One pull of a cord and they were flying. Below, the sound of the motor powering the boat as it skidded across the surface of the water competed with the roar of the ocean. Up here, nothing but the gentle flap of the brightly colored parasail above them could be heard.
Felicity looked over at the man beside her. Hands that used to hold hers had a white-knuckle grip on the bar in front of him. And his lips… oh, she remembered the searing kisses those lips had delivered. Right now, they were pressed tightly together.
It wasn’t fear causing his tension. Jaylon Briggs had always been somewhat of a daredevil. Parasailing didn’t rank high on the list of stunts he had no doubt pulled. How could he still be angry with her after all these years? Eighteen of them, to be exact. She remembered the breakup like it was yesterday, and apparently, he did too.
Even though she had truly loved him, she had been the one to end their relationship. Would he ever forgive her?
His sister was to blame for this awkward situation. Caleigh usually played the part of friend except when it came to her brother. No way had Jay known Felicity was coming on this trip when Caleigh invited him. This was a perfect opportunity to rub it in Felicity’s face what she had given up—like she didn’t already know.
“Caleigh tells me you are back to working in your dad’s old shop now.”
Of course she did.
Despite the politeness of his words, they were full of venom. For one thing, no one had ever referred to her father as dad. Everyone called him Pappy, including Jay. Pappy had been the one to influence the breakup. He had been the one to push her into going to college to make something of herself. Had even planned out her career trajectory. And now she was back in her hometown, working in a shaved ice hut turned coffee shop.
Boy, Pappy’s plan worked out great, didn’t it?
All those eighteen years ago, Pappy had pointed out that though Jay had graduated high school a year ahead of her, he had never held a real job, nor did he have any plans to go to college.
Jay had used the excuse that he had been waiting for her to graduate so they could start a life together. He would take a menial job working in his uncle’s shipping yard down the coast in Charleston after they married, but he swore he’d make it big one day.
Evidently, his lofty dreams had come true, minus the part about her being at his side. Every time the opportunity presented itself, Caleigh would bring up the fact that Jaylon owned a successful shipping business. Apparently, she was also keeping her brother informed on what a failure Felicity had become.
“Pappy had a stroke a couple of years ago. I moved back home to take care of him.”
“I heard about that. And he still needs your help?”
Felicity looked out over the choppy, gray ocean beneath them. It neared as they were being reeled back into the boat. Jaylon always did know how to cut to the core of every issue. Truthfully, Pappy probably no longer needed her, but she had no desire to go back to the life she had before. “No, but I’ve decided to stay anyway.”
Silence prevailed again as they were drawn back into the boat to join the rest of their group. Besides Caleigh and her husband, Dalvin, two more had come along on this adventure. Vivian Emerson, who had recently moved to Walden Beach, and Bo Manning.
Bo put his arm around Felicity’s shoulder as soon as she was released from the harness. “How was it?”
Jay looked their way for a moment and then walked over to lean against the boat railing. Did he think she and Bo were a couple? They never had been but were often mistaken for such. The two usually paired up together whenever they went out as a group. She had expected to be Bo’s partner today, but ever since Vivian moved to town, his attention had been focused on her. Not that Felicity minded. She and Bo were always meant to be nothing more than friends.
She smiled up at him, glad for the friendship he offered. “It was great.”
Bo squeezed her shoulder and then moved away to take his turn at parasailing. Felicity doubted he was aware of her and Jaylon’s past relationship, unless Caleigh or Dalvin had mentioned it. She hadn’t known Bo back then, and there was no use bringing it up now.
She and Jay would never go back to what they were—two people so in tune with each other, so much in love, that the only next step should have been marriage. After all these years of separation, she still felt a connection to him somehow. But the bitterness he displayed today let her know that he didn’t feel the same way.
