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Our Footprints in the Sand

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Claire has always prided herself in being independent. From a very small age she liked to do things herself. Never wanting to hold her mother’s hand when crossing the road, never wanting help with her homework, even playing by herself while her sister and cousins ran around the house causing chaos.

Things didn’t really change through high school either. If anything, Claire was determined to prove to herself and the people around her that she was capable of achieving everything, solely alone. She chose to never rely on her peers and put all her focus into her school work. She had friends yes, but they were more out of convenience then genuine affection. She even tried dating a few times, a mixture of hormones and social obligation led Claire turning up at diners on Friday nights and movie theatres meeting an eclectic mix of teenage boys. But it never went past two or three dates. The boys never really understanding Claire’s desire to put her learning before a weekend house party. Usually ending with Claire being called a hot nerd or lonely freak. So, Claire went through high school with limited friends and no boyfriends to speak of but she was always the top of her grade.

 

The hard work and lonely nights paid off as she secured a place at her dream college, Harvard to study business. Her parents of course were over the moon with their youngest daughter. They were constantly expressing their pride in her drive and determination much to her sister, Karen’s displeasure. Who dropped out of college at twenty, after falling pregnant during her second year. Deciding that the best move would be to marry her college sweetheart and father of her unborn son, Scott, her parents who happened to be deeply religious Catholics arranged an abrupt wedding for their eldest to avoid suspicious looks in their community. But even though Claire and Karen were cut from different cloths it didn’t stop them from being close during their upbringing.

Claire was the first-person Karen called when she took the pregnancy test, alone sitting in her dorm room. Claire remembered the difficulty of hearing her strong eldest sister who never even cried over a scraped knee, sobbing down the phone and begging her baby sister not to tell her parents. Claire had taken the first train to Boston at the age of fourteen to try and comfort her sister. Advising her to inform their parents, so they could talk through the options Karen had.

She had always been independent.

 

So how has she ended up here? Falling for a man who wanted anything but independence for her. Constantly making her feel second place to him. Slowly finding herself relying on him for everything. Josh. Joshua Fields.
She met Josh in her first year out of college. She was a budding new business graduate with the world at her feet. Having recently moved to New York on an internship with a big shot management company, Claire finally felt at home with people who understood her. They were all driven, anti-social, workaholics which played straight into Claire’s wheelhouse. But then she met Josh and that independence she had slowly built up over the course of her life, started to drift away. And the tough, focused Claire Dearing was a distant memory.

 

This led her here. Summer vacation in Greece. She booked it last minute one late Wednesday evening after a bottle of merlot and a tub of mint choc-chip ice-cream. She had a moment of strength and rebellion against the Claire Dearing she had become. Or it may have been the bottle of merlot. However, she was in definite agreement. She needed a break from the mess her life had taken the form of.

 

Claire peered over her book she was currently reading, propped up against a tree in a small secluded cove on one of Greece’s magical islands. She gazed at the dazzling ripples of the Greek water, dancing along the sand, the warm sea breeze blowing through her auburn hair. This was what she needed, time to clear her mind and try to figure out how best to move forward. Sea, sun and space. Wasn’t that a famous saying?

She had only landed yesterday from JFK airport, taking the evening to relax and order room service, then catch up on some much-needed sleep. Claire glanced down at her watch, one thirty. Soon it would be time for her to wander up to the hotel for a light lunch, before her boat trip at three. There weren’t that many other people on the beach besides her. Claire looked around at the other inhabitants enjoying the mid-day Greek sun. An elderly couple lay under an umbrella while the women rubbed sunscreen onto her husband's back. There were two teenage couples playing a rustic game of volley ball at the other end of the cove, with their towels and shoes playing the part of the boxes. Two women laying on bright pink beach towels while chatting in what Claire could understand as French. Catching the odd word here and there.
And lastly her eyes fell on a young girl and her father playing catch with a large orange inflatable ball a few feet away.

Claire focussed her attention on the father daughter duo. The little girl had long dirty blonde hair that fell in pretty waves along her back. Properly around five years old with a little purple hat and matching purple swimsuit. The girl was giggling hysterically at something her father had said in between passing the ball for her to catch. Claire had to admit she was utterly adorable as she charged towards her dad and throwing the ball in the opposite direction.

She found herself feeling nostalgic as she remembers being that age, and vacationing with her family in the Outer Banks, every summer for two weeks. She used to look forward to those beach vacations, running up and down the white stretches of sand with her father pretending to chase her. With Claire’s mother sitting reading book after book on a long sun lounger. And Karen always braiding her hair into complex braids before bed every night. She smiles thinking about those nostalgic memories she has of her family. Some of the best.

 

Claire then slowly turned her attention to the father currently playing catch. He is around six foot two, built incredibly strong with thick thighs and ridiculously sculpted arms. Claire couldn’t help but let her eyes linger on his arms from the safety of her sunglasses. Imagining what those arms would feel like wrapped around her. She felt disappointment swell inside her due to the man wearing a t-shirt along with his navy swim shorts. What she wouldn’t give to see if his sculptured arms matched a chiselled torso.

She gently shook her head at herself, pull yourself together Dearing! You've clearly been alone for too long. She chuckled at the path her thoughts had taken and decided it was time to start moving up towards the hotel, not wanting to miss her Greek water tour. Just as she was about to put her book away safely into her bag and wrap her towel up, something hit Claire in the side of the face with considerable force. She was so shocked she didn’t move for about five seconds, just blinking to check her left eye still functioned.
She vaguely heard what sounded like an “Oh my god” before turning to find the father and daughter who had been playing with a ball which now lay near the end of her towel, running towards her.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry ma’am”

Claire had to shield her eyes from the sun to see the man whose arms she had been admiring not minutes before now standing above her.

“My daughter here hasn’t quite worked out her aim” he chuckled, tapping the top of his daughter’s purple hat. The first thing Claire noticed about the duo was how similar they were. Down to the colour of their dirty blonde hair to their smiles and matching dimples. She was also pleasantly surprised to hear that they not only spoke English but they were also fellow Americans, like herself.
The little girl suddenly looked up at her dad

“But I didn’t throw it daddy, you did!” she said pointing at her dad.

Claire then turned her gaze to the man in question and raised an eyebrow at him.

“Ha kids these days...” he raised his hand and scratched the back of his neck in a bashful gesture. “I really am sorry miss.”

“It’s ok really” Claire replied with a small smile. “I was finished reading anyway, didn’t need my left eye anymore.”

The man let out a sharp laugh, which bared a perfect set of white teeth and two cute dimples. Claire couldn’t help but notice how attractive he was, up close and far away. No scratch that that, he wasn’t just attractive he was what her sister would call ‘hot’ and ‘fit’ and her personal favourite ‘a whole snack’. While Claire considered how best to describe this man’s level of attractiveness, he had knelt down to be closer to her eyeline and stuck out of his hand.

“Owen Grady” his voice sounded gruff but still silky smooth at the same time. How was that even possible?
“And this is my beautiful baby girl Amé, say hi pumpkin.” Owen ushered his daughter forward but Amé had suddenly decided she wasn’t quite confident enough to talk to Claire solo. So, tried to hide behind her father’s back, just peering over his shoulder to look at Claire while offering her a quiet “hello.”

“Hello, it’s lovely to meet you both, I’m Claire.” she shook the hand Owen was still proffering and lingered at the feel of his rough skin on her softer fingers. She looked into his face getting struck by his bright green eyes. Never had she ever seen eyes quite as bright as his. No stop it Claire! You have come here to take a break from romance, not start another one.
He was smiling at her while glancing down at their hands, which were still joined. Completely unaware of the inner conversation Claire was having with herself. She looked down and quickly retracted her hand, before blushing and putting her hands back into her lap.

“Well it was lovely to meet you both but I’ve got a boat tour to get to by three and I still haven't had lunch.” she hurriedly tried to avoid another potentially bad decision where she could get hurt.

“Ah of course, sorry for disturbing you Claire.” the use of her name on his tongue gave her chills.

“Honestly it was no bother, it was nice to actually have a conversation with someone who actually understands English.” she was all finished with her belongings which were now stowed safely in her beach bag. She stood in front of the Grady’s with her towel under her arm wearing nothing but a red bikini and her heavy bag over her shoulder. She saw Owen give her a not so subtle once over heating her up under his gaze.

“So, you’re here alone then?” Owen said nonchalantly, pretending to pick at something on his shirt. Claire couldn’t help but smirk at his obviousness.

“Yep just me, myself and I” she smiled at him while putting her sunglasses back onto her nose. Glancing down at Amé she noticed the child had lost interest in the adult's conversation and was now rolling her orange ball around in the sand.

“Well look, I still feel awful about what happened-” before Claire could argue he quickly added “so why don’t I help you with your bag, it looks pretty heavy” he added while taking a step closer to examine her indeed heavy bag.
Claire froze at his sudden proximity completely amazed by those tender green eyes once again, gazing at her.

“Don’t be silly I don’t want to interrupt your day; besides I think you have more than enough stuff to carry back to the hotel” glancing over at Owen and Amé’s base camp they had constructed about ten feet away. There were mountains of toys, buckets, snorkels, towels and inflatables. Owen looked down at his daughter who was now sitting on the floor looking at the seashells.

“Nah we can leave our stuff here over lunch, it will be fine. Besides this one over her usually wants a nap after she’s eaten” he shoots his thumb at his daughter in hushed tones. Claire nodded. “We need some food anyway, don’t we Amee baby?”

“huh” the little girl looked up at her dad, clearly not having listened to a word Claire and Owen had been saying. Claire smiled softly at the girl.

“Aren’t you hungry?” Owen repeated

“Yes Daddy, I’m starving” to reiterate her point she lay on her back on the sand, pretending to be dead. The adults both giggling at her antics.

“See” Owen said waving his hand in his daughters' direction. “We need refuelling, us Grady's love to eat” Claire laughed and shrugged her shoulders

“Well you are more than welcome to walk with me but I can carry my own bag” she looked at him pointedly. Owen threw his hands up in surrender.

“hey that’s cool with me, I can already tell you’re an independent lady.”

Claire froze at those words. No one had said that to her in such a long time. Since way before Josh maybe no one had ever called her independent. She’d definitely had ‘nerd’ and ‘loner’ but hearing someone firming what she was striving to be, it was liberating. Meanwhile Owen had reached down and scooped his daughter into his arms, depositing her onto his hip.

“Lead the way ma lady” he said while gently bowing in front of her. Claire shook her head at him but smiled nonetheless. The trio slowly made their way up the sandy beach towards the wooden steps, when Owen suddenly stopped and bent down to put Amé on her feet.

“Sorry girls I’m just gonna grab my phone, think I left it on the towel. Amé baby wait with Claire ok?”

“Ok Daddy” Amé said while sitting down on one of the wooden steps. Owen quickly turned around and started jogging back down the beach. Claire quickly let her eyes drop to his butt, which looked to die for in his swim shorts. Claire not for the first time that day, started blushing at the unholy thoughts swimming round her head. She suddenly felt two little greens eyes staring at her.
Claire sat down next to the little girl and saw that Amé was looking at her in wonder. For one horrifying minute Claire thought that the child had read her mind or saw where her eyes were focused. But then Amé said

“I love your hair” she whispered to Claire like it was the biggest secret. “It’s just like Ariel’s, she’s my favourite princess in the whole world.”

“Woah, thank you that’s so sweet. I’ve never been compared to a princess before.” Claire admitted. “But I think yours is super pretty.” At this Amé shuffled a bit closer to her.

“Really? You don’t think it’s a boring colour?” she said looking down at her long hair

“You kidding? It’s so gorgeous and long, I always wanted to have hair as long as yours” Claire said while gently reaching out to feel the ends of Amé’s hair.

“Thanks, daddy says that it’s getting too long for him to handle” she giggled. “But I love it long, because all princesses have long hair”. Claire smiled warmly at her just as Owen came jogging up to where they were sitting. When Amé saw him, she jumped up and sprinted towards Owen’s direction.

“Daddy daddy, Claire said my hair is gorgeous. But I think hers is prettier because it looks like Ariel’s. Doesn’t it Daddy?” Owen lifted her back into his arms and chuckled at her over excited nature.

“Yes baby, Claire’s hair is as beautiful as Princess Ariel’s” He finished the comment by looking Claire dead in the eyes with a small smile gracing his lips.

Claire couldn’t cope with the intensity of his gaze so she quickly looked away and stood up before shifting her bag to her other shoulder. They started the trek up towards the hotel, with Amé telling Claire every detail about their holiday so far, from the safety of Owen’s arms.

“..And I saw ten whole fish, they were so tiny but there was loads of them. I saw a yellow seahorse with swirly little black dots too but it swam away when I tried to touch it.” Amé was talking so fast Claire couldn’t work out when she had time to breath. “It was my first-time snorkelling because last year I was too little, wasn’t I daddy? But now I’m big, so daddy said we could go. It was the best thing ever!”

Both adults started laughing at how fast the child was talking now clearly out of breath. Claire noted how the little girl’s energy was infectious and found herself smiling even when she wasn’t speaking. She was clearly Owen’s daughter, with her confidence and kind spirit Claire couldn’t help but fall in love with her.

They were nearing the hotel entrance, by walking up the marble ramps. There was a soft breeze blowing up from the beach and it kept gently nudging Owen’s curls to Claire’s pleasure. Each time she looked over at him she would catch him sneaking glances at her. She couldn’t contain the small smile that broke out across her face every time their eyes met.

When the last time she felt like this? A genuine attraction to someone she had only just met. Not even with Josh had she felt such strong feeling so quickly. It was the kind of attraction where she wanted to know everything about Owen. All the small things he does. His likes and dislikes, where he was born, does he come from a large family? But the biggest thing she wants to uncover, is the location of Amé’s mother. Was she somewhere else on the resort? No, Owen had been blatantly flirting with her, hadn’t he? She was so out of practice in the flirting department maybe he was just being friendly. She felt her stomach sink at that thought. You only just met the guy Claire. Maybe her mother is back in America working, making it impossible for her to join her daughter and husband on vacation. God, she hoped she was wrong.
When they reached the restaurant at the back of the hotel, Amé was still animatedly talking to both adults about her love of the sea.

“So, Claire, seeing as we are all here, would you like to join us for lunch? Unless you have someone meeting you here.” There was a nervousness she hadn’t detected earlier in his voice. Maybe he was just as out of practice as she was.

“Are you sure? I don’t want to intrude” she said while fiddling with her hands.

“Of course, you can, we would love the company wouldn’t we Amee?” Owen said putting his daughter down.

“Yes, please come sit with us Claire please. You can sit next to me!” Amé looked up at her with puppy dog eyes and grabbed Claire’s hands, slowly tugging her towards the restaurant. Claire laughed while her heart melted.
“Ok I would love to have lunch with you guys, I mean I guess it’s the least you could do after nearly blinding me” she teasingly said looking straight at Owen.

“I’m never living that down huh? I’m sorry ok, I guess something must have distracted me” he said while once again looking into Claire’s eyes with that same intensity. Her cheeks heated up and gave him a shy smile, still letting Amé pull her by her hands into the canteen and lead them to a table near the window.

Lunch was delightful. Their table was filled with laughs and giggles, from Owen’s jokes and Claire’s stories. Amé told Claire about herself and what her favourite things were to do. Claire discovered that Amé was four and five months, she loved to swim, her best friend was called Abbie and her favourite colour is Purple.

“My favourite colour was purple when I was your age” Claire announced after Amé showed Claire her purple nails she had painted herself.

“No way! Is it still purple?” The little girl was sitting on the edge of her seat trying to get closer to Claire.

“I mean I still like it, but I think my favourite colour is properly green now. I have a lot of green clothes back home.” She emphasis this by showing the four-year-old her emerald green sweater she had in her bag, in case she got cold on the beach. Claire gave Owen a quick glance noticing his silence and was surprised to find an endearing look plastered across his face. He was looking between his daughter and Claire while taking sips of his beer.

“I like green too.” Amé said while tapping Claire’s hand, trying to grab her attention again. She succeeded as Claire’s eyes flickered back to the sweet girl next to her.

“I think green would suit you, especially with your long hair” Claire reached out to tuck the child’s long hair behind her ears. Amé’s eyes lit up at Claire's comment as she went back to eating her fries.

“So, Claire” Owen finally spoke. “Tell us about yourself. You’re clearly American but what brings you all the way to Greece? Just here for the sun and squid?” he smiled.

Claire took a deep breath giving her time to think about an appropriate answer to Owen’s question. She didn’t want to reveal all her recent demons she had been battling with by stating she was having some space from a controlling ex. She decided to talk about her upbringing, a safe subject.

“Well, I’m originally from Wisconsin, about five miles outside of Madison. My parents moved there from Michigan just before I was born, my sister was six. And I stayed there until I went to college at eighteen. It was a pretty decent place to spend a childhood.” Claire finished while pouring herself some more water.

“Woah Wisconsin huh? You must be used to damn cold weather.” he chuckled

“Yeah you have no idea. I remember once my sister and I were holding hands when we were little going for a walk in the snow, and I swear are hands got frozen together” she laughed at the memory of her sister complaining about having to be attached to her younger sister all day.

“Wouldn't know anything about the cold I’m afraid, grew up in Hawaii.” Owen revealed while running a hand through his curls.

“Hawaii oh my god I’ve always wanted to go there, it looks so peaceful. Must have been an incredible place to spend your childhood.”

“Yeah, I mean we moved around a bit, but the majority of it was spent in Hawaii. And it was pretty awesome. Spent my weekends and evenings either on the beach or surfing” he smiled slightly at the memories.

“I wish I could surf, but I don’t think I’m athletic enough for that” Claire chuckled to herself knowing full well what happened when she tried to surd at summer camp when she was seventeen.

“Well I could always teach you sometime? If you wanted. I’m known to be an excellent teacher.” Owen stated with a wink.

Claire raised an eyebrow at him

“Oh really? And who it is that insists you’re an excellent teacher?”

Owen took a moment then leaned across the table to her

“She’s sitting next to you” he whispered

Claire looked at the four-year-old who was currently playing a game on Owen’s phone and snorted.

“You must be the best teacher in the whole damn world then, if you taught her how to play catch”

“Huh?”

“Because your four-year-old manages not to hit a woman in the face with a ball, when her teacher succeeds with great ease” she laughed at the way his face drops.

“You are a mean lady” Owen pouted and sat back in his chair, crossing his arms. “It was the wind ok”

The rest of lunch flew by as the canteen started to empty, with families moving back to the pool or the beach for the remainder of the afternoon. The Grady’s had moved onto dessert, in which they both got ice cream with Owen pilling his bowl full of different flavours. When he sat back down at their table Claire couldn’t stop a giggle from leaving her mouth at the sheer amount of ice-cream in Owen’s bowl. Owen looked up at her with a puzzled look.

“What’s so funny red?” He said around a spoonful of chocolate. Claire wasn’t sure how to feel about that nickname, but decided to let it slide.

“Nothing. It’s just, do you usually have that much ice-cream?” hiding a smile behind her hand

Owen shrugged

“Depends, but I like my ice cream. It’s a Grady thing, Amé and I can get through a pint in one sitting”

“I love ice cream” the little girl sang loudly making Owen shush her with a laugh.

“That doesn’t add up. How are you still so in shape then?’ Claire blurted out, without realising how it sounded. She instantly went bright red and tried to distract herself with stirring her coffee.
Owen’s eyes had shot up from his bowl to look at Claire. He smirked when he found her avoiding his eyes

“You think I’m in shape?” he prodded

Claire coughed to try and cover up her nerves

“That came out wrong”

“Oh, so you think I’m out of shape?” Owens’s eyes glistening with mischief. He was not letting her off that easily. And Claire was certainly not going to give him the satisfaction of admitting how attractive she found him.

“Look can we just forget I said anything” looking at him pleadingly.

“You may be able to Darlin’ but I’m gonna have a hard time forgetting that!” the same smirk was still on his lips as he silently went back to eating his mountain of ice cream. Claire couldn't deny the butterflies that erupted in her stomach when he called her that endearing nickname. She liked the way he said it. So much that she wanted him to say it again. And again.

 

When they had all finished lunch, they left the canteen and headed to the elevators. Claire had to go back to her room to change before her boat trip and Amé needed a nap, having exhausted herself playing on the beach. The three of them stepped on to the elevator with Claire pressing floor five and Owen floor seven.

“Thank you for inviting me to lunch” Claire said as they started to ascend the first floors. “It was nice to have some company.”

“It was our pleasure, right baby?” Owen looked down at his sleepy daughter

“Yes, I want Claire to have lunch with us every day Daddy” she said while rubbing her eyes. “Can she?” finishing with a yawn.

Owen looked at Claire quickly, not wanting to overstep.

“Maybe we could arrange something for later in the week Sweetheart, I bet Claire is a busy lady” at that the doors opened at Claire’s floor.

“Well thanks again guys, hopefully see you around” she said stepping of the elevator not really too thrilled about having to leave their presence. Noticing that she’d laughed more today than she had in the last few months.

“Yeah, please feel free to come find us anytime, I think this one here is in love” Owen chuckled down at his daughter who was nearly asleep against his leg

“Will do, bye bye Amé” she waved

“Bye Claire” she mumbled sleepily. The last thing Claire saw was Owen bending down to pick up his daughter.
And with that the doors closed

Leaving Claire alone in the corridor.

Chapter Text

Owen hadn't seen Claire since yesterday lunch. After they departed, he’d put Amé down for a nap and then they’d gone back to the beach for the afternoon. He’d tried to keep his eye out for her striking red hair and porcelain skin, but no such luck. He guessed maybe her boat trip had run over. And they would properly eat at different times anyway in the evening, what with Amé having an earlier bedtime.

Owen had to admit that he was fascinated by Claire. He had first seen her sitting on the beach yesterday after having arrived from Portland two days before, reading her book peacefully. He thought she was completely beautiful and had a hard time not staring in her direction. She was wearing a dark red bikini eventuating her toned figure, which did nothing to help his staring. He’d been hoping for a chance to strike up a conversation, that is if she happened to speak English but couldn’t think of a way which didn’t make him seem creepy.

“Daddy, can we go see the dolphins today? Daddy? DADDY?” The four-year-old shouted whilst waving her arms in front of him from her position on the floor. Owen was currently standing looking out of their hotel room window at the beach, while Amé sat on the floor colouring. He was distracted thinking about a certain red head.

“DADDY”

“What?” Owen shot around to look at his daughter. “Oh, sorry baby girl what did you say?” Reaching down to tickle her sides, releasing a roar of giggles from her.

“Can we go and see the dolphins today, like I saw in the picture?” she asked, finishing the picture she had drawn.

“Well, we can certainly go and have a look, can’t we?” Owen said scooping her up.

“Do you think we will see any turtles too? Or sharks?”

“Um I don’t think so baby, but we might see some more fish” Owen offered while collecting his wallet and key card whilst balancing Amé on his hip.

“Aw ok I did like seeing the fishies yesterday.” she paused. “Daddy?”

“Yes Amee”

“Could we invite Claire to come with us. I liked her”

“I don’t know baby” Owen said, pulling their hotel room door closed and starting to walk towards the elevator. “She might already have plans today.”

“We could ask, because she was all on her own. And you always tell me it’s not nice to be on your own.”

Owen heart swelled at his daughter’s kindness. He kissed her on the forehead, while pressing for the elevator.

 

Once the elevator reached the lobby, the Grady’s set off in search of the excursion desk. During the ride down Amé had made Owen promise to ask Claire is she wanted to accompany them on their outing. He felt nervous at the prospect of seeing her again. Did he come off too strongly yesterday? Maybe she wasn’t interested. Or maybe she was already taken by a tall dark-haired model back home. But she didn’t seem offended by his obvious attempts at flirting, if anything she seemed to encourage it, with the slight teasing and the constant glances. Owen knew that deep down, even if she was single, she wouldn't want to get involved with an ex-marine who also happens to be a single dad living in a caravan while he finished building their soon to be cabin.

As they reached the desk, they saw a long line of people patiently waiting their turn at the front. Owen was just about to step into the line when he saw the very red head he had been thinking about all morning, in the queue close to the front. Before Owen could casually walk over there, Amé had also spotted Claire and was now running full speed down the queue to greet her.

“Claire Claire hi!” The girl said as she got to Claire’s place in line

Claire looked startled until she saw Amé’s face and she quickly bent down to say hello.

“Hey Amé, how was your day yesterday?” smiling sweetly and trying to balance on her feet while squatting down in wedged sandals.

“It was so fun; daddy and I went back in the sea and I saw loads more fishies. I counted them all by myself.” She finished proudly.

Owen had now joined them and was smiling down at his daughter.

“Tell Claire about the green one baby” Claire looked up at the sound of his voice. He could have been wrong but he swears she even looked pleased to see him.

“Oh yeah! I saw this big green fish with a red tail and I thought it would be your favourite. Because of your hair and green is your favourite colour.”

Claire was clearly touched that Amé had remembered what her favourite colour is, and that she was even thinking about which one Claire would like most, after only meeting her for the first time yesterday. Owen was amazed by his daughter’s kindness, but mostly her ease around Claire. Amé had always been a chatty girl but usually with people she was fairly aquatinted with. To strangers she had always been incredibly shy. Even as a toddler she would cling to Owen’s leg or hide her face in his neck, whenever one of his friends tried to say hello.

“I’m sure it would have been” Claire said tucking Amé’s hair behind her ears and winking at the girl. She then stood up straight to address Owen. She looked gorgeous today. She was wearing a white summer dress which reached just above her knees, paired with some wedged beige sandals and a small wicker clutch. Her hair was also elegant with it being loosely curled just passed her shoulders. Owen tried not to look her over too much but was finding it increasingly difficult.

“Hey” she said before biting her lip.

“Hey Red” Owen smirked. “What you been up to?”

He saw her furrow her brows at the nickname, but she seemed to move on.

“Not much, I can’t seem to sleep any less than eight hours at the moment” she chuckled. “But I thought I’d try another boat trip as yesterdays was so pretty.” She took a small step forward as the queue moved.

Amé hearing this perked her ears up and moved towards her dad. She started tugging on his shorts.

“Daddy” she whined

Owen looked down at his daughter in question.

“You promised” she whispered, but Claire still managed to pick up what she said. Raising an eyebrow at Owen.

“Oh, I see.” Owen started, before taking a pause to try and think about an appropriate way to ask her. “Claire we were wondering if maybe... whether you could or would... look you don’t have to of course but I was going to ask-”

“Owen, maybe if you actually tell me what you were going to ask, I can give you an answer.” There was no bite to her words, only fond affection. She put a reassuring hand on his arm to try and ease his clear nervousness.

Owen’s eyes flickered down to her hand and then back up to her face. What was wrong with him? He was Owen Grady, who had never had any issues talking to girls. Especially pretty girls like Claire. It’s like he was a fourteen-year-old boy again, trying to figure out a way to ask Lucy Davies, who was the hottest girl in the grade, on a date.

“Would you like to come and see some dolphins with us?” He said quickly

“Dolphins?” she questioned

“Yeah, I’ve never seen them before but daddy has told me tons about them. Because he used to own them.” Amé said excitingly

“Trained them Amee” Owen corrected her

“You trained dolphins?” Claire sounded astonished and a little impressed too.

“Yeah I was part of an animal behaviourist unit in the marines. The pay wasn’t great but I got to travel the world and spend my time near the sea.”

“Wow, that’s really cool Owen” Claire beamed at him, hanging off his every word. Owen couldn’t help but swell with pride at the way she was looking at him. It almost made all the gruesome months of training and life-threatening missions worth it. Just to have that look.

At that moment the queue moved again and Claire was now at the front. Before Owen could even find out an answer to his original question, Claire was stepping forward and asking for three tickets to the dolphin excursion. He couldn’t believe it. Not just the fact that she had agreed to come with them, but the fact she just asked for the tickets in Greek. Full on fluent Greek. This woman was something else.

“ευχαριστώ” she said with the perfect accent, taking the three tickets from the Greek women who offering them to her. Claire then turned around and gave Owen two of the tickets before moving out of the line. Owen was still standing in the same place, with a dumbfounded expression.

“Hang on a sweet minute! You speak Greek?”

Claire gave him a nonchalant look. “No but I’ve done some research since being here.”

“And how long have you been here? Two years?” he said with exasperation. Claire let out a laugh and started walking towards the hotel's main doors, with Owen and Amé closely on her heels.

“No Owen, only two days now.” giving him a humoured look. “But I like to know I can make my way around a country without being lost, hungry or in need of the bathroom.” She said while ticking the things off with her fingers, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Well, I think that was so freakin’ cool.” he said, then adding to it by mumbling under his breath “And hot.”

Claire whipped around with a shocked expression and blush covering her whole face. He then realised he may have said that a bit louder than he had originally hoped. Way to lay it on thick Grady! Luckily Amé came to his rescue.

“Does this mean we are all going to see dolphins?” she said jumping up and down with excitement.

“It sure does Sweetie” Claire bent down to smile widely at the little girl

“Cool! This is going to be the best day ever. I’m going on a boat with a real princess.” she squealed. Amé then ran on ahead as they walked towards the bus stop, where they would be taking a bus to the marina.

“Hey that reminds me, seeing as you were speaking flawless Greek, I had no clue how much the tickets were?” Owen said reaching into his pocket for his wallet.

“Nothing”

“No don’t be silly Red, how much?”

“Honestly Owen, just take it as a thank you for being so friendly towards me and allowing me to join both of you for lunch yesterday. I had a nice time” she said with a shy smile.

“So did we. Amé spent the whole evening talking about how her new friend was an actual princess.” Claire giggles at that.

“She’s the sweetest little girl” she smiles at him. “You have a lovely child”

“I know. Don’t know how I got so lucky.”

Owen knows he struck gold with having Amé, who has always been well behaved and good natured. Never throwing tantrums or crying for long periods of time, she just loves life and wants to live it to the fullest. Even as a baby, she would rarely cry. Only if she needed feeding or wanted to be held. It made being a newly single parent, a hell of a lot easier.

 

Once the bus arrived, they all clambered on. Along with some other families and couples from the hotel. The bus was quite busy already, with only a few spare seats here and there. Amé ran towards two double seats nearing the back of the bus which were seated opposite each other. There was already an elderly man sitting in one seat near the window. Amé jumped into the seat next to him, leaving Claire and Owen to sit closely next to each other in the other two seats.
The marina, where they would be collecting the boat from, was a couple of miles away. The bus had to climb up a quite a large hill to reach their destination on the other side, taking numerous twisting roads along the edge of the valley, which then brought them to a bridge.

Owen saw Claire getting increasingly tense throughout the course of the journey, clenching her fists in her hand and biting her lip. A tick he noticed she tended to do when nervous. As they slowly started driving over the short high standing bridge, with a significant drop over a small river, Claire suddenly grabbed Owen’s arm. He turned his head towards her, with a concerned gaze.

“Hey, you ok?” he mumbled softly. Not wanting to startle her

“Yeah, I just... I’m not very good with heights” she said through clenched teeth.

“Hey Claire it’s ok” he said and started to gently stroke the hand currently holding his arm in a vice grip. “We’re over the bridge now.” She spared a glance out of the window, and they had indeed reached the other side, where miles of forest land reached her eyes.

“That’s the problem with secluded hotels, right? The trek from the airport is longer than the flight itself. Feels like you’re going into the unknown sometimes, am I right?” he finished while continuously stroking her hand, trying to distract her. Claire must have suddenly realised she was still holding on to his arm because she looked down and then slowly retracted her hand.

“Sorry about that... I’m usually by myself so it doesn’t bother anyone else” she mumbled looking very ashamed.

“I don’t see anyone around her who is bothered, do you?” Owen said gesturing to Amé who had been paying attention to the blur of landscape out of the window for the whole ride. “And as for me? And I’m definitely not bothered. Feel free to strangle my arm anytime you like” smiling at her reassuringly. Even though Claire still looked quite embarrassed, she did smile at his attempt at humour. He classified that as a win.

“I just hate having a weakness so silly, you know? I sometimes have to travel a lot for work, and I just get so nervous before I fly. I usually end up taking something to make me sleep the whole flight, which makes me drowsy for the whole day after. It’s frustrating. And I only travel when I have to, never for myself.”

“So, what changed?” Owen questioned, trying not to pry too much but wanting to understand everything about Claire.

She let out a laugh, and nervously tucked her hair behind her ears.

“Let’s just say that I needed some space from my life. I wanted two whole weeks of being somewhere, where no one knew me and no one wanted to know me. Just space to recreate myself. Does that sound crazy?” she said while looking at Owen with fragile eyes. Owen had sensed an underlining insecurity to Claire. Whenever he gave her a compliment or stepped into her personal space, it’s like she believed she didn’t deserve it. Never holding his gaze, always reluctant to talk about herself. She had definitely been burned before. Whoever he was, Owen already had a deep hatred for the man responsible.

“No that doesn’t sound crazy, I think it sounds like you deserve the break. And to put yourself through an eleven-hour flight when you hate flying, means you really needed that space.” Owen stated with an edge of pride in his voice. “But I’m kinda sorry too”

“Sorry? Why?” Claire gave him a questioning look

“Well, you said you wanted to go somewhere, without people wanting to know you. But think I ruined that. Because I really wanna know everything about you Claire.” he whispered quietly, just for the two of them to hear.
Claire turned her head gently to look into his eyes. He could tell she was trying to gage whether he was being serious.

“Trust me, you don’t. I’m kind of a mess.” looking back down at her hands, she gave a self-deprecating laugh.

“Who isn’t? I mean don’t get me wrong some people definitely have their shit together more than others. But Claire, at the end of the day, everybody is just trying to navigate the hand life has dealt them. And I don’t know who hurt you, but they’re not worth it” Owen whispered in a soft voice.

“You don’t know that” she replied in a small voice, which made Owen’s heart clench.

“Hell, yeah I do. You are one of the smartest, strongest and kindest people I've ever met. And I’ve known you a total of one day.” he laughed at how ridiculous that sounded. “But I already know that you deserve the world and that you’re capable of ruling it.”

Once again Claire’s eyes met his and she looked unsure at how to respond at first. She just sat there staring at him for a few seconds, which to Owen felt like hours. Had he over stepped? Maybe acting like he had her all figured out was insulting? He was just about to apologise, when she smiled and put her hand back on his arm.

“Thank you, Owen. I... don’t know what to say other than thank you.”

He let out a sigh of relief and gave her a genuine smile.

“You ain’t gotta thank me darlin’ just saying it how it is.” They both shared a smile before Claire released his arm and turned to look out of the window.

 

The bus pulled into the marina, shortly after Claire and Owen had finished talking. Amé had sat quietly looking out of the window for the entire ride, which Owen was grateful for. As he didn’t think Claire would have been so inclined to open up to him, with a four-year-old asking questions every five minutes. The bus slowly started to empty, as the mixture of tourists and locals poured onto the Greek street. Owen grabbed his daughter’s hand and escorted Claire in the direction of the tour guide with a hand on her lower back.
There they would be led to a large boat, by their tour guide, and told to find a seat. When they saw the boat, Amé’s eyes lit up like Christmas. The boat they would be taking had been fashioned into a pirate ship. It was painted red and yellow, with a black outline. There were two fake crows' nests at the top for affect and tiny little canons stuck to the sides.

“Daddy look! It’s a proper pirates ship” she squealed. “Just like out of Peter Pan.” Amé was just about to run off to the ships gangway when Owen grabbed her arm.

“Hang on baby, we have to wait our turn to get on” he said affectionately.

“Can we sit at the front?” looking at both Claire and Owen.

“I think it’s up to Claire, seeing as she paid for the tickets” Owen said turning his gaze to the redhead in question.

“I think the front will be perfect” Claire said, bending down to poke Amé on the nose. The girl smiled widely as they started to move up the gangway onto the ship.

Once they had taken their seats at the very front of the ship, the tour guide started to speak to the group of about forty tourists in English, about their trip. It would last two hours, where they could get up and move around and even use the toilet aboard. Amé was visibly impatient to set off, Owen noticed her rocking in her chair and occasionally bouncing her foot against his. He chuckled quietly and leaned down to kiss her head.

