The sharp cry pierced the air, setting Kane’s nerves on edge. So much for a night off. Pushing off the sand, he stripped away his shirt and ran for the water. The bite of salt water struck his heated skin as he dived under an oncoming wave.
He fought the pull of the current, his swimmer’s muscles guiding his arms and legs easily through the water. Years of pulling surfers out of the killer waves on the North Shore of Hawaii helped him pinpoint the cries for help without so much as a hitch in his stroke.
He arrived as a woman surfaced. “I can’t find her. She was there one minute--”
“You need help?”
“Just find her!”
His longtime business partner, Hale, sliced through the water, immediately wrapping his arm around the woman’s torso. “Need a hand?”
“Take her in. I’ll find the other one.”
“No!” She fought against Hale, but the well-trained rescuer just held tighter. Panicking swimmers were part of the job description.
“I got this.”
Kane dived, salt stinging his eyes as he swept his gaze through the water and searched. He had never gotten used to the discomfort, no matter how many rescues he’d attempted, how many surfers he’d trained, or how many hours he’d spent in the water.
Come on, O’Hanlon, seconds are ticking. Gotta find her.
He kicked against the pull of the current, swimming parallel to the shore as he continued to search. Despite his decreasing oxygen supply, he calmly carved a path through the water, determined to locate the missing swimmer. Persistence was a character trait most of his friends said would get him killed one day.
A scrap of red caught his attention, and he sliced through the water, reaching out. He closed his hand around an ankle, the contact enough to send him kicking fast toward fresh air. Breaking the surface, he pulled in oxygen, using his momentum to muscle the woman’s limp body so her head was above the water as well. Mimicking the same hold Hale had used earlier, he cradled her close and swam with as much speed as he could muster.
When he reached calf-deep water, he shifted his hold as he stood and ran for the shore. A large crowd had already gathered, parting for him as he laid the woman on the sand.
“Ambulance is already on the way.”
He nodded to Hale, checking vitals, only to be dismayed when he couldn’t find a heartbeat or detect any movement of her chest. No oxygen. Not good. Hale must have noticed too, because he dropped beside Kane, immediately stacking his hands to begin compressions.
Kane waited, satisfied with the movement of air as he held his ear near her mouth. No obstructions. At least something was working in her favor.
Kane pinched her nose, sealed his mouth over hers, and blew a strong puff of air into the victim’s mouth. The two men worked in tandem, seamlessly delivering lifesaving techniques that came effortlessly. They spent hours training for exactly this kind of emergency situation, shifting into autopilot whenever their services were needed.
Sirens wailed off in the distance as the woman’s companion grabbed her hand. “What can I do?”
“What’s her name?”
“Natalie. Is she going to be all right?”
“Going to do our damnedest to make sure she is.” He breathed again, willing the woman to react, show him some kind of sign to give him a glimmer of hope she’d survive. Those years of experience had taught him the last thing this woman needed was to see her friend die. Better to give her something to do so she felt as though she was contributing. “Can you do me a favor?”
“Can you go to the road, point the ambulance to our exact location? It’ll speed things along.”
She took off without waiting for further instructions. Hale’s gaze met his, despair tightening the lines around his eyes. The sinking feeling in Kane’s chest grew. Sometimes this job really sucked hairy ass.
Just as he was about to clamp the woman’s nose and breathe for her again, her body jerked. She coughed, choking on the water in her throat. Her body shook, arms and legs trembling as she surfaced from the jaws of death.
And sometimes this job paid in fucking dividends.
“That’s it, Natalie.” He cradled her neck, turning her head as she vomited some of the Pacific onto the sand. The emergency workers arrived as she hauled in a deep breath, her shuddering easing a bit. “Good. The calmer you are, the better you’ll feel. Keep taking slow, deep breaths. These guys will take care of you.”
She grabbed his wrist as he tried to stand. She swallowed a few times, obviously struggling to find the words. Kane didn’t need to hear them. He hadn’t picked this kind of career for the glory.
