I loved the sun. I loved to let my skin bake in the sun, feeling my body heat underneath it. It was one of the ways I escaped my mind. All the good and bad in my life would fall away when I was beneath it.
I picked the secluded beach of Fort Myers, Sanibel Island, for the sole purpose of hearing the ocean waves race to shore every day. This was just what I needed—some quiet time on the beach before I made the heavy decisions in my life. With a heavy heart, I knew it was time to begin a new chapter in my life. I had been riding the road of avoidance and denial for three years now, and it was time to move on. For some reason though, every time I’d tried, I felt weighed down, alone. Would I ever adjust to being
I jumped to the sound of my phone ringing. “Hello?”
“Hello, dear. Just thought I’d check on you. I’ve been waiting to hear my beautiful niece’s voice for weeks, but you haven’t called. How are you? Still staring at the deep blue sea?”
“I’ve just been taking a breather and sightseeing, Aunt Lucie. Florida is so beautiful, sunny, and warm that I can’t seem to make myself leave yet,” I answered. My gaze shifted out to the ocean in front of me. Waves were crashing in unusually high today. I closed my eyes and listened.
“Ah…yes, Florida is a beautiful place. In fact, I went there many times with your father when we were teenagers.”
Just hearing the slight reference of my father made my whole body ache and my heart constrict with yearning. I sat silently, holding my phone to my ear, as my grip tightened slightly, and I hoped the pain would pass quickly.
“I’m sorry, dear. I didn’t mean anything by mentioning him. I sometimes have a hard time remembering it’s true myself. I wish it were just a bad dream, and I could wake you up. But, sweetie, it’s been almost three years. I think you need to move forward and start living. Your family would’ve wanted you to have a happy, healthy life,” Aunt Lucie added with sadness in her voice.
I loved my aunt dearly, but she made it sound so easy. I closed my eyes tightly as a frown marred my features. My heart was pumping so fast that I thought it might explode.
“Aunt Lucie, I love you. I love you all. I’m trying…trying to get my feet on the ground, and I need space to do that. I will be home soon.” I didn’t want to lie. I hoped it was true.
My aunt sighed. “Okay, dear. Just know that we miss you. Your cousins are anxious to see you, and they miss you so much. They have voted, and if you aren’t back for a visit by the end of summer, they plan to kidnap you, and you know how rough they play. I’ll hold them off for as long as I can.”
The love in Aunt Lucie’s voice made me miss home even more. An affectionate smile spread across my lips as I thought of my dear cousins arguing over how to kidnap me. They always enjoyed roughhousing and getting into any mischief they could find. Jason, Blake, and Damon were the three musketeers of trouble. Everyone in the neighborhood had feared them as kids because they were constantly in the principal’s office, leaving four-wheeler tracks in their yards, or roughing up every boy who tried to talk to me.
“No need to send the musketeers, Aunt Lucie. I’ll be visiting soon. I’m just…working on my tan.” I genuinely felt lighter from thinking of my family and their devotion to one
“Love you, sweetie. Call if you need us.”
“Love you, too, Aunt Luce. Bye.”
After hanging up, I watched the waves continue to roll in and crash against the rocks as I let my mind fill with happy childhood memories of my cousins—all of us kids roughhousing, pillow-fighting over which movie we would watch, or four-wheeling while my cousins made sure I was the muddiest one. My Uncle Dan would just shake his head at me and laugh each time I came into the house covered in the most mud from head to toe.
I did miss my family, and it was time for a visit. It’s well overdue. I just hoped I could bear the feelings that would come along with seeing them.
After lunch, I decided it was time to get some work done. Writing was a passion of mine and a very important aspect of my life.
Since I was a little girl, books had consumed me. I felt I could be anyone I wanted in a book as if it were a borrowed life. I could do anything or imagine anything my heart desired. The emotions that would surface as I read someone else’s story always amazed me. From a young age, I had known that I wanted to be the one to write those stories, to let others feel the passion that I felt in my heart.
A small publishing company in Clearwater was expecting my second novel to be completed by December. It was a new relationship with my first publisher, and I wanted to make sure things went very smoothly. I was pleased that I’d planned to move up that deadline to October if my steady progress continued.
As I sat on the beach, the warm breeze blew around me as my fingers kept typing steadily. I had so many ideas and possibilities for my story. The more I typed, the more the thoughts and emotions filled my mind. It was such an exhilarating rush.
