Chapter Eleven

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That night, I dreamed about Suzanna. Her curls were made of fire: they twined around my arms and legs in scalding scarlet ribbons, until I choked on the smell of my own burning flesh.

When I woke up, I realized I was tangled in my sheets, and the slight acrid smell was coming from my tiny pink lamp, which I'd forgotten to turn off last night. Right. Of course.

I sat up and put my head in my hands. I was still sitting like that when my alarm went off, telling me that it was 10:30 and time to get ready. After a quick shower, I dressed in a simple, sea-foam-green dress and big glittery opals. I didn't look at the painting on the easel by my window, though it was right next to my dresser. Up until yesterday, I'd been working on my first self-portrait in years. How ironic that I'd been trying to capture some of Suzanna's super-saturated use of color, instead of my usual Vermeer-like darkness. Now I wasn't sure I'd ever finish it. How could it compare to the self-portrait hanging in Owen's house?

Downstairs in the kitchen, I said goodbye to Kaye and Andy. As usual, they were on their way out the door for a jog. "Want to come?" Andy asked me with a grin.

"I'm going to walk to the beach in a bit. That will be my exercise for the day," I told him airily. "And then I'm going to sit in the sand and drink wine."

My crazy housemates finished their stretches and ran off, leaving me alone in the house. I had no idea where Scott was, but his truck wasn't in the driveway. He was gone a lot.

I rummaged around in the fridge for the food I'd bought last night. I made chicken salad sandwiches with grapes and walnuts, trying to lose myself in the process. But cutting grapes in half doesn't usually make my heart race.

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At the parking lot, I shut the car door, looked out at the beach, and had a moment of complete panic-there was no other word for it. I blinked away the sand and salt spray and shook myself out of it. I did want to be here-badly. I wanted to see him.

Shouldering the tote bag with our picnic in it, I crossed the lot to the beach. Pale sunlight shimmered through the sea mist, highlighting the white foam in the waves and the specks of crystal quartz in the pebbly sand.

"Hello, beautiful."

Owen stood ten feet from me down the beach, seemingly immune to the cold with his sleeves rolled up and his cheeks flushed. He was smiling at me as though I were the cherry on an ice cream sundae.

Looking at him, I didn't feel cold anymore, either. I already wanted to touch him, run my hands all over him.

I cleared my throat. "I didn't see your truck out there," I said, grasping at conversational straws.

"I walked."

"You walked? From your house?"

"Always," he replied. "Though most of the time I have a couple dogs with me. Right about now, I'm usually trying to stop one of them from rolling in a dead fish."

I laughed. "I'll try to restrain myself, for your sake."

"How flat is flat, by the way?" he asked. "Do you want to stick to sand, or would you walk across a few rocks?"

"Rocks are fine."

He grinned in a way that made me wonder if I had just made a very bad decision. We walked north along the beach, while the mist seemed to grow thicker with every step, blending into the ocean.

"Did you work this morning?" I asked.

"Yeah, one of my regulars is back for the summer, so I had a few things to do to make him happy."

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