Lily Burke walked the beach every morning as long as it wasn’t raining cats and dogs. On the weekdays, she walked briskly to keep in shape. But on the weekends, she allowed herself to meander along the shoreline, looking for shells to add to her already overflowing collection. Sometimes she would find little treasures like a button or a hair clip.
But on this particularly sunny morning, Lily spotted something that gleamed in the sun. She squatted down to take a closer look. At first, it appeared to be just a chain, but when she pulled it out of the wet sand, a gold locket was attached. She looked around to see if maybe someone had dropped it, but at this hour of the morning and the fact that it was the off-season, there was no one in the immediate area.
Lily put it in her pocket and kept walking. Back home, she rinsed the sand off the chain and carefully wiped down the locket. Then she opened the hinged heart and saw two little pictures. The left side picture was of a woman wearing a hat and dress or blouse, while the right side showed a man with a shirt, tie, and jacket. The background of the woman’s photo was too blotchy to make out as anything, but the man was definitely standing outside, likely in the winter, as the trees behind him had no leaves. If she had to guess, the time looked to be about the 1940s.
The initials PMH were engraved inside a heart on the front locket. Lily wondered if she took pictures of both the front and the inside if she’d be able to search online. She did so, thinking it would be a dead-end, but there was the locket staring her in the face on her laptop screen. She clicked the link noticing the locket had been offered for sale on an antique resale site and had been purchased in 2011. While she was excited to find the locket so quickly, she was a little disappointed to realize that the original owner could have been from anywhere. Finding the locket’s new owner, however, might be possible.
With privacy laws being what they were, she was pretty sure the seller wouldn’t give her the buyer’s contact information. But there was no harm in seeing if the seller would pass on her number to whoever purchased the little antique heart on a chain.
Lily sent a message to the seller explaining that she had found the locket on the beach. Her main goal was to return the item, if possible, but she added that she was also interested in finding out if the seller might know who the original owner was. She decided to include her email address rather than her phone number. It occurred to her that offering her number to a stranger might not be such a great idea.
After carefully placing the locket and chain in a snack-size plastic bag, she set it in her jewelry box for safekeeping. Then she spent the rest of the day sitting on the beach reading and daydreaming about the couple pictured in the locket. She imagined they were very much in love and that the man had likely given his girlfriend, fiancée, or wife the locket as a gift. He’d taken the time to get pictures made small enough to fit in the locket, which seemed less likely to be readily available in the 1940s. So, she must have meant a great deal to him.
Lily wondered what it must feel like to be loved like that. She thought, a while back, that she had been in love with Gary. They had dated back in high school on and off and reconnected after they both graduated from college. She moved in with him shortly thereafter and thought they were building a life together. Then six months ago, she discovered that he had been seeing someone else for most of the five years they had lived together. She was devastated.
She rented a little house on the beach and did her best to move on. Still, part of her hoped Gary would wake up one day and realize he’d made a mistake. She held onto that hope until the day she heard that he’d married the other woman and she was pregnant. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that his new wife got pregnant while he was still pretending to be in a committed relationship with her. That pretty much killed any feelings she had for him, but it didn’t stop the ache in her heart. Nor did it make her feel good about herself that she hadn’t figured it out on her own. He finally told her one night that he didn’t love her, had never loved her, and let her move in because she kept the place clean and the sex was good. Fucking jerk!
The worst part, in her mind, was how much time she wasted with him. But she couldn’t change the past; she could only try to be more observant in her next relationship. If that ever happened again. She’d had no actual luck meeting anyone. Then again, she wasn’t exactly putting herself out there yet. Yes, she missed being held, and she really missed sex. But she had the most powerful cordless wand on the market, and she made do with that, for now.
Almost two weeks passed before Lily got a response from the seller of the locket. Her name was Leah, and she was very kind in her reply. However, she wasn’t much help since her email to the buyer bounced back as undeliverable. And the locket had come into Leah’s hands through a Goodwill donation, so she had no information on the original owner. She was sorry, but there wasn’t anything more she could do to help.
Lily felt defeated. But what else could she do?
“Why don’t you post an ad in the paper?” her Aunt Millie asked her when she told her the story of the locket over lunch.