“You’ll see them soon baby.”

They finally set off after a lot of safety instructions, which no one seemed to be taking much interest in. Even the tour guide losing interest in the end. As the boat pulled away from the Mariana, Amé shot out of her seat to the side of the ship. She peered through the safety railing at the water, in complete wonder.

“She really loves the water huh?” Claire leaned in to whisper in his ear. He had to supress a chill at the feeling of her mouth so close to his ear. He instead let out a chuckle

“Yeah, always has. She is obsessed with anything water related. Except from baths, she’s not so into washing.” It was Claire’s turn to laugh.

“Where does she get that from, I wonder?” she said with an accusatory tone. Owen threw a hand over his heart pretending to be deadly insulted.

“Red, are you accusing me of being unclean?”

Her eyes glistened with humour and she smiled widely. “I’m just saying, she must have picked it up from somewhere.”

“That is all her. Nothing to do with yours truly. I’m always squeaky clean” he further demonstrated his point by rubbing his arm and making a squeaky noise with his mouth. Claire threw her head back and let out a loud laugh, attracting the attention of the other tourists. She turned a deep red and glared at him.

“Stop making me do that”

“What?” giving her a bemused look

“Making me laugh like that. It’s embarrassing” she said while trying to sink lower in her seat. Owen smiled and gave her an unbothered look.

“Maybe for you darlin’ but I’m enjoying it immensely.”

She carried on glaring at him, but there was a small smile playing on her lips.

“So...” she started “I’ve been meaning to ask. How long are you both here for? In Greece I mean.” she broke eye contact again and was looking nonchalantly out to sea. Owen could tell she was trying to look unaffected by whatever his response was. Maybe she was scared he would be leaving tomorrow? He hoped that was the case.

“Well, this is our fourth day. So, we have about ten days left.” he said trying to gage her reaction. If he hadn’t been looking for it, he may have missed the way her lips had quirked up or the way her whole body had slightly relaxed into the chair.

“That’s nice” she started, but then paused. Owen thought that she was finished talking, so went back to keeping an eye on Amé. But then he heard Claire take a deep breath and say

“I’m glad”

“You’re glad?”

“Yes” she paused again. “I’m glad that... that you have more time left. You know, when I’m still here” she finished, still not looking at him but straight ahead. Owen took his time to come up with the right thing to say. Even though Claire was the one admitting to wanting to spend more time with him, he didn’t want to overwhelm her.

“Me too. I know Amé is too.”

 

They spent the next fifteen minutes in a comfortable silence. Both taking turns to be dragged to the side of the boat by an excited four-year-old, wanting to show them every wave the sea had to offer. After about twenty minutes of sailing, the boat came to a standstill with the tour guide informing them to stand up and walk to either side. Owen and Claire joined Amé on the right-hand side and looked over the side of the ship. For the first few minutes, there was just the calm the gentle waves knocking against the hull. Then suddenly someone next to Owen shouted “Over there!” And that’s when Owen saw them.

A pod of dolphins, taking turns to glide through the water and air in perfect unison. He looked down at his daughter with her eyes as wide as saucers. She was trans-fixed on the finned mammals.

“They’re so pretty Daddy.” Amé said quietly. Owen bent down and pointed at them

“How many can you see baby?”

“Um... one.. Two...three” she stopped. “four, five, six... SEVEN! Seven dolphins. That’s a lot” the excitement in her voice was adorable. She has her small hands holding the bars of the safety rail, wanting to get closer.

“Look there’s two more over there honey” Claire had now also bent down to Amé’s level, pointing to the left of where the girl was looking.

“That means seven, eight, NINE! Nine now.” she counted on her fingers. Amé tried to peer further over the ship, but due to her height she was too small. Owen was about to scoop her up but to his surprise, Amé turned to Claire and put her arms up. Indicating she wanted to be held. Owen’s heart thudded at the gesture, and he couldn’t stop from getting emotional at how rare this occurrence was. Claire gave him a brief glance, almost asking for permission which he of course gave with a smile. Then she reached down and hoisted the little girl into her arms. Once Amé was comfortable she started pointing out all the dolphins to Claire, individually. Owen took the opportunity to take his phone out of his pocket and snap a couple of pictures. Just for him.

“Daddy?” Owen looked up from his phone to see both girls looking at him. “Can we get one?”

“You want to keep a dolphin? As a pet?”

“Yes” Amé said from Claire’s hip. “It could sleep in the bath, when you finish building our house” she said with such innocence, Owen didn’t know how to say no. But lucky for him, Claire came to his rescue.

“Sweetie, you can’t keep a dolphin. Because they have to be with their family, don’t they? They need their family to survive. They wouldn’t be very happy if they were separated from them.” Claire said, while gently rocking the small girl.

“I guess” Amé said sadly.

“But maybe when you’re older, you could work with them? Like your daddy. You could work at an aquarium or on a ship like this one. That way the dolphins will still have other dolphins to play with, but you could see them every day.” Claire looked at Owen, checking to see she hadn’t over stepped, but he was too busy smiling at her to notice her nervousness.

“Yeah! That’s what I’ll do. Daddy did you hear that? I going to work at an aquram.” she chatted excitedly. Both adults laughing at her mispronunciation.

“Sounds like a plan baby girl” walking closer to both girls and leaning down to kiss his daughter’s cheek. He then leaned over and mumbled a thank you into Claire’s ear and to his own surprise pressed a kiss into her cheek. When he leaned back, he saw that Claire was slightly shocked, staring at him with wide eyes. But then she bit her lip to try to contain the smile threating to overtake her face.

They spent about another half an hour, watching the dolphins swim around close to their boat, before it was time to start the journey back towards the island. Owen and Claire were once again sitting down, this time near the back, watching Amé tell an elderly British gentleman about how many dolphins she saw.

“She’s very confident, isn’t she?” Claire inquired, watching Amé chat away to the man.

“Depends really. If she’s talking about something she loves, like the ocean she’s quite sure of herself. But usually she’s pretty shy around strangers, especially kids. I think she finds it hard to make friends with kids her age.” he smiled sadly.

“Really? How come?” Claire gave him a concerned look.

“I don’t know. I guess it maybe has something to do with how she grew up. It was just Amee and me for so long, we didn’t really spend a lot of time with other people. I tried to take her to baby classes after she was first born but, I was the only Dad at the group meetings and I guess I kind of felt intimidated after a while.” he rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “So, we went back to just spending days taking walks in the forest near my old house and visiting places round America until Amee had to start school last year.” Claire was now turned towards him, giving her full attention to him.

“Owen, you can tell me to mind my own business if you want but what happened to Amé ‘s mother? I don’t want to overstep but-”

“It’s ok Claire” he stopped her from continuing. “I’m actually surprised it’s taken you this long to ask.” he said with a teasing smile.

“I don’t like to pry, especially if something is painful to relive.” she said softly.

“She’s alive. Well at least I think she is. I haven’t seen her in four years.” Owen took a deep breath and looked out at the ocean.

“Hey, It’s ok Owen. I shouldn't have asked. I’m sorry” Claire said, while taking his hand in hers and softly stroking his thumb.

“No, no it’s fine honestly... It’s just been a while since I’ve talked about her.” staring down at their once again joined hands.

“Look, how about we talk about this later.” Claire said, still caressing his hand. “When we aren’t on a boat surrounded by hundreds of other people in the middle of the Mediterranean.” leading both of them to laugh.
“I’d like that” he said. Claire eventually let go of his hand but not before saying.

“Look Owen I know I don’t know you very well, but the one thing I do know, is that you’re an amazing father. Just seeing what you do for Amé, anyone could see what a brilliant dad you are. I don’t think it matters to a child whether they had one parent or two. The main thing that matters is the amount of love they receive. And I can tell that Amé has more than she could ask for.”
Claire was looking at him softly when she finished giving his hand one more squeeze before dropping it back into his lap.

Hearing that from Claire made his heart beat furiously. He had always made a promise to himself, to put Amé first. Before anything else whatever she needs, she gets. Having to raise her alone meant a lot of lonely days, just Amé to keep him company. But for Owen, that’s all he ever wanted for a long time. But now he’s thinking that maybe having a companion, someone to go through this life with, is what he’s been missing.

“Thanks, Claire. Seriously that means a lot” he said trying not to get chocked up. No one had ever told him that he was a good dad before.

“It’s the truth.”

Chapter Text

Once they got back to the hotel, Amé was currently asleep in Owen’s arms as they walked through the lobby. She had completely worn herself out from the excitement of dolphin watching. Claire looked at the small girl being carried by her father, and smiled fondly at her. After finishing chatting to the British man on the boat, Amé had insisted on sitting next to Claire and then proceeded to fall asleep on her arm.

The day had been so perfect, that Claire couldn’t quite believe how easy it felt. Just spending time with Owen and Amé felt like a dream. There were no harsh words or controlling stares, she felt for the first time in years, at peace. Not to mention Owen’s kind words, which had given her multiple butterflies and a sense of affection for the man, which had also been absent from her life. Calling her strong and intelligent were incredibly liberating. Usually at work and from Josh she was rated on her looks and how tight her skirt was. Very rarely did someone compliment her on her intelligence which she had worked extremely hard for.

She constantly found herself glancing at Owen. She couldn’t resist looking at him, you could say that she was obsessed. Everything Owen said and did made Claire fancy him, a little bit more. His laugh, his hair, his eyes, not to mention his body. She was in dangerous territory when it came to Owen Grady.

Claire had been so pleased when Owen had invited her to join them on their outing. She didn’t want to seem to obvious, but she was glowing inside. And to have Owen open up to her about being a single parent, was surprising. Claire wasn’t used to a man openly talking about his feelings. It felt nice, to be there for someone without feeling like they want something in return.

As they reached the elevators, Owen reached forward with his free arm, to press the button. Claire looked down at her watch and saw that it was only just past four.

“I’m going to put this one down for a nap” Owen said gesturing to Amé’s sleeping form.

“I think she needs it” Claire laughed. “She really tired herself out today.”

“I count it as a win for me. An hour of peace is extremely rare.” Owen smiled just as the elevator doors opened.

They both stood back to allow a family of five, off. Before walking in and pressing their floor numbers. Claire was feeling slightly disappointed at the idea of once again having to separate from the Gradys. Not knowing if she will see them again. Maybe this was just a one-off outing, Owen probably has plans for the rest of the week. Then she will be left to explore the island by herself for the remaining twelve days of her trip.

“Look” Owen started, nervously tapping his fingers against his leg. “I know you’ve already spent the day with us, but I was kinda hoping that... that you’d wanna have dinner with us too? You can say-”

“Yes”
Owen looked taken aback by her fast reply.

“Really?”

“I would love to Owen.” Claire smiled at him shyly. She hadn’t meant to answer so quickly, but there was something about this little girl and her father which made her feel whole. And maybe even a little less broken. She wasn’t ready to part from them yet.

“Well great” he beamed “I had fun today, it was nice. Getting to share this stuff with someone who isn’t a four-year-old.” He laughed.

Claire was touched and was about to reach out when the elevator dinged as it reached Claire’s floor. She stepped out into the hallway and turned back to observe the man holding his sleeping child, over one shoulder.
“So... shall we say six-thirty? Downstairs? We could even go out to eat, if you’d like?” Owen said slowly.

“There is a restaurant I would like to try, it’s not too far away.”

“Sounds perfect” Owen smiled widely at her. The doors started to close when he said a quick goodbye. And then, they were gone.

 

Claire had spent an obscene amount of time getting ready. After she had showered and dried her hair it was already five o’clock. She then had exactly an hour and a half to get ready before meeting Owen and Amé downstairs. That may sound like plenty of time to some people, but for Claire it was barely enough time to think.
The first dilemma came with picking her outfit. She wanted to wear something elegant but not too formal, and would hopefully catch a certain someone's eye. After about half an hour of trying on every single piece of clothing she had bought with her, Claire settled on a light blue dress, with small white swirls patterned down the length of the dress. It was tight around her waist but then flowed out nicely to her mid-thigh. She paired it with some white heels and left her hair down, to dry naturally. She applied minimal makeup up including some mascara and blush, and then she was good to go.

Claire stood in front of the mirror and observed herself. She had to admit, she looked good. But then the nerves hit her. What if Owen thinks this is too much? Should she maybe wear more makeup? Josh always said he fancied her more with makeup on. Her head started to spin and she felt light headed. That was the old Claire, Owen is different. She took a deep breath and turned towards the door.

When she was in the elevator on her way down, she saw that it was six thirty-two. She was never late, to anything. And yet here Claire Dearing was, late to dinner with... friends? They certainly are friendly to her, but she doesn’t really think of Owen as a friend. You’re definitely not supposed to fancy you friends as much as Claire fancies Owen.

She entered the lobby incredibly nervously. She did a quick scan of the room for the familiar faces of the Grady’s but couldn’t find them. Had Owen decided not to come? Maybe he realised that she was a mess and only offered to have dinner with her out of pity. But then just as Claire felt tears rising in the backs of her eyes, she saw Amé come running out of the restaurant on the left-hand side of the lobby, completely unaware of Claire’s presence. She was eating what looked like a bread roll, with Owen following her out. Claire’s body filled with relief. How could she be so silly. Owen has been nothing but kind to her. He wouldn’t do something as cruel as leaving her to stand around waiting for him. As Owen was so far away, he hadn’t spotted her yet. Giving Claire the opportunity to appreciate his appearance from a far.

He was wearing a navy-blue button-down shirt, with dark grey trousers and dark blue dress shoes to finish of the look. His hair looked soft and curly a top of his head, with a small around of product in it, to keep it from falling in front of his eyes. He looked gorgeous. Claire was almost drooling at the sight of his arms in a tight shirt. She found her feet moving in their direction, like there was an invisible gravitational pull.

Amé who was currently stuffing her face with a bread roll, suddenly looked up and saw Claire. She started running over to her and flung herself into Claire’s open arms. She too looked gorgeous, wearing a pink crochet dress, with silver jelly sandals.

“Hey Claire” Amé said once she had stopped hugging her neck.

“Hey sweetie” Claire moved Amé around so she was now sitting with both legs either side of Claire’s hips, looking right at her. “Did you have a good nap?” she said while brushing her long hair back over her shoulders.
“Mhmm, daddy had one too” she giggled. “But he didn’t sleep for very long, because he spent ages picking what to wear” continuing to eat the rest of her roll.

“He did, did he?” Interesting Claire thought. Was Owen nervous too? That did make her feel slightly calmer than she’d felt a few moments ago. Owen took that moment to make his appearance known by coughing. Claire turned around and gently put Amé back on her feet. Owen was looking at Claire with complete awe, going from her feet to her head.

“Claire.... you look... well beautiful” he quietly said.

Her cheeks flamed at his comment, and she instantly looked at the ground. She wasn’t very good at taking compliments. Or maybe it had just been so long since she’d had a compliment, that she had forgotten how to accept them. Owen seeing to notice her discomfort, took two steps forward and gently took her hand.

“Seriously, you really do look stunning.” he smiled at her gently.

Claire shouldn’t like the way she instantly feels better. With a gesture as simple as hand holding, but she does. She can only imagine how it feels to be completely enveloped in his arms. Safe. That’s what she thinks it would feel like. Completely safe.

“Thank you. You look nice too.” she replies, with evident nerves in her tone. But Owen just squeezes her hand for a moment and then drops it before taking a step back. He continues to smile at her though.

“Not bad for someone who apparently doesn’t wash” he crosses his arms in a playful manner. Claire chuckles and tries not to let her eyes drop to his ridiculously toned biceps.

“Oh yes, I forgot. Well your look is definitely an achievement in that case.”

“Wow, that’s the best compliment I've ever had.” he sarcastically replies, though amusement is evident in his eyes. “Sorry about being late, apparently this one here was dying of starvation and needed food immediately.” Pointing at his daughter, who had now finished her bread.

“I was!” Amé pouted with her arms crossed. Claire laughed at the two of them, before taking a step towards Owen.

“Shall we go, the restaurant isn’t too far away from here.” she said tucking her hair behind her ear. “Or we could eat here... I don’t mind.”

“No let’s go out, it’ll be nice.” he winked at her. “I’d trust anything you recommended Claire.”

 

With that they started the walk to the restaurant around the corner from the hotel. It was a pleasant evening out, with the sky just starting to turn a light pink from the hot European sun. The walk consisted of a cobbled street that ran alongside the beach, where they would reach a small, traditional Greek town and the restaurant Claire had heard a lot about.
The conversation flowed easily between the three tourists, with Amé frequently running ahead to play one of her imaginary games' children seem to indulge in. Claire and Owen were taking turns to discuss subjects about their lives. With Owen revealing he currently earns a living as a mechanic since leaving the Navy and lives in Portland, Maine. Claire had gone on to try and explain her job to Owen, without boring him to death and also revealing her last name.

“Dearing” Owen said, as if testing it on his tongue. “I like it. I really like it.”

“It’s just a last name.” she blushed

“Yeah but it suits you. It’s very authoritative, straight to the point you know? Like you” he slowed his pace to match hers, obviously noticing she was wearing heels.

“um... thanks? I think?” confused if the way he described her was a good thing or a bad one. She’s hoping it was a good thing.

“No, it’s totally a good thing. I like how strong you are, it makes a nice change to some of the women I've known. Only saying what they think I want to hear. It’s frustrating.” he rolled his eyes, clearly from a memory. Claire suddenly felt something tighten in her stomach. The idea of Owen being close to another women, hurt. It was ridiculous for her to be even remotely jealous, but she was.

“Thanks, I guess I've always tried to be strong, but some men don’t like that. Well actually, a lot of men don’t like it when women exude confidence. Makes them feel weak.” she looked ahead where she could see Amé skipping in front of them. “It’s kind of nice to hear the opposite from you. Refreshing really.” she smiled at him kindly.

Owen then did something that left her feeling light-headed. He reached for her hand and interlocked both of theirs. He gave her hand a couple of squeezes and turned his green eyes to hers.

“You could never be anything other than strong to me Claire, so I don’t see why other guys should be any different” he slightly started to sway their joined hands, whilst they walked. Claire couldn’t help the butterflies erupting in her stomach at his words. Where had this man been all her life. It definitely sounds cliché but so far, he seemed like the perfect man. He had the perfect daughter, the perfect figure, the perfect smile, perfect mind. It was confusing how he was still single.

“I can’t figure it out” Claire said.

“Figure what out?” he gave her a puzzled look.

“What’s wrong with you?” she quickly continued when she saw Owen’s hurt expression. “No no I mean... like your kind of perfect... and I am just trying to work out what your flaw is. Because everybody has one, I just can’t work out what yours would be” she finished rambling in time to catch a small shadow pass over Owen’s gaze. But it was so fleeting that she couldn’t be sure it was even there.

“Trust me, I am not perfect.” he quietly admitted while looking down at their enjoined hands, still gently swaying like the wind. “But you Claire Dearing” putting emphasis on her last name, making Claire laugh. “You are perfection. In every sense of the word.”

Claire felt giddier than she had ever felt in her whole life. This man would ruin her, for anyone else. She’s never had someone put her on such a high pedestal before, it was incredibly flattering. She just hopes he doesn’t find her flaws that she knows she’s hiding, which could bring her falling to the ground.

“Hey, is this the place?” Owen said, pointing at a little quaint restaurant which was lit up outside by large circular fairy lights and set up outside with wooden decking and large square tables. Claire immediately fell in love with the place, and couldn’t wait to get inside.

“Yes. It’s so cute” Claire couldn’t contain the excitement in her tone.

“Daddy” Amé came running up to them, leading Claire to drop their hands before they confused the little girl about the status of their relationship. “Is this where we’re eating? Because it’s so pretty” she reached for her dads' hand.

“I think it is baby. You still hungry?” Owen replied, bending down to tickle his daughter.

“Stop Daddy” she squirmed trying to get away from his offending hands while squealing with laughter. “Yes, I’m starving.”

“Right then, let’s get in there” Owen looked at Claire and nodded his head.

“Let’s go feed this hungry little fish” she winked at Amé, who reached up and took Claire’s hand so they were all joined in a line. Claire felt so warm at the picture they must be projecting. Looking like the perfect little family, on vacation in Greece.

 

When they were seated by one of the waiters, with Claire having to translate everything, they all started looking through the menu which was luckily in Greek and English. Owen had asked Claire where she wanted to sit, knowing full well her eyes had lit up at the outside seating. She had smiled and pointed to a little table at the edge of the decking, with a perfect view of the beach. So here they all were, looking through menus, in front of a Greek sunset, footsteps from the beach with a cool sea breeze surrounding them. Claire didn’t think she’d ever been this content in her life.

But of course, the world had other ideas for her. Because at that moment her phone started ringing. Claire tried to ignore it for the first few rings, hoping it was just a cold caller trying to sell her something. But it persisted, so she reached under the table for her clutch and plucked her phone out. At the time, Owen had been telling Claire about the rustic cabin he was currently building back home. Claire had to admit even though she’d never been a very woodsy kind of girl. The idea of having a small cabin next to a lake surrounded by woodland, did sound very appealing. Especially if Owen was going to be there too.

“I’ve nearly finished the roof now, once that’s done, I’ve just gotta... Claire? You ok?” Owen stopped enthusiastically discussing his up and coming building plans due to Claire’s pale complexion. Claire’s whole face had dropped.
A stark comparison from the care free expression she had been wearing all night. When she had looked down at her phone, expecting to see her sister’s name sprawled across her screen, but finding none other than Josh’s name flashing at her, Claire froze. Karen had been messaging her a few times since she’d landed, so it was obvious to Claire that due to her lack of response, Karen would be calling to know all the details about what her younger sister had been getting up to. Not for one second did Clarie expect to find her ex’s name demanding her attention.

“Claire... what’s wrong?” Owen not receiving an answer the first time, tired a second. But Claire was still staring down at her phone in complete shock.

Five months. It had been five months. With no contact or communication. And now suddenly when she finally starts to feel ok, starts to feel like the old Claire Dearing, he has to bring it all crashing to the ground. With one phone call. It shouldn't be that easy, but it is. She should realise that Josh is old news and they’ve been broken up for nearly half a year so she is free to move on now, start again. But she can’t.
The old insecurities start to creep in. Can she be good enough for someone who isn’t Josh? Is she successful enough in her field at work? Will Owen ever see what Josh clearly saw in her. Suddenly her attention was broken from the ringing phone as she felt a large warm hand, cover hers.

“Hey, Claire it’s ok” he whispered calmly. “Breath. That’s it, easy baby girl. Just copy me ok” he demonstrated taking a large breath and then slowly releasing it. Claire stared into Owen’s deep green eyes and tried to focus on her breathing. She hadn’t even realised she’d been panting or that her eyes had started to fill with water, every part of her had been focussed on not answering that phone. A thought suddenly struck her.

“Amé?” she chocked out. “Where’s Amé?” noticing the child’s absence from the table.

“It’s ok, she’s over there” he pointed over to the other side of the decking, from where he was now kneeling next to her chair on the floor. “I gave her my phone to take pictures of the sunset. It’s one of her favourite things at the moment, taking pictures. Well, besides you.” he smiled at her, rubbing his hand gently over her arm.

“That’s cute” she mumbled over a teary smile. She glanced around quickly, relieved to see that there was no one else sitting outside, at least she hadn’t embarrassed Owen further. “I’m so sorry Owen, I can’t imagine what you must think of me, how embarrassed you must be... I am really-” Owen cut her off by putting his finger to her lips.

“Claire, I don’t care about any of that. I just want to know you’re ok. What happened?” He gazed concerningly at her, drawing lazy circles on her hand.

“I... It’s nothing really”

“Claire that was not nothing, you were nearly having a full-blown panic attack.” he softly but firmly said. “Who called you?”

Claire didn’t want to tell Owen. She didn’t want to ruin this beautiful thing they had going on. She definitely didn’t want to put a huge downer on the whole evening. But his eyes, they demanded the truth. And he deserved it. Here she was, about to knock herself from that perfect pedestal he had put her on.

“My ex” she replied, weakly.

Owen didn’t say anything to that, but he hadn’t stopped rubbing circles into her hand so at least he wasn’t completely disgusted with her.

“We broke up five months ago and I haven’t heard from him since. But he suddenly calls me, out of the blue and... I don’t know... everything about that relationship just came flooding back.” There were a couple of tears now making their way down her cheeks as she spoke. “And let me tell you, there wasn’t many good things to remember.” she bitterly chuckled.

Owen then released Claire’s hand, and for one horrible moment Claire thought that he might stand up and walk away. Take Amé’s hand and leave her here, alone. She properly wouldn’t blame him if he did.
But of course, Owen Grady was something of an angel, as he wiped her cheeks with his hand and gently pulled her to her feet.

“Now, I’m not going to try and understand what you’ve been through Claire. But you are truly amazing. And I’m not going to ask you to explain what just happened anymore, ok? I just want you to know that Amé and I, we really like you and honestly you have kind of made this holiday ten times better.” he was staring directly at her and holding her hands, captive in his. “Whatever that jerk did to make you feel like that... it breaks my heart because, you are worth more.”

He brought her into his arms then, hugging her tightly to him. Claire melted into his embrace, still feeling slightly light headed after that whole ordeal. She noticed the way they fit together so perfectly. It was like coming home.
“So” Owen started. “Let’s have some amazing food and wine, and try to forget about things that do not define us.” he whispered in her ear.

Claire smiled at him and was about to reply when they heard a..“Daddy, look at these”

Owen then dropped his arms from around Claire, but still keeping a hand on her lower back. He turned around to take in his daughter thrusting his phone into his stomach.

“I took them all by myself Daddy! They’re pretty” Amé smiled sweetly at him while trying to get them into his eyeline. Owen chuckled and bent down to pick her up. He then proceeded to take the phone from her hand and scroll through the blur of photos she’d taken.

“They’re so good hunny, wow” he jiggled Amé in his arms making her laugh.

Claire was observing the whole scene with fondness, nearly completely forgetting the emotional turmoil she’d just been through. She took a deep breath to try and steady herself. Amé seemly noticing Claire’s lack of input suddenly turned towards her.

“You’re upset” she stated. Claire suddenly felt panicked by the fact Amé has obviously noticed her red eyes and dried tear tracks. “I can make it better” then all Claire saw was two little arms reaching for her. Her eyes shot to Owen who was already passing Amé into her waiting arms. The little girl instantly wrapped her legs around Claire’s waist and her tiny arms around her neck. Claire felt like she was going to start crying again, but for a whole other reason. This amazing family, who have been so kind to her and made her feel valued, she didn’t have the words for how it felt.

Just at that moment, a waiter came out of the restaurant to take their order, looking slightly confused as to why they were all standing up. Claire quickly sat back in her chair, with Amé glued to her front, to repeat her order to the waiter. Owen did the same, for both his and Amé’s food and then they were left alone again.

“Do you feel better now?” Amé’s little voice mumbled from Claire’s chest.

“So much” Claire smiled down at the little girl while stroking her hair.

“Amee baby, why don’t you come and sit down now, your foods gonna be here real soon.” Owen said while pouring Claire some wine the waiter had brought. He was clearly trying to not overwhelm Claire with Amé’s clinginess, but Claire just smiled at him trying to portray her ease in the situation.

“But Daddy, you said that when someone’s sad you have to make them better” Amé turned her head towards her dad to put her point across. Before Owen could reply, Claire butted in.
“Sweetie, I feel tons better now. Your hugs are the perfect medicine” kissing Amé on her cheek, making her giggle.

“That’s what daddy says too.” the little girl smiled and jumped down from Claire’s lap to climb back into her chair across the table.

 

The rest of the meal went by without a hitch. There was a lot of food, laughter and for Owen and Claire red wine. Claire was very aware, that to anyone else they looked like a family. The waiter had even confused them as such, when Owen had taken Amé to the restroom. The waiter had returned for dessert orders, he’d asked whether he should come back when her husband and daughter had returned. Claire had just smiled and told him what Amé and Owen had wanted.

She couldn’t explain the feeling of she felt at his suggestion. She knew there was no point in correcting the kind man, but she kind of felt guilty not correcting him. Maybe she was in too deep with these two amazing souls. Was she ready to potentially dive in to another relationship? And not just with a man, but with a four-year-old? That fact should scare her, but Amé was such a delight it didn’t even phase her. No, the problem was with Owen. Not that Owen is a problem, he’s properly one of the best humans Claire has ever met. It was her own emotional scars which could pose an issue.
She really liked Owen and he made her feel special for the first time in forever but, she would properly find a way to ruin it.

This was all speculation anyway. It’s not like they lived in the same state back home, they lived precisely an hour and a half by plane and over five hours by car, she knew this because she had researched it thoroughly. Not that she even really knew if that’s what Owen wanted. Maybe he’s just looking for a vacation fling? But Claire doesn’t think he would let Amé get involved with Claire if that was the case. God, sometimes her own head annoys her.
“You still with us red?” Owen’s gruff voice cut through her thoughts, as she found they had returned from the toilet and were now sitting in front of her.

“Sorry, yeah just thinking about... Um coffee” she lied. Owen gave her a look which meant he didn’t buy it, but nonetheless he played along.

“Coffee huh? Bad stuff, addictive” he playfully winked at her. “You know what’s better than coffee?” he paused, clearly wanting her to guess. Claire rolled her eyes.

“I don’t know Owen. Wine?”

“Well yeah, but that’s not what I was getting at.” he huffed

“What’s better than coffee?”

“ICE CREAM” he bellowed, making Amé laugh and copy her father.

“Of course, how could I have forgotten your addiction to ice cream?” she said sarcastically

“I don’t know? But you are forgiven” he said after fake deliberation.

“Why thank you sir.” Claire dramatically said, giving a small bow in her chair.

 

After all the ice cream the restaurant possessed had been devoured by both Gradys, they started the walk back to their hotel. The evening was extremely pleasant with a gentle breeze blowing up from the beach and the sound of cicadas chirping away in the background. Owen and Claire walked in a comfortable silence, with their hands brushing lightly together every so often.

Amé was clearly fading fast by the time they’d reached the entrance of their hotel, walking slower and falling behind the two adults. It was already nine o’clock Claire discovered when looking down at her watch. She’d done well to stay awake this long. Once they were all in the elevator, Owen picked Amé up as she started to moan about being tired. He slowly stroked her back as she lay her head on his shoulder.

“Thank you for tonight Owen, and I’m sorry about earlier” she blushed thinking about the meltdown she’d had, feeling like it felt years ago.

“Stop apologising Red, I don’t mind honestly. I just didn't like seeing you like that” he admitted shyly. Pausing before saying “I hate that you’ve been through pain like that. I don’t understand why someone would do that to you?”

“I used to think that. But now? I’m not so sure.” she looked to her feet, not wanting to see the disappointment in Owen’s kind eyes.

“Claire I-” The doors of the elevator interrupted him; they’d reached Claire’s floor.

“Well, I guess this is me” she said starting to move towards the exit.

“Wait” Owen grabbed her arm with the hand not currently holding a sleeping Amé. “Would you maybe like to have a nightcap? I mean I’ve got these complimentary beers in my room which I've been meaning to crack open but haven’t got around to it.” he was speaking extremely quickly, almost rambling. “It’s just, I want to chat some more, you know? But I totally get if I’m being too forward and you can say no.” He was once again interrupted by the elevator doors which were now trying to close on Claire’s back. As she was currently standing in between the doors with Owen holding her arm. The doors opened again once they noticed an obstruction.

Claire should say no. She should kindly decline and go back to her room, wash her face and go to bed. But she really enjoys talking to Owen, more than anyone else she’s ever met. It’s easy and she knows he would never judge her. But this would definitely blur the already grey lines. If she went back to his room, there's no saying they are just friends. They are something more, not that Claire knows what ‘more’ means.

“I’m sorry I asked, I didn’t mean to make things weird” he looked defeated when Claire suddenly realised, she’d just been standing there with a shocked expression on her face. He must of thought, that she was horrified.

“No, no Owen you dind’t make things weird. I-I would love to join you.”

The grin that broke out over his face, was totally worth the slight apprehension Claire had towards the decision. He slid his hand down her arm to her fingers, interlocking theirs and gave her a light tug.
“Well, in that case, we’ve got some beers with our names on them.” he chuckled.

And with that the doors closed. With Claire standing on the inside, instead of the out.
Leaving the corridor to floor five, unoccupied.

Chapter Text

Owen was angry. There was no getting around it. He was furious.

During his time spent in the marines he had gotten a pretty good grip on his anger. Letting things effect you wouldn’t bode well for you, long term. Always moving on, never obsessing about things that irritated him. He used the same strategy when raising Amé. After being left to raise his two-month-old daughter alone, he decided to make life as easy and simple for her. Choosing to move to a small town and live in the middle of a forest was a big part of that decision.

He’s moved into his mom’s house after Kelly had first abandoned Amé and him. Hoping having his mom there would help the overwhelming desire to run away. And it did, at first, but the more time he spent there, he just wanted a home for Amé that was safe, comfy and most of all, where she felt wanted. All the time.

He hadn’t felt an anger this raw since Kelly had left him at three in the morning, drunk off her ass. With a weak apology on her lips as she tried to kiss him. ‘Owen I can’t do this anymore. ’I wasn’t meant to be a mother, you know that.’ ‘You wanted her more than I did.’ That feeling of bitter disappointment, thinking you knew someone so well but all along they were playing you.

But seeing Claire’s reaction after one phone call, that was up there with the angriest he’s ever felt. Of course, he didn’t want Claire to think he was coming across too intensely, so he’d simply tried to focus all of his energy on making sure she was ok.

How could any man treat Claire with anything less than gentle care? She’s the picture of perfection. Kind, intelligent, strong and not to mention drop dead gorgeous.
To think someone made her feel anything less than that, lights something inside of Owen he thought he’d buried. He wanted to find her ex and break him, punch him, ruin him. Tell him all of the things he has clearly told Claire in the past, and make sure he believes them. But of course, he doesn’t have the power to do that. The only thing he could do to tame the fire roaring inside him is to make Claire feel cherished. Make sure she knows; Claire Dearing is in control of her emotions.

 

They were currently walking down the hallway of floor seven, towards Owen’s room in an almost awkward silence. They’d briefly chatted in the elevator, after the doors had closed to Claire’s floor, but since then, there’d been silence. Owen didn’t know if he’d maybe overstepped inviting her to join him for a drink, in his hotel room. He just hadn’t wanted to leave her alone, not after seeing her so broken.

He hadn’t felt this way before. Even with Kelly, they’d been on and off since high school. Every time Owen would come back from a mission overseas, they’d reconnect due to loneliness or emotional wounds. There were never any long-term strings attached, so it used to work. That was until Kelly fell pregnant at twenty-five during one of Owen’s leaves from the navy. They’d both freaked out initially, complaining how it would never work out because Owen was away for months on end and Kelly didn’t want to be a mom, due to unresolved issues with her own.
However, after a night of too many whiskeys, Owen had gone home feeling slightly elated at the chance to be a dad. Never had he believed it was possible for him to potentially have a child, due to his job but now he had a chance.

“Owen?” Claire whispered, trying not to wake Amé. “Do you have your key card?”

Owen broke out of his thoughts to find Claire staring at him.

“Oh yeah sorry.” He blushed, realising that they had reached his hotel room and started to root around in his back pocket for the key. Once he’d successfully located it, he swiped the card and pushed the door open with his foot. He headed for the bedroom which was at the end of the hotel room hallway.

“I’ll just put her down” he whispered over his shoulder.

“Okay”

 

Owen walked through into the large bedroom, which had a large king-sized bed in the middle of the room. With a small single bed tucked into one corner of the room. He’d been trying to encourage Amé to sleep in her own bed since they’d been in Greece. When the cabin was finally finished, Amé would have her own bedroom. Meaning she’d need to get used to sleeping by herself. For a long time because they were living in a caravan, there was only one double bed available. Amé had got so accustomed to sleeping in a bed with Owen that he was having a hard time teaching her to sleep alone.

