Where I Belong(8)By: Claudia Connor
When his eyes met hers, she smiled again, maybe a little nervous. So was he. He hadn’t felt anything like this with a girl since eighth grade. At least his palms weren’t sweating. Oh, wait. They were.
“Is this okay?” Charlotte smoothed her palms down her skirt. “I didn’t know what to wear for a boat ride or—”
CHARLOTTE DIDN’T miss the heat in his eyes and she bit her lip as she fell into step beside him.
“We’ll cruise a couple of hours. Make our way over to another marina with some great restaurants.”
Oh. She hadn’t really considered where they would go. Obviously, they wouldn’t just drive around in circles. But two hours? How far does a boat go in two hours? She didn’t even know what kind of boat it was. A speed boat? A yacht? Big enough for the ocean?
There was a lot she didn’t know, and it was those things, along with the kiss on the cheek that had kept her up half the night.
“How was your day?” he asked as they walked side-by-side down the street past the little houses stacked behind the beach-front condos. Each one was a little different, but they all had the same basic style and size.
“Good. It was good. You know, a lot of doing nothing.” Of course, she hadn’t exactly done nothing. Of course she hadn’t. She’d had a list. Get up. Make coffee. Have coffee. That was dumb, so she’d crossed off make and have, and just left coffee. Yoga: twenty minutes. Run: forty-five minutes. And so on. “How was your golf game? Did you win?”
“I did, though I let them get close. Just to keep things interesting.”
She returned his smile. Smiling at Owen was easy. “That was nice of you.”
“I thought so.”
They came to the end and crossed the street to the cute little touristy area. There were plenty of people out, renting bikes, getting early dinners, and milling around the shopping areas while they waited for a table. Kids of all ages ran around on the central green. Little ones chased bigger ones around a fountain while their parents watched, drinks in hand.
“Have you been here before?” he asked as they walked straight through, bypassing it all for the marina.
“No, first time. What about you?”
“My family’s been coming here for years. I used to rent those bikes.” He pointed to a row of vintage style bicycles grouped by color. Red, blue, and green. “My brothers and I and a couple of cousins would ride up and down these sidewalks for hours while our parents hung out, drinking, shopping. Being boring, or so we thought at the time.”
She’d been lucky enough to travel a great deal in her life, but had never gone back to the same spot. There was something to be said for returning year after year. Something natural about it, like birds migrating.
They walked farther away from the kids and families toward the pier. A few men passed them and nodded, but for the most part, the area was quiet. And getting quieter. When they got to the sidewalk that led to the boats, he pointed out his. “There she is. The last one down.”
“Wow. That’s your boat?” Charlotte wasn’t sure what she’d expected, but it was enormous—definitely made for the open ocean.
“Not ours, exactly. We have a boat at home—my parents do—but they opted not to haul it down here.”
She didn’t know much about boats, but it was huge and white, with a raised area up a couple of steps to the steering wheel. It was beautiful, but… a funny feeling began to circle in her stomach—an instinct she didn’t want to listen to but couldn’t stop.
She’d traveled all her life, lived in cities, and considered herself independent. But she was also a rule follower who’d always been taught and told time and again: don’t go anywhere with a man alone. And always, always, listen to your instincts. The last time she’d ignored a bad feeling, the cost had been almost more than she could bear. She’d been excited; now she felt uneasy, a bad feeling swirling in her gut.
With one foot on the boat, Owen held out his hand to help her aboard.
Her warning bells rang louder, and she had to separate her attraction from the facts. Yes, he was gorgeous, and yes, she liked him, but this wasn’t her. She didn’t go places with men she didn’t know—and definitely knew better than to get into a car. A boat seemed to count.