He offered her an easy smile, squeezing her hand. “Just relax. You’re gonna be fine.”
Leaving the work to the EMTs, he shouldered his way through the circle of people who had gathered to see the commotion. He snagged his shirt, shaking off the sand as he slipped it back on. Hale slapped him on the back. “Nice job out there, buddy.”
“You too. Hell of a way to end the day.”
“If this is any indication as to how the rest of the season is going to go, we’re in for one hell of a ride.”
“So much for the break we planned tonight.” A few quiet hours watching the waves roll in before the chaos of surf season began bright and early the next morning.
The first Thursday night in December stood as their unofficial tradition to meet at the beach across from the shop and simply enjoy the serenity of the water. Before long, Mother Nature would be kicking into high gear, and Kane and Hale’s company--Performance Rescue Ohana--could do what the employees did best.
“Breaks are overrated. Alcohol is not. Up for a few drinks at the Beach House?”
As good as the offer sounded, Kane had something else he needed to do. “Have a shot for me, will ya? I’ll catch you tomorrow, bright and early.”
“You got it, buddy.” Hale trudged through the sand, raising a hand to people as they thanked him for his efforts.
Kane jogged up the beach, making his way to the parking lot as the ambulance pulled away. Natalie’s friend stood in the center of the road, her arms folded across her torso. He’d been concerned the shock of the situation would hit her after the frantic moment had calmed. Looked as though he was right.
“Hey, you okay?”
Her eyes widened for a fraction of a second, as though he’d caught her by surprise. “Yeah.” Kane felt a little off balance as her gaze met his. Damn, she’s gorgeous.
“Just a little...shaken up. I need to get to the hospital. They wouldn’t let me ride in the ambulance with her since I’m not immediate family.”
“Okay. Let’s get you there.” He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, tension vibrating against his palm. She was more tightly strung than he’d expected. “She’ll be all right. Maybe spend the night in the hospital to keep an eye on her vitals. Make sure all the water is out of her lungs. Standard protocol after this kind of call.”
“Thanks. I really need to go.” The woman turned away, making it only a few steps before she hitched to the right. She overcorrected, stumbling forward.
“Whoa, whoa. Easy.” He reached her in two strides, wrapping an arm around her waist. She weighed almost nothing. “You sure you’re all right?”
“You’d think I’d be a little more prepared for stuff like this. Not as though it’s my first time out there. I’ve been surfing these waves since I was ten.”
Surfer. Not surprising given the vibrant blue shorts she was wearing. He should have suspected as much, but without a board nearby, he’d assumed tourist. “Doesn’t matter how many times, no matter how well prepared you are, something like that can throw you off your game.” He tugged, pivoting her against his body. “Do you have someone to drive you to the hospital?”
The distant look in her eyes signaled she wasn’t paying attention. “We just wanted to stop for a dip. Take a few minutes to relax. Take a break. Been so stressed lately, we wanted to have... Oh God. She could have died.”
Her body jerked hard against his, her muscles trembling uncontrollably. “Hey, it’s okay. She’s going to be fine.” He wrapped his arms around her, cradling her tightly as her tears spilled over his chest. “But you’re obviously not.”
Panting, overwhelmed, and trembling, she clung to him. He could only hang on as she purged more than a few noticeably suppressed emotions. Given the violent nature of her outburst, Kane suspected there was more behind her crying fit than only her friend’s rescue. This kind of crying spoke of real pain and anger. Someone had obviously been holding a lot inside for quite some time.
“Let it out, whatever it is. I won’t let you go.” He passed his hand over her wet hair, rocking slowly as her small body hitched with deep, racking sobs. She clutched his shirt as he ran a soothing hand down her back. Heat pricked at his eyes, sympathy clutching at his soul.
She was breaking his heart, and he barely knew her.
He offered comforting words as he pressed his lips to the top of her head. The soothing, tangy scent of rosemary filled his nose. Damn, she smelled good. He focused on the fragrance. It was a hell of a lot more pleasant than thinking about what could have happened if he hadn’t reached the duo in time. If he hadn’t been at the beach at all. Thank God for their silly tradition.
