Where I Belong(2)

By: Claudia Connor



She tried not to stare at his dark hair, just long enough to move in the ocean breeze. Charlotte forced herself to look at the pool and Kyle. Not the dark gray T-shirt stretched across the man’s chest or his muscled arm, so close it would brush her bare skin if she moved an inch.

And that was way more than one picture.

“This is my Charlotte,” Kyle shouted. “That’s my uncle.”

“Your Charlotte, huh?” he asked Kyle, though he was looking at her.

Then he pushed his sunglasses to the top of his head, and even if she had thought of something to say beyond hi, she would have been silenced by the stunning green eyes staring back at her.

“Yeah, I found her, but she wasn’t dead or asleep. She was awake.”

She laughed lightly at that, and Owen shared her smile.

“Is that right? Hi. You're Charlotte.”

“Yes.”

“Uncle Oooowen!”

“I’m Owen,” he said, still smiling at her. “Obviously.”

“Obviously.”

“I came to save you.”

Her first thought was that he’d come to save her from him. “Um… what?”

“From Kyle,” he said, bringing her back. “My sister, Trish, said to thank you for playing with him.” He pointed to the other end of the pool, at the woman who’d yelled at Kyle earlier. The baby on her hip squealed and kicked at the water.

“I don’t mind.”

Another woman with short brown hair waved. “And that’s my cousin’s wife, Mia,” Owen said.

Kyle jumped again then came to the ladder where she sat at the side. He started his climb before she could move out of his way.

“Whoa, little man. Watch out for your Charlotte.” Owen shifted, caught Kyle’s arms, and swung him up and out.

“You have to play. Come on.” Kyle tugged on Owen’s black swim trunks.

“I have to, huh?”

He was stripping the T-shirt off over his head even as he spoke, making the muscles in his upper arms and shoulders bunch. Then he launched himself over the side and dove into the water. He came up smiling, and she smiled, too.

“Let’s play I jump to you,” Kyle said, pointing to Owen. “And then you. Charlotte, you have to get in.”

She dutifully swam out to tread water a foot from Owen.

Owen held out his arms and waited for Kyle to count to three. Kyle landed within inches, and Owen brought him up.

“Don’t let this little squirt boss you around,” Owen said then heaved Kyle over his head toward the side.

“I don’t mind.”

Their eyes met. His smile could have knocked a girl sideways, but with the water beading on his lashes, his green eyes sparkling in the light—

“Charlotte!” Kyle leaped and splashed down very nearly on top of her, wrapping his arms around her neck.

Unprepared for his sudden weight and tight grasp, she went under. She felt a split second of panic before Owen grabbed her around the waist and took his nephew with his other arm.

“Got you!” Grinning, Kyle pushed away from his uncle and swam to the side.

She looked at Owen, who was a little blurry through the water droplets covering her sunglasses. “Thanks, um…”

Owen’s arm remained around her, hard around her back, his face just inches from hers. The heat of his skin and the cool water were enough to give her chills.

“He did get you,” Owen said, smiling.

All she could manage was a weak “yeah,” because it was feeling more like Owen had gotten her, especially when his fingers curled around her side, grazing her stomach, sending a shiver up her spine before he let her go. They swam over and joined Kyle where he sat on the side.

“Where do you live?” Kyle asked her.

“New York.”

He looked at the condo units, shading his face, and pointed. “Which one is New York?”

Silver Dunes wasn’t a high-rise, but a two–story row of condominium units, sea-weathered to a pale gray. “Oh, no.” She laughed then shared a grin with Owen over Kyle’s head. “New York is far away from here. When I’m at the beach, I live there. On the bottom.”

“With your mom?”

“No.”

“With your dad?”

That was who she was supposed to be with, and hopefully, in just a few days, her father would join her like they’d planned. Truthfully, she wouldn't even be there if he hadn’t demanded that they both take a few vacation days. “Nope, I stay there all by myself. But just for a week.”

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