Summer Island Page 43

Ruby felt a rush of relief. She tightened her hold on her mother's shoulders, and together they walked up the slightly angled bank and across the lawn.

At the front door; Mom smiled. “Go ahead. And Ruby?”

Ruby reached down for the afghan on the rocker and slung it around her shoulders. It was getting chilly out here. “Yeah?”

He loves you."

That would be a miracle. I've done everything but stare him in the eye."

Nora grinned. “All love is a miracle. Now, go to him. Don't be afraid. And try not to be your usual obnoxious self.”

Ruby couldn't help laughing. “Thanks, Mom.”

As she hurried across the yard, a cloud scudded across the sky and revealed a nearly full moon. It lit up the sky, tinged the world in eerie blue.

At the edge of the bank, Ruby paused, tightening the blanket around her shoulders. She knew what she needed to do, but knowing didn't grant her courage. She was afraid that she'd taken too long to grow up and had lost her chance.

He was standing at the end of the dock, with his back to her. She moved soundlessly down the bank and stepped onto the dock. Her footsteps were indistinguishable from the ordinary creaks and moans of old wood. “I remember when we used to jump off of that dock at high tide,” she said softly. “Only Washington kids would swim in that water.”

He spun around.

Ruby moved toward him.

She was afraid suddenly to speak. She wanted to simply put her arms around him and kiss him until she couldn't think, couldn't move, couldn't remember everything that was between them. But she couldn't do it. For once, she had to do the right thing. She owe Dean a few words-small, simple words-and she couldn't be too cowardly to speak.

She couldn't turn back now.

The silence between them felt loaded, dangerous. In it, she heard the slap of the waves on the pilings below

She closed the last, small space between them an took hold of his left hand, caressing his fingers. Then slowly, she drew her hand away. I remember the first time you kissed me. I got so dizzy, I couldn't breathe. I was glad we were sitting down, because I would have fallen. But I fell anyway, didn't I? I fell in love with my best friend. When most kids were planning how to sneak out of their parents' house on a Saturday night you and I were dreaming about our wedding ... the children we would have.“ She swallowed hard and smiled. ”When we were fifteen, you said we'd live in a penthouse on Central Park ... that we'd honeymoon in Paris. When we were seven, you promised that someday we'd own a boat as big as a ferry, with a bathtub in the master stateroom, and that Elvis would sing at our wedding.“ She gave him a smile. ”The dreams of children playing at adulthood. We should have known we were in trouble when Elvis died."

Dean closed his eyes for a moment, only that, and she wondered if it hurt him to hear the old dreams. “Yeah,” he said woodenly, “we were young.”

“I tried to forget those things we said, but mostly, I tried to forget how it felt when you kissed me,” she said. “I kept telling myself it was a crush ... that I'd grow up and go on and feel that way again. But I didn't.” She heard the rawness in her voice, the desperate tenor of hope, and she knew he heard it, too. She was exposed now, vulnerable.

“You never fell in love again?”

“How could I ... when I never fell out of love the first time?”

“Say it.”

She stepped closer and tilted her face up to his. “I love you, Dean Sloan.”

He didn't respond for a heartbeat, just stared down at her. Then he pulled her into his arms and kissed her the way she'd always dreamed of being kissed. And suddenly she wanted more. More ...

She fumbled with his T-shirt, shoved it over his head, and let her fingers explore the coarse, wiry hair on his chest. She touched him everywhere, moved her hands across the hardness of his shoulders, down the small of his back, down into his underwear.

He yanked the afghan down, letting it puddle on the dock around their feet. With a groan, he slipped his hands beneath her shirt, scooping it off her; and tossed it away. She kicked it aside and grappled with the buttons on her cutoffs.

Naked, kissing, groping, they knelt on the blanket, smoothed it out, then collapsed on top of it, laughing at the awkwardness of their movements.

Ruby heard the hiss of paper ripping. She blinked, feeling drugged by the intensity of her desire, and saw that he was opening a small foil packet.

It stunned her. “You planned this?”

He gave her a crooked, boyish grin.

“Let's just say I prayed for it.” And he was laughing again, kissing her; and she couldn't think. Her body was on fire. His hands were everywhere, her breasts, her nipples, between her legs, stroking, rubbing, pulling. His mouth followed the path of his magical fingers, and when he leaned over her and took a nipple in his searching mouth, she gave in to sex in a way she never had before. She relinquished control over her body and let him bring her to the throbbing, desperate edge of pain. Finally, she couldn't stand it anymore; her whole body was aching, needing ...

“Please,” she moaned beneath his touch, “now ... ”

He flipped onto his back and pulled her on top of him, entering her with a thrust. His hands were on her bottom, holding her against his grinding hips, teaching her to match his movements.

She threw her head back and closed her eyes. He arched forward, capturing her nipple in his mouth, and she cried out. Her release was so intense she felt as if she were breaking apart. “Oh, God,” she said, breathing heavily, feeling his own climax inside her.