Long minutes passed before her trembling stopped, her body sagging against his. “Sorry. I, uh, can usually keep it together better than that.” She pressed a hand to the center of his chest, pushing away as she wiped at the tears streaking her face. “Just a lot to handle all at once, I guess.”
More there than just handling
At least she looked more relaxed. The lines around her mouth and eyes had vanished. The storminess of her blue eyes had settled, the color resembling a gentle rain blown across the mountains by the trade winds. Better than a hurricane barreling across the island. Her color returned, giving way to the tan she’d obviously earned from hours skimming over the waves.
Her natural beauty instantly captivated him.
Which was a clear sign he needed a shot of ice-cold water to head off wherever his imagination was about to take him. Too many emotions riding high on the surface. Both of them too vulnerable. Last thing she needed right now was to see him admiring her.
Even though her violent outburst of emotion had cleared whatever had been bothering her, the fact that she’d been so shaken disturbed him. He couldn’t in good conscience send her on her way. Not when she looked like she could break at any second. “How about I give you a lift?”
“You don’t have to. I can drive Natalie’s car-- Shit, no I can’t.” She offered a weak smile. “Her car keys were tied to her bathing suit.”
And well on their way to Wahiawa General Hospital. “It’s no trouble.”
“I can call one of my brothers. Really, I’m good. I appreciate the offer, but I’m fine.”
He stared hard at her, trying not to be offended by her brush-off. “You in the habit of lying to people who just let you cry all over them?”
Her tongue darted between her lips. “I didn’t want you to go to any trouble. You’ve already done so much.”
“I’m wearing your tears. Giving you a ride seems to be the least I can do after what happened.” Feeling as though she would continue to argue with him about something as simple as a ride, he wrapped his hand around her arm and guided her to the far end of the lot where he’d parked his bike. “I’ve got a buddy who works at the hospital, know the routine there. They’re not going to let you see her until she’s settled into a room, so if you want to run by your house first, get some clothes, we can do that.”
“Look, this is a lot of trouble to go through. And you don’t even know me.”
“No trouble at all.”
“If you’re sure?”
“Positive. Ever ride one of these before?”
Her face lit up. “A few times.”
Kane grabbed an extra set of shorts and a shirt he kept stowed in one of his saddlebags. “These are going to be a little large for you, but better than riding a motorcycle in a swimsuit and board shorts.” He also handed her a helmet and snagged the extra one for him. “Hop on then. Where are we heading?”
“Head toward Kamehameha. I’m up past Wallace Beach.”
He didn’t bother to hide his surprise. “Long way from the surfing action.”
“I like the quiet. Too many tourists packing most of the better beaches. I want serious surfing, I head to Pipeline or Sunset. Even Backdoor. Want solitude? I can hit the beach at home. Waves are decent there. Besides, it was my parents’ house. Paid it off a long time ago, only way I can still afford it.”
He straddled the seat, waiting for her to snug her body up against his. A smile teased the corners of his lips when she locked her hands around his waist and leaned her head between his shoulder blades.
Definitely not a shy one.
Been a while since he’d had a woman on the back of his ride. Felt good. Too good given the way his dick had stirred in his pants the second she’d hopped onto the bike. Jesus, O’Hanlon, you just pulled her friend out of the surf, brought her back to life. You don’t even know her name.
He slid into Sunset Beach’s notorious traffic snarl. A quick glance at his bike’s clock showed it was the magic hour for surfers and tourists alike to vie for the best view of the setting sun. Like it didn’t happen every day or something. He’d never understood the pull of the surf or the North Shore sunsets like his younger brother did, but he had never connected with the ocean in the same way Brennan had either.
Clearing the traffic, he cranked up the speed, cruising the narrow, two-lane highway that hugged Hawaii’s North Shore. He drove this road to work every day, but it had never felt this enjoyable. This potent.
