Lorna stretched and turned in the rumpled bed, opening her eyes slowly and smiling at the view, of breakers crashing against the shore, and at the long stretch of unbroken sand and blue water. Malcolm, when he had woken—probably hours ago now—must have opened the French doors that led out to the small balcony overlooking the beach. The beige cotton curtains whipped in the warm, salty breeze making Lorna want only to turn over and sleep for another few hours.
But she couldn’t, because elsewhere in the house she could smell coffee being made, and a breakfast that included bacon. And who could stay in bed when there was bacon to be had? Sitting up, she groaned at the pleasant ache in her muscles.
“Coffee?” Malcolm’s voice reached her from the kitchen.
“Thank you,” she called back.
Moments later he joined her with two mugs in hand, barefoot and shirtless, golden-brown from many hours in the sun. For the first two days on Bald Head Island, they had done nothing but swim and sleep, eat, drink and make love. Neither of them read, nor did they write.
They just talked—every day for hours, and sometimes at night as well, long after all the lights were off. But the time after sundown was mostly reserved for walks on the beach and long stretches wrapped around each other on the large bed, tangled in the sheets. There was a television set, but they didn’t turn it on, though they sometimes listened to music, streamed from their phones into the Bose wireless speaker Malcolm had the foresight to bring along.
Smiling at her as he handed her the mug, Malcolm’s eyes dropped to her scan her nakedness. Lorna wasn’t at all self-conscious being bare-assed in bright sunlight around him anymore. He had seen it all by now—the slight lip of extra flesh at her waist, the tiny ripples in her thighs, the faint tributaries of stretch marks around her nipples. None of it seemed to dull how much he wanted her.
Cupping her hands around the mug she took her first sip and moaned.
“Perfect,” she said. “Thank you. How did you know I was awake?”
“I could feel it,” he said sitting next to her.
Funnily enough, she knew what he meant. After a few days of being in each other’s company alone, Lorna thought she could detect subtle changes in energy when he was near. Even if he was downstairs, having just come in from a solo walk, she felt him. If he was in the living room on the sofa and woke from a nap, coming to sit with her on the balcony, she knew he was coming long before he arrived.
“We’re out of eggs,” he said. “And a bunch of other stuff. We should probably go get groceries before Piper gets here tomorrow.”
“What time are we going to get her?”
“You’re coming with me?”
“Sure. Why not?”
Getting it out of the way was probably for the best, especially since from all Malcolm had told her, Piper was bound to hate her anyway. But Lorna had no fear of difficult tweens; she could use the time to start reading Fallon’s thesis, and to begin writing again. These last few days she had been intoxicated, sluggish from sun and sex and large glasses of the mid-priced wine she and Malcolm drank with dinner.
“We’ll pick her up at the airport around three o’clock. She’s flying alone.”
“Okay, so I guess I’ll have to wake up long before noon. That’ll be hard.”
“Come join me for breakfast,” Malcolm said getting up and heading back toward the kitchen. He briefly tugged on a lock of her hair before he left. “It’ll be ready in a few minutes.”
Lorna watched him go, taking in the muscles of his back, his firm ass and calves. She had always believed him a handsome man, but now he was more than that.
Now, she thought of him as beautiful.
Now she thought of him as hers.
Finishing up her coffee, she showered, putting on a light yellow cotton shift, and her swimsuit underneath in case they went swimming later. Most of their afternoons they spent on the beach, or tooling about the island in the little golf cart they had rented. There were no cars on Bald Head Island other than official vehicles, just bikes and golf carts. It was small, quaint and unapologetically White, populated mostly with well-off old Southern families who had scooped up prime real estate along the fourteen miles of beachfront, or further back in the marshes. It was a beautiful, unspoiled and quiet place and Lorna had loved it right away, despite the scarcity of people who looked like her.
The house Malcolm had rented was perfect. A three-bedroom craftsman style cottage painted white and dove-gray, it had an open floor plan that allowed the ocean breeze to pass through the rooms unobstructed, and sat on the sand with stilts to protect it against high-tide. All the bedrooms faced the sea and watching the sun set was a transcendent experience. All the furniture was white or denim, in sturdy fabrics perfect to withstand salty air and the occasional soaking wet swimsuit.