I’d just finished chapter twenty-six when I stretched my aching hands. I glanced at the screen, accounting for the three-thousand words I’d written in the few hours I was sitting on the beach. Content with my progress, I decided to give my fingers a break when I felt it—that sense of someone watching from a distance. I glanced up and came eye-to-eye with a man sitting on the beach. His intense stare was fixated on me, like a hawk. My pulse quickened uncontrollably.
His hair was chocolate brown with just enough length to wave fingers through it. He had a perfect tan to go with his broad shoulders and defined chest. As I took in his muscular, tattooed arms, my mouth began to water, and I had to snap myself out of my trance. With a shake of my head, I decided to try to ignore the rest of his unseen body and go back to my writing.
It lasted about three minutes.
As I glanced back, he gave me a grin that showed his strong cheekbones and the curve of his jaw. My face flushed at being caught. I hadn’t seen the man before, so I figured he was just a tourist. I shyly raised my hand and waved, hoping he couldn’t see my pinked cheeks from afar. He awarded me with a genuine and utterly gorgeous smile.
Before I knew it, he was walking straight across the beach in my direction. The pulsating in my veins was growing heavier and faster with each of his steps. My breath caught as my mind fought the overwhelming determination to run, but my body protested and stayed firmly planted in the sand, fighting the urge.
I raised my head to meet his gaze as he stopped along my left side, only a mere twelve inches in the space between us, and then he slowly crouched next to me. A cloud shielded the sun at that exact moment, revealing his soft brownish-green eyes. They were so unique and different, and the depths of them felt endless. I stared for longer than what would be considered polite. I couldn’t help but feel as if they were pulling me closer.
The beach around us seemed to fade away.
“Hi. I’m Kyle…Kyle Madison.” His tone was deep yet gentle as he extended his hand with a kind smile. “And you are?”
My nerves were tied in knots from his close proximity, and I fumbled for a response. “I’m…” I slowly started to lift my hand to his. “Lily Tidsdale,” I finished.
When Kyle’s hand enclosed mine, the warmth of his skin immediately fell over me. “Nice to meet you, Lily.” He glanced toward my laptop. “What are you working on?”
When he pulled back his hand, my brain felt disconnected from my body. I followed his gaze as my fingers curled around each side of my laptop.
“Oh, I’m doing some work.” I swallowed, attempting to hide my nervousness, while I prayed I wasn’t giving myself away.
“Working and suntanning?” He raised his eyebrows playfully, making eye contact. “I need your job. Do you come here often?”
“I do.” I nodded. “It’s a place where I can set my mind free and work.”
Kyle tilted his head, taking in the ocean in front of us. His eyes relaxed at the scenery before him. It was almost as if I could see we shared the same appreciation for it.
“I can see why you come here. It’s…peaceful and relaxing, a break from the busy world around us.”
His words confirmed my sentiments.
“Exactly. I feel the same way,” I added.
A slow, calm smile spread evenly across his lips.
It was truly beautiful.
That smile could melt my insides. A small shiver ran through my body. Completely morified by my reaction, I discreetly shifted back on my towel. My mind screamed for some distance, desperately wanting to put walls between us. It’s time to get back to work anyway, so I better keep this short and sweet.
“Well, I should really get back to work,” I said, hoping he wouldn’t protest.
Sensing my withdrawal, he rose to his feet. “It was very nice to meet you, Lily.” He took a small step back, his eyes never leaving mine. “I’ll see you around.” He waved while grinning.
“Sure,” I answered, not knowing if I would or if I wanted to because of the strong sensations he raised in me.
Before I could form another thought, he turned and ambled off in the direction of the cottages.
Rather than analyzing my encounter with the beautiful man, I avoided it and threw myself back into my work. After an hour of sitting beneath the beating sun, I gave up, feeling defeated. It was hard to deny who was dominating my attention.
Needing a change of pace, I decided to walk the beach and have some dinner at Laurie’s Pizzeria in the cafeteria area. Mmm…pizza…a girl could eat it every day if she didn’t have to worry about fitting her thighs and rear end into a pair of jeans.
After walking in, I noticed Luke Thompson was working his usual shift. “Hey, Luke.”
“What can I get for my favorite girl?” Luke smiled his friendly genuine smile. He was always happy to see me.
Luke was six foot one with a lean, muscular build, gorgeous blue eyes, and dirty-blond hair. He was the perfect beach boy with a heart of gold. Girls were always falling all over him, but since I’d moved here, he seemed to have a exceptional smile just for me.
I wished I were attracted to him, but I was missing that spark. Luke was my best friend. Well, he was pretty much one of my few friends. Since moving to Sanibel Island almost three years ago, I had kept to myself, and I only knew a few of the locals well.
