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The bullet zinged past marine lieutenant Rafe McCaw-ley's ear. Instantly, he went into defense mode. "Jeep!" he yelled to the doctor and the ambassador as he shoved them toward the vehicle.
"Sniper," he told his men, but he knew they were already on it. As part of the rescue mission, they'd been trained for moments like this.
Buck and Meyers fired toward the hills.
Murphy had the car door open and helped the civilians in as fast as he could. Rafe used himself as a human shield.
Fire tore into his hip. He'd been hit.
He didn't falter.
He was the only thing between the sniper and the civilians, and it was his duty.
Pain scorched his right arm. Another bullet. He was a sitting duck, but it didn't matter. He had to get these people to safety.
Everything seemed to happen in slow motion then. A series of bullets pounded his back. His vest kept them from penetrating. The force knocked the breath from his lungs. He lunged forward in a final effort to protect the ambassador, half throwing the man into the vehicle so that Murphy could shut the door. As he did, blood stained Murphy's neck.
Rafe placed his hand at the wound to stop the blood flow, but he was losing blood, too, and he could feel himself getting weaker.
"Man down. Man down," Rafe heard himself utter as he slid into the darkness.
"Mister! Hey, mister! Wake up. Bad dreams, man. Bad dreams."
A groggy Rafe tried to open his eyes. It was as if someone had pulled him up out of quicksand.
"Mister, you okay? Wake up already."
Blinking his eyes open, Rafe took in his surroundings. A taxi. The driver, who had deeply tanned skin and a thatch of bright white hair, stared worriedly at him in the rearview mirror.
Rafe was in Fiji. Safe.
"Thanks," Rafe said to the driver. "Sorry for falling asleep." He must have passed out in the cab. The flight to Fiji had been brutal on his still-healing body, and he hadn't gotten much rest. Rafe scrubbed his face with his hand.
He was finally here.
Sun. Sea. And a woman.
Rafe figured that was all any man ever needed to heal wounds of the physical or mental variety. While he'd been in recovery for the injuries he'd suffered he'd thought of little else. The letters from Mimi were what kept him going through the intense therapy. Her sweet encouragement and kind words were the elixir his soul used to heal. And were exactly what his mind needed to help forget. Now he would see her in the next ten minutes.
The long hours on the plane here had been torture. His hip, arm and shoulder, which had suffered the brunt of the bullets in the firefight, were still sore. Even with his pain meds he couldn't get comfortable on the plane. He'd been awake for almost forty-eight hours straight. But he hadn't grumbled or even worried about it. The only thing in his mind was the image of the gorgeous five-eleven dark-haired beauty he was about to see. It had been eighteen months. He'd kicked himself for not kissing her at the end of their one and only date.
They met at a New York fashion show where Rafe had been duped into modeling some jeans that put him in hot water with the Marines. But it had been worth it to meet Mimi. After the fashion show, she'd taken him to a party with a lot of famous people. At the end of the evening, he'd walked her to her apartment but refused to go up. He was a gentleman, which seemed to surprise her. They hugged, and he left. The next day she flew out of town for a gig in London, and he hadn't seen her since.
She began writing to him six months ago. That first letter from her was a surprise. He'd written to her six months prior to that and when she hadn't answered, he thought that despite a great night she had moved on. In her first letter she told him that she traveled so much his letter must have slipped through the cracks.
They wrote back and forth frequently. He tried to get her on Skype or the phone, but things never appeared to work for Mimi when it came to electronics. She said it was one of her many faults. A few days before he'd been shot, he'd received a letter from her saying that as soon as he was free they should meet at her sister's new yoga and surf camp in Fiji. The time he was ordered to take off for rehab gave him the perfect excuse to accept her offer.
"Almost there," the taxi driver said as he swerved to miss a cyclist. Rafe's shoulder hit the side of the car and he winced. He was beginning to wonder if he'd ever be back to 100 percent. Every day he worked his muscles hard to make sure they didn't atrophy, but nothing moved quite as well as it should. And yet he needed to be ready for anything if he were to return to active duty one day.
