Authors: Leigh Talbert Moore
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary
By Leigh Talbert Moore
If you are reading this book and did not purchase it or win it from an author-sponsored giveaway, this book has been pirated. Please delete it from your device, and support the author(s) by purchasing a legal copy from one of its many distributors.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © Leigh Talbert Moore, 2013
Printed in the United States of America.
Cover design by
Jolene B. Perry
All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, photocopying, mechanical, or otherwise—without prior permission of the publisher and author.
For my faithful readers and friends,
and for everyone who believes in true love.
And for JRM, always~
Table of Contents
Two nights ago, I stood on the beach in Julian’s arms watching as the New Year’s Eve fireworks exploded in a brilliant finale. I kissed him, and we promised to spend the second half of senior year together.
Two hours before, I’d stood in a gigantic living room in a mansion on Hammond Island, the most exclusive neighborhood in our town, facing Julian’s mystery father. I’d promised to keep him informed about Julian without ever revealing his identity.
Tonight, I stood in my bedroom, a cool January breeze blowing in across the Gulf, holding the one piece of evidence that could blow everything—a letter from Julian’s mom to his dad, Bill Kyser.
I had to get that letter back to Julian’s dad before anyone found it in my possession.
Winter had arrived in South County at last. My house was too far from the water to hear the waves crashing, but I’d opened my bedroom window and taken off the screen. Standing by my dresser, I closed my eyes and pretended I was out there, sitting on the shore, letting the damp, salty air push my hair around my face. In that moment, I could smell the crisp ocean water, and if I really focused, I could almost taste it.
Taste carried my mind back to Friday night, when I’d stood on the shore with Julian’s arms tight around my waist. After two years we were officially together, and a little thrill followed closely by a smile hit me whenever I remembered that night.
He’d run down from his house to meet me at the public beach, and we’d stood on the shore watching the show. At midnight when we kissed, a hint of salt filled my mouth. I wasn’t sure if it was from the running or the briny air or if everything about him was like the best day at the beach ever. It was probably all three.
In my quiet house, I remembered the other part of that night, and going to my door, I put my ear against it to listen. The only sound was silence. I turned the knob and carefully eased it open. No one was awake. Closing it again, I locked it and went to my dresser. In the top drawer, past panties, socks, and tights, I felt it. The letter. Right beside a little box.
I was dressed for bed in a tank top and snowman PJ pants. My curly brown hair was pulled into a side ponytail, and I hopped onto my bed holding both items from my drawer. The box contained the dragonfly ring Julian had made for me last semester. I slipped it onto my finger and dropped back on the bed on my back. Holding my hand up, I tilted it from side to side so the crystals would sparkle. It was possibly the best gift I’d ever received in my life, and thinking about officially being Julian’s girlfriend filled my chest with a bubble of excitement.
Still smiling, I sat up again and grabbed the letter. It was the first time I’d read it since it fell out of Bill Kyser’s private journal. That night, I’d stuffed it under my pillow, and later I’d forgotten to retrieve it before returning the secret books to Julian’s dad. Now it was the only piece of evidence tying me to their story.
Carefully, I removed the thick paper from the light blue envelope and unfolded it.
Thank you again for the welding torch. I hope it will help Julian with his scholarship projects for SCAD. I’ll be sure you know how that goes. His art is edgy and inventive, if a bit expensive. Perhaps he got a few developer genes from his father after all. Or maybe all boys like building things and playing with fire.
Speaking of fire, I also received your message about telling him about you. I understand you want to be in his life more, and I know it’s been a long time. It’s hard to believe thirteen years have passed since that terrible night.
But I still can’t agree with you that telling Julian is the right thing. I think
would be playing with fire. And it would burn us badly. None of the children would recover from that wound.
For now, we must continue to keep your identity a secret. Julian has everything he needs, and you’ve always been so generous toward him. I thank you for that. Maybe one day he can know you as his father, but today, I just don’t see how it’s possible. I hope you understand.
My fingers slid back and forth across the stationary. The letter was written after Julian’s fifteenth birthday, three years ago. Apparently, Mr. Kyser had wanted to come clean. He’d wanted Julian to know the truth. That his father was the richest and possibly most powerful man in town.
My lips pressed together as my forehead creased. I’d promised I wouldn’t tell Julian what I knew, but it was getting harder with every passing day.
Just then I heard a sharp
outside my window, followed by a snapping sound. Immediately, I dropped from my bed to the floor, eyes glued to the dark opening where my screen should’ve been. It was 12:30, and I had no idea what I’d do if a squirrel or something worse flew inside. In a blink, a dark head in a grey knit hat appeared. Shining blue eyes met mine, and my lips instantly broke into a smile to match the one on Julian’s face.
“Anna?” he whispered, still outside. Then he strained to see me. “Are you hiding?”
My pulse raced. “What are you doing?” He couldn’t see my hands, so I quickly folded the paper and shoved the incriminating letter back in its envelope as fast as I could.
“Coming to get you.” He straddled my window sill, crossing over, and I slipped the letter under my bed before standing up.
Then I glanced down at what I was wearing—no bra, but my tank was black. “I was about to go to bed.”
“Hmm,” his eyes moved up and down my body, and I felt a little charge. “I miss warm weather.”
“It’ll be back soon.”
His presence seemed to fill my room, as if he were the only thing there, dressed in dark jeans and a long-sleeved plaid shirt. I ran to him, and my bare feet made him seem even taller than usual. He pulled me by the waist into a close into a hug, and I shivered as his breath tickled past my ear.
“My vote’s always for less clothes, but you’re going to freeze.” He straightened up, stepping over to my closet and digging around until he came back with my black hoodie. “Slip this on and some jeans.”
I took it, not even thinking of putting up a fight. “What are we doing?”
“Meeting up with the guys down by the water,” he whispered. “It’s the last night before we head back to finish the year, and they wanted to hang out. I wanted to see you.”
His words made me smile as I scooped a pair of faded jeans off the foot of my bed. He watched me a split second before going back to the window while I finished dressing. I grabbed my shoes and met him at the opening.
“Do you need help getting down?” He reached for the branch right outside.
“I don’t know,” I whispered, following him as I buttoned and zipped. “I’ve never done this before.”
“That makes me very sad to hear. I’m definitely coming back.”
My nose wrinkled, but I caught the hand he held out. Briefly, I slid my thumb across the tiny dragonfly tattoo he’d inked between his thumb and first finger. With our hands together, it looked like my ring and his ink were flying to each other.
“You’re wearing it,” he said. My eyes flickered to his, and just as fast, he leaned forward and kissed me, stealing my breath. His lips were warm against mine and sweet like fresh mint. “Mmm. I’d better get you down.”
He caught my waist, helping me onto the branch. As always, I was surprised by his strength. Julian was tall and slim, but he was constantly lifting and holding up motorcycle parts and assorted machinery, the raw materials he welded into huge metal sculptures. It left him strong enough to take on guys twice his size, not that he needed to. His easy-going personality earned him friends just about every school circle.
Once across, I caught the branches and scrambled after him, quietly dashing across my front lawn and down the half-block to where his classic T-bird convertible was parked. We both jumped in, and I watched as he turned the key and waited.