"It's good to see you," he said warmly, pulling back.
"You too," I said. "Of course, I'm sensing I'm a little out of the loop on a few things," I said, quirking my eyebrows at them both.
Both feigned innocence and I was about to tell them I could see through their ploy when the doorbell rang again.
"Kim, can you get that?" Mom said, leading Rick into the room to see the tree.
"Sure, it's probably Car. We said our goodbyes the other day, but..." I started to say, but my words stuck in my throat when I threw open the door. I stared speechless at the person on our porch as if he was a ghost.
"Hello, beach bunny," he said huskily, leaning on a cane.
"You're late," I said, holding back my tears, taking in his appearance. His light hair was longer than it was the last time I'd seen him, and he looked leaner, but the rest of him was all the same. Looking at him, I realized that all my drawings hadn't done him justice.
"It took a little longer than I thought to find my way," he said, taking a step toward me. "I needed to be able to walk to you on my own," he added, taking yet another step closer to me, bringing us a breath away from each other. "That's if you'll have me," he added quietly, studying me intently.
"If you ever do that to me again, I'll hunt you down and make you sorry," I threatened as a single tear streaked down my cheek.
"Trust me, bunny, I'm not going anywhere," he said before sweeping me into his arms.
I sighed with pleasure when his lips claimed mine. Here was the spark I had been missing. He ran his hand up behind my neck, anchoring me in place as he deepened the kiss.
I lost all track of time until in the foggy recesses of my mind I heard someone clearing their throat.
"Oops," I said, pulling back slightly, but not releasing my hold on him.
He slid an arm around my waist and we walked into my house to find my parents eyeing us, knowingly.
"You knew?" I accused my mom, feigning anger.
"Yes, I knew at Thanksgiving, but I had to be sure that you were basing your life on choices you wanted, and not ones that were ruled by some feelings about some guy," she answered. "Call it my motherly right. I wanted to tell you after I realized that despite thinking things were over with Mason, you still planned on transferring to Colorado, but I promised Mason I wouldn't say anything," she admitted.
"I appreciate it, Ms. Hanson," Mason said warmly.
"I've told you, call me Kate," she chastised.
"Okay, I appreciate you keeping my secret, Kate," he said with the twinkle I loved in his eye.
"Just don't hurt my girl again," she warned.
"I promise," he said, tucking me more securely under his arm.
"That's all I ask. Now, let's get your stuff and we can eat some lunch," she said, heading for the door. Rick followed behind and I watched as he reached for her hand and laced his fingers through hers.
"What do you think of that?" Mason asked, following my stare.
"I think it's pretty fabulous," I admitted, facing him.
He dipped down to place a kiss at the corner of my mouth before trailing his lips along my jaw line. Goose bumps popped up along my arms and my breath quickened at the feelings he was evoking in me.
"I've been dreaming about doing this for months," he mumbled against my neck right below my ear and I shivered in anticipation.
"I have to tell you something. I lied to you this summer," I told him.
"You did?" he asked, puzzled.
"Yeah, I'm not in like with you," I said as his lips paused their exploring. "I'm in love with you," I admitted with shining eyes.
"I'm I love with you too, beach bunny," he said as his lips claimed mine.