A Convenient Proposal(2)

Griff let the champagne bottle fall to the sand at his feet, then took the two steps separating him from the woman in white. Curving one hand around her upper arm, he used the other to bracket her chin with his fingers and tilt her head to the perfect angle.

“This,” he said, and bent to kiss her.

She stiffened, but didn’t jerk away. Encouraged, he increased his pressure, molding their mouths more firmly together. She tasted cool and sweet, like ripe melon. After a moment, her generous lips softened, inviting him to explore their curves and the way his angles fit against them. Her hand fluttered to his shoulder and he slipped his arm around her waist. A heartbeat later, the tip of her tongue touched the edge of his upper lip.

The fireworks started up again, inside Griff this time. Desire exploded in his belly, flashed through his veins. He was breathless and light-headed and pumped up all at the same time. He could have kissed this woman forever.

And he didn’t even know her name.

The thought steadied him, allowed him to slow the kisses and return both of them to ground level. There were a couple of things they needed to get straight before taking off for wonderland…paradise…wherever she wanted to go.

“Who are you?” he murmured, loosening his arms and using one hand to brush her hair back from her face.

“Arden.” Her voice was as hushed as his. “Arden Burke.”

“I’m Griff Campbell.” He smiled at her. “Will you marry me?”

RENDERED SPEECHLESS, Arden stared into the shadowed face of the stranger she’d just kissed. Her mind reeled in delighted response to the feelings he’d stirred up, and in amazement at the fact she’d allowed him to touch her at all.

Finally, she found her voice. “Oh, of course. Right away.”

His eyes crinkled as he laughed. “Excellent. Let’s toast to our wedding.” He surveyed the sandy beach around their feet, then danced both of them sideways two steps to pick up the champagne he’d dropped. After polishing the mouth of the bottle with the hem of his gold-and-blue shirt, he extended it to her. “You first.”

Why not? Arden tilted back her head and poured a long stream of the wine down her throat. “Wonderful,” she said, handing back the bottle. “Your turn.”

He—Griff—tipped it in her direction. “To us.” Then he took his own drink, upending the bottle. She noticed he didn’t wipe off the mouth this time. “And a happier New Year.”

She walked beside him as he trudged toward a trash can at the top of the beach. “Amen.”

He might be drunk, but he was listening. “Has your year been unhappy?”

Arden expelled a short breath through her nose. “Some parts. Has yours?”

“I can’t remember a worse one.” He tossed the bottle into the can.

Neither could she, as a matter of fact. “What happened?”

Without answering, he headed back to the water’s edge. He’d linked his right hand with her left, so they walked side by side like a pair of lovers. His palm was surprisingly warm, dry and comfortable.

“I was supposed to get married six months ago—June fourth, to be exact. On June first, my fiancée and my best buddy since second grade informed me they were in love and she couldn’t go through with our wedding.”

“That would make for a bad year.” Arden glanced at him, but he was staring up, telling his story to a star. “What an awful thing to do to you.”

Griff nodded. “I thought so. We’d been engaged for two years. You’d think she could have figured it out before the week of the wedding.” Beneath the surface of his calm tone, pain roiled like an undertow.

Arden squeezed his hand. “Surely you didn’t wait six months to take a vacation.”

“Nope. I left that night and caught a fishing boat out of Tampa a few days later. I’ve been working my way through the islands ever since.”

“The new year is supposed to be a chance for a fresh start. Are you planning one?”

“Well, I’m going home tomorrow. Does that count?”

“And home is…?”

“Sheridan, Georgia, where they like to pretend the Civil War—hell, the whole second half of the nineteenth century—never happened.”

“You don’t sound exactly nostalgic.”

He shrugged. “It’s a nice place. Just…suffocating.”

“Why go back?”

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