She nodded. “I think so.”
“When does your brother return to collect you to begin your summer social schedule?” They had changed directions and headed toward the rock face.
“Not for a week or two. Then we’ll have Chase’s wedding,” she said. “We’ll depart in probably three weeks’ time.”
“Can you write to your brother this afternoon and ask him if Cassandra and I might gain invitations to some of these events?”
“Certainly,” she replied. “I can gather some more information from you while we wait for his—”
“No,” he choked out. “No more questions like those until I know I’ve secured Cassandra’s position as your guest.”
Charlie paused then looked over to him. A flicker of concern crossed her pretty face. “Are you in love with her?”
Charlie took a deep breath, her chest shaking as she drew it in. What had possessed her to ask such specific questions?
Yes, he knew all the answers. And certainly, she had an intimacy with him she’d never shared with anyone else. But as they’d talked, heat had radiated from her core and she realized why he was the wrong person to ask. She became even more aware of him with each passing question.
They entered into a small, sheltered nook in the rock front. An outdoor room, open to the sky but almost completely closed on four sides. Just a small entrance led into the hollowed-out center. “It’s stunning,” she gushed as she looked around. “And the sand is dry.”
“The ocean almost never rises to fill it. It comes close, though, so you can get trapped in here until the tide goes out. Unless you don’t mind wet shoes.” Ophelia drew in a deep breath as she looked to Charlie. “I spent hours here, nearly every day after my mother died. I swear, this place healed my hurt.”
Charlie still held Raithe’s arm and tightened her grip. “How do you ever get over that loss?”
Ophelia’s eyes narrowed as her head cocked to the side. “Have you recovered from the loss of yours?”
“Oh.” She paused. “Yes,” she answered, but the truth was, she wasn’t certain. What she’d done might be more akin to running away from than healing.
Chase spread out a blanket. “The tide is low now so we’ve nothing to worry about in terms of the ocean. Who fancies kicking off our shoes and walking along the water? It’s already getting rather warm.”
Charlie nodded, lowering herself to the blanket to remove her slippers. Then she lifted her skirts to quickly untie the ribbons at the top of her stockings.
A groan sounded as Raithe sat next to her. “Your calves are utterly delightful.”
She looked at him, his black eyes glittering as he ran a gaze over her body. “Really? They’re so small. Now your thighs, for example—” And then she stopped. His teeth snapped together, his jaw going tense as a muscle ticced in his cheek.
“What about my thighs?” he whispered so low she almost didn’t hear him. Somehow, his whispered request made her begin to ache all over again.
“They’re…powerful,” she answered, sounding breathy.
As if to illustrate her point, he lifted a leg to pull off one of his boots. Her insides fluttered as he pulled first one and then the other.
“Are we ready?” Ophelia asked, as Chase pulled her to standing.
Charlie hastily rolled down her other stocking. Somehow, this almost felt more intimate than their discussion about holes and rods. “Ready.”
Raithe stood and took her hand, pulling her effortlessly to her feet. His other hand caught her waist as he steadied her.
They followed once again as Chase and Ophelia raced toward the water, allowing the waves to crash over their feet.
“They look very happy.”
Raithe still held her hand, sending a thrill through her. “They do,” she said, not sure what else to say. Her own feelings were churning.
“I know I was that happy once but I don’t remember what it felt like anymore,” Raithe said as he stared out at the water.
He’d been that happy? For some reason the idea made her ache. Had he been in love too?