Walking out into the living area, Lorna decided that one day she would consider buying a place like this. Somewhere else though, where the base asking price for a beachfront home wasn’t $1.5 million. Malcolm had set their breakfast out on the large oak kitchen table, poured glasses of juice and portioned out scrambled eggs with the bacon. Just as Lorna sat down, he put toast on her plate.
“You’re spoiling me,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do when I have to go back to my old barren existence of cooking for myself every day.”
“Who said you have to go back?”
Lorna took a gulp of orange juice to avoid answering. Malcolm took a long sip from his coffee mug and looked at her expectantly, one eyebrow raised.
“I’m going to have to start working soon,” she said. “I feel lazy. And you have a book to finish.”
“I’ve finished it.”
Lorna laughed. “When? In between all the walks and drinking, eating …”
Malcolm grinned at her and tapped his temple with two fingers. “It’s all done, up here. Now I just have to write it down.”
Joining her at the table, he reached for his fork and dug into his eggs. Both their appetites had been voracious since they got there. Something about the sound and smell of the ocean seemed to make them hungry all the time.
“Is that how it works for you?” Lorna asked. “You work it all out in your head before you write?”
“Sometimes. And other times I sit at the keyboard and begin typing and it all seems to come from nowhere.”
“Where do you think it comes from?”
Malcolm shrugged. “I have no clue. All I know is … I experience life in words.”
Narrowing her eyes, Lorna paused with a piece of bacon halfway to her mouth. “What does that mean?”
“Like …” Malcolm chewed and swallowed then spoke again. “Let’s say I’m watching you walk into a room. Most people experience that in images. And that’s how their brain processes it. I see you walk into a room and I think, ‘the gentle sway of her hips, the swish of her skirt about her knees, and her delicate tread were almost hypnotic in their rhythm.’”
In spite of herself, Lorna felt a slow grin spread across her face. “Oh, so that’s what you think, is it? When I walk into a room?”
Nodding, Malcolm shoveled another forkful of eggs into his mouth. “Stuff like that … and other stuff too dirty to say at the breakfast table.”
“Professor Mitchell, you are going to be fighting off those eager undergraduate Lolitas,” Lorna said shaking her head.
“I’m sure I won’t even notice them,” he said meeting her gaze.
“Don’t be so sure.”
Adoration was a heady thing. Even for the most principled of instructors.
“What about you?” Malcolm asked. “I know you have your fan club. Have you ever been tempted?”
“Not attracted to women, no.”
Letting his head fall to one side, Malcolm gave her a look. “You know what I mean. Some of these guys, like Todd whatshisname? I bet plenty of them get hot for the sexy feminist professor.”
“I love that you think I’m sexy,” Lorna teased.
“No, seriously. Do they ever give it a shot?”
And Lorna could see that he was serious. Malcolm was naturally possessive, she had come to learn. Though he had probably matured himself out of much of it, it was obviously his basic inclination—to have and to keep his woman close. Lorna noticed the way he noticed when other men spoke to her, and she watched him hold himself still, and hold himself back. He was what her son-in-law might mellow into, in another twenty years.
Or maybe not. Shawn would never be “mellow” about other men’s interest in or attention to Riley.
“You’re not answering,” Malcolm said. “So I take it that’s a yes.”
“No, my mind wandered for a minute, that’s all,” Lorna laughed. “But the answer is yes. Some of them try, in their clumsy collegiate way.”
“And have you ever been tempted?”
“Tempted? By what? Some long-haired emo-boy in Birkenstocks who thinks calling himself a feminist will make him get laid more often? Who’ll go down on you for a half hour because he can’t make you come with his dick alone? Honestly, Malcolm.”
“Whoa! For someone who says she’s never tried these emo-boys as you call them, you sure seem to know a lot about how they …”
“I never said I never tried them. I did. When I was an undergraduate myself,” she added quickly.
“Oh.” Malcolm took another gulp of coffee and stood, beginning to clear his dishes. “And for the record,” he said as he walked away, “I like going down on you for a half hour. And it has nothing to do with not being able to make you come with my dick alone.”
Lorna smiled and rolled her eyes.