Cole's kiss was a zinger—a toe-curling kiss that melted my heart and set of an alarm in my brain. Danger!
I must admit, though, I allowed myself to savor the kiss for maybe one whole minute—all right, maybe two minutes—before I gently placed my hand on his chest and pushed him away.
A sheepish look crept across his face. "I've wanted to kiss you since we met. Tonight I decided I'd get it over with."
"I thought we said we knew better."
"But we're only human. I am, at least."
"We said we'd be friends. Date on special occasions. Like tonight."
"I'm sorry..." he said.
And that's when I kissed him back, my heart thudding against my chest—I'm human, too.
When we broke the kiss, he smiled. "There...our curiosity's been satisfied. I kissed you, you kissed me. We don't have to do that again."
"Amen," I said.
We began ambling back along Mystic Lake's sandy beach toward the Starlight Ballroom, where all of us company employees were enjoying our annual Fourth of July barbecue. Darkness had settled in. Blazing stars and a brilliant full moon already cast a silver glow over the water.
Inside, the ballroom, as I made my way to the restroom, my best friend Carrie Wilson cornered me. "Gone a long time, weren't you, Kiley?" she said, and smirked. Married to a wonderful husband and raising two marvelous kids, Carrie possessed the marriage I'd dreamed of having when I married Roger three years ago.
"It was getting warm in here," I said. "And noisy. We decided to take a walk along the beach before the fireworks started."
"Your cheeks are flushed. Maybe you created your own fireworks."
I looked away, another blast of heat rushing to my face. Maybe I was still a little dazed from kissing Cole.
"I've seen how you two look at each other," Carrie said, smirking again. "His flashing eyes, his dimpled chin—I know you're attracted to him. He's fun, he's thoughtful, he works hard—what's the problem?"
"The problem is he's divorced, too. Over two years ago. Same as me. And we both married because we thought we were in love. A foolish mistake. We've agreed on that."
"That doesn't mean you can't fall in love again."
"It means we're happy just as we are—unattached. Just friends. And not friends with benefits, either."
"You're in denial, girlfriend."
Later, when I found Cole outside, we drifted along with the other party-goes to the beach where we sat on a blanket in the sand. Across the narrow lake, the city of West Haven set off its fireworks. As I sat close to Cole, enjoying his nearness and warmth, I watched in awe as the sky exploded with streaming rainbows of color.
When the fireworks ended and Cole picked up our blanket, shook the sand off, and folded it, I wondered if two kisses were enough to change our minds about love. Maybe change our lives forever.
Could two kisses be that potent?
We plodded through the sand toward the parking lot. Cole's hand snuggled itself around mine. My heart jumped—we never held hands. "How long have we had this arrangement?" he asked.
"Not that long," I said. "Um...maybe three months."
"Do you think it's working?"
"Perfectly, until you—"
"Kissed you?" he said.
"But I kissed you back."
"I know. And that was greatly appreciated."
"So it's not all your fault," I said, sheepishly. "Still, we made a pact, remember?"
"We even shook hands on it," I pointed out. "No fooling around. Not even holding hands. Especially no kissing."
While others hurried by us, we stopped under a tree, alone. "So what happens to us now?" he asked.
"We obviously can't trust ourselves."
I backed up against the tree. As he moved closer to me, my heart quivered. "Does that mean—?"
He didn't finish, but I knew what he was asking. Is it over between us? I gulped. I hated the thought. "I like you a bunch, Cole. Really, I—"
His forefinger sealed my lips. "Then let this moment be our personal Declaration of Independence against old fears," he sad. "We toss them out. We relax and face each moment as it comes."
I blew out a long breath. I liked the idea. Loved it! in fact. Raising my head, I gazed at him and smiled. The moonlight glimmering through the tree's leaves dappled his face.
"All right," I said.
"All right," I said.
"I suggest we seal this new pact not with a handshake but with our own brand of Fourth of July fireworks.
Again, I knew what he was thinking.
Our third Fourth of July kiss was more of a zinger than the first two. This one, under the tree in the moonlight, positively sizzled.
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