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An excerpt from Chapter 3, still in draft form. This is about a third of the way through the first “arc” or minor conflict of the story. (Also, likely the only arc to be posted online.)

I’ve always had some trouble controlling how much smuff I put into stories like these, but I also have always believed that humans are very sexual creatures. If the situation warrants sex – for reasons of emotion, strife, trust, fear, whatever – then I think the sex is “worthwhile.”

Plus, it’s just fun to write.

The next day, when Amber arrived at the shop in her sparkling smile and button-up pinafore dress, and her blonde hair wound in loose, curling plaits that folded over her shoulder, ready for the beach, Ross did his best to set aside his more prurient interests in the separate parts of her and focus instead on the girl as a whole.

It was rather a difficult thing to do, though, especially when she bounced up to the counter and hopped up onto her toes to offer him a quick kiss, even before she greeted him with her usual bubbly salutation. For at the soft and welcome press of her lips, his anatomy gave a quick, jerking jump in his pants, and it took him a second of focused concentration to settle it again, before he cleared his throat and offered her a low, “Good morning.”

Dropping to her heels once again, she fixed him with a beaming and elfin grin and declared, “I want a suit of my own.”

Ross piqued one brow at her, and then leaned forward onto the counter, placing his cheek on his fist. He chuckled at her. “You’re certain you’re ready for that?”

Amber nodded, all bright confidence. “I want to be a real surfer,” she reminded him. “And I can’t do that if I don’t jump in all the way, and get myself a real suit and board.”

“You want a board, too?” he asked, mockingly incredulous.

She nodded again, and an excited gleam appeared in her eyes. “I want a gun,” she murmured in a low, desirous growl that made his pants strain a little again.

But despite how easily that started him up, he shook his head. “Not a chance,” he told her, standing straight with both hands on the counter. “You’re definitely not ready for that.”

“But I’m riding real waves, now!” she said, placing her hands flat on the counter, too, as though to rise up a bit and take away his height advantage (as if that could happen; he was easily a head taller than she was). “You said it yourself only yesterday: I’ve made a lot of progress these last few days. I’ve even joined the rest of you!”

He shook his head again. “Just because you’re out of the whitewater and in the pack doesn’t mean you can steer a gun,” he told her. “Those are made for really big surf. You’re not ready for that.”

The irritated pout she gave him was adorable, but he wasn’t going to let it sway him any, and he told her so:

“Listen, the water doesn’t care how good you think you are. If she wants to wipe you out, she will. And on a ten-footer – or more! – that can get hairy. Even I’ve been axed on my gun, and I’ve been doing this a lot longer than you.” He fixed her with a stern look. “So, no. It is far too dangerous for you; I’m sorry.”

Her sulking expression deepened in the ensuing silence, until Ross gave a halfway-yielding sigh.

“Fine,” he muttered. “I’ll compromise. I’ll let you borrow my Mollusc for a few days, and we’ll see how you do with that. It’s longer than a practice board but still wide enough to give you good balance,” he explained, and then he pushed a coercive smile to his lips. “All right?”

Amber’s grimace softened. “Is that a real surfboard?” she murmured.

He rolled his eyes a little. “Yes, it’s a ‘real’ surfboard,” he told her wearily.

The pleasant, pleasing smile returned in an instant. “Thank you, Ross,” she said in a saccharine voice, sounding supremely chuffed with herself, and now there was no doubt in his mind that she could manipulate him, if just a bit.

But he still enjoyed how easily he could make her smile and brighten, and that made him smile, as well.

“So!” he said abruptly, to change the course of their discourse. “What was that about a new steamer?”

She patted one hand upon the counter. “Yes!” she agreed with another grin. “The best you’ve got.”

Ross eyed her with an exaggerated leer. “The best, eh? That is bound to be quite expensive.”

But she shook her head, her curled plait bouncing from shoulder to back. “Money is no object,” she replied gleefully. “I want the top of the line.”

He moved out from behind the counter now, to lead her toward the tiered racks of spring- and fullsuits. “All right,” he drawled. “You’re the customer.”

He lifted down a few options for her perusal, and – to her credit – she knew exactly what she wanted: a tape-seamed women’s Super Stretch 4/3 fullsuit, with the zip built in front, one of the best makes they carried, built for what she would glowingly refer to as a “real surfer.” It was also, as he’d noted, one of the most expensive of the lot, but (again, to credit her word) she barely blinked at the price tag. All she said was:

“It’s perfect.”

And indeed it was. It fit her like a tailored glove, and when she stepped out from the fitting room to show it off, Ross had to admit that she did look quite authentic. Not to mention, sexy as hell.

“Nice,” he complimented as he tilted his head left and right, to examine her more closely. “Very nice,” he added in a low murmur, as he took an extra-long moment to linger his gaze on her arse. Then, more clearly: “How’s it feel?”

“Cosy,” was her reply, and she rubbed one hand over her opposite arm in a stretch. Then she giggled. “It was quite different to get into, though…!”

He nodded. “Yeah, the openings on these are small,” he muttered, checking the state of the zip flap above her chest. “But it’s the best at keeping out extra water. Lots more flexible than the thirty-percent one, too. But you’ve got to be careful with this one,” he warned her. “It’s strong, but you can still rip it if you pull on it too hard.”

She blinked at him in quiet concern, until he gave her a leering smile and added:

“But don’t worry; I can show you how to get out of it.”

Amber smiled. “I hope so,” she said, and then she pressed him for his board, so together they could head down to the already-bustling beach.

