Pelican Bluffs is a town built on secrets. Nestled away among the redwoods on the northern California coast, it is the only home Madison Lukas has ever known. Her classmates have been the same since she started kindergarten, and now that she's a junior in high school, the wider world looms on the horizon, but it's hard to know where to go when she has no idea where she came from.
Then one day, a message arrives from a stranger. A man who knows her face and her past, and who starts Madison on a journey of self discovery that she never could have imagined. Along the way friends turn into enemies and lives shatter. Can Madison Lukas endure the truth and come in to her own? Or will the secrets that destroyed her family, destroy her as well?
“You okay?” he whispers.
Tears streak down my face and I shake my head. “No.”
“You want me to stop?”
“No.” I tighten my hold on him.
He kisses my tears away, his arms around me, strong and secure. “Be with me?” The way he says it sounds like a confession of a long held secret. I
open my eyes. “You mean, like...”
“In a relationship. I want to be together.”
My heel bumps against the door and I can’t back up any further. I shut my eyes, not sure if he’s going to try to kiss me or what, but it’s the pad of his thumb that touches my lips, not his mouth. I can feel him close, though, close enough that his breath dances across my skin. His fingers splay out across my cheek and he sweeps his thumb along my cheekbone.
My next breath comes out shaky as he settles his hand against the side of my neck and strokes the line of my jaw. I open my eyes and see that he hasn’t leaned down. He’s still staring at me with that unreadable look.
“This one of your games?” I ask.
“What do you want?” Those words come out defiant, angry. Why am I angry?
Rather than pull back, he steps closer and touches his lips to my forehead. He takes his time, and when I don’t flinch away, he moves to kiss my temple, his thumb tracing a line down the side of my throat. He steps closer still, until our bodies touch and he presses me gently against the door as he kisses my closed eyelid, my cheek, the tip of my nose.
I lift my hands with the half formed intention of pushing him away. He’s messing with me. He’s figured out how I feel about him and is just going to use me. But my hands grasp his waist instead. I want, so badly, for this to be real.
He slides his arm behind the small of my back, pressing me even closer to him, as he tilts my head to one side and touches his lips to my neck. The sensation sends a tremor through me and my fingers tighten. His kisses move down to the hollow just above my clavicle, and I find my arms are around him now. I’m holding him, encouraging him. One hand I slide up his back to grasp his shoulder.
But still he takes his time, his mouth soft as a caress against my skin, then he pauses, breathing like he’s just run up a flight of stairs. I can feel my pulse pounding in my ears and fingertips. I lift my head and he moves his hand from my neck down to my hip. Our noses touch and I nuzzle him, taking my time now, gauging how he feels by his ragged breathing. My hand goes from his shoulder to the back of his neck, where I run the tips of my nails across his skin.
He sucks in his breath and I lean up to kiss him. The first time our lips touch, I break it off, but the second time, I relax and savor the sensation of his mouth on mine. His kisses are light, and I can’t get enough of them. We kiss and kiss until I feel him gasp and realize I’ve barely let him breathe.
“Sorry,” I whisper. “
It’s all right.” He chuckles and leans his forehead against mine.
I’ve got no armor against her, nothing to dull her touch. I can feel the heat rising off her skin and the soft stream of her breath against my collarbone, and she’s not even close enough to hold me yet. Those blue eyes look into mine again. “I’m not going to trap you, okay? You can tell me to stop or to back off anytime.”
“Can I touch you?”
I hesitate, then nod again and brace myself as she steps closer and places her hand on the side of my neck, her thumb tracing my jawbone. It’s hard to breathe, for fear any motion will cast her loose from me.
Those blue eyes look me over, then return my gaze. “Can I hold you?”
I shut my eyes. “Yes.”
She moves in closer and our bodies touch. Her cheek rests against my clavicle as she fits her body to mine.
I feel her warm breath on the side of my neck and tremble, unable to hold still. My hand shoots out to grasp the IV stand for balance. After a panicked moment, I give in and reach up to stroke her silken hair with the backs of my fingers.
She presses the palm of her hand to my waist, then slips it behind the small of my back. Her other hand she slides up my back to grasp my shoulder, and now she’s holding me like she always used to, right from when we first got together.
There’s no way I can resist this. I slide my hands up her arms and watch her eyelids flutter shut for a moment while I wrap her in my embrace. She lifts her chin and I lean my forehead against hers. Just like before, I feel like I’m being offered something far more precious than I deserve. I don’t understand why she smiles when I stroke her hair and look into those eyes, but she does. She has so many other options. So many other guys would require less sacrifice than I do. I cup her jaw in the palm of my hand and gaze at her, willing her to know how beautiful she is, how she could have anyone she wants.
“Can I kiss you?” she whispers, shakily.
“Only if you want to.”
She leans in and presses her lips to the side of my throat.
I let out a strangled gasp as she kisses her way down to the notch between my collarbones. Delicate strands of her hair slide between my fingers as I stroke the length of her long locks and tears burn my eyes. She feels more amazing than ever.
Her breath tickles my skin, “This okay?”
“Howabout this?” She runs the tip of her tongue along the base of my neck creating an explosion of sensation.
“Ah, hey.” I cling to her to keep my balance. That is not a move I ever used on her. My knees are weak and my vision’s graying out.
She giggles. “Too much?”Emotion builds in my chest like a thundercloud. “No,” I whisper.
Emily Mah Tippetts writes science fiction as Emily Mah and sweet romance as E.M. Tippetts. A lifelong New Mexican, she lives with her family in Santa Fe, though she's been known to spend years at a time in the UK, her second home. Aside from being a writer, she's been a lawyer and jeweler, and is currently a stay at home mother, polymer clay artist, book designer/formatter, and owner of E.M. Tippetts Book Designs.