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Taking back forever, p.25
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       Taking Back Forever, p.25

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 
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  “Nathan,” I grunted, kicking my legs so he’d put me down. “Don’t make me kill you in this beautiful cabin.”

  “Okay.” He conceded, laughing but setting me down. He grabbed a petit four with an intricate flower design on top and handed it to me. “One initial offering to tame the beast, but then please, let’s try my plan. Remember, the anticipation and build-up is usually the best part.”

  I sank my teeth into the fondant covered square of cake. Dear god in delicious heaven. “No,” I said with my mouth full. “This is the best part.”

  He watched me, his eyes twinkling, and his grin unfaltering. I eyed all the chocolate waiting for me on the table and tried convincing myself there was enough to share. That I should share. Reluctantly, I admired the half left in my hand and offered it to him.

  “No thanks,” he said. “Paris wasn’t my favorite place.”

  “This is from Paris?” I scanned the table again. What he had just told me about trying chocolate from everywhere we’d ever been sank in. I wiped the corner of my mouth. “Is this where you were all day? Traversing around the world buying chocolate for me?”

  “Yes.”

  I grabbed his face with my sticky fingers and kissed him. His thoughtful surprise proved, beyond any question, that he was perfect for me.

  He pulled back, still smiling, and wiped his cheek. “I’d like you to start with a British chocolate.”

  “Because we used to live there?”

  He pulled out a chair and motioned for me to sit down. “Because it’s the best.”

  ∞

  After trying a chocolate-covered wafer from Belgium, we decided to call it quits and save some for tomorrow—or later if I woke up with a midnight craving. I could taste many differences in all the chocolate I tried, but sadly, none of the treats, or the stories Nathan told me, triggered any past-life memories.

  We curled up in front of the fireplace for a chocolate-induced nap, but after lying there for a few minutes I became restless.

  “What else did you have planned?” I asked Nathan.

  “Why would you assume I had anything else planned?”

  “Because I’m onto you. I’m learning how your mind works.”

  He laughed but didn’t make any sound. “I have something planned for tomorrow, but we can only do it at night.”

  “Why can’t we do it tonight?”

  He rubbed his lips together and squinted, like he didn’t know whether or not to tell me.

  “Come on,” I urged. “If it’s something that might spark some old memories then I want to try it now. Unless you have to gather supplies from around the world again.”

  “No, this one is fairly simple.”

  “Then let’s do it.”

  “All right.” He stood up and offered me his hand.

  He led me outside onto the deck. The small pool was lit and steam drifted up into the cold air. The stars in the sky looked so close I reached up to see if I could scoop some out of the sky. I couldn’t, but they were still enchanting.

  I spun around to face Nathan. “Star gazing?”

  “Yes, in there.” He pointed to the pool. “It’s a natural hot spring.”

  “But it’s cold out here.”

  “It’s warm in there.”

  “We’d have to go back and get our bathing suits.”

  He frowned. “Right. Of course. Well, that won’t be a problem.”

  “Wait.” I glanced at the inviting steaming pool then back at Nathan. “Were you planning for us to go in...” My cheeks warmed so much I worried they might be steaming too. “Nude?”

  “No, of course not. We’ll nip back to the house and get our suits.” He reached for me, but I stepped back.

  “Did we wear suits last time we were here?”

  His eyes gleamed. I wished I could recall the memory he was seeing in his mind. “No, we didn’t.”

  I swallowed, regretting that I didn’t do more yoga this week. “Right.” I could do it. I had already been naked in front of him. Sure, it wasn’t planned or romantic and I almost died of hypothermia, but still, he had seen me naked. “Then we don’t need suits this time either.”

  “Maryah, I don’t want you to be uncomfortable.”

  “I’m not.” I swallowed again, but my mouth was dry. I scanned him quickly, imagining what he’d look like without his jeans, and shirt, and boxers. I bit my lip. It would be my first time seeing him naked.

  “Honestly,” he said, “I don’t want you to feel pressured. My reason for getting you into that pool is because it’s where you had one of your greatest intuitive epiphanies. You said you suspected it had to do with the powerful energy of this place, combined with the restorative minerals of the hot spring. I was hoping you might have a breakthrough here.”