Once on the water, she took to his Mollusc with surprising ease of skill; Ross made certain to keep a close eye on her form (in more ways than one), but she handled herself well enough on the heavier board, despite a somewhat wobbly and slow start. She seemed resolved to proving herself on the stronger swells, though whether it was for herself or for him – or some other reason entirely – he didn’t know.

But shortly after midday, the winds from the west started to roll in, forming taller cresting waves and rougher surf, and he paddled up beside her with some concern.

“Looks like a blow-out brewing,” he told her as he sat up on his board. “We’d better head in.”

“Just a little while longer,” Amber pleaded. Still prone on the board (she had yet to get the hang of sitting up in rolling surf), she tossed a look over her shoulder. She indicated with a nod of her head Neville and the others, who were still in the lineup and paddling to catch the coming waves.

“No one else is giving up,” she said, and then she pulled a face at him. “I don’t want to be the only one going back to the beach. Please, Ross…!”

But he shook his head. “No,” he said, though at her imploring look he softened a bit, and changed tactic. “Listen, my arms are noodles,” he told her (even if it wasn’t true, it was easier than trying to argue with her; he’d learned at least that much about her already). “Let’s just head in,” he said, the timbre of his voice cajoling. “We can get something to eat, yeah?”

She glowered at him, her arms dangling motionless in the water.

“Come on,” Ross said now, in a tone that he made sure she would not mistake for a simple request; he even grabbed one rail of her board and gave it a push in the direction of the shoreline. “I’m not leaving you out here with this lot. Let’s go.” And he went to his belly, too, dropping his hands into the water to start paddling. He glanced over his shoulder at her, and, after a begrudging moment, she followed, though she looked none too pleased to be doing so.

“It’s not fair!” Amber complained as she dragged herself out of the water after him, struggling to keep up with his stride while holding the heavier and unfamiliar longboard.

“What’s not fair?” he said as he ran one hand over his wet hair.

“You treat me differently just because I’m a girl!” she said, and he heard a muffled stomp and thunk, which made him turn around. She had planted both board and feet in the sand, and was now glaring huffily at him.

Swallowing a grumble, he stalked back to her, leaning over her to enunciate with a snarl, “You are not strong enough for those waves.”

“Yes, I am!” she argued, nearly in a shout.

He did shout back at her: “No, you’re not!” He pointed out toward the water, punctuating his words with a jab in the air. “Amber, those swells are dangerous for you, and I don’t want to see you get hurt!”

In the wake of this outburst, her expression of vexation turned to chagrin, and the tight purse of her lips became a soft frown, and that made him relent a bit.

He let the fins of his own board drift toward the ground as his grip went a bit slack, and he bowed his head to her. “I’m sorry I yelled at you,” he muttered after a moment.

She looked up at him through the strands of wet fringe blown across her forehead, the corners of her mouth still turned down. “You wouldn’t tell Neville or any of the others that they had to come in.”

“No,” he agreed with a shake of his head. “Likely not.” Then he gave her a small smile, one he couldn’t help but let go at her pitiful little pout. “But none of them are you.”

She made a frustrated noise, something between a sigh and a snort. “I just want you to trust me-”

“I do trust you,” he assured her. Then he turned serious again, stepping close enough to tuck one hand beneath her chin and lift her face, until she met his gaze. “But you have to understand that the water can be dangerous. And you can get hurt if you’re not careful out there.” And then he stroked his thumb along the slope of her jaw, tenderly, and whispered, “And I don’t want that to happen.”

She blinked up at him in the silence for a long minute, and then her frown relaxed, and she offered him a weak smile. “Are you always going to treat me like a girl?” she asked lowly.

“Absolutely,” he drawled with a toothy leer. Then he chuckled at her as he leaned close. “That is what I like best about you.” And when she gave muffled little laugh in reply, he wound his arm around her shoulders and hugged her in to his chest, briefly but firmly, as he laughed back at her.

“Come on,” he said at last. “Let’s get out of these sand traps and get some food.”

Amber giggled and stepped up from him, then hoisted her board from the sand to comply, lifting it over her head to carry. Her face was shaded by the width of the board, but he could still see the white shine of her smile, and that pleased him.

By the time they made it back to the shop, she seemed in high spirits once more, so he just nodded toward her stash of things behind the counter, moving there himself to tuck away his longboard in the rear room, with its stairs that led to the eaves loft above.

“You want to grab your things,” he said with some distraction, “and we can find something to eat?” He took a moment to settle his Redline into his quiver, but when he turned around to get her answer, he found that she had followed him into the back, still carrying his Mollusc.

She pushed the bright yellow board into his hands, then looked at him with an oddly tense curl of her lips.

“…What is it?” he murmured, glancing her up and down.

She pulled a long breath, mirroring the route of his gaze with her own eyes. Then her smile turned beguiling, and she whispered, “I thought you were going to help me get out of this suit?”

Ross felt his grip on the board go a little slack as he blinked at her, but then she pushed it against his torso as she leaned up to him, rising on her toes to press her mouth to his. She hooked her hands behind his head and held him close for a moment that could have been five seconds or fifty; he was suddenly too lost in her kiss to know, or care.

Somehow, he managed to shove the fibreglass board out from between them, to instead take her in his arms, clutching at her back and hip with his hands as his mouth did the same to hers. Then he pushed back against her, stumbling with her toward the narrow desk along the wall where they kept acquisitions and payment files, which he spilled to the floor, in favour of her.