Weeks passed, marked by tours during the day and nights with Tyler. The more time she spent with him, the more she liked what she saw. He kept her charmed and laughing, effortlessly wiping away the stress and strain of packed days. They went swimming, biking, and hiking. They lied out and watched the stars. He cooked for her. Amid the sandcastle competitions, movie choosing ceremonies, and the hilariously competitive game nights, spending time with him became the highlight of her day and she was looking forward to their night together.
Unfortunately she was currently stuck cleaning up from a late diving tour with Keon. She peeked into the boat to see how much equipment there was and glanced down at her watch.
“Got another date with the resident wannabe?”
“Actually, yeah. Are you going to be a brat about him forever?”
Keon hadn’t softened his stance about Tyler since their first time out together. The times Tyler stopped by the shop he alternated between ignoring him and watching him like a suspected thief. Then there were the snarky comments. She chalked it up as the protectiveness of a man who was like a brother to her and ignored him most of the time. Tonight his attitude bothered her.
“He’s a good guy, Keon. Really. He hasn’t even tried to kiss me, let alone make any type of move. You can relax.”
Tyler was the perfect gentleman. He never pushed or went beyond holding her hand , a hug, or a playful wrestle. She hadn’t dated since her freshman year of college and hadn’t missed it. She didn’t want to get into another relationship, but with Tyler she found herself not only willing to, but also wanting to.
Every outing with him was fun. It was more than that though. He made her feel cherished. He was always caring and considerate. He was an amazing listener and whenever she brought something to him he knew when to help her work through it and when to just let her vent. He was honest, some might even say to a fault, but she liked that about him. He never left her wondering what he was thinking. A smile curved her lips.
She glanced at her watch again.
“I just don’t like the vibe I get from him.” Keon passed her two tanks before grabbing two of his own. “He’s a stranger.”
“Have you tried actually getting to know him?” It wasn’t like Keon to act like this. Sure he was always a little overprotective but she expected the animosity to have faded by now. She frowned back at him as she unlocked the shop and preceded him inside.
“Just be careful, alright? We don’t know a ton about him.”
“You know me. I’m always careful.”
The sound of Tyler’s truck pulling up cut off whatever else he planned to say. They went through the required equipment checks before returning them to their proper place. Mari took one last look around the shop to make sure everything was in place.
“Go ahead. I’ll lock up.”
She raised a brow.
“Go ahead before I change my mind. Just remember what I said.”
She smiled and kissed his cheek. It was more than him letting her leave a little early. This was his way of trying to show his support of whatever made her happy and they both knew it.
The passenger door was already open when she walked out. She hopped in and leaned over to give Tyler a hug. He knew her schedule almost as well as she did and had taken to picking her up and helping her wind down after full days of work. Tonight he drove her down to the beach to enjoy the stars over her favorite order from Joe’s Shack.
“You’re getting really good at this.” She popped a piece of shrimp into her mouth.
“We’ve been doing this for a while now. I’d like to think so.”
She nudged him and stole one of his fries, drawing laughter from him.
“And no matter how well I think I ordered, you always find something of mine you want.”
“The fact that it’s yours adds a different flavor to it.”
She said it with a straight face, but couldn’t maintain it when he stared at her in amused disbelief.
“Finish your food, woman.”
When she finished her dinner he took her hand for a stroll down the beach. A soft smile touched her face and she inhaled the rich ocean scent. Tyler and the beach. It didn’t get much better than this. It would be very easy for a woman to get used to being the center of his focus.
“What are you smiling about?”
She cocked her head to the side and her smile widened. “You.”
“Ah sweetheart, you don’t look at a man and tell him something like that.”
“You asked a question. I’m just being honest.”
He gently tugged her to a stop, water lapping over their feet. “A man could really like the look of you,” he murmured as he trailed his fingers down the side of her face. “And I’m only being honest.”
“Oh yeah?” she challenged with a smile.
“Yeah,” he breathed seconds before he leaned in. “If you don’t want this, now’s a good time to stop me.”
He was so close the words were practically said against her lips. Without realizing it, she brought her hands up to grip his arms when he cupped her face.
“I don’t see anyone stopping you.”
No sooner than she said the words, he took her lips in a strong kiss. It was a shock to her system. He never did anything in half measures and this kiss was no different. She was on the tips of her toes, meeting him in the hungry kiss. He drew her in tighter until she was flush against him and her arms locked around his neck.
It was every bit as intense as the man holding her. She didn’t want it to end.
“I was afraid of that,” he murmured when he finally pulled back.
She rested her forehead against his shoulder and felt his fingers comb through the loosened strands of hair.
“Afraid of what?”
“You. Wanting more if I had a taste.”
She lifted her head to look into his eyes. He smiled that crooked smile she was coming to love.
“Just being honest.”
She smacked his chest lightly and then smoothed her hand over the fabric there. “Yeah, well if it makes you feel any better…I want more too.”
He groaned softly. He pressed a kiss to her forehead, her nose, and finally her lips. She melted into his hold with her lips clinging to his. Kissing with Tyler was more than it ever was with anyone else. She wanted to sink in and never come back up.
“Easy.” He was breathing hard when he ripped his mouth from hers. “You could kill a man.”
He pressed his forehead to her and laughed breathlessly. “Yeah, we’re going to do this. You’re mine, sweetheart.”
“You weren’t sure up until now?”
He laughed again. “Don’t be cute right now.”
“Sorry, I’ll see what I can do about turning that off.”
She barely got the last word out before he kissed her again.
“I’m trying to find some control,” he murmured against her lips. “Help me out.”
He stole one more kiss before he pulled back, grabbing her hands and squeezing.
“Let me get you home.”
“Out of my mind.”
She laughed and let him turn her back toward the truck. When his arms wrapped around her waist she nestled into him. They walked back up the beach like that, laughing and teasing each other as they went.
He helped her into the truck and stilled, his eyes on something in the distance. She settled into the seat and frowned up at him. All signs of amusement left his face. His eyes were hard and his jaw set as he scanned the night.
“What is it?” she asked, trying to find whatever held his attention.
He gently swung her legs into the truck and closed the door with a smile. With more look out at the road, he climbed in and drove off.
By the time he pulled up to the house, she was exhausted but still reluctant to leave him. He surprised her when he opened his car door. Usually he pulled up to the guesthouse, waited for her to get inside, and then left. He was helping her down from the truck when she found her tongue.
“What are you doing?”
“Walking you to your door.”
She studied him, but he seemed as easygoing as he was earlier. Whatever bothered him before, he was over it now. She searched through her pack for her keys and came up with them just as they reached the door.
“Get inside, sweetheart.”
“I’m going. Thank you for tonight. I needed that. Somehow you always seemed to know.”
He kissed her temple. Then her cheek. “You’re welcome. Go.”
She grinned up at him. “You really like me,” she teased.
“I don’t know why. You’re a brat.”
“You like my mean streak.” She stroked a hand over his cheek. “Goodnight Tyler.”
He turned his head to kiss her palm. “Goodnight sweetheart.”
She reluctantly pulled away and unlocked the door. He was already backpedaling toward the stairs.
She couldn’t resist one last tease. “Still scared?”
“Shaking in my boots, baby. Lock up.”
She nodded and shut the door, waiting. A knock sounded against door and she burst into laughter. She turned the lock.
“Better?” she asked the door.
“Brat.” And then all she heard were his footsteps and the truck starting back up.