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The woman in the white bikini needed rescuing.
Daeg Ross pulled his Harley into an empty spot along the strip of sand and killed the motor. The parking job put him close enough to make out the white crocheted pattern of the tiny top she sported. Her face was turned away, lost in a sheet of honey-colored hair, but the fabric of her suit cupped her breasts, creating an illusion of bare skin that had him wanting to get closer.
He was rotten for noticing, but she was so sexy standing there on the beach. Besides, he wasn't deadyetwhich was pure luck given how his last tour of duty had ended, so he'd looked. Twice. Sue him.
She wasn't glancing his way, anyhow. She had her feet planted in the sand and her eyes on the ocean. The water started crystal clear, but picked up color as the bottom dropped away beneath the surface, though he didn't think she'd stopped to admire the view. The set of her shoulders made her seem somehow lost. Unsure.
Like she had no idea how she'd ended up on a beach or what she should do now that she was here, despite the swimsuit.
No more rushing to the rescue. Remember?
Parking beside him, Tag Johnson whistled. He pulled off his helmet and switched off the engine of his own Harley. "Now, there's a sight a man doesn't see every day."
Cal Brennan, the third in today's unofficial club, clearly didn't disagree. "Real pretty, Johnson." A fellow former rescue swimmer, Cal Brennan didn't miss much, but right now, his focus was all horizon. Daeg's gaze followed Cal's out to sea.
The latest storm kicking up over the Pacific was still working her way toward shore, but the sky was already overcast with dark clouds moving in. The flight ceiling was dropping by the second. The weather boys hadn't announced the arrival of the first tropical storm of the summer yet, but Daeg could read the signs. A storm was blowing in, fast and hard.
That storm was all business.
All three of themDaeg, Tag and Calwere former spec ops, the heart and soul of a combat rescue team stationed in San Diego, California, that had seen more than its share of missions. After they'd survived the navy's BUD/S training and Hell Week, they'd been each other's eyes and ears. They'd fought together and swum together, always on the alert and ready to roll out with a mere moment's notice. After that last tour, though, Cal had cashed out and returned to Discovery Island, the small hideaway off Northern California where he'd been born and raised. Cal might not be in the business of search and rescue for Uncle Sam anymore, but he'd started Deep Dive, an elite private company specializing in just that. The business also brought in divers from around the world for advanced training. So when Cal had accidentally overbooked, Daeg hadn't had to think too long or too hard about the request to pitch in. He was all in.
And just in case the teaching got boring, Cal was putting together a volunteer dive-rescue team for the island to handle anything that went baddiving accidents, boating mishaps, capsizing and the like. Since the nearest dive team was twenty miles away, located on the mainland where a fire department ran a parttime operation, Cal wanted his island to have its own team that would provide a faster, better response. From the looks of that sky, they'd be busy sooner rather than later.
"I don't know about you, but I'm heading back to base." Brennan kicked the cycle into gear. Base was the dive shop they'd rebuilt into a command center for their training and search-and-rescue business. "Get ready before the storm hits"
Tag whistled low, still eyeing the dark horizon. "You in, Daeg? We'll check the gear, go over protocols."
Tag gripped the handlebars, clearly anticipating some action. Those sure hands knew every inch of the Seahawk he'd put up in the air when an emergency call came in. He'd coax a smooth ride from the chopper, drive her beneath the cloud ceiling like he was taking a walk in the park. He needed the adrenaline rush of the flight, the urgency of pitting himself against the wind and the water every bit as much as Daeg did.
Daeg himself hadn't been back to Discovery Island since he'd enlisted ten years ago, had told himself he didn't miss the place, but now he wasn't ready to leave. Something about that woman teased his memory. His senses.
"Daeg's got his eye on somethingsomeoneelse," Cal teased. "Man's on a whole different mission."
In response, he made a rude gesture, waving off Tag and Cal.
They weren't wrong.
