Never Too Hot
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Over the course of his career, he'd been called a hero countless times, but this was the first time Connor had ever wondered if he had it in him to do the right thing.
GINGER PULLED out the top drawer and began the painstaking job of sanding off the rough edges of peeling paint, making sure to scuff up every inch of the surface so that the new primer and paint would dry. One by one, she worked through the drawers.
It was good, hard work. The perfect project to take her mind off Connor.
She supposed she should have been embarrassed by what she'd said to him about her frustration over all of his respect for her, but she wasn't.
Yet again, it had felt surprisingly good to put voice to what she wanted. Even if being turned down flat had been a pretty crushing blow.
Then again, she suddenly realized, hadn't she'd known all along that she was safe? That Connor was so damned noble there was no way he'd ever take advantage of her.
In the same way the wood had revealed itself beneath the cracking paint, her hours of sanding had slowly uncovered the truth: She hadn't risked much at all.
Not when she'd known all along that Connor would be a hero.
Beyond irritated with the train of her thoughts, she yanked hard at the stuck bottom drawer. She heard a sharp crack.
“Oh no,” she cried, instantly assuming she'd snapped off a hunk of old wood. But when she pulled the drawer all the way out and put it on the floor, she was surprised to see a stack of letters tied together with a string sitting at the bottom of the dresser's now-empty shell.
A secret romantic who'd always had a stash of romance novels tucked away in a bag in her closet to read when no one was home, Ginger's fingers trembled with excitement as she reached for the bundle.
Love letters. They had to be love letters. Otherwise why would someone keep them, hide them away?
The papers looked water-stained and crispy, the rope hard and brittle. Although she picked up the package carefully, the white binding crumbled in her hands. One opened in her hands and, unable to help herself, she started reading the neat cursive.
These have been the worst two weeks of my entire life. I can't sleep. I can't eat. All I want is to be with you.
Last night when I called home, I begged my parents to let me come back to the lake early. It's not like I'm good enough to go pro or anything, so why do I have to goaway to tennis camp for three weeks? I told them I'd much rather be out at the lake spending time with them. They didn't buy it and said no.
I think they're suspicious about us. Even though we've been so careful. I don't know what they'd do if they found out we're spending so much time together.
Every night I lay awake in bed thinking about when I snuck out and we drove up to the pond. Can you believe I've spent fifteen summers at Blue Mountain Lake andnever knew it was there? I'm so glad you showed it to me. I loved night swimming with you. And I loved everything else we did that night too.
Especially the way you kissed me and said I'd be yours forever.
Oh my God. She'd accidentally found love letters her friend Isabel had written to Connor's father.
Ginger felt a shocked little thrill run through her. She should stop reading right now, especially given that she knew she was invading her friend's privacy. But her hands and eyes seemed to have a will of their own.
Last night I had a dream that we were already on our boat, that we were halfway around the world. Drinking out of coconuts, the warm salty breeze on our skin.
It was heaven.
Sometimes I think we should just pack a couple of bags and leave now. Forget about college. Forget about everything but going out there and living our dream.
I love you,
Ginger didn't know how many letters she'd read by the time she got to, Andrew,
I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.
She heard Connor's voice behind her. “It's getting dark. And I heard in town there's been a lot of bear sightings this summer in these woods. I didn't want you walking back alone.”
She looked up from where she'd been sitting cross-legged, the letters on the floor all around her.
Uh oh. She hadn't thought about getting caught reading them. Hadn't been able to think about anything other than Isabel's love affair with Connor's father.
“What are those?”
“They fell out of the back of the dresser.” Quickly picking up the pages, stacking them on top of each other, she held out the bundle. “I didn't mean to read them, but one fell open and… I couldn't help myself. They're so beautiful that I lost all track of time. No wonder your father kept them.”
He grabbed the letters from her, started scanning the one on top that said I love you over and over, his posture, his face, growing harder with every passing second.
“I knew he and Isabel had dated for a while,” she said, “that it was pretty serious, but-”
His eyes lifted from the letters. “What are you talking about?”
“You didn't know about your father and Isabel?”
“They met as teenagers. It was love at first sight. These must be letters she wrote him when she was a teenager.”
She suddenly realized what she'd said, that she'd made a huge deal out of Connor's father loving a woman his son hadn't known anything about. It had to sting.
“My ex always said I had a bad habit of blurting out every thought that passed through my head,” she said by way of an apology. “It must be weird to read love letters written to your father by someone other than your mother.
Almost like a betrayal.”
The man of cold, hard stone she'd seen in his bedroom that first night was back.
“Whatever he did before he married my mom is none of my business.”
But she didn't buy that. Not for a single second. If it were true, he wouldn't be acting like this.
“I can understand why the letters would bother you.”
“Didn't you hear what I just said? I don't care. ”
She took a step toward him. She'd let him keep his hands to himself, but she wouldn't let him lie to her.