Beautiful [Beautiful Series]

Chapter 12

Pippa

Our final drive was far north, to the cabin in Waitsfield, Vermont—just southeast of Burlington. We were all groggy, having stayed up far too late in our respective hotel rooms the night before, and maybe more than anything had run out of the low-hanging conversational fruit.

Jensen and I were no longer playing pretend, but something else had settled into place—permission to kiss and to touch, and not for the benefit of someone else or as any sort of game, but because we wanted to.

I dozed on his shoulder in the far backseat, vaguely aware of our position—his right arm around me; his left hand on my thigh, just beneath the hem of my skirt; his body arranged toward mine, curving to make himself a more comfortable pillow. I was aware that he spoke in hushed tones whenever Hanna asked something from the front seat. I was aware of the weight of his kiss when he would occasionally brush his lips across my hair.

But only when he gently elbowed me awake was I aware of the truly magical thing happening: cityscapes had given way to lush wilderness. In their final throes of life before winter, maples lined the two-lane roads densely. Oranges and yellows lingered on the ground, kicked up by the wind as we passed. Faint green could still be found here and there, but otherwise the land was an array of earth tones and dwindling fire with a backdrop of bright blue sky.

“Good God,” I whispered.

I felt Jensen’s attention on the side of my face, but I could barely tear my eyes away.

“Who—who—?” I began, unable to imagine who could live here and ever leave.

“I’ve never seen you speechless,” he said, amazed.

“You’ve known me seven days,” I reminded him with a laugh, finally able to turn and look at him.

So close. His eyes were the brightest things in the car, focused as they were on me entirely.

“You look quite pensive,” I whispered.

“You’re beautiful,” he said just as quietly, making his words simple with a small shrug.

Don’t fall, Pippa.

“We’re ten minutes out,” Will called from the driver’s seat, and I felt the energy rebound in the car as Ruby lifted herself from her nap on Niall’s lap and he stretched his long arms across the bench seat in front of us.

A tiny town passed, and houses seemed to become spaced farther and farther apart. I thought of London, of the way it felt we were all living one on top of another, and tried to imagine a life out here.

The simplicities of getting only what you need, of having things be well and truly quiet, of being able to see each and every star.

And the difficulties, too, of not being able to walk to the market, not being able to trip home with a bag of takeaway or hop on the Tube, not being able to get away from the same small-town friends without a long drive.

But you would have this at your front door every minute, and it would be ever evolving, from winter to spring, summer, and autumn. No more English gray that loomed far more frequently than the sun.

Jensen’s fingers slid up my neck and into the hair at the nape, massaging gently as if it were something he did every day.

Was it that I couldn’t imagine leaving this state, or just that I didn’t entirely want this trip to end?

“I wonder if this is how my mobile phone feels when the battery dies and I leave it alone for a few hours,” I mumbled.

Beside me, Jensen laughed. “Your random metaphors are beginning to make sense to me.”

“I’m slowly blackening your intellect.”

“Is that what you’re doing when you’re fucking me senseless?”

He’d thought he said this quietly enough, but out of the corner of my eye I saw Ruby sit up straighter, pretending not to listen as she leaned toward the window. I put my finger over Jensen’s lips, shaking my head as I bit down a laugh.

His eyes went wide in understanding, but instead of turning awkward and pulling out his phone for immediate emotional disengagement, he leaned forward, pressing his mouth to mine, trapping my fingers in between. This permission to touch when we wanted, where we wanted, was going to do me in.

Don’t fall, Pippa.

Don’t fall.

“Holy shit, guys,” Will called from the front, and we all bent to peer out our respective windows.

A private drive peeled off from the main road, and we turned down it, the van’s wheels crunching quietly over gravel and bark. The air felt cooler here, damp under the shade, the sun blotted out by the thick branches of trees overhead. It smelled of mulch and pine and the bite of decaying earth underfoot. A curved driveway spread out ahead of us, and Will slowed the van to a stop, turning off the engine.

I nearly didn’t want to disturb the quiet that followed, didn’t want to rustle any leaves or chase off any of the birds by opening a car door. The house before us looked like something out of a movie from my childhood: a massive A-frame log cabin built of stripped maples and stained a warm, syrupy brown, with spindly saplings that dotted the perimeter and bled into the deeper shade of the forest behind it.

“It looks even more amazing than the photos!” Ruby sang, nose pressed to the glass so she could see the whole of it, towering above where we’d parked.