“Aunt Millie, people don’t do that sort of thing anymore,” Lily said graciously.
“Well, how do you advertise things then?” Aunt Millie asked.
“Well, I suppose I could post the pictures on Social Media, but I have my accounts set to friends and friends of friends only,” Lily explained.
The waiter was refilling their water glasses when he said, “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but if you are trying to get a notice out into the general community, you could use the Nextdoor App.”
“That’s a great idea!” Lily said excitedly. She had stopped looking at the feed on Nextdoor when it became primarily complaints about coyotes, missing cats, and people breaking the rules and taking their dogs on the beach. The missing cats were in the same area as the coyotes, and she wondered why people weren’t putting two and two together. But posting some pictures, and a brief message about where the necklace was found, was an excellent plan.
After tipping the waiter extra for giving her such a clever idea, Lily dropped Aunt Millie off at her assisted living complex and headed home to compose her Nextdoor post. She started to list it as a lost and found item but stopped. She needed to be careful that people didn’t try to claim it as theirs under false pretenses. Instead, she posted the pictures and a little blurb about finding the identity of the couple pictured in the locket.
At first, Lily’s post garnered no responses. Then over the next couple of weeks, there were a few posts about what a lovely locket it was and suggestions of looking into the archives at the library to see if there were any photos from newspapers that matched.
Then one older man commented, “Well, that tree in the background of the gentleman’s picture looks like all its leaves are gone, so it’s probably someplace where it got cold in the winter. So, it’s probably not anywhere down here.”
Lily looked at the picture and wondered how she had missed that detail. She had recognized that the man in the photo was outside, but she hadn’t paid attention to what kind of tree was in the background. She sighed. Finding the original owner was still pretty unlikely. But maybe she could at least find the person who bought the locket from the antique jewelry site.
She looked at the locket and pondered that for a moment. Why would someone purchase a locket and not take out the original photos to replace them with their own? Was there some connection between the buyer and the original owner? She sighed. The contact info on the buyer turned out to be a dead end. She could list it on that same site, but then she’d have to sell it, and there would be no guarantee that the buyer would surface again.
Lily sighed again and put the locket and chain back in her jewelry box. It looked like the identities of the couple would remain a mystery forever. She’d done everything she could to find out who they were, and it had been a bust.
A few weeks later, Lily picked up Aunt Millie to take her to lunch again. “Any replies on your story?” Millie asked.
“Story? Oh, you mean my post on Nextdoor?” Lily inquired.
“Story, post, whatever. So, anything?” Millie asked again.
“Sadly, no, none that lead anywhere,” Lily sighed.
“Well, if you ask me, you should’ve put an ad in the paper as I told you. If somebody my age owned that locket, they wouldn’t likely have a smartphone with some fancy neighborhood app. But they would read the newspaper,” Millie commented, adding, “Just saying.”
Lily laughed, “Just sayin’, that’s my line, Aunt Millie!”
“Well, it’s a good line. Think about it, Lilybell; it can’t hurt!” Millie pointed out.
“You’re right; it can’t hurt,” Lily agreed.
The next day, Lily went to the newspaper office on the mainland. She realized she had no clue how to place an ad in the paper and felt that going in person was probably her best bet.
“Can I help you?” asked the woman behind the desk whose nametag indicated that her name was Marge.
“Yes. Hi, Marge, my name is Lily Burke, and I need to place an ad in your newspaper,” Lily said, smiling.
Marge looked annoyed, “You know you can do that online now, right?” Her voice, thick with a New Jersey accent, made it obvious she was not a native of this little beach town.
“Well, yes, but I’ve never actually placed an ad, so I thought maybe someone could help me figure out what I should say,” Lily admitted.
Marge raised an eyebrow and looked Lily over. “Honey, we take your money and place the ad. We don’t write it for you. When you figure out what you wanna say, you let me know.”
“Oh, well, okay. Can you at least tell me how much the ad will cost?” Lily asked.
Marge frowned, “You know, that information is also online, dear.”
Lily felt defeated. “Never mind, it probably isn’t going to get me any results anyway,” she said as she headed towards the door. But as she opened the door, she ran smack dab into a man. A very handsome man. Lily felt a wave of some sort of indescribable feeling.
