After nearly three hours of alternating between casual conversation and silence—mostly silence—Grant steered his five-year-old Lexus off the highway and onto a long, paved driveway. A few minutes later Katrina was forced to close her gaping mouth. Even in the darkness she was able to see the home’s luxury. It was huge, predominantly glass, and sitting right on the ocean. White lights trimmed the massive frame and through the translucent walls she spotted a twinkling Christmas tree. Other than that all the lights in the house were out.
“Grant, whose house is this?”
“My family’s.” As if he sensed her panic, he said, “Don’t worry. It’s just the beach house. No one will be here until Saturday.”
“And we’re leaving tomorrow,” Katrina added, opening her door and stepping out.
She couldn’t believe she actually let him talk her into coming with him. But when she heard the waves lapping against the sand, she was glad she did. Mesmerized by the peacefulness, she was vaguely aware Grant was talking as he gathered their bags from the car. Something about how his parents came a few weeks early every year and decorated the house, putting the lights on a timer. She pulled herself away and focused on him, smiling. He was still talking.
“The guest house is original to the property. That’s where I always stay when I’m here. Is that all right?”
“It’s perfect,” she said, somewhat relieved she didn’t have to stay in the house where his family would gather in a few short days. Even though she was with him, it felt a little intrusive.
She followed him through the manicured yard and to a smaller home about fifty feet away from the edge of the main one. It was much less extravagant but beautiful all the same.
“Wine?” he asked, opening the door and flicking on the light.
“Please.” Katrina glanced around the house. The walls were off-white, the floor was completely tiled in a deep red, almost burgundy color, and the furniture was beige. There were splashes of yellow here and there. A plush, white rug ran out from under the sofa to splay across the center of the floor. The room reminded her of a sunset. She moved to the stone fireplace and ran her hand across the smooth mantle.
“The kitchen is fully stocked, so if you need anything in the middle of the night…” His voice trailed off and he handed her a glass of merlot. “I’m glad you came.”
“Me too, Mr. Ward.” She took a sip from her glass, silently giving him credit for knowing she’d need it. “I guess you bring all of your ex-employers here.” She was joking but his face went serious and she tipped up her goblet, drinking half of the liquid.
His fingers curled around the back of her neck. His thumb gently stroked along her jaw. “I’ve never brought anyone here…just you.” Holding her gaze, he paused for a second then stepped away and picked up a bag. “Here,” he said, reaching in and pulling out the red box he’d given her earlier. “You never opened this.”
“It’s nothing really. You act like you’ve never opened a gift.”
She took it from him and moved to the sofa, leaving him standing by the fireplace. Everything she owned she’d worked for and it was hard to accept anything from anyone. “I haven’t in a long time.” She tugged at the ribbon and peeled back the paper. Lifting the lid, she found two intricately folded designer scarves. She loved scarves. “They’re beautiful. You shouldn’t have done this.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I didn’t know which one to get. I’m not a shopper.”
She ran her fingers over the fabric, choking back tears. “Is all of this because you feel guilty about quitting me?”
“Nope.” Grant stared at her for a moment then finished his near full glass of wine in one swallow. He set the goblet on the mantle and stepped across the room.
In one fluid movement he pulled her from the couch and wrapped an arm around her waist, restraining her body against his. Katrina looked up to meet his face. When she did, his mouth met hers, parting her lips with his tongue. His hands moved up her back, rough and intense through her hair, stopping as they cupped each side of her face, bringing her even closer.
Aware of the thickness under his jeans pressing against her hip, the space between her thighs heated. A fury of energy thrummed with her pulse. She didn’t just want him inside her, she needed it.
Grant severed their embrace, meeting her eyes. “I quit my job, not you…okay?”
In a daze, breathing quick and shallow, Katrina nodded in response.
A satisfied smile flitted across his face, and he kissed her forehead. “Come on, I want to show you something.” He took her hand and led her outside to a storage shed. He pulled out two large, white paper-ish looking things and they headed to the beach.
They came to a stop not far from the water’s edge, and Katrina inhaled deeply, loving the smell of the ocean. A slight breeze wisped by, the coolness making her muscles tense.
“Have you ever launched a sky lantern?” he asked, handing her one of the objects. It was light, nearly weightless, and it felt so fragile she was afraid she might tear it.
“I’ve seen them from a distance. They’re stunning.” She copied his motions as he carefully unfolded his, taking care not to tear it as she opened it to its full size—about two feet wide and three feet tall.
“There’s nothing like launching your own.” He flashed her a smile, his eyes twinkling just like the reflection of the moon on the water. “Here, hold it like this.” Gently, he sat his on the sand and balanced the bottom ring of her lantern on her palms. With a lighter he’d retrieved from his front pocket, Grant lit the wicks in the center of the paper balloon. Katrina gasped at the instant glow. A luminescence she’d never seen before.
“When it’s full of hot air, it will take off. Oh, and make a wish before it does.” He gave her a wink and went to work on his.
In a matter of minutes the lanterns were floating over the moonlit ocean. Katrina took her eyes off the floating lights and focused on Grant. How had she become comfortable with him so fast?
She laughed to herself, there was nothing quick about it…they’d been together nearly every day for the last three years. She walked over and slipped her fingers through his. It only seemed right. “This is amazing.”
“They are, aren’t they?” He kept his gaze on the two dwindling lights in the night and gave her hand a squeeze.
Watching him stare at the sky, something from deep inside her, something Katrina knew she’d been hiding for as long as she’d known him, came to the surface. She didn’t want to push it away anymore. She thought about how he’d kissed her earlier. How she didn’t want it to stop. How she knew in that moment that she needed him in more ways than she ever expected to. “I meant being with you.”
Grant ran his eyes over her. “You’re shivering. Why didn’t you tell me you’re cold?”
“I don’t think I am.” And she wasn’t. At least she didn’t feel cold.
He blanketed her with his arms, curling her in so she was pressed against his chest. She closed her eyes and listened to his heart thrum strong and steady. It drowned out the sound of the waves.His lips buried in her hair. “Let’s go in, I’ll start a fire.”