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Never Let Me Go
Annie Parks came to Hawaii to settle a score, not spend time handcuffed to a sexy stranger’s bed—even if said stranger saved her from drowning after she was pitched overboard by some goons. Looking at six feet of hard, Hawaiian muscle and gorgeous cool that’s making forgotten parts of her say, “Aloha!,” Annie needs to stay focused. But a side dish of Kane Travers is awfully tempting.
Kauai Police Chief Kane Travers is not a vacation kind of guy. So it figures that when Internal Affairs suspended him, he’d end up rescuing a sarcastic, dishonest, extremely hot redhead who is clearly hiding something. Kane’s got half a mind to give Miss Whoever She Is something she’ll never forget, even if his cop senses tell him she needs his protection. But how can he get her to tell him anything when his mouth won’t stop covering hers?
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Three days into his involuntary vacation, Kane Travers realized one thing: he wasn’t a vacation type of guy. He had enough home projects to fill exactly two days. He cleaned up the yard, painted the porch railing and ripped out the built-in bookcase in the family room.
He tried surfing. Running on the beach. Washing his sporty red pickup truck under the intense Hawaii sun. That blew another day.
And still six days to go. Six long, boring days until he knew his fate at work. Until he heard the results of the trumped-up investigation. Rather than dwell on the mess his life had become, he inhaled, breathing the scent of warm salt water deep into his lungs.
Just then, something moved off to his left. Squinting, he tried to identify the strange pile sitting about a hundred feet down the abandoned beach. Probably debris washed on shore or abandoned by the resort tourists earlier that day when the Pacific Ocean had unleashed a powerful storm on the rocky coast of Kauai.
He stood there, his feet sinking deep into the wet sand as pink and orange bands from the retired sunset streaked across the sky and dipped low on the horizon. How any person could hear the rhythmic beating of the waves against the shore and decide this was the perfect place to throw a used potato chip bag, he’d never know.
He’d bought the one-level cottage here as a place for escape. The edge-of-the-world feel appealed to him on a fundamental level. Having someone ruin the scenery with litter ticked him off. Also gave him something to do. Cleaning up the beach could knock ten or twelve minutes off his unwanted vacation time.
Wearing nothing more than a low-slung pair of faded jeans, he walked the waterline back to his house to fetch a bag. Along the way, chilly February ocean water splashed across his bare feet, and small pebbles pelted his chest.
He’d taken only a few steps when a strange sensation pricked at the back of his neck. His gaze slid back to the lump on the beach.
The thundering crash of water against the beach blocked out most sounds. But, no doubt about it, this time the damn thing moved. One step toward the mass, then he saw it. A slim, bare arm.
“Damn!” He broke into a blinding run, kicking up wet sand behind him.
He reached the pitiful bulge and dropped to his knees. Sweat broke out on his forehead as a wave of desperation hit him. The same frustrating mix of rage and helplessness he’d experienced before. The worry that he was one second too late. Again.
Sweeping the seaweed aside, he encountered a tattered blanket and tangled long hair. This time the bump groaned.
“Can you hear me?” He lifted the rest of the waste away from the crumpled form.
Not just any form. A woman. A naked woman with a slight blue tint to her pale skin. With two fingers pressed against the cool flesh of her neck, he felt for a beat. Despite the strong thumping, concern coursed through his veins, shutting out any of the normal interest that might have flickered to life at the sight of a nude female body.
Three months had passed since he’d scratched that particular itch. Not that long for some men, maybe, but about two months longer than he could tolerate without getting twitchy. On the small island, one rich in tradition, everyone seemed to know or be related to everyone else.
This sense of community, combined with a few too many pushy matchmaking mothers hell-bent on securing appropriate husbands for their baby girls, made dating rough on a single man. Especially on a single man who intended to stay that way. The resulting involuntary celibacy sometimes came with the job and the life whether or not he liked it.
And he didn’t. Not one damn bit.
But now wasn’t the time for those thoughts. He wasn’t that guy. He’d never taken advantage of a woman in his life. Hell, this one wasn’t even awake.
