Standing outside on the little sandy beach as the sun set, Parthenia Ann kept her eyes focused on the horizon, trying very hard to ignore the gaze of the man who hadn’t taken his eyes off of her since dinner. Her father had retired to play cards with his friends, leaving her alone with Andy. Her cheeks burned red, no one had ever looked at her that way before, nor quite so intently.
“Lovely night, isn’t it?” he commented, feeling rather rusty at conversation. Besides, how could he focus when she was standing there? It had been quite a surprise for Andy, who never cared much for one particular woman over another, to find that he couldn’t stop thinking about her. He’d started making excuses to have time alone with Parthy. If she had to go to the market, he’d escort her. When she went about picking things from the garden every day, he’d held the basket. But time alone was all it had been, for Parthenia Ann was as stiff as the perfectly starched bonnet she wore.
She’d barely mumbled an answer, finding herself rather lost for things to say. Normally as opinionated as could be, one who could find fault with the sunniest of days, Parthy was practically silent. All she could think of was how close he was standing, and what it might be like if he wrapped his arm around her. A voice immediately sprung up in her head, telling her it wasn’t right to think such things, but for the first time in her life she didn’t hear it.
When Andy reached for her hand, he was pleasantly surprised to find that she didn’t pull away. Her palm was rough and callused from years of work, just like his own, and it endeared her to him even more. They stood like that for several minutes, Parthy trying to control the fear that was rising within her. Not fear of him or what he might do, for despite his faults, he’d always stayed a gentleman, but fear of herself. Fear of the feelings she had no idea she could experience, ones that were threatening to act in ways most unbecoming of a lady.
When he removed his hand from hers and moved it to the small of her back, she turned to face him with no guidance needed. Her mouth was set in a thin line, but her eyes betrayed her anticipation, and a shiver went down her spine. His touch was so gentle, so unlike what she would have imagined from him, and she offered no hesitation as he pressed a kiss to her lips, soft at first.
Surprising them both, Parthenia was the one to deepen the kiss. Years of repressed longing had built up and now exploded, as her body let her know just what she had missed all her life. Her arm went around his waist, and she returned the embrace happily before sense took over. But as though she’d been struck by lightning, she pulled back, horror replacing the bliss that had settled over her face. Not uttering another word, she ran for the house and into her room, closing the door and gasping with shame. How could she have allowed him to kiss her? What did that make her? Parthy could still see him outside, kicking at sand, wondering where he’d gone wrong. Her cheeks flushed red again, and despite herself she put a hand to her lips, as though she could still feel the kiss lingering.
Parthenia Ann said twice her normal amount of prayers and got into bed. When she woke the next morning she made breakfast and sent her father out to his boat. When Andy went to join him she put a lunch pail in his hand and placed a kiss on his cheek, before retreating into the house with a smile, leaving him with his mouth wide open in shock.