"Then this party is their first real test."

"I guess you could say that, although I don't think I'm meeting their expectations."

"Is that important to you? Meeting your family's expectations?" Luke locked Lexi in a serious gaze, and she used the opportunity to speak her truth.

"It used to be, but I'm changing that now."

They arrived at the stable, and Lexi paid a quick visit to Jackie O, feeding her a carrot from the treat bag and thanking her for teaching that preppy clod, Will, a lesson. It wasn't long before she and Luke were back on the trail, chasing the sun. She wanted to show him the spot where the trees gave way to the ocean, one of her favorite sunset vantage points.

"If I may be honest, Lexi, I think your parents have done you a disservice," Luke said as they navigated the path.

"How so?"

"Here you are on the precipice of eighteen, already a woman by my way of thinking, and you have no experience with romantic love. How will you know if a man is sincere or if he's trying to con you?"

"Is this a confession? Are you trying to con me?" Lexi raised her eyebrows and added a smirk to let him know she was joking, but her stomach knotted up at the thought.

"I would never con you. I am a gentleman of the highest caliber." He followed up his answer with a charming smile, which made Lexi chuckle.

"And modest, too."

Luke accepted her taunt with a humble shrug, and Lexi couldn't help thinking of him as a nobleman whose rank was high enough to give him confidence but kept him true to his sworn duties. He didn't have fathead syndrome, which made him even more attractive, if that was possible.

When they arrived at the clearing, Lexi stopped their progress, and they admired the vast stretch of ocean together. Luke's hand drifted down her arm toward her wrist as she tried to focus on the view, and when he slipped his fingers between hers, the rush came on like a tidal wave. The chills reached all the way up to her scalp, as well as lower, toward her private regions.

"How often are you able to visit the ocean?" Lexi asked as a distraction.

"During a good year, I can manage three trips. However, I haven't taken a reprieve in..."

Before Lexi knew what was happening, Luke pulled her toward him, and their chests collided. Her first thought was to push away, but her senses were responding to the scent of his musky cologne as it swirled under her nose.

"I'm sorry if I startled you," he said as he backpedaled through the opening in the trees. "There's a snake on the path, and he doesn't seem keen on us disturbing his sunbathing."

Lexi turned and caught a glimpse of the snake as it retreated under a fallen branch, confirming that Luke was not getting handsy. Too bad. "That's a Maritime Garter Snake. They're harmless, but I appreciate your concern for my welfare."

"I have made your welfare my priority this weekend." Luke spoke as he lowered his hands to her hips and left them there. So, maybe he was getting handsy. Yay.

His eyes hadn't left her face either, those smoldering eyes that appraised her like a museum curator studying a piece for authenticity while his heavy respirations competed with the crashing waves. Lexi glanced at his lips, imagining.

"This is nice," he said.

"Yes, it is."

Another breath and then... "Lexi? Have you ever been kissed?"

Lexi's throat turned against her, and she swallowed hard. She refused to swoon, but she was damn close. This was it. Her chance of a lifetime. She felt like a marshmallow roasting over a campfire, all hot and mushy.  "If you're asking if I've ever been kissed by a man, I'm afraid the answer is no."

"You don't have to be afraid," he said as he drew their bodies a whisper closer. "A kiss, when given willingly, is like the warmth of the sun after an eternity underground."

Lexi stared into Luke's eyes without flinching, a look she gave all her opponents. While Luke had never felt like an opponent, he managed to distract her from everything, which meant he had the advantage. She needed to confirm this connection was real while keeping her head in the game. But mostly, she needed his lips.

"I'm not afraid." The words left Lexi on a sigh, and Luke closed the gap between them, bringing his forehead down to rest on hers. He held her impossibly close, and his body heat soothed her like a touch from heaven. Something else touched her as well, pressing firmly against her thigh.

"Will you allow me the honor of giving you your first kiss?" Luke's request tumbled across her cheek, causing her to forget everything else.

With only her fully aroused libido to guide her, Lexi uttered her reply. "Gods, yes."

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