She collapsed on top of him, buried her in his sweaty chest. He held on to her tightly, as if he expected her to pull away, and stroked her damp back.

“Oh, my God,” she whispered, finally rolling off of him. She remained tucked against him, one leg thrown across his thighs.

“We should have done that a long time ago.”

“Believe me, it wouldn't have been as good.” She sighed, flopping back, staring up at the moonlit sky.

So simple. It had always been like this between them. Just a touch, a gentle brushing of his skin against hers, and she'd known a kind of peace that could be found nowhere else. She rolled onto her side and stared down at him. “Let's live together.”

He gave her a strange look. “In Hollywood?”

“God, no.” It was an instinctive answer. She hadn't even thought about it, but as she heard her voice, she knew it was true. She didn't want to live there anymore. “I could live in San Francisco.”

He laughed. “No, thanks. He reached up, touched her hair. ”We've had those lives, Ruby. I don't know about you, but I don't want to go back to anything that came before. I want to start over. And I'm not going to live with you.

“Oh.” She tried to sound casual, as if he hadn't just stomped on her heart.

“We're getting married, Ruby Elizabeth. No more excuses or running away or lost time. We are going to get married. My vote is that we move back here and try like hell to find out what we want to do with the rest of our lives. I'm going to give photography a try; it's what I've always wanted to do. Most importantly, we're going to promise to grow old together. And we're going to do it. We'll Sit on our own porch until we're blind and hairless and I can't remember what the hell my own name is. And the last thing you're going to feel in this world is me kissing you good night.”

“We'll have children,” she said, dreaming of it for the very first time.

“At least two, so they'll each have a best friend.”

“And our son. We'll name him Eric ... ”

Ruby would have slept on the dock all night, wrapped in Dean's arms and that old blanket, but he'd wanted to get back to Eric, and so they'd kissed-and kissed and kissed-good-bye.

Then she helped Dean untie the boat and walked up onto the top of the bank to watch him leave. Moonlight shimmered on all the white surfaces of the boat, turned everything silvery blue. He started the engine; the boat pulled away from the dock. The chug chug-chug of the motor broke the silence of the night.

Moment by moment, he lost coloring. It started with the tip of the mast; it turned black suddenly, then the rest of the boat followed. In the last slice of moon light, a dark hand lifted, raised, waved goodbye. Though Dean couldn't see her, he knew somehow thatRuby was still there, watching him leave

It was what she'd always done.

She stood there until the boat disappeared into this choppy silver-tipped sea, then turned and went to the house.

The kitchen light was on, and Mom's bedroom door was closed.

Ruby walked-okay, skipped-over to the closed door. There was no doubt in her mind that her mother would want to be wakened. After all, it wasn't every day your daughter got engaged.

She was just about to knock when the phone rang.

She ran for the kitchen and answered the phone on the second ring, hoping it wasn't about Eric. “Hello?”

"Ruby-where in the goddamn hell have you been?

I've been calling all night. And what kind of podunk, backwater double-wide house doesn't have an answering machine?"

Ruby immediately relaxed. “Val?” She glanced at the clock. It was one in the morning. “Can we have this discussion in the morning? I-”

His voice was muffled. “Yeah, another Stoly martini, babe ... three olives. Sorry, Ruby. Anyway, what is this shit about you not turning in the article? Tell me Maudeen wasn't listening well.”

“Oh, that. I'm not going to deliver, that's all.”

“That's all. That's all? Look comedy princess, this isn't some low-rent vanity-press publisher we're talking about. This is Cache' magazine. They've reserved the space in the issue, printed the cover-with your picture on it, I might add-and leaked the story.” He paused; she heard the exhalation of smoke into the receiver.

“And I've gotten some interest in you from the networks; NBC wants to talk to you about writing a pilot."

“A ... pilot? My own sitcom?” Ruby felt sick. That had always been a pie-in-the-sky dream of hers. Every comedian dreamed about her own show.

“Yeah, your own sitcom. So, no dicking around. You're supposed to deliver the article tomorrow. I FedExed your plane tickets yesterday. They're probably on your front door now. You're scheduled for Sarah Purcell on Monday morning.”

“I can't do it, Val.” Ruby closed her eyes. In that minute, she could feel the warm imprint of her mother's hand on her head, the gentleness of that touch. Panic rushed through her.

Val drew in a deep breath, then exhale slowly. “Christ. I knew you were a pain in the ass, but I promised them you were professional. I gave them my word, Ruby.”

“I am a professional.” Even to her own ears the voice sounded small. Afraid.

“Professionals don't take money from national magazines and then break the contract. Can you pay them back?”

Ruby flinched, thinking of the Porsche in her parking spot, the designer dress in her closet, the money she gave her dad. "If they'll give me some time-Like, twenty years.

“It doesn't work that way. The only chance of getting out of this deal is to pay them back, and even then they have to agree. And baby doll, they won't.”

“You mean they can force me-”

Val laughed. “Where have you been living Potatoville, USA? This is big business. You can't just change your mind. Is it written?”

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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