Read an Excerpt
There! A sound floated to him on the breeze. A call for help. Seth Graham was sure of it.
The hairs on his neck standing on end, he hurried to the ocean's edge, his bare feet chopping through the sand. He shaded his eyes with his hand and scanned the water, frowning. Had he imagined the thready call for help?
But then his gaze snagged on an indistinct form about thirty yards from the beach. He narrowed his eyes, trying to figure out if he was seeing a glob of kelp.
Or a person.
His best friend, Drew, ran up and stood beside him, the Frisbee they'd been throwing back and forth on the beach dangling from his fingers. "You see anything?"
Seth blinked, still staring at the shape. "I'm not sure "
Then an arm flailed up from the dark mass and another scream sounded, more distinct this time. That was no glob of kelp!
Seth's stomach dropped and a heart-stopping chill of dread cut through him. "Someone's out there," he said, already stripping off his T-shirt. He looked at Drew as he threw his shirt to the sand. "Call 9-1-1 and let the others know what's going on. I'm going in."
Drew didn't argue. He immediately pulled out his cell phone and started dialing, then turned and headed toward the other people from the Moonlight Cove Community Church singles group.
Seth made a break for the ocean. Just as his feet hit water, a voice called to him.
A soaking wet Lily Rogers, a former neighbor whom Seth had known for most of his twenty-eight years, came staggering down the beach toward him, her long, blond hair plastered to her head and shoulders. "The new gal, Kim, is out there," she screamed, pointing a rigid finger toward the waves. "We went in together to jump waves and got too far out. I made it in farther down, but she's caught in a riptide!"
"I'm on it!" Seth shouted, still moving. He now remembered seeing Kima cute brunette about his agewhen he'd arrived at the cookout earlier.
Lily lurched past him and up the beach toward the bonfire spot, though she was obviously exhausted, waving her arms and yelling at the top of her lungs to alert the others to the problem.
Seth ran into the water full bore, then dove headfirst into the brine.
His breath left him in a rush as he hit the water, which was icy despite the warm July day, and he almost froze up as the ocean shocked his body. But through sheer will and physical and mental discipline honed by a few years playing pro baseball and being physically active, he managed to keep going.
About twenty yards into his rescue he stopped and lifted his head to be sure he was on the right track. Thankfully, he'd judged the direction to swim correctly. He saw the woman directly in front of him, about ten yards away, when she flung up an arm again. She hadn't sunk yet.
But she would, unless she knew what to do, which it looked like she didn't. Seth, however, had been born and raised in the coastal town of Moonlight Cove, Washington, and he knew the drill. He couldn't struggle against the rip; he had to swim parallel to the shore, not toward it.
Just as he reached the womanKim, Lily had saidshe went under. Ignoring his own growing exhaustion, he grabbed her arm and pulled her up, noting when she surfaced that her skin was the color of snow. Her eyes fluttered. Good sign. She wasn't unconscious yet.
"Kim, I'm here to take you in," Seth told her in a firm, calm voice. "Do exactly what I say, okay?"
She nodded sluggishly.
He wrapped an arm around her narrow shoulders. "We're going to swim parallel to the shore to escape the rip, and then swim in, all right?"
Another nod, more feeble this time. She was clearly worn out. He'd arrived in the nick of time.
Seth moved his other hand beneath her arm, grasping her body in a more efficient hold. He began to swim, pulling her with him as best he could. To her credit, she made an attempt to swim with him, but she obviously didn't have any gas left, and she wasn't much help.
Neither was the riptide; he could feel the force of it swirling beneath them like a living being, pulling with a grip of steel that surprised even him. He'd always respected the power of the ocean, but this this was unlike anything he'd ever imagined.
He sent up a prayer for the first time in ages.
God, let me be strong enough to do this.
Focusing on moving forward with each stroke, Seth tried not to notice how his hands and feet were growing numb. He did his best not to fight the currentthat was a battle he would not win. He had to outsmart the deadly undertow.
Drawing on reserves of strength he didn't know he possessed, his movements aligned with the shore, he waited for the current to loosen its grip. His strength ebbed out of him with every moment that passed.