He gently put her down on the bed and carefully changed her clothes. Once he’d got her into her pyjamas, he tucked her in and kissed her on the head. He stared at her briefly, smiling at how cute she always looked asleep.
Once he had pulled the door quietly closed, Owen walked to where he’d left Claire by the door and his stomach dropped when she wasn’t there. Not on the sofa, not standing by the door, nowhere. Had she changed her mind? Maybe she regretted accepting his offer and didn’t want to be alone with him. But before he could majorly start to freak out, he heard the chain flush in the bathroom and a few seconds later Claire emerged from the white marble bathroom.

He let out a sigh of relief and smiled at her. She must have sensed his distress though as she quirked an eyebrow at him.

“Think I was leaving already?” There was a knowing smile playing on her lips as she took off her heels before sitting on the couch turning herself towards him. She began gently rubbing her feet as she’d been wearing those heels all night. Owen has never really understood why women put themselves through such pain for an outfit. But he had to admit, Claire looked smoking hot in those killer heels. “You just going to stand there Grady?” He heard, realising that he’d stupidly been standing outside the bedroom door for way too long. But Claire was giving him a fond expression, so he didn’t feel too embarrassed.

“Yeah, I was just… thinking” he admitted, joining her on the couch, letting his arm land on the back of the couch. Close but not too close. But he could reach out and feel the ends of her hair if he really wanted to.

“What had you thinking so hard?” Claire chuckled at him. Leaning her head on her hand. From this position Owen could see the colour of Claire’s eyes perfectly. The light which luminous the room, shows the small flecks of gold in her green eyes. He could honestly stare at her eyes all day, slowly get lost in her.

“Just wondering why women put themselves through agony, wearing shoes which could properly pass as small stilts.” He questioned seriously. Claire let out a quiet laugh with an eye-roll to finish.

“Because heels give women power. Well I think they do anyway.” She moaned slightly while continuing to massage the balls of her feet. “But I get your point.” Owen couldn’t help but feel a small fire light in the pit of his stomach at hearing her moan. Finding it hard to concentrate on anything but that sound.

“I get it, I feel lost without my combat boots at home. They’re kinda modelled to my feet I wear them that much.” He chuckled running a hand through his curls. He saw Claire’s eyes flicker to his hair and saw her hand twitch. He almost felt like she was trying not to reach out and touch it. He wouldn’t mind if she wanted to touch his hair, he wouldn’t mind at all.

“I can imagine you wearing combat boots.” She had stopped rubbing the soles of her feet now, looking incredibly at home sitting on his hotel room couch. He could definitely get used to this, that’s for sure. He’d never had a huge faith growing up. Yes, his grandparents used to take him to church on Sundays when he was a boy, but since then he’d never really thought about God. Until now that is.
Now he truly believes that someone had put Claire in his path, knowing he needed someone like her. And maybe even knowing that she, needed someone like him too.

“So,” Owen said not really wanting to ruin the relaxed mood that had been created, but he wanted to know more about Claire’s turmoil earlier. He wanted to help her face her demons. “You wanna tell me what happened at dinner?” he pried gently. Claire’s eyes filled with worry and she turned her head away from him. “Claire, I just wanna help you, that’s all.”

“I don’t-I don’t know how to talk about it.” she whispered after a moment of silence. He could tell how defeated she looked about the whole situation. Owen didn’t want to out her through more pain, so he reached out and took her hand.

“Look, you can tell me as much or as little as you like. I just wanna be here for you.” he gently ran his thumb over the back of her hand, sensing her relax slightly at the feeling. Claire closed her eyes and took a deep breath; she still had her head turned away from him, but Owen knew it was because she was still slightly embarrassed about earlier, at dinner.

“I was twenty-two. I didn't have many friends after I left college, I was kind of a loner” she chuckled. “Always so driven by work, I didn’t really see the need for friends.” she looked down at their joined hands and smiled, bringing them into her lap. “I was fresh out of college and had recently moved to New York on an internship with a company called United Corp. I couldn’t believe I'd got the job because everyone in my business class wanted it.”

“I believe it” Owen butted in, being rewarded with a squeeze on his hand.

“I was so happy. For the first time in my life I believed that all the hard work I'd put in to my education had paid off.” She was now absentmindedly drawing circles on Owen’s hand. He felt his skin set on fire where Claire was running her fingers over it. But he didn’t want to interrupt her admission so he kept very still. “It stayed like that for a while. I put in long hours, for decent pay and I was really happy. I realised that this is what I'd been missing. I’d been working there for about a year, the only women in a sea of men just waiting for the opportunity to start climbing the ladder of executives. When he started” she said his name with a great deal of hatred, eyes flaring at the mention of him. “His name is Josh Fields. He got a position which had opened up in HR. He’d recently moved to New York from Chicago where he’d been the head of HR for a big shot banking company. It’s ironic really, how he was the head of human resources when he doesn’t know the first thing about interacting with other people.” Claire paused and Owen didn’t know if she’d had enough of talking so he squeezed her hand.

“Claire, if you don’t wanna talk about it-”

“No, it’s ok. I want to tell you.” she gave him a weak smile, before continuing. “I guess he saw me as easy prey. You know, I was a young insecure woman, surrounded by high powered men, and most of the time I felt out of my depth. A lot of times, the other men they would talk down to me or send me in to some of their meetings knowing their clients could be slightly handsy.”

Owen eyes flared at her admission, the hand that wasn’t holding Claire’s tightening until it turned white. He hated the idea of someone taking advantage of her like that. He had his eyes gazing at the ceiling until he felt Claire tugging in his sleeve.

“Hey Owen, it’s ok. It was a long time ago” she said softly

“Doesn’t make it right” he said through gritted teeth, trying to get his anger under control. He then realised he had interrupted Claire and turned to apologise. “I’m so sorry you were talking... I didn’t mean to-”

Claire stopped him by leaning forward and quickly pecking his cheek. It happened so fast, that Owen had to stop and remind himself that it really happened. Claire was blushing now while biting her lip. The lip which had just been touching Owen’s skin.

“You’re very sweet to care Owen.” looking directly at him with their hands still joined.

“I don’t like the idea of you being in a position you’re not comfortable with.”

“Me neither. But sometimes as a woman, it happens. Especially in a workplace filled with businessmen. They feel untouchable.”

“Well they’re definitely not untouchable to me” Owen seethed under his breath, which Claire must have heard because she laughed, patting his hand.

“Anyway, he cornered me one day. I’d been having a tough time fitting into the fast pace of the city life, and Josh said that he could help me find my rhythm. We would meet in his office for a couple of hours a week, just talking about any worries I had. I told him about feeling isolated being the only woman and he was understanding.” Claire’s eyes held a bitter stare as she gazed in front of her, eyes glazed over from the memoires. “He must have sensed where my insecurities lay, because he started paying me attention and telling me how smart I was and how I put all the other men to shame in the boardrooms. And I guess because I was dying for some sort of validation from someone, I fell for it. Then things started to change. Instead of commenting on my business skills, he started commenting on my looks. Telling me I was beautiful and stunning, buying me small gifts such as flowers and jewellery. I felt cherished. But I was just naïve.”

“Claire you were twenty-two, it wasn’t your fault. How old was he?” Owen said, proceeding to run his fingers gently over her hand, trying to show her his support.

“Thirty-one” she said reluctantly. She looked ashamed. Looking down at their hands, avoiding Owen’s gaze. He felt that anger from earlier arise, the man was nearly a whole decade older than Claire, manipulating her into feeling wanted. But Claire didn’t need his anger. She needed his care and comfort.

“Claire, it wasn’t your fault.” He got up from the couch to kneel down in front of her, trying to catch her eye. “Claire, look at me.” She hesitantly met his gaze.

“I was stupid Owen; I should have realised he was only in it for the power. He liked having a young girl at his beck and call. I was so flattered that someone in his position found me attractive that I listened to everything he told me.” her eyes slowly began to fill, and Owen could tell she was trying not to cry. “He would tell me that I shouldn’t go for a promotion because I wasn’t influential enough, no one would listen to me. That I shouldn't wear that dress because it made me look easy.” Tears were now running down her cheeks as she began to sob. “I can’t believe how much time I wasted with him; I wish.... I-”
Owen couldn’t bare it any longer. He got up from where he was kneeling to sit beside her.

Owen gently put one arm around her shoulders, not wanting to scare her, but to his surprise, Claire fell into his arms with ease. She rested her head on the crook of his neck and began to quietly sob while Owen started to run his hand up and down her arm.

“Shhh sweetheart it’s ok” he whispered into her ear. “It wasn’t your fault Claire; you have to believe that. He knew what he was doing, he should have known better. And I promise you, you tell me where he lives and I will go tell him myself.” He said with vengeance, kissing the top of her head. Claire laughed wetly, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. She still had her head in his shoulder but she’d stopped sobbing now. Owen took that as a plus.

“I’m sorry” her small voice came, muffled by his shirt

“Please stop apologising Red, I’m glad I can be here for you.” he said pulling her closer to him.

“It’s just, I’ve never.... told anyone about this before. Not even my sister.”

“Really? How come?”

“I just couldn't face it. I didn’t want to disappoint her. All through school I was the sensible one you know, never making mistakes with boys, being extra cautious. I wasn’t ready for her to see me in the same light she sees everyone else.” She admitted, mindlessly tracing circles into Owens arm. Owen felt honoured that Claire had shared this part of herself with him. He wanted to let her know that he would not take that for granted.

“Well in that case, I am honoured that you shared this with me. It takes someone incredibly strong to share their darkest demons with someone Claire. Trust me, I know.” Owen wished he could share with Claire his heartbreak and the demons he struggles with, but he he’s scared he’ll frighten her away. That would properly break him.

“You’re kind of amazing, you know that?” Claire smiled looking up at him with teary eyes. He felt his whole face light up, having the over whelming desire to lean down and kiss her. She was looking at him like she wanted the same. He slowly moved his head forward as she inched hers closer. He could almost taste her lips before Claire suddenly shot back. She looked scared her eyes moving quickly back and forward.

“Claire what?-”

“I’m sorry I can’t. It’s not that I don’t want to it’s just I haven't kissed anyone since him and I don’t want to rush anything. I just can’t get my heart broken again Owen, I can’t. We’re only on vacation and I don’t want to get into something that’s only temporary just to have it ripped away from me I can’t” She was breathing very fast; Owen could tell in his experience she was on the verge of a panic attack. He quickly moved towards her.

“Claire hey hey, slow down. I’m sorry if I pressured you. I never wanted to do that.” He took her hands giving her eyes filled with apologies.

“No, you didn’t, I wanted to, want to. And you’ve been nothing but sweet and kind but I can’t get my heart broken again Owen. Not like last time.” her tears are back but this time, they don’t fall. Claire is letting him see her vulnerable side, Owen isn't going to take that for granted.

“Ok deep breath for me ok.” He tucks her red hair behind her ear. Watching as her breathing returns to normal. “Why don’t we just see how things go. No pressure, just spending time together, doing things tourists do. You, me and Amé. And if after a few days' things are a bit clearer, we can re-evaluate? How’s that sound” he smiled at her.

Claire seemed to melt at his words. Taking him by surprise and flinging herself into his arms. Hands tight around his neck, her body now partly laying on him.

“That sounds awesome” she whispered in his ear. “Thank you Owen, I don’t know what I did to deserve knowing you but I’m so glad I do.” Her words melted Owen to the core, he ran his hands up her back, not knowing if he would get another chance.

“It’s me who’s the lucky one”

Claire then slowly peeled herself off him. Sitting up straight, and smoothing out her now rumbled dress.

“Well, I guess I should be going back to my room. Maybe we could save the beers for another night?” she gave him a hopeful glance.

“Definitely” he said standing up and offering her his hand. She took it with a small smile, Owen pulling her to stand in front of him. He kept hold of her hand as he walked her to the hotel door. Gently swaying their hands when they came to a stop.

“Why don’t you meet Amé and I down at the beach tomorrow? We could just spend some time chilling.” he felt nervous at the prospect of rejection. He knows Claire just said she wanted to take things real slow, maybe that meant a few days apart. He felt her rubbing his hand and taking a step towards him.

“Owen, just because I can’t deal with whatever this is yet” she motioned in the space between the two of them. “Doesn’t mean I don’t want to see you guys. I love your company.” she smiled sweetly at him.

“So, ten at the beach?”

“Sounds perfect.” Owen sagged in relief, knowing he was seeing her tomorrow a great weight off his mind. He was running out of excuses to see her.

“Ok, well sleep well.” he murmured awkwardly, still holding her hand. Claire then surprised him again by stepping forward until she was chest to chest with him and gently leaning up to peck his cheek.

“Thank you for this evening Owen. You have no idea what it means to me.”

Then, she was gone. Down the hallway to the elevators. Walking away with the grace, that only she possessed.

Owen slowly closed the door, leaning back against it, until his head hit the wood. He wasn’t sure what they were or what they would ever be, but one thing was for sure.

Claire Dearing will be the death of him.

Chapter Text

Claire had been nervous after leaving Owen’s hotel room. She worried that maybe she’d made her feelings too obvious. She hadn’t meant to start crying again, she never cried in front of anyone. But Owen had been so sweet and understanding, he made her feel safe to reveal all her emotional scars. But she was still nervous.

When she’d reached her room, she spent about half an hour just sitting on the plush white bedding, staring at the wall. She thought about how natural it felt to talk to Owen, how much she laughed when she was around him. How her heart felt lighter when Amé hugged her. How much she wanted to be a part of their lives. While she was thinking about this, she realised for the first time in forever, she wasn’t scared by the prospect of a relationship. She found herself longing for only the things Owen could supply. Laughs, support, hugs, kisses. She wanted it all.

So, Claire made a vow to herself. She would give this a try. She would take things day by day, like Owen had suggested and she would see if things could work out. The fact that they both lived in two completely different states did keep flickering in Claire’s mind, but she tried to block that out for now. But Claire was tired of denying herself things because of fear. Owen was one thing she was not going to pass on.

It had been three days since that night in Owen’s room. Since Claire had broken down over dinner due to an unwanted call from her ex. That all felt like a distance memory now, that pain she had relived. Because these last few days had felt like pure heaven. They had been some of the best days of Claire’s life. They had done exactly as they promised, meeting down at the beach at ten o’clock. Claire had arrived to find Owen and Amé already setting up their camp near the water. She noticed immediately that there were three towels on the sand, making Claire feel giddy that Owen had got her a towel as well. Claire’s eyes had moved from the towel to Owen’s physique. He was wearing black swimming shorts, with an olive-green t-shirt which was tight on his upper body, making Claire nearly drool at the sight of his arms. But still put out she hadn’t got to see his bare torso yet.

She couldn’t pretend that she hadn't picked her outfit with him in mind. Knowing his nickname for her, Claire had picked out her red bikini, which she usually wasn’t too keen on wearing. It was rather on the skimpy side, compared to the other ones she owned. But Owen’s reaction made it worth the slight leering looks she’d received by some of the men, during her walk down to the beach. When Owen had caught sight of her, he’d been blowing up Amé’s beach ball with the little girl sitting on the purple towel playing with a bucket and spade. Owen’s eyes had dropped to observe Claire’s body and he had accidentally let his hands go slack, leaving the half-inflated ball fall to the sand. His mouth had fallen open as she finally reached where they had set up. She couldn’t help but feel hot under Owen’s gaze, but it wasn’t like she had felt earlier when someone had cat-called her, she felt admired and kind of beautiful. Claire had often found Owen staring at her over the last three days, with a certain level of admiration. She’d always reward him with a smile or squeeze of his hand.

 

They’d spent every day on the beach. With Claire and Owen taking turns playing with Amé in the water. Owen had even come to join them on one occasion, picking Amé up and throwing her into the air. This seemed to be Amé’s favourite game as she would repeatedly ask her dad to throw her into the water, screaming with delight when he did. Owen didn’t leave Claire out of the fun either. On the second day at the beach Claire had been taking a peaceful swim, watching the waves glisten in the sun, when suddenly she felt two large arms grab her from under the water. Claire had let out the loudest scream as she was hoisted onto Owen’s shoulders, grabbing hold of his head for balance. She couldn’t believe how strong this man was, she knew she wasn’t very heavy but still it definitely turned her on a little, watching how easy he can man-handle her.

“Don’t drown me pretty girl.” He’d laughed while trying to stand up straight in the water.

“Damn you Grady!” She’d squealed. Claire couldn't help but be aware how his shoulders felt under her legs, and how his wet hair felt under her fingers. He obviously thought this wasn’t entertaining enough though, as he then threw her behind his head into the cool sea water. Seconds later Claire had returned to the surface spluttering, to find a grinning Owen, holding his arms out to her.

“My bad” He cheekily said, looking anything but guilty.

“Oh, you’re going to pay for that!” Then she had dove for him, reaching out with her arms for purchase on any part of him. But Owen was quicker, swimming in the opposite direction. Claire chased him through the water, Owen going around in circles teasing her. Until Claire finally yanked onto his arm, pulling herself towards him. What she hadn’t accounted for was Owen pulling his arm away from her, in his attempt to escape. Leading to Claire being pulled into Owen’s strong arms and leaving them chest to chest.

For a moment, neither of them had moved. They stood shoulder deep in water, looking at each other. Then Claire had felt Owen drop his arms from around her, looking very sheepish.

“I’m sorry” he’d said “I didn’t mean to... you know do-” but Claire didn’t want to hear that. So, she’d wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and smiled at him.

“It’s ok. I like this” Claire had gestured with her eyes between the two of them. Owen had looked very pleased at her declaration, as he had wrapped her tightly in his arms and started to sway them in the water. Claire had closed her eyes and enjoyed the feel of being so close to him. HIs arms were so strong yet soft on her torso, she found herself being lulled to sleep by the lapping of the waves on both their bodies.

They were eventually interrupted by Amé, who was sitting on the beach building a princess castle. She’d shouted at them that she was hungry and needed ice cream. Owen had rolled his eyes at his daughter’s obsession with the cold dessert, before Claire reminded him that she gained that love from him. That is how the three days had been, bliss. Uncomplicated bliss. Just relaxation and revival. Well, that’s how it had felt for Claire.

 

She was currently laying on her towel, surrounded by inflatables and sparkly buckets watching Owen and Amé play in the water. This was their fourth day by the beach, but it still didn’t feel like enough. Claire was all too aware of their pending departure from this island in six days. It sounded like a lot, but Claire knows how quickly the time has flown already. She is trying to forget about how, when they leave, she might never see them again. In six days, the wonderful memories she’s made, will be just something to think about when she’s alone in New York. Claire hasn’t wanted to broach the subject with Owen, as they’ve been taking thinks slow and it’s been going well, she doesn’t want to put a damper on the day. And if she’d being honest, she doesn’t know if she wants to hear Owen’s response. Knowing she’d be heartbroken if he replied with a simple ‘We will go our separate ways’.

Claire was snapped from her thoughts as someone stood over her, blocking out the sun. Owen, who had clearly just got out of the sea, was towel drying his hair and dripping water all over her. She was pleased to notice however that his black t-shirt he wore, was clinging to his body. Showing incredibly defined abs. She also didn’t miss the way his eyes glances over her body, taking in her coral pink bikini with small frills around the edges.

“You sure you don’t wanna come in Red? It’s pretty nice out there." Tearing his eyes away from her and sitting at the edge of her towel.

“Oh no thank you, I’ve learnt my lesson from last time.” she smirked, remembering how much the sea water had made her hair frizz.

“Oh, come on, I promise I won't dunk you again.” He crossed a finger over his heart, while giving her his idea of puppy dog eyes.

“That is not going to work on me Grady.” she rolled her eyes, deciding to take the opportunity and turn on to her front. She heard Owen get up with a huff, trying to hold in her giggle as she spoke loudly. “But you could do me a favour”

“What kind of favour?” came his pouty voice.

Claire couldn’t help the fondness that bloomed in her chest, his behaviour slightly endearing. He obviously wanted to spend time with her, who was she to deny him that.

“Could you maybe... put some sunscreen on my back. I can’t reach it.” There was an innocent tone to her voice, but she was also trying to tease him. Owen didn’t respond for a couple of seconds, just the sound of the waves crashing and Amé playing with one of her toys near them.

Claire then heard him cough to clear his throat before she heard “You want me to rub sunscreen into your back?” Owen’s voice sounds strained, and Claire knew she had him exactly where she wanted him.

“Yeah, if it’s not too much trouble” she said while lazily stretching her arms over her head as she made herself comfy. She knew the view Owen must have of her body while she stretched, so wasn’t surprised when she heard him groan quietly. “Is that ok Grady?”

“Yep... that’s-I mean I can do that.” she heard him looking through one of the bags, trying to locate the sunscreen. Then when he’d found it, she heard the rustling of him moving towards her. Claire saw his knees close to her left-hand side as he poured some of the sunscreen onto his hands. She could sense his hesitation with actually touching her, and tried to hid her smirk with her hand. But then, his hands started rubbing her back, and Claire couldn't contain the small moan that left her lips. His hands were so strong and large on her back, she was in heaven. Owen started at her shoulders, gently making small circles with the sunscreen and slowly started the journey down towards her lower back.

“Is this ok?” Owen murmured, almost nervously. Obviously scared he was doing something wrong. Not that Claire could understand why, she felt completely boneless as his fingers continued to need the small of her back.

“You’re perfect” she said releasing a sigh of contentment. Owen continued his massage for another couple of minutes, before gently running his fingers up and down her back. All the sunscreen had been absorbed into Claire’s skin now, she knew he was just doing this to prolong the experience.

“You sleepy?” Owen softly spoke, leaning down closer to Claire’s head.

“Mhmm” she replied, feeling her eyelids getting heavy. She heard Owen chuckle and as he ran his finger up her neck and back down to her left shoulder. The last time Claire had checked her phone, about half an hour ago, it had been eleven-fifteen. So, she guessed she could have a quick nap before lunch not wanting to move away from Owen’s masterful hands. However, he had a different idea as suddenly his hands left her skin as she heard him stand up. Claire let out a displeased moan, leading Owen to laugh.

“I’m coming back, give me one sec” sounding like he was further away now. A few moments passed before she heard the flapping of a towel to her right and then footsteps pressing into the sand. Claire cracked her eyes open and saw Owen laying his towel down, extremely close to hers. He also had a baseball cap in his hand which had the US Navy symbol on the front, which she’d seen him wear on occasion to the beach.

“Whatcha doing?” her voice muffled by her hands. Owen sat down and shuffled close to her, before reaching down to drop the hat onto her head.

“Don’t want you getting sunstroke. Will kinda put a downer on the holiday.” He laughed, pushing her hair out of the way and securing the hat backwards on her head.

“You’re sweet.” looking at him with soft eyes.

“Nah, just don’t like hospitals.” he shrugged with eyes glistening with amusement. Claire reached her arm out to swot him, but he moved out the way just in time. Contrary to what he said Claire was pretty certain, that if she had to go to hospital Owen would insist on going with her. Claire was about to call him out for lying, when he started tracing his fingers over her back again. He lay next to her, watching as her eyes drifted shut and his fingers drifted softly over her skin. The last thing Claire remembers if hearing Owen hum to himself as he got comfortable next to her.

 

“But daddy I'm hungry.”

“I know baby, but Claire is still asleep. I think she needs the rest.”

“Ok. But how much longer is she going to sleep?”

Claire suddenly became aware of her surroundings, and the voices she thought were in her dream, were actually those of Amé Grady and Owen Grady sitting a mere few inches away from her. Even though they were both whispering Claire could hear them loud and clear.

“However long she needs honey. Look there’s some snack bars in my bag. You want one of those?” Claire cracked her eyes open to see Owen sitting on the towel beside her still, but now he had Amé sitting in his lap. She was wrapped in a purple beach towel with a cute little hood, her hair still soaking underneath. She watched as Owen deposited Amé onto the towel and got up, probably in search of her snack bars. Claire was touched that Owen was trying to let her sleep, but it wasn’t fair on Amé so she subtly stretched her arms before sitting up slowly.

“Claire” Amé said excitingly. Crawling over to her, and hesitantly putting her hands-on Claire’s legs. She looked at her guiltily. “Did I wake you?” she asked nervously. Claire quickly scooped her into her lap. Pushing the hood off her head and running a hand through her wet hair.

“No, you didn’t honey. I think I was just missing you too much to stay asleep.” She smiled down at the girl watching as her face broke out into the biggest smile she’d ever seen. Her guilt, long forgotten.

“I missed you too. Daddy wouldn’t play princesses with me.” She pouted turning to her father with a sour expression, making Claire laugh and clutch her closer. As her eyes found Owen’s, he was still standing near his beach bag with a couple of food bars in his hand, watching their conversation.

“Yes well, I thought seeing as Claire sleeps like a princess, it would be a shame to take her place.” He came to sit down with them, teasingly glancing in Claire’s direction.

“Hah, if I remember correctly Grady, Amé told me you love to dress up at home. She said you’re very good at playing a princess.” Amé started giggling at that as Claire watched Owen’s expression drop, to being found out. He went bright red and scratched the back of his neck.

“Amee what the hell, I thought that was between you and me.” He moved forward to tickle her, trying to avoid Claire’s eyes, still embarrassed. Claire found it very amusing watching Owen squirm under her gaze, but she honestly thought it was the most precious thing in the world. Owen was willing to do things like that for his daughter. But she wasn’t about to let him now, yet.

“Sorry Daddy, but your real good at playing it.” Amé said playing with the ends of Claire’s hair while looking innocently at her father.

“Did I hear someone was hungry?” Claire mentioned, taking pity on Owen and changing the subject to lessen his embarrassment.

“Yes, yes I am!” Amé jumped up from Claire’s lap and started jumping up and down on the sand.

“Right then, I guess we should go and feed you, before you waste away.” Claire stood up and poked Amé on the nose. Owen agreed and they all started gathering their stuff together, deciding they wouldn’t be coming back to the beach this afternoon. Claire threw a light summer dress over her binkini. The dress was an olive green, with a low-cut V-neck and flowed down to just above her knees. Amé started walking in front of them as they trekked up the sand, Claire took the opportunity to walk closer to Owen and tug his hand. She lent up, putting her mouth next to his ear.

“Just so you know, the fact you are willing to dress up in a dress to make your daughter happy, I find it incredibly sexy.” She whispered in his ear, before letting go of his hand and walking on ahead. Leaving a dumbstruck Owen, standing frozen in the sand.

 

They had a quick lunch at the hotel, consisting of bread, cheese, salad and of course a lot of ice cream. Amé had chatted to Claire about her new found decision to work at a zoo when she’s older. Her excitement was contagious as she described which animals she wanted to look after. Dolphins being at the top of her list. Owen having to step in when she once again expressed her desire to take one home. Once they’d all filled their bellies, Owen had suggested they go and look at the excursion desk for tomorrow, to see if there's anything else they’d like to do. Since that night in Owen’s hotel room, there hadn’t been a single question about Claire joining them each day. Owen would just say ‘see ya tomorrow’ each night as they left the canteen. It was nice knowing her company was in high demand, not always having felt that throughout her life.

“Daddy, can I go play in the kids area?” Amé had obviously seen the long line of guests queuing for the desk, not wanting to stand around.

“Mmm, ok baby, but make sure I can still see you.” He bent down and kissed her hair. Amé nodded at him and took off towards the soft play area, near the exit of the lobby. Claire and Owen stood patiently for a few minutes, in comfortable silence. She noticed that Owen was fidgeting, bouncing slightly on his feet, while playing with his fingers. She knew that if he wanted to say something, he would. So, she gave him some space.

“So, I've kinda been thinking” he started, startling Claire slightly.

“Oh no, don’t hurt yourself Grady.” Claire teased bumping into his shoulder to show she was joking.

“You know what, forget it.” he turned away from Claire crossing his arms over his chest, making her laugh at his tantrum.

“Oh, come on, I was joking! Owen, I'm sorry tell me.” But he still was facing away from her but she could tell he was smiling. “I wanna know.”

Owen snuck a look at her from the corner of his eye. Then deciding he’d got enough attention turned around, before continuing.

“Ok, well I know Amé has been bugging me about going to the kids camp they have on in the afternoons here. It’s like hundreds of kids, playing games, singing songs you know fun kid stuff. And I maybe thought that while she’s doing that.” he looked down at his feet, while scratching the back of his neck. “We could go out, like explore the nearest town. Together?” he trailed off, slowly meeting her gaze. Claire was kind of taken aback. She definitely did not think that’s what he was going to say. Owen had literally spent the last five days with her, and now he wanted some, one on one time? Was it supposed to be this easy? Is this what all the fairy tale books had been talking about when she was growing up. Uncomplicated love?

“But look I totally get if you don’t want to... I know that you said take things slow and maybe I’m coming across too, like strong and... please Claire can you say something.” he looked helpless by the end of his rambling. Claire realised that she hadn’t responded yet and suddenly felt awful.

“Oh god Owen no, that’s not what-” she took a step towards him, taking his hands shyly in hers. “I would love to.” she began to play with his fingers.

“Really?”

“Yeah, I’d love to spend some time with you.” she smiled at him which he mirrored, resulting in him looking a tad dopey. “But are you sure Amé will be ok here by herself? I know you said that she has trouble making friends, I don’t want to be the reason she feels left out.” Owen interrupted her by reaching up to gently stroking the side of her face. Claire’s could feel her heart beating in her chest, legs turning to jelly.

“She will be fine. She’s the one who mentioned it. Something about wanting to try out the ping pong courts they have here.” he chuckled while gently pushing her hair behind her ear. Claire’s whole face felt on fire, but his fingers were barely touching her skin. She could only imagine what his fingers would feel like as they held her.

“Ok” she nodded to him. “Only if you’re sure.” Owen dropped his hand from her face and moved them forward in the line.

“Hey look, I’ll ask her about it, but I promise you she’ll be ok.”

 

As it turns out, Amé was more than ok with the prospect of going to kid camp. She had bounced around and hugged both Claire and Owen, squealing that she would get to go to the hotel’s outdoor cinema too. Owen had inquired about more excursions, for the three of them to do in the next couple of days. He’d found out there's a hop off boat trip that sails up the coast to a quaint market town, very traditional. Claire’s eyes had lit up at the idea of going and he hadn’t hesitated in booking three tickets for tomorrow. Claire had tried to pay him for hers, but he wasn’t having any of it. He’d said it was his turn anyway. Claire had just said thank you, begrudgingly.

Dropping Amé off had clearly been difficult, for both Amé and Owen. After the excitement of finding out she was going to spend the afternoon doing fun activities, she became quite nervous. Asking for Owen to carry her there, and hesitant to get down once they arrived. Owen had gently pried her from his arms and started to walk over to the group of children already waiting.

“Look baby, there's so many kids on their own too.” Owen had said while running his fingers through her long blonde hair. Amé had hidden behind Claire’s leg while tightly gripping her hand. Owen had knelt down at her level to try and persuade her to join the group. “You’re gonna have so much fun. You are doing painting this afternoon, and you’re watching Moana later, that’s one of your favourites.” He whispered, stroking her hair therapeutically.

“But what if no one likes me?” she replied from behind Claire’s leg. Claire’s heart had broken, all she wanted to do was reach down and hide Amé in her arms. She felt incredibly protective over the small girl, never having felt this motherly urge before.

“Well sweetheart if you don’t want to stay, you can come with your dad and I.” Claire bent down to be on Owen’s level and squeezed her hand.

“Yeah baby, do you wanna come with Claire and I instead?”

Amé looked at both of them and was about to answer when another little girl broached the trio. She must have been about six years old, slightly older than Amé as she was a few inches taller and her baby features were starting to fade. The girl had long brown hair, and dark eyes matching tanned olive skin. She’d shyly walked up to Amé before speaking in what Claire could understand as a Spanish accent.

“Hello” the girl had said. Both Owen and Claire had smiled kindly at the girl, nudging Amé to look in her direction.

“Hello there” Owen had said with warmth filling his voice.

“My name is Camila. What’s yours?” The little girl said in a heavy Spanish accent, looking directly at Amé. Amé looked up for the first time, still gripping Claire’s hand but she wasn’t hiding anymore so Claire had thought that was a plus.

“Amé” she replied in a tiny voice. Claire had glanced at Owen, seeing pride swelling in his eyes. She knows how much of a big deal this is for Amé and maybe more so for Owen. Claire took the hand that wasn’t holding Amé’s hand to gently rub Owen’s back. It was easy seeing as they had both still been kneeling on the floor. He looked over at her and gave her a grateful smile.

“Would you like to be my friend” the girl asked, in what Claire had thought, very good English. Camila had held out her hand towards Amé, wanting her to take it. Amé had turned to look at her father, questioning whether it was safe or not to trust this girl. Owen had of course eagerly nodded his head, telling her she should go. So, she hesitantly released Claire’s hand and gingerly took the Camila’s hand. Owen stood up from where he was kneeling and bent down to kiss Amé’s forehead.

“We’ll see you later baby ok? If you need anything, the camp leader has my number.”

“Ok Daddy” Amé looked slightly chirpier now, smiling at her new friend. Claire then ran a hand over her hair and bent down to whisper in her ear.

“Have fun honey.”

They both waved her off as she was guided towards the rest of the small children, now sitting around in a circle. Claire had looked at Owen who was still watching Amé, who’d now sat down next to Camila. She was clearly fully immersed in whatever the leader was saying.

“Owen” Claire spoke gently, touching his arm. “We can stay here if you want? Some other parents are hanging around to watch” she had nodded towards a few parents scattered around chatting to one another. Owen’s eyes had drawn from his daughter and landed them on Claire. He’d smiled kindly and took her hand.

“No, I think this will be good for her. And besides, I was looking forward to our afternoon.” His thumb had gently rubbed her hand again, which had become second nature to the two of them. Claire’s heart had beated so fast, she thought for sure he would be able to hear it. But Owen had just tugged her hand as they started walking towards the beach.

 

So here they were, now currently walking through the winding cobbled streets, moving further and further into the small town of Preveza a twenty-minute walk from their hotel. Claire hadn’t let go of Owen’s hand for the entirety of their walk. Owen hadn’t seen keen to release her hand either, giving it an occasional squeeze every few minutes. Claire had totally fallen in love with the town, the traditional colours, the sound of Greek music drifting through the streets and rows and rows of stalls lined up on either side of the cobbled street.

The two Americans had slowly meandered their way among the throng of Greeks, lining up for their foods, jewellery, handmade gifts and clothing. Occasionally Claire would pull Owen towards a stall, unable to miss a closer look. Owen would just laugh at Claire's enthusiasm standing patiently at her side. She never purchased anything though, but enjoying the ritual of browsing. That was until a particular stall caught Claire’s eye.

“Oh my gosh Owen, look how pretty those are.” for the first time she dropped his hand, in order to get closer. Claire moved towards a quaint stall next to a man selling hats. It was filled with handmade necklaces, all made out of a mixture of sea stones and coloured beads. Claire ran her fingers gently over the smoothed pebbles in complete awe of their beauty. Owen caught up to her, standing to the side also looking at the beaded accessories. With two potential customers taking an interest in her creations, a middle-aged Greek woman emerged from a seat at the back of the stall. She walked forward with a kind smile on her face, addressing Owen as Claire was still fixated on the necklaces.

“καλό απόγευμα” the lady said brightly to Owen. Claire looked up to see Owen panicking slightly at his lack of understanding. She hid her smile by simply repeating the greeting back to the Greek woman.

“πώς είσαι σήμερα” she inquired now directing her conversation towards Claire. Claire broke her gaze yet again from the accessories laying in front of her to reply to the women's question.

“είμαι καλά ευχαριστώ” Claire replied, before turning her gaze back to the necklaces. She suddenly felt Owen’s presence close to her back.

“What did she say? Sounded complicated” he whispered into her ear, tickling the back of her neck causing her to shiver. She enjoyed the feel of his mouth close to her skin, wanting him to keep it there.

“Yeah, ‘Good Afternoon’ and ‘How you doing?’ not sure how I translated that.” she giggled, seeing Owen’s face narrow with feigned offence.

“Oh, I see how it is Red, just because you can speak like one hundred languages.” he pouted, putting a hand on the small of her back.

