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Finn Macalister leaned back and took in paradise.
The sky was an impossible blue, the water a silky turquoise rushing back to a stretch of white sand, dotted with jade-green palm trees. He'd been to Oahu several times, but it was as if he'd never seen it before in his life.
"Paddle!" Benji, the twenty-two-year-old next to him, yelled like a drill sergeant. "Paddle your ass off, damn it!"
Without thinking, Finn cut into the water with his hands and well, paddled his ass off.
The wave was bearing down on him like a freight train. Making it worse, it was a ten-foot-tall freight train, roaring at him, eager to pummel him against the hidden coral reefs somewhere down in that beautiful water he'd been waxing rhapsodic about. He paddled and cursed and finally managed to get his ass, and his board, over the ridge as Benji signaled his intent and headed right for the danger zone.
Benji was paddling like a champion swimmer, attacking the wave like an ant attacking a tank. He got on, starting the ride, hitting it like a champ. Finn found himself holding his breath as he watched Benji go watched him hit the sweet spot like something out of The Endless Summer as he shot the curl, the translucent sheet of water closing behind him as he shot forward like a bullet out of a Colt 45. And he caught a glimpse of the broad, absolutely foolish smile that plastered the kid's face. He let out a primal scream of joy.
Finn let out a breath. There you go, kid.
"Welcome to the Player's Club," Finn said to no one in particular. Then he glanced back at the next wave. It was rising like a monster.
His heart kicked up a little, and a small smile sneaked onto his face.
He'd surfed plenty of times. He wasn't a pro or anything, but he wasn't a rank amateur. And sure, Finn had told Lincoln he was only going to be there to make sure nothing happened to their latest pledge, Benji. Of course, Benji was a semipro surfer, base jumper and all-around badass. Pretty good for a kid.
But Finn wasn't doing what he was doing because he was jealous, or even because he wanted to show he could still do everything he could do before he'd turned thirty.
He felt his nerves tingle, his body almost shiver with the excitement of anticipation. The delicious, almost narcotic feeling of thrill danced along his skin.
This, he thought. This is what I need.
And he signaled, moving on the wave.
He thought he heard some yelling in the distance.
The lifeguards he'd hired specifically were probably plenty pissed at him. Benji seemed to be cheering him, though, and that was encouraging, especially as he almost bobbled getting onto the surfboard.
It was well, he hadn't ever ridden a dragon, but if he ever found himself accidentally leashing and then riding a dragon in some weird dragon-rodeo, it would feel exactly like this. The water was screaming past him, and he saw the crest of it, curving over him, like the center of a cyclone, trying to swallow him up.
His entire life focused like a laser point. In that moment, he wasn't the only son and heir to the multi-billion-dollar Macalister candy fortune. He wasn't the cofounder of the supersecret Players' Club. He wasn't the scared and spindly six-year-old with the illness that made his family treat him so strangely.
He was just Finn.
He broke through, shooting out, watching the beauty of the curl, feeling triumphant. He shouted, pumping his fist in the air.
Then, there was a loud, cracking sound and a violent jolt as his board snapped. The wave let loose its own triumphant roar, grabbing a hold of him, tight as a fist. Suddenly, the beautiful blue water was surrounding him, choking off all his air and spinning him like a washing machine. He felt a panic, felt the hard slice of something against his head.
He had two thoughts in the space of a millisecond.
One, that as Lincoln had warned this had been one of his stupider ideas one that might very well kill him.
And two, that even now, he probably would have made the very same choice.
Better to die feeling alive than live feeling dead.
And with that cheerful thought, everything went black.
"Did you enjoy dinner tonight, Diana?"
"It was lovely," Diana Song said, smiling with encouragement as she accepted the paper-thin glass of Pinot noir. Truthfully, she barely remembered the place: some Thai restaurant, artsy and secluded. Her mind hadn't been on the food.
"I'm glad we decided to come back to your place," her date, Travis, said as he sat down next to her on her couch. He stroked her shoulder, his eyes alight with anticipation.
She looked away for a second, taking a quick sip of the wine. It was expensive, sophisticatedmuch like Travis.
I really should have brought the Peterson file home.