He slipped off his helmet and steadied the bike. The bike sank slightly into the hot asphalt. The sun had heated the island thoroughly, but even the California summer gave ground when the rays left and the ocean breeze kicked in. Fastening the helmet to the seat, he bent down and started unlacing his boots. Maybe he'd take a walk, see where it led him.
He had at least an hour to burn before the rain came.
And he was in the mood to forget. He wanted to flirt a little. Maybe get to know the pretty beachcomber if she was interested. After the past couple of months, he needed a bit of sweet oblivion.
When he'd been in the navy, storms always meant trouble. Someone, somewhere, would need a rescue, the H-60 would go up and his team would hit the water. No matter how dangerous that water got, he didn't leave until the rescue happened.
Usually, he exhausted himself physically and then sleep followed. But lately the dreams had been getting worse, as if his mind was just plain done forgetting what had happened on that final tour. The pills the doctor had given him weren't an option as far as he was concerned. Too many good soldiers went that route and never came back. That last mission had messed with his head enoughhe didn't need a chemical assist.
So his options were working his butt off until he droppedwhich his injured knee protested vociferouslyor finding himself a woman. His gaze slewed right to the woman in the bikini before he could censor that last thought. Behind him the cheerful noise of the island's boardwalk picked up as the tourists toweled off or suited up for a predinner stroll. There were plenty of women around, checking out the beach, some scantily clad but somewhere, somehow, he'd lost the urge for a mindless, anonymous hookup. Maybe he'd feel different by the end of the summer yet right now, with his R & R stretching out in front of him, he just felt empty.
The ocean kept calling his name like always and he couldn't imagine staying put. He shuddered at the thought of going all white picket fence with a nine-to-five job.
Good luck with that.
Before he could change his mind, his boots landed beside the bike and he rolled up the jeans. Since his inner stalker was anxious to get better acquainted with Ms. White And Crochet, he'd give in to temptation.
Take the chance.
"That's a real nice sunset," he said when he was standing behind her, because apparently, this was the night to trot out every lame line known to mankind. Hell. He was rustier at the social-skills thing than the newest recruit.
Her head shot up and she almost jumped at the sound of his voice, her hands getting a death grip on her canvas tote. As he got his first full-on look at her face, he realized he was in trouble here.
He knew this face, knew this woman. Danielle Andrews. His Dani.
Catching her elbow with his hand, he made sure she didn't fall.
She was still gorgeous. Even more so than she had been the last time he'd surprised her on the beach. Then, the feel of her skin against his calloused hands had been like satin. She'd been everything that was fine, and he'd known she couldn't possibly be meant for him.
"You startled me." She stared at him and, yeah, his body remembered her easily, was already yearning for a second touch from her. Dani's face was still all-American pretty, with her wide eyes and that shoulder-length, honey-brown hair. She'd parted it down the center into two neat sections, and he got the feeling he could run his hands through those silky strands for hours. If she let him. Her hands eased up on the bag some as recognition and shock played out on her pretty features, so maybe there was a little hope for him. He released her elbow before she got the wrong idea.
She wasn't a stranger, but he had no business touching her.
"You're still here," he blurted out before he could stop himself. That was the story of his life, though, leap headfirst into danger. Of course, here he'd been too busy feeling sorry for himself and admiring a beautiful woman.
Standing there on the beach, staring up at him, Dani Andrews looked confused, as if she wasn't sure if she wanted to haul off and hit himor if she'd decided he wasn't worth the bother. She certainly knew who he was. After all, she'd come over from the mainland and spent every summer at her grandparents' place for as long as he'd been on the island. She'd worked at the ice cream joint at the end of the boardwalk, making cones, and he'd eaten his weight in ice cream just for the excuse to chat her up some. Those brown eyes of hers looked decidedly less friendly by the minute, her head already shaking back and forth. Or maybe that was the effect of the wind picking up as the storm offshore gathered steam.
