After two years in hiding, Angela Taylor knows her independence is worth it. As long as she can escape her past, she has everything under control. Until a flash flood hits the park where she works, and hot Chris Forrester shows up the exact moment she needs a hero.
Chris proves he can save livesand weaken a girl's knees. But how can she make him understand that she's off-limits, that getting close to her will endanger his life? Her happiness or his safety: it shouldn't even be a choice. Because when you love someone, you protect them, no matter the cost. At least, that's what Angela keeps telling herself .
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Chris Forrester stared into the amber depths of his whiskey glass and gave a wry smile. The irony was painful. Drowning his sorrows in liquor. What a bloody cliche. He needed to get a grip. So his fiancée had been sleeping with another man for seven months. Get over it. He wouldn't be the first bloke to have his heart ripped out and slammed onto the public spike of humiliation.
He lifted his glass to his lips and surveyed the circumference of the club room. When he'd arrived at the pretty English holiday destination yesterday, the park had taken him by surprise. His memories of old-fashioned trailers and sad swing sets from his youth were sorely outdated. The mobile homes the holidaymakers rented at the Good Time Holiday Park were brand-new and ultradeluxe.
State-of-the-art stoves, power showers and plush sofas meant when visitors returned after dancing the night away at park-run events or eating in the five-star restaurant onsite, they relaxed in luxury. Chris shook his head. Even the staff weren't entirely uneasy on the eye. He met the steady gaze of the park's manager over the rim of his glass.
She arched an eyebrow and pulled her clipboard against her chest. "You still here?"
He lowered his glass onto the bar. "Yep. So are you."
She smiled. "I work here. What's your excuse?"
He took a moment to appreciate this beautiful woman. Her eyes were huge. Huge and brown. Not boring brown.
They were light like caramel. Thick and dark, her hair fell down her back in waves highlighted with gold. And her figure? Chris resisted the urge to shake his head a second time. Outstanding. He leaned against the low back of the barstool.
"What's a woman like you doing hiding away in a holiday park?"
Her smile faltered. "A woman like me?"
He raised his hands in surrender. "It's not a pickup line. I was just wondering. You should be out there enjoying yourself."
"I should, huh? What do you suggest I should be doing exactly?"
He grinned and took another sip of whiskey. "You should be an air hostess. Traveling the world, wearing one of those sexy fitted suits that show off more than a name tag and serving me a drink on a silver platter."
She rolled her eyes and smiled. "My God, you're not a guy ready for the twenty-first century, are you?"
Chris laughed. "Nothing wrong with fancying a bit of the old days."
"Of course not as long as you don't lose a handle on reality." She smiled. "Please tell me you don't think girls get together and have pillow fights in their underwear, then, after a couple of drinks, can't resist making out?"
He forced his smile into submission and covered his ears. "Don't say it. Don't spoil the dream."
She shook her head. "You need help." She turned and approached the bartender.
Chris dropped his hands and curled them around his glass.
In a different world where his heart hadn't taken a bashing and his ego wasn't entirely flattened, he would have asked her out. Or maybe at least asked her name. As it was, neither would be happening anytime soon.
Dragging his gaze to her butt, Chris smiled. Goddamn.
Her pencil skirt clung to her perfect ass like a second skin. He drained his drink and glanced toward the floor-to-ceiling windows of the clubhouse. The rain still came down in torrents as it had all day. It ran in rivulets down the glass, blurring the sway of the pine trees surrounding the huge swimming pool in the distance.
Before he'd arrived, "sunny" Templeton Cove had been sweltering and then this rain came from nowhere. A freak storm that hadn't let up since ten that morning.
"I'd head back to your trailer if I were you." Her voice turned his head.
"No, thanks. Nothing about heading back alone to a mobile home appeals to me right now."
She looked to the window. "It's supposed to get worse. I'd make a run for it." She stared past his shoulder. "I'm just about to tell everyone the club is closing for the night. I don't want to have to worry about my guests getting back to their accommodations safely."
"You're the girl in charge, then?"
She met his eyes, a flicker of pride making them more striking than ever. "I'm the manager."
Of course, he already knew that. Asked a few questions of the bartender the minute she walked in. "Been here long?"
Her gaze lingered on his and two spots of color darkened her cheeks. She looked at her clipboard. "Long enough."