She rolled her eyes at his exaggeration “I cannot speak a hundred languages Owen. I just know a lot of helpful phrases in all of them.” she battered her lashes, teasing him. He chuckled at her, stroking her back affectionately.

“είστε όμορφο ζευγάρι” the lady said, interrupting the little world the couple had gotten lost in. Claire’s cheeks flames at her words. She wasn’t lying when she told Owen her Greek was only conversation standard, but she knew what that phrase meant, as she knew both words individually. Due to her blushing face, Owen had obviously worked out that something was different about the woman’s comment, he leant back wanting to know what the lady had said. Claire wasn’t about to tell him that the woman thought they made a beautiful couple, not sure if it would make things awkward. So instead she vowed for a small lie.

“She wants to know if we are American.”

Owen seemed like he bought it, turning to the women to nod his agreement. Claire tried not to laugh at what he was agreeing to. Feeling slightly giddy at the impression they seemed to give off to the rest of the world. Claire focussed her attention back onto the jewellery that had attracted her eye, the sea of colours she had to choose from, making it hard to pick her favourite. But then her hand touched this small purple necklace with blue translucent sea stones and violet beads alternating around a black thick string. Claire instantly thought of Amé and her love of all things purple.

“Owen look, isn’t this just perfect for Amé. I think she’d love the colours, but what do you think?” she turned her head towards him, smiling brightly. She saw Owen’s eyes soften as he glances down at the necklace she was talking about.

“I think she’d never take it off.” Claire beamed at that and gently picked up the necklace, thumbing the small sea stones with fondness. Claire felt Owen lean down and press his lips to her cheek, startling her. But at the feel of his lips against her skin, Claire felt the familiar butterflies she also seemed to experience, whenever Owen was around.

She smiled shyly, turning to catch his eye “What was that for?”

“Just, you’re amazing. You know that?” his eyes were filled with what Claire could only describe as adoration. She’d never been on the receiving end of a look like that before, and she had to admit, she loved it.

“Thanks.” she blushed, interlacing their hands, feeling slightly uncomfortable at the time they’d been separated. “I’m gonna get it.” So, she leant forward and asked the woman for the necklace. She received a smile as the lady went to the back to retrieve a bag. She returned shortly, with the necklace safely inside a red paper bag. The lady held out the bag to Claire, in exchange for the money which Claire was proffering. Once the transaction had been completed Claire put the present in her small wooden clutch, she had with her and thanked the woman for her help.

As Claire and Owen started walking away from the stall, Owen leaned into Claire to whisper in her ear.

“You speaking Greek is so hot. Like you’re honestly unreal Claire.” she felt happiness bloom in her chest, loving how honest Owen was with his feelings. Not afraid to applaud her or explain how he’s feeling. She swung their hands between them and turned to meet his intense gaze.

“You’re not so bad yourself Grady.”

 

After about two hours of wandering through the streets of the old town, Owen had suggested they went to have a drink. They’d found a lovely waterfront area, with restaurants and bars littering the front of the promenade. The lazily strolled under the beating sun before spotting a traditional Greek tavern with live music being played inside. Owen had excitingly tugged Claire in the direction of the small doors at the side, before leading them towards the large wrap around bar in the centre of the room. She watched as his eyes lit up at the lay out. With wooden tables gracing the sides of the bar floor and a petite stage set up towards the back, where a small Greek man was playing a lyre exquisitely. The tavern wall was covered in paintings of the sea and the large doors at the front were open wide so you could sit outside to admire the waves rocking slowly on top of the water.

“You wanna sit inside or out?” Owen mumbled, clearly having his heart set on outside. Not breaking his gaze away from the tables looking out over the sea.

“Outside.” Claire smiled rubbing his hand. He turned towards her gleaming at her answer.

“Ok well shall we get a drink and then find a table?”

Claire nodded at him taking his hand and standing directly in front of the bar. The tavern was quite busy, with a great deal of what looked like tourists all either standing or listening to the man playing the lyre on stage.
“I hate to be a kill joy, but I kinda need to pee.” Owen whispered, looking apologetically at her. Claire laughed out loud, sometimes he really was like a child.

“Ok then Owen, go to the toilet.”

“But I don’t wanna leave you here by yourself.” He looked annoyed at himself, which only caused Claire to laugh more.

“I think I'll manage without you for a few minutes.”

“You sure?” he was smiling but his gaze told her that he was genuinely worried about leaving her along in a strange place. His concern softened her eyes, not used to the genuine care he always had for her. She glanced around at the busy bar knowing she’d be fine but touched by his attentiveness. She lent up and pecked his cheek, lingering close to his mouth. Before she got too carried away, she returned to her original stance and patted his hand.
“Hurry back” she teased. Owen seemed to take this literally as he sped towards the sign for the restroom. Claire gazed after him for a few seconds before looking around at the drink options. There were hundreds of beers, wines and cocktails littering the back bar. Claire wasn’t sure what Owen would want, so decided to wait until he returned to order.

Suddenly there was a loud ruckus as a large group of young men poured into the bar, laughing and shouting clearly slightly intoxicated. Claire noticed a few of them start to queue, at the far end of the bar, all ribbing each other in what Claire thought was English. One man who had two other guys arms around him, was wearing a bright orange sling that read ‘He’s off the market’. It was clearly his stag party, the only aim for the day to get black out drunk before he started the rest of his life being sensible and mature. Claire chuckled at the bunch of guys, remembering her college days and the number of guys she used to see laying around the quad after an all nighter, in a frat house. She found herself wondering what Owen was like during college, or did he even go to college? Maybe he was a big partier in high school. She certainly wasn’t.

Her thoughts of a teenage Owen were interrupted by a hand falling onto her waist. At first, she thought it was Owen, but the hand was slightly too handsy to belong to Owen, knowing how respectful he is. Claire instantly turned to find a large black-haired man standing far too close to her, stinking of booze. She realised that he belonged to the stag party which had just fallen through the door.

“Hey beautiful” the man said in a strong British accent.

He leant closer to her face showing Claire his dull blue eyes. He still had his hand on her waist and the other hand was braced heavily against the bar. Clearly supporting his uneven weight. Claire supposed he was handsome, in a typically handsome kind of way. But he didn’t have eyes as pretty as Owen’s or arms as strong as Owen’s either. Nor did he have cute little dimples which popped out every time he smiled. When did she start comparing all men to Owen?

“Hello.” Claire started while trying to take a large step back. But the man seemed determined to stay in her personal space, following her backwards.

“What’s a pretty girl like yourself drinking at a bar alone?” he mumbled; his eyes glazed over with intoxication. Claire couldn’t control the eye roll at the cliché line, never understanding how that worked on women.

“I’m not alone” she spoke confidently, trying to once again create some space between their bodies. His hand remaining firmly on her waist.

“Well, I don’t see anyone keeping you company” he glanced around her gesturing to the lack of people.

“My boyfriend will be back soon” she lied, knowing he doesn’t know she’s technically single. He pulled her closer to his body, with Claire suddenly starting to feel incredibly uncomfortable. Remembering all the times Josh had done exactly the same thing.

“How about I buy you a drink? Then we can get to know each other much more... intimately” he whispered seductively. Claire could imagine that if you were a young single woman alone on this island, maybe this would completely flatter you. Maybe even entice you to take him some place more secluded or back to your hotel room. But for Claire, she just wanted to find Owen and be as far away from this creep as possible.

“I’m ok thanks, I don’t need a drink” she nervously tried to remove his arm from around her waist, missing the feel of Owen’s gentle touch when he rubbed her back.

“Come on, I know you want to.” he leaned into her, alcohol evident on his breath.

Claire was just about to look around for help when she felt someone pressing firmly into her back.

“I believe, she said no”

Claire knew that gruff voice anywhere. She instantly relaxed into his body, looking up to find those green eyes which she loved dearly, starring daggers at the man in front. Owen wrapped an arm around Claire, pulling her firmly towards him and out of the grip of the drunk British man who had been hassling her for the past few minutes.

“Look mate, I was here first so go find someone else to bother. We were having a conversation, weren’t we baby?” the cocky Brit spoke, allowing his eyes to drop to her chest. Claire felt Owen stiffen significantly, his arm tightening briefly around her. She could tell that Owen was slowly losing his patience and felt like she should diffuse the situation before things got out of hand.

“Babe, why don’t we go find a drink somewhere else.” she said turning in his arms, laying her hands on his chest. The nickname was meant to be for show, playing along with the lie she’d created about having a boyfriend. But she found herself loving the name for Owen, it fitted perfectly. Owen’s angry gaze fell down to her face, softening slightly when he met her eyes.

“Ok” he tightly replied, knowing it was probably for the best. Claire started to rub his firm pectorals, feeling them flex under her hands. Owen’s arm was still firm around her while he turned them to leave. They had taken one step towards the door when they heard.

“Stupid little cock tease”

Claire felt Owen freeze. The anger radiating off his was intense. His arm dropped from around her as he turned around, now standing in front of Claire.

“What did you say?” Owen spat out, practically vibrating with fury. Claire didn’t like where this was going and although she wanted nothing more than for Owen to punch this guy, and make him hurt for that comment. She knew Owen wasn’t that kind of guy and didn’t want him to do something he’d regret.

“Owen it’s ok just leave-”

“What did you say” Owen’s voice rising slightly in volume. Getting closer to the British guys face.

“Woah, easy man ok, I was just joking.” Claire saw that the other guy had finally woken up to the situation he found himself in. Although he was tall and well built, Owen was much stronger and she knew he could finish him off in this mood.

“You think it’s ok to call women that” he spat in the guy's face. His fist inches from the man’s now nervous face. Claire glanced around and a few people had started to look in their direction. She quickly stepped forward and tried to pull Owen back.

“Babe don’t worry about it, he’s not worth it. Let’s just go” she pleaded with him.

“Not before he apologises” Owen stood still, rooted to the ground, a few inches away from the drunk Englishman in front of his. The man now slightly cowering at the bar. Owen’s eyes were narrowed at the man in front of him.

‘What?” the man spluttered “I’m not going to apologise”

Owen stepped forward, face inches from his. “You are either going to apologise or I swear to god I will break that pretty little nose of yours.” Owen sneered, eyes flashing dangerously proving he meant every word. Claire knew she should be annoyed at Owen’s behaviour, irritated that he was acting his way in public. But no man had ever defended her so vigorously before. No one had ever been this protective towards her before. And with Owen, she knew it came from a place of affection not possessiveness.

The man looked between Claire and Owen. Fear evident in his eyes. He finally held up his hands, taking two steps back.

“Look I’m sorry ok? Geez m’sorry” he then quick as a flash, clumsily turned and ran back out of the bar, clearly trying to get as far away from Owen as he could.

Owen’s arms were crossed as he watched the man run out, but Claire’s eyes were fixed on Owen. The tension in his body was severe, clearly anger still coursing through his veins. She felt hot and bothered, but it wasn’t from the heat of the Greek sun. No, Claire was turned on. Claire walked forward and yanked Owen’s hand, leading him out of the bar towards a small stoned side street. She walked fast until they were the only two people standing on the rocky ground. Just the distant sound of the music playing in the breeze.

Owen had been incredibly silent the whole time, just clinging on to Claire’s hand and trying to keep up with her pace. When she finally stopped walking, slightly out of breath she turned around to find Owen’s eyes filled with guilt, and also a small amount of lingering anger.

“Claire I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't have done that and I probably embarrassed you but I couldn’t just stand there and say nothing not when he-” Owen’s apology was interrupted by Claire pushing him against the nearest wall and pressing her lips to his.
Owen was obviously shocked by the turn of events as his lips remined frozen against hers. But after a few moments he seemed to get the message as he kissed her back with force. Claire’s tongue probed his mouth begging for entrance, which he granted instantly, allowing their tongues to dance together while fighting for dominance.

Claire released a moan at the feel of his tongue against hers, their bodies moulding together like they were made for each other. At some point Owen flipped them around, so Claire’s back was now pressed against the cobbled wall, one of his thighs jammed in-between hers. Claire lifted her hands to run through Owen’s curls, something she’d wanted to do since the first day she met him. His hair was so soft as she gripped his curls in her hands. Owens hands were further south on her body. One arm wrapped around her lower back, holding her close to him. The other arm leaning against the wall, caging her into him.

After a few minutes, oxygen became a necessity and Claire reluctantly pulled away. Her hands were still in his hair, but now instead of gripping, they were gently carding through his mass of dirty-blonde curls. Owen was smiling down at her gently, taking his hand off the wall, to lovingly stroke her face. Claire leaned back in to peck his lips, before leaning her head back against the wall.

“You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that” Owen sheepishly admitted, stroking her side.

“No one has ever defended me like that.” Claire said her body still trying to recover from the lack of oxygen. “And it felt, kind of amazing to have someone be there for me, instead of just agreeing” she looked at him dead in the eyes, whilst playing with the small curls at the back of his neck.

“What that guy said Claire, I just couldn’t stop myself. You don’t deserve to be spoken to like that; you’re so perfect I-” Claire could sense him getting angry again. She brought his head back down to hers for a searing kiss, feeling the tension once again melting out of Owen’s body. She really liked how one kiss from her could calm his anger completely.

“Hey, it’s ok Owen. I’m not mad.” She stoked his jaw with her hand. “To tell you the truth, I found it really hot.” she flushed while admitting that, but she didn’t want him feeling guilty defending her. To be honest she probably would have done the same thing, if some girl had said something degrading to Owen. She might have had even less control. Owen smirked at her blush, leaning forward to kiss the side of her neck.

“You did huh?” he mumbled trailing his lips up to her ear.

“Mhmm”

“Well, that’s good to know.” Owen whispered against her ear, before gently biting her earlobe causing Claire to let out a small moan.
Owen chuckled at her response leaning his head back to catch her gaze. “But seriously Claire, I promise that as long as I’m around, no one will ever speak to you like that again. Ok?” Claire nodded smiling at him. “I promise.”

That was one promise Claire wanted to make sure he kept.
She wanted to keep Owen Grady around for as long as possible.

Heck, for the rest of her life.

Chapter Text

Owen had been kissed by a lot of girls. Not an obscene amount, but enough to be very experienced in that particular field.

His first kiss was at the age of twelve. He’d had a crush on his neighbour, Johanna since they were six. She had long blonde hair which always smelt like strawberries, and she had a cute smile whenever Owen made her laugh. They’d been playing in his backyard when he’d bent down and pecked his lips with hers. They’d both frozen at the feeling. Staring at each other not knowing what to feel. Then suddenly Johanna had smiled and held his hand, stating they were now boyfriend and girlfriend. He’d also had countless of girlfriends all through high school, sharing hundreds of kisses with girls at house parties.

But none of them even came close to kissing Claire Dearing.

When Claire had kissed him, his brain short circuited. He thought she was about to lay into him for going all alpha male in-front of the whole bar. What he did not expect however, was to be thrown against the concrete wall and find Claire’s lips on top of his. Not that he was complaining. It was downright the best kiss he’d ever had in his life. The kind of kiss which people talk about in books, where you realise this person is the one you want to spend the rest of your life with. The type of kiss where you feel like your whole body is on fire while your brain cannot formulate a single thought.

Claire’s lips were soft and fit perfectly with his. Utter perfection. That was the only way to describe their first kiss. And he couldn’t wait to do it again. And again.

 

Shortly after another make-out session in that alleyway, the couple had slowly started to make their way back to the hotel. Owen constantly kept leaning in to steal an odd kiss throughout their walk along the Greek streets. Their hands were clasped together tightly, swinging gently between them as they passed the markets which they had passed earlier that day.

Claire spent some more time gently browsing a few stalls, tugging Owen close every time she found something she wanted to observe more closely. Every time Owen would wrap his arms around her middle from behind, pulling her flush against his chest. Claire would lean back and smile at him, pressing a kiss to his neck, releasing a blush along Owen’s cheeks. He’d never been the type of man to show public displays of affection in his previous relationships, or whatever this was with Claire. But something about this redhead, had his head spinning. He constantly wanted to be near her, touching her, making her laugh. He knew he was in trouble.

“Hey Owen, look at this” Claire had walked a few meters in front of him, unaware of internal thoughts. He looked up to find her in front of another jewellery stall. This one was bigger though, and filled with hundreds of different bracelets.
They were all either silver or gold, with intricate designs in different blues and greens, relating to the ocean Owen assumed. They were all very beautiful, he’s not surprised Claire stopped. “Aren’t they pretty?” She smiled at him sweetly. “Look these one’s even have letters on them.” Owen stepped closer to her, wrapping an arm around her waist and leaning over to take a closer look at the silver ones. They did indeed have small letters on a section of the bracelets, attached by small silver hooks.

“They’re cute” he thumbed one with a C on it. Claire reached over to pick up on with an A on it.

“Should we get Amee one? I know I got her the other one but-“

“That little girl has already been spoilt Claire” he fondly brushed her hair off her shoulder, gently rubbing his thumb over her collarbone. “She doesn’t need another present.”

Claire pouted, jutting her lip out slightly, a small smile tugging at her lips.

“But I wanna….” Owen chuckled at her childish display. He pulled her towards him, pecking her pout.

“You on the other hand, don’t have a souvenir yet.” Owen gestured towards the table of bracelets, wanting to buy her something nice. But she just waved him off, turning her attention back to the table.

“I don’t need anything Owen” She then intertwined their fingers and pulled him towards the flow of people leaving the markets, back towards the hotel.

“Hang on, I don’t think that’s your decision to make.” Owen stopped her from walking, getting her to face him. “I want to buy you something nice.” He began stroking her arm, smiling at the soft expression in her eyes.

“And you’re very sweet, but I don’t really buy things like that. It’s not practical because they could break when I’m working or I could lose it” Owen felt his heart clench at her words. Obviously, she hadn’t ever been bought something like jewellery before, or at least not from a boyfriend or lover. Owen hated every man who had made her doubt herself before, who’d never cherished her, shown her off the way she deserves. Owen was determined to show her that with him, things would be very different. He had a plan.

“Ok, fine. If that’s what you want.” Owen smiled at her.

“It is.” She replied, reaching up to give him a chaste kiss. “Thank you though.”

Claire continued to pull him towards the wide-open street at the end of the narrow lane, where they would start the beautiful walk alongside the beach, where lay their hotel. As Claire’s eyes were distracted by the hundreds of colourful stalls which lined the sides of the street, Owen clocked a small restaurant to his right. It was slightly behind them so Owen pulled on Claire’s hand to grab her attention.

“Hey, uh I need to pee.” he said trying to put on his most desperate expression. Claire looked up at him and started laughing.

“Ok?”

“Like right now.” He started jumping slightly on the spot, to support his point.

“Well, I don’t see any toilets round here Owen. Let’s get back to the hotel quickly and you can go there.” she was still smiling and began to walk quickly towards the road.

“No no! Look there's a restaurant over there.” Owen tilted his head in the direction of the small café behind him. “I’ll just go in there and ask if I can use their restroom.” Claire glanced at where he meant and smiled at him.

“Ok I’ll come with you and wait.”

“No don’t worry, I won’t be long. How bout you go look at some more stalls and I’ll find you when I’m done.” He reached out to tuck her hair behind her ear, watching a blush form on her cheeks.

“You sure?” Claire’s eyes had already drifted over to the pottery stalls, on the opposite side of the street to the restaurant. Her eyes filled with longing to browse for a few more minutes. Owen smiled at her obviousness.

“Yeah babe, you go have a last look.”

Claire gave a last glance at the stalls and turned to kiss Owen. She leant up and pecked his lips while her hands rubbed small circles on his chest. She then reluctantly let go of his hand and slowly turned to wander towards a few red and yellow Aztec bowls. Owen waited until her attention was fully engrossed in the items in front of her, before he quickly took off back towards the jewellery stalls they’d come to.
Owen’s eyes urgently scanned the bracelets’ he’d seen earlier, trying to quickly locate the accessory with the silver C hanging from it. There were a few other people trying to have a search amongst the hundreds of gold and silver bracelets, but Owen stood his ground. He was determined to buy Claire something nice. Something to make her feel special. Something to make her feel wanted.

Suddenly Owen spotted a C attached to one of the silver bracelets. It wasn’t the same one as he’d seen before but this one was even more beautiful. It has small silver hearts wrapped around in a circle, all attached together by silver beads. But it was the colours which were painted in the centre of the hearts which caught Owen’s eyes. Right in the hearts centre, were swirls of striking red, mixed with burnt orange tones to lighten the appearance. It instantly reminded Owen of Claire’s thick lushes red hair. He picked up the accessory and walked immediately over towards a young Greek man who was currently watching soccer on a small iPad.
Owen was conscious to get back to Claire, not wanting her to go looking for him inside the restaurant.

Suddenly realising he hadn’t even checked the price tag for the bracelet, Owen quickly flipped over the small white piece of paper and noticed that it was a bit pricier than he had initially hoped, but was not deterred. He thrust the correct money at the young man, who’d stood up from where he’d been perching on a stool, before shoving the new present in his pocket and jogging back in Claire’s direction.

He’d just passed the small restaurant which now had lots of people sitting outside it, before his eyes clocked Claire, walking towards him within the crowd of people. She smiled brightly when her eyes met his.

“You were gone awhile.” Claire said once she’d reached him, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her chin on his chest. She was looking up at him with so much fondness, Owen almost felt bad for lying to her. But then he remembered the beautiful gift he’d bought for her and felt better about his decision to surprise her.

“Yeah sorry, there was a hell of a queue.” He wrapped his arms tightly around her lower back while rocking them slightly from side to side. Claire smiled at him, nuzzling her head into his chest and placing a soft kiss on his clothed pec. “You ready to get out of here? Or did you find something you like?”

“Nah, let’s go find Amé” she said taking her hand in his.

The couple took a slow stroll out of the market and began their walk along the winding streets which led them back to their resort. The sun was just beginning to set for the day, creating a vast swarm of oranges and pinks where the sun met the sea. Claire tugged their joined hands towards the edge of the street where the concrete ended and the sand began.

“Woah” she said, mesmerised by the fluorescent colours painting the sky. Owen took her moment of distraction to observe how perfect Claire was. The sky was reflecting her in an orange glow which made her skin shine. She looked incredibly at peace and relaxed and Owen felt incredibly privileged to see her like this, knowing it wasn’t a luxury everyone was allowed. Owen felt his heart beat faster at how beautiful she truly was. “It’s so beautiful Owen.” Owen smiled at her wonder and brought their joined hands up to place a chaste kiss on the back of hers.

“Yeah... beautiful.”

His eyes staying trained on her. Claire glanced up at him expected to see him equally as enthralled with the beauty in front of them both. But found his eyes transfixed on her. He saw a dark blush bloom across her cheeks and a soft smile grace her lips.

“Come here” Claire whispered, pulling him closer to her. Before Owen had even thought about a response, Claire’s lips were on his. Her hands were tangled in his curls, tugging softly to angle his head how she wanted.
He heard himself release a moan as her tongue entered his mouth, gently stroking his. Feeling the passion rising he placed his hands on her hips and pulled her forward, so they were flush together. He felt Claire melt into his body as she wound her hands tighter around his neck. After a few minutes Claire pulled back, gasping for breath. Owen pressed his forehead to hers, taking a moment to just take in how perfect it felt. When they had both caught their breath, Owen felt Claire’s hands cupping his cheeks, rubbing loving circles into his jaw.

“You’re perfect you know?” she whispered into his ear, pressing little kisses down his neck. He wrapped his arms tighter around her, making sure every inch of him was touching her.

“I will thank god every day for meeting you Claire.” He murmured into her hair. She drew back to find his eyes continuing to stroke his jaw. She pressed one last kiss to his lips and took his hand in hers.

“Right, stop being cute! We’ve got a little girl to see” she gave him a false stern look, laughing when Owen started pouting, but secretly loving how much Claire thought about his daughter.

“Ok fine, but I don’t know if I can stop being cute. It’s kind of a rare talent I have.” The couple had started walking again, their hands swinging between them. Claire turned her head in amusement.

“Oh, is that right?”

“Yeah totally, some are born with it Claire, and some can only hope to be as cute as I am.” He wiggled his eyebrows in hope of making her laugh, which he succeeded in when she started giggling like a child.

“I see. Well then I guess I should be grateful for your unique talent” she laughed

“Very. I will probably need particular rewards at times.” he innocently murmured, while looking ahead of them.

“Mmm what kind of rewards?”

“Well, that’s up to you.” He smirked

“Chocolate? Beer? Or is there something else?” she pretended to think very hard about another option.

“Chocolate is very tasty, but I was thinking about something else even tastier.” He pulled them to a stop just outside the walls of their hotel. Claire glanced up at him with a knowing look.

“Care to help me out?”

“Ok, I’ll give you a clue.”

Owen leant down slowly, keeping eye contact for her. He put his lips against her ear, feeling Claire shiver and not from the cool evening breeze that had suddenly appeared. “Maybe something like this.” He pressed a chaste kiss to just below her ear. “Or this” moving his lips to her cheek, then her chin and other cheek. “But definitely this.” He finally pressed his lips firmly to hers, feeling Claire finally move her arms to wrap around his shoulders.
His tongue was demanding entrance which Claire gave gladly, moaning into his mouth as his hands started wandering lower down her back. Just before his hands met her behind, Owen pulled back.

“You know something like that?” he cheekily said while taking a step back from Claire, softly chuckling at her annoyed expression from being interrupted. “C’mon Claire, we’ve got a little girl to see right?” He started walking up the hotel’s marble ramp, leaving a frustrated Claire behind.

“You’re going to pay for that Grady!” he heard behind him.

“I’m counting on it” He shouted back with a smirk.”

Chapter Text

Claire couldn’t stop smiling.

She’d tried but she honestly couldn’t stop. She guessed this is the effect of Owen Grady. She hadn’t meant to kiss him, especially the way she had. Growing up, Claire had always been quite timid around boys, never the one to initiate anything. But after Owen had protected her like that, she couldn’t help it. No one had ever defended her like the way Owen had, not even Josh who’d she been with for ten times longer than she’d known Owen.

She felt giddy when she was around Owen, lighter. He made sure she was feeling special at all times, always making sure she was ok, even before they’d kissed today.

So here they both were, walking towards the gigantic play area where they’d dropped Amé that morning. Hands tightly clasped together, smiling like love drunk fools and laughing at something Owen had said. Then out of nowhere, like a dark cloud on a sunny day, a thought hit Claire like a freight train. Amé.

What would Amé think about this new development? Would she be pleased? Or would she be mad that her father and this new woman were together. Should they even tell her straight away? Or should they wait a few days? Claire definitely new that Amé liked her, Owen had told her multiple times how often Amé talked about her. But would she feel the same if she knew Owen and her were... Well she’s not really sure what they are. But they’re definitely closer.

“Owen” Claire said pulling their hands, so he would stop walking. Owen turned to Claire and the smile that had been plastered across his face dropped at the site of panic currently on Claire’s.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” He quickly closed the distance between them, taking her face in his hands and angling her head to look at him.

“I just... What if... Owen I don’t think..-”

“Claire, take a deep breath.” He began rubbing soothing circles into her back, trying to relax her. The idea of losing Owen because Amé didn’t approve, made her feel sick. She would obviously except the little girl's opinion, she’s important to Claire too. But Owen is everything she’d ever wanted in a man, and the idea of losing him after only a short time together makes her head spin. “Sweetheart, what’s wrong? You can tell me Claire.”

Claire considered not telling him and just pretending everything was fine. But Owen was looking at her with so much concern and she didn’t want to lie to him. She looked at him and took a deep breath.

“What if Amé doesn’t want us to be... you know, together?” she instantly looked down at her feet trying to avoid Owen’s shocked gaze. She felt him drop his hands from her back and for a moment she was gripped with panic that she’d annoyed him. But then she felt Owen take her hand and gently tug her towards a small row of trees. Claire kept her head down while they walked over the small covering. When they had a bit more privacy, Owen turned to her and opened his arms.

“Claire? Come here” she felt her eyes tear up at the fact he wasn’t walking away from her. Usually if she’d get upset with Josh, he would just tell her she was being silly and then he’d walk out the door and leave her to worry alone. Claire stepped into Owen’s strong arms, comforted by his unique smell which she had gotten used to so quickly.
Owen held her tightly, pressing soft kisses to her head, she felt her worries slowly starting to melt away.
“Listen Claire, I promise you Amé will be ok with this” he gestured with one hand between the two of them. “She adores you, like sometimes it makes me jealous how much.” Her eyes shot up to his to see if he was being serious, but just found him smiling and he winked at her.

“Of course, you do, you always have to be the centre of everyone’s attention.” she chuckled.

“Ouch, how dare you suggest that Miss Dearing” she watched as his face contorted to false annoyance, but she started giggling as he poked his tongue out at her. “But Claire seriously, you have nothing to worry about, even if she’s not happy at first, she will see how happy you make me.”

“But I don’t want her to feel awkward because of it, like what if she decides-”

“Claire stop.” He bent down slightly, so their eyes were looking directly at each other. “I’m not letting go of you ever. Amé has been my whole world for so long now and it has always been the two of us which has been enough for me in the past. But being here with you, it’s showed me how much I love being able to share things with someone. And I don’t know what exactly we are yet, but I know I really like you Claire, like really like you” she smiled at him, running her hands up and down his back. “And I never get involved with anyone because of Amé, but I trust you and I feel like I dunno.. Like we were meant to meet. I know it sounds dumb and cliché but-

“No Owen it’s not dumb.” Her heart was beating very quickly, nervous about how quickly it felt like they were moving, but his declaration was the sweetest thing she’d ever heard. “I know I was meant to meet you. I needed you in my life Owen. You and Amé.” She watched his eyes soften, further than they already were. He leant down and waited for her to meet him half way, which she did gladly. Their lips pressed together in a sweet kiss which only lasted a few seconds, but when they both pulled back, they were both smiling.

“Promise me” Owen started “If you’re ever feeling scared or insecure, please tell me Claire.” He pushed her hair over her shoulder and cupped the side of her face. “I want to know everything you’re feeling ok? Even the bad stuff.” he smiled at her. Claire felt completely at peace knowing Owen wanted all of her, the good and the bad. So many things were alien to her when it came to Owen. She ran a hand through his curls, loving the feeling of his soft hair between her fingers.

“Ok, I promise”

He lent down to kiss her once more before taking her hand and leading her back to the main path. Claire still left slightly nervous about Amé’s reaction, but she trusted Owen and knew he wouldn’t lie to her.

They eventually came to the clearing where they had dropped Amé off earlier in the day, and saw all of the children sitting down listening to the instructors. Claire immediately spotted Amé who was close to the front and being handed something by one of the hotel camp instructors. Claire felt herself lean into Owen’s side as they waited for the camp to conclude.
She felt him wrap an arm around her waist and kiss the crown of her head. She turned her head to smile up at him, watching as his attention was fixed on his daughter.

Claire could definitely get used to this. The normalcy of family life. Relaxing with Owen in the evenings, picking Amé up from school, spending weekends together. Maybe she was getting ahead of herself, but she’d never felt so content before in her life.

“Watch out, here comes trouble”

Claire looked up to see all of the children dispersing into different directions, all looking for their parents. Amé’s eyes wandered around the other parents who were scattered around the edge of the camp’s clearing, before lighting up when she caught sight of Owen and Claire. She immediately started sprinting towards the couple, smiling with joy.

Claire waited for Amé to run into Owen’s arms at an alarming speed for a four-year-old, but was surprised when she ran into both of their legs, wrapping her arms tightly around their legs. Claire glanced down in awe at the little girl, then turning her gaze to Owen who was smiling smugly. He mouthed what Claire could assume was ‘told you so’.

“Hey Baby, you have fun?” Owen had bent down to see his daughter’s face. She pulled her face away from Claire’s leg with a huge smile stretched across her face. She threw herself into her father’s arms.

“Yeah Daddy! It was so much fun. I played hide and seek and we played catch and I didn’t drop it once.” Claire smiled fondly at Amé’s babbling, as did Owen who smoothed her hair down which had become slightly wild, probably due to the activities of the day.

“Wow, sounds like we’ve got a pro baseball player on our hands, huh Claire?” Owen glanced at Claire with soft eyes. Amé obviously suddenly remembering Claire’s presence, squirmed in Owen’s arms until he released her. She turned around and lifted her arms up to Claire who was now standing. She realised Amé wanted to be held, so Claire bent down and scooped her up. She rested the girl on her hip as Amé started playing with the ends of Claire’s hair.

“Yeah, I think you should be careful Owen, she might give you a run for your money.” she smiled teasingly at him over Amé’s head.

“Nuh huh! I’m the best catcher ever.” He started moving forward back towards the hotel. Claire followed his lead with Amé still nestled in her arms. Her arms were wound tightly around Claire’s neck while she started chatting about what she’d done during the day.

Owen took her distraction to take Claire’s spare hand in his. At first Claire gave him a worried look, but he just winked at her and rubbed his thumb over her knuckles. Amé didn’t seem to be paying them any attention as she animatedly told both adults about playing with her new friend Camila. Apparently, Camila’s favourite film is Moana too and she knew all the words.

“yeah and when we got to the end of the film, she asked me to be her best friend” they had just gotten into the hotel as Amé’s finished explaining the whole plot line of Moana to both Owen and Claire. “Camilla is from Spain Claire; I’ve never been there but she said that I could visit! Have you ever been to Spain?” Claire placed Amé back on her feet as they walked towards the elevator, Owen still had his fingers intertwined with hers and was looking at something on his phone.

“Um, I have honey yes. I went when I was a little bit older than you. My dad took my sister and me when he went there for business.” Claire reached forward and pressed the button for the elevator with the hand which wasn’t held captive in Owen’s.

Amé’s eyes bulged with interest and she stood directly in front of Claire bouncing on her toes.

“Really? That’s so cool, where did you go?”

“Barcelona. I don’t remember much of it apart from my sister and I walking to the shops near our hotel by ourselves. I remember feeling very grown up because I was allowed to buy my own ice-cream.” She bent down and poked Amé’s nose making her giggle. “Like someone else I know, I loved ice-cream as a child.

“I love ice-cream" Amé said jumping up and down, making Claire laugh

“So, where a bouts is Camilla from?”

“Camilla is from Makid. She said it’s beautiful there. Do you know she’s got three sisters and one brother? That’s a lot of people in her family! But her older sister is still in Makid” Claire hid her amusement at Amé’s pronunciation behind her hand. She took the girls hand and pulled both Grady’s towards the lift and it opened. Owen was still nose deep in his phone so Claire just rolled her eyes at his inability to multitask.

“Sweetheart I think you mean Madrid. And yes, I’ve heard it’s a stunning place to go visit.” Claire pressed both their floor numbers and waited for the doors to close.

“Maybe we could go there on our next holiday? That would be so cool because then I could see Camilla too.” Amé excitingly beamed up at Claire waiting for her response. Suddenly Claire felt nerves run through her body, did she mean herself included? Or did she just mean her dad? Well, Amé obviously didn’t mean her as well she wasn’t a part of their family. She had to keep reminding herself of that.

“Well you’ll have to ask your dad honey, maybe he can take you next summer?” She smiled sweetly at the little girl and ran a hand through her hair.

“No, I mean us three. Like this holiday, I want you to come too Claire.” Amé said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world. Tugging gently on Claire’s hand to get her point across. Owen took that moment to put his phone back in his pocket and give his full attention towards both girls.

“What are we talking about? Still Moana?” he gave a fake grimace at Claire who giggled. Their hands were still clasped together and Owen started to gently stroke her hand again, making Claire instantly melt.

“No Daddy, I was saying that next time we can go on holiday to Spain with Claire and then I can go visit Camilla.” Owen turned his eyes to Claire with a slight surprised look in his eyes. She didn’t think he was upset they had been talking about that, just shocked that Claire would want to go away with them again.

“And... you’d want that?” Owen said, surprise still evident in his voice.

“yes.” Claire replied, way too quickly for her liking. She mentally kicked herself at how keen she sounded. What is he didn’t want her to come? She’d made it clear how she felt and now if he turned her down it would just be too embarrassing. “I mean... only if you want that? I’m not suggesting we do that.. I just mean..”

