and set it by the bag of charcoal. "I'm going to let this soak for a couple of minutes. Do you want anything to drink?" Theresa asked, "What do you have?" Garrett cleared his throat. "Beer, soda, or the wine you brought." "A beer sounds good." Garrett picked up the charcoal and lighter fluid and put them in an old sea chest that sat next to the house. After dusting the sand off the bottoms of his shoes, he went inside, leaving the sliding glass door open. While he was gone, Theresa turned and looked up and down the beach. Now that the sun was going down, most of the people were gone, and the few that were left were jogging or walking. Even though the beach wasn't crowded, more than a dozen people went past the house in the short time he was gone. "Do you ever get tired of having all these people around?" she asked when he returned. He handed her the beer. "Not really. I'm not here all that much anyway. Usually by the time I get home, the beach is pretty much deserted. And in the winter, no one is out here at all." For just a moment, she imagined him sitting on his deck, watching the water, alone as always. Garrett reached into his pocket and took out a box of matches. He lit the charcoals, stepping back when the flames shot up. The light breeze made the fire dance in circles. "Now that the coals are started, I'm going to get supper going." "Can I give you a hand with something?" "There's not much to do," he answered. "But if you're lucky, maybe I'll share my secret recipe with you." She cocked her head and looked at him slyly. "You know you're setting a pretty high standard for these steaks." "I know. But I have faith." He winked at her and she laughed before following him inside, to the kitchen. Garrett opened one of the cabinets and pulled out a couple of potatoes. Standing in front of the sink, he washed his hands first and then the potatoes. After turning on the oven, he wrapped the potatoes in foil and set them on the rack. "What can I do?" "Like I said, not much. I think I've got it pretty much in control. I bought one of those prepackaged salads, and there's not anything else on the menu." Theresa stood off to one side as Garrett put the last of the potatoes in the oven and got the salad out of the refrigerator. From the corner of his eye, he glanced at her as he emptied the salad into a bowl. What was it about her that made him suddenly want to be as close to her as possible? Wondering, he opened the refrigerator and pulled out the steaks he'd had the store cut just for tonight. He opened the cabinet next to the refrigerator and found the rest of the items he needed. After collecting them, he set everything down next to Theresa. She shot him a challenging smile. "So, what's so special about these steaks?" Clearing his mind, he poured some brandy into a shallow bowl. "There's a few things. First, you get a couple of thick filets like these. The store doesn't usually cut them this thick, so you have to ask for it special. Then you season them with a little salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and you let them soak in the brandy while the coals are turning white." He did this as he spoke, and for the first time since she'd met him, he looked his age. Based on what he'd told her, he was at least four years younger than she was. "That's your secret?" "It's only the beginning," he promised, suddenly aware of how beautiful she looked. "Right before they go on the grill, I'll add some tenderizer. The rest of it involves how you cook them, not what they're flavored with." "You sound like you're quite a cook." "No, not really. I'm good with a few things, but I don't prepare many meals these days. By the time I get home, I'm usually in the mood for something that doesn't take much effort." "That's how I am. If it wasn't for Kevin, I don't think I'd cook very much at all anymore." Since he was finished with the steaks for now, he went to the drawer again and found a knife, returning to her side. He reached for a couple of tomatoes that were on the counter and began dicing. "It sounds like you have a great relationship with Kevin." "I do. I just hope it continues. He's almost a teenager now, and I worry that when he gets older, he's going to want to spend less time with me." "I wouldn't worry too much. From the way you talk about him, I would think that you two will always be close." "I hope so. Right now, he's all I have-I don't know what I'd do if he started to shut me out of his life. I have some friends with boys a little older than he is, and they tell me it's inevitable." "I'm sure he's going to change somewhat. Everyone does, but that doesn't mean he won't talk to you." She looked over at him. "Are you talking from experience or just telling me what I want to hear?" He shrugged, again noticing her perfume. "I'm just remembering what I went through with my father. We'd always been close growing up, and it didn't change when I started high school. I started doing different things and seeing my friends more, but we still talked all the time." "I hope it's the same way for me," she said. With the preparation under way, a peaceful silence descended upon them. The simple act of cutting tomatoes with her by his side eased some of the anxiety he'd felt up to this point. Theresa was the first woman he'd invited to this house, and Garrett realized there was something comfortable about having her here. When he finished, Garrett