Below Deck

Page 55

Declan quietly clears off the blanket, moving everything to a tray on the table a few feet away, before joining me again. He lies down on his back next to me, grabbing my elbow and tugging me down. I curl up into his side with my head in the crook of his arm that’s resting on the blanket behind my back, and we stare up at the stars in the clear sky above us.

“What was your favorite part of your vacation?” he asks softly.

I turn my head to find him looking down at me instead of the stars.

You. My favorite part of this vacation was you. Every minute I spent with you, until you realized you’d made a mistake and pushed me away.

“That’s a tough one. Probably driving a jet ski for the first time and doing my best to chuck you off the back of it,” I joke, knowing if I say anything else, I’ll burst into tears.

He laughs, his smile growing wider as he twirls a lock of my hair in his fingers, looking away from me and back up to the sky.

“What’s your favorite part of your job?” I ask, unable to take my eyes away from his profile, studying it and memorizing it so I’ll never forget it.

“Everything. But I guess the travel. Getting to see new places and always waking up somewhere new. I’m not very good at staying in one place for very long. I get grumpy and anxious to move around. I know you don’t like your job very much, but at least it pays well. At least it’s secure and stable. I don’t even have two fucking nickels to rub together, but that’s just the way I like it.”

I blink back the tears as he continues to watch the stars, hearing the irritation in his voice and not believing a word he says. I don’t know why he’s saying these things to me and it makes me want to push myself away from him, scream at him that I no longer have a well-paying job or a job of any kind. That my life is anything but secure and stable right now and that I wanted more than anything for him to give that to me. I don’t care if he has all the money in the world or not a cent to his name. I just wanted him, and I don’t understand why he couldn’t see that. I don’t understand why it matters.

Keeping my thoughts to myself, I know without a doubt that I’m doing the right thing by not laying my heart out and telling him everything. What the hell kind of future could we even have? I live in New York and he lives on a boat.

I just want him to ask me to stay.

“You’re absolutely right. My life is perfect back in New York. I was just having a moment. You’re going to make a great captain,” I tell him, hiding my lies behind reassurance that I believe in him and I’m happy for what his future holds, even if he doesn’t want me in it.

“Mackenzie,” he whispers, his face turning back to mine.

I don’t know what he’s about to say, and I don’t want to know. If he tells me something flippant, like he had fun and he’ll miss having me around to keep him on his toes just to keep things light and easy, it will belittle everything I’m feeling right now and ruin this moment.

Instead of letting him finish, letting him hurt my feelings and break my heart even more, I press my hand against his mouth, wanting something good to remember about this moment instead of something that will destroy me.

“Not right now. I don’t want to think about anything else right now,” I tell him.

Declan turns on his side to face me, his arm around my shoulder moving down around my back to tug me closer to his body. He wraps his free hand around my wrist, pulling my hand away from his mouth to press my palm against his heart, trapping it between us.

Without saying a word, he gives me what I want and makes me stop thinking about anything else but the two of us and this perfect moment, lying under the stars on the deck of a yacht.

He moves his head closer and I close my eyes when he presses his lips to mine. The kiss is slow, and soft and sweet, and I pour everything into it as I swipe my tongue through his mouth, letting him know without words how I really feel. How I wish I had the courage to tell him. He keeps my hand pressed to his chest and deepens the kiss, sliding his arm down my back until he’s clutching my ass and pulling my lower body flush against his.

I can’t deny my body’s reaction to him, even after the words he said to me today. I can’t stop wanting him, needing him, and craving him. My hips rock against his, feeling how hard he is for me. I let go and let myself be okay with the fact that at least we still have this, and neither one of us can hide it behind silence and fear, or shitty words and pretending.

Declan suddenly pulls his mouth away from mine, his eyes dark and his heart thumping rapidly under the palm of my hand as he looks down at me.

“Come back to my room with me.”

It’s not a question and it’s not a demand. His voice is soft and low and there’s an edge to it that tells me this is a plea. He’s begging me, and there’s nothing I can do but say yes.

I nod in response and he helps me up from the blanket, grabbing my hand and pulling me through the sliding glass doors into the ship, leaving everything behind in our haste to get to his bunk.

We quietly move through the dark ship, a few softly glowing nightlights guiding our way across the formal dining room, downstairs through the galley, and into his room. It’s in the same small hallway where the laundry room is located, right across the hall from it, and I can’t ignore the sting of tears when I remember the first night we were together, and how easy and uncomplicated it was.

As Declan quietly turns the handle to his room and pulls me inside, I know everything that happens after this moment will confuse my already muddied heart and mind, but I can’t deny him what he wants. I can’t deny myself what I want, and I want him, however I can have him, one last time.

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