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"There's a naked man in the swimming pool."
Annie O'Toole didn't turn her head.
Smiling, she watched her assistant bend closer to the telescope positioned by the broad glass windows of Summerwind Resort and Beach Club.
Every inch of it was hers, from the high flagstone terraces to the windswept beach. And as far as Annie was concerned, work outweighed any male body--naked or not.
"Trust me, Megan, he isn't naked."
Her assistant squinted harder. "Wait, I'm serious here. I can't tell if that's his butt or his--"
Annie reached across and covered the lens. "That's not a naked man, that's Mr. Harkowitz from room thirty-one. He always wears a flesh-colored suit for the shock value."
Annie's assistant gave up in disgust. "From what I saw, Mr. Harkowitz doesn't have a whole lot to shock with."
"The man's pushing ninety, so give him a break. And if the naked-body scare is over, maybe we could get back to work." Annie stared down the length of the table. Her staff was excellent, and she paid them well. Each one was experienced, fit, and enthusiastic. Annie knew she was lucky to have them.
But lately they made her feel . . .
Stupid, of course. Annie wasn't even thirty. There was no earthly reason she should feel as if her life were stuck on the pause button.
She cleared her throat. "We've got new arrivals in the Santa Barbara Suite. They'll need lavender salt glow scrub and our signature candles. Repeat guests in rooms twenty-two through thirty-five. Remember the daily flower arrangements. And put out edible chocolate body paint for the honeymooners in the Monterey Suite."
Ignoring an off-color comment, Annie shoved back a strand of cinnamon-colored hair, once again struck by the sense that life was passing her by.
She drove away the thought. "Heather, what about the new inversion equipment?"
"Up and running." Her Pilates trainer, a twenty-year-old with impossibly small thighs, snapped to attention. "They're fully booked."
Annie made a note in her book and moved on. "Zoe, what about the organic produce?"
Her chef shrugged. "The new beds are thriving. We'll have lettuce and baby carrots before the end of the month. But . . ."
Annie crossed another item off her list. "Is there a problem?"
"The new basil is ruined."
Annie's eyes narrowed. "Vandals?"
"Rabbits." The chef drummed her fingers on the country pine table. "Damned sneaking little things."
Annie fought back a smile. Somehow rabbits didn't seem like a particularly earthshaking threat. "Try more netting. I'll have Reynaldo take a look after lunch." She made another quick note, then moved on. "Marty, what about the problems with the new whirlpool overlooking the beach?"
Chairs creaked. Annie glanced up, searching for her chief engineer. "Where's Marty?"
Across the table Zoe cleared her throat. "Remember how he wanted to clear that brush near the garden?"
"Don't tell me the rabbits got him, too."
"Not rabbits, poison ivy. Full body. The man's blown up like a radioactive radish."
Annie blew out a breath and scribbled another reminder on her list. "I'll go see Marty as soon as we finish up. Meanwhile, we need that new whirlpool ready for evening treatments, and all the landscaping has to be in place." She stared out the window, watching a lone surfer tackle a pounding wave out beyond the cove.
For a moment she yearned to be there beside him, feeling the sun, face to the wind.
Or maybe on a sleek boat with sails unfurled.
No, she couldn't think about that. Not ever again.
She stared blindly at her leather notebook. "Let's phone the company in Monterey, Megan. See if they can send someone to check the whirlpool installation."
"Sure thing, boss."
Boss? The word had never bothered Annie before, but now she winced.
Could you have a midlife crisis at twenty-seven?
"Tell them to send more than one crew. Considering what we paid for that whirlpool and the new flagstone terrace, they should send three crews." Annie's eyes lit with mischief. "Tell them if the installation's not done by tomorrow, I'll have to cancel the order for new flagstone around the saltwater therapy pools."
"They'll go nuts," her assistant warned.
"I certainly hope so." Annie's smile grew. "Remember, no deadline, no flagstone."
Megan gave a thumbs-up. "I'm on it, boss."
Annie tried not to wince. After all, she was the boss.
As the manager of thirty-five glass-and-adobe guesthouses and a striking resort set on California's rugged coast, she was used to bearing heavy responsibility. Summerwind was a family legacy, and three generations of O'Tooles had lived above its magic beach.