“I’m so sorry!” she said, smiling nervously. “I need to pay better attention to where I am going.”
“Nonsense,” the man said in a voice that made Lily’s knees weak. “I ran into you. I am terribly sorry. Are you okay?”
“Oh, um, yeah, I’m fine,” Lily stammered. “Um, are you? Okay, that is?”
He smiled. Lily’s heart pounded so loudly in her chest that she was certain he could hear it. “I’m fine, thanks,” he answered.
“Well, um, I guess I should get going,” she said, realizing she was staring too long at his gorgeous eyes. They seemed so familiar! But she knew that if she’d seen this man before, she would have definitely remembered him.
“Here, let me get the door for you,” he offered.
Lily desperately wished that she could think of some reason to stay. But nothing came to mind. So, she smiled back and said, “Thank you.” Then she headed for her car. She toyed with the idea of going back in to pretend she’d lost something, but she didn’t consider herself a good enough actress to pull that off convincingly. However, as she started the car, she saw the ridiculously handsome man come back out of the building and get into a parked vehicle in a spot marked Employees Only. For a hot second, she considered following him but dismissed that idea as rather stalkerish.
Instead, she decided to go home, figure out what she wanted the ad to say, and go back to the newspaper office tomorrow. With a bit of luck, she would run into him again.
However, his car was not in the parking lot the next day. Disappointed but determined to follow through on her quest to find the locket owner, she went into the office anyway to place the ad.
Marge was there again, raising an eyebrow at Lily, “I guess you figured out what you wanted your ad to say, huh?”
Lily smiled, “Yes, I did. I also read online that I can include two pictures with a half-page ad.” She handed the typed information and the pictures to Marge.
Marge’s mouth dropped open, “Sweetie, do you know how much an ad that size is gonna cost?”
Lily shook her head, “No, but a standard size ad is $16.00. So, I am guessing probably $200 - $300?”
Marge sighed, “Honey, I don’t know how you came up with that number, but a half-page ad is gonna run you $1,000.”
“Oh!” Lily said, shocked by the amount. “Oh, well, um, wow, that’s a lot more than I thought. How much for a quarter-page ad? I can just go with the one picture.”
Marge looked over the pictures and skimmed the ad wording briefly. She felt her heart melt a little. She looked at Lily and said, “I have an idea. What if we did a human-interest piece on this for you?”
Lily looked puzzled, “I’m sorry; what do you mean by that?”
“A story, sweetie. I’ll have you talk to one of our journalists here and have them write a story about you finding the locket and some of the things you’ve gone through to find the owner. Being that you found it on the beach,” Marge explained.
“Oh, wow, you’d let me do that?” Lily asked.
“It’s a small town; not much happens here. So, every once in a while, we do human-interest stories to fill the gaps,” Marge replied. “Your story could make an interesting piece. Besides, more people read the articles than the want ads.”
“I’m sure you’re right. So, how do I go about meeting with a journalist?” Lily inquired.
A man’s voice answered, “You come into my office and tell me your story.”
Lily turned around and saw an older gentleman taking a swig of a diet Dr. Pepper. He looked a little rough around the edges, but it seemed rude to back out now.
“Okay, I can do that,” Lily agreed. “My name is Lily. Um, how do I start?”
“Name’s Bob. Start from the beginning; it’s usually easier that way,” he said.
She wasn’t sure if his teasing was good-natured or sarcastic. But she spent the next hour doing her best to relay the story as accurately as possible. He looked bored while he took notes. She was pretty sure that wasn’t a good sign.
“Okay, well, I’ve got the details. So, the next time I need a fluff piece, I will see what I can do for ya,” Bob said.
“Oh, so, when do you think I could expect to see the story in the paper?” she asked.
“If and when I write it. Could be next week, could be next month. Depends on the amount of real news and the fluff pieces I got in the pile already,” he explained.
Her heart sank.
She stood up, thanked him, and turned to go. Marge saw her as she walked out of Bob’s office and said, “You okay, sweetie? You look a little glum.”
Lily sighed, “I don’t know. Maybe I should just place a small ad. Bob said it might be a while before he writes my story.”
“You in a big hurry?” Marge asked.
