Chapter 126

Vince reacted immediately, his mind racing to analyze the situation. He had no electricity and little fire in his arsenal at the moment, which meant he could flare up quickly and drive off the attacker but have nothing left for afterward. He was waist deep in water, so any fast movements to break the hold were going to be extra difficult to execute in the way of legwork. That left relying on a swift blow coupled with his flexibility.

Vince twisted his right elbow around with all the force he could muster, intent on driving it into the temple of his attacker. It would hurt his shoulder, but unless the assailant had enhanced durability, it would disorient them enough for Vince to slip free. That was the plan, anyway.

What actually happened was Vince’s well-thought-out attack connected with nothing. All at once the arms holding him were gone and Vince was jerking through the water, knocked off balance by the momentum of his failed blow.

“Geez, somebody doesn’t like surprise hugs,” Sasha said from the shore. The wake dispersing through the water made it pretty clear just where she’d been standing when Vince was grabbed.

“I... sorry,” Vince said, finding his footing in the water. “I thought you were attacking me.”

Sasha tilted her head. “That’s an interesting assumption to jump to. Got a reason to suspect someone might be out to harm you?”

Vince hadn’t told her about Michael’s Halloween attack, or the constant aggression the boy showed him at every turn. It just hadn’t seemed like something she needed to worry about.

“Not really. Not today, anyway,” Vince said. He hadn’t had an altercation with Michael in months, so there really was no good reason for him to be so jumpy.

“Mmhmmm,” Sasha said, walking back toward Vince at a slow pace. “You know, you’re lucky your girlfriend has speedy reflexes or this would be really awkward right now.”

Vince paled. He hadn’t even thought about that. If he’d slugged Sasha he would feel absolutely abominable.

Sasha laughed. “Oh, relax, I’m kidding around. It was a good elbow, but it wasn’t a secret death shot. Worst case scenario I’d have a bump and some static in my vision for a few minutes.” She reached Vince, the water coming up to her navel rather than waist. Vince was a few inches taller than she, and as she leaned against his chest, Sasha reflected for the umpteenth time how much she enjoyed that feature.

“There wouldn’t have been words to say how sorry I was,” Vince said, curling his arms around her.

“I know that, silly,” Sasha assured him. “You’re all about keeping the people you care about safe. And you do a great job of it. I never feel safer than when you’re holding me tight.”

*          *          *

“Tights,” she said, leaning over him. “What am I going to do with you?” As she moved her curly dark hair tumbled down, dangling only a few inches from his body.

“You could start by not calling me that,” Vince suggested. His voice seemed to be caught somewhere in his throat, causing it to come out rougher and lower.

“I could, but I won’t,” she said. She smiled down at him, and for the first time the smile could be seen in her emerald eyes as well as on her face.

“Worth a shot,” Vince said, retuning her grin from his own prone position.

*          *          *

“Woo, this water is starting to cool down,” Sasha said, breaking their embrace. “What’s say we go get toweled off and warmed up?”

“Why, Sasha Foster, are you asking me to put more clothes on?”

“I am, though if you have a better warming method I am quite open to suggestions,” Sasha replied.

Vince pulled her back into his embrace and kissed her, running his hand through her hair and holding it tightly. He didn’t pull, he just held her there, locking her lips and body against his own. He released a few seconds later, pulling his face mere inches away.

“That do it?” Vince asked. He’d mean to sound casual, making light of the intense kiss they’d just shared. His throat felt thicker than normal, and the voice that emerged from it sounded like someone had poured molasses on his usual tenor.

Sasha didn’t respond verbally. Instead she leapt up onto Vince’s long frame and wrapped her legs around his waist, burying her lips against his. The movement would have knocked most men down, but then most men weren’t undergoing daily physical training in the Lander HCP. The affection assault did rock him backwards, carrying him toward the shore opposite of the camp with the other students. Sasha fully expected to get another good kiss then be set down by her boyfriend as he reminded her that wasn’t the type of relationship they had. He took her by surprise instead, scooping his arms under her to get a grip, then carrying her the rest of the way to the shore.

They came down at last, falling onto the soft ground a few feet away from the river’s edge. They rolled even further inland, bit by bit, a constant rotation of top to bottom positioning as they tried to stay comfortable on wet grass. When they finally broke apart they were far enough from the water to have it obscured from view, but not so far that they couldn’t hear its gentle lapping against the shore.

“Whoa,” Sasha said, catching her breath. Her skin was tingling and her body was quite far from cold. She tried to steady her mind and her trembling hands. She’d promised to be a good girlfriend and wait for when Vince was ready. And she’d meant it, too: he was too good of a guy for her to trade his mental comfort for some fleeting physical fun. That being said, if he kissed her again there was a good chance she would tear off his swimsuit and tie him to a tree until he found his willingness.

“Yeah,” Vince agreed. He felt like his whole body had been short-circuited somewhere along the line. Everything seemed sharp and enhanced; even the wind on his skin was noticeable. At the same time, his brain felt half-fried. All his thoughts seem to show up simultaneously then evaporate into silence.

“Sorry about that,” Sasha said, pulling herself to a standing position. She wanted to rest her head on Vince’s shoulder again; however, she didn’t trust herself to touch him right now. Not even lovingly.

“No, no, it’s my fault,” Vince said, remaining in a sitting position for certain logistically-embarrassing reasons. “I started it.”

Sasha left out a small chuckle. “Man, how sad is it that we have a crazy good make-out session and our first response is to apologize to each other for it?”

“Pretty sad,” Vince agreed.

“So, let’s agree: no more of the ‘I’m sorry’ stuff. We’re boyfriend and girlfriend, we get to make out guilt free. That’s one of the many perks of being together,” Sasha said.

“Along with movie and dinner partners,” Vince pointed out.

“Not to mention someone to cuddle with,” Sasha said. “And of course, best of all is that we each get a great friend.”

“A very great friend,” Vince said.

“All right, then: nice, logical perks of being a platonic couple. This helping you calm down at all?”

“Not really,” Vince admitted.

“Me neither,” Sasha said. “But we’ll get there. Maybe the cold water will help.”

“You seem pretty determined.”

“Damn skippy,” Sasha said. “I want to be able to get kissy with my boyfriend, even if that means devising all sorts of self-control methods to stop it from going any further.”

“Or... we could let it go further,” Vince said.

Sasha’s skin froze and her blood turned to fire simultaneously.

“What are you trying to say, Vince?”

Vince brought himself to standing position, deciding eye contact was more important than modesty for a moment like this.

“I’m saying you’re my girlfriend, and I care a lot about you, and I trust you,” Vince said, cradling her face as he spoke. “And that I’m ready.”

“You sure about that?”

“No,” Vince admitted. “But I don’t think I’ll get to be totally sure. There’s some inherent risk in connecting with someone deeply. So I’m not sure that it will all end well and I won’t get hurt. I am sure that I consider being with you worth the risk, though.”

Sasha stretched herself upwards and kissed him gently on the bottom lip.

“I’ll be gentle,” she said with a slight smirk.

“Liar,” he replied, kissing her lightly on the nose.

“Perceptive boy,” she said. She leapt atop him once more. This time Vince made no effort at all to stay standing.