  “Really?” I stared at the pool, drawn to the water and the thought of it washing up some old memories. “So it wasn’t just a ploy to see me naked?”

  “If I wanted to see you naked I could have left your clothes at the house and claimed it was a traversing glitch because we traveled so far.”

  I opened my mouth and pretended to be offended. “My, my, aren’t you a cunning mastermind.”

  He smirked. “I said I could have, but I didn’t.” He walked over to the pool. “I have an idea.” He flipped a switch and the perimeter lights shut off. The pool was so dark the steam looked ghostly white against it. I’m going inside to get us orange juice, just like we drank on our anniversary. You get in the pool while I’m gone. That way I won’t actually see you naked.”

  “But you’ll have to get in naked when you come back.”

  He raised a brow and kissed the tip of my nose. “You’re not obligated to look.”

  I tried not to let my shy grin reveal what a nervous mess I was.

  “I’ll be back in five minutes,” he said, backing away.

  “Nathan, wait.” He stopped. I cocked my head. “We drank orange juice to celebrate our anniversary?”

  He grinned. “Combined with champagne, but back then you were an experienced drinker. Now you’re not.”

  What a crazy system of life we lived where in the past I was experienced enough to drink but in the present I wasn’t. “Do you have any way of getting champagne?”

  He stepped forward, rubbing his jaw and fighting back a smile. “We’re only eighteen. Are you asking me to break the law?”

  “Only for the sake of reenacting the same scenario as when we were here before. We should drink the same thing we drank back then if I’m expected to have another great epiphany.”

  “Maryah Anne Woodsen, I do believe you’re trying to corrupt my innocent mind.”

  “Payback,” I said.

  “Payback for what?”

  “Corrupting my innocent body.”

  He crossed his arms over his chest, but his eyes glinted with playfulness. “There are many things I want to do to your innocent body, but corruption is not one of them.”

  My insides danced with excitement. “Champagne, please.”

  He shook his head, grinning impishly, then vanished.

  I stuck my toes in the pool. It felt amazing. I glanced around, making sure Nathan hadn’t snuck back while I wasn’t looking. When the coast was clear I pulled my shirt off then wiggled out of my shorts. I unhooked my bra, and almost took of my underwear but I just couldn’t do it. The cold air sent me jumping quickly, and ungracefully, into the steaming water.

  If heaven was a body of water on Earth, I had just plunged into it, and I never wanted to leave.

  Several minutes passed before I heard glasses clinking together inside the house. My heart sped up at the thought of Nathan walking out onto the deck naked. I wanted to look at him, but I’d be so embarrassed. What kind of facial expression was I supposed to make when I saw him naked? Would I be able to keep my focus above his waist? I dipped below the water, trying to clear my mind and calm my nerves. It didn’t work.

  I swam closer to the edge and held onto a large smooth rock, keeping my bo
dy as close to the wall as possible so Nathan wouldn’t catch a glimpse of me through the water. I rested my arms on the ledge and nestled my chin on my forearms, watching the glass doors, where any second Nathan would appear with our drinks—and possibly be naked.

  Dragonflies danced in my stomach. Maybe he’d come out with clothes on and I could turn around as he stripped out of them. Yes, perfect. I’d suggest that. If he came out with clothes on. Oh god, why was I so nervous about this?

  His lips kissed the back of my shoulder. I spun, my heart racing for more than one reason. He held a full flute glass in each hand above the water, but he was submerged up to his chest. My eyes glanced down, panicking at the thought of him actually being naked, but it was too dark for me to see much of anything. Still, we were only inches apart and that was dangerous.

  “Cheers.” He handed me a glass, but I didn’t take it. My arms were plastered over my breasts in an attempt to keep myself covered. I sank into the water up to my chin. I could tell he was fighting back an amused smile.

  “I didn’t know you were traversing back here. You surprised me.”