“Well, I’d like to find out who these people are, but I guess there is no rush,” Lily sighed.
Marge wasn’t sure why, but she felt a little soft spot in her heart for this girl. “Tell ya what I’m gonna do,” she said. “I’m gonna see if Bob will allow our new guy to write the story. Between you and me, that’s who I was gonna suggest you talk to before Bob wrangled you into his office.”
“Thanks, that’s very kind, but I don’t want to rock the boat. I can wait,” Lily said.
“Suit yourself, sweetie,” Marge said. “But if you change your mind, I’m sure Rafe will do a fine job. He’s not just a writer here…”
“Did you need something, Marge?” a voice interrupted.
Not just any voice. It was the voice of the man Lily had bumped into the other day. Lily turned and looked at him and felt herself go damp. She hoped her face wasn’t giving away what her body was feeling.
“Oh, hey, Rafe. I was just tellin’ Lily here that you might be the guy to write her story,” Marge said. Then she leaned toward Rafe and whispered, “Poor thing just spent a good hour giving Bob all the details, and he plopped his notes into the whenever box.”
Rafe looked at Lily, “Do I know you?”
Lily blushed. “I ran into you, quite literally, when I was in here yesterday.”
“Ah, yes! I remember now,” he said. “Tell you what, I’m in the middle of something hot right now. But if Bob doesn’t get to your story by next week, I will snag it from him and see what I can do.”
“I don’t want to step on any toes,” Lily said nervously.
“Oh, don’t worry about that; Bob hates writing anything that could be construed as heartwarming. I’m sure the only reason he didn’t shoo you away is that you’re a redhead,” Rafe said. Then he looked mildly embarrassed that he had said that last part out loud. “Anyway, here’s my card. Give me a call if you don’t hear from me in ten days.”
His hand touched hers as he handed her his business card. It took every ounce of restraint not to touch more of her. She was cute and curvy, not usually a combination he went for, but something about her was intriguing. And when she smiled as she took his card, he felt his cock twitch. Jesus, Rafe, get ahold of yourself. At least he was standing behind the desk, and she couldn’t see the effect she was having on him.
“Thank you, Rafe. I appreciate this very much,” Lily said. “Marge has my information if you need to get hold of me.”
Rafe cleared his throat. He’d like to get hold of her, all right. But he just smiled and said, “Thanks, I’ll be in touch.”
After Lily left, Rafe went into Bob’s office to see what the story was about. Bob seemed annoyed. But then, Bob usually seemed annoyed.
“Some fluff piece about a missing locket. I was hoping for something a little more substantial. I humored her because she’s a looker. I listened for an hour, hoping the top button on her blouse would pop, but no luck. You’re welcome to my notes if you wanna write one of your feel-good pieces,” Bob said, handing Rafe a file folder.
“Ya know, Bob, You’re a real pig,” Rafe chastised him.
“Speak for yourself, Rafe. I know that hard-on ain’t for me,” Bob fired back.
Rafe took the folder, went to his office, and closed the door. It was embarrassing enough that just being around this woman aroused him, but having Bob notice it was mortifying.
Just what was it about her that so appealing?
He pushed thoughts of her out of his head and went to work on the piece he’d been researching on the expansion of a local marine animal rescue group.
Rafe spent the next several weeks working on several stories, and the folder with Lily’s information about the locket got lost underneath a pile of others. The following week, he needed a filler story and started peering through the folders, looking for something interesting. His eyes began to blur after a while, and he grabbed some coffee to help him stay focused. A few moments later, the phone rang. Seeing that it was from Marge’s desk, he ignored it at first. When it rang again, he reached for the phone and knocked over his coffee.
“Damn it, Marge, what do you want?” he barked into the phone.
“Don’t you take that tone with me, young man! You might be the new owner of this newspaper, but that doesn’t excuse you from having decent manners,” Marge chided him.
“I’m sorry, I spilled my coffee and…” he started to say.
Marge cut him off, “I’ll be right in with some towels.”
Several file folders were drenched as the coffee cup had been mostly full. After they mopped up the coffee together, Rafe suggested just throwing away all the soaked ones: “They are the fluff pieces, as Bob likes to call them. It won’t hurt to lose a few of them.”
