Four heads were turning from side to side as they followed the Frisbee being thrown back and forth between the two shirtless boys on the beach.
"How did you meet this guy?" Piper asked her friend, unable to take her eyes off of him.
"Sterling met him the first day of class. They play soccer together."
"Thank God for that!" Tamlyn piped up and all four girls laughed.
"Does he always run around without a shirt on?" Laila asked.
"No, he's usually fully clothed," Luanne answered with a smile.
"I seriously don't understand why," Piper commented and the girls giggled again.
Piper and Laila had been surprised when Sterling and Luanne had shown up with Christian. Both girls knew that Luanne had developed feelings for someone (she couldn't stop talking about him) but neither expected him to be so good looking. The fact that he was charming and incredibly sweet had only added to his acceptance in the group. They had been abroad for a little over a month and had wanted to visit the south of France while they could still wear their bathing suits. Christian had offered his family's vacation home in Nice and a car ride down there in exchange for gas money and groceries. No one had objected.
"So, Luanne, how well do you two know each other?" Laila teased her friend and Luanne blushed.
"We've been out a couple of times."
"You didn't answer my question."
"He hasn't kissed me, if that's what you mean," Luanne answered, bringing out her sunscreen and spraying her legs again.
"Do you want him to?" Piper asked playfully.
"Will you two stop?" Luanne laughed. "Of course I want him to," she added quickly.
Everyone laughed again all eyes wandered back to Christian. Luanne knew her two old roommates were proud of her. They had tried multiple times to set her up with various boys back at Yale but she usually ended up walking out of the date or embarrassing herself. No guy had ever showed her as much attention as Christian had. Certainly no one had stuck around long enough to ask her out on a second date.
She stared at Christian as he ran down the beach, his long arms and legs perfectly toned, his stomach unbelievably chiseled. Glancing down at her own physique, she wasn't quite sure what he saw in her. She was the only girl in the group not in a bikini, her one piece bathing suit designed to hide all the flaws the other girls seemed to be without.
But Christian didn't seem to mind any of that. He often commented on how pretty she looked, on how adorable her accent was. To be honest, Luanne found it quite exhausting to be around Christian. She had built up a rather extreme southern belle persona in the attempts of winning his affection and it had now become almost natural for her. Natural but tiring. All the flirting and the mind games were starting to wear her down but she knew they were working. Christian had asked her out multiple times and it couldn't be long before they kissed and he asked her to be his girlfriend. Luanne had never had a boyfriend before and assumed that once they were in a relationship, all the games would become superfluous and she could start acting like herself again.
"Well, since I am the only one here without a boyfriend, I nominate Piper to come with me and find some hot Frenchmen to take me to dinner tonight," Tamlyn announced, standing up and brushing the sand off of her backside.
"Why me?" Piper asked.
"Because Alistair isn't here and you've got nothing better to do."
Piper couldn't disagree with her but wasn't really in the mood to walk around. The drive from Paris had been exceedingly uncomfortable for her. She had never experience motion sickness before but something about Christian's driving and the terrifying speeds on the freeway had her stomach turning in summersaults. She hadn't been able to eat anything that evening and went to bed almost as soon as they arrived at the house.
She was feeling mildly better the next morning and by the time they had made it to the beach she was almost functioning at 100 percent again. But the smells coming from a nearby market had started wafting their way around lunchtime and she had started feeling sick again. Piper really wasn't in the mood for a stomach flu. This was going to be the last time she could wear her bikini all year and she had wanted to enjoy it.
Willing away her nausea, Piper stood up, determined to convince her body that she wasn't sick. "You lead the way," she told Tamlyn. "But I'm only your wingman. I'm not letting any French guy take me to dinner."
Tamlyn laughed and linked arms with her, pulling her through the sand and toward a group of men.
Laila watched her friends leave. She had been surprised at how easy it was to live with Tamlyn. The girl who never stopped talking was actually turning out to be quite a good friend and an ideal roommate. She was always cooking something for the house and eager to entertain everyone with her wild stories - most of which didn't make any sense but to hear her tell them was amusement enough.