put the tomatoes in the salad bowl and wiped his hands on a paper towel. Then he bent over to remove his second beer. "Are you up for another?" She drained the last of her bottle, surprised she had finished so quickly. She nodded, setting the empty bottle on the counter. Garrett twisted off the bottlecap and handed her another, opening one for himself. Theresa was relaxing against the counter, and when she took the bottle, something about the way she was standing struck him as familiar: the smile playing across her lips, maybe, or the slant of her gaze as she watched him lift his own bottle to his mouth. He was reminded again of that lazy summer afternoon with Catherine, when he'd come home to surprise her for lunch-a day that in retrospect seemed so fraught with signs . . . yet how could he have foreseen everything that would happen? They had stood in the kitchen, just as he and Theresa were doing now. "I take it you've already eaten," Garrett said as Catherine stood in front of the open refrigerator. Catherine glanced at him. "I'm not very hungry," she said. "But I am thirsty. Do you want some iced tea?" "Tea sounds great. Do you know if the mail came in yet?" Catherine nodded as she pulled the pitcher of tea from the top shelf. "It's on the table." She opened the cupboard and reached for two glasses. After setting the first glass on the counter, she was pouring the second when it slipped from her hand. "Are you all right?" Garrett dropped the mail, concerned. Catherine ran her hand through her hair, embarrassed, then bent to pick up the glass shards. "I just got a little woozy there for a second. I'll be okay." Garrett moved toward her and began to help clean up. "Are you feeling sick again?" "No, but maybe I spent too much time outside this morning." He was quiet for a moment as he picked up the glass. "Are you sure I should go back to work? This last week's been pretty tough on you." "I'll be fine. Besides, I know you've got a lot to do there." Though she was right, when he finally started back to work, he got the feeling that maybe he shouldn't have listened to her. He swallowed hard, suddenly aware of the stillness in the kitchen. "I'm going to check the coals to see how they're doing," he said, needing something, anything, to do. "Hopefully, they're getting close." "Can I set the table while you're checking?" "Sure. Most of the things you'll need are right over here." After showing her where to find what she needed, he headed outside, forcing himself to relax and clearing his mind of the ghostly memories. Once he reached the grill, he checked the coals, putting his mind to the task at hand. Almost white, they had another few minutes, he figured. Again he went to the sea chest, and this time he removed a small, handheld bellows. He set it on the railing next to the grill and took a deep breath. The ocean air was fresh, almost intoxicating, and for the first time, he suddenly realized that despite his vision of Catherine just moments ago, he was still pleased that Theresa was here. In fact, he felt happy, something he hadn't felt in a long time. It wasn't only in the way they got along, but it was little things Theresa did. The way she smiled, the way she looked at him, even the way she'd taken his hand earlier this afternoon-it was already beginning to feel as if he knew her longer than he actually did. He wondered whether it was because she was similar to Catherine in so many ways or whether his father had been right about him needing to spend some time with another person. While he was outside, Theresa set the table. She put a wineglass beside each plate and sorted through the drawer for some silverware. Beside the utensils were two candles with small holders for each. After wondering whether it would be too much, she decided to put them on the table as well. She would leave it to him whether or not to light them. Garrett came in just as she was finishing up. "We've got a couple of minutes. Would you like to sit outside while we wait?" Theresa picked up her beer and followed him out. As it had the night before, the breeze was blowing, but it wasn't nearly as strong. She sat in one of the chairs, Garrett right beside her, his legs crossed at the ankles. His light shirt brought out his deeply tanned skin, and Theresa watched him as he stared out over the water. She closed her eyes for a moment, feeling more alive than she had in a long time. "I bet you don't have a view like this from where you live in Boston," he said into the sudden silence. "You're right," she said, "I don't. I live in an apartment. My parents think I'm crazy for living downtown. They think I should live in the suburbs." "Why don't you?" "I used to, before the divorce. But now, it's just a lot easier. I can get to work in just a few minutes, Kevin's school is right down the block, and I never have to take the highway unless I'm going out of town. Besides, I wanted something different after my marriage ended. I just couldn't handle the looks my neighbors gave me after they found out that David had left." "What do you mean?" She shrugged, and her voice softened. "I never told any of them why David and I separated. I just didn't think it was any of their business." "It wasn't." She paused for a moment, remembering. "I know that, but in their minds, David was a wonderful husband. He was handsome and successful, and they didn't want to believe that he did