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"Is there anything more fab than summer vacation?" Raina St. James's question sounded more like a declaration. "No classes, no homework, nothing to look forward to except weeks and weeks of sunshine."
Raina and her friends were spending the day at Carson Kiefer's house, lounging by the pool, under a clear blue sunny sky. Burgers sizzled inside the mammoth grill on the patio, and the aroma mingled with the scents of sunscreen and chlorine.
"I heard the school board wants to have year-round classes," Holly Harrison said. She was sitting on a towel at the side of the pool painting her toenails a flamboyant shade of hot pink.
"Forget it," Carson said. "We need a break." He took a running leap off the diving board and cut like a knife through the water. He swam the length of the pool underwater, coming up beside Kathleen McKensie's float.
She opened one eye. "If you splash me, I'll shoot you."
"I've just covered myself with sunscreen and I don't want it washed off." She lifted her sunglasses to look at him treading water next to her. His brown eyes danced and droplets of water clung to his buttery tanned shoulders. "If I didn't burn to a crisp without it, I wouldn't mind," she said. "But que sera, sera." She resettled the dark glasses on her nose and rested her head again on the cushioned pillow of the float.
He tossed his head and slung beads of water over her body. "Did I get you wet?"
She ignored him.
"Want me to lick the water off?"
Instantly, her face flushed bright red. "Go away."
He laughed. "Maybe you'd taste like coconut."
"Pervert." She wasn't even mildly annoyed. It felt so good to be back with him, to be a part of his life again, she would have tolerated any amount of his teasing. The weeks she'd spent apart from him the past winter after she'd hung up on him over a spat about Stephanie Marlow had seemed like an eternity.
"I'm, like, so disrespected," he announced. He put his elbows on the float, leaned over her and ran his cool, wet tongue across her mouth.
Shivers shot up her spine. "Scram!" she hissed.
He laughed, arched backward like a dolphin and dove under the water.
Raina watched, amused, from the circle of Hunter's arms. They were sitting on a lounge chair together, Raina in front, and Hunter was smoothing lotion on her back. The stroke of his fingers was lulling her into drowsiness. He bent forward and nibbled on her earlobe. "He's right about the coconut taste," he whispered.
"I'll buy you an Almond Joy," she mumbled.
"You taste better."
"I'm flattered." Waves of contentment washed over Raina, mimicking the water lapping against the colorful tiled sides of the pool. Hunter would be home for the entire summer and she'd be with him every minute possible, between his job at the fast-food restaurant and her volunteer work with the Pink Angels program at Tampa's Parker-Sloan Hospital. Every minute.
"What do you hear from Emma?" Hunter asked, leaning back in the chair and pulling Raina against him.
"I talked to Jon-Paul last night. Emma's finally home. She was asleep when I called." Raina closed her eyes, conjuring up the faces of her sister and her husband, a sister she had never known existed until February.
"But she's doing all right?"
"She is now." It had been touch and go as Emma's doctors fought to stave off infections that threatened her new bone marrow, but after a hundred and ten days, she had been sent home to complete her recovery and begin her married life, cancer free.
"And you?" Hunter touched her hip in the area where bone marrow had been extracted to save Emma's life.
"You asked me the same thing yesterday. The answer's the same today. I'm fine. Just a small scar."
"Can I see?" He nuzzled her neck.
"I'm shocked you would ask. I mean with all these people looking on."
He laughed. One thing she could trust about Hunter was that he wouldn't look even if she stripped on the spot. "I'm not a prude."
"Yes you are." She twisted around and kissed him lightly. "That's what makes it work between us. I keep trying to jump your bones and you keep pushing me away."
"This will change when we get married."
Her heart did its usual stutter step. They talked about sex and marriage, but truthfully, huge hurdles lay in front of them. For starters, Hunter wanted to be a minister and had taken early admission to a small Christian college in Indiana the previous winter. She wasn't sure she even believed in God. Only Holly, Hunter's sister, realized the depth of their dilemma. Raina was worried about their having a future when they were such polar opposites in this area. Yet whenever she was with him, all she thought about was how much she loved him and about being with him forever.
"What if I get a better offer?" she asked playfully.
"Then I'll just have to take the guy out."
"That sounds pretty hostilefor a minister."
"Think of Samson. Hey, I'm tough. I'm the guy who got into a fistfight over you, remember?"
How could she forget? Tony Stoddard's bad mouth had almost destroyed her relationship with Hunter. "Don't joke about that, Hunter," she said quietly. "I don't think I'll ever be able to joke about it."
His arms tightened around her. "I was the idiot, not you."
She knew he wanted to make it up to her for the way he'd treated her after Tony's "revelation," but he didn't need to. She loved him and wanted to be with him foreveryet the hurdles remained.
Carson hoisted himself out of the pool. "I'd better turn the burgers." He padded over to the grill, raised the lid and stared down. "UmI think they're burned."
Holly went over and confirmed his suspicion. "Hopelessly burned."
"Dad's never burn."
"He stands over them full-time," Kathleen called. She had straddled the float and paddled to the shallow end of the water, where she used the steps to exit the pool. She walked over to the grill.
The three of them stared in dismay at the charred remains of their lunch.
"Too bad. I'm starved," Kathleen said.
Carson turned off the grill. "So how does everybody feel about pizza?" The agreement was unanimous, so he picked up his cell phone and hit a single button.
Incredulous, Kathleen asked, "You have the pizza parlor on speed dial?"
Carson grinned. "A guy's got to eat." He slipped his arm around her.
Holly hung back, feeling as left out as she always did. She'd turned sixteen in May and now had her driver's license, not that it did her a whole lot of good. Her parents only allowed her to drive Hunter's beat-up car solo and only if and when he wasn't using it, which wasn't often. Her emancipation wouldn't go into full effect until he returned to college in Septemberif then. But it wasn't the car issue that bothered her the most. It was the lack of a boyfriend, a guy of her own, a boy who took her out on dates or came with her when she hung out with Raina and Hunter, Kathleen and Carson.