The farther they drove away from the airport, the greener and more lush the surroundings. The cab's open windows allowed the smell of exotic flowers to permeate the air. The car stopped in front of iron gates covered with vegetation.
This was it.
The past year had been hell, and Rafe had to admit hanging out in paradise for a few weeks didn't sound too bad. Sure beat the hospital and his last three tours.
The driver pushed a button on the console at the side of the gate and the gate swung open.
The what-ifs plagued him. What if Mimi didn't recognize him? What if she was merely doing this to be nice?
For months he'd imagined swinging her in his arms and kissing her senseless when he saw her again to make up for the lost opportunity on their date.
Play it cool. Get a read on the situation.
He took a deep breath, then another.
The taxi stopped on the circular driveway in front of the resort. Well, it was more like a mansion than a hotel. Mimi said that her sister had worked hard to make it feel like a home away from home.
He grinned. It wasn't like any home he'd ever lived in. Mimi promised this was a great place to relax and rejuvenate and that was exactly what he needed.
As he glanced up, he realized there were several thatched dwellings along the beach on both sides of the house. They were probably the private bungalows Mimi mentioned. She was setting him up in one, all expenses paid.
He'd been hesitant about that, but she'd insisted, relaying to him that her sister had given her a great discount, since it was for a friend.
Grateful to stretch his legs again, he stepped out of the cab and was assaulted by the salty air coming off the sea. Surrounded by brilliant green foliage, it looked and sounded like a jungle. Birds chirped and there was even a monkey swinging in a nearby tree.
Yes, this was total bliss.
He turned and was expecting to see Mimi, but this woman didn't look anything like her. She was about the same height, but her hair was long and blond. And Mimi had looked as if she'd never been in the sun, whereas this woman was the color of golden honey.
She had a California girl-next-door quality that would normally be very appealing to him, but he was here to see Mimi.
He cleared his throat. "Yes, I'm Rafe. Are you a friend of Mimi's?"
She frowned and looked down at her toes for a second before glancing at him. "I'm her sister, Kelly. She's actually been delayed a few days. She had a shoot in Canada of all places, and she asked me to look after you."
Rafe's heart sank. He knew it was silly to be so disappointed, but he'd been looking forward to seeing her.
"Oh. Hi." He wasn't sure what to say to this woman. "Uh should I find someplace else to stay until she gets here?" He could probably find another hotel on the island. His friends told him the lodging and food in Fiji was usually pretty cheap, except at some of the larger, fancier hotels.
"No, no. How can I look after you if you stay somewhere else? No, I have you set up in the Blue Bungalow. Everything is done by color here. Your surfboard is blue, the instructions and times for your classes are in blue. Even the room is decorated in blue."
She paused and then gave him a worried glance. "You don't mind the color blue, do you?"
He chuckled. "No. It happens to be my favorite color, but I don't want to put you to any trouble. And what do you mean by classes?"
The taxi driver cleared his throat, and Rafe pulled out his wallet. "Sorry, man. Here you go." He gave the driver the money for the fare plus a generous tip. Then he picked up his pack and followed Kelly down a path.
"You asked about the classes," she said as they tracked along another path, clearly leading to the bungalows on the beach. "There are yoga and surfing classes. I also have Pilates, ballet bar, regular and Bikram yoga classes. They're popular with our usual clientele here at Last Resort."
From the looks of the surroundings that usual clientele must be pretty highend. While it had a wild feel to it, the bungalows and the mansion or main building, which had to be at least ten thousand square feet, were very well maintained.
"I don't do any of those things," he said.
"I kn Uh, right. Mimi said that she didn't think you'd go for it, but I also know that you are getting over some injuries. Surfing might be a little rough on you right now, but yoga could do you some good. And Pilates would help lengthen those muscles and relieve your pain."