Owen clearly took pity on her and brought their hands up to his mouth, placing soft kisses on hers.

“Hey, I didn’t mean to pressure you. I just didn’t know if that’s something you’d thought about.” Claire was finding it hard to concentrate when he was pressing kisses into her palm. Also, she was very aware of the small girl standing next to her, who’d luckily become distracted by the doors opening onto Claire’s floor.
Amé ran forward as soon as the doors had fully opened, standing in the corridor to Claire’s hotel room. Owen who was still pressing soft kisses to Claire’s hand tore his eyes away from her to land on his daughter.

“Baby, this is Claire’s floor. Not ours” Owen went to grab his daughter so she didn’t get stuck on this floor alone. Claire to the liberty of holding the elevator doors so they didn’t close.

“But I really need a wee Daddy.” Claire saw Amé cross her legs and pout at her Dad. She couldn’t help but giggle quietly at the show the little girl was putting on.

“Really?” Owen gave her a pointed look, wondering if she was just delaying her scheduled bath, Amé always had before dinner. Claire remembers Owen telling her that Amé wasn’t the keenest bather, and would always try to create elaborate excuses as to why she didn’t need one.

“Really really Daddy!” Amé jumped up and down with her legs still crossed. Owen sighed and turned back to Claire who was struggling to keep the doors to the elevator open. He gave her a hopeless look and lifted his eyebrow.
“Miss Dearing, would my daughter be allowed to use your bathroom?”

Claire finally stepped out of the elevator towards the Grady’s. She took a moment to pretend to think about her answer.

“Mmm? I suppose that would be ok.” winking at Amé, who cheered and started running the wrong way down the corridor. “Hang on honey, it’s this way” Claire shouted to Amé, who stopped in her tracks and turned around. Owen and Claire began the walk down the corridor with Amé trotting behind them as they all made their way to Claire’s room.
As Amé pushed her way through the two couples so that she was in front, Owen took the opportunity to grab Claire’s hand and pull her closer to his side. She gave him a warry look, but Owen once again just smiled at her and even took a risk of planting a kiss on her cheek.

Claire was still scared about Amé’s reaction to this new development. But she’d decided that the way Owen made her feel, was totally worth the fear.

Chapter Text

How did he get here?

Owen booked this holiday to try and get away from the problems he had in the US, hoping that Amé and him could find some peace on this Greek island. The last thing he expected to find was Claire.

The connection they had was something Owen had been searching for his whole life. Not even as a child did he feel so wanted and important. With a father that died in the navy before he even reached his first birthday, and a mother who chose alcohol over parenting, Owen had spent his childhood mostly alone and wishing for a family who wanted him.

That’s probably why Owen had been content having just Amé in his life. He knew that as long as he always made Amé feel treasured and that she would never want for anything, he was a better parent than his own mother ever was. But finding Claire had been his saving grace. He didn’t even think he needed saving but, since being with Claire it’s made him realise how lonely he’d actually felt.

 

The last two days had been magic. After Amé had used Claire’s bathroom, they’d all ended up watching a movie on Claire’s bed, one that Amé chose. Claire had ordered some room service, consisting of fries and pizza before they all settled down for the movie. Amé had spent the first part of the movie admiring the beautiful purple necklace Claire had bought for her that morning at the markets. She had squealed when Claire took it out of her bag to give it to the little girl. Owen thought his ears would burst with how loud his daughter had screamed.

 

Amé had leapt off the bed and thrown her arms around Claire, saying it was her favourite thing ever and it looked like the one Ariel wears. Owen had smiled at the interaction between the two girls, thinking again how lucky they both were to find Claire. After Amé had calmed down, Claire suggested they should start the film before it got too late.

 

It was another Disney film which Owen couldn’t remember the name of, but to be fair he wasn’t paying much attention to the film anyway. He was too busy watching Claire who had fallen asleep on his shoulder, with one of her hands laying on his chest. He couldn’t remember how long he’d just watched Claire sleep, but before Owen knew it, the titles were rolling across the screen and both girls were sleeping. He’d spent another few minutes just watching Claire sleep, trying to ingrain every little detail to memory as he wasn’t sure if he’d ever get the chance to see her like this again. And then, he slowly began to extract himself from Claire grip. Taking the time to try and tidy the room up a little, moving the room service into the hall and turning off the TV.

 

When he was satisfied with how the room had looked, he went to collect his daughter who had now moved so she was sleeping peacefully next to Claire. Once he’d scooped Amé into his arms and covered Claire over with the blanket kept at the end of the bed, he’d bent down and pressed a chaste kiss to Claire’s forehead before leaving quietly.

Well, that was three days ago now and things had only gotten better since. All three of them had spent every waking moment together. Between trips to the beach, spending a day by the pool and another trip into the local town however this time the couple took Amé with them. She loved all the different stalls, running up and down the rows of colourful jewellery and clothing. Amé even bought a bracelet for her new best friend Camilla who’d spent some time at the beach with them the day before. The two girls had swum for hours in the sea, both pretending to be mermaids. Whilst Claire and Owen had spent most of the day laying on the sand, alternating between watching the girls in the water and watching each other.

 

Nothing had changed in the days that passed between the couple. If anything, they just grew closer. They got to know each other better, talking about Claire’s childhood and growing up in Wisconsin, and Claire learnt more about Owen’s work in the Navy which she seemed to love listening to. She would even lay on his chest while listening to him talk or lie next to him with her arm laying across his chest and their fingers intertwined. Owen couldn’t get enough of her touchiness, not having experienced it in any previous relationships he’d been in. It was incredibly comforting to know that someone wanted to be close to him. What had shocked him though, was the fact Amé had said nothing about the change in his and Claire’s relationship. She seemed to have accepted it gladly, always asking what time they were meeting Claire in the morning or if Claire could sleepover, which Owen had to awkwardly try and avoid, not wanting to pressure Claire.

However, as amazing as the past three days had been, there was a dark cloud looming on their horizon. Departing. Amé and Owen’s flight was tomorrow evening at seven where they would fly all the way back to Portland, back home.
Owen could tell Claire had been avoiding the conversation as every time Amé moaned about their looming departure, she would freeze and try to distract herself with something else. Not that Owen was faring any better.
He didn’t want to leave Claire for anything, even saying goodbye to her each night started to become difficult. And even though he was more than eager to continue things with her when they both returned home, New York and Portland weren’t exactly down the road. It would be a task and Owen wasn’t even one hundred percent sure Claire wanted to get involved with a long-distance relationship.

He decided that on their last day together he would not dwell on his uncertainties and just try to enjoy possibly his last day with her as much as possible.

 

As he woke up that morning, with Amé’s hand over his face, he was determined to try and make today the best day yet. He wanted to do something unforgettable with Claire, something they could both hold onto if this really would be their last day together.

Last night at dinner, Amé had announced that Camilla’s parents had invited her to join them at a water park further into the mainland tomorrow. They had hired seven-seater from the airport and had room in the car for Amé along with the rest of Camilla’s family. At first Owen had said no, not keen on letting Amé travel that far without him.
But Claire had reasoned with him, suggesting that he should meet and talk to Camilla’s parents, that it would help him decide if he could trust them.

So, after dinner that’s exactly what he did. Amé pointed them out at dinner and himself and Claire walked over and introduced themselves so they could discuss the plan from tomorrow.
Owen had to admit that they both seemed incredibly lovely, both commenting on how amazing his daughter was. Also, their English was impeccable which also helped eased his mind, just in case Amé was ill or hurt they would understand how to help her.

Also, the fact that they seemed to be incredibly attentive to their own children, always keeping their eyes on their three young kids when they wandered off from the dinner table helped make up Owen’s mind. So he was convinced by mainly Claire and Amé, to allow her to go with them. Camilla’s mother also commented on how beautiful Claire, which Owen only too eagerly agreed with, smiling at her and watching her cheeks turn red.
So, this is where they are now. Outside the hotel from just having breakfast together, the three of them filling up on fresh fruit and pastries, about to drop Amé off with Camilla’s family.

They said they’d meet at the front of the hotel at eight-thirty so they could spend their whole day at the waterpark. Owen thought he had come to terms with letting Amé go off for the day, but now that the moment is here, he’s nervous. He keeps clenching his fists and unclenching them, holding Amé in his arms tightly, her feet dangling off one hip.

 

Amé didn’t seem bothered by the impending departure at all, animatedly talking to Claire about the different rides she’d seen in the brochure. Just as Owen was considering changing his mind and taking Amé back to the hotel, Camilla came running out of the hotel with a little boy who looked more similar to Amé’s age, and stood next to Owen. Amé immediately started squirming in his arms, trying to get to her new friend, but for some reason Owen couldn’t let her go. He was scared.

“Daddy! Let me down” Amé giggled, thinking it was game.

 

But Owen just couldn’t seem to let her go. Claire seeming to realise what was going on, came around to Owen’s other side and put her hand on his back, rubbing up and down.

 

“Owen? Time to go” she said it so gently, but it spurred Owen on and made him realise it was the time to let his daughter do this. He reluctantly bent down and released his baby from his arms. She instantly sprung from his arms and gave Camilla a hug.

 

“I’m so excited! Did you see all the rides? There’s hundreds.” Amé quickly started jumping on the spot with her new friend.

 

Owen stood up again, feeling quite lost. However, Claire took that moment to wrap an arm around his and lean her head on his shoulder. She pressed a kiss to his clothed peck, looking up at him with soft eyes.

“You ok?”

“Yeah course I am” Owen tried to avoid her eyes but Claire kept looking at him.

“It’s ok you know, to feel scared.” Owen glanced at her for the first time and was about to respond to her but Camilla’s parents took that moment to exit the hotel.

“Camilla! Mateo! ¿Qué te dije?” An older Spanish lady came striding out of the hotel, towards her children.

“Lo siento madre” both children muttered, looking down at the ground.

“¡Dije que me quedara dentro del hotel!” Rosa was now standing next to Owen and Claire, but still chastising her children. Owen had learnt both parents’ name the previous night at dinner. The father, who was still absent was named Luis. Owen took the opportunity to whisper in Claire’s ear.

 

“What do you think she’s saying?”

“She’d annoyed because she told them to wait for her in the hotel” she whispered back. Owen nodded in understanding, but then was confused again.

“Hang on! You can speak Spanish too?”

Claire just winked at him, making him smile at the amazing woman next to him. Taking the time to wrap an arm around her back.

“Oh, hello Owen, Claire” the lady had now turned her eyes to the adults. She smiled warmly and with a thick Spanish accent, she did the general greetings.

“Thank you again for taking Amé with you. It’s very kind” Owen said to Rosa.

“No problem” she smiled again. “She’s precious”

They spent the next few minutes talking about the hotel and where Rosa’s family were from in Madrid. Not too long after Owen had started explaining where him and Amé lived, Rosa’s husband came out of the hotel with a toddler in his arms screaming. The children who had been running around in front of the hotel stopped to see Camilla’s little sister cry.
Luis walked over to Rosa, trying to comfort their daughter who kept struggling.

“I’m so sorry Owen, Sofia wanted to play more” he gave Claire and Owen an apologetic smile.

 

“Oh, don’t worry, I remember that stage with Amee. She never wanted to leave a playground.” He chuckled, looking at his daughter currently spinning in a circle with Camilla.

“Luis tenemos que irnos” Rosa turned to her husband and took her daughter who was now sniffling out of his arms. Luis checked his watch and nodded at her.

“We should get going, the traffic could be bad near the city.”

“Yeah of course” Owen nodded, before the nerves hit him again like a train. “Amé baby, come here please.” Amé looked up at her dad and ran over to him. When she reached him, he bent down and scooped her into his arms.

“Now you be good for Rosa and Luis won’t you?”

“Yes Daddy, I’ll be good” Amé put her hands-on Owen’s cheeks and squished them together, making Claire laugh.

“Ok, and any problems you get Rosa to call me ok? She has Daddy’s number. Even if you just want to come back, ok?” Owen gave her a weak smile but Amé was already trying to get down.

“Yes, Daddy ok I know. Can I go now?” She kept squirming to get down. Claire walked over to Owen and gently pried Amé out of his arms. Owen’s arms fell to his sides limply, feeling empty. He had never felt like this before. He just wanted to keep his daughter in his arms, never let her go. It had been the two of them for so long and now she was getting bigger, maybe this was how more things were going to go now? He didn’t like it.

 

“Ok honey, have the best time. Be safe though.” Claire pressed a kiss to her head and put her back on the ground. Amé gave Claire a hug, wrapping her small arms round her legs.

“I will, bye Clairey. Bye Daddy.” she waved and then started running to wear Camilla was waiting for her. Owen saw Claire wave back before turning around and walk back over to him, taking his hand in hers.

“Right, shall we go back inside?”

Owen looked at her and nodded, clearing his throat squeezing her hand.

“Yeah sure”

***

“Owen have you got sunscreen?”

 

Claire and Owen had gone back to Claire’s room to decide what they wanted to do today on Owen’s last full day on the Greek island. They’d decided that they wanted to spend the day by the beach, there was a small secluded beach a short walk from the hotel which Rosa had told Claire about the day before. She’d wanted to spend some quiet time with Owen. Claire had left Owen on the sofa so she could go and get changed into a swimsuit and pack her beach bag.

“Owen?” she called to him again from the bedroom.

Still no answer. For a scary moment Claire thought maybe he’d left to his own room, not wanting to go out today with her. But when she walked back into the lounge area, the balcony doors were open and Owen was standing on it looking over the resort. Claire smiled gently; he was really struggling with letting Amé go. She tiptoed over towards where he was standing, not wanting to scare him. Claire gently winded her arms around his stomach from behind.

 

She felt him initially stiffen, but she just wrapped her arms tighter around him. He then relaxed into her body. He then put his hands over hers, resting on his stomach.

“You ok?” she whispered into his back. His fingers started tracing hers, warming her from the inside.

“Yeah.” He didn’t say anything else for a while, so Claire thought maybe he just wanted to be alone. She was just about to go back to packing her bag when Owen spoke again.

“I’m scared”

He said it so quietly, that Claire thought she had imagined it. But when she turned around, Owen had turned to face her, his back leaning against the balcony.

“Scared?” Claire questioned; confusion evident in his tone.

“I don't know how to let go. You know... of Amé” he started to rub the back of his neck, which Claire had noticed he only seemed to do when he was nervous or embarrassed. She couldn’t tell which one he was right now.

“Owen” she started, walking back towards him. “It’s ok to feel like that.” Claire stopped just in front of him, reaching up to run a hand through his thick curls.

“It’s just... it’s been Amé and I for so long you know? Just the two of us. Her mother, Gabby well she... we’d been having problems way before Amé was born. I was on leave from the Navy one Christmas and I met her in a local bar back home in Hawaii. I guess you could say we kind of hit it off” Claire wrinkled her nose at his obvious innuendo. Owen’s lips twitched at her display of jealously and he bent down to peck her nose, making her smile.

“Anyway, after I went back into the job, I didn’t see her for about five months. Then when I would come home, we would kind of get together for an intense few weeks before I had to return. I almost become comforting to me. A small sense of normalcy in my life which I’d never had growing up.” Owen’s hands started to fiddle with the bottom of his shirt. He had never told anyone about this, no one. Claire’s hands came up to cover his, bringing them to her hips.

 

“But one night when I was home off leave, I found her getting high in her bathroom. And I'm not talking soft drugs. I think I suddenly realised I was with this woman who I actually knew nothing about. So, I ended it there and then. Told her that what we had going on would never happen again.”

 

“How did she take it?” Claire broke his speech, softly rubbing his hands which still wrapped around her hips.

“She was pissed. Told me I had led her on, and I used her for sex.” Owen turned his head to look out across the resort, the morning sun just starting to heat up the resort. “Sometimes I wonder if maybe I had. If I had seen who she was sooner, maybe things would have ended differently. But then I wouldn’t have Amé and I’d never do anything to change that.

 

Claire smiled at him, intently listening to everything he said.

“Anyway, about three months later I get a letter from Gabby. I was stationed in Florida for a few months and my commander had passed on the letter from the base in Hawaii. She said very little in the letter, except for the fact she was pregnant with my child. I couldn't believe it. At first, I thought she was lying just to try and make me come back. But there was a scan attached to the letter, a scan of Amé.”

Owen dropped his hands from Claire’s hips and turned around to face the view. He heard Claire shuffle her feet, so she was standing next to him. Mirroring his pose with her arms on the railing.

“I grabbed the first flight home and took a taxi straight to Gabby’s. She answered the door and cried for hours. Telling me that she was scared and she wanted to get rid of it. I tried to comfort her, but the thought of getting rid our baby had never even reached my mind. Even though I was terrified about having a baby at twenty-four, I had never even considered not keeping it. That baby was mine and I wanted it.” He felt Claire take his hand in hers, pressing a light kiss to the back. He hadn’t wanted to tell her all this, unloading his emotional baggage on her seemed unfair. But now he’d started he couldn’t stop.

 

“I told her that I wanted to keep the baby, and that I’d do everything I could to help her. I said I’d leave the navy and move back to Hawaii, I’d buy us a house and we could get married, you know... do things right. Or what I thought was right” he chuckled mirthlessly. “But the one thing I told her which was none negotiable, was she had to stop the drugs. If I ever caught her hitting up while she was pregnant, I would leave and that was that. She promised me that she wouldn’t. And to be fair, she did keep her promise.” he took a deep breath.

Pausing to allow Claire to soak up all the information he had revealed to her.

“Babe I ’m sorry if this is too much for you. Tell me if you think I’m talking-”

“Owen” she brought his hand to her mouth again, pressing small kisses there. “I want to know everything about you. Carry on, please.” she gave him a pleading look, so he continued.

“For a while things seemed to be looking up. We were getting along, I’d bought us a house with my savings, Gabby’s parents had sent her some money for the baby and things were finally looking up. That was until Amé was born.” Owen took a deep breath, reliving the memories were harder than he thought they’d be.

“When Amé was born, for a few days things seemed to be ok. I mean, Gabby had a shorter temper and would get angry at me over the smallest things, but I could deal with that. She was being the doting mother I thought she would be. But slowly over the course of two weeks, she seemed to change.
She would go out at night and not come back till the early hours, she’d pick fights with me and then leave for hours on end. Not to mention how she just ignored Amé, never holding her or bothering to check on her.” he was slightly out of breath when he finished, anger returning when he thought about how that woman had treated his daughter.

 

Claire took one of his hands and laced them together. She tugged him towards the doors and back into the room. Owen was confused at first. Was she walking away? No, because otherwise she wouldn’t be taking him with her. When they reached her lounge area, she gestured towards the sofa. Owen understood that she wanted to sit down with him, so he placed himself on one end, and Claire sat closely next to him.

Wrapping one of her arms under his. Owen felt himself relax into the sofa, which he believed had been Claire’s plan all along. He turned his head into her hair which was resting on his shoulder, and pressed a lingering kiss there.

 

“When Amé was about two weeks old, I’d gone out to see one of my friends who was visiting from the navy. It was my first time leaving Amé and I had been pretty nervous about doing it. But Gabby had assured me that she would be fine, which at the time I thought was odd as she hadn’t wanted to be near Amé or me for days now. But I just hoped that she was turning a corner, you know, maybe she’d realised that what she had was a gift. So, I spent my evening relaxed and enjoying some company which wasn’t Gabby’s.” he rested his head on Claire’s, hoping the contact would calm him.

“I got home at about midnight, I’d walked from the local bar slightly tipsy, and didn’t want to pay for a taxi. As I got to my house, I saw all the lights were still on. I thought that was kinda weird because when Gabby did sleep at home, she was going to sleep at like nine.
But I thought maybe she was still up, like she might haave been waiting for me. So, I opened the front door, expecting to see her waiting on the sofa for me. But she wasn’t there. I then went to our bedroom thinking maybe she’d fallen asleep and forgotten to switch the lights off. But she wasn’t there either. I started to freak out, I called her name but she didn’t answer. I was thinking that maybe she’s taken Amé and run away. I ran to Amé’s room expecting to find her gone, but as I got to her cot, there she was. Just looking up at me.” Owen felt his fists clenching unintentionally, remembering the panic he’d felt at looking into Amé’s cot and finding her gone.

 

“She’d left our two-week-old daughter alone in the house.” he heard Claire gasp quietly. “Anything could have happened to her. What if she’d got sick or someone had broken in?”

“Did she leave you a note or something to say where she had gone.” Claire questioned, anger evident in her tone.

“Oh yeah, ‘sorry’. One lousy word.”

He felt Claire move from under his chin. Sitting up next to him.

“She never deserved either of you Owen.” she took his hand back in hers, shuffling closer to him.

“For so long, I blamed myself. I thought that if I hadn’t gone out that night then maybe Amé would still have a mother.”

Claire moved so she was now kneeling in front of him.

“No Owen, it was not your fault. You were both in it together. If she couldn’t see how precious you and Amé are then that’s her loss.” Owen felt his eyes start to moisten at her words. Claire really was the second greatest gift he had ever received, Amé being the first. He took her hands and pulled her upwards.

“Come’ere”

Owen kept pulling on her hands until she was basically laying on him. Claire turned on her side slightly so she was comfortable, but still had every part of her body touching his. They both sat there in silence for a few minutes just enjoying being together. Owen was stroking Claire’s hair and Claire had intertwined their fingers.

“I meant what I said Owen. Nothing that happened was your fault. You are honestly the best dad I’ve ever known, the way you always put Amé first. It’s special” she whispered into his chest.

“You’re special” Owen whispered back, kissing her head. Claire looked up at him and smiled widely. Suddenly Owen felt the overwhelming urge to show Claire how special she was to him, wanting to show her how much he cared for her. So, he slowly leant down and captured her lips with his.
Claire eagerly accepted the kiss, pushing her body up slightly until her knees were on either side of his hips. Now that Claire was straddling him Owen could wrap his arms tightly around her, bringing them flush against each other. Claire had her fingers tangled in his curls, tilting his head to her liking. His tongue began demanding entrance into Claire’s mouth which she gave willingly, moaning loudly when their tongues met.

Even though Owen knew they were moving too quickly, all his previous reservations about taking the next step with Claire this soon, flew out of the window as soon as their mouths met. Everything about this moment felt right. He wanted everything with Claire and he wanted to prove that to her. However, just as Claire’s hand started un doing the buttons on his shirt a thought hit him. What if they had sex and she decided things wouldn’t work out long distance. Maybe this was her way of saying goodbye to him? Owen couldn’t take that.

It would utterly break him, to have her so close to then no longer have her at all. So, as Claire had got the first four buttons on his shirt undone, he gently covered her hands with his and reluctantly pulled his mouth of hers. At first she looked at him in confusion. Her eyes were hazy with lust and her lips swollen from kissing.

“Baby, I don’t want to rush things.” he started gently. Making sure she understood that he wanted to.

“Oh ok” Claire suddenly flung herself off his lap and started apologising. “I’m sorry I pushed too far I just thought that-”

“No no Claire, you did nothing wrong!” He reached out for her, snagging her hand and pulling her back into his lap. “You have no idea how much I want you. Or how long I’ve wanted you.” he watched her blush at that.
“But you’re so special to me, and I want to make sure we are both one hundred percent committed to whatever this is between us, before we take the next step.” he finished by stroking the side of her face. Owen watched as the hurt and vulnerable look in her eyes, faded, and her eyes softened into what he could only describe as a loving gaze.

She turned her head to the left and pressed a kiss to the inside of his wrist.

“Thank you, Owen. I feel the same” she whispered. “I just got carried away I guess.” she looked apologetic again and Owen didn’t want her to feel that, so he quickly leant forward and kissed her quickly.

“So did I. I honestly find that I can’t help myself when I’m around you Claire.” he breathed against her lips. Claire smiled at him and let her eyes drop giving him a once over.

“Yeah, I know the feeling” her lips quirking.

“Right miss Dearing.” Owen jumped up jostling Claire out of his lap. “I do believe we said we were headed to the beach” He started gathering their bags and moving towards the door. “You ready?”

Claire looked up at him from where she was sitting on the couch still.

 

“Hell yeah”

Chapter Text

They’d been walking for about thirty-five minutes now. Rosa had told them about a secluded beach close to the hotel, but it was quite a walk through the surrounding forest. Now, in normal circumstances Claire hated walking and wildlife, even as a child she couldn’t stand the family walks her parents used to take her and Karen on every Sunday.
She used to find them boring and hated getting her shoes dirty. But when Owen was holding her hand and buzzing with excitement about finding their own beach, as he kept calling it, how could she dislike that?

 

She was pleased to see he had cheered up a little since this morning. Claire obviously couldn’t understand what it must feel like to be properly parted from your child for the first time, but she could see how much it was affecting Owen. So, she tired her best to keep his mind away from the fact his daughter was now miles away from them.

 

“You know my cabin I’m building is in the middle of a forest. There are these huge trees, like a hundred feet high. And the plot I bought is right next to this beautiful lake, where you can literally watch the sun fall onto the water in the evenings.” Owen was currently swinging their joined hands lightly between their bodies as he explained to Claire where his new home was to be located.

“Sounds incredible Owen.” Claire smiled at him, picturing the picturesque cabin with Owen sitting outside watching the sun go down.

“I’d love you to see it.”

He turned his head towards hers, giving her a hopeful look. Claire had honestly thought of nothing else the last few days. Nothing except Owen and Amé’s looming departure. She had tried to block it out of her mind and convince herself that nothing would have to change between them. They could just carry on seeing each other, just now it would have to be long distance. But the reality of being 450 miles between them was intimidating.

Sure, the flight from New York to Maine wasn’t drastic but Claire could hardly hop in her car and be in Owen’s arms within the hour. But the thought of ending things with Owen, well it made her feel sick.

All her life she had thought about what love would feel like. Being fully encompassed by love, to feel it surrounding your entire body. It was lifesaving. It may be a bit early to be talking about love with Owen, things were still incredibly new but Claire new that what they had was special.

 

“Claire?”

She turned her head quickly towards him. He was looking at her expectantly, hopeful eyes prying to understand her sudden lack of conversation.

“Sorry, I was just thinking” she mumbled focussing on the ground in front of them.

“Anything in particular?”

Claire looked back up at him and saw him giving her a knowing look. She was tempted to reveal all her reservations about their future and explain to him why she was hesitant to talk about tomorrow. But she also didn’t want to spoil their day together by casting a grey cloud over it.

“Mmm nothing” she said nonchalantly. “Look isn’t this what Rosa was talking about?” she pointed to a small cove up ahead through a clearing in the forest. If Owen noticed that she was trying to change the conversation he made no move to acknowledge it. Instead he squeezed her hand and started walking towards the gap in the trees.

***

Bliss.

Today had been pure bliss.

The gentle sound of the crystal-clear water, the bright sun making everything look clearer and the occasional sound of tour boats sounding in the distance.

Once the couple had discovered the small cove, they had immediately taken up a spot in the middle of the white sand. As this place was so secluded and out of the way from the rest of the world, there was no one else on the small stretch of beach except for them. They’d both taken the time to observe how beautiful this scene was, before starting to set up their camp with towels and a small umbrella Owen had carried.

 

Three hours had gone by. Both of them taking it in turns to apply sunscreen to one another and taking regular dips into the cool Greek water. Claire smiled at the memory of Owen chasing her down towards the water, exclaiming how he was going to throw her in. He had eventually caught her around the waist as she was dashing through the waves, throwing Claire over his shoulder and jumping into the sea.
As they had both resurfaced, Claire tried to look sternly at him, but when she saw how adorable he looked with his now soaking curls falling in front of his forehead, Claire just broke out into the biggest grin.

 

She was currently laying on her back with a book propped up against her bent legs, thinking about how perfect the day had gone. Claire pushed her weight up onto her arms so she could see the picturesque view currently in front of her. She took a moment to gaze at the dazzling water, trying to memorise the feeling of contentment.

Before returning to her crime novel she has been trying to finish reading since she got here. Her eyes drifted to Owen, who was pacing back and forth just shy of the water's edge, while he spoke to Amé on the phone.

 

Owen couldn’t wait any longer to call his little girl. He was constantly fidgeting every few minutes, itching to reach for his phone and call her. So, Claire had chuckled with amusement and encouraged him to ring Rosa. She watched him now as he laughed at something Amé had said. He truly was beautiful.

Claire had never really considered that a man could be defined as beautiful. But she’d clearly never seen a man like Owen Grady. He was wearing a dark navy running top with short shoulder sleeves, concealing the tops of his toned arms. And black swimming shorts which were pulled tight at his waist, showing off his tanned thighs. But one of Claire’s favourite part about Owen was his hair. The unruly curls which had now dried, gently swayed in the sea breeze, enticing Claire to run her hands through them.

Taking him in now, she almost wished he wasn’t wearing a top, slightly desperate to see the skin he hid underneath.

Now she comes to think of it, Claire can’t remember Owen ever having not worn a top at the beach.

She had noticed a few times that he had kept his shirt on when he’d been playing on the beach with Amé, but always assumed he didn’t want to burn or maybe he’d just forgotten to take it off. But now she thinks about it, she’d never seen him without a shirt on. Not that this bothered her, she couldn’t care less if Owen never took his shirt off in public. Not really being one hundred percent keen on other women staring at his clearly chiselled physique. But he certainly didn’t strike Claire as the insecure type, knowing that some men were maybe uncomfortable with being so exposed in public.

Claire must have gotten distracted with her thoughts because the next thing she knew, Owen is standing next to her looking down.

“You miss me?” he smirked at her, putting his phone back into her bag.

“Mmmm.. Not much” she looked back to her book, pretending to be engrossed in the pages.

“No? Well that’s sad.” he dramatically plopped himself on the towel next to hers, landing on his front, with his arms crossed under his chin. “Coz I missed you a lot.” he pouted gazing up at her with playful eyes.

Claire chuckled at his childish behaviour.

“ok ok, maybe I missed you a bit. Happy?” she tried to conceal her happy smile behind her book.

“Just a bit? Now I know I can change that” he pushed himself up onto his arms and crawled towards her. He had a mischievous smile plastered all over his face, like he was ready to pounce.

“Owen” she said in a fake stern voice. “I’ve only got two more chapters left”

He had reached her now and was pushing her gently back until she was laying on her back and he was leaning over her body.

“Yeah and they’ll still be there tomorrow” he whispered getting closer to her face.

Then suddenly he launched himself on her. Trapping her with his body and tickling her sides lightly with his fingers. Claire began shrieking with delight, begging him to stop through endless laughter. Her hands came up to try and push him away but he was too strong for her.

She threw her head back against the towel with laughter as he continued to attack her sides. Owen took this opportunity of her exposed neck to place sensual kisses up and down, while turning his tickling to a gentle caress of her sides.

 

Claire immediately relaxed into his hold, tilting her head further to give him better access. Owen took encouragement to begin gently sucking on her neck, while pulling her body closer to his.

Claire moaned at the feeling of his mouth against her skin, the drag of his teeth against her throat along with the dampness of his tongue.
Her hands found themselves wound into his hair, gently scraping her nails over his scalp. She felt Owen growl against her throat and she knew that she needed him to kiss her. She gently tugged on his hair and guided his mouth to hers. It was Owen’s turn to moan when he found her mouth ready and waiting for his. Their tongues instantly intertwined together, battling for dominance.

When both their bodies demanded oxygen, Owen tore his mouth from hers and looked into her desire filled eyes.

“Hi”

“Hello” Claire replied. Running a hand along his back, feeling the strong muscles ripple under his shirt.

“You miss me now?”

Claire smirked at him, allowing her hands to find a home in his hair. She leant up to kiss him deeply one last time, before laying her head back on the towel.

“That answer your question?” she questioned, quirking an eyebrow.

“Best answer I've ever had!” Owen smiled gleefully down at her. Taking the time to gently roll over on to his side, taking Claire with him. He made sure she was comfortably tucked under his arm, with her head resting on his covered chest.

“How was Amé?”

“Oh, she’s having a blast. Won’t stop talking about how she can swim like a mermaid now.” he chuckled, while running his hands over Claire’s back softly. “You know, the norm for Amé”

Claire closed her eyes whilst listening to Owen relay his conversation with Amé to her. The gentle feel of his hands running up and down her back, nearly lulling her to sleep.

“Claire? Baby, am I boring you that much?”

Her eyes shot open at the feel of Owen nudging her lightly. When her eyes met his, the was a soft smile playing on his lips.

“no no, I’m listening. Go on”

She closed her eyes once more and snuggled closer to Owen, making sure her upper body was covered by the umbrella, currently protecting them both from the midday sun.

“Kinda looks like your sleeping.” he chuckled into her hair. “You know if you wanna sleep I'm more than happy to be your pillow.”

“You’re just so comfortable” she buried her face into his neck, pouting.

She felt the vibrations of his laugh through his chest. His arms came around her back and pulled her fully on top of him, while holding her tightly against his body. This new level of intimacy that she had found with Owen was so new and fresh to Claire, she finds herself thinking at times maybe it was all too good to be true.

The other shoe was bound to drop at some point and then she was be devastated. Things never ended well romantically for Claire. Was she just delaying the inevitable? Owen and Amé were leaving tomorrow and she was still just pretending that everything was going to carry on the same. Breaking her out of her thoughts, she heard Owen mumble something into her hair.

“Huh?”

She felt him turn his head to reach her ear, pressing his lips against her neck before whispering.

“You have very soft skin.”

She giggled into his shoulder; all her previous dark thoughts forgotten.

“Thank you”

She ran her hand down his clothed chest and across to his left arm. Letting herself feel the tanned skin of his forearm under her fingers. “As do you”

“Ah well, it’s all the exfoliating I do you see.”

Claire couldn’t contain the smile, looking at the difference in colour between their two skins. His darkly tanned with not a single freckle marring his skin. And hers a great deal paler but covered in brown freckles which always happened when she spent long periods of time in the sun.

A comfortable silence fell over them as they both listened to the soothing sounds of the sea. When Claire remembered something, she had wanted to ask Owen.

“Owen?”

“Mhmm”

She stretched her neck to glance at him and she found his eyes closed. Claire suddenly thought that maybe this wasn’t the time to bring up such a matter. He seemed so calm; she didn’t want to put him under any pressure.
“Oh um, never mind” she replied quickly, hoping he’d just let it go.

But as ever, Owen was in tune to her feelings and wasn’t going to let this slide.

“No Claire, go on. You can talk to me about anything Sweetheart.” He was now intently staring at her, trying to convey his honesty through eye contact.

“You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to its just-” she fumbled with her words realising how stupid this was to bring up now. This is exactly what Josh was always saying to her, she was always so pressurizing.

“Baby. Calm, talk to me”

Owen pulled both of them into a sitting position so Claire was sitting cross legged in front of him, with Owen mirroring her position and holding both her hands.

“It’s just... I kinda wondered why you always keep your shirt on when we’re at the beach?”

As she’d finished saying those words, she visibly saw Owen stiffen, tension pouring into his face and body. She knew it. Why does she always have to ruin every good thing in her life? Maybe Josh was right maybe it's her that's the problem, always trying to control everything around her.

 

“I’m sorry Owen, forget I said anything! I don’t even know why I brought it up? It’s not like I care at all and it’s so stupid to even talk about. I always do this I ruin things and we were having such a nice day and I-” she was rambling and she couldn’t seem to stop herself. Luckily Owen put a stop to it by putting a finger to her lips.

“Claire Claire, it’s ok” he soothed. “You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just this silly thing that happened when I was a kid that’s all.”

Claire watched his face to make sure she hadn’t truly offended him, expecting him to be mad for poking around in his personal feelings.
But strangely she found all the previous tension from before gone, literally as if it never existed. His eyes had relaxed, as had his shoulders.
But not like he wasn’t affected by the conversation, more like he had schooled his expression to try and reassure her.

 

“When I was about seven, my mum took me to the beach near our house in Hawaii, and it was the height of summer so the sun was at its hottest. My mum made sure I had sunscreen on throughout the day as she was always worried about that sort of thing.”

