That was a hundred dollar blow dry wasted, Haerim thought she wobbled down the stone steps that led to the beach, one hand on her hair, trying to keep the once slick waves from turning wild in the whipping wind.
As for the dress—foxy, floaty, seriously va-va-voom and chosen to blow Baekhyun’s socks off—it suddenly felt too fantastical, too y, too lacking in fabric for a beach wedding on a blustery spring day. Not surprising since she’d bought the thing when high on burgeoning love.
Goosebumps danced up and down her arms. But there was no going back now. She was there on a mission. She was a strong woman, a business-owner, a home-owner, a DIY decorator who had laid her own bathroom tiles. She had a tattoo and had swum with sharks. She could tell a man she loved him even if there was no certainty she’d hear the same back.
Holding herself together—just—she scanned the crowd scattered along the narrow beachfront.
She spotted Mari and Kris, chatting to an older couple—Jinsu’s parents, judging by the celebratory outfits they were wearing and the older lady’s resemblance to Jinsu. Jimin and Kyuhyun were there together, but as friends, not lovers, and the two of them were cheerfully laughing at something Jimin had said. Even Jinsu and Minseok were about—Minseok chatted with friends in suits, many wearing no shoes and Jinsu was on the other side of the crowd, laughing and spinning around in a beautiful dress, the cool sea air clearly not touching her at all.
And then the crowd parted and there he was. The man she loves.
Seeing Baekhyun after being sure she’d never see him again amazed and terrified her. As for the bone-deep knowledge that she adored the guy and had every intention of making him believe her…That made her knees positively quake.
Especially when he looked the antithesis of ruffled—clean-shaven, with sunlight glinting off his neat dark hair, in a suit that made the most of the glory beneath it and with his eyes covered with y sunglasses. He looked…perfect.
He brought a glass of champagne to his lips as he turned to survey the crowd, and she knew the moment he spotted her. His hand stilled, his mouth kicked at one corner, and his chest fell as he breathed out long and slow.
The tinkling of laughter, the clinking of champagne glasses, the soft swoosh of waves lapping at the shore—faded till all Haerim could hear was the thundering of her heart.
He excused himself, put his champagne on a passing tray, shoved one hand in a trouser pocket and walked towards her. She ditched her heels as they kept sticking in the soft sand and walked towards him, meeting him halfway.
When he came close he took off his sunglasses and she could see the smudges under his eyes, the worry lines etched at their edges. And, since he looked just how she felt, her heart gave a thumpety-thump because it might have something to do with her.
“Hi, Baekhyun,” she said, her voice hearteningly strong.
He leaned in to kiss her cheek and stayed there a beat past familiar. A beat into want. She let her eyes close, filled herself with his warmth and his heady scent. Before she did anything stupid like throw herself into his arms, she pulled away.
“Credibility?” she asked.
His eyes didn’t leave hers as a small smile curved the corner of his mouth. “Not this time.”
Her heart thudding like a runaway hammer, Haerim glanced over his shoulder at the wedding party in the distance. “I had to come. I couldn’t disappoint Jinsu. She did help me finish my online dating research, after all.”
He tilted his chin in understanding and the smile curving at the corner of his mouth kicked a little higher. “Well, I’m glad you came. In fact I have something for you. Brought it just in case.”
She looked down to see a small silver bag with frothy silver paper poking out of the top. “You do realise the bride and groom are the only ones meant to be getting gifts today?”
“We got them a toaster.”
“Did we, now?” she asked, cool as she pleased, even while her stomach soared at his use of the word “we”. She tried to mentally slap it down but it continued to buzz along happily.
Mari waved to Haerim across the beach, started to move, then saw she was with Baekhyun and took a ninety-degree angle away from her.
Haerim’s hand shook as she took Baekhyun’s gift. His finger brushed hers and a spark shot between them—the same spark that had been there at the first meeting. The one she’d clung to as she’d fallen deeper and deeper under his disarming charm.
She peeled away the soft silver wrapping to find a solitary bar of goats’ milk soap. Her one downfall into decadence. She’d mentioned it maybe once and he’d remembered. And sought it out. And it was near impossible to find. That little shop in the small town some hours away was about the only place you could get it. Meaning he’d gone looking. With her in mind. In an effort to make peace? Or more…?
Blinking, she looked up to him, clueless as to what to say.
“It came in a pack of two,” he said. “I kept one for myself. My skin’s never felt better.”
He smiled his innately charming smile, only this time there wasn’t any performance in it. Just him, his eyes roving over her face as if he couldn’t quite believe she was there.
When his eyes landed back on hers—dark, hot, hungry—her whole body began to pulse. “Thank you,” she said, her voice thick.
“You’re most welcome. Now, since I haven’t quite got around to finding a standby date, would you care to accompany me?”
He held out his arm; she slid her hand in the crook.
They walked in no particular hurry towards the rest and Haerim said, “I knew you hadn’t asked anyone else.”
“Your sister rang just before I came.”
“Oh. What did Jihyun say?” His hand came down on hers, their fingers entwining, and his thumb ran over her wrist, sending waves of heat and hope all through her.
Haerim breathed out, even laughed a tad. “She told me about your family meeting. I’m so proud of you, Baekhyun. Now, hold onto them with everything you have. Know how lucky you are to have them at all.”
“I will. I do.”
And since he’d given her an opening she was no reason not to take it. “She also said you were pining.”
Baekhyun laughed. “Terror.”
“She’s softer than you think, you know. She’s…” Hang on a second. “How did you know it was Jihyun?”
“It could have been Gahyun who’d called. Or Soohyun.”
Haerim tugged at his arm, pulling them both up short. She held a hand to her eyes to shield them from the sun. Noticing, Baekhyun moved to shield her all on his own.
And then it hit her. “You asked Jihyun to call. To casually let slip you were coming alone.”
He looked over her shoulder a moment before his eyes slanted back to hers, lips curved in a small smile. “I figured what’s the good of having bumptious sisters who won’t out of my affairs unless I use them for my own nefarious purposes?”
The sun created a halo around his head, leaving his eyes dark smudges in his perfectly carved face. But there was no mistaking the glint, the gleam, the need, want, desire, all shifting below the surface.
“Considering how we left things, I wasn’t