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December 30, Shelter Island, Washington State
Lucas Roman protected his privacy as fiercely as he'd done most everything in his thirty-seven years of life. Nothing came past the gates or over the fences that surrounded Lost Point at the farthest northern point of the island. It was his safe harbor, the only spot in the world where he could breathe easily. He was totally alone here, and it wasn't that he liked being alonehe needed the solitude to survive.
But that didn't stop him from occasionally wondering if this was what his life would be like until he ceased to exist. He only knew that right now, this was his world.
He stood at the top of the thirty-foot bluffs near the stairs cut into the rocky side that led to the hardpacked, narrow ribbon of beach below. The dense fog of early evening surrounded him and the air that filtered into his lungs was bitingly cold. He pulled his old pea coat more tightly around his six-foot twoinch frame and headed to the beach. He eased down the stairs, taking them two at a time, and jumped over the last four, landing squarely on the rockstrewn sand.
He had nowhere to go or anyplace to be. He was just killing time, walking and thinking and staying out of the house until he had no choice but to go back inside. He looked left, then right, and arbitrarily chose the right, going west. After two years of being at Lost Point on his own, he pretty much knew every nook and cranny of the land, but the beach changed regularly. Rocks and seaweed washed in with the tides, and the sand eroded, pushed and pulled both into the water and back against the rugged bluffs.
Luke felt the wind growing, and he was about to turn and go backwhen he saw something, a vague blur in the fog ahead of him on the beach. It was a dark misshapen pile near the water's edge. He approached, wondering if another seal had floundered on the shore, too weak to find its way into open water. But with each footstep, Luke dismissed the idea it was a sealthe object was too big, too irregular. When he got even closer, he stopped in his tracks.
He'd seen too many bodies in his life not to know that what he was looking at was human. He pulled his small flashlight out of his jacket pocket and facedown on the sand. He hurried to get to the person, then dropped to his haunches and briefly took in the splayed arms and legs, soggy, dark jacket and equally dark hair crusted and fanned on the sand. The stranger didn't appear to be breathing.
Luke acted on instinct, doing what he'd done so often in his life. He pushed the wet hair back and found himself staring at a woman. Pressing two fingers to the artery at her throat, he was relieved when he felt a pulse.
Pulling back, he looked at a face so pale that her lashes looked as black as night. Her lips were parted, and he quickly bent toward her, putting his left hand under her neck to drop her head back, then he pinched her nose and was about to start CPR when she suddenly coughed and lurched to one side. She rolled to her right, pressing one hand to the sand and half lifting herself up as she coughed and retched.
Luke waited, knowing the best thing was to let her clear her lungshe couldn't help her with that. He sat on his heels, watching her until she began to gulp in air and, finally, she fell weakly back onto the sand. Her eyes were closed, and she continued to struggle to breathe. Then, as he reached out to brush her hair back, her eyes flew open, looking for all the world like a waterlogged deer caught in the headlights of a car.
Her sand-caked hand lifted and she gasped, "What what are you ?"
"Are you all right?" he asked, not making any move to get closer to her.
She exhaled, then her hand lowered to cover her eyes. "Oh, God," she whispered as if the question had brought back whatever she'd faced in the water. Then she moved quickly, sitting up. She shook her head, then pulled her legs to her chest and pressed her face to her knees. "Oh, man," she moaned.
"What happened?" he asked.
She twisted in his direction, and her huge amber eyes narrowed. "I fell off a boat," she said, and that statement
There were always people in the soundfishermen, sportsmen, visitors and commuters that traveled on the ferry from Seattle a number of times a day. "You fell off the ferry?"
"No, no," she said as she turned and pushed up to stand. She was shaky for a moment, but got her balance. Her feet were bare, and what looked like jeans clung to slender legs. Her jacket was so wet it sagged almost to her knees, and her tangle of hair stuck to her cheeks and throat. She was probably five foot six or seven and had to tip her head slightly to look up at him.
"I was " She hugged her arms around herself and shivered again. "I was in a boat and tripped, and " She shrugged. "I fell over the railing."
Luke took a step back without even thinking about it when she came toward him as she spoke. He knew that most islanders had given up trying to find out about the owner of Lost Point, but he had no doubt that there were reporters who still thought that finding Lucas Roman could be big news. She looked like a drowned rat, and he knew she'd been unconscious when he'd found her, but now he started to wonder just how far some people would go to get to him. He never let himself forget that people were devious and driven by what they wanted. Suddenly suspicion nudged at him; he lifted the light to her face.
"Could you please get that light out of my eyes?" He didn't hesitate; he'd already memorized her face. The heart-shaped face, dark eyes, sharp chin. And he saw no signs of hypothermia beyond her unsteadiness. She looked cold, but her color was good.
"So, you fell off a boat and ?" he prodded.
He heard her release a shaky breath, then mutter, "Hit the water, almost drowned, got to shore and here I am."
She'd been unconscious moments ago and now she sounded almost annoyed that he was asking her anything about her presence here. "If you fell off a boat, someone must be looking for you," he said.