He paused for a second with a small frown on his face. Like he was trying to remind himself of this fact. Claire wondered if maybe he was trying to convince himself of that, more than her.

“Basically, long story short the sunscreen my mum had been using had gone out of date two years before. Which is kind of bad for a kid who liked to spend his days out in the sun.
So, I had serious sunburn on my back which nearly scarred and the doc said at the time to make sure I always keep my back covered in the future, you know to prevent skin cancer and other things. So, I do.”

 

Throughout the story, Owen hadn’t looked at Claire once. Looking down at their joined hands and fiddling with one of Claire’s rings, which she had been given from her grandmother on her 18th birthday. She couldn’t help notice how rehearsed this sounded. Every word was picked perfectly, like he had explained this story millions of times. Or had at least gone through it in his head.

But somewhere deep inside Claire she knew there was more to this story. Owen seemed so withdraw when talking to her, nothing like the man she had gotten to know so well. It was almost like he was stuck in his own head, memories keeping him locked away and preventing him from being able to talk freely.

She wanted nothing more than to push him. Desiring to know every little detail about this man she had become so quickly fond of. But she had already pushed him today, and didn’t want him to start withdrawing from her completely.

“Owen that sounds awful, I’m sorry.”

Leaning forward she pressed her lips to his in a quick kiss. She saw the darkness slowly start to lift from his eyes, swirls of blue irises staring directly at her. His lips quirked softly as his attention returned to Claire, taking a deep breath and pulling on her hands gently.

“It’s cool. Was a long time ago.”

And that was that. He pulled her up onto her feet and started chatting about beating her in a race to the sea.
So, Claire found herself running towards the ocean, trying to ignore the strange behaviour she had just witnessed. It’s possible Owen just doesn’t like talking about his past.
Claire constantly mentions her parents and her big sister Karen, talking to Owen about her childhood and the holidays they used to take as children.

All she had managed to get out of Owen was that he lived in Hawaii for most of his young life and that his mother’s name was Lily.

Hopefully if they could survive the hurdle of being hundreds of miles apart, she would come to learn more about this man. As for the first time in Claire’s life, she wanted to know everything about the man she was with. Just like he wanted to know everything about her.

***
“Wow! Babe look what I've found”

Claire called Owen over, who was currently looking in a small rock pool a few yards away. After another couple of hours relaxing on the beach, Claire suggested that they take a walk to explore the outskirts of the beach.
They’d walked along the narrow edges of the sand, heading towards a jumble of rocks lying next to the lapping water.

Owen’s arm was draped over her shoulder as they walked, breathing in the salty air.

Constantly pressing kisses to the side of her head, making Claire smile brightly. As they’d reached the large boulders which were stacked on top of each other, climbing high towards the edge of a white cliff, Owen helped Claire climb over the top of them while always holding tightly onto her hand.

 

Luckily Claire had told Owen to put his sneakers back on, that they’d walked to the beach in. As she knew how sharp the rocks could be, from years of holidaying in the Outer Banks with her family. Claire had put her sandals back on which matched her white bikini.

“What’s it?”

Owen jogged over to Claire, worry evident on his face. She smiled at his concern for her safety, quickly taking his hand to reassure him.

“It’s a cave” she pointed into the pitch blackness at the opening in the headland. There was a small horizontal crack the ran about the width of a door frame and tiny vertical gap which looked too small for a grown man the climb through. “I think there’s water in there Owen.”

“How can you tell?”

“I think I can see the reflection of the light bouncing on the water”

Claire was now on her hands and knees trying to peer through the gap in the rock, eager to see the possibilities inside. She’d been cave diving before in Majorca, it was incredible. She’d love to share something so special with Owen, it might even be romantic. “Let’s go in.”

She turned to Owen with excitement clearly evident on her face. Owen on the other hand was not as into the idea as she was.

“No Claire, come on you can barely see anything in there.”

“Yes, I can, look” she beckoned Owen to crouch down with her. “There’s more light coming from somewhere else in the cave. There’s probably another way out too.”

Even though Owen humoured her by bending down to have a look, he still had a frown on his face. Arms firmly crossed over his torso.

“We’re not going in there Claire. It’s dangerous.”

She was surprised by Owen’s aversion; he was always the first one to try something spontaneous and out of the box. Claire stood up so she was face to face with him again. Taking his hands in hers she tried to reason with him.
“I’ve done it before Owen, it’s really amazing. The pool is very clean from the water running off the rocks and it would just be the two of us.”

 

Owen just shook his head slightly. “You haven’t done it here Claire. If something happens-”

“It won’t.”

They both stood there, staring each other down. Claire let go of his hands and planted her own on her hips.

“Well if you’re not coming then I’ll go on my own.”

She turned to walk towards the cave when she felt him grab her arm. He turned her around to face him quickly, a nervous look on his face.

“No, you won’t! That’s so stupid Claire, what if you fell and hurt yourself? Huh? What am I supposed to do?”

She yanked her arm out of his grip, annoyance written all over her face. “You don’t get to tell me what to do” pointing a finger in his face. “I don’t need you to babysit me Owen.”

With that she turned and walked determinedly back towards the cave. She heard a vague protest from Owen, but ignored it. As she got to the cave’s opening once more, she saw a man’s sandal lying next to the headland. Obviously, it had been sitting there a while as it had become slightly weathered, but it only served to prove her theory that this was a popular choice for most people.

 

“See Owen” picking up the discarded shoe and waving it at the stubborn man behind her. “People have done this before. It’s not dangerous.”

She watched as irritation flashed over Owen’s face, before falling into one of deep concern. Claire took a moment to study the deeply rooted lines of worry now running around his facial features.

 

For a second she felt bad. Owen didn't just seem worried for her safety, there was something else in his eyes.

The look of pure terror which flickered on and off since she’d suggested the idea. He also had his fists clenched together, tightly binding his fingers to his palms. From what Claire could tell though, it wasn’t out of anger.

No, I looked like the cause was panic. The way his palms twitched with every breath, the nervous sway he had in his feet.

However, Claire was sick of men telling her to do. She was a grown woman who was so used to being pushed around by men, that she wasn’t going to let it happen ever again. No matter how much she liked Owen.
“See you later.” she threw over her shoulder to Owen, before crouching down again and crawling slowly forward.

She once again heard Owen try to reason with her, but to no avail. Due to her size, Claire easily slipped through the gap in the rock and waited for her eyes to adjust to darkness.

After a couple of silent moments, Claire saw the cave for what it truly was.

 

Untouched beauty. The small water pool which Claire had only seen glimpses of, was glistening in the light. Small cracks which ran up the ceiling of the headland was allowing small doses of light to pour through, falling on the water. Claire was also amazed by the space that was available after you’d crawled through the narrow gap.
It was an open area, with large boulders surrounding the water.
To the left there was a dark tunnel which most properly led further into the cave, but maybe exploring that was pushing Owen too far.

 

Standing there and observing the natural wonder of the cave, finally became too much for Claire. She wanted to swim. She took a few steps towards the crystal lagoon and allowed her toes to test the temperature. Quite cold. Smiling to herself she decided to just jump in and get it over with.

She was preparing herself for the change in temperature when she heard a noise from behind her.

“Claire”

Turning around she found herself staring into the nervous eyes of Owen.

“Thought you said you weren’t coming?” There was no bite to her words now, only amusement.

“I couldn't leave you to go in alone.” He took a few shaky steps towards her, eyes blindly searching his surroundings as his eyes had yet to adjust to the change in light. He had his hands out in front of him, trying to search for her. Claire quickly walked forward until one of his hands touched her arm.

“It’s so amazing Owen. The water its mesmerising.”

She walked them forward slightly until they were both at the edge of the lagoon. She heard Owen’s breath stutter, which she assumed was due to the beauty of the water.

“The last one I went to wasn’t as secluded as this. It was a lot bigger and was one of the largest tourist attractions on the island so it had kind of been disturbed.” Her gaze set on the gently drifting water in front of them.

“I went with Karen when my eldest nephew was born. I think she wanted a break away from her husband and the whole family life thing. So, she booked this trip and we went. Obviously, Karen didn’t come with me as Zack was only four months but it was so incred-. Owen?”

Realising Owen had been very quiet since she’d started talking, she turned her head to glance at him and what she saw scared her.

He was as white as a sheet.

Even in the darkness of the cave Claire could tell how pale he was. He was completely frozen in fear with his eyes flickering from side to side. But what startled her the most was his breathing. His breath was coming out in irregular puffs, while a choked sound emulated from within his throat. Overcome with concern, she quickly pulled him away from the water.

“Owen are you ok?” But he didn’t reply, his eyes not focussing on her.

She put her hands on either side of his face to try and ground him, but he was still unresponsive. When her hands met his, she found them incredibly sweaty as well as the sweat running down the side of his neck. Suddenly it hit Claire. Owen was having a panic attack. Even though she’d had a few during college and she’d bared witness to Karen having one when she found out she was pregnant with Zack.
Never in her life had she seen one as bad as this. “Baby? Can you hear me?”

 

Deciding to get Owen out of the cave as quickly as possible, Claire wrapped one of his arms around her neck and started walking towards the beach.
Trying to get Owen out of the small gap in the rock was going to be tricky, not really knowing how he managed to crawl through it. However, Claire gently pulled him down to the floor with her, and holding onto his hands.

 

“Baby I’m just going to crawl through so I can help you. Ok?” She waited patiently from an answer, but got nothing. Owen’s breathing was now heavier but increasingly irregular. Claire’s concern was growing that he was going to make himself pass out. “Just focus on my hand honey ok?”

 

Trying to crawl through a small gap while holding onto someone else's hand was not as simple as Claire had first thought. But she somehow manged to manoeuvre herself out of the cave while still tightly joined to Owen’s arm.

“Ok, baby you’re going to have to duck down so you can crawl through” Claire put as much of her head through the low gap as she could. Allowing Owen to try and focus on her face. “Then you’re out.” Claire tried gently tugging on his hand but he didn’t budge.
“Please Owen, you need to do this for me. Please?” She pulled again but this time she felt some movement.
Tugging again she saw Owen’s head crawl through the space in the rock. “Good job Owen, keep coming. You’re nearly there honey.”

 

Claire pulled again and suddenly Owen was out. She wasted no time in gathering him into her arms. Sitting on the floor outside the cave, she pulled Owen’s upped body into her lap. His head hidden in her neck and her back leaning against the rocks to support both their weight.
She felt the rough stone press into the skin on her naked back, but couldn’t seem to care.

All her attention was on Owen.

“It’s ok. I’ve got you.”

 

Rocking him from side to side, similar to the way a mother would rock her new born child, Claire continued to whisper sweet nothing’s in his ear. Feeling the tension slowly start to melt away from him. After a time, Claire felt him begin to shake. At first, she thought maybe it was the shock, but then when she leant her head down to catch a glimpse of his face.
To her horror she saw he was crying.

“Baby oh my god? It’s ok. I’ve got you.”

Feeling Owen’s tears soak into her skin, she felt her eyes fill. Never in her life had she ever felt so protective of anyone. Owen allowing her to see his most vulnerable side, was awaken a side of her she never knew she had. A side where she knew she would do anything to keep him happy. She would never want any harm to ever come to him.

And she most definitely never wanted to cause him this much misery again.

They sat there for what felt like hours. Claire continually rocking them both, until she felt his breathing return to normal and his tears cease. At one-point Owen had intertwined their fingers and had laid their joined hands on his chest. After a while Claire thought that maybe Owen had fallen asleep. She was just about to check when she heard Owen’s broken voice

“I don’t like small dark places”

She froze. Not wanting to disturb him. But when it became apparent that he wasn’t going to say anymore, Claire relied with a breath.

“No kidding”

She felt Owen’s wet chuckle into her neck and pride bloomed in her chest that she had been the one to make him laugh, even though he was obviously in turmoil.

Wanting to provide him with as much comfort as possible, Claire began gently threading her fingers through his curls. Loving scratching his scalp, the way she’d grown to know he loved. Owen released a large breath and sank further into Claire’s lap.

There was a slight hesitation in the air around them.
The breeze from the sea complimented the hot temperature from the sun nicely, and the shade of the rocks provided the perfect spot to relax. But Claire could tell Owen wanted to explain himself. She could hear his attempts to try and explain what just happened, in his breathing. Allowing him time to try and organise the thoughts in his head, she continued to stroke his curls. Also finding the experience therapeutic for herself.

“I’m really sorry”

That was the last thing Claire expected him to say.

“What?”

“I know how embarrassing this must be to watch and normally this doesn’t happen it’s just sometimes-”

“Owen don’t be ridiculous.” Claire took his face in her palms, forcing him to look her straight in the eyes. “You have nothing to be sorry about ok? If anything, it’s my fault for going in there in the first place.” Guilt flooding her features, realising she all but forced him to go into the cave after her.
She caused him considerable pain.

Suddenly the turmoil faded from Owen’s eyes, as if he had really heard her for the first time sice his panic attack. He sat up straighter and puller her close to him.

“No Claire it wasn’t your fault. You had no idea that I” he stopped himself. Looking away from her gaze, he focussed on the sand they were currently sitting on. “You know when I told you about moving to Hawaii? Because my Dad got transferred there?”

She nodded.

“Well it wasn’t because my Dad got a new job. To be honest, my dad didn’t even move with us. He... he died when I was seven. Lung cancer.” Claire could tell how much this still affected Owen, the pain he had carried with him all these years.

“I’m so sorry Owen. I can’t imagine how that must have felt.”

Taking his hand in hers, she tried to provide some comfort while he carried on speaking.

“It really destroyed my mom. She was never one hundred percent stable; she’d always had a drinking problem. But my dad... he kept her stable enough to make it through each day.”

His gaze turned out towards the sea, running back and forth over the far-off horizon. Claire could tell he was trying to picture the days before his life fell apart. Remember the feeling of a happy family.

“So, after he died, she couldn’t cope. She started drinking heavily, in the morning after dinner, at three am. Literally her whole life revolved around whatever drink she could get her hands on.”

Anger slowly seeped into his voice as he revealed more and more to Claire about his childhood.
The vein on the side of his neck was clearly visible, a trait Claire had noticed when that dumb ass at the bar had tried to come onto her.
So, Claire brought his palm to her mouth to kiss it chastely, trying to calm the storm brewing in his mind. It seemed to work, as he stopped the tight grip he had on his shorts with his other hand.

“I guess she didn’t think I was worth enough to try and hold it together.”

Now it was Claire’s turn to be angry. She felt the fire burn in her stomach at the look on his face now. How dare his mother make him feel this way, what gave her the right to decide Owen wasn’t good enough. She could imagine Owen as a little boy, desperately wanting his mother’s love but always being disappointed.

“No Owen! You are worth so much. You are kind and loving, you’re always helpful to everyone you meet. And look at how amazing you are to Amé. She loves you so much Owen. If your mom couldn’t see how amazing you are... well then that’s her loss.

Claire was slightly out of breath at the end of her rant, her breath coming out fast. Owen hadn’t looked away from her for the whole time she was speaking. His eyes fixed on her; with an intensity she hadn’t seen in his eyes before.

“You are worth so much to me Claire.”

The words so simple yet so powerful. Claire could tell her cheeks were blushing, from the heat currently filling her face. She smiled so softly at him, wanting to kiss him badly. However, she knew he needed to explain his reaction earlier so encouraged him to continue.

“So, what happened when you moved to Hawaii?”

There was a slight pause, before Owen started speaking again.

“Well my mom thought that after two years of random hook ups and alcohol, that a fresh start is what we both needed.” he continued, laughing humourlessly.

He was now leaning against the same rock as she was with their hands tightly joined in-between them. “She rented this little bungalow near the beach and got a full-time job working at a bar. For a while I actually thought maybe she had turned a corner you know. She’d decided to try again.
And of course, I absolutely fell in love with the beach and the ocean. It became my safe place when mom was at work. Somewhere quiet and peaceful, where I could try and forget about the last few years.”

“So, what went wrong?” Claire whispered

“Alan went wrong” he spat

Claire was so taken aback with the fury radiating off Owen in that moment. The name was like a poison in his mouth, as if saying it was a sin.

“My mom met Alan at the bar, he was one of their regular customers who spent all their wages on cheap booze and cigarettes. At first, I would only see them together when I came to the bar after school, waiting for my mom to finish her shift. But slowly I saw more of him. Dinners at ours, days out to the beach and then finally staying over at night.”

Owen had moved their joined hands into his lap by now, using her hand as a distraction from what he was saying. His fingers would glide over the back of her palm almost rhythmically.

“I always hated him. He would call me things like kid and champ, used to make me feel small. Always scruffing up my hair when he walked by like he’d known me my whole damn life.”

“How long were they together? Your mom and Alan?”

“About five years. I was nine when they met and around fourteen when things...”

He stopped then. Like he’d suddenly remembered what came next in the story. He turned to Claire then, kneeling in front of her in the sand.

“Look Claire this next part is kinda messy, and I need to know that if I tell you, you won’t... Look it's hard to tell you but I think you need to know, but I don’t know what I’d do if you couldn’t handle it. Couldn’t handle me. I... I can’t lose you because of this”

There were tears filling his eyes which he tried to rub away with the back of his hand. Claire felt her own eyes fill at how scared he seemed, all because he thought this would change her opinion of him. She didn’t know what was the best way to prove to him that she would never change her opinion of this man. So, she thought it was best to show him.

She grabbed the back of his head and pulled his mouth to hers. The kiss was passionate, with Claire biting his bottom lip while running her fingers through his hair.
She felt his damp cheeks from his tears and held on to him tighter, allowing herself to get lost in the feeling of Owen. Pulling far enough away so she could look into his eyes, Claire rested her hand over his heart.

“There’s nothing you could say to me that would ever change how I feel.”

She watched as her words sunk. Owen’s face brightening ever so slightly, before falling back into a frown.

“During the first six months or so of their relationship, I didn’t really have a problem with him. Don’t get me wrong I didn’t like him, but we kinda didn’t really talk that much. And if we did it was usually about sports or the weather. See he’d moved to Hawaii from San Francisco, apparently his dream was to open a mechanic shop on the island, but I guess the day drinking got in the way of that.”

It was difficult to imagine Owen’s situation from Claire’s eyes.

Yes, her parents had been extremely pushy during Claire’s childhood. Always pressuring her to go to the best colleges in the US and making Karen feel like she was never good enough. But she had so many fond memories of her childhood, which all mainly included her mother or father somehow.
It almost made her feel guilty for enjoying her younger years when it’s obvious Owen’s were so unhappy.

“The real trouble started after he’d moved in. It was very quick; I remember coming home from school one day and finding his stuff all over the house. Books, shoes, blankets. Literally like he’d lived there for years. Mom didn’t even run it past me first, just moved him in like it didn’t affect me.
But we still didn’t have any major issues, neither of us seemed to have any interest in the other, which suited me just fine. I had the beach and he had the alcohol, was easy.”

Owen stopped for a moment. Taking the time to look over the ocean once more before continuing.

“That was until one evening.” his voice rough with emotion. “I think I had just turned ten and was doing my homework at the table while they were both eating dinner. Mom had been drinking since the early afternoon, I remember because it was a Sunday and she always started early on a Sunday as that was her day off. Alan was watching TV from the table, this game show he would watch every damn day, while eating his food. I’d reached over to get my juice when I accidentally knocked his beer over. It fell into his lap and smashed all over the floor.”

Claire could hear the tremors in his voice, where his voice would lose all control. She gave his hand a comforting squeeze.

“He was so angry. Shouting at me, saying I was dumb and his pants were ruined. I don’t remember exactly what I said but I think I replied with something like, ‘it was only beer’ when I was suddenly lying on the floor. At first, I didn’t know what happened, like I thought I’d fallen off my chair. But then the pain kicked in across my cheek, and I realised he’d slapped me round the face.”

Claire audibly gasped. Utter shock marring her features. Well shock and completely outrage. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

 

“I stood up from where I had fallen and Alan was standing over me. He said ‘how dare you talk back to me’. Then he picked me up by my collar and dragged me to my room, locking me in there with the key on the outside.”
Owen fell silent. His face looking surprisingly neutral, void of any sort of emotion.

Claire honestly didn’t know what to say to him. Nothing she could do would take away any of the pain he loved with.

“I’m so sorry Owen”

“Do you know the bit that hurt the most?”

She shook her head.

“The fact my mom did nothing to stop him.” he whispered. “She just sat there in silence. Never once did she try to stop him.” She watched him wipe away a lone tear which had managed to escape. Not wanting him to feel too exposed she pretended not to notice. Never being able to understand how that must have felt to a ten-year-old boy.

“That was only the start as well Claire. After that it’s like he realised how much fun it was to push me around. Every time I did something even remotely wrong, he would make me regret it. Sometimes it was a slap or a punch, a couple times he even whipped me with his belt. That hurt.” Her gut clenched at the images flickering through her mind, desperately wanting to go back in time and find young Owen and save him from the hell he was living.

 

“The worst one was when he locked me away. If he was particularly drunk or feeling mean, he would lock me in the tiny cleaning cupboard under the stairs, it was no bigger than a man’s cubicle and completely pitch black. He would lock me in there for sometimes hours. I remember once I went in there at about ten in the morning and when my mom let me out it was dark outside.”

Owen was shaking, his body racked with chills from reliving the horrors of his childhood.

Claire felt so many different emotions while listening to Owen speak, barely being able to keep quiet with the different emotions roaring through her body. Anger, sadness, sympathy, protectiveness, just wanting to wrap him up and never let him go.

“That was the only time my mom would interfere. As soon as Alan left the house or fell asleep, she would come and let me out. I was usually so scared that I instantly forgave her for letting him lock me in there. Just wanting her to hold me.” he sniffed, trying to stop the stubborn tears from falling. “But she always let it happen again.”

“That’s so awful. I’m sorry” she leant over and kissed his cheek, wiping his tears away.

“It ok. I’ve had a lot of years to come to terms with it. But I’m still not very good with small spaces. Especially when they’re dark.” He looked down at his lap embarrassingly, avoiding her eyes.

“Owen you have nothing to be embarrassed about. Definitely not in front of me.” she smiled at him sweetly, stroking his knee. He looked at her gratefully, covering her hand with his.

“I remember when I was about twenty, I was in an elevator in a shopping mall and it suddenly stopped. I have never been keen on elevators but I’ve taught myself to tolerate them by always listening to the sounds they make. As long as I can hear it moving, I feel safe. But this one time it stopped and I couldn’t hear anything, I started freaking out.
And if that wasn’t bad enough the lights went out after about twenty seconds. I couldn't breathe, I went dizzy, started sweating.
That’s when I realised, I had a big problem with small spaces.”

He shuffled closer to Claire then, resuming his position of leaning against the rock but wrapping an arm around her shoulder. She noticed this was his comfort, being close to her. It made butterflies erupt in her stomach, not used to being someone's safe haven before.

“Even after all these years, Alan still has a hold on me” he sighed defeatedly. The way Owen was talking riled something inside of Claire she didn’t even know was there.

“What happened to that asshole?” Claire asked vehemently.

Owen’s head whipped around to face her. Among the sadness in his eyes, there was also amusement glimmering in the depths. “What?” she questioned.

“It’s just... I’ve never heard you swear before.” chuckling to himself.

“Yeah well he is.” she spat

Owen tightened his hold around her then, pressing a kiss to the side of her head. The hatred Claire had for this man who had caused Owen so much pain was off the charts. A person who hurts a child is all kinds of messed up.
“I don’t know. My mom finally threw him out when I was fifteen. Haven’t seen him since that day.”

“Good”

 

Owen laughed again at Claire’s sharp tone, leading to Claire laughing as well. She was pleased she could bring him some joy from this conversation, it was her fault he got scared today anyway. How could she have been so blind to this? She should have noticed how scared he was about venturing into the cave, not getting annoyed with him. The only reason he crawled in was because he was scared for her safety. He was willing to face his biggest fear in order to keep her safe.

The guilt suddenly hit her and she felt terrible, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Claire? Sweetheart what’s wrong?”

She didn’t answer. Sobs now erupting out of her mouth, with her head buried into his chest. “I’m ok now Claire, it was years ago.”

“It’s my fault.” she sobbed.

“What was baby?”

“I made you go into that cave, if it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t have had to face your fear” clutching his black tank in her hands tightly, she continued to cry into his chest. “I’m a terrible girlfriend.”

“Claire no I've told you, it wasn’t your fault. I should have told you the truth before you went in. You didn’t know honey; I know you never would have gone in there if you’d known the truth.” he murmurs into her ear, while stroking her hair softly.

At least that was true. If Claire had known how terrified Owen was, she never would have stepped foot into that cave. She let her past fears get in the way of seeing how scared Owen truly was, and she vowed to never let that happen again.

“I’m still sorry I shouted” she mumbled miserably into his neck.

“So am I baby.”

Owen lifted Claire off the sand and pulled her into his lap. Her legs lay cross ways on his, with her head resting on his shoulder. In this position Owen could hold her tightly, while rocking her in his arms.
“So? Girlfriend huh?”

Claire stiffened. No? Had she said that? Yes, she had! What if he thought that was too soon? Well, of course it is too soon Claire you’ve only known each other eleven days. How could you be so stupid. But when she turned to meet Owen’s gaze, he didn’t look annoyed or unhappy. He was absolutely gleaming at her.

“I... I did day that huh?”

“Yeah, you kind of did” he chuckled.

“Look I’m sorry if that was too quick or if you’re not sure about things between us. I know it’s properly way too soon fo-”

“No. Claire, I’ve been sure about you the second I met you on the beach. I have absolutely no doubts about anything.”

He leaned forward then and kissed her, pushing her back onto the sand. Claire immediately kissed him back with ease, locking her arms around his muscular back.

This was where she was meant to be. She knew this fact, and no matter what tomorrow would bring when both Owen and Amé flew home to the US. She knew that what they had found on this Greek island was worth it.
Worth giving them a try.

Because with all of Owen’s past demons that he battled with, he deserved all the happiness Claire could give him.

Chapter Text

Having a full-blown panic attack and hysterically crying his eyes out in front of Claire really hadn’t been on his to do list.

But here he was.

Even though he was still filled with embarrassment, Claire had been so kind and caring while dealing with the whole situation, he couldn’t help but feel safe with her.
In all honesty he wasn’t sure when he had been planning on telling Claire about his past, but he knew it was bound to come up at some point. He just didn’t want to bring anything up that could cause problems for their relationship.

As past girlfriends had used it against him.

He remembers when he’d made the mistake of crying in front of Gabby due to a panic attack in a carwash. She’d made sure to use that against him whenever they argued. “What Owen? You're not going to cry, are you?”

He made a promise to himself that day to never let himself feel too comfortable around the women he dated ever again. The bitter taste that Gabby’s comment had left in his mouth stayed for a long time.

But, being with Gabby feels like a distant memory after Claire. This was how love was supposed to feel like, he was sure of it. Maybe it was too early to be thinking about that word.

Love.

But being with Claire makes him want everything. Owen wants to paint his whole future around her, integrate her into his life with Amé.

Imagining Claire playing with Amé outside his freshly built cabin in the woods, or all sitting round this fire outside when the night falls, maybe going for Sunday morning walks every weekend, to be followed by cooked breakfasts.
He wanted everything with Claire.

After the beach debacle, Owen had been exhausted. His energy being drained by his panic induced state, so Claire had suggested walking back to the hotel in order for Owen to rest for a couple of hours before Amé returned. At first, he’d argued saying he didn’t want to cut the day short. But when Claire had said she wouldn't mind a nap too, indicating she’d be more than happy to nap with him.

In the same bed.

Owen had instantly changed his mind, very eager to just hold her while they slept.

Which is exactly what they were currently doing in Owen’s hotel room.

During the walk back to the hotel, Owen could barely keep his eyes open. Claire had expressed her concern initially but Owen had been quick to inform her this was totally normal after having one of his panic attacks. Luckily, she’d accepted that answer for the remainder of their trek back, but as soon as they’d walked into Owen’s room Claire had sent him straight to bed.

“But I feel fine babe I’m-” a large yawn interrupted his train of thought, leading to Claire arching a knowing eyebrow at him.

“Bed now!” pushing him gently in the direction of the king size bed. In protest Owen let himself dramatically flop backwards onto the soft duvet, huffing out a pout as he did so.

“Yes ma’am”

Claire laughed at his foolishness, whilst walking towards the bathroom to change out of her beach dress and bikini, into something a lot more comfortable.

Owen couldn’t help but fantasise about how amazing she’d looked in that white bikini. The bottoms hugging her slim curves and the white making her tan she’d gained in the last two weeks stand out even more. He’d tried to chastise his mind for wondering what she’d look like naked, bare beneath him with only his body covering hers.
What her reactions would be? Is she quiet in bed or loud? He’s not sure if his mind would cope with being that close to her, with nothing between them but passion.

He might never recover.

Owen quickly shook these thoughts out of his head, never wanting to pressure Claire into anything. He was perfectly happy with how things are between them, even if tomorrow everything could change.
He had tried not to think about tomorrow, hoping if they didn’t talk about them everything could just stay the same as it was right now. But he knew that was foolish.

Even though Maine to New York wasn’t on opposite sides of the world, it was still a flight away or hell of a drive, and Owen couldn’t really see himself living in the over populated city that is, New York. But he also couldn’t see Claire wanting to settle down in the middle of a deserted forest.

They really needed to talk about it.

Owen was awake and starring at the ceiling, thinking about what tomorrow would hold for them.

Claire was currently fast asleep tucked comfortably into his arms. Her head rested on his chest with her right arm laying across his torso.

He glanced down at her tranquil face, taking in her smooth skin. He’d never noticed the freckles which dotted her nose before, or the small scar just next to her temple on the right-hand side of her head. All these things he still had to learn about her. He relaxingly tightened his arms around her, almost to try and keep her close to him.
However, in doing so, inadvertently awoke the red head as she sniffed gently before turning her face further into his chest.

His heart burst at how cute she was. Was this her reaction every morning to being woken up? Or was it just because he was here and she didn’t want to move? So many questions he wanted to learn about her.

“Times it?” he heard her mumble into his chest.

“Um..?” Owen turned his head towards the clock on his bedside table. “Just gone five”

Claire looked up at him then, bright green eyes staring at him.

“Hi” she whispered

“Hey beautiful”

Claire blushed at that and buried her head into his shoulder this time.

“I just woke up” she huffed, hands running along his chest. “I definitely don’t look beautiful”

Owen paused. He knew Claire had a lot of insecurities about herself. No thanks to that dickhead Josh, who he was definitely having words with at some point in the future. He wanted Claire to feel exactly as he saw her. Beautiful.

Because she truly was the most gorgeous woman he’d ever known.

“Sweetheart. Look at me.” he rubbed her back softly, but urging her to sit up. It took a few seconds, but she finally pushed herself onto her arms and sat cross legged in front of him. He sat up too so he could look her in the eyes.

“Listen to me. You are honestly the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. And I don’t just mean looks, even though you are completely stunning in that department. No, you are so clever and funny, you make me laugh all the time. And kind, the way you treat Amé is one of my favourite things in the world. I’m so much better for knowing you Claire. You have no idea.”

He finished his speech, kind of blushing. Not really having meant to spill all of that information at once. But if it made Claire realise how special she was, then he’d do it all again.

When he was brave enough to look at her, he saw her eyes were glistening with unshed tears. For a horrifying moment he thought he’d upset her, but then he saw her smile brightly. But instead of responding, Claire threw herself at him.

She lay over him and kissed him like it was the last time. It was properly the most passionate kiss they had shared yet, leaving Owen feeling slightly drunk off of her. When she pulled away, she had her arms straight on either side of his head, with her red hair falling in a curtain either side of her face.

“You saved me; you know that?”

“yeah you know why” he smiled

“Why?”

“Because you saved me too Claire.”

She kissed him again then. Her tongue demanding entrance instantly. They were more than familiar with this dance now, their bodies attuned to each other. Claire’s hands were in their favourite place locked in his curls, while his hands were running up and down her back. But suddenly he felt one of Claire’s hands run down his chest to the bottom of his shirt.

Owen felt instant panic rise in his stomach. But managed to calm himself when she ran her hand back up his chest. She did this a few times until her hand stopped at the hem of his black shirt. He knew where she was going with this and although he honestly wanted nothing more, that familiar panic rose again.

Her fingers nimbly worked their way under his shirt and traced his toned abs. He heard her moan into his mouth which in any other situation would have inflated his ego, but he knew where this was going. When she tried to pull his shirt up, he broke.

“Claire stop stop!” Owen wriggled from underneath her and jumped out of bed, in the process throwing Claire onto the other side of the bed. She looked at him facing her, just shy of the bed with his breathing haggard. Her face was one of confusion and hurt.

“Woah Owen I’m sorry, I-I thought it was what... you know we were kissing.” Claire was looking down, the hurt evident on her face. “I get if you don’t want me like that I just thought-”

“No no no, Claire of course I want you like that it’s just...” he stopped.

“What Owen?” she turned her eyes to look at him, there was no anger there. Only confusion and concern. “Is it because you’re leaving tomorrow? Because I've been thinking about that and-”

“It’s not because I’m leaving”

“Then what?”

Owen saw how much she wanted to understand, and from what happened on the beach earlier today he knew she wouldn’t freak out like Gabby had. But he couldn’t shake this feeling, like this would be the thing to ruin them.

Maybe she’d finally realise he’s not worth the trouble.

“Ok. Just please promise me something.”

Claire stood up then, walking over to where he was standing.

“I won’t Owen, but what is this about?”

“Please just promise.” he pleaded with her, eyes filling with need. Her eyes met his and they softened from the hurt which had been there a few moments ago. Taking his hand in hers she gave it a squeeze.

“I promise Owen.”

He nodded gently then, knowing he believed her. He took a deep breath before walking her back so her thighs hit the mattress. He gently pushed her until she was sitting facing him on the bed. He ran a hand across her hair line before stepping back.

“Well, you know when told you about my stepfather. That he used to drink a lot and lock me in closets and you know the average stuff.” He tried to brush it off with a joke, but Claire wasn’t laughing. “Anyway, that wasn’t the whole story. He used to get angry a lot and he kind of saw me as, well I dunno an easy target.”

He glanced at Claire’s face, looking for any signs of alarm. But just found confusion.

“I guess I should just show ya”

Taking another deep breath and avoiding Claire's eyes with everything he had, he started to unbutton his armour. The one thing he always vowed to wear in front of everybody but Amé. Gabby had only seen him shirtless once and she’d screamed with horror, begging him to put a shirt on.

So, he’d promised to never put Amé in a position which could cause her embarrassment like that. So, he wore a shirt everywhere he went. Making sure when they were hanging out at the beach, he would wear a shirt, if he took
her swimming or went walking in the summer. He always wore a shirt. Of course, when they’re at home, Amé didn’t think twice about what Owen looked like, she’d seen the real him every day.

As he got closer to the last few buttons on the black shirt, he paused.

“And I totally get if this is too much for you Claire. I can deal with it” he spoke, determinedly.

“Owen what’s going on?”

He’d reached the last button on his shirt. His fingers trembling with nerves and a slight sense of dread. He took a deep breath before slowly allowing the shirt to fall away from his body, eyes to the ceiling using every ounce of strength he possessed not to quickly pull the shirt back on and pretend this was all some big joke. As soon as he felt the cool AC air of the room touch his skin, Owen heard Claire’s gasp.

Just as the shirt landed on his toes.

***

Claire felt sick.

Her whole body was in shock.

Unable to move or say anything, just staring at the man in front of her.

When Owen had suddenly freaked out when she’d tried to take his shirt off, Claire’s first thought had been maybe he didn’t fancy her enough to have sex. Of course, deep down she knew how stupid that was. Owen had already told her how beautiful she was every day. But she wasn’t used to feeling so cherished by a man.

Usually they said she was fit or hot and then tried to get her into bed, but with Owen the whole experience was different.

Never did she expect this.

She thought about how scared he’d looked when he’d jumped off the bed, how desperate he’d been to make her promise not to leave. It broke her heart. Now seeing how truly badly he’d been treated in the past only made her want to take care of him more.