She closed her eyes for a second. No. She wasn't going to think about work tonight. She wasn't going to screw this up by getting distracted.
She was going to have sex tonight, damn it.
She'd been on six dates with Travis. Granted, they'd been spread out over four months, but still that was practically a relationship.
For her, considering her track record, that was practically marriage.
She forced herself to gaze into his eyes. "I'm glad we came back here, too."
"You know," he said, leaning close enough that she could smell his cologne, "I admire you for your reputation at Macalister, but getting to know you You're so much softer, more approachable than I would've thought." He nuzzled her jawline. "So much sexier."
He'd pitched the words in a sensual tone, was obviously moving in, but something he said caught her attention. "What reputation?"
He laughed at that, pulling back. "They call you Macalister's Hammer. I don't think you got that nickname because you enjoy carpentry as a hobby."
She stiffened, putting her drink down on her glass coffee table. She loathed that nickname. "I'm just a lawyer. Just because I'm good at my job some people might think that means I'm tough, whatever."
He looked immediately contrite. "I'm sorry. I didn't meanI'm not trying to say you're tough, or cold, or any of the other crap they say at the office."
She stared at him.
This is so not helping me decide to invite you into bed, pal.
Sure, she'd brought him home with the idea of them moving on to the next step. Frankly, right now, he was the only candidate she had. He was attractive, easy enough to talk to without being too insistent. He worked in the patent office at Macalister Enterprises, pushing through patents for candy. Yes, candy. She'd met him at some company meeting, liked the look of him and the fact that he seemed interested.
Now she was wondering if maybe she hadn't set the bar a bit low. Convenience and some superficial traits might not be the best barometer of bedmates.
He was nipping at her earlobe, and her mind kept whirring away. Yes, she was currently in a year-and-a-half sexual drought, but once she'd made it a year, it didn't seem as urgent anymore. She leaned against the back of her couch, wondering how she'd never noticed before how uncomfortable it was. Of course, she was rarely home, and didn't spend a lot of time loafing on the couch.
Maybe it was just that she was uncomfortable.
"So " He stroked his fingertips along her arm, tracing up to her shoulder. "Where were we?"
He leaned forward, his lips brushing over hers. She tried. So help her, she tried. It wasn't bad, but it completely lacked the sexual zip that she was hoping for. He seemed to sense it, too, but instead of acknowledging it, he redoubled his efforts, giving it the full court press.
She winced uncomfortably when he started plunging his tongue into her mouth. When she backed off, their breathing was ragged, his with arousal, hers in a desperate attempt to get more air.
Come on, Diana, she chided herself. You may not get a second chance at this. Did you really want to spend another night by yourself with a pint of Haagen-Dazs and a crappy chick flick?
"Come on, Diana," he echoed, as if reading her mind. "We both know where this is going. We've been headed here for months. Why don't we go into the bedroom, see where it takes us?"
Unless you 're hung like a Louisville Slugger and you've got some caramel-gingersnap ice cream on you, I seriously doubt it.
He tugged her hand, leading it down to the bulge growing in his pressed pin-striped trousers. Well, it wasn't a slugger, but it wasn't a pencil, either, she thought, slowly stumbling back into the mood. Besides, she could always provide her own ice cream.
She kissed him again, dodging when he tried to get too intense, but still trying to get in the mood. Her breasts tightened beneath the new black-lace bra she'd bought the weekend prior, with just this date in mind.
This could happen, she thought. This could really
"What the hell is that?" he asked, glancing around the room.
"What are you talking about?"
"That sound. It's like an alarm or something. What is that?"
She wanted to scream. Obviously, she wasn't that good a kisser if he could be distracted by
Then she heard what he was talking about. It was a song, tinny and blaring and growing increasingly louder: the Rolling Stones' "Can't Get No Satisfaction."
She bounced off the couch. "My cell phone."
"Didn't you turn it off?" He sounded offended at her oversight. "Never mind. Let it go to voice mail."
"Can't. This is probably important." She grabbed the still-ringing cell phone. That particular ringtone was her boss's private line. If she let the call go to voice mail, he would be pissed. "Hello? Hello?"