"I wish." She swiped at her hair again, making little leeway in getting it off her face. "I was alone on the boat, so no one knows I went overboard. At least, not yet."
Alone on a boat in the sound at night in the fog? She was either crazy or stupid. He wasn't sure which. "Okay, now what?" He knew he was being rude, but his manners had faded along with most of the remnants of his past life. He didn't care. She was up and moving around, obviously cold but breathing and in one piece. He just wanted to get her out of there. "I need to get to a phone. My boat's out there unmanned." She took another step toward him, and this time, he stood his ground. He felt his breathing hitch. "I need to call someone and find a way to get back to the mainland."
He had a phone up at the main house, but it wasn't in serviceit could call 911 in an emergency, though.
"I'll make the call for you," he said, hoping that she'd agree to stay right there while he made the call. But she didn't.
"I'll make the call myself," she said, then looked past him to the steps. "Is that the way to the phone?"
Her eyes were back on him. He didn't want her going up to the house with him, but short of telling her to stay put, he didn't have much of a choice. So he gave her the only excuse he could think of at the moment. "You can't go up there barefoot. Those stones are rough and the landscape is pretty wild."
"I made it this far, so I can make it up some steps," she said without hesitation.
He gave up. Without another word, he went back to the staircase and climbed easily to the top. She was right behind him, but stepped gingerly onto the tangle of grass and ferns that had, at one time, he suspected, been a rather attractive landscape. The large trees that towered high in the dusky sky had been untrimmed for so long they almost shut out the views of the mainland across the sound and closed in the main house. The area looked wild and untamed; he liked it that way. Luke liked it more when some woman wasn't invading his world. Luke didn't want to be anyone's Good Samaritan. He didn't qualify for that on any level.
SHAY DONOVAN wasn't an impulsive person. She never had been. Measured and sure, she'd spent her twenty-eight years in a calm quietness that matched her choice of career. As a marine biologist, she studied facts. She searched and tested absolutes. Then, in one moment, one day before New Year's Eve, she acted recklessly and foolishly and ended up on a beach, half-drowned, freezing to death, with a tall stranger who had saved her.
She was cold and shaky, and her feet hurt from the rocky beach and the steps that led to the top of the towering bluffs. Fog was everywhere, blocking anything beyond five feet away from her, and the man grudgingly leading her was a mere blur in the night when she looked up at him.
"The house is over there," he said when they reached the top. He pointed off into the fog ahead of them, then took off in that direction.
She hurried to keep up, trying to avoid the errant rocks or branches that had fallen off the trees that grew with abandon all around.
"How'd you manage to get out there at this time of night and go overboard?" he asked without looking back at her.
How indeed? she thought and tried to give him a condensed version of her craziness as she followed him. "I work at the Sound Preservation Agency in Seattle, and I was doing a study on the coastline of the island. I went out to take a look around. When I left, it wasn't dark, there wasn't any fog and I didn't plan on going overboard."
He didn't respond, and she found herself adding more details to the story as they kept walking. "I took a boat that had just been serviced, but something went wrong and it died. I couldn't start it." She wouldn't tell him that today would have been her second wedding anniversary, or that she still missed Graham so much that the only way she could feel closer to him was to be on the water.
He'd loved the water. They'd met on the water, and they'd actually married on a small boat off the shore of Mexico.
She kept that to herself and added, "I contacted the coast guard, but they had a major emergency north of here, so they told me to sit tight and wait."
"Good advice," he murmured, and she felt the ground under her feet change. Stones. They were cold and damp but even. To her sore feet, they felt like silk.
She looked up and thought they must be on a terrace of sorts, and through the fog, she could barely make out the looming shadow that had to be the house.
The man led the way to the left, and gradually she could make out the rough stone and heavy timber walls that soared up two or three stories to a steeply pitched roof.
Brick steps in a sweeping half circle led up to a heavy door, which the man opened. A light flashed on, and she found herself in a large utility room lined with cupboards on one side, shelves on the other and a very modern-looking washer and drier in an alcove.
"In here." He took her into a larger room. When he turned on the light, she was taken aback to see a kitchen that looked like something out of a turn-ofthe-century hotel, with its stone walls and coved ceiling, except for the very modern appliances and slate countertops. A central island the size of a small car held a multiburner cooktop and a three-door refrigerator was directly across from where she stood and looked large enough to hold a person. Under a row of high windows on the far side of the room were three apron sinks that could have been used to bathe in if a person were desperate.
"Over there," the man said, and she glanced at a wall phone that hung in an arched nook by the refrigerator.
"It's not in service, but I was told you can call 911."
She hesitated, then said, "I'm Shay Donovan by the way. Thank you so much for your help."
He nodded, then moved through a large archway to his right and out of sight. Shay shook her head. Nice to meet you, too. She picked up the phone, heard a dial tone and punched in 911. Once she was connected to the coast guard, she explained that she'd called earlier. They knew right away who she was, and the man on the other end of the line told her that her predicament wasn't exactly a code reduntil she told him she'd fallen overboard.