He’d had several last night after the thing we apparently weren’t talking about. Instead of curling into me after they were over, he took to pacing the room or sketching at the window.

“It’s okay.”

I shifted to leave again, only to feel his hand wrap around mine. He played with my fingers for a few seconds, as if that was the only reason he stopped me. Then he asked, “Tell me about your life back in the states.”

Not a subject I particularly wanted to hash out this early in the morning, but he obviously wanted to talk. Maybe talking about this would help him talk about the rest.

“Like what? It’s nothing that interesting.”

“Tell me about your favorite Christmas growing up.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“I’m serious. I’m trying to get the full picture of Kelsey Summers.”

It wasn’t a pretty picture, but if he wanted it . . . “Fine,” I said. “My favorite Christmas has got to be by default the one before the first one I can remember.”

He looked down, squeezing my fingers between his own. “That’s really sad.”

“Yeah, well, my family is sad.”


“What made it so bad?”

I propelled myself back against the pillows, letting go of his hand.

“Can we talk about something else?”

He wanted to push. I could hear it in the silence, in his careful breaths, in the creak of the bed as he leaned forward for just a few seconds before rolling away.

“You go shower. I’ll figure out what we’re doing today.”

God, we were both so bad at this. There was no way it could work, not that I really even knew what “working” would entail.

Released from his questioning, I fled for the bathroom.

I took my time, enjoying the way the hot water loosened my sore muscles, but ever conscious of the other body just outside the bathroom with only a wall between us.

I decided we’d been still long enough. Neither of us was good with words. We were action people, which was why last night had worked. We didn’t talk. Maybe it was time for a little push. So when I got out of the shower, I ignored the pile of clothes in the bathroom and exited the room in my towel.

“I told you everything is fine.”

I said, “I forgot my—”

Then stopped because Hunt’s back was to me and he was on the phone.

He whipped around, and I lowered my voice, “I, um, I forgot something. Sorry.”

In a quiet voice, he said into the phone, “I have to go now. No. No. Thank you, but I have to go.”

He lowered the phone, but I could still hear the faint sound of someone talking on the other end before he hung up.

I picked up a pair of socks, the first thing I saw in my backpack, and said, “Who was that?”

“What?” He didn’t look at me. “Oh. Just the concierge, wondering if we’d decided when we were checking out yet.”

I stood there, a puddle collecting on the floor below me, in nothing but a towel holding a pair of pointless socks, and still he didn’t even glance my way.

I couldn’t tell whether I was more distressed by his lack of reaction or the tense set of his shoulders. A conversation with the concierge shouldn’t do that. And if he was only asking if we were staying, shouldn’t that have been a simpler, shorter call?

Maybe he was just tense about us, and the phone call had nothing to do with it.

I stayed staring for a few more seconds before fleeing to the bathroom. I had almost closed the door when I heard him ask, “What do you think about taking a train to the coast? Maybe the Italian Riviera?”

I poked my head back out of the bathroom, and he was sitting stiffly on the bed, his hands clenched into fists at his side.

It looked like we’d be saying goodbye to our Florence refuge after all. Perhaps our secrets were getting too big for this small room.

I said, “Okay. Sounds good.”

The words echoed off the tile walls around me, and I felt that hole in my chest opening up, and the fear creeping in.

The small village of Riomaggiore was set into a cliff side on the Italian Riviera, and I knew from the moment that I stepped off the train that I was going to love this place. The air smelled fresh and salty, and the wind curled up from the ocean, tossing my hair. At the edge of the train platform was a wall, and beyond that a turquoise blue sea.

I rushed to the edge, desperate to soak in the view. Craggy black rocks were decorated with white sea foam, and stood out against the vibrant blue waters. Waves crashed against the rock, and I swear I could feel the spray all the way up on the platform.

I squealed and threw my arms around Hunt’s neck.

“This is good?” he asked.

“Very good.”

This was worth leaving Florence.

Hunt had told me on the train where we were going. There were five villages collectively called Cinque Terre that sat along the coastline. They were part of some kind of protected wilderness area or park, so there was almost nothing modern about the villages, just the train in and out. We would spend today and tomorrow, our last two days, exploring and hiking from village to village.

If all five villages were as beautiful as this train platform, I was sold.

We left the station and headed to the city to find lunch and a place to stay. There was no lack of either. We stopped at a small restaurant, and I had the most delicious pesto in the history of the universe. I didn’t even particularly like pesto, but Cinque Terre made me a believer.

The waiter at the restaurant recommended a family down the road that rented out an apartment attached to their home. On the way, I marveled at the village. The homes were stacked up like building blocks and painted in vibrant colors. There were orange and yellow and pink buildings with blue and green and red shutters. Everywhere I looked was something worthy of capturing in a picture—from a fading turquoise door, whose stories you could almost detect through the splintering wood and peeling paint, to a small boy, skin tanned from the sun, with bare feet toughened by rough roads and the sweet cradle of a soft stray cat in his arms.

