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By Annie Seaton, Rima Jean, Alethea Spiridon Hopson
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Annie Seaton
All rights reserved.
No more prim and proper Dr. McIntyre.
Lissy McIntyre sat on the side of the old sailing ship as it rounded the point into Butterfly Bay, curly, sun-streaked strands of auburn hair pushed across her face by the breeze. She imagined the reaction of her history colleagues at the university if they could see Dr. McIntyre in backpacker mode. The days spent basking in the warmth around the pool at Hamilton Island over the last week had made her almost forget it was winter back home on the New England tablelands of Australia.
Sails snapped as the wind caught them and the crew scurried to tighten the ropes to ease the beautiful old timber schooner into the bay for its overnight anchorage. The musical tone of backpackers chatting in different languages provided a cheerful end to the first day of her sailing adventure.
She lifted her camera to capture the sunset. A rugged face appeared in the viewfinder, blocking her view of the sky. Brilliant blue eyes peered cheekily into her camera. She snapped a quick shot of the sailor up the mast. She stood to click a series of images of the sun setting over the water as flashes of pink, silver-tipped clouds suffused the sky, and the golden orb slipped toward the horizon. Lowering the camera, she waited as the sailor climbed down the mast toward her. He swung down on the lower ropes, his deep voice serenading her with a bawdy sea shanty. She laughed and finished off the last two lines of the song with him.
"What shall we do with a drunken sailor? Put him in bed with the captain's daughter?" The man grabbed two beers from the ice container on the deck and sat on the steps next to her.
"Cheers. I'm Nick and I think I'm in love, Angel Face." He held up a beer and tilted his head to the side with a questioning look. "A toast to the sunset?"
She nodded and smiled at him as she reached for the beer.
"And a toast to a beautiful lady," he said.
She caught her breath as deep blue eyes locked with hers. Her hand shook as he captured her fingers and she grasped the icy bottle. He was almost too good-looking. A bright blue bandana held back a thatch of shaggy sun-bleached hair. She held his gaze as he clinked his bottle against hers. Dr. McIntyre would have blushed, but Lissy McIntyre took it in stride. It wasn't every day that a man like this sang to you and offered you a toast. She took it in the holiday spirit, which she was sure he'd intended, although he held her gaze a little longer than a casual look called for.
"Thanks, and cheers. I'm Lissy."
"Backpacking?" He sat comfortably next to her, his muscled legs stretched out on the timber deck, his shoulder resting casually against her. She looked up at him and felt a strong urge to pull loose the bandana and run her fingers through his shaggy hair.
Nick turned to her, revealing laugh lines around his eyes and sexy mouth. He was much older than she had first thought.
"Just a bit of a trip around North Queensland. How about you?" She was not going to give away too much. She wasn't ready yet to slip back into her real world of boring history professor. She had found comfort in being her Gramps's Lissy in the ten days since she'd scattered his ashes on Blackrock Beach and flown to the tropics for a restful holiday.
"Same. Just crewing on the boat for a friend for a few weeks," he replied. "Speaking of which, I'd better go and help with the anchor. We're almost to the island." He tipped his head back, swigging the rest of his beer. He grasped the rope to swing himself to the upper deck, the muscles in his arms bunching. Giving her a broad wink, he grinned cheekily at her.
"Save a dance for me tonight, Angel Face." Nick headed for the front of the large yacht, chatting and joking with the other passengers. He was tall and broad and had an almost primitive sexuality. He was one of the best-looking men she had ever seen and an unfamiliar warmth pervaded her body. Reluctantly, she dragged her eyes away from the breadth of his tanned back and tautly muscled legs as a voice interrupted her thoughts.
"Half your luck. You've been chosen for the night."
Lissy turned to see a blond girl in the charter company's uniform looking at her with a bemused expression. "Excuse me?"
"You're the chosen one for tonight."
Unease unfurled in her chest. "What do you mean?"
"Nick had the same bet with the crew last trip. He picks his conquest for the party on the way into the bay. The woman he chooses to share a beer with before we moor is the chosen one, and the crew bet on it either way, depending on their impression of the girl. I overheard the boys laughing about it last trip."
Lissy cursed herself for her naivety.
"Thanks for the warning, but I'm not interested."
"Your call, but he is a good catch if you can pin him down." The girl shrugged as she gathered up the empty bottles and made her way toward the galley. "No one has been able to, so far."
"What a jerk!" Lissy mouthed under her breath.
Did he really think one beer would get her into bed with him? It didn't matter how good-looking he was. She gritted her teeth, curling her fists by her sides.
Even so, it didn't matter how she looked — did he really think she was that easy? History was not going to repeat itself. One absent backpacker father was quite enough for this family. This guy needs to be taught a lesson.