  “I’m full of surprises.” He narrowed his eyes. “You’re disappointed because you didn’t get to see me strip out of my clothes and strut in here?”

  I was a little disappointed, but no way would I admit it. My cheeks felt like they were on fire. I tried changing the subject. “Did you find champagne?”

  “I did.” He extended the glass to me again. I managed to peel one hand from my chest and take the drink from him. “It’s very irresponsible of me to allow you to drink alcohol at your age. Please don’t tell your godmother. Or my mother. She’ll ground us. ”

  I rolled my eyes at him and took a sip. It was delicious. Nathan took a swig of his drink and drifted toward me. I moved sideways and he laughed.

  “Maryah, why are you so nervous?”

  “I’m not,” I uttered, but not convincingly.

  He drifted close to me again, but this time I managed to stay in place. I held my breath because his body was so close to mine. His naked body. I could not stop the word naked from playing obsessively in my mind. His lower body had always been clothed in our previous encounters. How could a layer of fabric be so vital to whether or not my composure unraveled?

  “What happened to the brave soul who texted me about teaching her a lesson and mastering all of my parts?”

  I tried channeling that brazen part of me who wasn’t afraid to be intimate and flirty. I failed. “I’m not sure who that was.”

  He chuckled and pried my glass out of my nervous death grip. He set our drinks on the edge of the pool then reached out for me. “Come here.”

  “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

  “Trust me.”

  I did trust him. Completely. So I extended my hand and he pulled me to him. He held my wrist and guided my hand underwater, closer and closer to his lower body.

  Oh god, my hand had to be so close to it. It was one thing to feel it through his jeans. It was a very different thing when he was naked. My knees went limp underneath of me. “Nathan, I—” My fingertips brushed against wet, soft, fabric on his upper thigh. The breath I’d been holding whooshed out of me. “You’re wearing boxers.”

  “I suspected you weren’t as ready as you pretended to be for all of my parts.”

  A mixture of relief and disappointment spread through me. As chicken as I was, I sort of wanted to work through this awkward first time with him.

  “You look disappointed,” he said.

  “I sort of am. It’s not like I was expecting to have sex or anything, but shouldn’t I be comfortable enough to be naked with you?”

  His brow rose and his hand slid down to my butt. My panty-covered butt. “That would be a valid question if you were actually naked.” I lowered my eyes, embarrassed that I didn’t have the guts to be entirely naked. Underwater, he patted my butt then brought his arms up, splashing water on his face. “I forgot how good this feels.”

  “How good what feels?”

  “Firsts with you. It’s been so long, but you’re just as cute and shy as you were in our first lifetime together.”

  “So you’re not taking off your boxers?”

  He pulled me against him and our bare chests pressed together, silky and smooth beneath the water.

  “No,” he breathed against my neck and I shivered. “You haven’t known me very long, and I don’t show off my valuables to strangers so soon.”

  I suppressed a laugh, mainly because he had known me longer than I could comprehend, but also because I didn’t want his mouth to budge one inch from where it was. The air was so cold, but his breath and the water were so warm. Goosebumps spread all over me. “I love you, Nathaniel.”

  Much to my frustration his lips moved away from my neck. He looked into my eyes. “I love you more.”

  I inhaled a shaky breath.

  “Are you ready?” he asked.

  “For what?”

  “An epiphany?”

  “Yes. What do I do?”

  “Float on your back and relax.”

  “Ha. Easier said than done. You’ll see my boobs.”

  Deliberately yet so gently, his hands closed over my breasts. I gasped at how good it felt. I turned my head slightly, unable to look at him because he looked so confident and sexy, and his hands felt so good. The combination was overwhelming.

  He pressed his warm lips against my cool cheek. “First of all,” he said, all playfulness gone. His voice was hushed and raspy and it made him a million times sexier. And that was dangerous. “I love your body. I love you. Every single part of you.” He looked down and rubbed his thumbs in spiraling circles.

  I couldn’t hold my head up. He looked at me and my forehead pressed against his.