"Daeg Ross," she said and, from the way she pronounced his name, she was still plenty upset about how their last encounter ended ten years ago.
He, meanwhile, still wanted to kiss her, and that was the problem, wasn't it?
He'd already kissed herjust onceall those years ago, not too far from this very spot. Fresh out of the search-and-rescue training program, he'd had two weeks' leave before he shipped out to the Middle East. Cal's family had been the closest thing to family Daeg hadhis own father had never been part of the picture and he'd lost his mother in a car accident a few years before. So when his leave came up, returning to Discovery Island had seemed natural.
It had been prom night when he'd last seen Dani, and she'd been seventeentoo young for the likes of him, ice cream aside. He hadn't been the one to take her to promshe hadn't asked and honestly, he didn't even know if she knew his name, although he'd caught her looking at him a few times. Prom night he'd found her walking alone on the beach. She hadn't started out the evening alone and they both knew it.
One look at her sad, disappointed face and he'd broken every rule in his book right then and there.
She still wanted to kiss him.
Daeg Ross had dropped into her lap like a gift from the gods. Dani Andrews snuck a peek at his hard face. The gods of war, maybe. Daeg Ross was a bad boy through and through. He wanted something from her and she didn't have to be a genius to figure out what that something was. The slow glide of his hot gaze over her made his interest clear, as did the warm smile that lit up his eyes until they were crinkling with amusement. He'd done a number on her seventeen-year-old self, and apparently the experienced soldier could be even more lethal.
He'd let go of her, but that light touch of his fingers still burned against her skin. There was a military tattoo on his wrist, and he seemed tougher and stronger, almost impervious to the growing chill in the air. It was getting more and more dark, and a mean wind was turning the usually flat surface of the bay into tiny whitecaps and raising goose bumps on her arms. It wasn't bikini weather but this was her vacation, damn it. This was supposed to be her honeymoon.
Her fingers caught the ties on the sides of her bikini bottom and she noticed his gaze dipping to the sight, betraying him. And then he brought his focus back up slowly to her face. For once, her big, tough navy man was showing some emotion. Surprise. He hadn't expected to find her here of all places.
He'd walked away from her once, breaking her heart in the process, and the irony of it was he hadn't even known. He'd seen a young girl on a beach and after giving her a kiss she'd never forget, he'd run like hell. Back to the military. Away from her.
She'd gotten over him, moved on. Now he was merely a memory. She swallowed. Unfortunately, he was still too darn sexy. Her older self appreciated what she was seeing, even more than what her younger self had. His face had matured. It was stamped with experience, and those eyes of his were intense and knowing. Confident. He was a man who made things happen, forced the world around him to change. It was all too easy to imagine him diving out of a rescue chopper and into wild, turbulent waters. He'd cut through the churn effortlessly like he had everything else in his path, because she'd never met a man so focused or determined.
She'd grown up, too, though. She'd left the island behind her and earned her finance degree from UCLA. She'd analyzed risks for Fortune 500 companies and then suggested ways to manage those risks, earning her way to the top of the consulting firm she worked for.
Right now, however, the biggest risk of all was standing in front of her, and she refused to let him leave her tongue-tied. "Hello, Daeg."
"Dani." Her name was a rough growl on his lips. Was that a hint of something deeper in those watchful eyes of his? He was eyeing her, she realized, like she was dangerous.
The sensation was intoxicating.
She hated how anger and desire competed inside her, leaving her uncertain and wanting. Mostly, she wanted to leave him standing there alone on the beach. Daeg Ross was wicked temptation, but as she reminded herself again, she'd grown up a long time ago. Maybe this meeting was a chance encounter, a handful of seconds soon over. But then his eyes were taking in her body, making her insides clench with need, and that definitely made her mad. How could he just look at her and the years fell away?
She wanted more. More memories. She should be the one to leave this time, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. He'd upended her whole world ten years ago with a simple kiss, but she still hadn't learned her lesson.