“It does!” Hanna squeaked.

Eventually we tumbled out of the van, stretching our limbs and staring ahead of us in wonder.

“Hanna,” Will said quietly. “Plum, you’ve outdone yourself with this.”

She bounced on her feet proudly, staring up at him. “Yeah?”

He smiled, and I looked away to give them privacy as something unspoken passed between them.

Ruby took Niall’s hand and they made their way down the path to the house. We all followed, staring up at the trees, the skies, the web of hiking paths sprouting away from where we stood and into the woods.

The closest path—the one from the parkway to the cabin—approached from the side, but the majestic front entrance dwarfed even Niall. The house was two stories, with balconies on either end. A pair of rocking chairs flanked the front porch, and a small rack of chopped firewood stood neatly stacked nearby. Anticipating our approach, the caretaker had set a warm fire in the fireplace, and through the window I spotted a bottle of red wine—open and breathing—on the table just inside the entry.

Wherever there wasn’t wood, there was glass: windows upon windows lined the side of the house, casting the area outside the cabin in the same warm light that infused the indoors.

Hanna pulled a key from an envelope in her vacation folder and opened the door.

“This is fucking absurd,” I heard myself say.

Jensen laughed beside me, and Will turned, nodding as he smiled. “Oh, completely.”

“I mean, how the fuck am I supposed to go back to real life after this?” I asked. “I live in a shack.”

Hanna giggled delightedly.

“I thought we were friends, Hanna,” Ruby added, laughing. “But forever after this, the rest of my life will look bleak—and that’s on you now.”

Hanna threw her arms around Ruby and smiled at me over her shoulder.

“We are friends,” she said, and her smile grew when Will came up behind her, sandwiching her in. “We are best friends, and this is the best vacation of my life.”

Nine more days, I thought, looking over at Jensen as he and Niall laughed over the absurdity of our fortune. Just over one more week with them.

That night, as the sun set outside the broad kitchen window, we sat around the breakfast bar, drinking wine while Will cooked for us. Unbeknownst to even Hanna, he’d had groceries delivered, already having planned the meals for the week.

While we poured wine and laughed listening to Niall read aloud the entire string of Bennett’s texts from the past week from Will’s phone, Jensen stood off to the side of the room, listening without really joining.

“ ‘I can’t decide whether I should keep her pregnant for the next ten years solid,’ ” Niall read, “ ‘or quietly go get a vasectomy and pray that I get my wife back.’ ” He scrolled down a bit, murmuring, “That was from two days ago. This one, from last night: ‘Chloe made a pie.’ And Max replied, ‘And not to throw at you?’ ”

Will laughed, tossing a handful of garlic into a pan of hot oil. “I told them we won’t be on cell service all week, so if they need anything, they’ll have to call the landline.”

I wondered if Hanna’s eyes flickered to Jensen the same way mine did, watching him pull his phone from his pocket and gaze down at the screen.

I didn’t have to ask to know what he saw there: Nothing. No bars, no 4G, no LTE, no service. Having checked the guest log after we brought our things in—I was more curious about where previous visitors had come from than about where to find the remote controls and firewood—I did happen to read that there was no Wi-Fi, either.

At least with the winery tours, we were fairly constantly on the move, and the drama of Becky, and of the holiday girl beside him, seemed to keep Jensen from worrying too much about work. But now, I knew nine days stretched out ahead of him, blank but for whatever he chose to fill them with. I watched him react to the isolation of the cabin and the days of leisure he would be forced to endure here: his face grew tight, he slipped his phone back into his pocket, and he turned to stare out the window.

And then he turned back, meeting my gaze as though he felt me studying him. I’m sure I looked rather intense and bullish: my jaw set, my eyes focused on him and clearly communicating what I was thinking—Put down the bloody phone, Jens, and enjoy yourself. So I smiled, winking as I lifted my glass meaningfully to my lips and took a long swallow.

The tension in his shoulders seemed to slowly dissolve—through effort or some subconscious trigger being pulled, it didn’t matter to me—and he made his way across the room to stand behind me.

“No work, you,” I said, tilting my head to grin up at him. “Sorry to be the one to tell you, there’s no lawyering allowed in here. Such a shame.”

He shook his head with a small, tense laugh, bending to plant a kiss atop my head. But he didn’t immediately retreat, so I took advantage, leaning back against the solid, reassuring weight of him, biting back a wider smile as his arms went around me.