As Marge tossed the soggy folders, she noticed the one with the locket information was being discarded. “Oh, let me dry this one out, Rafe,” she said. “It’s the story I wanted you to write about that pretty redhead finding a locket on the beach.”
Rafe frowned, “Huh, I’d forgotten about that. I thought for sure she would call me if she didn’t hear from me. I should have followed up, but I got so busy. Sure, go ahead and see if you can salvage anything from the file. I suppose I can always call her in to get the facts again. Thanks, Marge.”
“Sure thing, boss man,” Marge acknowledged.
Marge went back to her desk and carefully laid out the pages to dry. She set the pictures on the counter and returned to her computer to finish some billing invoices.
Rafe worked for another half hour and decided to call it a day. As he walked past Marge’s desk to say goodbye, he saw the pictures spread out on the counter. “Marge, why do you have a picture of my grandfather sitting here?”
Marge looked up from her computer, “What are you talking about?”
Rafe held up the photo and said, “This picture. It’s my grandfather. I have no idea who the woman is, it doesn’t look like my grandmother, but that is, for certain, my grandpa.”
Marge nearly fell out of her chair, “That’s a photo of the locket that Lily Burke found.”
“I’m sorry, who?” Rafe asked, confused.
“The pretty redhead with the big knockers that gave you a boner,” Bob said as he walked past the counter.
“Wait, she found this locket with my grandfather’s picture? Holy crap, Marge. Will you call her for me and ask her to come in?”
Marge nodded and found Lily’s phone number, and dialed. It rang many times, but no one answered. Marge would have to leave a voicemail message.
“Hello, Ms. Burke, it’s Marge from the newspaper office. Rafe would like to talk to you more about the locket that you found. If you could give me a call and let me know when you’re available, I’d sure appreciate it.”
Marge hung up and looked at Rafe. “I left a message, boss-man. Best I could do.”
“Do we have an address for her?” he asked.
Bob said, “Don’tcha think it would be a little creepy to show up at her house?”
“It’s for a story, Bob. One that she was hoping to have us write.”
“Sorry, I don’t have an address, just a phone number, Rafe,” Marge said. “Be patient. She’ll call back.”
But weeks went by with no call.
It was a dreary Wednesday morning when Lily Burke walked into the lobby of the newspaper office. Marge noticed she was dressed in black, and her eyes were red and puffy as if she’d been crying. Gone was the sparkle that the pretty redhead had exuded when she’d first stepped into the office nearly two months ago.
“Miss Burke! I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve been trying to reach you regarding the article Rafe wants to write about the locket.”
“Oh,” Lily said absent-mindedly. “I’m sorry I never returned your calls. My aunt’s health went downhill quickly, and she passed away yesterday. I’ve come to place her obituary. Before you say it, I know I could have done this online. The trouble is that what I’ve written is too long, and I don’t know how to narrow it down to something more reasonable. I was hoping you might be able to help me.”
“Oh, you poor thing! I’m so sorry for your loss. Have a seat at the table, and I will be right back with some tea. Of course, I will help you,” Marge said empathetically.
While Marge went to the break room to make some tea, Rafe walked in the front door dripping wet, having gotten caught in the rain. His mood was foul as he cursed himself for leaving his umbrella on the kitchen counter at home.
Noticing that Marge wasn’t at her desk made Rafe snarl. “Where the hell is she when I need her?” he grumbled as he shook the water from his head.
Lilly spoke softly. “I’m sorry, she went to get tea for me.”
Rafe caught himself before making a rude comment when he realized the redhead he’d been waiting to hear from was sitting right in front of him.
“Oh, goodness, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there! I’ve phoned you several times, but you haven’t returned my calls.” There was irritation in his voice, despite his efforts to hold back.
“She’s been busy, Rafe,” Marge said, returning with two cups of tea. She’d meant to have one herself but quickly changed her mind and gave her cup to Rafe. “She’s here to submit an obituary for her aunt who just passed after being ill for a couple of months.”
Rafe felt his annoyance melt away. He felt like an idiot for not considering that something besides his desire to find out why she had a locket with his grandfather’s picture in it would be more important.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry to hear that, Ms. Burke. My sincere condolences. I thought you’d come to discuss the locket,” Rafe said, trying to sound compassionate instead of frustrated.
