16. Scars

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I clambered ashore, eyes on the ground before me.

He may be naked, but I was a grown-up woman. He had nothing about him I hadn't seen yet.

And I would get out of my wet clothes, too.

Breathing deeply, trying to calm the blood that tried to rise into my cheeks, I peeled off my jeans. Not an easy task when you're standing barefoot on rocky ground and your pants drip with seawater.

I finally succeeded without falling over and hung them over a rock. My blouse joined them moments later.

I considered taking off my bra and underpants, too. They were cold and wet against my skin. He wasn't looking at me anyway.

I gave him a furtive glance.

Still facing the sea as he sat there, stony-faced, sharp jawline, his elbows rested on his thighs, his hands clenched into fists—a predator, coiled and ready to jump.

How would it feel to touch that man and to be touched by him?

Stop it.

I'd leave my underwear on.

As I passed behind him to get a rocky perch of my own, my gaze fell onto his back.

I drew an audible breath before I could stop myself.

Scars formed a crisscross pattern all over his skin. Old, white scars, long and straight, from his shoulders all the way down.

I gritted my teeth, looked ahead, and sat down on a rock. He didn't move, perched on his own boulder two steps away from me.

These weren't the scars you get from an accident. They were too many, too methodical, too deliberate. Just thinking of the pain they implied made my stomach cramp.

Who would do that to a human being? Why? Where?

Where—that question was innocent enough.

"Where are you from?" I said.

He shrugged, briefly, without looking at me. "I've spent time in more places than I could count."

"And originally?"

"Morocco."

Muslim—harsh punishments under harsh religious laws. That must be it.

"It's not what you think," he said.

I felt caught in the act of stereotyping. "What?"

"The scars. Aren't you thinking about them? They're not hudud."

"Hudud?"

"Hudud is what they call physical punishments under the Shariah. They're rare, and my scars are not from that. The ones who did that to me called themselves Christians."

His gaze was still on the water, and a muscle twitched in his cheek.

A sensitive topic. Still, I couldn't stop myself. "Who did that? And why?"

He huffed. "It was a long time ago. And some things are best left in the past, where they belong. My scars... they are one of them."

The finality in his last words prevented me from digging further into the topic.

His stance hadn't changed. He sat there like that famous black sculpture of a thinker. But his bronze face and intense stare were more a fighter's than a philosopher's. He wasn't tall, but wiry muscle moved under his smooth skin. Smooth everywhere but on his ravaged back.

Realizing that I was biting my teeth, I tried to relax. It had been a long time ago, he had said. But wounds like that would change a man for life, no?

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