The Becky excuse was hundreds of miles away, and still no one reacted like this hug was anything odd at all.

Our first morning, after sleeping in till an unholy hour, was full of buttermilk hotcakes sloppy with preserves. Afterward we went berry picking and swimming in the wide creek, then lazed by the fire in the cabin, reading whatever fabulously terrible mysteries we could find on the shelves of the house.

And the days blurred together a bit just like this: hikes through the woods, midday naps, and endless hours spent laughing in the kitchen together, drinking wine while Will cooked.

The only thing missing, I felt, was some gratuitous wood chopping.

Around day three, I knew it couldn’t go unmentioned. I suspected that, when we looked back on it all, this could be my true legacy to the trip.

“The fire looks a bit dim,” I called out to the men, who were playing poker in the dining room.

Ruby looked up from her book and then glanced meaningfully back and forth between where I sat, curled in a ball in the giant leather chair by the fire, and the heavy stack of wood piled in front of the fireplace.

“Well, there’s plenty of wood,” she said, confused.

“Ruby Stella,” I said, sotto voce. “I’m not saying you should shut your trap, but I’m not not saying it, either.”

She clapped a hand over her mouth just as Will jogged into the room, worried. He pulled up short at the sight of the fire—positively blazing in the hearth—and the giant pile of wood next to it—not at all insufficient.

“Sure, I can put some more wood on.” He said it without any pointed lazy ass inflection.

What a prince.

“The thing is,” I said, pushing up onto an elbow, “freshly cut wood really is such a treat. The smell, the crackling . . .”

He tilted his head, studying me before sliding his eyes to where Hanna was giggling behind her book.

“ ‘Freshly cut’?” he asked.

“I believe I saw an ax behind the woodshed,” I added helpfully. “A big, heavy ax. And there are some larger logs inside . . .”

Jensen stood in the doorway, his shoulder leaning casually against the frame. “Pippa.”

I looked up at him and grinned. “What?”

He simply gazed at me.

I winced sympathetically. “Unless you don’t know how to wield an ax? Or one quite so large.”

I heard Niall’s laugh carry in from the dining room.

“I can wield an ax just fine,” Will said, pulling back a bit. “Swinging an ax sounds like a walk in the park.”

“No,” I said, placating him, “you’re such city boys. I don’t want you to get hurt. I shouldn’t have suggested it. I’m sorry.”

Ruby murmured an amused “Ohhhh shit” from the couch.

Niall stepped behind Jensen and smiled at me. “Pippa, you’re terrible.”

“But the question is, are you?” I asked. “Terrible at chopping wood?”

Jensen and Will exchanged a look and then Jensen reached for the hem of his sweater, tugging it up and over his head so that he stood in a T-shirt and jeans. “Looks like we’ve been challenged.”

We all but leapt up, following the men-on-a-mission out into the backyard.

Indeed, there was a chopping block to the side of the shed, and only a few feet away, leaning against the structure, was a pretty impressive ax.

An incredibly impressive ax. I’d only been trying to antagonize them, but it looked . . . heavy.

I had my first moment of hesitation.

“Lads, maybe—”

Will picked it up in one hand, swinging it over his shoulder. Beside me, Hanna let out a shaky exhale.

“What’s that, Pippa?” Will asked, mock-serious expression pulling his brows together.

“Erm, nothing.”

Niall emerged from the shed with a log that, I swear to this day, was bigger than he was, and laid it on the ground for Will to chop into smaller pieces before they could easily split it on the chopping block.

But instead of taking a swing at it himself, Will handed the ax to Jensen and then looked up at me, giving me a sly grin that somehow said both You’re welcome and This’ll shut her up.

Without even sparing a glance in my direction—truly, he was an obliviously sexy man on a mission—Jensen hefted the ax over his right shoulder and came down hard, cracking into the trunk. The sound echoed around us, sending a flock of birds out of their comfort in a nearby tree.

“Holy shit, I feel like a man,” he growled in surprise, laughing as he worked the blade free before taking another swing.

His T-shirt was white, and beneath it I could see the muscles of his back straining as he sent the ax into the fresh wood. Hanna bounced beside me, chanting for her brother, but my attention was focused entirely on Jensen. And his back.

The same back that had felt the bite of my fingernails as he fucked me against the trunk of a tree yesterday.

The same back I had soaped into a bubbly lather last night in the bath.