Hunt’s hand touched the small of my back, and I leaned into him instinctively. “This is wonderful,” I said. “I just . . . I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“So have I done it?” he asked.

“Done what?”

“Given you an adventure?”

I stopped, and looked at him. His face was tense, and I got the feeling he was asking about something more than if I was just having fun.

The sea and sky joined in a dark blue horizon over his shoulder, and I wanted to stop time. A picture could never be enough to capture this moment, and I was afraid if I didn’t imprint it upon my brain I would forget the breeze rustling the laundry hanging out of the shuddered windows, the shine of the sun off the water, and the deep gray of Hunt’s eyes. It would be a crime to forget those things. I wanted to stop time because that one-second pause wasn’t big enough to feel the things my body wanted to feel and think the things my mind wanted to think. So, I told him honestly, “Adventure doesn’t seem like a big enough word for what this has been.”

His smile put the sun to shame.

He draped his arm across my shoulder, and we went to see about a room.

Each of the villages was connected by both a train and a path. After settling into our cozy, albeit simple, private apartment, we set out to explore. We chose the path because there was no way that Hunt would let us get away with the train. Not that I would have even wanted to.

We followed the trail map from Riomaggiore to the beginning of the path that would lead us to Manarola. The path was named Via dell’Amore, the lover’s path. Carved out of the side of a cliff with a flat stone trail, the path made for a pretty easy trek between the first and second village. It wrapped around the cliff, giving us a beautiful view of Riomaggiore as we left, and the ocean as we moved forward.

The path led us to a stone alcove with window openings that allowed us to peer out at the water and rocks below. As we moved farther through the tunnel, I started to notice locks hung from the railing and ropes on the ceiling and every available surface. There were locks of every size and shape. Some were shiny and new, while others were rusted and aged, but there had to be thousands of them in all.

Following the locks led us to a chair that had been sculpted out of stone. The seat was big enough for two and the back had been carved to look like two people kissing. The chair was placed in a stone archway with railings behind it to keep the chair and people from tumbling into the ocean below. Not that you could see the railings anymore. They were covered in locks, overflowing. There were locks hooked onto other locks, framing the lover’s seat with the help of an ocean backdrop. The chair and much of the tunnel around us were covered in graffiti, but it didn’t matter. You could feel how special this place was. The horizon lined up almost perfectly with the lips of the lovers, as if the sea and sky and life converged to make this perfect representation of what it means to be with another person. The permanence of it.

I didn’t know how many couples had placed locks around this chair, nor did I know how many of them were still together. But it didn’t matter. When you love someone, really love someone, it’s a lasting mark on your soul. There’s a lock on your heart that you’ll carry with you always. You may lose the key or give it away, but the lock stays with you all the same.

A man approached us, and asked if we’d like to buy a lock. He had a box with all different kinds, and I started to say no, but Hunt said, “Why not?”

He handed the man some cash, and picked a lock out of his assortment. The lock he chose was plain, but sturdy.

“Where should we put it?” he asked.

I looked at the chair, but the way my heartbeat lurched made me look for another place, a place with less pressure. I took a few steps farther down the tunnel toward where it opened back up to the regular path. At the mouth of the tunnel, I could see locks hanging down near the ceiling.

I pointed and said, “There.”

Up close I could see that netting had been placed around one of the boulders on the side of the cliff, and locks had been clipped to that net. This was perfect. We were still leaving our mark, but without it meaning more than I was willing to say.

“I’ll lift you up,” Hunt said.

I took the lock from him, and he bent, wrapping his arms around my knees. He pulled me up, and I balanced myself with his shoulders. When he was standing upright, I put one hand up on the boulder and picked up a piece of the netting. I opened the lock, slipped it around a bit of the rope, and clicked it closed.

I smiled.

“All done.”

Hunt loosened his arms around my knees, and I slid down his body. And just like the lock, it felt like we had clicked into place.


Heat crackled across my skin. Hunt’s gray eyes bore into mine. And my gaze was drawn to his lips. Those lips. I had spent days thinking about those lips, maybe even days looking at them. I’d agonized over Hunt’s excuses and what might be keeping us apart, about what he wasn’t telling me. But here with the ocean at my back and the memory of that lock against the skin of my palm, I couldn’t think of a single reason. Or maybe I just didn’t want to.

I tipped my chin up, and he tipped his down. The world shrunk to include only the space between our lips, space that only our breath crossed.

My heart was about to beat out of my chest, and I swear I could hear his beating, too. I knew he wanted this just as much as I did. And I was tired of letting some imaginary line dictate my actions. So, I leaned in, and for the barest of seconds my bottom lip grazed his. And that small world, expanded, exploded, and we were at the fiery hot center of it.

I pressed my lips harder against his, curling my hands around the back of his neck. And for just a second, he pulled me in closer. My chest smashed against his. My feet left the ground, dangling centimeters above the stone path. My head was spinning with want.

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