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“You can’t skip stones to save your life,” I said teasingly, elbowing Luke as yet another stone plopped into the calm river. “I keep sacrificing all of my best skipping stones for you, and you keep wasting them.”
“I’m hurt!” he said, holding a hand over his chest, his eyes smiling, turning into little crescent moons. The stream gurgled like a newborn child, the sun streaming through the sheltering arms of the trees like our fathers. The wind caressed my face like my mother once did, and the grass waved like my little sister used to when she was my friend. I sighed, relaxed and refreshed in the easy, warm day.
“How about we make a little deal,” Luke said, pulling me from my thoughts. I looked up at him, curious. His eyes were bright and mischievous; my stomach felt lighter, somehow. “How about if I can skip a stone at least three times today, you kiss me?”
I threw my head back and laughed. “You’re kidding, right? You wanna make a bet on your stone-skipping abilities after such a poor performance.” He nodded, his golden lion’s mane flopping back and forth across his face.
“Yep! No joke,” he said brightly. “But you gotta shake on it. It’s the rules.”
“Who makes up these rules, again?” I asked with a little smile.
“You and I, of course,” he said with a grin. He held out his hand, and I took it. We shook, and then he surprised me; he brought my hand up to his face and then slowly, without looking away from my eyes, kissed my hand. My stomach flipped inside of me like a pancake. Suddenly, the mischievous look entered his eyes again. He dropped my hand, picked up a misshapen stone, and tossed it towards the river; it bounced once, twice, three, four, five, six times. My mouth dropped open, and, my mouth still hanging open, I turned to look up at his pleased expression. “Cheater!” I declared dramatically.
“You shook on it!” he said.
“I don’t kiss cheaters!” I proclaimed, dancing away from him, laughing. He approached me, his eyes glinting like the sun on the river.
“I didn’t cheat, darling,” he said, his hands firmly grabbing my waist and pulling me to him; my heart began to race as I looked up into his eyes. “I just happened to hustle you into a kiss.” And then, before I could say a single word about that, he leaned down, his lips as warm as the sunshine on mine, and my heart melted like a stick of butter in the peaceful afternoon, the butter melting into the golden sunshine around us.
After we broke apart, I looked up at his burning grin and sun-filled eyes. “You kissed me,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady. My happiness poured off of my tingling lips as I spoke.
“Yeah, well,” he said, with a little jerk of his shoulder before his smile became more complete. I felt a thrill at his joyous expression.
“I thought we were friends,” I said, playfully elbowing him in the ribs.
“I think that you’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen and that it would be a crime to not kiss you,” he said, and before I could fully process his words he kissed me again and then the words didn’t matter because the meaning was interpreted with my lips and translated by my racing heart.
“I’m sorry,” he said once I looked up again, my eyes accusing. “But really, it’s your fault.”
“You’ll have to explain that one to me,” I said with a grin, looking up at his eyes and realizing with a jolt that I felt comfortable there.
“Well, if you weren’t such a good kisser then I would be able to keep my lips off you,” he said, smiling.
“What!” I exclaimed, laughing. He grinned and then swooped down and kissed me again, even while I was laughing. It was one of the strangest feelings I had ever experienced, but it felt warm and right and good. It felt natural to be here with Luke, looking up into his eyes and in his arms.
“Have you liked me for a while?” I asked as leaves floated lazily down the river beside us, enjoying the ride without a care in the world.
“Liked you?” he asked, pulling a bit away from me so he could look down into my eyes. “What do you mean, liked you? You think this is me liking you, Rose? You sweet, naïve girl.” He kissed me again, and I had to stand on my tiptoes to reach his mouth. When he leaned away from me, he gently held my face in his hands. “This isn’t me liking you, Rosemary Claire Woode. This is me being in love with you, darling. As I have been since I first began on the venture of knowing who you truly were.” And he kissed me again, and I felt as though my soul was being lifted from the toes I stood on. He knew me better than anyone in the world, and I didn’t know that this wasn’t too far until he had pushed me here. He knew me, in and out, and he would take care of me. That is what that kiss told me. That is what my heart was able to understand from the way his lips moved on mine.
“I don’t know if I’m ready to be in love,” I admitted.
“All the more reason to be,” he whispered into the sunny afternoon, his words caressing me like the leftover wind, warming my soul like the sun did. And he kissed me again, tenderly, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt – there were no shadows that day – that he would keep me safe.