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Sara Greene showed the snapshot to the landscaper preparing to mow the strip of grass between the back of the Sea Breeze Hotel and the beach. He examined the image of fourteen-year-old David Taylor then shook his head.
"Sorry, haven't seen him."
The same words she'd heard all morning—which meant she repeated herself as well when she handed the guy a business card.
"If you do see him, please give me a call."
Sara took a few steps down the wooden walkway over the sand before stopping, closing her eyes and lifting her face toward the bright Florida sky. It was as if the kid had gone poof and disappeared. She chose to think he was just really good at hiding because she didn't want to consider that he might have gotten himself into a dangerous or deadly situation.
One more long, deep breath of sea air was all she allowed herself before she opened her eyes and stared at the thatch-roofed beach bar beyond the ridge of dunes. She doubted David Taylor had been hanging out at the Beach Bum, but she was determined to check every possibility. Maybe one of the staff had spotted him elsewhere.
Only an older couple sat at the front edge of the open-sided bar, sipping what looked like lemonade as they watched the waves. After all, it was too early in the day to bring out the hard stuff. But from the sound of rattling bottles from behind the long wooden bar, someone was already at work.
The hidden person clanked bottles a couple more times before he popped up from behind the bar like a jack-in-the-box clown. She recognized the tanned, lightly stubbled, handsome face of Adam Canfield, but she was used to it being on the customer side of the bar.
The bright smile, the one he used in his endless flirting with anyone with boobs, dimmed somewhat when he noticed it was her facing him.
"Hello, Detective." Adam shoved his hands in the back pockets of his khaki shorts. "Little early for a drink, isn't it?"
For the briefest moment, she missed him not flirting with her like he had the first time they'd met. He was the kind of man who could make a thrill zing along a woman's skin with a sexy look in those green eyes and thinly veiled suggestions. But he'd made it clear that her being a cop was a buzz-kill for him.
That was fine with her since she wasn't the least bit interested in a guy who went through life one or two steps above being a bum.
She pushed aside the temptation to fantasize and took a couple steps closer. "I'm still on duty."
"Zac's not here." He tossed an empty cardboard case in the trash can. "Please tell me someone hasn't cooked up some more bogus crap about him."
"This isn't about Mr. Parker, but nice conclusion-jumping." Zac Parker, owner of the Beach Bum, had been a potential suspect in a recent arson until the state arson investigator determined he was being set up. Then she ended up marrying him.
Adam raised a dark eyebrow at her snarky comment. She didn't acknowledge it, instead handed him the photo of David Taylor. "Have you seen this boy?"
While he looked at the snapshot of David in a school hallway, Suz Thackery came out of the storeroom behind him, her red hair piled atop her head in a loose twist, and glanced at the photo around his shoulder. To keep from looking at Adam, Sara focused on Suz.
Par for the course, they both shook their heads.
"He in some kind of trouble?" Suz asked.
"Ran away from home. Considering he's only fourteen, we're doing all we can to find him."
Adam looked at the photo again. "What's he running away from?"
Sara stared at him, at his sexy stubble and sandy brown, slightly messy hair—and wished she could look at him without noticing those attributes. Despite their mutual, if unvoiced, agreement that dating each other was not on the agenda, she couldn't help the way her pulse picked up every time she saw him around town.
She jerked herself back to the real world. "You're the first person to ask me that. Most people just assume since he's a runaway he must be a punk."
He shrugged. "And sometimes it's not the kid who needs a good kick in the ass."
Sara agreed, knowing runaway cases weren't always as simple as a kid acting out against parents. Still, she hadn't found any evidence contrary to David's father's assertion that that's exactly what his son was doing. She couldn't exactly say she liked the guy, but no evidence was no evidence.
"Even so, he doesn't need to be out on his own. It's too dangerous."
"Could be." Adam's gaze met hers. "But a boy that age can take care of himself better than a lot of people think he can."
Sara wondered why he'd say such a thing, but it wasn't her business or relevant to her investigation. She took two more cards from her pocket and gave them to Adam and Suz.
"Nevertheless, I'd like a call if you hear or see anything that might help me find him."
Even though Adam nodded and slipped the card into his shorts pocket, she wasn't entirely convinced he would call her. She bit the inside of her jaw to remind herself she was being stupid to want to talk to him again, about anything.
A scream pierced the air behind Sara. She spun and scanned the beach for the source. A clump of people stood at the edge of the pier looking down at the water.
Adam cursed behind her. "A kid just went over the side."
Sara kicked off her shoes and unstrapped her gun at the same time. When she plopped it atop the bar, Adam was already running toward the side of the building. She met Suz's eyes. "Keep this."
She raced after Adam, who was almost halfway to the pier. The concession shed where he normally worked was a blur as she ran past it. Adam didn't pause as he reached the end of the pier and catapulted over the railing into the water below. She yelled for the bystanders to get out of the way before she followed him.
The water closed over her head, murkier than it looked from the pier. She glanced around before pushing up to the surface to fill her lungs. Adam popped up near her and searched the area around him.
"See him?" she asked.
"No." And then he dived under again. She wasn't about to let a kid drown so she did the same.
She held her breath and spotted the child just as Adam wrapped his arms around the little boy. Sara followed them to the surface then swam alongside Adam toward the shore. As soon as they hit sand, she started CPR. The hysterical crying of some woman, probably the child's mother, barely filtered through the thundering of Sara's pulse against her eardrums.
