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In Too Deep
By Sharon Mignerey
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Mommy, look at what we found." Five-year-old Annmarie's call was filled with enthusiasm from where she was bent over a tide pool with her new best friend, Thad.
Lily Jensen Reditch grinned at her daughter's excitement as she clambered around several large boulders to reach the rocky beach. Act the act until you feel the feeling. Normal was the feeling she wanted, and today felt ... normal. Her daughter's carefree joy as she skipped through life was something that Lily would give a lot to have back in her own. She'd done all the right things to be better - gone through grief counseling and completed the regime recommended by victim's advocacy - and she was determined to be her old self. The optimistic one. The naive one. That thought made her smile. Optimistic - oh, she hoped so. Naive - never again.
Movement farther down the shoreline caught Lily's attention. She breathed a sigh of relief when she realized it was just Thad's uncle Josh, hiking around the Hollywood Bowl.
It was a collapsed mineshaft that had eroded into a clamshell shaped cave at the water's edge.
Lily deliberately reminded herself that the whole reason she had moved here was so she didn't have to assess every person she met as a threat. No threats here, despite the sleepless nights that continued to plague her and despite the nightmares that made sleep something to avoid. Dismissing Josh from her thoughts and reminding herself to smile, Lily returned her attention to the children and the beach, which was dotted with tide pools that reflected the misty noon sky of late August.
By Alaska standards the day was warm. Cold, though, compared to the balmy weather of California where they had lived until two months ago. Despite the gray sky that promised rain, Annmarie's blond hair gleamed, and Lily touched her daughter's head when she reached the kids. Wrapping her thick red cardigan more firmly around herself, Lily bent over the pool where the children crouched.
A small scallop and an equally small crab rested at the bottom of the pool. A second later the crab bumped the scallop, and it shot through the water with surprising speed.
Annmarie laughed. "Wow, did you see that?"
Lily grinned at her daughter's unabashed delight. "I did."
"How do you suppose he did that?" Thad asked.
"He clamped both halves of his shell together, which squirts the water out and makes him leap forward," she responded, demonstrating with her hands. The mechanics of how a bivalve moved was elementary compared to the mountains of research data she had been absorbing during the last few weeks.
A hydrothermic vent discovered last year was the major project under way at the Kantrovitch Research Center. Lily had uncovered several interesting areas where she could put her background to work ... if she chose to get back into the research fast track. She was tantalized, a surprise since all she had wanted was to come home so she could be closer to family, especially her sister Rosie.
During the past month, the center had been practically deserted, evidently a planned break until additional funding arrived in September. Max, a jack-of-all-trades and handyman, had been the only other person around, caring for the specimens in the various aquariums, setting up the pressure tanks needed for deep-water specimens, and providing her with the extra muscle she had needed to drag new file cabinets out of the middle of the floor.
The project leader, Quinn Morrison, had interviewed her by phone, hired her sight unseen, and had encouraged her to settle in. He'd left her a set of keys and told her to take any desk in the main room except the one closest to the windows.
"How do you know it's a he?" Annmarie wanted to know, drawing Lily's attention back to the discovery at hand - the small scallop. "It might be a girl."
"How do clams make babies?" Annmarie asked, pulling at Lily's sleeve. Whether talking about her aunt Rosie's pregnancy or other animals, babies - or, more accurately, the making of them - recently held endless fascination for Annmarie.
"I bet they do it like snails. I've seen 'em in my brother's aquarium," Thad said before Lily could answer.
"But this is a clam," Annmarie said.
"Not it's not. It's a scallop," Thad said with the superiority that came with being two years older. "I bet they open their shell real wide so they can touch like snails do."
"Actually, the male and female never touch," came a voice from behind Lily, deep, as gravelly as the surf over rock, and pure Texan in the accent. "The male's sperm is drawn through the water to the female when he senses eggs are present."
Lily whirled around to look at the man, alarmed they were no longer alone and that he'd managed to arrive without her seeing or hearing him. His statement could have been salacious, but it was, instead, the matter-of-fact explanation of a scientist.
She sized him up through the haze of warnings that she hated ... that she wasn't safe, that strangers were potential threats. The man's deep voice matched his appearance. Tall, broad-shouldered. Bigger than life, in fact, from where she knelt on the rocks next to the children. His sandy hair curled at his nape and over his ears, mussed as though he had repeatedly run his fingers through it. His eyes were dark, the color of a fjord when the shadows stretched over the water.
He smiled as he knelt next to them and said to Lily, "Hi, I'm Quinn Morrison." Before she could respond he smoothly turned his attention back to the kids with, "This scallop will be lucky to even find a mate." He pointed at the sea star that also occupied the tide pool. "See this guy here? He's Pacific Henricia and his favorite food is the scallop. And if he gets close enough -"
"The scallop will be lunch," Thad finished.
Lily's galloping heartbeat settled. This was her new boss - and, of course, he knew the scientific names of the local sea life.
"That's right," the man agreed.
"Maybe we should take her out of this pool and put her into another one," suggested Annmarie.
"What if the sea star is hungry?" he asked. His glance skipped over Lily before focusing on her daughter.
Each time he looked at her, Lily could feel a charge in the energy around her. She hadn't felt a spark of awareness like this in nearly forever. She shivered and openly watched him. The tanned lines of his face and the deep smile lines around his eyes reminded her of the men in her family - men who wrestled a living from the sea by fishing the waters of the inside passageway.
He smiled easily as he talked to the children, the expression encompassing his entire face. It wasn't so much handsome as interesting. Prominent cheekbones sculpted a deep hollow at his cheeks and a cleft emphasized his chin and square jawline. Clearly in his element, he wore a long-sleeved denim shirt, a micro-fleece vest and worn, button-fly jeans.
Annmarie asked, "Why does he have to eat this scallop?"
"Because Mother Nature intended that some animals be food for others. Sure, we could move it, but it could end up being somebody else's lunch." He winked at Annmarie. "Yours or mine."
"That's right," Thad agreed with an emphatic nod. "I've eaten scallops. Lots of times."
"So, how does the boy scallop know when the girl scallop has eggs?" Annmarie asked, returning with single-minded purpose to her earlier topic. The child had babies on the brain.
"Well," the man answered, "we don't actually know for sure. We think the female's scent changes. That's the trigger for mating behavior in most animals."
"You mean, they smell? Like perfume or something?" She wrinkled her nose.
He laughed. "Yeah. Like perfume or something."
Once more his gaze slid from Annmarie to Lily, who felt her color rise. She became aware of his scent - not cologne or sweat. Something far more subtle and altogether ... pleasant. A nudge of awareness became something more, a primal recognition that welled out of the depth of her heart. He's the one.
She shoved the thought away. John had been the one. Her beloved John who had died so suddenly more than two years ago. Whatever spark she felt was loneliness, she reasoned. Maybe even envy at seeing her sister and her brother-in-law so deeply in love. Maybe missing someone to hold her through the night when her thoughts were consumed with a past she couldn't change.
He smiled and extended his hand. "You must be Dr. Jensen."
"You're back." She automatically shook his hand. A common, ordinary act. Still, she was aware of his touch, his hand large and warm and inviting around hers.
Excerpted from In Too Deep by Sharon Mignerey Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.