Luke knew I had a dark past, but he had never pushed me to talk about it. Sometimes though, I could see the confusion in his eyes when he looked at me. He wanted me to open up to him on my own. Someday, I hoped to confide my story to him, but every time I’d tried, the darkness was too much, and I closed the door again. I wanted to believe misery and pain were better without company.
I smiled back at him. “I’ve been thinking about cheese pizza and breadsticks all day, so I decided to come and get my fill.”
“Let me guess…extra cheese with a Coke?”
I nodded in agreement. “Yep. I’m going back to the beach for some sunset pictures, so I’ll need my energy.”
Luke laughed. “Of course, pizza has lots of energy in it. One of these days, maybe you’ll actually try something else on the menu. Too bad I work until eleven, or I’d take you out for a real dinner. I could go for some lobster.”
“Gross!” I chuckled. “I’ll just stick with my pizza and leave the seafood to you.” I grinned at him. “You know I don’t wander from my favorites, or it tends to be a disaster.”
“Pizza it is then. After you take your pictures, want to catch a late movie when I’m done?”
“Maybe this Friday? I need get some early shut-eye. It’s been a long day, and I have a busy week ahead of me.”
Luke frowned, but I knew he understood my deadline and how important this novel was for me. I was trying to stand on my own two feet.
“Besides, busty blonde with painted eyebrows and lipstick over there looks like she wants to take you home and eat you up,” I said teasingly, hinting in the blonde’s direction.
Luke looked horrified. “Nah, you know I don’t like the ones who stencil their whole face. That adds an entirely new meaning to the word Barbie.” He shuddered. “Those types scare me.”
“Ah, come on, Luke! She painted her whole face for you. That must have taken hours. I think she’s a winner.” I couldn’t help from giggling. This is what I needed…a good laugh. I loved how easy my friendship with Luke was.
“Ha-ha! You’re very funny today. One day, I’ll find you a man with carrot teeth, and you’ll pick me over him,” he stated good-humoredly.
Luke loved to banter about going on a date, and I always found some woman drooling over him who we could laugh over. It was silly, but it was our thing.
“Food’s ready, little lady.” Luke motioned for me.
“Thanks.” I grabbed my tray and turned to walk toward the beach.
“Yep. Catch ya later.” Luke gave me a handsome wink.
Back at the beach, the sun began to set with the most intriguing shades of orange and blue reflecting off the ocean. An ocean sunset, even after three years, still left me speechless. It was one of the most beautiful things to photograph.
I turned my mind over to the lens. Photography filled my soul. I would never get enough of it. I truly believed that my passion for photography and writing was what had saved me and kept me going. Without it, I would be an empty shell.
As I uploaded my images to my laptop, I instantly had ideas of what masterful artwork I wanted to create with each photograph. Using my editing software, I adjusted the brightness and contrast, made each one more vibrant, and played with shadows. In no time, I was completely engaged in my work, or I should say, my art. I loved to take the simplest photograph and make it so much more than that.
As they always did at night, the teenage crowd had come down to the beach, and they started a bonfire off to my right. Luckily, the group was just far enough back not to block my view of the water. The beach was almost a mile wide before it went out of sight behind the rocks. The little spot that I had chosen gave me the view of the horizon off to my left and still allowed me to hear the waves beating against the rocks to my right. It was one of my favorite places, and I loved that it was never very crowded.
My towel was spread out horizontally beneath me, so I could dig my toes into the sand while I edited picture after picture, making each one different. I could edit for hours and be solely devoted to my creations.
The night air cooled slightly, and I decided to give my eyes a break from the computer screen. I glanced over to the teens who were talking and mingling. Some of them were even snuggled into each other. The glow from the bonfire illuminated the ocean just perfectly. With tired eyes, I leaned my back against my large beach bag. It was a breathtaking sight.
I felt like I was walking on a cloud when a voice whispered in my ear. Evading the cool breeze, I turned my head to nuzzle into the warmth, and I inhaled the most intoxicating male scent, one that I had smelled only hours before. When I opened my eyes, I realized I was being carried by a solid wall of muscle in the direction of the cottages. My body instantly went on alert.
“Kyle? Why are you carrying me?” I tried not to let him hear the panic in my voice, but his aroma and hard chest were invading my senses, affecting my normally good judgment.
“It’s okay. I’m just taking you to your cottage. Those teenagers were getting loud, and I didn’t want to leave you alone on the beach. Which cottage is yours?” Kyle asked, not breaking his stride.
While trying to fight off sleepiness, I said, “Number eight. It’s around the corner on the left. Why didn’t you just wake me?”
