I am so excited to be a part of the If Only blog tour, and I’m even MORE excited that I get to feature a special bonus scene for one of my favorite books ever: Wish You Were Italian by Kristin Rae. I read this book last year and loved it SO MUCH. Check out my review if you’re interested! It’s one of the cutest books ever. :) Read a little about the book, and then enjoy the exclusive bonus scene by Kristin Rae, before entering the giveaway for a complete set of the If Only books (they are all wonderful!)! This story is enjoyable and swoony on its own, so don’t fret if you haven’t read Wish You Were Italian. You’ve got no excuses, so just read it!
A Lesson in Floating
By Kristin Rae
A bonus scene to Kristin Rae’s novel, Wish You Were Italian—part of the IF ONLY romance line of books about wanting what you can’t have!
My toes test the edge of the water, and a wave pushes over my feet. Well, not a wave exactly. The sea sort of pulses, and with each beat, it slides little white bubbles onto the coarse sand.
“Oooo, that’s cold,” I say, taking a step back.
Darren keeps his pace steady until he’s in about mid-thigh, then dunks down so the water covers his shoulders. “It feels great once you’re in, Pipperoni. Go fast.”
I shake out my arms to psych myself up, and my thin braided bracelet shifts to rest above the wide part of my hand. Probably not the smartest to wear my favorite souvenir for a dip in the Mediterranean, but it was tricky to work the clasp with one hand, so I don’t waste time trying to get it off.
Hugging my tummy and hunching over in what’s probably an unattractive way, I march toward Darren, focusing on his smile rather than the shock of the water as it greets the more sensitive parts of my skin. I copy him, bending my legs and letting myself sink slowly until only my head is above the surface in the warm, delicious sunshine. The water really does feel amazing.
“Are you always right about everything?” I ask, stopping myself before I lose my mind and splash water at him. What am I, twelve?
His brown eyes, partially shaded by the mound of curls on top of his head, widen like he’s suddenly self-conscious. “I’m not sure I like the way that sounds.”
“No, I don’t mean it like you’re a know-it-all,” I quickly amend. “I just mean that you know a lot.”
“And that’s different how?” His laugh comes from deep down, hands swirling the top of the water as he keeps himself in one spot. “This is like you backpedaling about my hair all over again.”
I shake my head at his misinterpretation. “I’m never going to live that down, am I?”
“Am I going to forget you asked if I permed my hair? Never.”
A groan escapes my mouth. “Okay. Well, what I meant by you knowing a lot is that you’re smart.”
He raises an eyebrow, but I don’t give him time to jump to any false conclusions.
“You may be one of the smartest people I know,” I say, keeping eye contact so he knows I’m not trying to be funny. “I love that you love to learn, you know? It’s motivating. All of it. How passionate you are about working on those archaeological sites. About travel. About meeting new people,” I add, shifting my focus to the shimmer of the sea all around us—blue and green, clear and bright, even from here, just like Chiara said.
Darren clears his throat. “Well, some people are worth meeting more than others.”
My body shudders as goosebumps crawl up my legs and down my arms, because he’s right. I feel like meeting him has already changed the course of my life. A few words from his mouth and I’m in an Italian fishing village I’ve never heard of, building my future one photograph at a time. Even if I never see him again after today—please, all that is holy, don’t let that be the case—I couldn’t forget him. Darren’s been more worth meeting than anyone ever. Apart from my best friend, Morgan, obviously.
I’m so lost in my thoughts, when I turn, I see he’s drifted about ten feet past me. Only his face, toes, and part of his chest and stomach break the surface. Giving wide berth to a pair of handsy honeymooners, I swim over to him. It’s a little deeper here, so I stand, carefully balancing on the rocks below. Darren’s eyes are closed when I raise a hand near his face and flick my fingers to spray water.
He flinches but smiles, keeping his eyes shut. “It’s amazing how calm it is out here. You should try this.”
“Mmm, I actually fail at floating,” I confess.
When he doesn’t react right away, I realize his ears are underwater. He rights himself, and I watch as water weighs down his curls so they’re nearly touching his shoulder.
“Did you say something?”
I could take this opportunity to pretend to be much cooler than I am, but I’m finding more and more that I don’t want to be anyone but myself when I’m around him.
“I can’t float,” I repeat.
“Whaaa?” he asks through a laugh. “How is that possible? Isn’t it the first thing you learn?”
“I know. There’s even a pool in my backyard.” Taking out my ponytail holder and readjusting my hair so it’s looped high on my head, I lower myself farther into the water, then slowly lift up my legs and lean back. “See, I just . . . can’t stay up.”
“Pippa, stop stop stop,” he says. “I can already tell you’re just going to sink like a rock.” More laughing.
“What am I doing wrong?” I ask, fiddling with my bracelet that’s found a new home halfway up my forearm.
He bites his bottom lip. “Uh. How can I put this?”
I give up my attempt completely and rest my hands on my hips. His smile spreads, slow and hesitant, until I can just glimpse his partially twisted tooth up top.
“Well, okay,” he begins, “two things. One, you’ll never float if you’re trying to keep your hair dry. And two . . . you have to lift your butt more.”
Laughter pops from my mouth. “I’m telling you, it won’t matter. I don’t float.”
Just then, he hooks onto my arm and gently tugs me out of the way of a kid swimming fast with her head down, breathing through a snorkel, cruising forward with legs together and flippers on her feet.
“Gotta watch out for those mermaids,” Darren says.
I smile, and we both watch as she leaves us in her wake, and I realize Darren’s hand is still on my arm. Did he just forget to let go? Is he doing it on purpose? Should I wait for him to move?
“Want me to teach you?” he finally asks, letting go at the same time.
“To swim like a mermaid? I mastered that when I was eight.”
