It had come as a surprise to everyone when George announced that she was keeping the Claw closed that Sunday so that they could all enjoy some much-needed time off. Nancy was sure that Nick had more than a little influence on the decision, but she was grateful for the time off anyway.
Then, Bess had come up with the idea to spend a day at the beach together. Bess had also been more persuasive than usual, so Nancy had hardly been able to say no. Plus, she was trying to get out more.
And that was why she was in her current position, mentally cursing Bess Marvin and her persuasiveness, along with George and Nick for closing the Claw in the first place-just for good measure.
Because Nancy had a problem.
A problem that was making it very difficult to maintain whatever grasp she still had over her self-control. Because Ace was hot.
He wasn’t as well-built as Nick. It was more of a subtle hot, the kind that you didn’t notice at first (which practically described her relationship with him), which Nancy liked. A lot. And that was a problem.
They had only started dating about a few weeks ago. It would have been sooner, but Nancy had wanted to start their relationship off right. She was still grieving Owen (or what might have been) and she did not want Ace to be a re-bound. Nick had been a distraction (it hurt to admit it, but it was true); a way for her to forget, even momentarily, how screwed up her life had become after her mom died. Owen had been a re-bound, too. She had gotten together with him not long after she and Nick broke up and also used his as a distraction from her even more complicated life. After seeing how both relationships turned out, Nancy wanted to do things right.
Ace had, thankfully, agreed to be patient with her. He never pushed the subject. So, they weren’t officially dating. It was more of that both were aware of their feelings for each other, but were waiting until Nancy was in a healthier place mentally before actively pursuing anything. Yet, at the same time, they did not pursue romantic relationships with other people and spent just as much time together as they had before they both admitted their feelings for each other. It was like they were dating but without any of the romance involved.
Nancy had been perfectly fine with their arrangement. She and her father were mending their broken relationship together and she and Ryan were growing closer as well. Nancy still had moments, but she was getting closer to a place where she would feel comfortable in pursuing a relationship.
And then Ace took his shirt off.
“What are you looking at?” Bess’ accent drew Nancy out of her little bubble.
Nancy quickly averted her eyes away from Ace. Bess was sharper than she looked, especially when it came to romantic feelings, so she noticed anyway.
“OMG! I knew it!” Bess squealed in excitement.
“Knew what?” Nancy asked. She was extremely proud of how she was able to keep her voice even.
“That there is something going on between you and Ace!”
“There is nothing going on between me and Ace,” she denied. But there would be. One day. And if Ace did not put his shirt back on, then that day would come very soon.
“The way that you are staring at him says otherwise, Nancy.”
“Go back to staring at Lisbeth please.”
The Brit’s girlfriend had accompanied them to this group outing and was currently in the water, trying to avoid getting dunked with George by Nick and Ace. She fit in surprisingly well with the group, as long as there were no murders to solve.
“I just will because she is my girlfriend and she is hot. Because that is a thing that couples do-stare at the other while they are doing something that makes you want to have some alone time, if you know what I mean.”
Nancy knew exactly how Bess felt. She and Ace weren’t dating, yet they were. She had no claim to him, yet she sort of did. It was confusing, but if Nancy knew one thing in her life, it was that she did not want to live it without Ace there beside her.
“We aren’t dating. Not yet, anyway,” Nancy found herself admitting. “We both know how the other feels, but we aren’t actively pursuing anything at the moment. I needed some time to get into a healthier mindset and Ace was willing to be patient for me.”
Bess nodded, suddenly serious. “So...you are kind of dating yet not?”
“Yeah, I guess so. It may be confusing to the outside, but it just feels right to me.”
Bess nodded again. As Ace’s platanchor, she knew Ace better than perhaps anyone else, except Nancy. She understood how comforting Ace’s silent, but steady, presence was in her life.
“I understand. Ace certainly is one of a kind, isn’t he?”
“Ace is the best. We all need an Ace in our life.”
“Too true, girl. Too true.”
They sat in silence for a moment, watching the group play in the water before Bess turned to Nancy again.
“You aren’t waiting to date him because you are afraid of how the others will react, are you?”
“No, of course not,” Nancy replied.
To be fair, in the beginning it had been a concern of hers. Her previous relationship within the group had ended because of the high walls that Nancy had up and her unwillingness to let people in. Ace had always been different. She felt comfortable around him, his presence soothing her and letting her feel safe enough to let her walls down.
“Good,” Bess replied. “Because, even if it was, I know that you two are different. The fact that you admitted to me that you agreed to hold off on doing anything together until you were in a better place showed me that you want this to be real.”
Perhaps she sensed that Nancy was done with her sharing feelings quota with anyone else but Ace for the next month, Bess lightened the mood by saying, “Now, I would go get your man and snog him before another lady does so!”
“Who’s snogging who?” Ace asked as he approached where Bess and Nancy were spread out. He grabbed a towel from on top of the ice chest and used it to dry his hair. Nancy felt her face grow red as she saw his chest dripping with water and quickly averted her eyes.
Bess, the manipulative little Brit, merely smirked and said, “Me. I have an extraordinarily hot girlfriend down there that I just cannot get enough of.” She then walked away, leaving Nancy alone with Ace. She was totally going to get it later. Nancy made a mental note to hide all of Bess’ sparkling things around the Claw in retaliation.
“That was weird,” Ace commented, taking Bess’ spot beside Nancy.
“Bess is weird.”
Ace laughed. “She is. But what were you really talking about?”
“I may have told her about us.”
“Wow. She must be more persuasive than I thought.”
“It wasn’t that,” Nancy said. “You removed your shirt and were looking so hot down there that I couldn’t help staring at you. Bess noticed and commented on it. A few weeks ago, I would have denied everything, but I just admitted it to her like it was nothing. Why are you smirking like that?”
“Because you called me hot.”
Nancy lightly swatted at him. Sure, their interactions lately had been borderline flirting, but she hadn’t been ready for anything else. Talking with Bess seemed to have relieved her doubts and fears because Nancy just knew that she was ready. Ready to openly stare at him when they were at the beach without any fear of keeping their relationship a secret from their friends.
“Was there something else I was supposed to catch in that amazing speech of yours?”
“You sure?” Ace asked, suddenly serious. “I don’t want to force you into anything that you aren’t ready for. I can even tell Bess to lay off-”
Nancy moved faster than she had ever done before and crashed her lips against his. The kiss was short and sweet, just enough for her to get her point across. “I’m ready.”
“I’m happy for you, Nancy,” Ace smiled.
“And now this means that I can finally do this.”
A moment later, Ace had picked up Nancy in his arms and started walking towards the water. Even though it would most likely end with Nancy getting soaked, she was a little preoccupied with the heaving chest that belonged to her boyfriend. Besides, it would probably be even better to look at with water droplets on it.