Seth kept swimming, hoping God would listen to a man who had a distant relationship with Him. A few long moments later, the pulling current eased a bit, but he swam about fifteen feet farther to be sure they were out of the ripyes! Finally.
His breath burning in his lungs, his legs and arms aching with effort, he turned at a ninety degree angle and swam for shore. Which, at the moment, looked as if it were about a hundred miles away.
Was he close enough to make it?
Just as his strength was almost spent and he could barely lift his arms or kick his legs, he tentatively put his foot down to feel for the sandy bottom.
And felt sand.
Wow. For once, his prayer had been heard. And answered.
Groaning with effort, Seth put both feet down. "Hang on to my back," he managed to shout to Kim through tight lips. "I'm gonna walk us in."
She obeyed and wrapped her ice-cold arms around his neck and hung on, piggyback style. With the last of his waning strength, he hauled her to shore.
Just as he was making headway, he stubbed his toe on a rock hidden in the surf. Pain streaked up his foot. He paused, looking for more rocks, but he couldn't see beneath the churning water. So he felt around with his other foot, hoping for safe sand.
But instead his foot encountered another rock. And another. He was surrounded. He looked to the shore and could see people congregated there, a frantic-looking Lily among them. If he could just make it a little farther.
Seth inched along, trying to avoid the rocks, his legs now completely numb. The rocks spread out a bit and gave way to more sand, and he thought he was home free, especially when he saw someonehe wasn't sure whosplash into the water, running toward them.
Thinking they'd cleared the rocks, he forced himself to move forward without feeling the terrain first with his feet. He took a step, staggered and struggled to catch himself.
All at once, out of nowhere, a bed of rocks rose in front of him as the tide swelled out. He couldn't avoid the first black and green mass and he ran his shins right into the thing. Feeling as if his legs didn't belong to him, he toppled over into the thigh-deep water like a fallen tree, Kim going with him.
As he hit the water, and what was hidden below, pain exploded in his head. And then a glacial blackness engulfed him and he knew no more.
Kim Hampton blinked her burning eyes, the taste of seawater in her mouth, her skin as cold as ice. She was surprised to see blue sky above her.
Was she in heaven?
If she was, the place looked an awful lot like earth
An older man with a round face, curly brown hair and kind blue eyes came into her line of sight as he hovered above her. "Miss," he said. "I'm a paramedic. We're going to give you some oxygen, so just lie back and try to relax, all right?" He slowly covered her mouth and nose with the plastic apparatus he held.
Definitely not heaven.
She breathed deep and the oxygen flooded her tired lungs. Instantly, her brain cleared and reality kicked in. She felt the hard, cool sand beneath her, smelled the ocean.
Joy spread through her.
Thank You, Lord, for not making Dylan motherless! Her precious son had already essentially lost his dad when her ex had walked out on them a year ago; at age seven, losing her would be more, she was sure, than Dylan could ever hope to deal with.
The enormity of what had almost happened to her, of what she'd almost lost, began to sink in and she started to shake.
Someone took her hand and squeezed it. Kim shifted her gaze and saw her new friend Lily seated on the sand on her other side, a fleece blanket covering her shoulders, her eyes red rimmed from crying.
"Oh, my goodness," Lily said. "I'm so glad you're all right."
Kim couldn't speak with her mouth and nose covered, so she just nodded. She was very tired. And so cold her veins felt frozen.
As if reading her thoughts, someone covered her with a soft, warm blanket. Yes, that was better.
Unbidden, memories of her harrowing time in the water flooded her mind. The brutal riptide. The cold ocean overtaking her. Her feeling of total helplessness. She'd been sure she was going to drown.
But God had heard her call for help. A man had arrived just as her body had almost been overcome with exhaustion. And he'd saved her.
Gratitude poured through herfor the man, and for the Lord.
Buoyant with relief, she removed the oxygen mask. "Where's the guy who saved me?" she asked Lily, her voice raw and trembling. "I need to see him, thank him."
Lily pressed her lips together and shook her head slightly.