Chris stared at her bowed head. The temptation to ask what he'd said wrong hovered in his whiskey-slick conscience. No. He didn't need to know. None of his damn business. He'd only just met the woman. She didn't need him nosing into her private life.
She lifted her head and her smile was back in place. "So, are you heading back? I don't want anyone stranded in here."
Chris gestured toward the rest of the room. "Worry about them, not me. I can handle myself in water."
She met his gaze. "You can, huh?"
"Ah, now it makes sense." He frowned. "What does?"
"I saw you swimming length after length yesterday. Thought you were going to break the world record or you were trying to outswim something."
Their gazes locked. Chris's stomach knotted. Far too much sympathy shone back at him. Or was it empathy? He stared past her.
"I like to swim. Nothing more. Nothing less."
He opened his mouth to respond but she was already walking away. He shifted uncomfortably. Was it tattooed on his head he was running away? Did she guess he was that guy? The guy who ran when things got tough. He clenched his jaw. She was the manager of a holiday park. It was her job to talk to everyone and anyone. Even the waste of space drinking at the bar. She was a nice woman. A sexy woman.
When her gaze was turned on him, nothing but goodness shone from her. Her personality screamed kindness and consideration. Chris frowned as the phrase "too good to be true" filtered through his mind.
He turned on the stool. She worked the room, talking to one guest after another. Her hand at their elbow, she subtly eased people to their feet. Men hurriedly finished their pints and mothers ushered their children from the dance floor and fought them into jackets. All of them smiled. No trouble. No arguments. Her looks and her body weren't to be dismissed, but Chris guessed it was the soft concern in her gaze that got the guests to their feet.
Chris stood and shrugged into his jacket. He grinned as she moved to yet another young family. Definitely another time, another place. Right now, he needed to leave. His loneliness was heavier than ever and he didn't want to make a fool of himself by saying the words that battled on his tongue to her. Words like "come back with me" and "spend the night."
Shaking his head, he walked to the double glass doors and stepped outside. He pulled up the collar of his jacket and ducked his head. The rain came down like God was trying to wash away His sorrows.
Angela Taylor locked the door behind the final family and looked around the empty clubhouse. She'd sent the bartender home, too, safe in the knowledge she only had herself to worry about. People would undoubtedly be wet, but they'd be safe and warm in their beds by now. Her task for the night was done.
She walked to the bar. The guy with the dark sandy hair and gorgeously intense hazel eyes had gone, his empty glass left on its coaster. She picked it up. It was strange how his smile knotted her stomach. She'd forgotten how the first whispers of attraction felt. Not that it mattered. It didn't change anything. Didn't mean she could get to know him and risk everything unraveling from its tight and safe knot of survival. Angela swallowed. She needed to keep the knot intact, otherwise everything would come undone. Robert would find her. If he found her, he'd killed her.
Nausea rose bitter in her throat and Angela's vision blurred. She marched behind the bar. Her hands shook as she loaded the glass into the dishwasher. She took a cloth hanging by the sink and wiped down the bar, tidied the lemons and limes in their glass container and swept the narrow tiled space. When she had nothing else to keep her there, she took the keys from her blazer pocket and headed for the door.
The rain was an opaque sheet in front of her, gray and relentless. Angela stared. It was so heavy and thick, she couldn't see three feet ahead. She lifted her blazer above her head like a makeshift umbrella, took a deep breath and made a run for it. When she reached the reception building, she pushed open the door. Two members of the staff were on duty to oversee the check-in desk until morning. Inexplicable tension skittered along Angela's nerves as she turned to stare again at the rain.
She shivered and cussed the fat drop of rain that slithered down her neck as she lowered her blazer.
"Hi, Angela." Yvonne smiled from behind the desk. "I heard you emptied the clubhouse. I bet that didn't go down well."
Angela lifted her hand dismissively. "They were fine. I told people there was a chance the storm could get worse and they moved along soon enough."
"Worse?" Yvonne glanced toward the windows. "I don't see how it can."
Angela followed her gaze. "I'm sure it will slow down. I just needed to know everyone was home safe and not wandering around the park." She walked past the desk and toward the office behind it. "I'd better print off the guest list, just in case. I won't be long and then I'm heading home." She hesitated. "Will you be okay here tonight?"
Yvonne turned back to the papers in front of her. "Sure we will. No worries."