anything wrong. Even when we were together, he acted as if everything were perfect. I didn't have any idea he was having an affair until the very end." She turned toward him, a rueful look on her face. "As they say, the wife is always the last to know." "How did you find out?" She shook her head. "I know it sounds like a clich? but I found out from the dry cleaner, of all people. When I picked up his clothes, the cleaner handed me some receipts that had been in his pocket. One was from a hotel downtown. And I knew from the date that he had been home that evening, so it must have been for just an afternoon. He denied it when I confronted him, but by the way he looked at me, I knew he was lying. Eventually, the whole story came out, and I filed for divorce." Garrett listened quietly, letting her finish, wondering how she could have fallen in love with someone who would do that to her. As if reading his mind, she went on: "You know, David was one of those men who could say anything and make you believe it. I think he even believed most of the things he told me. We met in college, and I was overwhelmed by how much he had going for him. He was smart and charming, and I was flattered that he was interested in someone like me. Here I was, a young girl straight from Nebraska, and he was unlike anyone I'd ever met before. And when we got married, I thought I'd have a storybook life. But I guess it was the furthest thing from his mind. I found out later that he had his first affair only five months after we were married." She stopped for a moment, and Garrett looked toward his beer. "I don't know what to say." "There's nothing you can say," she said with finality. "It's over, and like I said yesterday, the only thing I want from him now is for him to be a good father to Kevin." "You make it sound so easy." "I don't mean to. David hurt me pretty badly, and it took me a couple of years and more than a few sessions with a good therapist to get to this point. I learned a lot from my therapist, and I learned a lot about myself along the way. Once, when I was babbling about what a jerk he had been, she pointed out that if I kept holding on to my anger, he'd still be controlling me, and I wasn't willing to accept that. So I let it go." She took another sip of her beer. Garrett asked: "Did your therapist say anything else that you remember?" She thought for a moment, then smiled faintly. "As a matter of fact, she did. She said that if I ever came across someone who reminded me of David that I should turn around and run for the hills." "Do I remind you of David?" "Not in the slightest. You're about as different from David as a man can get." "That's good," he said with mock seriousness. "There aren't many hills in this part of the country, you know. You'd have to run a mighty long way." She giggled, and Garrett looked over at the grill. Seeing that the coals were ready, he asked, "Are you ready to start the steaks?" "Will you show me the rest of your secret recipe?" "With pleasure," he said as they rose from their seats. In the kitchen he found the tenderizer and sprinkled some on the top of the steaks. Then, removing both filets from the brandy, he added some to the other sides as well. He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a small plastic bag. "What's that?" Theresa asked. "It's tallow-the fatty part of the steak that's usually trimmed off. I had the butcher save some when I bought the steaks." "What's it for?" "You'll see," he said. After returning to the grill with the steaks and a pair of tongs, he set them on the railing beside the bellows. Then, taking the bellows he'd removed earlier, he began to blow the ashes off the briquettes, explaining to her what he was doing. "Part of cooking a great steak is making sure the coals are hot. You use the bellows to blow off the ashes. That way, you don't have anything blocking the heat." He put the grill top back on the barbecue, let it heat for about a minute, then used the tongs to put on the steaks. "How do you like your steak?" "Medium rare." "With steaks this size, that's about eleven minutes on each side." She raised her eyebrows. "You're very precise about all this, aren't you?" "I promised you a good steak, and I intend to deliver." In the little while it took to cook the steaks, Garrett watched Theresa out of the corner of his eye. There was something sensual about her figure, outlined against the setting sun. The sky was turning orange, and the warm light made her look especially beautiful, darkening her brown eyes. Her hair lifted tantalizingly in the evening breeze. "What are you thinking?" He tensed at the sound of her voice, suddenly realizing he hadn't said anything since he'd started cooking. "I was just thinking about what a jerk your ex-husband was," he said, turning toward her, and he saw her smile. She patted his shoulder gently. "But if I was still married, I wouldn't be here with you." "And that," he said, still feeling her touch, "would be a shame." "Yes, it would," she echoed, their eyes lingering for a moment. Finally Garrett turned away and reached for the tallow. Clearing his throat: "I think we're ready for this now." He took the tallow, which had been cut into smaller pieces, and put the pieces on the briquettes, directly beneath the steaks. Then, he leaned over and blew on them until they burst into flame. "What are you doing?" "The flames from the tallow