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Back When Life Was Sweet

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Finding a starfish on Sunset Beach was rare and magical

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Finding a starfish on Sunset Beach was rare and magical. My eyes widened. The most stunning guy I'd ever seen was standing in front of me, displaying the sea creature as if it were a precious jewel.

The bone-white starfish sat atop his wide palm. It had five thin tentacles, and in its middle, an imprint of another five-pointed star.

"I found this on the beach when I was out running this morning. I thought of you."

My heart thumped fast at his proximity. "Oh! That's a serpent starfish. We almost never find them here on Sunset Beach, and never in perfect shape like this. It's gorgeous."

"Like you," he murmured. "Here. It's a gift."

He gently slid the starfish into my cupped hands. Hopefully he didn't notice I was shaking from his compliment. Being around him made me nervous, in a good way.

Leo Villeneuve from New Orleans was crazy handsome, with his Louisiana accent, short brown hair, and a mouth that curved upward even when he wasn't smiling. And he smelled incredible and fresh, like pine trees and soap.

Leo was eighteen, a year older than me, and in Florida for the winter holidays with his father.

"Thank you." My eyes met his dark blue gaze, and we stared at each other, unblinking, mesmerized. I had to get back to cleaning the rooms in my family's small beach hotel, but as we stood at the end of the hallway near a window, I couldn't move, too captivated by the way the sunlight bounced off his bronze skin.

He was so different than any guy I'd ever seen. Just...breathtaking. Mom said his heritage was Cajun and Creole, and his mom's side was from Haiti.

Leo lowered his gaze from mine slowly, and the way his long eyelashes brushed the top of his cheekbones when he blinked made my insides melt everywhere.

He traced the delicate, whip-like arms of the starfish with his index finger, and I longed for him to do the same on the skin of my palm.

"I also wanted to ask you something, Jessica."

He swallowed hard, seeming nervous, and that endeared him to me even more.

"Yes?" My voice was shaky.

The words tumbled from his lips. "Would you watch the fireworks with me on New Year's Eve? Your mom's giving a party for the adults here at the hotel. My dad said it was okay if I go with you and I've already asked your mom if we can hang out together."

Yikes. He must have really wanted to hang out if he went to the trouble of asking my mom. "Did she say yes?"

"She did."

Never did I dream my mother would let me watch the fireworks alone, with a guy, on New Year's Eve. But Mom had been acting strange since Leo and his father had arrived on the island.

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