Ch. 17 No Tan Stripes

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***Beth***

"That went well, don't you think?" Russell asked while they drove towards the restaurant.

Beth answered with a friendly mm-hmm, but that was all she was giving him.

"This is where the restaurant should be," Russell said a few minutes later, passing the green sign for Keaau.

Keh-ah-ah-oo, Beth repeated silently.

"Keep your eyes open, it will be on the right-hand side."

"There it is," she said, pointing to a small building hidden behind a white church. They pulled into the parking lot and opened their doors to the island heat. It was noon and the sun was beating down mercilessly. The trade winds had died and shimmering waves of heat danced up from the pavement. It reminded her too much of standing in the lava field when her shoes started melting.

They sat at the sushi bar, each studying the menu like it would save their lives.

"I didn't know you could lose your job if you don't ace this project," Russell said after a few minutes. He must have gleaned the information from Jerry's texts.

"Funny, the things you find out when you travel with someone," Beth answered. "Like the fact you have a tattoo." Oh, no. Why did she bring up his tattoo? What happened to Operation: Don't Do Any More Stupid Crap - which certainly covered not engaging in idiotic small talk?

"Yes, I do. But just the one."

"You're not interested in any other tattoos? I understand," Beth said. He's not into you, Beth, but you already knew that.

"I'm very interested. But sometimes, a guy finds the one he wants and he only has the room for that one, no matter how things work out later. No matter how much he wants another."

His eyes flicked up to meet hers at the last part of his sentence. He fell silent and held her with those dark brown eyes of his for the length of five heartbeats, pleading with her to understand. But she didn't. What she did know was that her heart was suddenly hammering painfully in her chest, keeping her from breathing. Her oxygen starved mind careened, searching for something to say, to find out what he meant by his words.

The server walked by and cheerfully asked for their order and offered to bring freshly squeezed orange juice. Beth almost asked her to fill the glass three-quarters with vodka first, but refrained, thinking she still had pictures to take that afternoon. Getting drunk again would mean more embarrassment.

Sweet relief, after that Russell brought up work. They spent the rest of the afternoon visiting several homes on their list, taking pictures, listening to stories, asking questions and not talking to each other.

It was getting harder and harder to work with Russell nearby, she had to admit it. So far, she had been able to keep up Operation: DDAMSC by keeping focused on taking pictures and not saying too much.

It couldn't last and she couldn't throw herself at him again.

While her mind was rationally explaining to any body parts that would listen that Russell was not the only man in the world, her body parts were conspiring to be her undoing. Her knees had an agreement with her neck; every time Russell accidently brushed against her, they would turn to jelly and it would spring shut. Her eyes decided that when he looked at her, they would shut down her blinking ability and stare back past the point of politeness, and her cheeks would flip on the heater at the same time.

Heat and need flooded that aching spot between her thighs as she remembered his face at the sushi bar; his troubled eyes holding hers, the stubble on his cheek, the strong line of his jaw and his hair falling sideways. He had been flushed from the sun and hot air. His lips had parted slightly to say something. What? That despite what he said about not being able to get another tattoo, he wanted her like she wanted him?

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