The same back that had grown sweaty beneath my palms as he worked his body over mine in bed this morning.

“Holy Mary, mother of God,” I murmured. I was a genius.

“I fear for Pippa’s health,” Niall said through a laugh. “Does anyone know CPR?”

Jensen pulled back at this, his brow damp with sweat as he looked over his shoulder. His eyes turned up a little at the corners in his predatory smile when he saw my expression.

It was precisely the look he’d worn two nights ago when he’d literally thrown me down on the bed and prowled toward me.

“Your turn!” Ruby sang at her husband, and Jensen, flushed and disheveled, handed Niall the ax.

Will picked up a two-foot length of the trunk that Jensen had cleaved and propped it on the chopping block for Niall, his eyes bright with excitement and envy.

Jensen came to stand by me—suspiciously close. And then I got a whiff of the clean sweat smell of him, mingled with his aftershave. He was such a little shithead. I had, after all, told him only a few days ago on a hike how much I loved the way he smelled when he got sweaty.

“You are dangerous,” I whispered.

“Me?” he asked innocently, not even looking over. “You’re the one who manipulated this entire group into coming out here and chopping wood.”

I folded my arms across my chest, pleased. “I am smart.”

“The phrase ‘evil genius’ did come to mind.”

“You’ve got quite the stock of wood—”

He turned, clapping a hand over my mouth with a laugh. Leaning close, he whispered, “You are so filthy.”

“You like it,” I mumbled against his palm.

He couldn’t argue with this, and instead kissed my forehead before giving me a playful warning look and removing his hand.

Niall hefted the ax as we all watched, and in my peripheral vision I could see the exact same reaction I’d had to Jensen ripple through Ruby as she witnessed her husband slice the log perfectly in half.

“There’s definitely some instinct to this,” Will said, nodding in approval. “After this we should go wrestle something or hunt some . . .” He trailed off and looked down at Hanna, who was laughing up at him, her arms wrapped around his waist. “Yeah, never mind, I already bought salmon for tonight.”

Will took a few turns, and couldn’t stop proclaiming that chopping wood must be in his blood and he never wanted to stop.

“This was a brilliant use of our afternoon. I feel like we should dedicate our firstborn to Pippa,” Hanna said, mildly breathless.

Dropping the ax, Will turned to look at her. “Wanna go get started on that now?”

She let out a delighted shriek as he threw her over his shoulder, carrying her inside.

Niall and Ruby’s exit was more subtle. He simply took her hand, gave me a small smile and a quiet “If you’ll excuse us . . .” and guided her inside.

Turning to me, Jensen gave me a smiling slow clap. “Your evil plan worked.”

“Evil?” I repeated, looking around us meaningfully. “Not only do we have chopped wood for the fireplace, everyone is getting afternoon sex!”

“Everyone?” he asked, walking closer. The sweat on his chest made his shirt cling to his skin, and I lifted a hand, resting it there.

“Well . . . maybe not everyone.”

He bent, barely touching his lips to mine. And if Jensen’s quiet, dry wit didn’t make me adore him, these tender, reassuring moments did. “Your room or mine?”

I laughed at this. “We’ve been here for three days. Why bother using a second bed now?”

There were four bedrooms in the house: two masters and two spare rooms with queen beds. Jensen had dropped his suitcase off in a smaller one down the hall, but otherwise the bedroom went largely unused. And I don’t know how to explain it—how it felt like we just eased into this routine of lovers among his closest friends and my dearest Ruby—but we did. It wasn’t as if we were playing at being married anymore, or even that we’d somehow tricked ourselves into thinking we could somehow continue this after we left, but we weren’t treating it like casual rutting in the dark corners of a corridor, either. It’s true we’d been coupled off by default, but it no longer really felt contrived.

He would kiss me in front of his sister and nobody blinked.

He would hold my hand on hikes as if we’d been doing it for years.

And even without a Becky around or any other reason we’d have to pretend, he made it plain that we were sleeping in the same bed all week long. It was just how things were: no questions, no explanations.

It was on our last night in the cabin that it happened. Jensen pulled me down onto his lap in the big leather chair in the living room, and I started to feel a dull, thrumming ache in my chest at the thought of packing up and returning to Boston for the final week of my holiday. We sat like that, me curled in his lap, the fire crackling not ten feet away, and he read while I stared out the window.

