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Lissa Sanderson is at an all-time low?so why does her brother's gorgeous, brooding best friend have to come back into her life now? Even worse, the teenage crush she once had on Blake Everett is back with a vengeance, despite his scandalous reputation and the fact the former navy officer would clearly prefer to be left alone.
Only, now she's a woman. And Blake's not quite so immune to her as he makes out. There's definitely something about a rebel?and Lissa's going to enjoy ...
Lissa Sanderson is at an all-time low—so why does her brother's gorgeous, brooding best friend have to come back into her life now? Even worse, the teenage crush she once had on Blake Everett is back with a vengeance, despite his scandalous reputation and the fact the former navy officer would clearly prefer to be left alone.
Only, now she's a woman. And Blake's not quite so immune to her as he makes out. There's definitely something about a rebel—and Lissa's going to enjoy finding out just what that "something" might be!
It wasn't the rumble of approaching thunder that woke Lissa Sanderson some time after midnight. Nor was it Mooloolaba's tropical heat that had prompted her to leave the houseboat's windows open to catch whatever breeze was coming off the river. It wasn't even her seriously serious financial situation that had kept her tossing and turning for the past few weeks.
It was the sound of footsteps on her little jetty.
Unfamiliar footsteps. Not her brother's—Jared was overseas, and no one she knew would be calling in at this ridiculously unsociable hour. A shiver scuttled down her spine.
Lifting her head off the pillow, she heard the leafy palm fronds around the nearby pool clack together and the delicate tinkle of her wind chimes over the back door as the sound of approaching footsteps drew closer. Heavy and slow but with a sense of purpose.
Her thoughts flashed back nine months to Todd and ice slid through her veins. The Toad wouldn't be game to show his face in this part of the world again. Would he? No. He. Would. Not.
Swinging her legs over the side of her bed, she scanned the familiar gloom for her heavy-duty marine torch then remembered she'd used it to check the new leak in the ceiling and left it in the galley. Damn it.
The jetty belonged to the owners of the luxury riverside home that was rented to wealthy holiday-makers, but her lease on the private dock wasn't up for another two years. February was low season and the house had been vacant for the past couple of weeks. Maybe new tenants had arrived and were unaware that the jetty was off-limits?
That had to be it. 'Please let that be it,' she murmured.
The carport she used to gain access through the back yard and from there to her boat was security coded—who else could it be? She told herself not to overreact. Not to give in to the unease that had stalked her these past months. Both doors were secure, windows open but locked. Mobile phone beside her bed, both Jared and her sister, Crystal, on speed dial.
The footsteps stopped. A weighted thump vibrated through the floor, tilting it ever so slightly beneath her feet for a second or two. The resulting ripple of water lapped against the hull and the hairs on the back of her neck prickled.
Someone was on her deck. Right outside her door.
Okay, now she could be officially scared. She pushed up, grabbing her mobile and punching in numbers, then stared at the black screen. No charge. Great. Just great. Heart galloping, she darted to the bedroom doorway. From here she had a clear view down the length of the boat to the glass door where a light drizzle sheened the deck—and the stranger.
Tall. Male. His outline glistening with moisture.
Too broad-shouldered for Todd, thank God, but it could have been the hunchback of Notre Dame, his silhouette sharpening as silvery sheet lightning edged in bronze flickered behind him.
In the clammy air her skin chilled.
Then the hunch lifted away from his shoulders and she realised it was some kind of duffle bag. She pressed a fist to her mouth to stifle the hysteria rising up her throat. The bag or whatever-it-was hit the deck with a scuffed thud, then he straightened to a height and breadth rivalling her brother's and she drew back instinctively. The sound in her throat turned to a choked gasp.
She swallowed it down. Even as she told herself that it was probably a new arrival checking out the grounds, she was pulling on her dressing gown, yanking the sash tight. She pocketed the useless phone.
She could exit via the rear door near her bed, but to leave the boat she'd have to pass within a close couple of steps of him on the narrow jetty then make it past the pool to the carport, wait for the roller door to rise Safer to remain where she was.
And if he wasn't a new arrival How had he managed to get past the security-coded roller door?
Because he knew the code, right? Right. The thought was reassuring. Still, she had to force one foot in front of the other, her bare feet soundless over the linoleum as she skirted boxes and crates until she slipped on a pool of moisture that hadn't been there a couple of hours earlier. Arms flailing and swearing to herself, she came to a slippery stop in her tiny galley, gripped the edge of her equally tiny table and looked outside.
His sheer size swamped her deck. A flash of lightning revealed black clothing, bare forearms and uncompromising features. Alarmingly good-looking for a potential burglar. Vaguely familiar. Short black hair silvered with raindrops, dark stubbled square jaw. Big hands as he patted his chest then slid them down the front of his thighs as if he'd lost something.
Dangerous. The errant thought of those hands patting her own chest sent an unwelcome thrill rippling down her spine. Something shimmered at the edge of her earliest teenage memories. A guy. As out of reach and dangerous and darkly beguiling as this man.