Her eyes had automatically filled with tears, staring at his scarred torso. She ran her eyes all over the newly exposed skin, taking in every healed cut and indented burn, with so much concentration. Wanting to map every scar to memory. She lost count of the number of injuries scattered across his chest.

With small crisscrossing white lines, to deep circular burn marks, a few longer deep scars which ran from his shoulder down the side of his torso. Even a few sharp rectangle impressions laid on his breast bone.

 

“I know how bad it looks, but I promise Claire you can’t really feel it that much. I’m sorry about it.” she heard Owen muttering apologies, and suddenly she snapped out of her shock.

“Did you just apologise?”

She broke her gaze away from his chest and looked at his face. Owen’s eyes were still turned upwards, trying to avoid seeing her reaction.

“Yeah, I know it can be kind of a turn off, especially considering what we were just doing but I-”

Claire stood up quickly, a defiant look in her eyes.

“Don’t you ever apologise to me about this again.” She quickly took hold of his left hand, feeling him tense under her touch. Her eyes began to fill again at how vulnerable he must feel. “You have nothing to be sorry about Owen.
The man...” Claire spat angrily, trying to control her temper towards the person who did this to him. “The man that put you through this, he’s the one who should be sorry.”

Owen finally tilted his head down from staring at the ceiling. He seemed to relax a little when he saw how honest she looked. Claire knew then that someone else had betrayed his trust with this secret. He’d bared his soul to another woman and she’d thrown it straight back in his face.

“Ok” he replied shakily. “You're not leaving?”

She could hear the hope in his voice and had to try not to get angry at who ever had hurt him so badly.

“I’m staying Owen. For as long as you want me.”

She felt him crumple at her words, falling forward into her arms. She caught him around the waist and eased them back onto the bed. Gently laying them both back vertically across the plush mattress, she placed Owen’s head
delicately onto her shoulder. Thankfully she didn’t think he was crying, not wanting him to go through another attack like earlier in the day, she could just feel his relief. Relief at knowing she wasn’t going to leave because of his imperfections.

She ran her fingers through his hair to try and calm him, listening to the quiet buzzing of the AC. She was perfectly happy to remain like that until they had to pick Amé up from the front of the hotel at 6:30, but Owen had other ideas.

“It started after he moved in.”

His voice sounded hoarse, like he’d been shouting for hours.

“Owen baby, you don’t have to.”

“I want to. You deserve to know the truth.”

She kept quiet at that. This could be a good thing for him, talking to someone who will actually listen for a change.

“I didn’t lie that at first I had no problem with him. We just kept out of each other's way. But from that first night when he hit me... It was like he got addicted to it. The small amount of power it gave him.” Claire felt him tremble in
her arms, pulling him closer to her body trying to starve off any bad memories.

“The next time it happened was a couple months after. I remember he said something nasty to my mum, called her a slut or something. I got so mad I told him to say sorry to her. He’d laughed at first, like I’d said the funniest thing in the world, but then he grabbed me by the arm and punched me straight in the eye.”

She flinched at the thought of someone punching a ten-year-old Owen. Imagining the pain, the confusion, the fear.

“Did your mom not do anything?”

“She tried at first, but after a while it would just get her beaten up too so what was the point?” He pulled his head away from her shoulder so he could lie opposite her. Owen began tracing one of the smaller circular scars on his chest, just below his left shoulder.

“This was his favourite punishment. If I was ever rude to him, or dropped anything or even just left my homework on the table, he saw it as disrespectful.”

Running his fingers around the circular hole, almost like he was remembering how it felt.

“This time I think my school bus had been late coming home. He wanted to know where I’d been. Like he owned me or something. I tried to explain what happened but he didn’t care. You know the one thing I’ve come to realise after all these years, is that nothing I could have done would have changed anything.” he spoke strongly. “Because it was never about my behaviour, he just enjoyed hurting me.”

“He deserves nothing but punishment for what he did to you Owen.” Taking his hand off the scar, she pressed a kiss to his fingers. A soft smile graced his lips before he continued.

“This night he was particularly angry because someone had stolen his watch at the bar. He always used to smoke these huge cigars when he was stressed. I remember they used to stink out the whole house. So, this one night when I came home late, my mom was asleep in her room and he grabbed me and pulled off my shirt.”

Claire heard his intake in breath, knowing how awful this must be for him.

“Hunny, please I don’t want you to cause yourself more pain.” running her fingers through his hair.

“It’s ok I just haven’t spoken about it before. Not since it happened.” Giving her a reassuring smile he continued. “He took my shirt off and pushed his leg across my chest. I remember being more scared about the fact I couldn’t move than the pain he was about to give me. He took the disgusting cigar out of his mouth and pressed it into my skin.” he shuddered at the memory.

Claire finally let the tears flow, feeling his agony as if it was her own. Her desire to find his man and make him suffer was overwhelming.

“That was always his favourite way to hurt me. He said because I always cried the most after, like a little girl.” he spat, tears also running down his cheeks.

“Fucking animal” Claire shook her head with disbelief, her hands shaking with anger. “There’s nothing I can say to take the pain away Owen. But you should be so proud about how you grew from the pain.”

“I don’t feel it.” He turned his eyes towards her, sorrow sitting within their depths. “I feel angry at him, angry at my mom for not protecting me, I’m fucking angry at the world for giving me these disgusting scars.” He shouted sitting upright and hanging his head over his knees.

“Hey, that’s all totally normal Owen.” she said trying to wipe away her own tears to try and help him. “You went through so much trauma at such a young age, you’re fully in your rights to be angry. No kid should have to deal with that. Hell, no adult should have to deal with it.” Claire inched her way closer to him and gently let her thighs touch his.

“I just hate looking at myself Claire. I’ve never fully trusted anyone because I’m scared what they’ll think. And I still get nightmares, really bad ones. The amount of times Amé has started crying because I’ve screamed in my sleep.”

He stood up and threw his arms up in anger, pacing the tiles under his feet. “I just want to forget Claire. He’s had a hold on me for so long and I just want to fucking forget!”

Owen was breathing heavily, eyes wild with pain. Claire didn’t know how to help him, she was hardly the best person equipped for dealing with people’s past mental scars, seeing as she had a fair share of her own.

She tried to place herself into Owen’s shoes. If this was her what would she want Owen to do?

Then it hit her.

She stood up, walking tentatively towards him. Silence had filled the hotel room now, just the sound of Owen’s silent cry for help.

When Claire was standing directly in front of him, she gave him a small smile before lifting her hand. Running her hand across his jaw softly, feeling Owen's tension melt away by one single touch. She felt happiness fill her from head to toe, she had the power to relax Owen even in his most aggravated. Pausing to admire his handsome face, she gently dropped her hands and bent over slightly so she was level with his chest.

Claire saw Owen’s intake of breath at what she was about to do.

The skin of his shoulder felt rough under her lips. The texture of his marred skin not what she expected, softer even.

“Claire you don’t-”

“I want to.”

She pressed a kiss to every scar she could find along his torso. Nothing sexual in the gesture, purely loving kisses to show him how much she cared about him. The scars were nothing but a reminder of how strong this man was.

How much he had overcome to be the man he is today. The man, Claire is pretty sure she has fallen in love with on this island.

When every scar had been kissed Claire stood up straight again, finding Owen looking at her with so much adoration she felt overwhelmed. His eyes were red and brimmed with tears, but he was smiling softly at her.

“Owen, these just show how strong you are. How much you do for your daughter and try and to make her start in life better than yours was.” She ran her hands gently down his chest, feeling the bumps of his skin under her
fingertips.

“I love you”

Her whole body froze. Head snapping up to meet Owen’s eyes. He looked just as surprised as she did. She could feel how hard his heart was thumping under her hand which still lay on his chest.

“What?”

“I- I love you Claire.” His eyes held determination now, his arms coming up to encircle her waist. “I know it’s probably too soon and you might not feel the same way, but I’ve been falling for you pretty quickly and if I'm being honest, I think I’ve loved you the moment I met you on the beach.”

He was looking at her so earnestly Claire didn’t know what to say. The craziest thing was Claire knew she felt the same, every time she saw Owen her heart sped up, how open he was with her made her feel so trusted.

“And you don’t have to say it back yet I just wanted you to know-”

“I love you too”

Owen stopped his ramblings and paused.

“You do?”

Claire giggled at his response. “Yeah”

“You love me?” he was clearly bewildered at the prospect of her loving him, which couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, she should be the one to question him.

“Quite a lot” she smirked at him.

He was still frozen in shock for a few seconds, before he launched himself onto the bed behind them, Claire tucked neatly under him. She was laughing hysterically at his childish behaviour. He began pressing kisses all over her face, circles of quick movements leaving Claire wiping happy tears from her eyes.

“And you don’t think it’s too soon?” Owen’s soft voice broke Claire’s giggling, soft eyes prying to find the truth.

“Maybe?” she shrugged. “But I've never felt like this before, with anyone. And I think when you feel like this about someone you shouldn't let it go.”

And with that Owen tackled her in a passionate kiss, allowing Claire to finally run her hands over his toned arms and back. The feel of his skin was better than she could have ever imagined, being this close to him. Owen started trailing kisses down her neck until he gently sucked on the skin he found there.

Claire moaned loudly at the sensation, tugging on his head to keep his mouth in that one spot she loved. The passion between the two Americans slowly began to grow, with Owen running his hands under her tank top she had on.

Claire gently nudged him off her in order to rid herself of the offending top. Leaving her in only a black bra and blue denim shorts. Owen was looking at her like he’d won the best prize, eyes running over her newly exposed flesh.

“You sure?” he whispered, giving her an out if she wasn’t ready.

“More than ready”

With this Owen picked her up and deposited her into the centre of the bed, head cushioned by the hundreds of pillows on the bed. Claire leaned up to capture his lips again, pulling him down to lay on top of her. The weight of his body was delicious, their bare skin meeting felt better than it ever had on the beach during sleepy cuddle sessions. Owen separated to shuck his black shorts off his long-toned legs, before covering her body with his once more.

“I love you” Owen repeated, this time whispering the sentiment into her skin.

“Mmm and I love you Grady”

Chapter Text


There were clothes thrown sparsely over the floor.  

The distant noise coming from the outside pool located under the high-rise balconies, accompanied with the drone of the AC unit still blazing in the background.  

Giggling could also be heard from the bed, which held two sated adults currently lounging on the comfortable mattress.  

“Here?” Owen asked, pointing at Claire’s stomach.  

“No” she laughed  

“Here?” Moving his finger up to her bare armpit. 

“Nope”  

“Ok, how about here?” Leaning forward Owen pressed his lips to the expansion of Claire’s neck, lightly sucking on the skin there. Claire eagerly cooperated, throwing her arms over his naked shoulders and pulling him closer.  

“Mmm nope” moaning when he kissed a sensitive part of her shoulder. Owen pulled back and looked confused.  

“Oh, come on, everyone is ticklish somewhere” raising an eyebrow at the redhead.  

“What can I say Grady? I’m untouchable.” she smirked.  

“I know that’s not true.” to prove his point Owen ran his hand suggestively over her bare breast making Claire gasp in surprise.  

“No fair” she pouted. “You currently have easy access.”  

“And I plan on keeping it that way.” Owen wiggled his eyebrows suggestively, making Claire laugh. 

“You’re so dumb”  

“Oh, I know!” clicking his fingers in front of his face. “There’s one place I haven’t tested.”  

Claire’s face suddenly dropped as Owen started inching down the bed towards Claire’s feet.  

“No Owen.”  

Owen glanced at her scared expression and knew he’d hit the jackpot.  

“What? Thought you weren’t ticklish?”  

Claire glared at him from where she was currently leaning up on her elbows.  

“I’m not I just don’t like people touching my feet.” she said, trying to act nonchalantly.  

“You one thing I’m very good at Claire? Knowing when people are lying.” Without waiting a second longer, Owen dove for her foot closest to him, taking Claire by surprise.  

“Owen!” she shrieked, as he got a hold of her left foot. “No stop!” But it was too late, Owen had already began tormenting her by running his fingers teasingly all over her foot. Claire began hysterically shrieking at the abuse, laughter falling from her mouth. Completely forgetting that she was completely naked, never feeling this comfortable completely bare before in front of another person.  

“I knew you were lying Dearing” Owen shouted triumphantly.  

“Owen stop stop I can’t breathe” she begged trying to no avail to free her foot from his tight grasp. 

She felt Owen finally take pity on her, by slowly releasing her foot and setting it lightly on the bed. He then crawled his way back up to her and rested his head on his hand while lying next to her. Owen gazed at her softly, watching as her breathing slowly returned to normal and the red she had developed in her cheeks, slowly left her face.  

“That was mean.” she pouted, sticking out her tongue to emphasise the point.  

“I’m sorry baby, couldn’t resist.”  

He pushed some of her hair out of her face, tenderly stroking her forehead. He watched as her eyes melted at his gesture, while her body moved closer towards him.  

“You’re forgiven.”  

Claire pressed herself against him, hitching her leg over his thigh while resting her head on his chest. This level of intimacy was new to Owen. All of the girls he’d slept with in the past had never so much as cuddled with him, let alone seen him shirtless. So, having Claire know the real him, behind all the walls felt liberating. Usually it was only Amé who saw him this raw, but know he had someone else to share this burden with. Someone else to trust with his secrets. 

He loved that idea.  

Amé 

“Shit” Owen lurched up in the bed, disturbing Claire from her comfortable position.  

“What’s wrong?”  

“Amé I totally forgot, what’s the time?”  

Claire quickly turned to look at the clock on the bedside table.  

“Just gone six. It’s ok, we’ve got thirty minutes.”  

Owen breathed a sigh of relief, allowing his heart to stop racing at the idea of forgetting his daughter.  
“Thank god!”  

Claire giggled at his reaction, making Owen realise she had known the time all along. “You were watching the time, weren’t you?” he pointed a finger at her, a faux stern face covering his features.  

“No matter how good the sex was Owen. I wasn’t going to let you forget your daughter.” Claire huffed a laugh, laying back down on the pillows.  

“Well ain’t that romantic.” he spoke sarcastically. 

“Just doing what any decent person would have done”  

“Maybe I didn’t do well enough if you could still think straight.” Owen crawled over her body, leaning down to peck her lips. “But having said that, I do vividly remember you saying ‘Owen just like that, you’re amazing’. So, feeling 
pretty confident.”  

Claire blushed deeply, before shoving one of the pillows into his face.  


                                                                                                                                                                                               *** 
 
“Daddy!” 

Amé came speeding towards Owen from across the lobby of the hotel. Owen had already predicted her aim so bent down to catch her.  

“Hey baby girl” Lifting his four-year-old into his arms, covering her face in kisses making her giggle. “Did you have the best day?”  

“Yes Daddy, it was so fun. I went down a slide all by myself.” Amé beamed at her dad, clearly proud at her bravery.  

“No way!”  

“Yes Daddy!” she nodded quickly. 

“I’m so proud of you baby” he brushed her blonde hair out of her face, still slightly damp from the waterpark. Amé suddenly started looking around, trying to see behind Owen’s shoulder.  

“Where’s Claire?”  

Owen smiled at his daughter’s eagerness to see Claire, knowing the feeling.  

“She just went to the restroom baby, over there” he pointed at the large restroom sign in the corner of the lobby. “She won’t be long”  

At that moment Rosa had reached them, holding Camilla’s hand.  

“Hola Owen” the older Spanish woman smiled at him. 

“Hola Rosa, Camilla. Thank you so much for looking after my little Amé” tickling Amé in the process. “Hope she wasn’t too much trouble” a slight nervousness in his voice, knowing how clingy Amé had always been with him. He really hoped she hadn’t given the kind family too much trouble.  

“She was perfect. ella es encantadora”  

Owen finally set Amé back on her feet, straightening her purple dress which was covering her swimsuit. He exchanged addresses with Rosa so the girls could write to each other when they both returned home. Smiling at his daughter hugging her new friend, knowing how much she hated the girls in her class back home.  

This holiday was really turning out to be the best decision he’d ever made.  

Suddenly Amé squealed and was taking off across the lobby once more. Owen knew Claire had emerged from the restroom then, glancing to see Amé throw herself into Claire’s awaiting arms. His heart burst at the bond these two girls had formed in such a small time, not that he didn’t understand it. They were his two favourite girls on the planet, and Claire was so caring no wonder Amé had fallen in love.  

“Hola Rosa, Hola Camilla.” Claire had reached them now with Amé’s head laying on her shoulder. “¿Cómo estás?” she inquired while rubbing soothing circles into Amé’s back.  

“muy bien gracias cariño” Rosa replied, briefly embracing Claire, with Amé in between the two women.  

After a few more minutes of small talk and goodbyes, Rosa and Camilla left to find the rest of their family. Leaving Owen, Amé and Claire in the lobby. Amé was still clinging to Claire, eyes closed as she rested in her arms. Owen wrapped an arm around Claire’s lower back and steered her towards the elevator.  

“I think someone needs a nap before dinner”  

He saw Claire glance down at the sleeping girl in her arms, smiling softly at her drowsy face.  

“I think she’s already started.” she whispered making Owen chuckle. He guided both girls into the elevator, never letting his arm stray from around Claire's back. A thought struck him, to anyone else in the lobby it would look like 
a mom and dad taking their daughter upstairs. 

And that made him smile even more.  

The next half an hour went by quickly.  

Amé had fallen asleep on the ride up to Owen’s hotel room. At some point Claire had transferred her to Owen in order to go back to her room and shower. Of course, Owen had said she could shower in his room, preferably with him. She’d laughed and explained how that might scandalise his daughter.  

He was only being half serious anyway.  


So, he was currently sitting alone on his balcony, drinking a beer from the mini bar. He decided to let Amé sleep for an hour so she wasn’t grumpy at dinner. Already changed for dinner, sporting deep blue slacks and a white loose shirt, he sat in one of the deck chairs available on each room's balcony.  

Owen was in the process of texting a certain redhead a few floors above him.  

I miss you 

He knew he was being clingy and possibly coming across too strongly, but Claire didn’t seem to mind his affections. If anything, she craved it, always smiling in delight whenever he texted her messages like this. She always pretended to find it too much at first, to tease him, but then she’d return the sentiment quickly.  

As if on cue huis phone buzzed on his thigh.  

It’s been twenty minutes Grady.

He laughed out loud. Imagining that amused expression on her face, hands on her hips. He wanted nothing more than to go and find her, show her how much her really missed her. But he also knew they both needed a little space.  

Barely having had any in the last two weeks, only when they would go to their separate rooms in the evenings.  

Still miss you 

He typed quickly. Balancing his beer on the arm of his chair, before sending the text.  

Owen took a moment to think back to this afternoon. This panic at the beach, showing Claire the one thing, he’d never shown anyone else, and then making love to her. He still can’t believe that last one.  

It was beyond incredible. How in sync they were, how perfect it felt. The way she would sigh his name, run her fingers over his back, even touching his chest. He’d thought it would cause a panic inside of him, having someone touching the one place so intimately.  

But with Claire it just felt right.  

She was an addiction Owen never wanted to quit.  

His phone buzzed again.  

How much? 

That minx.  

Enough to come upstairs and show you 

He could imagine her blushing a deep shade of red around now. No matter how much she pretended to be confident in the flirting department, she was very easy to make blush. Owen loved it.  

Easy tiger. Are you forgetting a small girl who is currently asleep?  

He laughed out loud, never being serious about leaving his daughter and Claire knew this. Always wanting to taunt him.  

Ok come down here then 

He heard movement coming from inside his hotel room. His moment of peace has clearly ended. His phone buzzed again as he stood up from the chair.  

Best things come to those who wait babe 

Owen smiled, starting to reply but another text followed the last one.  

Also, I miss you too 

“Daddy?”  

Owen turned around to find Amé standing in the doorway leading out on to the balcony. She was wearing one of his t-shirts which reached way below her feet. Her dirty blonde curls were in disarray from sleep and she had her 
thumb in her mouth.  

Owen’s heart warmed at the sight of his precious baby.  

She was perfect.  

His greatest gift.  

She also looked too adorable in his t-shirt to not snap a quick picture.  

Amé started walking towards him, lifting her arms above her head. Leading to Owen bending down and scooping her up into his arms. He loved this time with Amé. She was always so warm and clingy when she first woke up. 

Spending the first ten minutes of conscious thoughts laying in Owen’s arms.  

“You ok baby?”  

Amé hummed lightly, her face buried into Owen’s shoulder.  

“Still tired?”  

“No” her small voice replied.  

“You sure? Because you can sleep for a while longer Hun” Owen softly spoke, walking them back into the hotel room appreciating the temperature difference in the cooler room. Amé’s head shot up in his arms, suddenly looking very awake.  

“No daddy, I’m awake look!” kicking her legs to be put down. “I’ll get dressed, come on!”  

Then she went running towards their joint closet, pulling all her dresses out to choose which one she wanted to wear. Owen shook his head in confusion, not entirely sure what just happened. 

“Ok Amé but I need to make sure Claire’s ready too baby.” he laughed before reaching for his phone again.  

“But she’s coming to dinner, right?”  

Owen looked up from his phone to find Amé’s nervous expression. He walked towards her and knelt down. “Yeah, of course she is.” he said, furrowing his eyebrows with worry. “That is ok with you, isn’t it princess?”  

“Yeah I want her to come, I was just checking Daddy.”  

Then she cheerfully went back to picking a dress out for dinner. Owen was still slightly confused by Amé’s odd behaviour, but put it to one side so he could text Claire.  

So, turns out my daughter has decided dinner is in five minutes. Hope you’re ready gorgeous. 

Throwing his phone on the bed, he followed Amé and started picking out a pair of dress shoes to go with his blue slacks.  

The fact this was his last dinner with Claire for maybe a long time, made his heart hurt. After so much time together with no interruptions from the outside world, he wasn’t sure what would happen when they both went back to 
their separate lives.  

In his opinion, he definitely wants both of their lives to become one, but is that what Claire wanted? She did tell him she loved him. But her life is really busy, she’s already told him as much. What is she goes back to her fast paced life and realises this was just circumstance?  

He can’t believe he just thought that. Claire wasn’t that kind of person Owen. She’s not Gabby.  

Checking on Amé before going to put on cologne, he tried to stop the laugh begging to erupt from his lips, as Amé was currently wearing her favourite purple dress, inside out. Currently trying to tie her pink sneakers together, 

Owen whistled at her.  

“Hey baby? You may wanna turn your dress the right way out” 

Amé looked at her father questioningly, while he motioned to the large label sticking out of the side of her dress. She glanced down and giggled.  

“Oppsy”  

After five minutes of Amé hurrying Owen along, demanding from the hotel door that they go find Claire now, Owen was dressed neatly and looking at the recent message Claire had sent him three minutes ago.  

Good job I’m ready then x 

Of course, Claire was ready, she was the most punctual person he’d ever met. He dropped her a quick message telling her they were on their way up. Taking one last glance in the bathroom mirror, Owen grabbed the room key and his wallet before walking towards the door.  

Amé skipped in front of his towards the elevator, pressing Claire’s floor number as they reached the closed doors. She looked so cute in her purple sparkly dress and pink sneakers, along with matching purple Alice band to keep her blonde curls away from her eyes.  

“You look beautiful tonight baby”  

His daughter beamed at him, taking his hand.  

“Do I look beautiful like a princess?”  

They both stepped onto the elevator as it arrived, moving aside to let a young couple with a buggy trying to exit.  

“Exactly like a princess.” She seemed just as pleased with this answer. “Remember though Amé, you can’t stay up too late tonight because we have to pack early tomorrow.”  

Amé didn’t respond, just wacthed as the elevator doors closed and started climbing the floors.  

“Amé did you hear me? Our flight is at twelve tomorrow so we have to leave the hotel by nine. That should give us enough time to pack.”  

As soon as those words left Owen’s lips, Amé’s whole demeanour changed. She snatched her hand back from Owen’s grasp and her face wore an angry scowl.  

“Whatever Daddy” she huffed.  

Owen was taken aback. Never had Amé spoken to him like that before. He was completely stunned.  

“Amé? What’s wrong”  

“Nothing” she mumbled.  

“Yes, there is. That was very rude baby. Is it because we are getting up early? Because we can sleep in a little longer-”  

“I don’t want to talk about it!” she snapped, stamping her little foot and turning away from him.  

“Amé Marie?”  

Before Owen could question his daughter further, the elevator doors opened and she shot down the corridor towards Claire’s room number. He tried to keep up with her pace but Amé began running down the remainder of the corridor.  

“Amé? Princess what’s wrong?”  

She continued to ignore him until she reached Claire’s door, when she checked to see where he was before knocking on Claire’s door loudly. Owen got to the door before Claire did and turned his daughter around to face him. 

“Baby talk to me, what’s going on?”  

“I don’t want to talk to you.” Tears were beginning to collect in her blue eyes. Owen’s biggest weakness was Amé’s tears, always making sure he could do anything to prevent her crying.  

“Hey it’s ok hunny”  

Just as he was about to gather his daughter in his arms, Claire opened the door. She wore a bright smile when she saw the two Grady’s, until she saw the deep concern on Owen’s face and the tears currently running down Amé’s.  

“Hey everything ok?” she inquired softly.  

Before Owen could reply, Amé turned away from him and buried her face in Claire’s stomach, sobbing into the emerald dress she was wearing. Claire instantly bent down and lifted the small girl into her arms, with Amé instantly wrapping her small arms around Claire’s neck. Claire gave Owen a questioning look.  

He shrugged, feeling like someone had sucker punched him. This was the first time Amé had cried to someone who wasn’t him. Not that he resented Claire in anyway, he was glad Amé felt comfortable enough to go to Claire for comfort. However, he had never been the reason for her tears before.  

Amé rarely cried anyway. In the few instances that she did, it was due to falling over or when he dropped her off at school. As he watched Amé sob into Claire’s neck he was left feeling defeated.  

“Why don’t we go inside” Claire soothed, rubbing circles on the distraught four-year olds back.  

Owen felt himself nod as he stood up from where he was currently kneeling on the floor.  

Following Claire into her lounge area, after closing her door, he noticed a red suitcase sitting by the TV. Owen was confused as Claire didn’t leave for another three days. However, she is ridiculously organised, so maybe she just likes to pack ahead of time. Yeah, that’s definitely the reason.  

Owen walked over to where Claire was perching on the couch, Amé sitting in her lap with legs either side of Claire’s and face still hidden in her neck. He watched as tiny sobs still erupted from Amé’s body, her breathing uneven. 

He looked down at his hands, not sure what to do.  

He felt a warm hand cover one of his, looking up to find Claire smiling at him supportively. He grimaced back but squeezing her hand nonetheless. Finally, Claire broke the silence which had fallen over the room.  

“Sweetie, what’s going on huh?” she murmured soothingly, stroking the girls hair while being careful not to move her purple Alice band. Owen saw Amé shift slightly so her face was now laying sideways on Claire’s shoulder. That was a small win. “Are you feeling sick?”  

Owen saw Claire check his daughter’s temperature with the back of her hand, but Amé shook her head.  

“Baby please talk to us” Owen pleaded. He was really getting scared at his daughter’s lack of responses, had something happened at the waterpark that Rosa didn’t tell him about. Had she fallen over and somehow hit her head? 

“Amé your daddy and I are very worried about you. Just tell us what made you upset.” Claire continued to stroke her hair as it seemed to stop Amé’s tears.  

“Idontwannago.” Both adults missed what the tiny girl mumbled into Claire’s shoulder.  

“What’s that baby?” he urged.  

“I don’t want to leave you.”  

And suddenly just like that, Owen understood. Of course, that’s the reason she’d gotten so upset. How could he have missed that? Every time this week when Owen mentioned leaving the island and Claire, his daughter would ignore him or change the subject. He just hadn’t connected the dots as to why.  

He totally understands it though. He was less than thrilled to be leaving Claire here tomorrow, as they may not see each other for a while. But he hadn’t wanted to upset Claire by mentioning this fact, so he’d tried to stay positive.  

“Oh hunny.” Owen moved closer to where Claire was cradling Amé, running his hand down her back. He glanced at Claire who had complete adoration covering her features as she looked down at the girl in her lap.  

“Sweetheart it’s ok, I know it sucks but you can see me again real soon.”  

Amé seemed to perk up at that, pushing away from Claire’s chest to look her directly in the eyes.  

“Really?” she sniffed.  

“Yes. Your daddy and I haven’t really sorted out the details” she gave Owen a supportive smile and checked to see she wasn’t overstepping.  

He nodded at her encouragingly. “But I really want to see both of you really soon. I don’t think I could go very long without seeing my favourite princess anyway.” Claire winked at the child, making her giggle.  

“So, this isn’t goodbye forever and ever?” Amé asked hopefully.  

“No not forever and ever. Just maybe a little while.” she said poking Amé in the side to try and make her laugh. It succeeded, with Amé bouncing lightly in Claire’s lap in excitement.  

“Ok then.”  

Amé crawled off Claire’s lap and onto the couch, now sitting in-between Owen and Claire. Owen smiled sadly at her, annoyed at himself for not catching her distress sooner.  

“Amé I think you really scared your daddy.” Claire informed the girl, looking over at the unease on Owen’s face. Amé quickly turned to her Dad and put her hands on his legs, pushing herself into a kneeling position.  

“I’m sorry Daddy.”  

“It’s ok baby, I just wished you’d told me that you were worried. I could have explained everything to you.” He pulled her into his arms, wrapping them tightly around her.  

“I just don’t want you to go back home and be sad.” she whispered into his chest. 

“What?”  

“You’ve been very happy here with Claire, I don’t want you to be sad again when we go home.”  

Owen felt like he’d been slapped.  

Had he been neglecting his daughter’s care?  

He certainly didn’t feel like he’d been sad when they were at home, but maybe Amé can see the difference in him since meeting Claire. He did feel happier now than he did two weeks ago.  

Still carrying round the neglect from his father, mother and then Gabby after all these years. But with Claire, things seemed lighter somehow, easier to carry. 

Not that his daughter didn’t make him happy, because she did more than anything. It’s because of Amé he finds the strength to move forward each day and try to forget about his past abuse.  

It was all for her.  

“Hunny I’m not sad, well... I don’t mean to be sad. Are you unhappy at home?” he whispered into her ear. 

“No, you’re the best Daddy in the whole world” leaning up to poke his nose. “But you smile more when you’re with Claire. I like that.”  

His eyes stung with unwanted tears, nose twitching. He knew his daughter was very clever for her age but he had no idea how attuned she was to his emotions.  

Although he shouldn’t be surprised, it had just been the two of them for over four years. Just them against the world.  

He glanced at Claire for the first time since Amé spoke to him, watching dap at her damp eyes. He reached out his hand which wasn’t currently supporting Amé’s back, to her. She smiled warmly, accepting his comfort and allowing him to pull her closer towards him.  

“I am happy baby.” stroking her hair, as Claire rested her head on his left shoulder. He wrapped his arm completely around her, careful not to crease her dinner dress but unable to stand not touching her any longer.  

Amé was watching the interaction between the two adults, cocking her head to the side. But it wasn’t until Owen pressed a kiss to the side of Claire’s forehead, that Amé spoke up from her seated position in Owen’s lap.  

“So, are you two like, boyfriend and girlfriend now?”  

The couple erupted into laughter, leading Amé to laugh too.  

“Yeah princess, boyfriend and girlfriend.” Owen chuckled, tickling the curious four-year old’s stomach.  
 
                                                                                                                                                                                 *** 

Dinner was a wonderful affair. No crying, no arguments and no problems. Just a flow in conversation between Owen and Claire, with small inputs from Amé when she didn’t have her head shoved in a bowl of ice cream.  

Claire had kissed Owen multiple times throughout the meal. Granted only quick pecks, but nevertheless, kisses. His face would light up like every time, like Paris at night. Revelling in the public displays of affection Claire was willing to give him.  

Everything felt right. This could be how his future looked. Claire on one side of him holding his hand and Amé on the other side, trying to decide which princess he looked the most like.  

The whole night felt easy.  

That was of course until it came to separating for the evening. Standing in the corridor now of Owen’s hotel room, he was trying to delay the inevitable by inviting Claire to his room.  

“Just one drink.”  

“Owen you have to be up early tomorrow. I don’t want you to be tired” she tried to reason with him, but Owen wasn’t having any of it.  

“Come on Claire, it’s just one drink then I promise I’ll go straight to bed. Scout’s honour.” He held the hand which wasn’t holding a sleeping Amé to his head, in a scout’s gesture.  

“But-”  

“Please Claire. It’s only nine-thirty. I don’t want to say goodbye yet” he whispered, hoping the pout he had going on was enough to change her mind. He gave her his best puppy dog eyes, watching as the fight left her.  

“Fine, one drink. Then bed Grady.”  

“Yes ma’am.”  

Usually he’d be touched about Claire’s consideration for his wellbeing, but he was desperate not to part from her, willing to do whatever it takes to make the evening last a little longer. The journey to Owen’s room was silent. Just 
the sound of faraway doors opening and closing.  

Claire had Owen’s hand held captive in hers, smoothing her finger tips across his palm. Amé was dead to the world in his arms, legs dangling by his hips and completely unaware of the journey they were currently making. It was way past her bed time in all fairness, usually Amé would have been asleep two hours ago. But it was a holiday after all.  

Once they’d entered Owen’s room and he’d gently changed his daughter and settled her into bed, while desperately trying not to wake her, both adults had settled down on the couch. Two beers were clasped firmly in their hands, with Claire laying her head on Owen’s shoulder, as he ran a hand up and down her side.  

“Worst haircut?”  

They’d been playing an adaptation of twenty questions. In which one of them asked a question to the other and they have no choice but to answer it, no matter how embarrassing.  

“Mmmm” Owen hummed for a second. “Definitely the mullet”  

Claire gasped, hand over her mouth.  

“You did not have a mullet” she cried in disbelief.  

Owen chuckled at her denial, knowing how right she really was to doubt him. “I totally did babe.”  

“Please tell me you have a picture” she begged.  

“Have you seen a mullet? You really think I’d be crazy enough to keep photographic evidence of that?” He laughed, looking at her bewilderingly. Her face morphed into a pout, tapping gently on his shoulder.  

“I would give anything to see that.”  

He gently rolled his eyes, thinking about how much he had hated that haircut. Never fully understanding why he decided to get it done in the first place.  

“Tough luck baby girl.” Leaning forward to kiss her softly on the mouth. “My turn.” He paused for a moment wanting to know so many stories about Claire Dearing, trying to think of the best one to ask about. “Ok, first kiss?” 

“How did I know you were going to ask that question?” She raised an eyebrow at him, poking his side.  

“Hey, just because you didn’t think of it first.”  

Now it was Claire’s turn to roll her eyes, poking in his side once more before answering his question.  

“Well, it was with a guy called Mike. I was...” She stopped then, a blush forming on her features.  

“You were what?”  

“I was eighteen actually.”  

“Eighteen?”  

He was completely confused how someone as beautiful as Claire hadn’t been kissed before she was eighteen years old.  

“Yeah well, I was never really into dating growing up. Kind of thought boys were immature and annoying.” She grumbled, the blush growing darker on her cheeks.  

“Baby they’re teenage boys, of course they’re immature and annoying. It’s sort of what we’re good at.”  

Claire giggled at him, running a quick hand through his hair in appreciation in his effort to try and tone down her embarrassment.  

“And this one guy Mike, he asked me to Prom. I said no at first, actually I think I said no like fifteen times. But he kept asking me and my sister said I should stop being a loser and go. So, I did.”  

“And he kissed you at Prom?” Owen asked.  

“Yeah.” 

“Was it a good first kiss?”  

“Nah, he was really drunk and shoved his tongue down my throat. Really wasn’t enjoyable.” She shook her head in disgust at the memory.  

“I’ll say” Owen nodded in agreement.  

“I also found out after that he’d asked me as a bet. Some of the popular guys in high school thought I was hot but said I’d never go out with any of them, I was kind of a nerd. So, Mike bet that he could and that he’d kiss me before the night was up. Wasn’t really up for kissing anyone else for a while after that.”  