After everyone had gone up and the boat delivered them back to the shore, they discussed where they would go to eat later in the evening. Hidden behind a pair of sunglasses, it was easy to look her fill at Jay without anyone being the wiser. He wasn’t the lanky teenager anymore. Muscles stretched the fabric of his blue t-shirt across his chest and upper arms. His hair was a darker shade of auburn. And the manly stubble on his face had filled out from the adolescent beard he’d tried to grow back in high school.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to miss out on dinner. I’ve already made plans.” Jaylon’s declaration was unsurprising—and a relief. They had managed to avoid each other for the last two years since she’d been home. Caleigh usually mentioned an upcoming visit from her brother, making avoidance easy for Felicity. But that would no longer be necessary. The ice was broken, at least. The difficulty of seeing each other again had been lessened even if her regrets had not.
If possible, Felicity Sutton was even more beautiful at thirty-six than she had been at eighteen. He’d always loved the fact that her height nearly matched his. Time had filled her body out in all the right places. Wisps of light brown hair had come loose from her long ponytail, accentuating her flawless features. Only, her smile was missing, and the one glimpse he had gotten of her gray-green eyes revealed a sadness that he had only seen once—on the day she left him, bound for college.
“So, what are these plans that you didn’t mention before? I know the real reason you aren’t going out to eat with us is because of her. I’m sorry the two of you can’t let bygones be bygones. I thought you’d be over it now that you’re engaged to someone else.” Caleigh glanced over her shoulder from the front passenger seat with her lips pressed together, making sure that he was aware of her displeasure.
“Kathryn and I broke up.”
Her jaw dropped open, and she turned further around in her seat. “What happened?”
Jay looked out the side window, watching the world go by. “I’m not ready to talk about it.”
“How can you drop a bomb like that and then refuse to give details?”
“I just don’t want to talk about it, okay?”
Her lips pushed together in a pout just before she turned back to face the front of the van. “Whatever you’ve done, she’ll forgive you. Kathryn is a smart woman. She’s not going to let someone like you get away. Wait and see, you’ll get back together.”
No, they wouldn’t.
His recent breakup had only fueled the bitterness he felt for Felicity. The more time he had spent in her presence today, the more his resentment grew. It had taken a year after high school for him to decide which direction he wanted his life—their life together—to go. And that year of contemplation had cost him the woman he loved.
The plan he’d come up with had been a good one. He’d go to work in his uncle’s shipping business, starting at the bottom and working his way up. Money would have been tight at the beginning, but they would have gotten through it together. And he’d had no plans of staying at the bottom. He would learn everything there was to know about the shipping business until he became owner of his own shipping yard.
Then Pappy had convinced Felicity that there was no future for a man without a college degree. She had accused him of having no ambition, no way to finance their future. It had all come down to money.
His breakup with Kathryn had been about money too. Ironically, this time because he now had too much of it. He worked too many hours, cared more about his business than about her. Said she was sick of coming second to his job.
The trip to Caleigh’s this morning had been on impulse. A few days to reflect on what had happened between him and Kathryn. He had planned to share the news with his sister as he was leaving. Now there would be no rest. She would bug him about it until he spilled the details.
The last person he expected to see on this trip was Felicity. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. They had managed to avoid each other in the past, but as soon as Caleigh said where they were going, he knew she would be there. What had he hoped to gain from seeing her again?
Maybe it was closure he needed. Did she regret breaking up with him now that he owned a multi-million dollar business? He certainly had no intention of ever asking her about it. With the instant bitterness that cropped up the minute he laid eyes on her, he’d decided it was best not to acknowledge her at all.
Jay had tried keeping his mouth shut while trapped in the parasail’s seat next to Felicity, but the fact that she had given up her sought-after career in advertising to come back and run her father’s old nothing shop stuck in his craw. It wasn’t right.
According to Caleigh, she wasn’t even running the place. She had tried to bring the business out of the red by turning it into a coffee house, but Pappy wouldn’t give up control. No surprise there. Without a doubt, the old man had been the one to get inside her head, making her think she could do better than Jay. If anyone was to blame for their breakup, Pappy Sutton carried that guilt.