She shook old images away. She'd been fooled by one too many tall-dark-and-handsomes to be fooled again. And this man was probably looking for his lock pick while she was standing here like a loon and letting him, when what she should have been doing was phoning the police. With her dead phone.
Her limbs went into lock-down while her slow-motion brain tried—and failed—to figure her next move. She could smell the calming scents of the jasmine candle she'd used earlier, the fresh basil she'd picked and put in a jar on the sink, the ever-present pervasive river.
Would they be her last memories before she died?
She watched, frozen, while he dug into a trouser pocket and pulled something out then stepped right up to the door.
Adrenaline spurted through her veins, propelling her into action. Reaching for the nearest object—a seashell the size of her fist—she curled stiff fingers between its reassuring spikes and stood as tall as her five feet three inches would allow.
'Go away. This is private pr—'
Her pitifully thin demand was gulped over a dry mouth when she heard the heart-stopping click of a key being turned in the lock. The door slid open and the stranger stepped inside, bumping into her brass wind chime on the way and bringing the fragrance of rain with him.
She yanked her phone from her pocket. 'No closer.' His silhouette loomed darkly as he moved and her nostrils flared at the potent smell of wet male. 'I've called the police.'
He came to an abrupt halt. She sensed surprise but no fear and she realised her voice had given her away. Female.
She lunged forward, the makeshift weapon in her other hand aimed at his throat. She felt the pressure as the shell's prongs met flesh.
Before she could draw breath, his arm blocked hers. 'Easy. I'm not going to hurt you.' His deep voice accompanied the thunder that rolled across the ocean.
'I don't know that.' And she wasn't giving him the chance.
'You're on my boat. Leave. Now.' Tightening her fist on her shell, she jabbed at him again but his forearm blocked her. It was like pushing against steel.
He made some sound, like an almost bored sigh. 'You really don't want to do that, sweet cheeks,' he muttered, disarming her as easily as drawing breath. As if he fought off women for a living. Then his hand loosened, skated down her upraised arm from wrist to elbow and she didn't doubt that was exactly what he did—and on a daily basis.
The limb that no longer seemed to belong to her remained within the heat of his hand of its own volition, while hot and cold shivers chased over her skin. 'You're on my boat,' she repeated, but it came out like more of a whisper.
'Yet I have a key.'
Before she could analyse that dryly delivered fact or think of a response, he released her, stepped sideways and flipped on the light switch. Then he raised both hands to show her he meant no harm.
She blinked as her eyes adjusted to the sudden glare. As she noticed the red mark where the shell had grazed a bronzed neck. As her brain caught up with the fact that yes, absolutely, he had a key and he'd reached for the light switch with such easy familiarity.
She sagged against the table but her partial relief was quickly chased away by a different kind of tension. He wore faded black jeans and a black sweater washed almost transparent with age. The shrunken sleeves ended halfway down thick sinewy forearms sprinkled with dark masculine hair.
Jared's mate. Her first innocent crush when she'd been nine years of age and he'd been eighteen and joined the navy. Then when he'd come home on leave after his mother's death oh, my. She'd been thirteen to his twenty-two but she'd looked at him as a woman would, dreamed of him as only a woman would and she'd kept the guilty pleasure a secret.
She doubted he'd ever looked at her other than the time she'd fallen off her skateboard trying to impress him and bloodied her nose, his whiter-than-white T-shirt and, most of all, her young pride.
Gossip had circulated. Bad boy. Black sheep. It hadn't changed the way she thought of him until eventually she heard the rumours that he'd got Janine Baker pregnant then skipped town to join the navy. In an odd way, she'd felt betrayed.
He had eyes that could turn from tropical-island blue to glacial in an instant and an intense brooding aloofness that had called to her feminine nurturing side even way back then. She'd spent a lot of time imagining what it would be like to be the focus of all that intensity.
And now maybe now he was looking at her the way she'd always wanted him to.with a definite glint of heat in those summertime eyes. But where men were concerned, she wasn't as naive now. And she wasn't looking back—not that way. Absolutely not. She wasn't thirteen any more and there was a major problem here.
'My name's Blake Everett,' he said into the silence broken only by an intermittent plop of water leaking from the roof into a plastic container on the floor. He remained where he was, hip propped easily against her counter top, his gaze skimming her too-slinky too-skimpy dressing gown and making her tingle from head to foot before meeting her eyes once more. 'I—'
'I know who you are.' Posture stiff, she resisted the urge to hug her arms across her braless breasts to hide her suddenly erect traitorous nipples. She concentrated on relaxing tense muscles. Shoulders, neck, hands. Breathe.
His gaze turned assessing, then stern, drawing her attention to the pallor beneath the tanned complexion, the heavy lines of fatigue around his eyes and mouth. But his lips They were still the most sensual lips she'd ever laid eyes on—full, firm, luscious—
'You're one up on me, then.'