Owen felt anger flare inside him at the idea of an eighteen-year-old Claire, feeling used and anything less than perfect. He wished he’d known her then. He’d have protected her, made her feel cherished and worth so much more than those jocks could ever know.  

“What a bunch of assholes.”  

He saw the edges of her mouth curl up into a soft smile, laying her head back on his shoulder. She wrapped her arms tightly around him this time, almost to try and comfort herself.  

“I agree with you there.” closing her eyes and breathing into his shirt.  

“They got one thing right though.”  

Claire cracked an eye open to look at him curiously. “What?”  

“You are very hot.” he whispered in her ear whilst wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. Claire playfully rolled her eyes and gently slapped his chest. 

“What a romantic you are Mr Grady”  

“I try”  

They both lapsed into a comfortable silence after that, Owen gently stroking her hair.  

He felt Claire sink into his side in relaxation, releasing deep breaths into his ear. For a moment, Owen contemplated falling asleep on the couch with Claire, letting them both get an early night before he returned home tomorrow. 

The desire to have Claire asleep in his arms all night was nearly overwhelming.  

But he knew how uncomfortable they would both be in the morning, as this couch was not the softest thing in the world, and he didn’t particularly want to have back ache for an eight-hour flight whilst sitting next to a four-year-
old.   

“Baby?” he whispered  

“Mhmm”  

“You sleepy?”  

“No” Claire replied drowsily, voice laced with fatigue. Owen couldn’t help but chuckle at her stubbornness.  

“How about we get you to bed?”  

“Don’t wanna” Claire moaned, burying her head into his shoulder. “Your comfy.”  

“Well thank you, but I think you should go and sleep in an actual bed. With pillows and blankets and stuff.”  

Claire nestled further into his shoulder, shaking her head. She went still again and Owen knew she was trying to fall back asleep.  

“I guess you leave me no choice huh?” 

When she continued to make no move to get up, Owen quickly wound his arms under her legs and hoisted her into his lap. Holding her firmly, Owen stood up, so he was carrying Claire bridal style. He heard her squeak at the 
movement, but made no move to try and escape.  

“What are you doing Grady?” she huffed a laugh.  

“Taking you to bed.” he stated as he began his journey towards the exit.  

“But I don’t want to leave you.” He could hear the pout in her voice, making his heart swell with love. Knowing she needed him as much as he needed her, it was pretty amazing.  

“That’s good, because you’re not leaving.”  

He made his way past the bathroom and hotel door, walking straight for his bedroom. He felt Claire stiffen in his arms, suddenly very awake.  

“But Owen? What about Amé? Won’t she find it weird?” Claire was whispering now as Owen had stopped just shy of the bedroom door.  

“Claire it’s not like I’m saying we have sex.” he laughed. “Just sleeping next to each other. Anyway, trust me, when Amé wakes up and realises you are having a sleepover here, she’ll go crazy.”  

He stood with Claire still laying in his arms, waiting for her to agree to his idea. He watched her bite her lower lip in thought and then finally nod for him to continue.  

“But no funny business.” she said sternly.  

“Wouldn’t dream of it darlin’. Actually, scratch that, I definitely will dream of it.” Owen pushed open the door with his foot, while manoeuvring them inside.  

“You’re so dumb.” Claire whispered, but smiling nonetheless.  

Since the Grady’s had been staying at the hotel, Amé had been sleeping in Owen’s bed every night. 

He’d requested two beds when he booked the room, trying to encourage Amé to sleep in her own bed. For the meantime, as they lived in the caravan while Owen built their cabin, it didn’t really matter as much. But Owen knew that when she had her own bed in the newly built cabin, Amé needed to get used to sleeping apart from him.  

He couldn’t be happier with himself in this moment. As Owen’s eyes adjusted to the dark lighting in the bedroom, he saw Amé’s sleeping form in the bed closest to the door and the free double bed next to the wardrobes. He silently walked over to the farthest bed, plopping Claire down on the edge. Realising she won’t be very comfy in her dinner dress, Owen grabbed a t-shirt from his open suitcase and placed it in her lap.  

“This should be ok for tonight.”  

She smiled at him and stood up. Pressing a kiss to his cheek, Claire walked past him towards the bathroom outside. He assumed she was going to change in there, possibly to prevent torturing him anymore.  

In Claire's absence, Owen changed into a t-shirt with some black boxers and plugged his phone in. Setting an alarm for six, will hopefully leave him enough time to pack both his and Amé’s belongings as well as having breakfast with Claire before they get the departing coach at nine.  

After about five minutes Claire emerged from the bathroom, wearing nothing but his tee. Owen’s mouth fell open at how amazing she looked. Her long slender legs were partially hidden under his t-shirt which fell to her mid-thigh. Claire obviously noticed his reaction and smirked at him, sending a wink his way.  

“It’s ridiculous” Owen whispered to her as she got close.  

“What is?”  

“How good you look in my clothes.” He pouted, crossing his arms like a child. “Especially when I can’t show you how good I think you look.” Tugging her into his arms, next to the bed.  

“Behave Grady.” she warned, brushing a hand through his hair. “I promise there will be plenty of time for that at a later date.”  

“Fine” he huffed.  

Claire pulled away from him to climb into bed, taking the side furthest from the door. “By the way, I kind of used your toothbrush.”  

Whispering to him as she settled under the sheets.  

“Kind of?”  

“Yeah.”  

“Any particular reason why?”  

“I can’t not brush my teeth Owen. That’s gross.” Wrinkling her nose at the idea. Owen couldn't help but notice how cute that expression was. He stood there gawking at her for a second, before smiling down at her. “It’s a good job 

I love you.”  

Claire’s whole face softened at his statement. “Hurry up so I can cuddle please.” she urged him with her hand in the direction of the bathroom, still smiling brightly.  

After Owen had completed his nightly routine and they were both snuggled under the thin white sheets, Owen let himself finally think about what tomorrow would bring.  

Even though he would be saying goodbye to Claire, he felt confident knowing it wouldn’t be for long. If he had to buy two tickets to New York for himself and Amé next week, well that’s what he’d do.  

The love they had found on this island, was worth every mile.  

“What you thinking about?” Claire whispered, pressing a kiss to his clothed shoulder.  

“Just about tomorrow.”  

He tried to hide the apprehension in his voice, but obviously not well enough because Claire grabbed his hand and whispered in his ear. 

“We will make it work Owen. I promise.” She moved her head so she was now leaning on her hand, making sure he could see her honesty. The vow they had made to each other, to try and make the long-distance thing work, it was scary.  

“I know. It’s just, I’ve not had the best track records with relationships. I mean I could barely make a relationship work when I was living in the same house as my ex, how could I possibly make it work when we live in different states.” He hadn’t meant to blurt all of that out, hadn’t even realised it had been weighing on his mind. Claire didn’t seem deterred by his rant though, if anything she smiled at his words.  

“Owen.”  

She waited until he caught her gaze, hands playing with the sheets nervously.  

“Sorry, didn’t mean to say all that.”  

“Owen.” she repeated gently. “I love you. I don’t say that to just anyone you know. And look, I know it will be challenging, especially because you have Amé to think about too. But I love you and you make me feel so special and safe, I never want to let that feeling go.” she reached forward and cradled his jaw in her palm. “So, I don’t care if I have to fly to Maine every weekend, I want you Owen. And the little girl you come with.”  

Tears had gathered in Owen’s eyes at Claire’s confession, not sure he’d cried this much in his whole life. Whatever he’d done to be granted Amé and Claire, he wasn’t sure. But he was going to make damn sure he proved himself worthy, every day.  

“I love you too. I want everything with you Claire.” he whispered quietly, just for the two of them to hear. “You make me so happy.”  

Sleep came quickly after their confessions. Both solid in the knowledge that tomorrow, nothing will change.  

The relationship they had started, here in Greece, would continue.  

New York or Maine, it didn’t matter. As long as they were together.  

Things would work out.  


 
 

Chapter Text

Consciousness pulled Claire from her deep sleep. 

She became vaguely aware of something on her hand. Ignoring the feeling and willing sleep to claim her once more, she snuggled deeper into Owen’s arms.  

The touch did not stop.  

She felt someone running their fingers over her hand, gently tickling her. Figuring it was Owen trying to wake her up she reached that hand back to run over Owen’s leg, in a morning greeting.  

Eyes still closed she stretched lightly, enjoying waking in Owen’s embrace.  

“Claire?”  

Claire’s eyes shot open.  

Standing next to her head was a very sleep four-year-old, hair messy from sleep, with a brown toy bear tucked under her arm. She had her head cocked to one side while she examined Claire in interest.  

Claire then realised Amé had been the one touching her hand, trying to gain her attention. Was something wrong? Is she sick? But surely if something was wrong, she would have woken Owen up.  

“Hey sweetie” Claire whispered, sitting up slightly to check and see if Owen was still asleep. He was. “Are you ok?”  

“You’re sleeping here?” The little girl looked confused, but not upset.  

Suddenly Claire felt insecure. What if Amé was upset she had stayed over? 

With Owen still asleep, not really wanting to wake him up after the day he had yesterday, Claire felt slightly exposed under the small girl’s eyes.  

“Yeah I did.” She gently extracted herself from Owen’s strong grasp in order to talk to Amé properly. Now sitting up, Claire smiled sweetly at the girl. “Is that ok?” 

Amé started smiling then, eyes sparkling with excitement. “Like a sleepover?” 

It was Claire’s turn to smile, trying to keep quiet in order to not wake her boyfriend currently dead to the world behind her. 

“Exactly like a sleepover hunny. Are you ok with me sleeping over?” she whispered.  

Amé nodded enthusiastically, taking a step closer to the bed. “Can you sleep over every night?”  

Claire felt herself getting emotional, eyes stinging with love. What had she done to deserve being welcomed into this family like this? Wanting more than anything to be there every night with Owen and Amé, but also knowing with her full-time job it was impossible.  

“I’d love to I really would sweetie, but maybe not every night.” Watching Amé’s face fall slightly she quickly added “But we can definitely have another sleepover soon. And do girly things like, painting our nails and watching 
movies.”  

“Can we have popcorn?” The little girl squealed. 

“Shh” Claire urged gently with a little giggle. “Sure we can.” she whispered.  

“Can Bonny come?” Amé asked quietly, shoving her toy bear into Claire’s face.  

“Of course.”  

“And Daddy? I don’t want him to feel left out.” The little girl looked scared for a few second, face scrunched up with concern.  

“I don’t think we could have a slumber party without you dad. He wouldn’t want to miss out on the popcorn.” she winked at Amé. 

Amé let out a big yawn, and began rubbing her eyes with her little fingers. Claire glanced over at the bedside clock and suddenly noticed the time. It was only four-thirty AM. Amé still had a couple of hours before she needed to be awake.  

“Hunny how come you’re awake so soon?”  

Amé turned her eyes to the ground in a bashful gesture, twirling her toes against the cold tiles.  

“I usually sleep in bed with Daddy. I don’t like sleeping in my bed by myself.”  

Claire was then hit with a wave of guilt. Because she was here with Owen, Amé was being denied her routine. Owen had mentioned to Claire how bad Amé was at sleeping, always waking him up in the middle of the night claiming nightmares. However, Owen assumed she just didn't like sleeping alone.  

“Do you want to come sleep with your Dad sweetie? I’ll go sleep in yours.” Claire swung her legs out of the bed, preparing to stand up and swap with the small girl.  

“Can I just sleep with you and Daddy?”  

“Me too?” Claire asked shocked.  

“Yes.” Amé looked nervous again, scared to be turned down by Claire. 

“Of course, you can.” Moving back into the bed and patting in between herself and Owen. “You don’t need to ask hunny, he’s your Daddy.” 

Claire definitely didn’t want to cause any uncertainty in Amé’s life, especially when it came to her bond with Owen. They that the best relationship and Claire would never do anything to come between that.  

Amé took the invitation and clambered over Claire to lie facing upwards between Owen and herself. Kicking her legs slightly when she was lying flat. Claire rolled over so she was facing the sleepy child who was currently sucking her thumb while clutching Bonny the Bear to her chest.  

“I like it when you sleepover Claire.” Amé whispered into the dark room, reaching her small hand up to touch Claire’s hair. Warmth seeped into Claire’s entire body, love bursting from her heart and creating the biggest smile on 
her face.  

“I like being here sweetheart.”  

With that the little girl yawned again and turned over to snuggle into her dad’s arms. Owen automatically wrapped both his arms around her small body, enveloping her in safety. Claire looked on them fondly before closing her own eyes once again. She could definitely get used to mornings like this. The comfort of Owen’s arms around her, Amé’s sweet hushed words, laying around talking in the dark.  

It was the life she’d always wanted, but never thought she’d have.  

Maybe all the unluckiness in love had been preparing her to find this.  

Pure love.  

Easy love.  

True Love.  
 


*** 

 

“Baby”  

“Mhmm”  

“Baby time to wake up.”  

Owen’s smooth voice was currently whispering in Claire’s ear.  

His hot breath landing on her cheek, leaving a field of goose bumps in his wake. Claire cracked an eye open, surveying her surroundings.  

She found two bright blue eyes staring adoringly at her.  

“Hi.” he whispered.  

“Hey” she smiled shyly. 


He stroked some of her auburn hair off her forehead, running his fingers gently over the soft skin of her ear. Touching her everywhere he could, while still staring at her softly.  

“What?” Claire smiled. 

“Huh?”  

“Why do you keep looking at me like that?”  

“Like what?” Owen raised an eyebrow. 

“Like you’re concentrating really hard.”  

“Just trying to remember this moment. After I’ve left, I need to remember waking up to you in my bed.”  

Claire’s sleepy eyes softened, reaching out to pull him onto the bed with her. He laughed at being hauled next to her on the soft mattress. She quickly wrapped her arms tightly around his back, making it impossible for him to move. She felt his body melt into hers, pressing a kiss to her forehead and returning the hug.  

“You’re cute.”  

Owen huffed a laugh, feeling the vibrations from her place on his chest. “But definitely not an image to remember, I hardly look decent at this time in the morning.” Claire gave a self-deprecating chuckle. Josh has always reminder her how much pretty she looked with makeup on, always refusing to go out with her until she’d ‘made an effort’. Claire shuddered at the memories of crying in the bathroom for hours after Josh had left without her.  

While Claire got lost in the unhappy memories, Owen cradled her jaw in both his hands, thumbs rubbing soft circles into her chin.  

“You are so beautiful Claire. At any point of the day. But I think this is my favourite look on you, when it’s just you and me. Just natural and easy.”  

Claire felt a tear fall onto her cheek from his sweet words. Not having felt admired in so long, someone loving everything about you because they really see you for what you are. Owen loves the person she is, not the person she pretends to be.  

“Oh baby, I didn’t mean to make you cry. I’m sorry I was-”  

“No, you didn't do anything Owen. It’s just been so long-” Another sob ripped from her throat as she tried to get the words out to explain. “Since I’ve felt beautiful. Since someone’s told me I’m... beautiful.” She cried harder after getting these words out, watching anger flicker across Owen’s face. He pulled her closer into his embrace.  

“Now you listen to me, whoever has made you feel anything less than perfect in the past is an idiot. They didn’t deserve you baby girl. You are so much more than I deserve and I thank god every day for meeting you here.” He gently rocked them from side to side where they lay on the bed. “I wish I could go back and change whoever hurt you.”  

Claire could hear the pain in his voice, the desperation to stop her pain. God, she loved this man.  

“I don’t” she sniffed.  

“What why not?” Owen asked bewildered.  

“Because everything that’s happened to me led me here Owen. All the shitty people I’ve met and been with led me to you. I wouldn’t change that for the world.” Peering up at him with teary eyes, watching to see his reaction.  

Suddenly Owen rolled them both over until he was towering over her, legs either side of her hips. She gave a wet laugh at his movement, running her hands through his hair.  

“I love you.” he smiled. “So much.”  

“And I love you Grady.”  

Reaching up and pulling his head to hers. Lips meeting for the first time that day, hands roaming each other's bodies. It wasn’t until Claire moaned that she remembered they weren’t alone in this apartment.  

“Wait” pushing Owen’s head away from where it was currently buried in her neck. “Where’s Amé?” Looking around the room to try and locate the four-year-old.  

“Oh, she’s in the lounge watching something on my Ipad. She’s kind of cranky because packing took longer than I thought.” he explained going back to kissing her neck softly.  

“You’ve already packed? What time is it?” Pushing up onto her arms, looking for the clock on the bedside table.  

“Um... about seven ish I think.”  

Claire’s head whipped in his direction. 

“Seven?”  

“Yeah”  

“What the hell Owen? Why didn’t you wake me?” Claire asked annoyed. Wanting to spend as much time with him as possible.  

“I thought I’d let you sleep, you looked so peaceful.” He looked down at her guilty, moving to the side so he was sitting next to her. “Is that wrong?”  

“You’re leaving today Owen! I wanted to spend as much time with you as possible. Now I’ve only got two hours before you leave.” She felt herself tearing up again, getting annoyed at her emotional she is. Wiping her eyes desperately, not wanting him to think she was some kind of clingy girlfriend.  

But Owen just smiled at her and pulled Claire into his lap, tilting her head to look at him.  

“Don’t be mad, I just thought you were tired and Amé told me she woke you up.” He looked slightly guilty after admitting that. “And we’re going to see each other again Claire, real soon. Don’t think I could go more than a few days without seeing you anyway.”  

Claire felt her irritation melt away, knowing that he was only trying to be kind to her by letting her sleep in. If she’s honest with herself, she’s only mad because today is the last time, she’ll see him for a while. That annoys her.  

She wrapped her legs around his hips and draped both arms over his shoulders.  

“I’m sorry I got mad. I’m just going to miss you guys so much." She said, running her fingers through his hair.  

“I know, me too. But I’ll call you every day I promise.” Leaning down to peck her lips, while running his fingers up and down her back.  

After another few minutes of enjoying each other's embrace, Claire said she should get changed so they can go and have breakfast. Seeing as Amé and Owen had been dressed since six-thirty, she thought they were properly both ready to eat.  

Quickly greeting Amé who was still sitting on the couch watching cartoons on Owen’s iPad, and briefly kissing Owen on the lips, Claire found herself taking the elevator back up to her room. She watched as the elevator climbed the floors, still feeling slightly depressed about Owen leaving the island today.  

It wouldn’t really hurt as much if she was leaving too. But her flight wasn’t until two days' time. That was two whole days without the Grady’s presence. It would be very strange, seeing as her whole experience here had revolved around, them.  

Once back in her hotel room, she quickly threw on a pair of denim shorts with a black tank top, finishing off the look with her white converse sneakers. She ran a brush through her hair and sprayed herself with perfume and 
deodorant.  

When she was happy with her appearance, she brushed her teeth and texted Owen to tell him she’d meet him in the canteen.  

She had just finished brushing her teeth when her phone buzzed. Assuming it was Owen she wiped her mouth on a towel and glanced at her phone.  

It wasn’t from Owen.  

It was from him.  

I’ve seen you’ve been ignoring my messages. Still can’t wait to see you when you’re home.  

Her whole body felt stiff. 

Scared to even pick up the phone, just in case he’d know.  

Josh had texted her multiple times, during her stay here but she’d just been ignoring them. Was even tempted to block his number. However, that would have made things awkward in the future. She’d been able to push him from her mind because she’d had Owen. But now Owen was leaving, she found herself falling back into that black hole.

With only Josh’s texts to keep her company.  

The idea of having to see Josh again, caused her throat to get tight. She couldn’t face him, never wanting to see his smug face ever again. Her phone buzzed again.  

Terrified to look down, what if it was another text from him? Telling her, he knows where she’s been hiding and was coming to find her.  

Gathering the courage to face her phone, she smiled when she saw it was Owen.  

Get your sexy ass down here, they’ve got waffles.  

She laughed despite herself and quickly left the bathroom to grab her wallet and key card, purposely leaving her phone on the bed.  

He didn’t have a hold over her any more. Not when she had Owen in her life.  
 


*** 

 

“When you said they had waffles? Did you mean there would be some left for me?”  

Claire amusingly eyed Owen’s plate, which contained an uncountable amount of maple waffles. Amé had apparently picked a small table outside this morning, as she wanted to see the pool during her last breakfast. Claire was starting to feel more herself after the text she had received this morning.  

“ooo ca hare iv ooo wan” Owen spoke around a large mouthful of waffles.  

Claire raised an eyebrow at him, lips turning up in to a smile. “I’m sorry what?”  

Owen continued to chew for a few seconds before swallowing. “I said, you can share if you want.”  

He tilted his plate towards her, offering some of the many waffles on his plate. Claire glanced down at her fruit and yogurt and shrugged, before stabbing her fork into one of the waffles.  

“Thank you, Mr Grady.” she said, starting to cut up the waffle he’d given her.  

“My pleasure Miss Dearing.”  

They both heard a giggle come from across the table, turning to find Amé looking right at them, laughing over her orange juice.  

“Something funny princess?”  

She giggled again, putting her juice down.  

“Why do you call her Dearwing Daddy?”  

“Because that’s her last name baby. Like yours is Grady.”  

“It’s silly” she giggled again.  

“Your daddy is silly sweetie.”  

Owen narrowed his eyes at Claire, pulling his plate away from her.  

“Right that’s it, no more waffles for you!” He pouted.  

Both of the girls burst out laughing at his behaviour. Claire tried to reach over and snatch his plate back.  

“Come on Owen I was joking.”  

“Nope” turning his body away from her, leading Amé to giggle even more.  

“You can have some of my breakfast.” she offered, knowing how much Owen hated fruit. Just as she’d expected Owen turned to face her with a look of disgust.  

“Ew no. Fruit is not a breakfast.”  

“Neither is waffles.” Claire counted, gesturing towards his plate of calories. Owen didn’t respond just stuck his tongue out at her like a child and went back to silently eating his breakfast. Claire smirked at his sulking.  

Briefly checking to see if Amé was still looking at them, which thankfully she wasn’t. Claire leant over towards Owen, hovering her lips over his ear, feeling him freeze.  

“If we weren’t at breakfast right now, I’d definitely make it up to you.”  

Claire saw his breath stutter. Coughing to try and cover up his gasp. He turned his head to look at her with shock, while she leant back into her chair, plopping a grape into her mouth. Owen glared at her, mouth still gaping like a fish.  

“You’re evil” he hissed.  

*** 

 

This was probably the most spontaneous thing she’d ever done.  

Well except from booking this holiday.  

She hadn’t been planning on doing this. In fact, she was re-thinking the whole decision while sitting in her hotel room reviewing her flight details.  

After breakfast and a brief final walk around the resort, Owen and Amé had gone back to their room to make sure nothing had been left. That was twenty minutes ago.  

A lot can happen in twenty minutes.  

Actually, a lot can happen in ten minutes.  

It had for Claire.  

Like deciding you didn’t want to stay on the island, where you met your boyfriend two weeks ago.  

Instead wanting to leave with him.  

So that’s what she’d done.  

After leaving the Gradys in the elevator, allowing them their space to pack and Owen time to try and organise his excitable four-year-old, Claire entered her hotel room and had immediately sunk onto her bed. 


Her heart had felt heavy. 

Knowing this little paradise, she and Owen had found themselves in was coming to a close, it was a rude awakening to say the least. Wishing the keep this simplicity of day to day life they’d craved out together untouched by the outside world.  

But everything must end at some point.  

Claire had made a promise to herself before flying out from New York, that while she was away on vacation, she would not involve herself with work. She would make a conscious effort to ditch her phone each day, ignore her emails and for the first time since working as a CEO, take a break.  

Apart from one or two urgent calls she had to take, she’d stuck to her word and barely thought of anything work related. Owen had probably influenced this more than anything, his calm demeanour affecting her usually stressed state of mind.  

Her flight was supposed to be on Friday, two days from now. But facing two whole days without Owen’s handsome face and Amé’s excitable energy, wasn’t very appealing.  

As she’d been planning on spending the next two days hauled up in her hotel room, depressed and alone, her eyes had glanced over at her suitcase. Which was already packed. 

In the past Claire had been called OCD, obsessive and straight out crazy. But she thought of herself more as organised. Whenever she went away on a trip, for as long as she could remember. She’d always packed days before she was actually due to leave.  

With the exception of the following days outfits and toiletries, which she would fold after use and then slide into the awaiting suitcase. Now Claire had never particularly enjoyed this trate she possessed, quite self-conscious of it in fact. Having numerous amounts of people making fun of her for it. But today, she loved it.  

As her eyes met her red suitcase, sitting next to the TV, an idea struck Claire.  

Why doesn’t she just leave now? 

Go with Owen and Amé to Maine and spend the last chunk of her vacation surrounded by the two people she had come to fall in love with. Sure, she would lose the she’d payed for the last two days on the resort, and the return 
flight to New York. But it’s not as if she was really strapped for cash.  

Quite the opposite.  

She could just go online and book a seat on Owen’s flight. She knew the time they were flying so she wasn’t going to accidentally book the wrong one. Then she could stay Thursday, Friday and Saturday with them and grab a flight back to New York on the Sunday before starting work again on the Monday.  

It was a full proof plan.  

Except one thing.  

One thing which had made Claire suddenly freeze with fear.  

After booking another flight to Maine and throwing the remainder of her stuff into her suitcase, she was suddenly struck with a terrifying thought. One which up until this point hadn’t even crossed her mind.  

What if Owen didn’t want her to come with them.  

She knew it was silly really. He’d told her he loved her. Men don’t say that lightly, and he’d done nothing to make her think he wouldn’t love for her to join him in Maine.  

But what if he thought it was too soon.  

Maybe he wanted more time to get to know each other through late-night phone calls and stolen facetime sessions. Or maybe he’d think this was pushing Amé too far too quickly.  

Sleeping in the same hotel room was completely different than Claire coming to their home and staying for multiple nights. She definitely should have asked Owen before doing this.  

So here she was, sitting on the edge of her bed, with the fan above her whirling around to try and cool the perspiration which had suddenly broken out on the back of her neck. She’d like to say it was forming the early morning 

Greek heat currently wafting through her open balcony, but she knows it’s from the prospect of being rejected by Owen.  

Which would literally crush her.  

He’s not Josh.  

He’s a better man than Josh could ever be.  

He’d never reject you like he did.  

She continued to repeat these words over and over again in her head. Pushing her to stand up and grab her suitcase, making her do a once over of her now barren hotel room and nod in approval when she saw no personal items 
left lying around.  

It helped her to press the button on the elevator, choosing Owen’s floor number and walking into the awaiting transport. These words encouraged her to walk confidently down his hallway and knock gently on the brown door.  

Claire could here movement coming from behind the door, knowing Owen was probably panicking as he only had about half an hour before the coach came to take them to the airport. Claire decided to leave her suitcase to the 
side of the hotel room door, just out of view of any one inside the room.  

Still not convinced as to what Owen’s reaction will be.  

Before she could decide to run back to her room and pretend the last half an hour hadn't happened, that she hadn’t presumedly decided to stay with Owen in his home, the door opened.  

“Oh, hey baby, I thought we were meeting downstairs?” 

Owen was standing in the doorway, a large smile on his face at seeing her. He was currently holding a blue toothbrush in one hand and the purple ball Owen had accidently hit Claire with on the first day they met, in his other.  

His hair was wildly untamed, curls still slightly damp from a quick shower he had obviously taken before finishing packing. All Claire wanted to do was reach forward and run her fingers through his hair, he looked way too cute. 

But she knew she needed to talk to him before she lost her nerve.  

Restraining herself by wrapping her hands together, she returned his warm smile albeit nervously.  

“Yeah sorry, I just wanted to see you.”  

Technically not a lie. She always wanted to see him.  

“You’re cute.” He stepped forward and pulled her into his arms, tightly enveloping her in his warmth. Instantly like magic, Claire felt herself relax into his safety. All the fear about tell him, melted away. “Come on in, Amé has only unpacked her toys about five times so far. So, doing well.” He crossed his fingers in front of her, tugging her by the hand towards his room.  

Claire couldn’t help but giggle at his sarcasm, but stayed where she was. He still hadn’t noticed her suitcase currently sitting to the left of him.  

“Owen wait.” She watched his face turn to her, confusion painting his features.  

“You ok?”  

“Yeah I'm fine. I just... Can we talk for a sec.”  

Owen stiffened. Body going rigid with dread, fists tightening with fear. Claire instantly hated herself for phrasing it like that, wanting to soothe his worries she’d caused.  

“Sure.” he gruffly responded, he weakly smiled.  

“I’ve been thinking about you leaving and I’ve been really struggling with the fact you won’t be here when I wake up tomorrow. Or when I go to sleep tonight.” Her fingers were twisting the bottom of her pink vest top she was currently sporting, keeping her eyes focussing on the marble flooring.  

“Claire what's this about?” Owen’s worried voice broke through her explanation.  

“I was just scared Owen. Scared you’d leave and realise I’m not the girl you want to be with. That you deserve so much better than me” She felt her throat get tight with emotion, nose stinging with the build-up of tension.  

“Woah, baby what’s happening right now?” Owen stepped out of the doorway where he’d been standing rigidly. He gently pulled the door to so Amé wouldn’t overhear this conversation. “You’re perfect Claire, I don’t want anyone else.”  

When Claire didn’t respond, instead looking down at her feet stubbornly. Fear of his rejection preventing her from admitting why she was even having this conversation; Owen suddenly spoke very quietly.  

“Are you finishing things?”  

Claire’s head whipped towards his voice.  

“What?”  

“Are you breaking up with me Claire? Because if you are, please just say it. I don’t think I can deal with talking you through it. I really can’t.”  

If Owen’s face wasn’t so solemn, she would have laughed at his proposal. Her break up with him? Literally the best man she’d ever met? There’s no way she would ever end things between them, it would have to be him.  

How had she phrased this so wrong? Why did she give him that impression? Maybe subconsciously she was trying to sabotage what they had. So, if he had rejected her for changing her flight, she could still back pedal. But seeing 
the pain on his beautiful face she quickly stepped forward, hands running up his chest.  

“No baby no, that’s not what I was trying to...” running a sweaty hand through her hair in frustration. “Ah this is not how this was meant to go.”  

“How what was going to go?” he asked in a much calmer tone now she was touching him. “Wait are you proposing? Because if you are yes.” he wiggled his eyebrows. Claire gaped at him in shock, but ended up bursting in to giggles.  

“Owen!” she slapped his chest. 

“What? I did kind of expected you to whisk me off my feet though baby girl.”  

Claire rolled her eyes at him but suddenly felt a lot less nervous.  

“What’s really going on Claire?” he muttered with soft eyes.  

She took a deep breath through her nose and began playing with the hair at the back of his neck.  

“I kind of changed my... my flight.”  

Her eyes flickered to his, expecting to see anger there. But instead she found confusion, his arms coming up to rub her arms gently.  

“You want to stay longer?”  

“No Owen definitely not longer.” she shook her head at herself. Why couldn't she just tell him the truth? “I changed my flight to today, well this afternoon to be precise. Your flight. And I kind of thought that maybe I could fly to 

Maine with you guys and, you know... stay for a few days?”  

Understanding seemed to dawn on Owen features, mouth softening from confusion and forming a thin line. Claire felt the dread settle low in her stomach; he hadn’t said anything yet. But he also hadn’t pushed her away so maybe she hasn’t overstepped.  

“And I know I should have asked you first Owen I know that. I just couldn’t bear to stay on this island without you.” Her eyes fell to the floor, hands falling from his shoulders. “If you want me to change it I will- 

She was cut off by Owen’s lips.  

Her back hit the wall in the corridor, Owen’s body trapping her against it.  

He immediately pried her mouth open, tongue searching hers while his hands were tangled in her red locks. Even though she was still surprised by his reaction she welcomed it gladly. It was definitely not what she was expecting. 

When she felt her body demanding oxygen desperately, she slowly pried her mouth away from Owen’s, eyes glazed over in lust. His eyes were still closed, forehead pressed intimately to hers.  

“I love you Claire.” he whispered. 

“I love you too. But does this mean you’re not mad?” she pushed him back enough to see his eyes.  

“Why on god’s earth would I be mad?”  

“Because I did it without asking and I am crossing a line and invading your space-”  

“Claire, you are never invading my space. I want to be around you all the time.” he interrupted once again. “Hell, if I had known you were willing to change your flight, I would have asked you to come myself.”  

“Really?”  

“Really really.” He stroked the side of her face, body still tucked tightly against hers. “Please stop thinking of yourself as a burden. Because you are not.” He looked her dead in the eyes to reiterate his point.  

“I'll try” she smiled widely at him, happiness blooming in her chest. She was really doing this; she was really going to travel to Maine with Owen and Amé. She would be staying in his home, a person which before this trip she’d 
never met before.  

But now could not imagine her life without.  

Sometimes life held the best surprises.  

“Oh my god, you need to pack though Claire.” He looked at his watch while stepping away from her. “We’ve only got twenty minutes until the coach leaves.” Owen turned to run back into the room, but Claire caught his wrist.  

“I don’t need to pack” she inclined her head to his hotel door, where her suitcase sat on the right. Owen followed her eyeline and turned away from her.  

“Well aren't you prepared.” He turned back around with a smirk on his face, arms pulling her to his chest.  

“I would have told you sooner, but someone kind of man handled me into the wall.” Her eyes wandered around the corridor nonchalantly.  

“I didn’t hear you complaining.”  

“Oh really?” feigning ignorance. “I’ll try to be louder next time.”  

With that, Owen picked her up just under her ass and started twirling her around. Giggles erupting from Claire’s lungs.  

“So that’s how it’s going to be then Missy.”  

“Owen stop!”  

“Why? I’m enjoying myself.”  

“Put me down.” she laughed, hitting his shoulders gently.  

“Boring.” Gently lowering her back to her feet, but smiling nonetheless.  

Claire was so elated she didn’t care they were still standing in a public corridor, probably having just made a lot of noise.  

She was so happy right now. 

This feeling was what she’d only heard about from friends and her sister. The kind of happy where you forget about everything except this feeling. Where your cheeks hurt from smiling so wide and you just want to laugh as loud as you can. You want everyone around you to know how happy you are.  

Owen was staring at her softly, leaning down to peck her lips one more time.  

“You’re sure about this?” Standing straight again, Owen brushed his thumbs under her jaw.  

“Babe, I wouldn’t have changed my flight if I wasn’t.”  

“I know it’s just...” He looked down at his hands, face contorting in worry. 

“What?” 

“My place, where I live... It’s not really New York city you know? It might not be what you’re used to.”  

Before he could continue Claire broke in. 

“Good.” She took his hands in hers, bringing them up to her mouth. She pressed short kisses over his palms. “The city was getting kind of lonely anyway. Also, you’re not in New York Owen, that makes it instantly worse.”  

Owen looked slightly emotional at her words, arms crushing her to his chest. He kissed her head, breathing in her hair. “You’re so perfect Claire.”  

“Mmm” Claire hummed into his chest, content to stand here all day in Owen’s strong arms. However, as good as that sounds they can’t. The coach will be here soon and they needed to round Amé up, making sure nothing is left 
in their chaotic room.  

“Come on we got a little monster to organise.” Owen grabbed her hand. “Hopefully she hasn’t unpacked again.” Dread creeping into his voice, while Claire laughed at the image of Amé having taken all her toys out of their 
suitcase.  

“She’s an angel.”  

“Clearly you haven’t seen her in the mornings before school.” he gruffly responded, opening his hotel room door. He held it open for Claire to step through. 

“No, I haven’t. But I want to.” she said, wanting him to understand how committed she was too both of them. 

Owen turned to face her, catching the seriousness in her tone. He stopped in the doorway, still holding it open for her.  

“I want all of it Owen.”  

He smiled widely at her.  

“I want that too.”  

Pulling her into the room, kicking the door shut behind them.  

If only sixteen-year-old Claire could see her now. 

She wouldn't believe she had not only found love, but was also expressing her desire for more.  

Something she never believed she’d find.  

A family.  

Sometimes life held the best surprises.  

And finally for the first time in forever. 

Claire couldn't wait for tomorrow.