will sear in the juices and keep the steak tender. That's the same reason you use tongs instead of a fork." He threw a few more pieces of tallow onto the briquettes and repeated the process. Looking around, Theresa commented: "It's so peaceful out here. I can see why you bought the place." He finished what he was doing and took another drink of beer, wetting his throat. "There's something about the ocean that does that to people. I think that's why so many people come here to relax." She turned toward him. "Tell me, Garrett, what do you think about when you're out here alone?" "A lot of things." "Anything in particular?" I think about Catherine, he wanted to say but didn't. He sighed. "No, not really. Sometimes I think about work, sometimes I think about the new places I want to explore on my dives. Other times, I dream about sailing away and leaving everything behind." She watched him carefully as he spoke the last words. "Could you really do that? Sail away and never come back?" "I'm not sure, but I like to think I could. Unlike you, I don't have any family except for my father, and in a way, I think he'd understand. He and I are a lot alike, and I think that if it wasn't for me, he would have taken off a long time ago." "But that would be like running away." "I know." "Why would you want to do that?" she pressed, somehow knowing the answer. When he didn't respond, she leaned close to him and spoke gently. "Garrett, I know it's not any of my business, but you can't run away from what you're going through." She gave him a reassuring smile. "And besides, you've got so much to offer someone." Garrett stayed silent, thinking about what she'd said, wondering how she seemed to know exactly what to say to make him feel better. For the next few minutes, the only sounds around them came from elsewhere. Garrett turned the steaks, and they sizzled on the grill. The gentle evening breeze made a distant wind chime sing. Waves rolled up on the shore, a soothing, continuous roar. Garrett's mind drifted through the last two days. He thought about the moment he'd first seen her, the hours they'd spent on Happenstance, and their walk on the beach earlier in the day when he'd first told her about Catherine. The tension he'd felt earlier in the day was almost gone now, and as they stood beside each other in the deepening twilight, he sensed that there was something more to this evening than either of them wanted to admit. Just before the steaks were ready, Theresa went back inside to get the rest of the table ready. She pulled the potatoes out of the oven, unwrapped the foil, and placed one on each plate. The salad came next, and she set it in the middle of the table, along with a couple of different dressings she had found in the refrigerator door. Last, she put down salt, pepper, butter, and a couple of napkins. Because it was getting dark inside the house, she turned on the kitchen light, but that seemed too bright. She switched it off again. On impulse, she went ahead and lit the candles, standing back from the table to see if it was too much. Thinking it looked about right, she picked up the bottle of wine and was placing it on the table just as Garrett came inside. After closing the sliding glass door, Garrett saw what she had done. It was dark in the kitchen except for the small flames pointing upward, and the glow made Theresa look beautiful. Her dark hair looked mysterious in the candlelight, and her eyes seemed to capture the moving flames. Unable to speak for a long moment, all Garrett could do was stare at her, and it was in that moment that he knew exactly what he'd been trying to deny to himself all along. "I thought these would be a nice touch," she said quietly. "I think you're right." They continued to watch each other from across the room, both frozen for a moment by the shadow of distant possibilities. Then Theresa glanced away. "I couldn't find a wine opener," she said, grasping for something to say. "I'll get it," he said quickly. "I don't use it very often, so it's probably buried in one of the drawers." He carried the plate of steaks to the table, then went to the drawer. After sorting through the utensils toward the back, he found the opener and brought it to the table. In a couple of easy moves, he opened the bottle and poured just the right amount into each glass. Then, sitting down, he used the tongs to put the steaks on each of their plates. "It's the moment of truth," she said right before taking her first bite. Garrett smiled as he watched her try it. Theresa was pleasantly surprised to find out that he had been right all along. "Garrett, this is delicious," she said earnestly. "Thank you." The candles burned lower as the evening wore on, and Garrett twice told her how glad he was that she had come this evening. Both times Theresa felt something tingle in the back of her neck and had to take another sip of wine just to make the feeling go away. Outside, the ocean slowly rose toward high tide, driven by a crescent moon that had seemingly come from nowhere. *  *  * After dinner, Garrett suggested another walk along the beach. "It's really beautiful at night," he said. When she agreed, he picked up the plates and silverware from the table and put them in the sink. They left the kitchen and walked outside, Garrett closing the door behind him. The night was mild. They stepped off the deck, making their way over a small sand dune