For a guy balancing his weight between the stern of his boat and the dock, thinking about sex instead of what he was doing was a real bonehead move. Cole Donovan was precariously perched on the balls of his feet above some seriously choppy, icy water. So concentrating would’ve been the smart move.
But he had no smarts left, which was what happened when you hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in far too long—your brain wandered into areas it shouldn’t.
Sex being one of those areas.
He shook his head to clear it. It was way too early for those kinds of thoughts. Not quite dawn, and the sky was a brilliant kaleidoscope of purples and blues and reds. Cole worked with a flashlight between his teeth, his fingers threading new electrical wire through the running lights on the stern. He only had a couple hours before a group of eight was coming through for a tour of the area.
That’s what Cole and his two partners and best friends did—they hired out themselves and their fifty-foot Wright Sport boat, chartering deep-sea fishing, whale watching, scuba diving…if it could be done, they did it. Sam was their financial guy and boatbuilder. Tanner was their scuba diving instructor and communications expert. Cole was the captain, chief navigator, mechanic, and—lucky him—the face of Lucky Harbor Charters, mostly because neither Sam nor Tanner was exactly a service-oriented person.
They’d had a warm Indian summer here in the Pacific Northwest, but October had roared in as if Mother Nature was pissed off at the world, and maybe in need of a Xanax to boot. But business was still good. Or it had been, until last night. He and Tanner had taken a group of frat boys out, and one of the idiots had managed to kick in the lights running along the stern, destroying not only the casing but also the electrical.
Cole could fix it—there was little he couldn’t fix. But as he got down to it, a harsh wind slapped him in the face, threatening his balance. He kicked off the dock so that he was balanced entirely on the edge of the stern. Still not a position for the faint of heart, but after five years on oil rigs and two more running Lucky Harbor Charters, Cole felt more at ease on the water than just about anywhere else.
He could smell the salt on the air and hear the swells smacking up against the dock moorings. The wind hit him again, and he shivered to the bone. Last week, he’d been out here working in board shorts and nothing else, the sun warming his back. Today he was in a knit cap, thick sweatshirt, cargo pants, and boots, and he was wishing for gloves like a little girl. He shoved his flashlight into his pocket, brought his hands to his mouth, and blew on his fingers for a moment before reaching for the wires again.
Just as they connected, there was a sizzle and a flash, and he jerked, losing his footing. The next thing he knew, he was airborne, weightless for a single heartbeat…
And then he hit the icy water, plunging deep, the contact stealing the air from his lungs. Stunned, he fought the swells, his heavy clothes, himself, eyes open as he searched for the flames that surely went along with the explosion.
Jesus, not another fire. That was his only thought as panic gripped him hard. He opened his mouth and—
Swallowed a lungful of seawater.
This cleared his head. He wasn’t on the oil rig in the gulf. He wasn’t in the explosion that had killed Gil, and nearly Tanner as well. He was in Lucky Harbor.
He kicked hard, breaking the surface, gasping as he searched for the boat, a part of him still not wholly convinced. But there. She was there, only a few feet away.
No flames, not a single lick. Just the cold-ass swells of the Pacific Northwest.
Treading water, Cole shook his head. A damn flashback, which he hadn’t had in over a year—
“Omigod, I see you!” a female voice called out. “Just hang on, I’m coming!” This was accompanied by hurried footsteps clapping on the dock. “Help!” she yelled as she ran. “Help, there’s a man in the water! Sir, sir, can you hear me? I’m coming. Sir?”
If she called him “sir” one more time, he was going to drown himself. His dad had been a sir. The old guy who ran the gas pumps on the corner of Main and First was a sir. Cole wasn’t a damn sir. He was opening his mouth to tell her so, and also that he was fine, not in any danger at all, when she took a flying leap off the dock.
And landed right on top of him.
The icy water closed over both of their heads, and as another swell hit, they became a tangle of limbs and water-laden clothing. He fought free and once again broke the surface, whipping his head around to look for the woman.
No sign of her.
Shit. Gasping in a deep breath, he dove back down and found her doing what he’d been doing only a moment before—fighting the water and her clothes, and herself. Her own worst enemy, she was losing the battle and sinking fast. Grasping the back of her sweater, Cole hauled her up, kicking hard to get them both to the surface.
She sucked in some air and immediately started coughing, reaching out blindly for him and managing to get a handful of his junk.
“Maybe we could get to shore first,” he said wryly.
Holding on to him with both arms and legs like a monkey clinging to a tree, she squeezed him tight. “I’ve g-g-got y-y-you,” she stuttered through already chattering teeth, then climbed on top of his head, sending him under again.
He managed to yank her off him and get her head above water. “Hey—”
“D-don’t panic,” she told him earnestly. “It’s g-g-gonna be o-o-okay.”
She actually thought she was saving him. If the situation weren’t so deadly, Cole might have thought some of this was funny. But she was turning into a Popsicle before his very eyes, and so was he. “Listen, just relax—”