“Ma’am? Are you hurt?” It was an obvious question, but he didn’t know what else to say.
He brushed her wet hair off her cold cheek. Soaked from head to toe, he couldn’t even tell her hair color.
Marks and scratches marred her pale skin. Getting tossed around in the rough water had battered her a bit, but she looked relatively untouched. Even with the surface injuries and her bedraggled condition, he saw a hint of cheekbones, a slim refined nose and a full mouth.
If he didn’t do something soon, she could be a fine- looking corpse.
“Talk to me,” he said, as if ordering her awake might work. People told him his yell could raise the dead. He could now state with some authority that theory appeared to be wrong.
With hands planted on the damp sand on either side of her head, he leaned down. His ear hovered above her mouth so he could hear over the crashing surf. Steady small puffs of air brushed against his skin, calming his anxiety.
The coolness of her skin still scared him. He knew from training and experience that too long in the water and hypothermia kicked in. Tropical climate or not, a body could take only so much abuse from the elements.
Her eyes stayed closed. Her body still. She needed a shower and dry clothes. Even then…
He tunneled one arm under her legs and the other around her shoulder. In one fluid move, he pushed to his feet with the injured stranger clutched to his chest. He looked up and down the beach. No one lingered except him.
Quick strides turned to a jog. He had to get to the front door of his bungalow. Two hundred feet, then he could warm her up, dry her off and get whatever help she needed. There was no time to waste.
He now had something to fill those long hours. He just hoped he wouldn’t be spending the time checking her into the morgue.
Annie Parks refused to open her eyes. Open eyes meant facing reality. She wasn’t ready for that yet.
She’d been in the ice cold waves only a few minutes. At least she thought that was the case. Time blended and distorted. Sluggish muscles and misfiring brain cells made thinking and moving almost impossible.
Nothing about the last few hours made any sense. She remembered standing in the small bathroom of her stateroom, looking over her crude drawing of the yacht’s floor plan. She fiddled with her camera, unconsciously adjusting the settings to account for fading light. The steady beat of jazz music sounded from the main living area and adjoining dining room. With everyone enjoying a pre-dinner drink, she had the privacy she needed to study the layout of the rooms and decide where the owner would keep valuable paperwork.
She had slipped out of her stained dress. The spill of red wine had given her a reasonable excuse to leave the party. The fact she had to ruin the one fancy dress she owned ticked her off, but what was one more sacrifice to the cause. She’d sacrificed so much already.
One minute she was reaching for the black outfit she’d set aside for her snooping. The next, someone held a bag over her head, hands went around her waist and… splash. Then a mouthful of water followed by a hard skid to a beach landing and pain. She couldn’t forget the pain.
Now someone held her. Sure, the guy didn’t throw her back in the water, but that didn’t necessarily mean things were looking up. Her back teeth slammed together with each one of his firm steps. The brisk walk cuddled against his chest had warmed her, but at this pace she’d be broken into little pieces before they got to their destination. Wherever that was.
The naked early evening jog with a perfect stranger was new, not to mention embarrassing. Plenty of fear ran through her, too. She thought about jumping out of this guy’s arms and running as fast as she could in any direction but the water.
Thought about it. Even plotted out the escape. But, she knew the smarter move was to bide her time and figure out her next step. She’d spent her entire life biding time. Waiting for the right moment to get her revenge.
Panic and weakness were the enemies. Two of them, anyway. During the past few hours she’d discovered a new one of the human variety. She’d been knocked around, dropped into the ocean and nearly drowned due to her mediocre swimming skills. All that made washing up on the beach the highlight of her evening.
Not the normal day for a nature photographer. Of course, this wasn’t a paid assignment. This one was a personal project. An investigation gone seriously wrong. Somehow she’d managed to stumble onto the right track. Got close enough to get tossed into the ocean. She’d lost her camera and nearly her life.
And now …well, she did not know what was happening. She lifted one eyelid in the barest move possible. She spied miles of muscular forearm. Tan and, she hoped, connected to the safe and friendly variety of male on the other end.