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Colleen laced her fingers through Dan’s. The Californians all seemed amused that she wanted to walk on the beach, but since she had two guys on the line, she felt pretty secure in being herself. If one of them didn’t like it, well then she had one less decision to make.
Though having two guys on the line made her nervous for other reasons. Given, she’d only been out on two dates with each of them, but without a clear leader in the running she wasn’t sure how many more dates she could go on before she had to confess. Especially since they both seemed pretty interested.
Colleen looked at Dan. One of the things she really liked and really hated about him was his super-refined senses. About half the time she thought he knew what she was going to say before she said it.
The other half of the time she was afraid he did.
“It is nice.” She lifted her face to the salty breeze. Dan kept her far enough from the water to keep either of them from getting wet and the tide was going out so she could just see the waves cresting in the moonlight. They’d had dinner at a nice restaurant where the staff knew Dan. Scott said he ate out a lot, but she hadn’t realized every maitre d’ in town would know his name. Then he’d brought her here to walk on the beach. Tonight he hadn’t asked a lot of questions so she had. He appeared to have nothing to hide. Nothing he was uncomfortable talking about. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much about him that she didn’t already know thanks to Laura.
“You having a good time?” Dan sounded uncharacteristically uncertain.
“Sure.” Colleen smiled. “It’s going to take while before the thrill of the beach wears off for me. Are you?”
“Yeah.” He squeezed her hand. “It’s going to take a while before the thrill of being with you wears off.”
Colleen suppressed a shiver with a smile. Mike hadn’t been quite so poetic, but he hadn’t had to be because he taken her to the top of a cliff. They were both becoming too interested in something too serious before she was ready. She had to come clean before Dan rattled it out of her. She should just spill now, before this got totally out of hand. Instead, she said, “I like being with you too.”
“I, uh…” Dan trailed off.
Up ahead on the beach a small group of kids were playing in the surf. Colleen watched them in the light of the full moon reflecting off the water while she waited for Dan to finish his thought. The way it started out he was either giving her a kiss off or he wanted to get serious. Colleen almost hoped it was a kiss off.
“Never mind.” Dan shook his head. He scuffed his shoe into the sand.
“Never mind what?” Colleen asked. She knew she should have kept her mouth shut, but that had never been her forte. The kids on the beach were shrieking as they ran in and out of the receding tide.
“Nothing. My mind just took a funny turn.” Dan kissed her cheek. “What are you doing Saturday?”
“Nothing before two. After than I’m working.”
“What a coincidence, I have pm watch and I’m not doing anything until three.” He smirked. “Unless you’d rather we come by to check on things when you close up.”
Dan nudged her familiarly.
Then she knew where his mind had been going. He had being going to tell her that he loved her. He was going to say that after two dates and one afternoon with Laura and Scott, he loved her and he wanted to spend the rest of eternity with her. She couldn’t have been more horrified if he had dropped to one knee in the sand and proposed.
But he knew she’d been engaged recently and he wanted to give her some time.
Dan took another step before he realized. He turned back still smiling and still holding her hand.
If he wanted to give her time it meant that some time in the future, the near future, he did plan to tell her that he loved her and then it was only a matter of time before he would ask her to marry him.
He was a bomb on a random timer.
“What?” he asked.
A shrill scream cut the air.
The group that had been playing in the water were now clustered at the edge, shouting. Briefly a head bobbed to the surface and disappeared.
Dan pulled off his shoes and socks as he raced to the water and dove in.
Colleen stood frozen on the beach. She saw Dan swimming strongly for the last place the head had appeared. Numbly, she picked up his shoes and socks and went to stand with the hysterical group at the water’s edge. She should admire him, diving in to save the drowning child from the riptide. He was doing his hero thing. The same kind of thing that would lead to him waiting to tell her how he felt because he didn’t think she was ready. The same kind of thing that would make him stay with her if he did marry her even if things didn’t go quite as planned. He was a true blue Boy Scout and the safest she would ever be.
Of course, Mike would have done the same thing.
Colleen clutched the shoes to her chest. Two minutes ago she’d wanted to flee. To never see him again. Now there was a crowd gathering and sirens approaching in the distance. Tears pricked her eyes as a cheer went up from the crowd. She could see Dan towing the boy toward the shore. Colleen bit her lip. She’d only wanted a fun relationship, nothing serious. From all accounts Dan had never settled with one woman for long. And Mike certainly didn’t seem like the lifelong relationship kind of guy. She liked them both a little more than casually. Was this how David and his other woman felt? Did he feel the same about both of them? Was that why he was cheating on her? Did that mean that she was cheating on Dan with Mike and vice versa?
Dan stood up when the water was only up to his knees and picked up the kid. The boy clutched his neck. A woman broke from the group on the beach and ran to them. The police moved in as well getting their uniform cuffs wet in the process. They started joking with Dan when they recognized him. Dan hung close to the ambulance guys until they had the kid strapped down, but once they left and the crowd followed, Dan let himself be left behind.
“I picked up your shoes,” Colleen said when he turned to her.
“Thanks.” He reached for them.
Instead of giving him his shoes, she dropped them and threw her arms around his neck.
“Hey, it’s okay.” Dan held her carefully, as if he could avoid getting her wet. “The kid’s okay. I’m okay. Everything’s fine.” Dan stroked her hair.
Colleen knew she’d never be able to explain. She clung to him, dizzy with terror. She was up on another cliff and all the rope and carabiners in the world wouldn’t save her.
She loved him.
She loved Mike.
And she didn’t want to love anyone.