  “Secondly,” he breathed, “we’re submerged in a powerful hot spring from the mountain of this earth.” He glanced at the sky. “The stars, the moon, and the air all around us, you’ll experience all the elements at once. This is your best chance at truly feeling the energy and magic of this universe.” His thumbs circled slower. “And I want you to feel it everywhere.”

  I was breathing heavy and I groaned when his hands slid from my chest. He shifted to stand behind me.

  “Do you feel that?” he asked. “How alive and energized your skin feels?” He pulled me back against his chest and my legs naturally floated out in front of me. My upper body crested the surface. “Relax,” he whispered. “I promise to keep my eyes closed.”

  I believed him, so I relaxed my body and stopped worrying about my boobs poking out of the water. I floated on my back with Nathan’s hands underneath me.

  “Is some of your skin exposed to the air?” he asked from behind me. Either his eyes were closed or he was a great pretender.

  “Yes,” I answered.

  “Close your eyes and feel the difference between the sensation on your skin underwater, and your skin exposed to the air. The warmth of one, the chill of the other.”

  I nodded. The back of my wet head rubbed against his shoulder.

  “Now,” he whispered, “focus on the parts of your body underwater. The hot springs contain healing and restorative minerals. Can you feel all the tiny bubbles kissing every cell of your skin with the energy of earth and water?”

  I nodded again and my hair swept across my bare shoulder, even that tickling sensation felt amplified.

  “Try to hold onto that awareness of your entire body, but open your eyes and focus on the moon.”

  I opened my eyes. The thin crescent moon floated in the tranquil black sea above me.

  “In your own words from previous lifetimes, the moonlight tastes like chocolate. Try to taste it.”

  I licked my lips. Either the taste of chocolate remained from our feast earlier, it was my imagination, or I really did taste the moonlight.

  “The moon’s energy is caressing every part of your skin that its light touches.” Nathan drifted out from behind me and moved to my side. I stol
e a sidelong glance at him and his eyes were shut. My ears dipped into the water and the subtle sounds around us were muffled, but it helped me relax even more.

  His fingers skimmed down my back then his hand pressed firmly, lifting me and exposing more of my skin to the cold air and moonlight. His other hand brushed lightly over my stomach. He sounded like he was in a tunnel. “Feel the moon’s energy kissing you here.” His fingertips brushed over my hips and down my thighs. “And here.”

  I sighed dreamily. “I feel it.”

  I couldn’t resist looking at him. His face was tilted toward the sky. I couldn’t see if his eyes were still shut but I didn’t care. This experiment felt incredible. I wanted to float like this all night.

  “Focus on the stars,” Nathan’s water-muffled voice said.

  I searched the sky for his star. I thought I had found it, so I relaxed my focus and the thousands of twinkling stars blurred and created a cloudy web of connecting light. It was breathtaking.

  “Breathe,” Nathan said. It took me back to our first kiss when he said the same thing. My body relaxed even more. “Smell the air, the water, the moonlight. Taste it. Feel all that energy against your skin, all at once but as different sensations.”

  Every detail he described linked together and connected in a way that charged my entire being. I couldn’t take my eyes off the sky, even as Nathan moved beside me. I didn’t know what he was doing, but it didn’t matter. I wanted to keep feeling it, whatever it was.

  My body hummed. The feeling wasn’t sexual. It wasn’t pain or pleasure. It was like I was connected to pure energy. It was...magic, but even that word didn’t seem adequate. It was better than chocolate.

  The bright web of stars pulsed with different colors. I felt like I was floating into the sky, drifting between the glowing strands of starlight. They were so close I could touch them.

  The sensation was familiar. I had experienced something similar the night I almost died. But even that thought didn’t panic me. I stayed calm and peaceful. I reached out to touch a star that opened like a glowing flower right in front of me.

  I dove inside of it, bathing in liquid energy that lapped against my arms and legs. I was swimming through a pulsing wormhole in the sky. Voices whispered unintelligibly all around me but it sounded like tranquil music. Then I stopped moving. I hovered in front of a radiant green light that morphed into different shapes, finally settling into a circular form. Stars swirled around inside like a snow globe; it was hypnotic.

 
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