Grinning wide as if he’s imagining eight-year-old mermaid Pippa, he says, “To float.”
I almost don’t agree because I’d rather just talk and stare at him to memorize the exact placement of his dimples, but something about those very dimples convinces me to say yes. So he scoops me right up in his arms under the knees and across my back.
“Whoa, so this is really happening,” I say before I can stop it.
I’ve already had to hitch a ride on his back like a monkey when I hurt my ankle, but something about this kind of touching is different. There’s so much skin. I mean, we’re wearing bathing suits. I’m being held against his bare chest. We’re wet. We’re in Italy. Things happen on foreign soil. Or in the water. . . .
The look on my face must give away my thoughts, because he stands me upright again.
“Maybe you should watch me first,” he says, then turns so his head is nearly bumping into me when he lies back, arms out, floating in two seconds like it’s nothing. “You need to put your arms out to take up more of the surface, relax enough so your ears go underwater, and it helps to lift your chin a bit.”
“Know-it-all,” I tease, even though I know he can’t hear.
But he laughs. “Heard that.”
I study the length of his body, taking mental notes, strictly for floating research purposes, of course. Arms out, chin up, abs . . . tight.
“See? Easy,” he says. “And you can put your hands under me and lead me around anywhere.”
There’s zero reason for me to do this, and no reason for him to even suggest it. Surely he isn’t just trying to get me to touch him. Or maybe that’s exactly what he’s doing. I let out a sigh I know he can’t hear. Because right now I can think of zero reasons why I wouldn’t want to.
I tentatively place a hand just under his neck, afraid to straight up palm him any farther down. So what if I did rub sunscreen on his back earlier? That was necessary. This feels . . . different.
“Just don’t push me into that giant rock over there,” he says loudly, eyes closed with a smile on his face.
My eyes dart to the pointed boulder growing out of the beach and into the water, quite a distance from us. “You’re safe.”
Spinning him in a slow circle around me, making sure not to slam him into any swimmers or our mermaid friend, I catch myself staring at his lips where a few drops of water glisten in the sun. Such nice lips. . . .
Something brushes against my shin and I let out a surprised yelp, pulling my knees up and instinctively reaching for a firmer grasp on Darren.
“What happened?” he asks, bolting upright, then sucking air through his teeth and reaching for the back of his head. And I realize I can’t lower my arm.
“Oh, no! My bracelet . . . ” I say. The clasp is caught in Darren’s hair. “Let me undo it.” Darren angles his head toward me as I reach for the clasp. But now it’s tangled up with hair, so it’s not budging.
“Any progress?” he asks with forced laughter.
“Gimme a second!” I say to make it sound like there’s hope. But there’s not. “Uh, I may have to rip it out.”
“What?” He grabs at his hair but gets my wrist instead. “Is it really that bad?”
My breath catches when he strokes the base of my hand with his thumb. It’s so slight, he probably doesn’t even realize he’s doing it.
I let out a cough-laugh. “Have you heard of the term ‘rat’s nest’?”
With my hand up at his head, we wade back onto the shore and locate our beach mats. I instruct him to lie face down on his towel so I can get a better picture of what I’m dealing with. I nudge the sliding clasp but pull in even more hair.
“Oh no,” I say, dropping my voice low, not bothering to pretend this is fixable anymore. “I think I made it worse.”
He lets out a comical whimper, and I think he says, “I guess you’re stuck with me now.”
I laugh, but it’s heavy with embarrassment. “We need scissors.”
Darren helps me step into my shorts and we both slip into our flip-flops. Despite my insistence that no one brings scissors to the beach, he can’t keep himself from asking a few people. After the fourth no and even more strange looks, we walk the main street with my arm awkwardly slung over his shoulder. It doesn’t escape my notice that we probably look like a couple. I wonder if he’s thinking the same thing.
With purpose in his steps, Darren leads me past a few storefronts until we reach the door of a tiny geletaria. Of course, gelato. What else would come to our rescue?
Getting a few frowns as we sneak past the line, Darren fires off a few sentences in Italian to the mustached man behind the counter, and he passes a pair of green-handled scissors to Darren. He moves us to the side of the display freezer to make room for the swarm of customers, and I don’t even have time to drool over the bins mounded tall with all colors of gelato.
Making a fist over the blades of the scissors, he looks me in the eye. “I know you have this love-hate thing happening with my hair—”
“What are you talking about?” I ask in a voice so high-pitched I almost don’t recognize myself. “I don’t—”
“—but please, Pipperoni, let today be mostly love. Your mission is to cut as few hairs as possible. Minimum destruction.”
Offering my pinky so he knows I’m taking this as seriously as possible, I say, “Mostly love. Minimum destruction.”
He hooks his pinky with mine, and the promise is locked. I take the scissors and begin surgery, thankful I don’t have to attempt this with my left hand. One slice, and my arm is free at my side until Darren reaches for it to investigate the damage. An unfortunate amount of hair remains caught in the clasp, so my bracelet is now wearing a scarf.
“I’m practically bald!” he cries. “You’re already making my hair fall out. What am I going to do with you?”
Laughter rings out from all around us. I had no idea we’d drawn an audience. The mustached man says something in Italian too fast for me to understand, then produces a cone with a heaping scoop of bright green gelato.
“He said it’s his treat.” Darren takes it from him, returning the scissors at the same time.
“Grazie,” we both say.
I grab two of the tiny plastic spatula-like spoons from a cup on the counter, and my mouth waters before the gelato even reaches my taste buds. This time, I don’t care if it’s pistachio or mint. It’s going to be delicious either way. Because I’m in Italy, swimming in the Mediterranean Sea and eating gelato with a cute boy. Who just smiled at me.
My heart is floating.
And it’s the kind of floating I already know how to do.