At his clipped reply, she dragged her wayward eyes up to his. He didn't recognise her. Good. 'So now we're even.'
He frowned. 'How do you figure that?'
She knew him ? Ignoring the cramped muscles from the rain-lashed drive up from Surfers and the headache battering away inside his skull, Blake searched his memory while he studied her. No hardship there.
He hadn't been this close to a woman in a while, let alone one as attractive as this little redhead. After the navy's testosterone-fuelled environment, she smelled like paradise. In the yellow light her hair shone brighter than a distress flare and her eyes were the clear translucent green of a tropical lagoon, but, just as the pristine-looking beaches he routinely assessed hid potential and possibly lethal dangers, there was a storm brewing behind that gaze.
And no wonder—the old man had obviously neglected to inform her that it wasn't his boat to rent out. Ten years ago when his mother had died, Blake had bought it from him to help get his father out of debt and to secure himself a quiet and solitary place to stay when he was on leave in Australia. He'd not been back since.
'I understand if you're renting. I've been overseas and my father—'
'I'm not renting. My brother bought this boat from your dad three years ago. It belongs to our family now. This is my home so so you'll need to find somewhere else.'
'Your brother bought the boat ' He remembered the less-than-considered transaction and an ominous foreboding tracked up his spine. He should've known better than to trust a gambling addict—
Jared? The familiar name spoken in that stiletto-sharp voice sliced through his thoughts and he looked her over more thoroughly. The tousled bedroom hair, those aquamarine eyes and luxurious lips pulled down at the corners as she stared back at him. He'd lost contact with his long-time surfing buddy but he remembered the little sister.
'You're Melissa.' Still tiny in stature but all grown up and curvaceous and looking different from the kid he remembered. Disturbingly so. Blood pumped a tad faster through his veins. Don't go there.
He flicked his eyes back to hers, catching a glimpse of generous breasts and smooth ivory decolletage on the way, before she jammed her arms in front of her. He didn't miss the remnant shadows in her gaze. 'I apologise for scaring you, Melissa. I should've knocked.'
'It's Lissa now. And yes, you should have.'
Her mouth pouted in that sulky way he remembered but tonight, rather than amused, he found himself oddly captivated. 'Lissa.'
She seemed to shake off the sulk. 'Okay, you just stripped five years off my life but apology accepted. And I didn't ring the police.' She lifted one delicate shoulder and gave a wry grimace. 'Phone's dead.' She blinked up at him, still wary. 'So what are you doing here?'
'A man can't come home after fourteen years?' He didn't elaborate. Now was not the time to ponder the demons that had sent him home to re-evaluate the universe and his place and purpose in it.
She shook her head. 'I mean what are you doing here, on the houseboat?'
'I thought I owned the houseboat.' Conned by his own father. He clenched his jaw. He should have made the effort to see his old man earlier today before driving up here but he hadn't needed the inevitable angst it would've entailed.
'No. You can't ' She frowned, confusion adding to the clouds in her eyes. 'I don't understand.'
'It's a long complicated story.' He rubbed absently at the tiny scratch beneath his chin.
'I'm sorry about that.' She glanced at his throat and a pretty pink colour swam into her cheeks. 'I'll just get some—'
'Don't bother. I'm fine.'
But he didn't push the point as he watched her move to a cupboard and reach up and up Her shell-pink dressing gown grazed the tops of her thighs. Sleek, firm, creamy thighs that looked as if they'd been kissed by the sun.
Kissed. The word conjured a scenario he was better off not dwelling on but his lips tingled nonetheless. He ogled her spectacular rear without apology while she dragged out a box with assorted medication and pulled out a tube.
'This should.' She turned, catching him staring. He did not look away. It was the best view he'd seen in a long time. The colour in her cheeks intensified, bleeding into her throat. She thrust the tube at him, then, as if mortally afraid of skin contact, set it on the table beside them. 'There you go.'
She hesitated, as if finding the last minute or so discomforting in the extreme and determined to banish it from her mind, then said, 'Your long complicated story I'm listening.'
He let out a slow breath, then said, 'Tomorrow I'll go back to Surfers, sort it out with Dad then discuss it with Jared. It'll be okay,' he assured her. He'd reimburse his old friend for the money he'd paid and help Melissa—Lissa—find alternative accommodation.
'It'll be okay, how? Jared purchased the boat when your father sold the home in Surfers and moved south. New South Wales, I think. No one knows exactly.'
It didn't come as a surprise. He acknowledged being left to discover the news about his father's apparent disappearance through another party with a shrug. 'I guess I already knew that.'
He'd paid his father cash for the boat the day he left
Australia, but he'd not actually signed anything and the paperwork had never followed as promised.
When Blake had rung to query it, he discovered the phones had been disconnected and the emails began bouncing back The old man hadn't been above using his son to suit his own purposes. Again, no surprise there.
Posted February 20, 2012