"Do you want to go swimming?" She turned her head, startled to hear Sterling's voice so close. Her boyfriend was smiling at her, sand covering his hands and arms, his skin glowing in the bright sun.
Laila smiled and nodded, standing up with the help of Sterling's hand and then walking with him down to the water.
"Christian seems nice," she commented, sticking her toes in the waves of the clear blue sea and then taking a step back, the water too cold for her liking.
"He must look nice too," Sterling teased. "Don't think I didn't notice all of you girls staring at him."
"No comment," Laila said with a laugh, watching as her boyfriend walked in up to his knees, the water rising and falling just below his green board shorts. Fully clothed, or in the darkness of the bedroom, it was easy for Laila to forget just how impressive Sterling looked without a shirt on. Sure, other girls would fall for a leaner physique like Christian's, but Laila much preferred the brawny muscles of her boyfriend. Not that his bulk was overwhelming, it suited him perfectly and Laila always felt safe and protected when he was around.
Laila shook her head. "Isn't it cold?"
"You'll get used to it," Sterling promised and stretched out his hand to her.
She took a deep breath and stepped in, the cold salt water covering her feet and sending goose bumps up to her shoulders.
"It's freezing!" She laughed, taking Sterling's hand and trying to pull him back to the dry beach.
But he was too strong for her. He had her in his arms in seconds, lifting her off her feet and carrying her deeper into the ocean. She squealed and clung to him, mostly for warmth, as the water came up her legs and hit her bathing suit.
"Ready?" Sterling asked once they were deep enough that she could no longer stand on her own.
"One. Two. Three."
Laila took a deep breath as he dipped them both under the water. They both came up laughing and Laila wrapped her legs around his waist, knowing she would have to tread water if wanted to stay near him. She opened her eyes and pushed the hair from her boyfriend's face, kissing him gently on the lips.
Sterling smiled and let his hands wander up her legs, knowing she was holding on to him tight enough that he could let go. "Have I told you how sexy you look in this bathing suit?"
Laila blushed and looked down at her bikini. She hadn't even thought about packing one to bring to Paris and had been forced to buy a new one at a local store that morning. Their selection had been extensive yet she hadn't found one with nearly enough fabric to please her. She ended up purchasing a black string bikini, knowing that no matter what her choice, she was going to be showing some skin.
"Luanne really likes Christian, you know?" She said, wanting to turn the conversation away from herself.
Sterling smiled at her, seeing right through her diversion. "I know. I think he likes her too."
"I hope so. She'll be heartbroken if he doesn't."
"A little heartbreak might be good for Luanne. Have you seen the way she acts around him?"
Laila laughed. She had noticed Luanne's change of behavior. "She's just trying to flirt. She doesn't know any better."
"You never tried any of that with me," Sterling said.
She laughed again as one of his hands crept up her back. "Well, for one, I didn't know how. Two, I knew you would have laughed at me."
"I still would have fallen for you," Sterling said, his fingers twirling the string of her bathing suit.
"Good," Laila smiled and kissed him, not knowing what she would have ever done without him.
Sterling knew that Laila would be distracted by their kiss and used the opportunity for his advantage. He hadn't seen her in weeks and even though they had their own room at Christian's house, he still had to make up for lost time. With one quick pull, the strings of Laila's bikini top unknotted and he heard his girlfriend gasp as her hands flew to her back.
But he could only laugh as he quickly gathered her hands and held them tightly in his own. "What? This is France. Everyone goes topless."
"Everyone but me!" Laila protested, her face close to his as he held her hands down by her sides. The waves were hitting his shoulders as he protected her from the surf, the black triangles floating around her chest, still secured around her neck.
"Don't worry, no one's looking."
He smiled as she looked around them, her eyes nervous and her face trying to hide her embarrassment. There weren't many other swimmers in the water and the Sterling knew they were deep enough that no one on shore would be able to see them.
"Please tie it back," Laila said, glaring at him playfully.