“You’re so quiet,” he said, interrupting the silence. Putting his book down on the table beside us, he picked up his tumbler of whiskey for a sip.

I stretched up once he’d swallowed it, kissing the taste from his lips. “Just thinking.”

“What are you thinking about?” He returned the glass to the table and met my eyes.

Leaning into his shoulder, I felt him reach beneath my legs, pulling me up so that I was more tightly curled against him. I wanted to say that I’d been thinking about him, and me, and how good it was and how much I hated the idea of going home. But it wasn’t exactly that.

I knew Jensen and I had been living in a bubble, and it wouldn’t be like that back in our daily lives. Couldn’t be, really. It was that I wished our lives didn’t have to be so firmly planted in career and achievements. I wished for things that weren’t realistic, like a Jensen who wasn’t work-obsessed, and who was happy to run away with me to a cabin in the woods six months of the year, reentering the real world only when we were well and truly tired of berry-swathed hotcakes and unlimited sex. I wished for a Pippa who could afford to run away for six months of the year at all.

“I’m dreaming of impossible things,” I said.

He stiffened slightly.

“Will’s pancakes forever,” I added, clarifying. “And the giant maple out back—I’m sure it gives the best shade in the summer. I’m wishing we could stay in this cabin.”

Jensen adjusted his grip around me, shifting so that I was straddling his lap. “Me too.”

He closed his eyes, letting his head fall back against the soft leather. “I dread facing my inbox.” Looking at me, nearly helpless, he seemed to grow mildly panicked. His phone had been sitting, ignored, on the chair in the bedroom for the past week. I’m not even sure he’d glanced at it, let alone picked it up to check for service.

I put my hand to his chest, shaking my head. “Don’t. You can’t do anything about it now, not if you want the last day here to be as good as the other eight have been. I have eighteen hours left of this place, and I intend to make the most of them.”

He nodded and dropped a kiss on the center of my palm. I stared down at his big hands cupped around my smaller one. My skin looked so fair next to his. My arms were free of bracelets, my nails free of polish. I hadn’t worn makeup in more than a week. Hell, some days I hadn’t bothered to put on a bra.

“What a weird two weeks it’s been,” I murmured.

He nodded.

“Ex-wives and pretend marriages,” I said. “Drinking across the East Coast and macho-man ax hurling.”

“Morning yoga and terrible singing,” he added. “I liked the terrible singing.”

“My favorite part.”

“Your favorite part?” he asked with a cheeky grin.

“All right, there may have been a moment or two I enjoyed more.”

“I’ve enjoyed every moment, actually,” he said, and then paused to reconsider. “Almost every moment.” Referring to Becky, I suspected.

Looking up, I waited until I caught his gaze. “Will I ever see you again?”

“I’m sure.”

“Will you miss this?” I asked quietly.

His eyes grew tight. “Is that a serious question?”

I wasn’t quite sure how to answer this. “Well . . . yes? I am, after all, just a holiday girl.”

A muscle twitched in his jaw, and he blinked to the side, thinking. Finally, after nearly a minute of torment for me, he turned back, inhaling deeply. “I’ll miss this.”

I wasn’t sure if he meant me or the sex, the cabin or just being away from it all, but my “Good” burst out of me, slightly breathless.

“I’m sure my first night back in my bed will be a lonely one,” he added, and I felt my brain frowning, working to comprehend that. “It’s just that we can’t really expect it to go anywhere.”

“I don’t expect it,” I said, pulling back a little in insult. “I’m simply saying, I like you.”

Sliding his hand beneath my knees again, he stood, effortlessly lifting me. The wooden stairs seemed to roll under his confident steps; the bedroom door opened with a simple bump of his shoulder.

And then he was over me, my back to the mattress, his green eyes intently studying my face. “I like you, too.”

I wanted to burn the rest of the night into my permanent memory: the way he undressed me so lazily, knowing what was underneath. The way he stood and took the time to drape his sweater over the back of the easy chair in the corner and then return to me, eyes intent even as he crawled toward me on the bed.

Was this what it was like to make love?

Staring up at Jensen over me, his attention on the way his hands slid down across my bare breasts, I suddenly felt completely naïve. I’d thought I’d made love with Mark, at the very least, if not some other bloke I was particularly fond of. I’d told Mark I loved him, and assumed that I had. But sex with him, even from the beginning, was drunk and sloppy, or a quick bend over the bed. I had assumed that sort of impatient passion meant love.