Still feeling uneasy, Angela walked into the office, shut the door and headed for the computer. She slung her wet blazer over the back of the chair. The next ten minutes passed with her locating the latest list of guests and holidaymakers and printing it off. She moved the cursor over the screen, preparing to shut down and stopped. The guy at the bar came to mind. Her gaze shot to the closed office door.
Guilt tiptoed up her spine. The need to find out how long he'd be staying at the park took over her common sense. She swallowed. Common sense was her middle name.
"Don't do it. Don't do it," she mumbled and brought up the booking information spreadsheet.
She'd spotted him the day before. He was the type of guy any girl with a pulse noticed. Especially when he walked around wearing nothing but black shorts. Heat warmed her cheeks as Angela passed her fingers over the keyboard. She typed in a request that brought up all the new arrivals from the day before.
Only one person checked in alone. Chris Forrester. She leaned closer to the screen. He'd booked in for four weeks, until July 25. A month. Interesting. She leaned back and stared at his name. He intrigued her. Why was he here? Why would a guy come alone to somewhere like Templeton Cove? It was a holiday place. A seaside town. Judging by the way Chris Forrester scowled into his whiskey glass he wasn't there to enjoy the beach or array of ice-cream flavors. Could he have something to do with Robert?
Her gaze shot to the calendar pinned to the wall above her desk. The anniversary of Robert's release from prison loomed. Had he found her? Sent someone to the Cove to follow her? Torment her? Nausea rose bitter in her throat. She squeezed her eyes shut. No. She would not do this.
Revulsion for Robert rose up inside her and Angela snapped her eyes open.
Damn you to hell. You will not do this to me. Not anymore.
Shutting down the file, she stood. She was being stupid. Paranoid. Plain and simple. She'd felt zero need to look into any guy's background for a very long time, and she wouldn't let Robert taint her interest. Chris had been nothing but nice to her. Which was exactly why she was looking now. The fact niggled at her conscience. Silly girl. Leave the guy alone. Didn't she know more than most how it felt to want the curious to turn the other cheek?
Angela whipped her blazer from the back of her chair. None of her business.
She left her office and walked back through the reception area. "Right. I'm off. I'll see you in the morning. Any problems, give me a call on my cell." She glanced toward the window. The night sky was black and rain ran like a stream down the glass.
"Everything's under control." Yvonne gestured toward the door. "Stop worrying. See you tomorrow."
Angela stared for a moment longer before she took a deep breath. "Okay. See you tomorrow."
She pushed open the door and headed outside.
Angela lived a fifteen-minute drive from the holiday park, and getting there was like running a gauntlet. Her nerves were stretched to breaking and her neck ached with tension as she fumbled her key into the lock of her rented house and let herself in. The rain hammered against the French doors as she kicked her ruined high-heeled shoes into a corner and hung her sodden blazer on a hook behind the door. She lifted her dripping hair from her face and neck, shivering as icy-cold rivulets ran down her cheeks. Coldness seeped into her bones as she headed upstairs and into her en suite bathroom. She needed a hot shower.
Undressing as the water heated, Angela caught sight of herself in the mirror and laughed. She looked like a zombie, with her hair hanging in rats' tails and mascara streaked down her face. Stepping under the welcome heat, she reached for the shampoo.
Chris Forrester snuck once more into her mind. His eyes were sad, his smile forced. What happened to make such a handsome man look that way? She tipped her head back, letting the water run over her face as unease rippled through her.
He wasn't there for her. She was sure of it. The look in his eyes was universal. Instantly recognizable. At least to her. He was running, too. She doubted he ran for his life as she did, but he was definitely running. Who holidayed in a small seaside town in Devon, England, for a whole month? Nobody. Questions stormed in her head. Questions she had no business asking. He'd paid in full, up front. He was clearly there for the duration.
She opened her eyes and stared ahead at the tiled wall. Chris Forrester.
The surname seemed familiar and not just because of the hundreds of guests who had passed through the park over the two years she'd been there. She knew of another Forrester. She was sure of it. Angela shook her head, the recollection escaping her. Turning off the shower, she stepped out and wrapped a towel around her hair, another around her body.
The familiarity of his name continued to badger her consciousness as she dried off and pulled on a pair of pajamas. Ten minutes later, with the rain still lashing against the window, Angela walked into the kitchen and flicked on the kettle. There was little chance of sleep until the rain eased off. Time for a trashy novel and a cup of tea.
The kitchen clock showed eleven-fifteen.