Page 84 of Coercion

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His feet crunch on the sand, and I back up a few steps until we’re fully away from the water.Em detaches himself from the board and tosses it in the general direction of the yard.He starts walking again without missing a beat.

“Yes, there’s security, but those motherfuckers aren’t lifeguards.So—what are you—” He’s still moving.“Emerson, what—are you justrunning into melike you can’t even see—”

We’re toe to toe when he throws his arms around me.

It’s a hug.Anactualhug.Not me squeezing him so he can breathe and calm the fuck down.A hug, like the one in that old photo.My arms come up to hug him back.It feels surprisingly non-awkward.

“Ugh.I don’t have a wetsuit, you prick.You’re getting ocean all over me.”My sweatshirt is already soaked.He’s the same frigid temperature.Emerson doesn’t let go.“Are you okay?How long have you been out here?”

There’s a long pause.Then: “Two hours.”His voice is rough.

“Are you crying?”

“No.Why would you say that?”

He’s obviously fucking crying.“Too much happiness?”

Em nods, just once, sending more water onto my sweatshirt.Too much of anything can hurt, I guess.

“That’s better than the alternative.I can’t believe I have to say this, but no more surfing alone in the middle of the goddamn night.Wake me up instead.I’ll go with you.”

He says something I can’t make out.“What?”

“I said, good.You need the practice.”

Emerson squeezes me, and I squeeze him back, a normal amount.We walk back across the beach together.



I can’t waitfor our first real summer at our house on the beach, but I have to say—fall isn’t bad.Especially when we get a sunny Saturday like this one.The day started off on a high note, with news from Evan, who’s getting out of the hospital this afternoon.

My beach outfit for the day is leggings and an oversized hoodie.No socks, so I can drag my toes through the sand while I watch the twins build a sandcastle.The plan started out complicated, and now it’s moved up to an even more elaborate level.Mia and Ben discuss it with their heads close together.He loves the beach breeze in his hair.Mia wears the hood of herI’d rather be readinghoodie over her hair.

Will sits on the lounge chair next to me in jeans and a sweater that is, quite frankly, making me feel feral toward him.He looks at me over the top of the investment report he’s reading.“Something I can do for you?”

A striptease.I blush at my own internal joke.“Buy more shirts in that color.”

He notices the flush in my cheeks, his eyes going dark.“I’m not convinced you like this one enough for me to do that.”

I squeeze my thighs together.“How can I prove it to you?”

“Take off your leggings and spread—”


“No.”Mia blocks Ben from touching one of the sandcastle tower spires with her hand.“It’ll fall over.”

“It won’t,” he insists.

“The ocean looks wet today,” says Will.“How about you, sweetheart?Has this shirt had an effect?”He waves a dismissive hand in the air.“You know what?Show me later.”

My phone buzzes in the pocket of my hoodie, so I shelve my plans to flirt with him even harder and stick my tongue out at him instead.

He points at the tip of my tongue.“I have an idea for where you could put that.”

“Hush, you.”It’s an unknown number.I swipe at my phone and the call connects.“This is Bristol Anderson.”

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