“Oh, funny how the locket seemed so important before but feels pretty insignificant now,” Lilly said sadly.
“It’s not insignificant to me!” Rafe blurted out.
“Rafe! What’s wrong with you? Can’t you see this poor girl just lost someone she loves?” Marge chided.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Burke. But, you see, the gentleman whose picture was in the locket you found is my grandfather when he was a much younger man,” Rafe explained.
Lilly looked up at Rafe. “Well, that would explain why you looked so familiar to me that day I bumped into you. You do bear a strong resemblance to your grandfather. That being the case, there really isn’t a story, is there? I mean, the locket belongs to your family. Mystery solved.”
Rafe frowned. “Except that isn’t my grandmother.”
“Who isn’t your grandmother?” Lilly asked, feeling a little befuddled in her grief.
“The woman in the locket, she isn’t my grandmother. But clearly, she must have meant something to him, and vice versa, or their pictures wouldn’t be together in a locket,” Rafe said.
“Oh, well, yes, I suppose,” Lilly said.
“Do you remember where you found it?” Rafe asked.
“I don’t know the address, but I could find the location on the beach again, I’m fairly certain.”
Marge shot Rafe an irritated look. Nodding, he said, “Perhaps after you’ve laid your aunt to rest, we could meet up, and you could show me where you found it?”
Lilly sighed, “Yes, I suppose.”
“Rafe, don’t you have some work to do?” Marge asked crossly.
“Yes, I’ll get out of your way so you can conduct your business. Call me, won’t you? When you’re feeling up to it, that is.”
Lilly nodded and sipped her tea.
Rafe inhaled sharply and headed to his office. He kicked himself for being so insensitive. The mystery could wait a while longer; there was no need for him to be so pushy about it.
He realized he was still pretty soaked from the rain, so he grabbed his workout clothes from the gym bag he kept handy in his office and closed his door to change.
He felt better getting out of his wet things and ran the towel from the bag through his thick dark hair. Then he opened his door again, as it made him feel too closed in when it was closed.
As he was draping his wet things over the back of the couch in his office, he overheard Marge and Lilly talking. He felt like even more of a schmuck when he realized how thoughtless he’d been pushing Lilly about the locket story when her grief was so intense. He had this sudden urge to take her in his arms and comfort her. But he knew that would be highly inappropriate.
But as the owner of this little local newspaper, there was something he could do. He stepped out of his office and said, “Marge, I’d like to waive the fee for running Ms. Burke’s aunt’s obituary.”
Lilly protested, “Oh, no, I can’t let you do that. I’m not a charity case.”
Rafe looked at her sad blue eyes and felt his heart ache just a little. He approached the table where Marge and Lilly sat. “Please, let me do this for you. It’s the least I can do for acting like such a complete ass.”
Lilly felt heat flush over her with Rafe standing so close. Her pulse quickened, and she realized she was feeling aroused by this handsome man. She was mortified! She was supposed to be grieving. She was grieving. She needed him to step away so she wouldn’t embarrass herself by being so obviously attracted. So, she agreed. “Thank you for your kindness. It’s unnecessary but greatly appreciated.”
She wondered if he felt it, too, that sense of attraction. But she couldn’t think about that right now. The timing was all wrong.
He smiled politely and prayed it wasn’t apparent on his face how much he wanted to kiss her right now. The timing just wasn’t right.
Three days later, Rafe found himself headed to the beach. He hadn’t been able to stop thinking about Lilly and thought maybe he could take a walk and run into her by chance. He felt a little silly. He had her phone number; he could simply call her. But it didn’t seem right. Of course, this was ridiculous, but he couldn’t help himself.
Rafe parked his car in the lot across the street from the beach and entered the license plate number on the meter. He traded his loafers for the skids in the back of his car and headed to the crosswalk. He wished he had thought to bring a water bottle along, but maybe he’d stumble upon a snack shop along the way.
He walked for about twenty minutes when he saw her. She was sitting on the shore with her head resting on her knees, her red hair being tossed about by the breeze that had (thankfully!) picked up. He wondered for a minute if he should approach her. But what would he say?