and onto the beach itself. When they reached the water's edge, they repeated their actions of earlier that day, slipping off their shoes and leaving them on the beach, since no one else was around. They walked slowly, close to each other. Surprising her, Garrett reached for her hand. Feeling his warmth, Theresa wondered for just a moment what it would be like to have him touch her body, lingering over her skin. The thought made something inside her tighten, and when she glanced over at him, she wondered if he knew what she'd been thinking. They continued strolling, both of them taking in the evening. "I haven't had a night like this in a long time," Garrett said finally, his voice sounding almost like a remembrance. "Neither have I," she said. The sand was cool beneath their feet. "Garrett, do you remember when you first asked me to go sailing?" Theresa asked. "Yes." "Why did you ask me to go with you?" He looked at her curiously. "What do you mean?" "I mean that you looked almost like you regretted it the moment you said it." He shrugged. "I'm not sure that regret is the word I'd use. I think I was surprised that I asked, but I didn't regret it." She smiled. "Are you sure?" "Yeah, I'm sure. You have to remember that I haven't asked anyone out in over three years. When you said that you had never gone sailing before-I think it just sort of hit me that I was tired of always being alone." "You mean I was in the right place at the right time?" He shook his head. "I didn't mean it to sound like that. I wanted to take you out with me-I don't think I would have offered if it had been someone else. Besides, this whole thing has turned out much better than I thought it would. These last couple of have been the best days I've had in a long time." She felt warm inside at what he'd said. As they walked, she felt him slowly moving his thumb, tracing small circles on her skin. He went on. "Did you think your vacation would be anything like this?" She hesitated, deciding it wasn't the right time to tell him the truth. "No." They walked together quietly. There were a few others on the beach, though they were far enough away that Theresa couldn't make out anything but shadows. "Do you think you'll ever come back here again? I mean for another vacation?" "I don't know. Why?" "Because I was kind of hoping you would." In the distance, she could see lights along a faraway pier. Again she felt his hand moving against hers. "Would you make dinner for me again if I did?" "I'd cook you anything you want. As long as it's a steak." She laughed under her breath. "Then I'll consider it. I promise." "How about if I threw in a few scuba lessons as well?" "I think Kevin would enjoy that more than me." "Then bring him along." She glanced over at him. "You wouldn't mind?" "Not at all. I'd love to meet him." "I bet you'd like him." "I know I would." They walked along in silence, until Theresa blurted out, "Garrett-can I ask you something?" "Sure." "I know this is going to sound strange, but . . ." She paused for a moment, and he looked at her quizzically. "What?" "What's the worst thing you've ever done?" He laughed aloud. "Where did that come from?" "I just want to know. I always ask people that question. It lets me know what people are really all about." "The worst thing?" "The absolute worst." He thought for a moment. "I guess I would say that the worst thing I've ever done is when a bunch of my friends and I went out one night in December-we were drinking and raising hell when we ended up driving by a street that was totally decorated in Christmas lights. Well, we parked and right there and then proceeded to unscrew and steal every light bulb we could." "You didn't!" "We did. There were five of us, and we filled the back of the truck with stolen Christmas lights. And we left the strands-that was the worst part. It looked like the Grinch had come wandering down the street. We were out there for almost two hours, laughing uproariously about what we were doing. The street had been featured in the newspaper as one of the most decorated streets in the city, and when we were done . . . I can't imagine what those people thought. They must have been furious." "That's terrible!" He laughed again. "I know. Thinking back, I know it was terrible. But at the time, it was hilarious." "And here I was, thinking you're such a nice guy. . . ." "I am a nice guy." "You were the Grinch." She pressed on, curious. "So what else did you and your friends do?" "Do you really want to know?" "Yeah, I do." He began to regale her then with tales of other teenage misadventures-from soaping car windows to tepeeing the houses of former girlfriends. Once, he claimed, he saw one of his friends driving alongside him while he was on a date. After his friend motioned for him to roll down the window, he did-and his friend promptly launched a bottle rocket into his car that exploded at his feet. Twenty minutes later he was still telling stories, much to her amusement. When he finally finished, he asked her the same question that had originally started the conversation. "Oh, I've never done anything like you," she said almost coyly. "I've always been a good girl." He laughed again then, feeling as if he'd been manipulated-not that he minded-and knowing full well that she wasn't telling the truth. *  *  * They walked the full length of the beach, exchanging additional stories from childhood. Theresa