He felt like a jerk for being so blunt. "You know what, I'm here. I might as well try whatever you have."
Turning, she smiled at him, her blue eyes shining with happiness.
Rafe's breath caught, and his lower regions responded so strongly he had to position his pack in front of him.
What is wrong with me?
She's a beautiful woman, but you are dating her sister.
Well, technically they weren't dating. But he'd flown halfway around the world to see her and that counted for something.
"I'm glad that you're so open-minded. I find that most women who come here are ready to try new things, but a lot of men are sometimes worried about looking ridiculous. And that's kind of ridiculous when you think about it. Tons of athletes from football players to track stars do yoga and Pilates. It's great for stress relief and it helps to clear your mind. We had a hockey team here about a month after I took over. Those guys were up for anything." Laughter colored her voice.
Clearing the mind was something Rafe needed desperately. The more Kelly talked, the more entranced he became with her. She was like a beacon of light and he was the ship in need of safe harbor. He snorted.
What you need is some sleep.
That was it. He was punch-drunk and slightly delirious. With his defenses down, he didn't have a chance when it came to Kelly, with her charm and beauty.
"So here we are." She waved a hand at the bungalow before him. The doors stood wide open, allowing the breeze to cool the large room, which was done in shades of light blue and white. Calming. It was nicer than any place he'd ever stayed. As a marine, he learned to fall asleep anywhere, and when he traveled he usually picked cheap motels. All he usually needed was a bed.
"Are you sure you don't mind me staying here?" Rafe asked as he ditched his shoes at the door and followed her inside.
The floor was cork or close enough by the soft feel of it. His aching joints relaxed their protest three steps into the place. There was a king-size bed on the left. To the right was a seating area with a huge flat-screen TV on the wall in the center, which could be viewed from both the bed and the sofa.
"Of course I don't mind. I wanted you to come, when, uh, Mimi told me what you'd been through. I mean, not to make a big deal out of ityour braverywell, you're so darn heroic," she said, and ducked her head as if she were embarrassed. "Sorry. It's just that Mimi has told me so much about you that I feel like I know you. I'm normally kind of shy, which is why it's weird that I can't seem to stop talking around you."
She grinned sheepishly. "I'm going to stop talking now."
Rafe couldn't help but smile at her nervousness.
"Hey, you don't have to worry about that with me. I spend most of my time with men who only communicate by grunting. It's nice to hear a friendly voice that isn't barking orders."
Her soft chuckle was like a gentle caress. They stared at each other expectantly for a few seconds before he quickly peered at the ocean as though he was interested in the view.
"I bet you're exhausted," she said. "The bath is through there. There are robes and a selection of swim trunks if you need them. Dinner is at seven, but there are snacks in your fridge, which is under the television console. You have a butler, whom you can contact by pressing two on the phone. If you need maid service, that's number three. If you'd rather dine here instead of at the main house, you push four and they'll deliver the meal for you.
"So, that should be it. If you need me, push six and then seven, seven. We have several guests arriving, but practically everyone who comes to Last Resort is looking for solitude and waves to ride. It'll be quiet around here for you."
"Thanks," Rafe said. "I mean, really. This is way more than I expected."
The hopeful look in her eyes confused him. It was almost as if she'd worried he wouldn't like it here. How could he not? The place was mind-blowing.
"Right. If you need help unpacking, you can call the butler. I'll get out of your hair."
She sprinted from the bungalow.
He watched as she tripped slightly on the path and then carried on as if nothing had happened.
The two sisters couldn't be any more different. Mimi never had a hair out of place, and the night they went to the party she had dressed in pricey heels and a fancy dress that barely covered her thighs.
But if he were honest, he much preferred Kelly's casual white shorts and bikini top.
"You aren't going there," he murmured to himself. "Mimi. You're here for Mimi."
Right. What's it to be, thena cold shower or a nap?
Rafe glanced at the ocean and went in search of his board shorts.
A good hard swim would help ease his tension and get his mind off one very pretty resort owner.