"No," Sterling said bluntly, bringing her arms together between them so he could hold them with one hand.
Laila tried to resist, but even if she was putting up a real fight, Sterling knew it would be pointless. His free hand wrapped around her neck as he kissed her shoulder, the thin strings pulling easily apart. He grabbed her top before it could float away and smiled at her, releasing her hands.
"There. Not so bad, is it?"
"I am so going to get you back for this," Laila vowed, a wide grin on her innocent face. "I can't believe you would want anyone else to see me naked!"
Sterling laughed. "Believe me, no one else is going to see you. This is purely for my benefit."
"Yeah, well, enjoy it while you can because I am seriously considering cutting you off after this."
Sterling laughed again at Laila's determination and then looked down as his fingers started to slowly wander over her exposed skin. She was so perfect for him that he often had to remind himself that she was real.
"So I did some research," he said after a long, intimate moment, one hand cupping her breast, the other at the small of her back.
"About what?" Laila asked, her hands running through his wet hair. He loved that feeling.
"We can get married at the US Embassy in London."
Laila's eyes narrowed but then softened as she dropped her hands from Sterling's hair and sculled them nervously in the water. She bit her bottom lip and held his gaze, unsure of what to say.
"What do you think?" He asked, a hopeful note in his voice.
"I think what I thought last time we talked about this. I want to wait until after we graduate."
"But why?" Sterling whined. "After we graduate, I'll be applying for Medical school and you'll find a job wherever I get decide to go. Nothing is going to change if we get married now or if we get married then."
"Do you want to wait until after you've graduated from Med school, then?" Laila teased him.
"No! I want to get married now. You know there's no point in waiting."
"Sterling, I love you more than anything," Laila began her explanation. "I know that I am going to spend the rest of my life with you and nothing is going to change that. We don't need to get married to prove anything to each other."
"I'm not trying to prove anything to you or myself," Sterling insisted as he pulled her closer and nuzzled his face against her neck. "I just want you as my wife. I like how that sounds. I like how that's going to feel."
Laila closed her eyes as Sterling kissed and nibbled on her neck. Her arms wrapped around his shoulders and she pulled him closer, the waves still casually passing them by. The reasons not to marry Sterling were starting to diminish but she knew she should stay strong and insist that they wait. They could live together next year, something that would please Sterling but offend her conservative parents. But if they were engaged then it should help lessen the indecency.
"Please, Laila? Marry me."
Laila opened her eyes so she could find his lips. She kissed him softly and then pulled away. "I will. After we graduate."
Sterling pouted his lip. "What if I bought you a bigger diamond?"
Laila laughed at his question. "I don't want a bigger diamond. I love my ring."
"Then just tell me what I can do to change your mind and I'll do it," Sterling said desperately.
"You can start by giving me my bathing suit back."
The frown left Sterling's face and he glanced down at her breasts again, almost having forgotten they were uncovered. "Not until you agree to marry me."
"I have agreed!" Laila laughed, attempting to grab her bikini from his hand.
"Next week," Sterling stipulated.
"Fine," Laila said, unwrapping her legs from his waist and treading water. "I'll just go without. Like you said, this is France and I can go topless just as easily as the next girl."
Sterling smiled, knowing she would never get out of the water without her suit. But he did know that she would probably tread water until she became short of breath and he didn't want to risk her having an asthma attack. He reached for her gently and brought her back to him, kissing her deeply.
"Just think about it," he requested, handing her back the nearly non-existent bikini top that looked so incredible on her.
Laila lowered her eyes and blushed. "I will, I promise."
Sterling smiled and helped her retie the strings then carried her back to shallower water. He didn't care that he was having to beg his girlfriend to marry him. Laila was right, he knew they would spend the rest of their lives together and he knew that she was looking forward to marriage. Her objection to an elopement wasn't unfounded but Sterling could tell that she was beginning to see things from his perspective. Good, he thought. She'd be his wife before the year was through.
A/N: Just to let you know, the character pictures have been updated with Tamlyn, Sebastien, and Christian :) Hope you like 'em!