Dread filled Kim. "What?" she pressed. "What happened to him?" Was he dead because of her impetu-ousness? She had to know what had happened, even though she'd shrivel up and die if she were responsible for another person's death.
"Seth managed the rip perfectly," Lily said.
"But he was completely played out when he got close to shore. He.um, fell and hit his head on a rock."
A chill from deep within spread through Kim's whole body, adding another layer of cold to her soul. "Is he all right?"
"He was unconscious very briefly, and the paramedics are working on him."
Caustic regret knifed Kim in the chest. She shouldn't have been out in those waves, shouldn't have put another person in danger. Lily had told her to be careful.
Granted, Kim was from Los Angeles, and she wasn't used to the dangerous currents that swirled around the waters of the Washington coast. Even so, she should have been smarter. More cautious.
Kim put the mask back over her nose and sucked in a huge swig of oxygen to fortify herself, then pulled the mask off. She had to see the man who'd saved her, had to know for herself how he was doing.
Could she handle it? Too bad if she couldn't. Whatever came her way was deserved; she hadn't listened to Lily. Just as she hadn't listened to the warnings not to marry Scott.
Leaping before she looked had consequences. Would she ever learn not to be so impulsive?
With shaky arms she grabbed the blanket and struggled to her feet. Her legs were rubbery and didn't want to hold her, but she forced them underneath her and stood.
Lily took hold of her elbow. "I don't think you should be up," she said. "You've been through a lot."
Lily was probably right, but Kim didn't care. She had to see her rescuer. Kim looked around, searching for the paramedic who'd been tending her.
Her gaze scanned a man lying on his back on the sand about fifteen feet away. He was surrounded by firefighters and rescue personnelincluding the man who'd been taking care of herassessing his condition.
Filled with dread, she wrapped the blanket more securely around her body and wobbled over to find out what was going on.
As she drew near, her breath snagged in her throat and she could barely breathemaybe she should have dragged the oxygen along with her.
Her savior was a young man, maybe her age of twenty-eightor a little olderwith short dark hair and a strong, shadowed jawline. He was covered with a blanket, his face ashen, and he had a nasty cut on his forehead.
Kim felt her knees tremble, and she thought she might pass out. She gave in to her shaky legs and sank to the sand.
She pressed a hand to her knotted tummy. No, no, no.
What had she done?
Several minutes passed as the paramedics worked on Seth. Kim was stuck to the sandy beach where she sat, exhausted physically and sick at heart.
Finally, she found the strength and rose. "Is he going to be all right?" she asked the paramedics, forcing herself to move forward and face the situation rather than following her instincts and running far, far away.
One of the techs looked up from monitoring the injured man's pulse. "He's conscious now, but he's taken a pretty severe blow to the head, which can be dicey."
Dicey. That didn't sound good.
The wind kicked up, whipping Kim's blanket from around her body. A shiver ran though her as she grabbed the edges and held on to it tighter, her legs still quivering from shock and cold.
She was chilled to the bone, and not just because of the sudden gust of wind pummeling her.
Clenching her hands into fists, she stayed a ways back to let the medics work.
Lily came to her side and put a comforting arm around Kim. "Don't worry. Seth is a tough guy, and he's young and healthy." She squeezed Kim's shoulders reassuringly. "He'll pull through."
Kim hoped so with everything in her, with every fervent prayer echoing in her heart. If anything happened to this Seth, Kim would never forgive herself.
Would God? Surely He would
Fighting back tears, she could do nothing but stand back and beg for the Lord's help from deep inside her soul.
Please, God. Help Seth pull through.
A few moments later, two burly paramedics carried a stretcher from the parking area down to the beach. Just as they put the stretcher down, Seth moved. A husky groan escaped from his blue-tinted lips and he moved his arms out from under the blanket. Kim stared at them for just a moment. Clearly the guy was in shape. No wonder he'd been able to drag her through the current.
Kim rushed forward and pushed through the cluster of singles group participants who had also gathered around the scene. She made it to his side and fell down on her knees next to him, resisting the strong urge to take his hand in hers; she was almost afraid to touch him.