He was about to turn and head back when she saw him. Her gaze took his breath away as she stood and tilted her head.
“Rafe?” she asked as if she thought she might be imagining his presence on her beach.
“Hey, Lily,” he answered awkwardly and walked to where she was standing.
“What are you doing here?”
“I…I guess I wanted to see if you were okay.”
“How did you know where I live?”
“I didn’t. I parked in the public access lot and hoped I’d get lucky and find you.”
Lily didn’t know what to say. Her heart was so heavy as she mourned her aunt’s death, but her body ached to be held by him.
Rafe felt a mix of emotions hit him in the gut; pity, desire, and need. Words failed him, but he reached out and put his arms around her, pulling her close.
Lily felt herself stiffen at first, and then, exhausted from holding herself together, she let herself melt into his chest as she tried desperately to keep in the sobs that threatened to escape.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Rafe said quietly. “Let it all out, Lily. I’m sure you’ve been trying to be strong through all this, but you can hang on to me and let yourself go.”
Lily clung to him and allowed her tears to flow. Rafe said nothing; he merely held her and brushed his hand along her hair.
After she’d worn herself out, she pulled away abruptly.
“Oh, my goodness! I’m so embarrassed! I’m sorry…”
“Stop. There’s no need to apologize.”
“But I barely know you, and I just drenched your shirt with my crying jag.”
“Hey, it’s okay, really. I’m happy to be here for you.”
Lily felt a stirring in her that left her conflicted. She was mourning Aunt Millie, but all she could think about was what it would feel like to touch more of Rafe’s body.
“Let me at least take you inside for something cold to drink to thank you for being so nice.”
Rafe started to refuse but knew he would kick himself later if he turned her down. It was an offer for a cold drink, not a romp in her bed. But all he could think about was how good her hair smelled when she’d been in his arms and how badly he wanted to touch her in places he shouldn’t without getting to know her better.
“Sure, that sounds good,” Rafe replied. He’d have to use all his willpower to keep from taking advantage of her.
As he stepped inside, he noticed how the light shone through the kitchen window, catching the gold flecks in her red hair. Their eyes met as she turned to ask him what he’d like to drink.
“Would like lemonade? Sweet tea? Wine?” she asked, laughing a little at her last suggestion.
“Whatever you’re having,” he answered softly.
“Wine it is, then,” she said, reaching for two glasses. “I hope Pinot Grigio is okay. It’s all I have that’s cold.”
“It’s perfect,” he said as he took the glass from her and helped himself to a quick sip, hoping to calm his sudden nervousness. He prayed his shorts were loose enough, so his burgeoning arousal wasn’t obvious.
After a moment or two of awkward silence, Lily asked, “Why are you really here, Rafe?”
He took a deep breath and blew it out slowly.
“There is something about you, Lily, that draws me to you. I haven’t been able to get you out of my mind.”
“You mean about who the woman is in the picture with your grandfather in the locket? Oh, by the way, let me get that for you; it belongs to you.”
She set her glass down and rushed into her bedroom to retrieve the locket.
Rafe felt disappointed. He was sure she felt was he was feeling, but getting her to acknowledge it would be more challenging than he imagined. Perhaps it was just too soon; she was still mourning.
When she returned, she handed him the locket and felt every nerve ending in her body tingle when his hand touched hers. She went flush with heat and avoided eye contact. Surely, he was just being kind. He couldn’t possibly be feeling what she felt.
She picked up her glass and downed the contents. “Let’s go for a walk,” she said brusquely. “I can show you where I found the locket. Maybe that will help us find the mystery woman.”
Rafe stopped her and turned her to face him.
“The only woman I am interested in at the moment is you,” he admitted to her. “The locket brought us together. Don’t you think that means something?”
“What?” Lily asked. “What are you getting at?”
“I want you. Not just in bed, although when that happens, it will be wonderful. I want to take walks, sip wine, and get to know you better. I want to know everything there is to know. And I want to share who I am with you. We don’t have to move fast; I feel like I’ve waited for you my whole life. You’re worth waiting for, Lily.”
“What if I don’t want to wait?” she blurted out. She blushed instantly as the words she meant to keep in came tumbling out.