Riding always cleared his head. But now it was a jumbled mess of thoughts he felt annoyed for even entertaining. He wasn’t in the habit of picking up women he’d rescued. Usually made it a rule not to because he didn’t particularly care for that whole Nightingale-syndrome bullshit. Some of his employees thrived on it. A few even used it to their advantage.
That was their game, not his.
Hell, he didn’t even have
Most women he encountered had some kind of agenda because of who he was. Nail one of the most elite swimmers on the island and brag about it for days and weeks afterward. No, he left those shark-infested waters to his guys. They were better equipped to handle that kind of thing anyway.
If he ended up in bed with a woman, it was a pleasurable way for them both to kill time. He had only ever found two women who’d captured his attention long enough to want to spend time with them. And both of those instances had turned out disastrous. One of his best friends, Garvey, would say he was glutton for punishment when it came to matters of love.
She nudged his side. “Third house on the left.” He slowed, pulling into the driveway she indicated and following the long and winding path to the small house nestled in the far corner of the narrow property.
The tiny structure was dwarfed by the tall palm trees soaring high overhead. There was nothing special about the white house, nothing that made it stand out from the dozens of other houses dotting the shoreline. One of the shutters was obviously broken, and the whole thing looked as though it could use a good coat or two of fresh paint.
He pulled off his helmet as she dismounted, found her openly staring at him, and wondered what she was thinking. Probably wondering why he was examining her house so intently. She returned the helmet, shirt, and shorts. “You always give rides to damsels in distress you pull out of the water?”
“Gotta pick up dates somehow, right?”
She smirked, resting her hand on her hip. “And lucky me, I picked your beach.”
“That you did.” He had the sudden urge to kiss her. Touch her. Get her naked and under him so he could explore the few bits of her body that weren’t hidden behind her bikini. Thanks to her outburst, he already knew her skin was soft and touchable.
Glutton for punishment indeed. Garvey would be laughing his ass off right now. Probably doubled over in laughter. Fucker. “Nice place you have here. Bet your view is spectacular at sunset.”
“It is. You’re welcome to come in while I change.”
“Sounds nice.” And cozy. Maybe a bit too comfortable for his tastes considering he still didn’t know her name. She was obviously at ease with the arrangement as she was already heading toward the front of the house. He caught up with her as she reached the front door. “You should probably call the hospital to check on your friend.”
“Don’t have to.” She flicked a piece of paper taped to her front door. “Note from Danny, Natalie’s older brother. The Conklins live right next door. He and his mom are heading over and said they’ll check in with me in the morning. I’d be in the way now. So if you want to check out that sunset...”
“Kane O’Hanlon.” Her eyebrows shot up. “Just thought you’d like to know who you were inviting inside.”
“I didn’t realize one of Haleiwa’s legends rescued me.”
Ah, hell, here we go. Should have kept my mouth shut.
“Yeah, well, that was a long time ago.”
“Not so long ago that it doesn’t cause you to flinch. Don’t worry. I’m not some groupie who tried to drown herself to get your attention. Avery Decker. And now you know whose house you’re visiting.”
He blinked. Her honesty was oddly...refreshing. Most of the time, when people found out who he was, were familiar with his past achievements, they fawned all over him. So much so that he’d grown to hate the sound of his own name. Win a few competitions, bring home a few gold medals, and the whole world went a little half-cocked whenever he entered the room.
The inside of her house was as modest as the outside, the living room simply furnished with an old bamboo couch and matching chair. A wooden rocker, arms worn white in places, sat by the spacious, panoramic window, which gave way to an unobstructed view of the clear blue waters of the Pacific.
“Spectacular view. Can see why you don’t want to give up the house.”
“Thanks. Spend a lot of hours in that chair staring at the water. Thinking about the power of it, the sheer size of what we’ve been gifted with. Thankful to have the kind of talents I do.”
The wistful tone of her voice caused him to smile. “You sound like my younger brother, Brennan. He’s a surfer too.”
“He in town for the competition this weekend?”
“Nah, he hasn’t participated in a few years. Traveling the world on some spiritual quest or something.”
