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“Whoso loves, believes in the impossible.”
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning
3rd of June – Three years ago
There are times in your life when you know everything has changed, and no matter what you do, you can never go back to who you were before that moment. For me, that moment happened when Jesse’s large palm rested on my back, the warmth of him seeping into my bare flesh as he quietly led me to the area designated for dancing.
A few hours earlier, I stood with him as my sister married his best friend, Cooper Kane, in an intimate ceremony overlooking the Aegean Sea on the island of Pyrgos Kallistis in Santorini, Greece. And now, there we were, the evening breeze mixing into the haunting strings of the guitar at their reception. I’d convinced Jesse it was tradition for the maid of honor and the best man to dance, having no idea if it was or wasn’t a wedding custom, shocked he had agreed.
Once we stepped up on the level of the smaller terrace, he took my hand, pulling me closer to his muscled frame. At some point that night, he’d removed his bespoke suit coat, rolled up his shirt sleeves, showing his corded forearms, taken off the silver tie, and undone the top few buttons of his dress shirt—the temptation of his smooth throat drawing my gaze.
When I lifted my lashes to glance up, his extraordinary eyes, the color of new denim, ringed in midnight blue, met mine, knocking me off-kilter.
“Sorry,” I muttered, the heat of my blush overtaking my cheeks; mortified I fumbled.
One side of Jesse’s perfectly etched lips rose. “No need for apologies.”
I blinked at him.
“Just put your arm around my waist, and trust me, yeah?”
Nodding, I licked my lips, a movement he watched before meeting my gaze once more, making my pulse race. I put my left arm around him—fingers curling into the material of his shirt.
“That’s it.” His whiskey-smooth voice enticed me. “I’ve got this. Just hold on, darlin’.”
I melted against his body the instant he took over.
“There you go. Feel the music.”
Oh, I felt the notes shimmer over me alright, but instead of listening, I focused on the other things bombarding me, like the strength beneath my hand sending heated spikes through me. The even rhythm of Jesse’s breathing and how it fluttered against my skin making me sync my breaths with his. The awareness of his right palm curled around mine—his other slipping slowly between my shoulder blades, inching up under my hair to the base of my neck, sliding down, down, down, inducing goosebumps to overtake my arms.
Jesse had transformed me into someone I didn’t know as we swayed to the romantic song.
Closing my eyes, I rested my cheek against his steely upper chest, taking in the caramelized-spiced scent of his cologne, searing the texture of the fragrance into my memory, hoping later, I would still smell like him. If I did, I’d sleep in my strappy bridesmaid dress.
While the vocalists sang about holding her just one moment more, the sound of crashing waves drifted up, swirling around us, turning everything into a symphony of sensations. I nuzzled into him. The tips of Jesse’s blunt fingers pressed into my lower back, changing every part of me into a mixture of a blazing inferno and chills, a combination I’d never experienced before.
My breath hitched when I felt his warm exhalation caress my neck. He’d lowered his head by my ear. Even while considering the tickle on my skin and the crazy things it was doing to me, my mind caught and processed something I couldn’t believe. “You’re beautiful, Tin.”
Reeling, wondering if my feet were still on the ground, the man straightened.
I glanced up, our eyes meeting. Jesse didn’t look away. Neither did I. In those few seconds, my entire world became him. Something unspoken passed between us, something tangible I didn’t know how to describe fully. My tummy fluttered, tiny effervescent bubbles popped in my chest, and I craved to have his mouth sliding across mine. The need was so intense I trembled with it. Perhaps I should have said something, but I was unsure if I possessed a tongue any longer, let alone the ability to string together coherent words.
The music started to fade.
Just a few more shared heartbeats, that’s all I needed, lost there in the depths of beautiful possibility with Jesse. Please, please, please. Of course, my internal pleading was for naught—I couldn’t hold on to the magic. The song came to an end, and so did our time.
When he let me go saying, “Thank you for the dance,” before stepping back, I realized the huge crush I had for the former Navy Seal nicknamed ‘Cowboy’ was something altogether more.
Smiling, I nodded, knowing I should be the one to thank him. But the exhilaration quickly changed to profound sadness because I also knew the impossibility of what I wanted. I was seventeen. Jesse was thirty-two.
That connection I felt with him just seconds before changed, morphed into polite coolness on his part while we walked back to my chair.
“Ahem.” His throat bobbed. “I’m going to call it a night.”
“Uh…oh. Okay.” I tucked some hair behind my ear, not expecting him to leave already, but he excused himself as a new song started.
I stood there a moment at the empty table like a flipping moron. Having no choice in the matter, I eventually took my seat, watching him walk away in long-legged strides until he rounded the corner of one of the villas, causing me to lose sight of him.
Feeling gut-punched, I wrapped my arm around my middle and briefly looked over to see Mom and Dad. They were dancing with my baby sister, Brook, giggling between them. Cooper had scooped my older sister up after they cut the cake and carried her off fifteen minutes ago. Francis was sitting with my brother-in-law’s mother, one table over, deep in conversation.
I scanned the outdoor space for Jesse and Cooper’s friends, all former Seals. Kevin was chatting up the wedding planner. Where Nile and Gabe had gotten off to, I didn’t know.
Head dropping, I peered at the hand still tingling from being held. Gradually, I made a fist, wishing to hold on to the phenomenon. But all too soon, it left me as he had done—the loss profound.
No doubt, I was a mess because my heart and mind were nothing but a tumble of thoughts and jumble of emotions, but I honed in on one thing—age didn’t matter. Then considered, I wouldn’t always be seventeen.
Strumming the tips of my nails along the side of my neck where Jesse’s breath had baptized me in fire, I made myself a promise. Whatever it takes, no matter how long it takes.
Glancing up to gaze into the shadows where he disappeared, the words fell past my lips in a whispered vow. “I’m going to make you love me, Jesse Compton.”