Beyond the Ocean's Depths (Not an Average Shifter Romance)

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Chapter 49: Castle Walls


“Why the hell do I feel so damned good around him?” I asked myself as I stared down from my office window at the dolphin tanks where Rainie was teasing her dad with a dead fish probably meant for Delilah. Anne and Kyle were giggling at the pair while Vickie grinned from the sidelines.

Not that I didn’t want to feel this way. Shit, I’d fantasized about these sorts of feelings for years. But this was all so sudden and so... so... uncontrolled!

“Uncontrolled?!” What was I talking about, I thought as I huffed and folded my arms in frustration. Everyone knows love isn’t controlled! Love?! Had I really just thought that word?! No, no, no, no. I shook my head to clear my brain. This was not love. Well regardless, attraction, or whatever the hell this was called, wasn’t controllable either. And I’d worked really hard to build my thick wall of control after Rich had done his damage to my emotions.

Yet, now presented with my fantasies, I wanted more; more of him! I huffed out a laugh under my breath. “At the rate I felt right after that kiss, I’d say I actually maintained a lot of control!”

I blew out a long breath this time; I was glad Torin took my suggestion to go visit Rainie while he was here, since he was feeling more perky after I’d found him down in the dumps in the underwater viewing room earlier. Not only did I think she would have been hurt to know he’d come and didn’t see her, but that he needed the pick-me-up I know spending time with his daughter gives him. It also afforded me an easy out so that I could retreat to my office and hide away. The more time I spent with him, the less rational I felt, and I needed to get my bearings again.

Thinking back on it, my rationality had been lost from the moment I’d realized just how provocative my comment sounded about how the darn turtle would bite Torin only if he wanted to escape, not because he wanted to taste the man. “Jeez, I could have worded that any other way - ‘taste?!’” Of course, as soon as the words slipped from my mouth, I had the craziest desire to find out again for myself - what he tasted like, that is. That brief kiss last night in his car clearly wasn’t enough!

And he knew it - I could see it in his eyes! But instead of being smug or prideful about it, like Rich would have been, Torin regarded me equally. And that’s when I felt his pull from the pit of my entire being, and I knew we mutually wanted to discover what the other tasted like again.

I drummed my finger on my lips, while I continued to stare out the window, not really watching anything at this point, my mind and my lips remembering just how delicious he did taste only moments ago; fresh and caffeinated! I’d never felt so warmly invited into a kiss.

Not that my ex-husband had been a terrible kisser, but there was something different with Torin. I couldn’t help but compare them as I continued to stare out my window. Kissing Torin made me feel comfortable - really comfortable. Like coming home and getting into sweats and curling up on the couch with him comfortable, and it scared me. While half of me wanted to bare my body and soul to this man here and now, my rational, logical side screamed at me to stop and think. I wasn’t supposed to plow ahead into a new relationship, yet here he was already trying to tear down my emotional wall of control after only three days of being NOT-enemies and now-friends!

I focused my eyes on him again, standing on the cement pad below, talking animatedly to the kids. His uniform, all crisp and wrinkle-free hung perfectly on his solid frame. His clean-cut hair, sprinkled with gray at the temples showed his age. For forty though, he’d aged very well considering the trauma he’d gone through with his wife’s death and raising a little girl without her mother. Damn him anyway! More than anything now I wanted to wrap my arms around his neck and savor that delectable mouth again.

But it wasn’t supposed to work like that! I’d always envision my next relationship as a slow-budding romance. You know, friends for a long while, with mutual interests, then as time progressed we’d fall deeply in love. But there would be time to assess our feelings for each other as we got closer. And at any sign of trouble, I could dash away without getting too hurt in the process.

Now that I replayed that dream in my head, it just sounded pitifully boring! “Okay Tobie, balance it out,” I told myself. “You’ve wanted to move past Rich for a while. Here’s your chance! Don’t screw it up by getting cold feet now! You’re going to have to get outside of your comfort zone just a little bit if you’re going to do this at all.”

My office phone rang, interrupting my thoughts and I withdrew from the window so I could answer the call, turning my mind to business again. Rob wasn’t paying me to analyze my love life after all!

Several minutes later I was back to my normal self, talking logistics over the possibility of moving an older manatee all the way from the Dallas World Aquarium in Texas to Florida. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to take her right away, but I did have a tank in mind that would work. It was almost refurbished and Rob’s construction crew had promised that it would be water-ready by Fall. Until Rob’s newly-hired Exhibitions Manager arrived from Tallahassee next week, I was filling the spot for now. Good thing I had lots of experience!

“We could plan for somewhere near late-fall, that way the tank reconstruction will be done and we’ll have time to get the habitat figured out. Can you guys send me the water salinity concentration you’ve been using there?”

“Sure thing! I’ll send you the whole water chemistry and tank airflow information, so you have everything,” Lisa, the aquarium’s manatee keeper promised in her thick Texan drawl.

“Great! I haven’t done a manatee setup before, so anything you can send will be much appreciated.” At least I knew they liked to eat their leafy greens. “Well, I’ll keep you posted if anything changes on our end, but I think early November would be a good timeframe to plan for. That’ll give our new Exhibit Manager some time to settle and make changes if necessary. Thanks so much for calling!”

I hung up the phone and started an email to Rob, courtesy copying Rhonda, to fill them in on the latest with the manatee. I was stoked - no aquatic rehab in Florida would be complete without at least one manatee!

A knock on my open door tore my thoughts away from the computer screen, and I popped my head over the wide screened monitor, thinking Rhonda probably needed something. Instead, my heart skipped a beat as my eyes landed on the man I had just successfully forgotten about for the last several minutes.

“Torin!” I was suddenly nervous, trying to figure how I should act. I’d been so comfortable with him in the infirmary, but then built up my reservations again after retreating back to my office. My body obviously didn’t have the same doubts as my brain though, and so, I was once again conflicted in the most uncomfortable way.

“Hey,” he started with a heartwarming smile. “I’m heading back to work and just wanted to say goodbye and thanks for the talk and all.”

I stood up from behind my monitor so I could talk to him properly and smiled back. “Oh, glad to be of service! Thanks for helping me out with the turtle!”

He stepped further into my office, moving out of Devon, the computer tech’s way as he hauled a cart down the hall.

“Uh, yeah, that was fun.” His eyes locked onto mine, and he continued, “I really enjoyed spending time with you and seeing what you do.”

I tried my hardest to pinch myself out of his spell, but he was quickly dragging me under. Was it the way he looked at me, or maybe simply the way he looked? Regardless, I couldn’t restrain myself. “You’re welcome to come and visit anytime!”

His eyes crinkled a bit and his smile broadened, “Really?! Thanks!”

Crap! Why’d I do that? Invite him back so openly, like I wanted him to come back. Maybe because I did deep down. Okay, maybe not so deep down, just under the watchtowers of my emotional control castle walls.

Then he partly turned to the door. “Well, gotta get back to work. I’ll text you, okay?”

I must have looked confused, trying to recall why he was going to message me, as I was mentally under duress.

“Our date?” He offered in return and I blushed.

That’s right, I did agree wholeheartedly to go on a date with him! “Yeah, yeah!” I pretended to have remembered what he was talking about all along. “Thanks again for dropping by!”

He smiled more assuredly and waved as he walked out the door. “See ya, October!”

Oh, I loved it when he said my given name! It just felt so... special...

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