Sliding into bed, Tiffany settled between the sheets, pressing her fingertips against her lips. The very thought of being with Aiden tonight, and accepting his passionate kisses had the heat rising within her. What they’d had when they first dated… that was nothing compared to how he made her feel now. Having him hold her, love her, and caress her so tenderly had made her want to weep and beg him for more.
She closed her eyes, envisioning Aiden’s hot body against hers. He’d grown and matured in his time away, and his firm muscles told her a tale of his active life overseas. She’d received postcards smuggled to her by Alex from all over Europe documenting his travels but it felt unreal to her. Sitting here in Chicago, it seemed impossible to understand the experiences he’d had since being shipped off.
Aiden even appearing at her window had been a complete shock. No one had made so much as a peep about his return. Of course, it was summertime and most of her friends were at the Vineyard. Maybe they didn’t know? With Alex gone, she hadn’t received any communications from Aiden for the whole summer. He’d said he sent a letter…
Pushing the thought away, she sighed. Her life had been bleak, and July and August had both passed in a haze of boredom. She’d never been allowed to visit the Vineyard after that fateful year she’d turned fifteen. Her dad had been livid, and blamed the lax supervision of Alex’s parents. Ridiculous, really, since they’d had nothing to do with it.
However, once David Baxter laid down the law it was futile to argue. So, every summer since, her two best friends had joined their families on a magical holiday at the beach, and she’d been left in Chicago alone. Or worse, she’d been forced to visit relatives with her mother, or travel with her father as he glad-handed slimy politicians.
Her job had become smiling, acting the part of the perfect and obedient daughter, and keeping her opinions to herself.
If only she could escape and move to Philadelphia with Aiden. She’d missed him so badly it made her whole body ache. Tears rose to her eyes, because he’d be gone again before she could blink. One short week, and he’d move to Philly and start medical school. How could she bear it? That was another four excruciatingly long years, and she’d be stuck here.
Plumping her pillow, she twisted and turned, trying to find a comfortable position. Her mind refused to shut down. Every time she closed her eyes, she pictured him.
The ring of her phone forced her to open here eyes.
“I’m back!” Alexis practically sang down the line.
“How was it?” Tiffany was barely awake after the late night out with Aiden and the restlessness that followed.
“Great! Joel and I spent almost every day together.” Alex paused. “I’m sorry, I’m a rotten friend. You were here. What did you do?”
“Nothing exciting, I promise. I went to see my horrible aunt Harriet in Portland, and acted the part of the perfect daughter. What else?” Tiffany shuddered at the thought of being at her aunt’s home. The woman always eyed her so coldly, and never expressed any sort of affection. Tiffany felt like damaged goods whenever she was around Harriet Baxter.
“I still don’t know why your parents wouldn’t allow you to come to our beach house for even a week.” Her friend let silence fall for a moment.
The familiar nausea rose, and Tiffany pressed the back of her hand against her mouth, smothering the sob that wanted to escape. A single tear trickled down her face, and she angrily brushed it away.
“No one will talk about it. Everyone clams up when I even mention having you out. What happened, Tiffany?”
Inhaling deeply, she forced a cheery tone to her voice. “You know my father. He gets an idea in his head and never lets it go. His aide is pushing the whole family togetherness agenda. We have to set a good example, given his position.”
“Huh.” Alex practically snorted out the word. “Stupid, leaving you stuck in Chicago the whole damn summer.”
“Aiden came home,” Tiffany whispered into the phone, unable to keep the news from spilling from her mouth.
“Yesterday. He appeared at my window last night. He’s only here for a week, and then he’s gone again. He’s moving to Philadelphia. Did you know?” Tiffany twirled a strand of hair around her fingertip. “I get him back, and then I lose him again.”
“Why would he go there?” Alex paused. “Did they accept him for medical school?”
“Yup. He finished his undergrad when he was at Oxford.” Tiffany flopped back against her pillow.
“He’s wanted to do this for a while, Tiffany. They pushed him hard while he was overseas.” Alex sighed. “Lucky guy, he’s spent almost three years over there. The postcards make me so envious. All the places he’s been and the things he’s done.”
“I suppose, but I really missed him, Alex. It’s like he’d vanished with barely a trace, and I almost didn’t recognize him.” Tiffany pushed off her bed, and paced to the window, wishing he’d reappear. “I thought when he finally came home… he’d truly come home. That he’d stay in Chicago, not run off to Philadelphia.”
“Except he’s not running off, he’s going to school.”
“You’re leaving soon, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Alex said softly. “Joel will be starting his undergrad, and I’ll be away. I don’t know how we’ll manage being apart.”
Tiffany sniffled, wondering exactly the same thing about her and Aiden.
“Up!” Her mother poked her head in the door. “You’ve been lounging around in here for hours. Go shower.”
“Fine.” Tiffany snatched her robe from the end of her bed and pushed past her mother into the hallway.
“Enough of the attitude, young lady. You’ve been moping around the house all summer.”