Her throat ached. Unshed tears stung her eyes as the emotion of the last week caught up with her. The cancellation of her mother's flight from Denmark had left her alone at the memorial service, except for Gramps's fishing mates. As she had looked across the water to the rising sun, she'd whispered the words Gramps had penned for her to read while scattering his ashes to the chilly easterly wind.
"Let the ocean soothe your sorrow. I am now with you always; in the sea, the sands, and the wind." She breathed in deeply as she looked out at the sapphire blue of the Pacific Ocean, letting the sound of the water soothe her grief.
The electronic anchor clattered to the sandy bottom of the bay, interrupting her sad thoughts. Brushing the tears away with the back of her hand, she waited for an opportunity to make her move. It wasn't long before Nick turned and walked back toward her, and she caught his eye, blowing him a kiss.
He smiled wickedly at her. "Looking forward to that dance." She watched him swagger to the side of the boat to lower the dinghy, with more than a touch of arrogance in his bearing.
"Me too," she simpered as she stood up and bent over in front of him to pick up her rucksack, making sure he got a good view of her long tanned legs. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched as two crewmembers gave each other a high five. The anger built in her chest and she gritted her teeth as they helped Nick with the ropes holding the rubber dinghy high on the side of the yacht, joking and laughing.
Picking up her rucksack, she made her way to the group waiting to climb down the rope ladder to the dinghy for the short trip across to the island. Standing next to two Italian girls, she grimaced. They whispered and giggled, pointing at Nick expertly steering the dinghy through the coral heads in the bay. He dropped the first group on the island and turned back to those waiting on the boat. He stood aft, one hand on the tiller, the other shading his eyes from the setting sun, his muscled legs braced against the small waves hitting the boat. He looked up to catch Lissy's eye, and a slow, sexy grin spread over his face.
No man should be so sexy.
Lissy was the last to climb down the rope ladder and as she prepared to step across to the dinghy; a rogue wave pushed it away from the side of the old schooner.
"Quick, jump!" he yelled. She threw her rucksack into the dinghy and jumped, landing awkwardly on her backside.
"Are you hurt?" Nick put out his hand to help pull her up, his eyes full of concern.
"Only my pride," she said. He took her hand and a tingle of warmth shot up her arm. Her fingers felt hot in his grasp and she fought the urge to snatch her hand away as he looked down at her sprawled on the side of the dinghy. The Italian girls giggled, clapping their hands with delight and pretending to swoon as he lifted her up into his arms. He pulled her tight against him, the hair-roughened warmth of his chest brushing against her bare shoulders. "Thank you, she said breathlessly, as she fought the mirth building in her chest.
"No injuries from the fall?" he asked softly. She shook her head and removed her hand from his tight grip. She sat down on the soft side of the dinghy and Nick steered through the coral to the island where the rest of the crew were setting up camp.
Two hours later, Lissy sat watching the sparks that whirled in the breeze as Nick added more driftwood to the fire. The crew had given them a feast of fresh fish, salad, and tropical fruits. Replete, both tourists and crew settled on sand still warm from the sun. The campfire provided a soft flickering light and one of the backpackers gently strummed his guitar. She gazed into the fire, remembering the days at Blackrock Beach when she and Gramps had fried fresh fish over a driftwood fire on the beach. For the first time in a week, she moved past the grief and found joy in the memory.
"He must have been good." Goose bumps raised on her arms as she felt the warmth of Nick's breath on her neck.
She moved away slightly. "Excuse me?"
"There's only one thing that will put that look on a woman's face," he whispered in her ear.
"Oh yes, he was." She grabbed her rucksack, and used it as a pillow. She looked up at the brilliant stars dotting the black sky. "The very best." Gramps had been the only stability she had ever known. If Nick thought she was talking about a previous lover, so be it, since he deserved everything he was about to get.
He held her eyes and then dropped his gaze to linger on her body stretched on the sand. She held her breath as he slowly looked down from her shoulders to her breasts and then back up to capture her gaze. Lissy shivered, imagining the tips of his fingers caressing her skin. The music increased in tempo, and a couple of the girls began to dance on the beach. He leaned down to her, his breath tickling her neck as he whispered in her ear.
"Come on. Dance with me?" She shivered again and goose bumps ran down her arm despite the warmth of his body pressing into her side.
He pulled her up and her eyes held his as he pulled her close. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she molded herself to the hard planes of his body and they moved in time with the slow music. Their bare feet slipped through the soft white sand as they danced slowly around the fire, the crackling of the flames and muted guitar music surrounding them. He gently pushed closer and her lips found their way to his neck, her mouth opening slightly as she inhaled, his musky scent teasing her nostrils.