tried to imagine him as a young man while he spoke, wondering what she would have thought about him had she met him while she was in college. Would she have found him as compelling as she did now, or would she have fallen for David again? She wanted to believe that she would have appreciated the differences between them, but would she? David had seemed so perfect back then. They stopped for a moment and looked out over the water. He stood close to her, their shoulders barely touching. "What are you thinking?" Garrett asked. "I was just thinking how nice the silence is with you." He smiled. "And I was just thinking that I've told you a lot of things I don't tell anyone." "Is that because you know I'm going back to Boston and I won't tell anyone?" He chuckled. "No, it's not that at all." "Then what is it?" He looked at her curiously. "You don't know?" "No." She smiled when she said it, almost daring him to continue. He wondered how to explain something he had difficulty understanding himself. Then, after a long moment in which he gathered his thoughts, he spoke quietly: "I guess it's because I wanted you to know who I really am. Because if you really know me, and still want to spend time with me . . ." Theresa said nothing but knew exactly what he was trying to say. Garrett looked away. "I'm sorry about that. I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable." "It didn't make me feel uncomfortable," Theresa began. "I'm glad you said it. . . ." She paused. After a moment they slowly started walking again. "But you don't feel the same way I do." She looked over at him. "Garrett . . . I . . ."She trailed off. "No, you don't have to say anything-" She didn't let him finish. "Yes, I do. You want an answer, and I want to tell you." She paused, thinking of the best way to say it. Then, taking a deep breath: "After David and I split up, I went through an awful period. And just when I thought I was getting over it, I started to date again. But the men I met . . . I don't know, it just seemed like the world changed while I was married. They all wanted things, but none of them wanted to give. I guess I got jaded about men in general." "I don't know what to say. . . ." "Garrett, I'm not telling you this because I think you're like that. I think you're the furthest thing from it. And it scares me a little. Because if I tell you how much I care for you . . . in a way, I'm telling myself the same thing. And if I do that, then I guess I'm opening up myself to get hurt again." "I'd never hurt you," he said gently. She stopped walking and made him face her. She spoke quietly. "I know you believe that, Garrett. But you've been dealing with your own demons for the past three years. I don't know if you're ready to go on yet, and if you're not, then I'm going to be the one who gets hurt." The words hit hard, and it took a moment for him to respond. Garrett willed her to meet his eyes. "Theresa . . . since we met . . . I don't know . . ." He stopped, realizing that he wasn't able to put into words the way he was feeling. Instead he raised his hand and touched the side of her face with his finger, tracing so lightly that it felt almost like a feather against her skin. The moment he touched her, she closed her eyes and despite her uncertainty let the tingling feeling travel through her body, warming her neck and breasts. With that, she felt everything begin to slip away, and suddenly it felt right to be here. The dinner they had shared, their walk on the beach, the way he was looking at her now-she couldn't imagine anything better than what was happening at this very moment. Waves rolled up on the beach, wetting their feet. The warm summer breeze blew through her hair, heightening the sensation of his touch. The moonlight lent an ethereal sheen to the water, while the clouds cast shadows along the beach, making the landscape seem almost unreal. They gave in then to everything that had been building since the moment they met. She sank into him, feeling the warmth of his body, and he released her hand. Then, slowly wrapping both arms around her, he drew her run up along her back and settle into her hair, burying his fingers in it. They stood with their arms around each other, kissing in the moonlight for a long time, neither of them caring if anyone could see them. They had both waited too long for this moment, and when they finally pulled back, they stared at each other. Then, taking his hand again, Theresa slowly led him back to his house. It seemed like a dream as they moved inside. Garrett kissed her again immediately after closing the door, more passionately this time, and Theresa felt her body tremble with anticipation. She walked to the kitchen, picked up the two candles from the table, and led him to the bedroom. She put the candles on his bureau, and he pulled the matches from his pocket, lighting them as she walked to the windows and began to close the curtains. Garrett was standing by the bureau when she returned to him. Standing close again, she ran her hands over his chest, feeling the tight muscles beneath his shirt, giving in to her own sensuality. Looking in his eyes, she untucked his shirt and slowly began to pull it up over his torso. Raising his arms, she slipped it over his head and leaned into him, listening as it dropped to the floor. She kissed his chest, then his neck, shivering as his hands moved to the front of her blouse. Giving