The corners of Rafe’s mouth turned up every so slightly.
“We don’t have to wait,” he laughed. “I was just trying to be a gentleman.
“Say no more. Take me to your room, Lily Burke, and let me take you to bed.”
“I should say no; it’s the middle of the day, for goodness’ sake!”
“Some of the best lovemaking happens in the afternoon, Lily.”
Lily took him to her room and undressed. Standing naked before him, she looked him in the eyes and said, “Whatever happens between us, this will be worth it.”
“This is just the beginning, my sweet Lily.”
A year later, Rafe and his wife, Lily, were walking along the beach one afternoon.
“Oh!” Lily cried. “Give me your hand; the baby is kicking!”
Rafe stopped, put his hand on her belly, and was rewarded with what he considered a high five from his son, who was currently residing safely in his mother’s womb.
They nearly bumped into an older woman who was birdwatching on the beach. She seemed annoyed until she looked closely at Rafe’s face and softened her expression.
“It can’t be,” the woman whispered as she moved her hand to the side of Rafe’s face. “Daniel?”
Lily gasped. “It’s you! You’re the woman in the locket.” Her hair was white, and there were lines on the woman’s once smooth face, but Lily had no doubt it was her.
“This one,” Lily said, unhooking the clasp and taking it from around her neck. “I always wear it because it brought my husband and me together. It has a photo of his grandfather, Daniel, with a woman we couldn’t identify until now. You’re that woman, aren’t you?”
The woman took the locket in her hands and opened it. “Oh, my stars! I lost this so very long ago. I thought I’d never see it again.”
A single tear rolled down her cheek. “You look just like him,” she said wistfully. “Your grandfather was the love of my life. We talked about being married one day. Then he got a job in another state, but my mother fell ill, and I couldn’t leave her. We promised to reunite once she was well again, but that never happened, and eventually, we lost touch with each other. I always wore this locket to remind me of the best years of my life and to have just a little piece of the man I loved close to my heart. I was devastated when I lost the locket. It was like losing Daniel all over again.”
“Then I found it online on an antique resale site some years back, and I was sure it was a sign from Daniel. I cried for days when I lost it again a few years ago when the clasp broke.”
She looked at the pictures in the locket and then up at Rafe with tears in her eyes. “You remind me so much of him; it’s like walking through a door in time to find Daniel as a young man again.”
Rafe looked at her with misty eyes. “My name is Rafe, and this is my wife, Lily.”
“My name is Paulina, but my friends call me Paulie.”
Rafe laughed. “My mother’s name was Paulina. Her dad called her Paulie too. She could never figure out why her dad chose to call her that, as there was no one in our family tree with that name. He must have needed to have a reminder of you, too.”
Paulie gave a sheepish grin. It pleased her greatly to know that she’d still been important to him after all these years.
“He’s gone?” she asked barely above a whisper.
“Yes, I’m sorry. He passed on about five years ago. On his deathbed, he called out for Paulie. We all thought he meant my mother and that he was confused, not remembering that she had lost her battle with cancer a few years earlier. But the last thing he said was that he’d always love his Paulie.”
Rafe felt emotions overwhelming him. He should be upset that grandpa’s last words spoke of love for a woman who was not his wife. But how could he not see this as a sweet moment for a lost love?
Lily took the locket from Paulie’s hands and gently placed it around her neck, hooking the new clasp she’d put on it last year. “Well, it took us a while, but we finally found the proper home for this locket.”
“Would you like to come inside and have some tea?” Paulie asked. “I rarely get any company, so it would mean a great deal to me.”
“We’d love to,” Lily said. “If you want to, you can tell us about how you and Daniel met.”
Paulie’s eyes lit up. “Oh, I’d love to! Come with me; I live right here in this beach house.”
The house was five doors away from Lily’s. She’d been this close the whole time!
Rafe considered doing a story for the paper about finding the mystery woman in the locket, but he realized that some stories are best left unwritten. Still, it would stay with him forever. This lovely locket – this declaration of love – had brought his Lily to him.
As he followed his wife and the woman his grandfather once loved into the quaint beach house for some tea, he knew that one day, he would tell his son the story of how this locket was the reason he was born.