Where I Belong(9)

By: Claudia Connor

“I assure you I’m a capable seaman,” he said with a charming smile, still holding out his hand.

“Um… I’m sure you are. It’s just…” Decision time. Either she went or she didn’t. Once she got on the boat, she’d be helpless to him. Out on the open water, no one would hear her scream. There would be nowhere to run. Not that she had a definite reason to think she would need to, but…

There was just that little but.

A slight frown fell over his face. He lowered his hand and stepped off the boat. “Second thoughts?”

“I’m sorry.” Damn. With a slight lift to her chin, she took a step back and forced herself to meet his eyes. “I really am, but…” She wanted to explain, but her stomach was seriously knotted, and she couldn’t really gather her thoughts with him looking at her the way he was. “This just wasn’t a good idea. I’m sorry.” She turned to go.

“Hey.” He caught her wrist, and alarm flared through her, until she saw his eyes. They were kind; so was his smile. And his hold, loose and warm, sent a tingle up her arm.

“Where are you going?”

“I… home, I guess.”

“Why would you do that?”


“Just because we’re not going on the boat doesn’t mean I don’t want to spend time with you. That was the whole point, after all.” He smiled again, and one side of his mouth curved up higher than the other.

God, he was cute. She wished she were more adventurous. She used to be.

“I should have considered you might be uncomfortable. Alone, out on the water. I have a sister. I wasn’t thinking.” He let go of her hand as though he wanted to give her even more space. “We can do anything you want. Get a drink. Go to dinner. Listen to music. Play putt-putt.” He added that last one with a boyish grin. “Does any of that sound good?”

Relief and giddiness mixed to warm her from the inside out. The bad feelings from just a minute ago faded away, and there was no way to stop the smile that grew on her face. “All of that sounds good.”

“Okay, then.”

They took three steps, and he stopped. “Wait. You’re not going to cry when I smoke you in mini golf, are you?”

He held out his hand, and she took it, loving the feel of his big, warm palm next to hers. “I think it’s you who’ll be crying, but don't worry. I’ll look away and pretend not to see your man tears.”

They agreed on Mexican, but it was still early, and the crowd of people waiting outside with buzzers told her it would be a while.

Owen put his name on the list, then they strolled, meandering through open-air shops selling everything from shell jewelry to woven bags and straw hats.

“Looks like you’re the boring adult now,” she teased.

Owen took her hand and, gazing down at her, linked their fingers. “I’m not bored.”

Her heart stumbled. Heat traveled up from their joined hands, melting her insides. Quickly, she focused her attention on a rack of shell necklaces to hide the giddy smile on her face.

“Ah.” He fingered a shirt as they passed a rack outside one store. “The art of airbrush. Never goes out of style.”

She laughed. “I bet you had one.”

“Of course I did. Everyone should.” He pulled an oversized tank top from the rack and held it up, displaying the burst of neon colors. “I think this has your name all over it. And hey, if it doesn’t, that can easily be added.”

She laughed, more at him trying not to laugh than the shirt itself. “No, thanks.”

OWEN RECEIVED a text that their table was ready and they squeezed into the busy restaurant, past a large group on their way out. He slipped his hand around Charlotte’s waist, guiding her through the mayhem. Something so simple, but it gave a certain feeling of togetherness in the midst of a crowd.

They barely had their chairs pulled up to the colorful tile-covered table before they were served salsa and a basket of chips.

“So you were coming with your father?” he asked, going for a chip.

“Yeah.” She took one also, dipped in the salsa, then glanced up in time to catch him smiling. “What? Is that weird?”

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