“Hope he finds whatever it is he’s looking for. We still have about an hour before sunset. I’m going to take a shower while we wait, wash the Pacific off me. Think I have sand in more than a few uncomfortable places. Can you entertain yourself for a few minutes?”
“You always invite strange men to sit around while you shower?”
“You save people for a living. Something tells me you aren’t going to try to reenact the shower scene from Psycho
He snorted out a laugh as she winked and left him alone.
His eyes swept the room as she left him alone. No television. No fancy sound system. No technology of any kind other than a small laptop sitting on a short stack of books near the rocker. Best guess was she used the computer to check the daily surf reports and not much else.
Aside from those three pieces of furniture, the room was bare. He suspected he’d find much of the same if he looked in the kitchen. Probably only had a full-size bed in the bedroom. Just somewhere to sleep when she wasn’t out on the waves.
His head rested against the back of the couch, his eyes drooping a little. This was the first opportunity in two weeks he’d had to do nothing at all. Preparations for the upcoming surfing championship meant he arrived at the shop early and left late.
He’d worked hard to develop a solid reputation. Teaching pro surfers how to better handle their wipeouts using breath-control techniques, and offering top-notch surf patrol during professional surfing competitions. Contests that meant work for his crew, money for his business. A fact he was grateful for given today’s rocky economic climate.
As he relaxed, he listened to the sound of water running on the other side of the wall. Tired from a long day and such a ferocious upheaval of emotion, his mind wandered.
Unable to stop his overworked brain, he thought of Avery.
Wet flesh, water sluicing over lush curves. Her long, dark-red hair slicked back to leave her face unframed. She unabashedly faced him, rosy, pert nipples standing at attention and seeming to call to him. They topped off the roundness of her breasts, making him wonder how they would feel once he got his hands on them.
Gaze traveling lower, her abdomen was flat and damn near perfect. And lickable. And her spectacular ass made him want to sink his teeth in. Unlike most of the surfer girls he knew, Avery curved in all the right places. His gaze finally rested at the valley between her legs, and he exhaled slowly, wondering how he’d gotten so goddamn lucky.
“So, maybe not Psycho
, but 9 1/2 Weeks
He opened his eyes slowly and found Avery standing over him. Sometime during the interlude in his head, he’d started running his fingers over the bulge in his pants. Now instead of fantasy, she stood over him, hands on her hips and the pink towel she’d wrapped around her body threatening to drop.
“You finished early.”
“Or just in time.” Her eyebrows lifted as he made no effort to remove his hand. As he continued to sit there, she leaned close enough that he could see the dusting of freckles across the bridge of her nose. Her plump lips were inches from his. She was so fucking tempting. “Need to use my shower now so you and Rosie can have a few minutes alone?”
Screw that. He needed to know if his imagination had done her justice, and he was tired of pretending he wasn’t attracted to her. She’d already found him manhandling himself in her living room. Couldn’t get much more embarrassing. Thing was, he wasn’t embarrassed. He was, however, turned on and determined to blunt this edge that had been crawling over his skin since he’d first touched her.
“Hell no.” Closing the distance between them, he claimed her mouth. She moved her mouth under his as he licked and tugged on her lower lip. Sparks danced on the air between them as she eagerly opened for more, silently urging him to take.
Damn. She could kiss.
In a flash their connection turned hard and hot. Demanding. As though they couldn’t get enough of one another. He slanted his lips, driving his tongue into her mouth as he set about devouring her. She moaned around the intrusion, letting him take and take. She returned his scorching kiss tenfold, holding nothing back as she brushed her tongue against his.
His body shot toward meltdown even though he was only kissing her. If they continued, things could easily turn radioactive.
She broke away suddenly, gasping for air as she dragged her finger against her kiss-swollen lips. “Phew.”
Fueled by her flushed cheeks, he tugged at a loose end and sat back, pulling the damp towel with him. She made no move to cover her nudity as the fabric fell away. He raked his gaze over her body, pleased to know he’d been right on nearly all accounts.
“I like the way you look at me. As though you could devour me whole.”
“Come closer and maybe I will.”