Since Annie had taken over the management of the resort after her parents' deaths four years before, her flare for innovation had garnered a string of awards. She had turned Summerwind into an intimate but elegant home away from home, where harried guests could linger on a quiet beach and feel their stress melt away. Hollywood celebrities and sports stars made semiannual visits, knowing their privacy was assured. Annie was famous for her attention to details and her high standard of personal service, which resulted in a nine-month waiting list and a fanatic clientele.
All in all, life was good.
But sometimes she did wish she had a private life.
She suppressed a sigh as her summer receptionist burst into the conference room. "We've almost finished here, Liz."
"No, you have to come now. It's him."
The receptionist, a third-year drama student at Berkeley, gestured outside. "I saw him on the television. When I saw what he was doing, I thought I would die. I mean absolutely expire right in front of the television."
Annie rolled her shoulders. It was only 9:22. Why should she suddenly crave a king-size double cappuccino? "Sorry, Liz, I don't understand."
"You will. It's him. He's on a bus."
Annie sat back in her chair. "Who is on a bus?"
"That man, the one who was here last month. At least I think it's him."
Annie felt a sharp stab of pain. "You must be mistaken. Sam's down in Mexico."
"I don't think so. I just saw him on a bus full of schoolchildren." Liz gestured again, her big hoop earrings swaying madly. "Come see for yourself."
Annie heard the excited staccato of voices from the television out in her office. "Where is he?"
"D.C. The bus is zigzagging up Pennsylvania Avenue, four miles from the White House, completely out of control. The driver might have had a heart attack. Then he appeared--poof! It's like some kind of miracle."
With the rest of her staff, Annie raced for the television, where an aerial news camera focused on a bus careening through crowded city streets.
A solitary figure crawled along the yellow roof.
"That's him," the receptionist whispered. "I'm sure he's your man from the beach. Sam."
The word tore through Annie, reopening jagged memories.
It couldn't be. Sam was in Mexico.
"He's almost at the front of the bus. If he can't get to the wheel, those kids are goners."
Annie sank into the nearest chair, mesmerized by the bus's wild swerving. She stiffened as she saw the man stretched out on the roof.
"They think he's Navy," the receptionist said.
"Navy?" Sam wasn't in the Navy. He was on a boat headed to Mexico.
It had to be a mistake. Why would her rich, charming drifter with a new yacht turn up on a school bus in Washington?
"He's in dress whites." Annie's chef bent closer to the television. "Definitely Navy, and the man knows what he's doing. In two more feet he'll be above the driver's window. I think he's trying to get inside and take the wheel. You didn't say Sam was in the Navy, Annie."
Because she hadn't known until that moment.
The receptionist pushed closer. "Why don't they just shoot out the tires?"
"Because the bus is going too fast. I used to work in a school cafeteria," the chef said tensely. "If that's a city school bus, it doesn't have seat belts, and those kids would be tossed around like human cannonballs."
Annie shuddered. A news helicopter flashed by, circling low to capture the strained features of the unknown man on the top of the bus. In the brutal clarity of a telephoto lens, Annie saw him look up.
Keen eyes somewhere between blue and gray.
A powerful jaw and a scar above his mouth.
"Oh, my God, it is Sam." Zoe locked her hands. "It really is your friend from the cove."
Annie couldn't seem to focus. She blinked and looked again, fighting disbelief.
Sam was supposed to be sailing somewhere off the coast of Mexico, enjoying a long vacation after selling his Internet company. He'd told her that very clearly.
But cameras didn't lie.
So what was going on?
She barely noticed her nails digging into her palm as the helicopter swung low for a tighter shot. Now there was no mistaking that lean face and hard jaw. The sexy stubble was gone, but it was definitely Sam fighting his way across the roof of the swerving bus.
"He's falling!" Annie shot to her feet.
Annie's chef squinted at the set. "No, he's going for the open window."
Suddenly the bus lurched sideways. Annie could barely watch as the man in the white uniform clung to the side of the bus and clawed his way forward.
The bus straightened abruptly, clearing a line of parked cars by mere inches. Without warning, all of the children vanished.
"What happened?" Annie pressed a hand against her chest, breathing hard. "Where did they go?"
"He must have told them to brace against their knees, the way you do before an airplane crash."
That made sense. Annie joined in the wild applause as the bus held steady, joined by a phalanx of D.C. police cars with sirens flashing.