“Maybe because it’s boring! All my friends have been away, and neither of you let me do anything. I wish you’d let me go to the beach with Alex and Jenna.”
Her mother crossed her arms, narrowing her eyes. “Why, so you can get yourself into more trouble?”
Tiffany dropped her chin to her chest, fighting the tears that sprang to her eyes. No matter what, they’d never let her forget her mistakes, or the shame she’d brought onto their family. She hurried into the bathroom, slamming the door shut and sinking onto the toilet.
If her mother knew where she’d been last night or what she’d been doing, and with who, they’d surely install bars on her window. Her father had never liked Aiden for some indefinable reason, though she couldn’t say why.
Aiden came from a wealthy family, and he was incredibly sweet, and well liked by practically everyone. Yet, her father had banned him from their home. Aiden had his moments, and he certainly wasn’t an angel, but he wasn’t an awful person.
Well, she supposed now her father had a reason to hate her boyfriend. Not that it was all his doing; she’d certainly been a willing participant in each and every misadventure.
Closing her eyes, she pictured how her father had looked at her that day when her mother had dragged her into his office. Nothing Tiffany had ever done seemed to satisfy the man, and that day she’d proven why she was such a complete disappointment to her family.
She cupped a hand over her belly, taking several deep breaths, pushing down the emptiness that lingered inside.
All she’d ever wanted was to be loved, and Aiden gave that to her. So they’d taken him away. Even before he’d disappeared overseas, they’d sent her so very far away, to live with her horrid Aunt Harriet, and told everyone she’d gone away for a year of school.
“Hurry up in there!”
Tiffany stood, stripping off her clothes and tossing them into the hamper, carefully avoiding her reflection in the mirror. Shivering, she stepped under the spray, wrapping her arms around herself.
Tonight. She only had to wait a few more hours.
She waited until she was sure her parents were asleep before slipping down the trellis and dashing across the lawn. This dodging from shadow to shadow brought back the memories.
“Tiff.” A hand snaked out of the dark and pulled her against a firm warm body.
“Sh.” He clapped his palm over her mouth. “You’ll wake up the neighbors! What took you so long?”
“My parents were having a… discussion, and I had to wait. My mom sometimes checks on me before she goes to bed.” Tiffany shrugged.
“Another one of those discussions, huh?” Aiden rolled his eyes at her. “Can’t you just say they were fighting? I don’t know how your mom puts up with him!”
“Can we not talk about it?” She looked away, not wanting to ruin their night with her parents’ antics.
David had set his sights on politics, and everyone their household was required to watch their words. It was tiring to say the least. Especially when her parents were constantly at each other’s throats lately. They had been… ever since she’d returned from Portland.
“It’s bad?” Aiden squeezed her hand. “You can tell me, Tiff. I won’t say anything to anyone, I promise.”
“Let’s go have some fun, please?” She batted her eyes at him.
“Fine. Everyone’s down at the beach.”
“You made it!” Jenna scampered toward them, throwing her arms around Tiffany for a long hug. She turned to Aiden. “Look what washed up on the beach!”
Aiden smirked, but snatched Jenna off of her feet, twirling her around. “Good to see you, Jenn.”
“It’s been far too long.” She held him at arm’s length. “You’re so tall! The pictures you took with Tom were, what, a year ago?”
“Yes, he joined me in Spain for two weeks last summer. Where is—”
“Aiden!” Alex’s voice rang out.
Tiffany turned, watching as her friend dashed across the sand.
“I missed you, honey!” Alex leaped at Aiden, hugging him tight.
More voices, and the rest of the gang appeared. Tom, Joel, and Ryan rushed over.
“The long lost traveler. How long you staying?” Tom clapped him on the back.
“I leave on Thursday for Philly. What did you decide?”
“Yale!” Tom grinned. “I’ll only be a couple of hours from you.”
Joel smiled. “University of Chicago.”
“Stanford.” Ryan mock saluted.
Tiffany listened vaguely as they compared notes and caught up.
“So…” Jenna nudged her in the ribs, pulling her aside. “How are things with Aiden? You came with him?”
Tiffany forced the smirk off her face at her friend’s words. “It’s good. Except he’s moving away, and I’ll be here. He wants…” She glanced over at the group of guys. Fortunately they weren’t paying the girls any attention at the moment. “He asked me to move to Philly,” she whispered.
“He did?” Jenna’s eyes widened. “Are you going to?”
“How can I? My father will flip out. There’s no love lost between him and Aiden, and if I go, he’ll refuse to pay for my tuition. But, I love Aiden. I’ve missed him, and had to be without him for too long.”
“Three years you’ve been apart.” Jenna tapped a finger against pursed lips. “Give it some time, and think about it. Don’t rush.”
Tiffany nodded, looking toward Aiden. Her breath caught as he winked at her with that adorable smile twitching at the corners of his luscious mouth. They stared at each other, her heart pounding, and a sigh formed on her lips. How could she let him go, yet again?