After a couple of repetitions of CPR, the child coughed and began spitting up the water he'd swallowed. Sara helped him sit up. His mother swooped in and clasped him to her as Sara heard someone say an ambulance had been called.
She sat back and pushed the wet strands of her hair back from her forehead. Her heart had just begun to slow when she spotted Adam across from her. Rivulets of water ran down his bare chest, lightly sprinkled with hair, causing her heart rate to accelerate again. She'd seen him pull his shirt over his head and toss it onto the sand as they'd raced for the pier.
Now, with the danger over, her attention was drawn to what the shirt had hidden.
Good grief, what was wrong with her? Postadrena-line craziness? She forced herself to shift her gaze up to his face and noticed he looked pale, shaken.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
He kept staring at the kid for a couple more seconds then seemed to shake himself out of a trance. "Yeah, fine." He refocused on her—first her face, then lower. That's when she realized that her shirt was sticking to her like a second skin, the wet, white fabric revealing her bra underneath.
She didn't totally believe his assertion that he was fine, but she let it drop. After all, it wasn't every day you almost witnessed someone die.
"You did a good job," she said.
They sat on the sand until they heard the ambulance siren arrive in the parking lot beyond the dunes. Then Sara helped the mother and crying child stand. Once the paramedics had ushered the pair to the ambulance, Sara and Adam had to face all the questions posed by the police officer who'd responded. Then those of the reporter from the local paper who'd arrived about two seconds later. Adam looked as if he'd rather skydive with a parachute made of lead, and all Sara wanted to do was go home and take a shower in water that didn't smell like fish.
"Sure you don't want that drink?" Adam asked.
"Alas, still on duty."
Plus, she doubted Adam Canfield was on the drink menu.
Adamtook a long drink of lemonade, wishing it was something stronger, as he watched Detective Sara Greene walk toward the dunes. She'd strapped her sidearm back on, the only thing she wore that wasn't dripping wet. Why did women go into dangerous professions like law enforcement? Why did they deliberately put themselves in the line of fire? Why couldn't they understand that it was useless to be a do-gooder out to solve the world's ills when the world had too many ills to solve?
He shook his head. Not his problem. Sure, she was pretty and built very nicely if the wet shirt had been any indication, but there were way too many babes walking the sands of Horizon Beach for him to even think about pursuing a woman who was his complete opposite. He didn't need to have a Ph.D. to know she didn't think highly of the code he lived by—to be as carefree as possible and screw responsibility.
Heck, even helping out at the bar where he was normally a patron was a stretch. But Zac, his best friend here in his adopted hometown, had asked him to lend a hand while he and his new wife, Randi, were on their honeymoon. He couldn't wait for them to come home so he could go back to his regular job—running the pier concession just enough to pay his bills.
Even after Sara disappeared from view, he couldn't get the sight of her dark hair and eyes out of his head. Suz Thackery, who was the head cheese at the Beach Bum in Zac's absence, nudged him out of the way.
"Stop drooling on yourself. It's bad for business."
He jerked his gaze away from the crossover point on the dunes and tossed a towel at Suz. "I wasn't drooling. Just wondering about that missing kid."
"Uh-huh." Suz gave him a disbelieving look. "I give it less than twenty-four hours before you make up some excuse to call her."
He shook his head. "She's way too serious for me." But he knew if Sara Greene were a secretary or mail carrier or worked in an ice cream parlor, he might look at her differently.
Suz moved to the opposite end of the bar to refill the older couple's lemonades and open three beers for some college-age guys who'd come in from boogie boarding. Adam dug around in the storage room until he found the extra clothes Zac kept in the back in case he got alcohol spilled on him during a shift. He exchanged his wet shorts for a dry pair, but no way was he wearing a pair of his friend's underwear.
When a delivery arrived, he spent several minutes lugging crates of beer and stacking them in the storeroom. After placing the last case in cold storage, he sank onto it to cool off. As soon as he sat, he imagined bringing Sara Greene back here to this cool, dark spot and kissing her.
He ran his hand over his hair and cursed. He must have hit his head on the pier. Plenty of women were interested in him without him daydreaming about one who wasn't. He didn't go looking for brainless women, just ones who were casual and laid-back. He'd deliberately kept things easy and noncommittal with women since he'd moved to Horizon Beach. After serving a dozen years in the army and being shipped to one hot, sandy, inhospitable place after another, he deserved a carefree life. One filled with the ocean, fishing the days away and bikini-clad babes as far as the eye could see.
Nothing that would require him to think or remember. Or care for someone.
He shot to his feet and resisted the urge to punch one of the cases of liquor surrounding him. The nightmare was only supposed to attack him when he was sleeping, when his guard was down. But the memory of the Humvee shooting toward the sky was burned into his gray matter.
He reminded himself once again that a do-gooder like Sara was off-limits. He'd been down that bomb-riddled road before and had almost not lived to tell about it.
Sometimes he wished he hadn't.
The aftereffects of the near drowning plus the frustration at not finding any clues to David Taylor's whereabouts occupied so much of Sara's mind that she forgot to stop at the Coffee Cottage on the way back to the station after going home to change. Faced with having to drink the barely liquid coffee Keith Hutchens had made, she detoured toward the soda machine and bought a can of caffeine-laden Coke instead.
As she entered the bull-pen area of the station, she passed Keith just as he was headed out on patrol. "There's still coffee." He nodded toward the break room.