him room, she leaned back as he slowly worked his way downward, unbuttoning each button carefully. When her blouse fell open, he slid his arms around her back and pulled her to him, feeling the heat of her skin against his. He kissed her neck and nibbled on her earlobe as his hands traced the outline of her spine. She parted her lips, feeling the tenderness of his touch. His fingers stopped at her bra, and he unfastened it with an expert twist, making her breath catch. Then, continuing to kiss her, he pulled the straps over her shoulders, freeing her breasts. He bent down and kissed them tenderly, one at a time, and she leaned her head back, feeling his heated breath and the moisture from his mouth wherever it touched her. She was short of breath as she reached for the snap on his jeans. Meeting his eyes again, she unsnapped them, then slowly slid the zipper down. Still watching him, she ran her finger across his waist, skimming her nail softly against his navel before tugging on the waist of his pants. They loosened slightly and he stepped back for a moment, removing them. Then, stepping in to kiss her again, he lifted her in his arms and gently carried her across the room, putting her on the bed. Lying beside him, she ran her hands over his chest again, now damp with perspiration, and felt his hands gently move on to her jeans. He unsnapped them, and lifting her bottom slightly, she took them off, one leg at a time, while his hands continued to explore her body. She caressed his back and bit softly on his neck, listening as breathing quickened. He began to take off his boxer shorts while she slipped off her own panties, and when they were finally naked, their bodies pressed together. She was beautiful in the candlelight. He ran his tongue between her breasts, down her belly, and past her navel and up again. Her hair caught the light, making it sparkle, and her skin was soft and inviting as they clung to each other. He felt her hands on his back, pulling him closer. Instead he continued to kiss her body, not rushing the moment. He put the side of his face to her belly and rubbed gently. The stubble on his chin felt erotic against her skin, and she lay back on the bed, her hands in his hair. He went on until she couldn't take it anymore, then he moved up and did the same thing to her breasts. She pulled him back to her, arching her back as he slowly moved atop her. He kissed her fingertips one at a time, and as they finally joined as one, she closed her eyes with a sigh. Kissing softly, they made love with a passion kept stifled for the last three years. Their bodies moved as one, each of them fully aware of the other's needs, each trying to please the other. Garrett kissed her almost continually, the moistness of his mouth lingering wherever it touched, and she felt her body began to tingle with the growing urgency of something wonderful. When it finally happened, she pressed her fingers hard into his back, but the moment it ended another one started to build again and she began to climax in long sequences, one right after the next. When they finished making love, Theresa was exhausted, and she wrapped her arms around him, holding him close. She relaxed by his side, his hands still gently tracing her skin, and she watched as the candles slowly burned toward their base, reliving the moment they had just shared together. They lay together for most of the night, making love again and again, holding each other tightly afterward. Theresa fell asleep in his arms, feeling wonderful, and Garrett watched as she slept beside him. Just before he fell asleep, he gently brushed her hair from her face, trying hard to remember everything. *  *  * Right before daybreak, Theresa opened her eyes, realizing instinctively that he was gone. She turned in the bed, looking for him. Not seeing him, she rose and went to his closet, finding a bathrobe. Wrapping it around her, she left the bedroom and glanced toward the darkness of the kitchen. Not there. She looked in the living room, but he wasn't there, either, and suddenly she knew exactly where he would be. Stepping outside, she found him sitting in the chair, wearing only his boxers and a gray sweatshirt. Turning around, he saw her and smiled. "Hey there." She stepped toward him, and he motioned for her to sit in his lap. He kissed her as he pulled her to him, and she put her arms around his neck. Then, pulling back when she sensed that something was wrong, she touched his cheek. "You all right?" It took a moment for him to answer. "Yeah," he said, quietly, without looking at her. "You sure?" He nodded, again without meeting her eyes, and she used her finger to make him face her. She said gently: "You look sort of . . . sad." He gave a weak smile without answering. "Are you sad about what happened?" "No," he said. "Not at all. I don't regret any of it." "Then what is it?" He didn't answer, and again his eyes shifted away. She spoke softly. "Are you out here because of Catherine?" He waited for a moment without answering, then took her hand in his. Finally he met her gaze. "No. I'm not out here because of Catherine," he said, almost whispering the words. "I'm out here because of you." Then, with a tenderness that reminded her of a small child, he gently pulled her close and held her without saying another word, not letting go until the sky began to lighten and the first person appeared on the beach.