If I wanna, I’m gonna.
I once saw those words on an Instagram post and thought, Yeah, right, who has that kind of freedom? To do whatever they want, whenever or wherever they please?
I’d never known that kind of freedom until now.
I paused for a moment on the sunny dock to survey my surroundings as the cool morning breeze washed over me. The gentle sound of waves lapping at the marina pilings, the distant roar of motorboats plowing through the lake water, and the fragmented chatter and laughter of adults and excited squeals of children filled the air. A delightful whiff of bacon and coffee floated by—someone’s morning breakfast being cooked over an open fire at the nearby campground. The dewy air laden with boat fuel, fish, lake water, and pine-sweet smells enhanced the sounds and aromas of the lake marina on a busy summer holiday.
What had gotten into Ram? His suggestion that I go on this little excursion alone, dumbfounded me. The twenty-dollar bill I carried in my pocket felt like a million bucks with my revelry of being unshackled from him. Well, he never physically shackled me, but he never left my side when we were out in public, especially in a crowd.
I drew in a heady breath, looking out the small window of independence and readied myself to take on this new experience
I headed down the dock toward the marina store, with the singular goal of going in, alone, and buying whatever I wanted with my twenty bucks.
The blue skies and hot weather of this Father’s Day weekend drew large crowds to the lake. A laughing family slowed my progress. They were weighted down with excited children and baskets of food, handing both off to two men in a pontoon boat. Identical twins, from the look of them. The way they swung kids and provisions onboard while cracking jokes, they had to be the favorite uncles of the clan.
At the end of the dock, a lone couple leaned against a pillar, picnic basket and open beach bag of towels at their feet. Oblivious to the day as they kissed, his hand cupping her face. As his thumb ran softly across her cheekbone, I watched wistfully, my own face tingling where I imagined the man’s thumb dragged across. My mouth tasted the salty sweet of his tongue and my palm felt the coarse texture of his beard growth and the firmness of his strong jaw. I envied the lovers. I wanted that. I wanted those bone-deep feelings of love, the oblivion to the world, the all-consuming need to touch. I wanted to be someone’s polar opposite at a soulful level and feel the pull toward him.
I almost sighed with relief when I entered the store, not sparing the romantic couple a second glance. The cold blast of air inside the air-conditioned store felt good on my heated skin. The place was packed. Ram had told me to be quick while he gassed up the boat. Through the plate-glass windows, I could see him replacing the pump and pulling cash from his cargo shorts to pay the marina worker. His head kept looking back to the store, expression impatient. But I craved Peanut M&Ms and a Diet Dr. Pepper, and Ram be damned, I was getting them.
As the line shuffled forward, my gaze shifted beyond Ram to a tall, blond man stepping out of a sleek, expensive-looking boat. His thick hair was cut short on the sides, long and windblown on top and his swim trunks rode low on his hips. He offered his hand to a pretty blonde in a blue bikini and a sheer wrap sarong, helping her step from the boat onto the dock. When he turned toward the store, I got a better look. He had a tattoo on his chest over his heart that I couldn’t make out from the distance. The man was a walking cliché of gorgeousness. Every woman’s checklist of perfection. Six pack abs, check. Broad shoulders, check. Defined arms, check. Obligatory Adonis belt like a pair of inverted parenthesis, pointing due south: check, check, and check. My brain shook its head while my eyes gave a standing ovation.
He smiled, leaned down, and said something in the blonde’s ear. She laughed and slapped him playfully on his arm. His grin widened and he returned to his full height, taking her by the elbow to lead her into the store.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the guy. It wasn’t just his looks—I lived with a hot, sexy man and had plenty of eye candy. This attraction felt deeper. It felt weighted. Heavy on my skin and in my bones, my whole being riveted to this man as he entered the store. His laughter sent a thrilling tingle down my spine, my ears lifting to the sound and finding it familiar.
Did I know him?
“Next. Ma’am?” I spun around to see the cashier forcing a smile and waving me forward. I quickly paid for my candy and soda. I turned to go, and walked straight into a wall. At least it felt like a wall. It was a man’s bare chest. He grunted with the impact, and as he grabbed my shoulders to steady me, my eyes zeroed in on the tattoo over his heart.
What the …?
I didn’t think I’d banged my face into his rock-solid chest so hard that I hallucinated. I blinked to be sure.
A half-hinge tattoo.
The hair on the back of my neck rose, and I curled my fingers into my palms to stop them from reaching to touch. It was beautiful. Unique. I’d only ever seen one like it once before—on me.
The other half of the hinge was inked under my left breast.
And it was tingling.
I jerked my gaze up from his chest. Silver eyes, wide with surprise, looked down at me. His face drained of color as if he saw a ghost. It was the mouthwatering man from the boat, now standing with his large hands gripping my shoulders, holding me in place, an electrical current where his warm callused fingers touched my bare skin.
“Bird?” he asked, his voice deep and hesitant.
The air became too thick to breathe. Whatever I could inhale got trapped in my lungs, unable to escape around the lump in my throat. I pulled out of his grasp and stepped back. His hands dropped to his sides and he straightened to his full height. His liquid-silver eyes narrowed, guarded and heedful, seeking answers.
“Bird,” he said again, more confidence in his voice. The intense gaze softened, became liquid at the edges.
Something scraped like tiny fingernails on the edges of my mind—a need to throw myself into his arms, hold him tight, and never let go. I stood still, stunned and braced against the frightening impulse.
Why did he call me Bird?
His beautiful eyes pleaded with mine.
I gathered my confused senses, shoved my candy and drink into his chest, and like that bird, flew out of the store into the bright sunlight.
Standing on the dock next to our boat, Ram looked first at me, then wide-eyed over my shoulder. He went pale and jumped down into the boat.
“Bird,” the man from the store shouted.
The boat’s engine roared to life. Ram reached for my hand and pulled me in.
Feet pounded the boards of the dock. The tattooed man’s voice coming close. “Bird. Please. Stop. Wait…” The roar of the engine drowned out his last words, but I thought I heard him call my name, Robin.
Ram punched the boat to full maximum speed, paying no attention to the marina’s Idle Speed and No Wake signs as we sped through the inland waterway. Docked boats, big and small, bobbed violently up and down in our wake.
Looking back to the dock, I saw the blonde woman run up to the tattooed man. He pointed out at the waterway, waving his arms, then took off to the other side of the building—most likely to his boat. The blonde sprinted behind and they disappeared around the marina store while we sped further out into the lake. With the throttle wide-open, we disappeared easily around the next bend and into the straightaway. Only then did Ram look back.
“I don’t see him,” I yelled over the rushing wind and roar of the motor.
“He’s coming,” Ram said. He glanced down at me with furrowed eyebrows. Eyes determined. Then he focused forward and veered into a cove and rounded behind a small island. He cut the engine and we waited. My heart beat frantically as the sleek speedboat raced past us, the blond man at its wheel.
I looked at Ram. His jaw rigid, perspiration dotted his forehead, and he breathed heavily as he continued to stare in the direction of the boat, now gone. I’d never seen him frightened of anything or anyone, but the wild, taut emotion lining his pale face couldn’t be anything but fear. Ram knew that man. I could read it in his body language, his squinting eyes calculating our next move.
“Who was he?” I asked, my hands gripping the seat cushions on each side.
Ram broke his concentration and turned his ice blue gaze on me. “I think he’s one of them. I need to get to my computer and find out.”
I stared at Ram, looking for truth in his eyes and finding none. I was certain he had just lied to me. Even more certain we’d be moving to a new location.
Copyright © 2017 Char Sharp