Closing her eyes, she sighed softly. She felt his hard chest against the softness of her breasts, and she forgot why she was dancing so closely with a stranger. She pretended Nick was someone who cared about her. As he guided her around the fire in time to the soft music, his hand caressed her back. The pressure of his hand increased as he guided them toward the shadows at the edge of the clearing. The first fluttering of panic began in her chest. With every step she became more aware of the proximity and warmth of his body and the temptation she faced. He dropped his lips to her neck and gently sucked on her skin. An explosion of feeling raced from her neck to her stomach. She pulled back gently and looked up at him, giving herself some breathing space. She breathed rapidly, her lips slightly parted as Nick looked down at her.
"I admire a woman who knows what she wants." His voice hinted at all sorts of pleasures.
"Mmm ... very tempting." She regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth.
Get yourself out of this before it is too late. Standing on her toes, she moved her hands from his neck to his shoulders and put her face close to his.
"What a shame all the tents are so close," she breathed into his ear. "No privacy here, and I show my appreciation rather loudly."
She pursed her lips, fighting to keep a straight face. She tried to hold back her laughter, imagining herself as a femme fatale, a passionate woman of the world, and a lusty participant in the bedroom. Nothing could be further from the truth — especially the last few years when she'd buried herself in her studies and research.
She quickly lowered her head to hide the laughter in her eyes and Nick pulled her close, whispering in her ear.
"Don't cry. I'll take care of you." She looked up at him, tears filling her eyes. She swallowed the giggle bubbling in her throat and then reached up as though she was going to kiss him.
"Sorry, buddy, you've lost your bet tonight." Pushing him away, she strolled across to the group around the fire and sat down next to the Italian girls. After tying her sarong tightly around her breasts, she clenched her hands to still the shaking of her fingers.
Yes, a real femme fatale.CHAPTER 2
Nick had first noticed her standing apart from the group of noisy backpackers at the marina that morning. Boarding the vessel alone, she had kept to herself all day. Deep in thought as the old schooner sailed across the Whitsunday Passage to Hook Island, he noticed her brush away tears a couple of times. He had also taken several long appreciative looks at her sunbathing on the front deck from his vantage point high up the mast as he rigged the sails. After watching her all day, he was not surprised to feel that jolt of heat run through his body. She had a tilted nose with a light sprinkling of freckles and full red lips. Red-gold hair fell in a tangle of curls to brush her delicate bare shoulders. She was older than most of the backpackers on the charter, but had a maturity and a beauty that made him look again ... and again. It would have been an enjoyable way to end his last trip on the boat.
No commitment, no strings attached; just the way he liked it.
Now, Nick was angry at his stupidity in getting himself entangled in this situation on his last day on the boat. It was because of that stupid bet. He had lost control of the situation when he had become so attracted to Lissy. On the other trips this week, he had shared a few flirtatious kisses with the chosen girls to win the wager with the crew. When he looked down at Lissy, he had been lost in her sad, dark eyes. As he shifted his eyes to her soft mouth, her lips had beckoned him. He had only to dip his head slightly and he could have covered her mouth with his own, savoring the tempting sweetness of those luscious lips.
He shook his head in frustration.
What the hell is wrong with me? I'm getting soft.
It was time to get back to work and finish the blasted report or the funding would dry up. The recent calls from his family indicated it was time to go home and be the dutiful son and brother for a while. The emails from his mother hinted at upcoming changes in the family, and how much they missed him. The pull of Italian blood was strong. As much as he hated to admit it, he loved his time back in Armidale on the family farm. La mia famiglia ... the close bond that held his brothers and sisters together no matter where they were in the world was fostered by their mother.
"Penny for your thoughts?" He jumped as a hand touched his arm.
The first woman who had really attracted him for a long time stood in front of him, backlit by the flickering firelight. Smarting from the unflattering image of himself as a Lothario who would make money from a demeaning bet, he knew it was time to make amends.
"You really don't want to know what I'm thinking. Boring thoughts about work," he said. He walked over to the camp fridge, grabbed two beers, and held one out to her.
After a pause, she reached for the beer. "Why not?"
They sipped their beers in silence as they walked back to the group sitting around the fire. They sat on the soft sand and Lissy looked over at him and spread her hands. "Can you really call this work?"
He laughed and decided it was not the right time to tell her all about himself, now that she seemed to have forgiven him for his crass behavior. He would give it a while and then admit that there was more to him than just a drifter in the Islands.
* * *
The whoosh of waves breaking on the crushed coral beach woke Lissy early the next morning. Rolling onto her stomach, she opened the flap of the one-man tent and propped her chin on her hand, enjoying the view of the old sailing ship silhouetted by the rising sun. She saw tanned muscular legs through her tent flap and she sighed at the sight of Nick heading for the water, clad only in a pair of tiny black swimming trunks. Closing her tent flap, she rolled on to her back, crossing her arms on her chest. Even though she knew what Nick was after, she still found him incredibly attractive ... and kind. It had been good of him to apologize last night.
Excerpted from Holiday Affair by Annie Seaton, Rima Jean, Alethea Spiridon Hopson. Copyright © 2012 Annie Seaton. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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