But the chorus of cheers was cut short as the aerial news camera panned north, where a wall of concrete cut across the highway.
Annie heard the reporter explain that all traffic was being detoured up the side ramp. Sam had to stop the bus fast. Otherwise . . .
Otherwise he and his young passengers were headed into a deadly blockade of cement and construction girders.
Annie closed her eyes, feeling faint.
Zoe squeezed her shoulder. "You want a glass of water or something?"
"I'll--be fine." Annie opened her eyes. "How far to the construction area?"
"About a mile. The police are stacking sandbags in case your friend can't stop the bus, but at the rate they're traveling . . ."
There was no need to finish.
Annie pressed a shaky hand to her chest as if she could hold off her terror. Suddenly the screen cut to a close-up. Sam was wedged inside the front window now, and he was pulling something from behind the driver's seat.
A hockey stick.
He was trying to reach the brake pedal, she realized.
The announcer was nearly drowned out by the shriek of sirens and the cries of bystanders lining the streets. "With less than a mile to go, the police are extremely concerned," he said grimly. "At its current rate of speed, I'm told the bus has about three minutes until impact."
So little time, Annie thought.
It would take a miracle to save Sam and those children.
"He's done it!" Coverage switched to a reporter in a news helicopter circling the scene. "The bus is finally starting to slow down. Ladies and gentlemen, I think we're watching a miracle take place here in Washington. A real miracle."
The bus lurched into its final turn.
The cement wall lay dead ahead.
"He's still going too fast," the reporter said shrilly.
Annie stood frozen, caught in a nightmare. She watched the hockey stick jerk free. With a desperate kick the man in the uniform jammed the stick down again. As he did, Annie got a good look at his face--and the bright stain covering his right arm.
"He's bleeding," she whispered.
Suddenly the bus lurched.
The big wheels dug in hard, laying skid marks against the gray roadbed. The bus bucked in a wild dance, its rusted body screaming as smoke poured from the engine. In a cloud of dust and smoke, it flashtailed sharply, then slammed to a halt with one tire wedged against the half-built wall of cement and girders.
The force of the impact threw the officer backward, shattering the side window. He flew into the air, tossed over the bus, his powerful body twisting as he fought to control the fall.
But there was no chance at any kind of control. He struck the edge of a girder, then slammed down onto a row of scattered sandbags, his arms at an unnatural angle.
Blood welled up, staining his face and covering his torn uniform. The news camera captured every detail.
"No," Annie whispered. "He's not moving."
No one spoke.
Don't be dead, Sam. Please, please open your eyes.
But the hero in the torn uniform didn't move.
"Is he alive?" she rasped.
Even the announcer was silent, stricken by the life-and-death struggle played out in grim detail.
"Is he?" she demanded, her whole body shaking.
She fought to breathe, but the air felt hot and thick. Then her legs went weak and the floor simply wasn't there.
Annie opened her eyes slowly and inhaled.
Why was she lying down in the middle of the day? And why was she stretched out on the couch with her staff crowded around her?
Her confusion grew as she tried to sit up. She heard voices, sirens, the drone of helicopters.
Suddenly she remembered.
She struggled to see the television. "What happened to Sam? Is he--"
"Calm down." Zoe held out a glass of water. "Drink this and take a deep breath. You're sheet white."
"Tell me!" Annie wobbled toward the television, where an ambulance raced through crowded streets, trailed by a full police motorcade. "Is he alive?"
"No one knows. At least they're not saying."
Swaying, Annie reached for the corner of the couch. "What about the children?"
Reynaldo, her maintenance chief, answered. "Upset, but all safe, thanks to that man in the white uniform." His eyes narrowed on Annie. "He is the one who was here before, but he never spoke of the Navy. Was he on leave?"
"I don't know, Reynaldo." Annie's eyes locked on the television. "Someone must know. What are the news people saying?"
"Not much. There's a complete blackout." Her chef frowned. "Why didn't Sam tell you he was in the Navy?"
Annie stared at the ambulance, her heart racing right along with the swift wheels.
She hadn't known Sam was in the Navy. She hadn't known he was going to Washington. He'd said very little about himself, shifting the talk to his boat and the weather and the voyage ahead of him. Annie hadn't pressed for information, since it was clear he wasn't going to be staying long.