But watching Jensen here, as he worked his way down my body, eyes open, hands honest and hungry, I felt like I’d never really been touched by a man before. Boys, plenty. Never a man who cared to take his time and explore. And what made it different wasn’t only the way he touched me, but the way I felt when he did: like he could take anything, and I would give it to him without question; like when we were alone like this, I had no reason to hide a single inch of my skin.

It was barely dark out yet, but even with the sounds of our friends getting dinner started, laughing through glasses of wine, upstairs Jensen and I took the time to touch, and taste, and play. He came in my mouth with a helpless groan. I came against his tongue with a cry muffled by the back of my own hand, and we kissed, and kissed, and kissed for another hour until I wanted him beneath me, overtly aroused, body slightly frantic with greed. I tied his hands to the headboard with my blouse and relished the look of excitement in his eyes, the tension in his muscles, tight from restraint as he watched me fuck him.

He still wasn’t a talker. His noises seemed to be given up under duress—the quiet grunts and moans, the surprised “Fuck” that escaped when I came and he felt it, the panting breaths. I wanted to bottle his sounds and eat them later. I wanted to bottle his scent and roll in it.

After untying him to let him play with my body the way I knew he liked, I slid my palms over the sweat on his skin: up his chest, along his neck. I was tired; he was close, and his hands lifted me, his hips fucking up hard and fast. The bed protested, groaning, tapping the wall. My thighs burned and the vein in Jensen’s forehead grew more prominent as he got closer, and closer, his teeth gritted in the drive toward pleasure, hands digging into the flesh of my hips.

It was honest to God fucking, and it was, without a doubt, the best of my life.

When he came, panting, gasping beneath me, I watched his face the entire time, etching it into my memory. He wasn’t thinking about his inbox, or his team, or whatever merger mishaps awaited him on Monday. He was thinking only of the slide of my body around his, about his need to come, in me.

He fell flat against the bed, arms splayed out to the sides, chest heaving. “Holy hell.”

Bending to kiss him, I licked up his neck, along his jaw, tasting the salt of his skin.

“Holy hell,” he said again, quieter now. “That was intense. Come here.”

He found my mouth with his, sucking sweetly at my bottom lip. I was sore between my legs, in my joints, and Jensen rolled me to the side, pulling me with his hand cupped on my ass so that I didn’t stray too far. He kissed me slow and sweet, like a lover who has all the time in the world. A lover who has time to come down quietly, grow soft inside, and hard again.

We missed dinner.

A shame, really, because from the smell of it at the top of the stairs, it was a good one.

“I hope you two had fun up there,” Ruby said later, grinning at us as we descended into the kitchen. “Because Will made paella, and I’m telling you . . . I may eat this and only this for the rest of my life.”

“Is Will coming home with us?” Niall asked her from the kitchen.

“It was an excruciatingly competitive game of chess we had going,” I said. “Neither of us was willing to give up until it was over.”

Will’s smile was sneaky. “I see, chess? Because it sounded like you were hanging pictures.”

Niall nodded. “Something was definitely getting nailed up there.”

I laugh-coughed down at the floor.

“Well, Pippa isn’t a very good sport. She lost, it turned violent,” Jensen joked, leaning over the stove and peeking at the wide pan still half full of paella. “Excellent. You saved some for us.”

Will laughed. “I think this could have fed seventy people. We all ate until we were bursting.” He reached for the spoon while Niall grabbed two bowls from the dish rack, and soon Jensen and I were bent over the breakfast bar, shoveling food into our mouths like we hadn’t eaten in weeks.

“You guys ready to head home?” Hanna asked the group, leaning against the counter near the sink.

We all mumbled some form of refusal, no one wanting to give the end to the trip any oxygen on which to thrive. It felt a bit like we were leaving summer camp, all of us having made these quiet internal promises and external declarations to be best friends forever, to never fall out of touch, to do this together at least once every year for the rest of time . . . but the reality was that this was a tiny detour from real life. For Jensen most of all, who hadn’t taken a real holiday in years, this trip was an anomaly not soon to be repeated. He would leave here and return to the workaholic, structured man he was. And every bit of the outer shell he’d managed to chisel away, revealing the passionate, playful man beneath, would be gone.

I looked over at him just as he seemed to be looking up at me, and our eyes caught. I saw it there, too, the unspoken acknowledgment that it had been so good.

It had been . . . unexpected.