One large hand was firmly holding my thighs, and the other supported my upper back, tucking me against him. A fluttering sensation was growing in my belly, and it was a frightening response to have toward someone I’d only just met.
“I tried, but apparently, you sleep like the dead, so it was easier to carry you.”
Kyle’s laugh came from low in his chest, vibrating me from our close contact. The fluttering continued, and even though my mind wanted to fight it, it could not be stopped.
Not a good day to have a cabin on the far side. My insides will crumble by the time I get there.
“Oh, my bag! I have to go back!” I tried to wiggle out of his hold, but it was pointless. His large muscles wouldn’t budge.
“Got it. It’s on my back. I must say that it’s the first time I’ve carried a pink glitter bag.”
He released a wicked grin on me. The light from the few lampposts on the sidewalk illuminated the contours of his face, and it was a very sexy sight to see.
“I have a few others if you’d like to borrow one. In fact, if I can take a picture of you with it, you can keep it.” To my utter shock, I relaxed in his arms as I awaited his response.
“Not going to happen.” He chuckled, low and deep. “Consider it a neighborly favor that I’m carrying it now, and that’s only because it has your valuable possessions in it. It’s a one-time deal though unless you get a different-colored bag.”
We rounded the corner to my cottage.
“I felt your eyes on me at the beach…after we met. Why were you watching me?”
When his body tensed slightly at my question, I immediately regretted asking, but I had to know if there was a deeper meaning of his intentions.
“I’m not sure. I just seem to be drawn to you. I couldn’t leave you unprotected on the beach. You looked so peaceful yet so vulnerable. I’ve been here for a few weeks and noticed you around here and there. I’m here on business, and I’ve been enjoying some down time on the beach when I’m not working or commuting to my other business obligations.”
His head tilted toward me, and his eyes bore into mine. They were intense, mesmerizing, and beautiful.
“Oh, thank you for helping me, but I can take care of myself.”
I did not like him being able to see any vulnerability in me. It made me feel small and weak, and I didn’t want to feel that way. I was trying to move forward now, working on a stronger, more confident me.
As I struggled to free myself again, he held me tight. The gesture should have frightened me. Instead, I let him speak, not knowing what to make of his unwillingness to let me go.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way.” His stride hesitated briefly. “It’s okay, Lily. I won’t hurt you.”
His words instantly put my mind and body at ease. He had a look of concern on his face as he took in my expression.
Okay, time to snap out of it. This is a stranger, not a friend. You should not be feeling crazy butterflies. It’s a good lesson not to fall asleep outside.
My mind flashed in warning. This man was intense. He had the power to consume me with his penetrating and possessive personality.
“Who are you?” I pondered out loud.
The emotions flashing through his eyes told me he understood my deeper meaning.
“Someone who doesn’t plan to be a stranger for long,” he answered confidently, still looking at my face as if he were trying to memorize each detail.
I blinked while swallowing hard, trying to control the overwhelming draw I was feeling toward him.
“See you tomorrow, beautiful Lily.”
As he slowly released me, the whole left side of my body slid down his hard, toned chest. I felt him suck in his breath as he felt the sensations, too. I wrapped my fingers around his bicep as much as I could to balance myself. His hands came down firmly on my waist to brace me as my feet hit the ground.
Wow, nothing could have prepared me for that. For such a small maneuver, I felt the heat to my bones. With a complete stranger? Time for bed, crazy.
As his head slowly lowered to mine, his lips parted for a smile, and I could feel his breath on my face. His body smelled of a clean, manly soap. A quiver shot straight up my spine as I inhaled his scent, deeper this time. Squeezing my fingers into my palms, I caught myself from leaning closer into him.
“Thank you…” I breathed unevenly. “For making sure I got home safely.”
“You’re welcome,” he replied, his eyes reflecting the soft glimmering of the porch light.
After he handed me my bag, I tried to take another deep breath and calm my nerves. I didn’t normally react this way to men, so I had no idea why I was reacting so strongly to Kyle.
As I turned to unlock my door, I stuttered, “N-night.”
When I got ready for bed, I replayed the last few minutes of talking with Kyle. “Someone who doesn’t plan to be a stranger for long.” By the look in his eyes, I had a feeling that he’d truly meant it.
Do I want to see Kyle again? Do I want to date? In a few years, yes, but I didn’t think that I was prepared right now. I was supposed to be working on that new chapter in my life, and I didn’t think it was ready to include a man. I was still trying to heal the broken pieces in my heart.
~Copyright 2013 Beautiful Chances by Alicia Rae