Lily Price is not your typical damsel in distress. Infidelity, infertility, and downsizing provide a triple threat to her ego, but falling into the swollen river nearly ends her life. If not for the handsome stranger—make that two handsome strangers—she might not have had a chance at having a baby by any means necessary . . .
As Carson helps Lily overcome her fear of the river, she helps him save his rafting business from going under. She also saves him from abandoning all that is important to him in order to get a taste of freedom. Together they find that love is the ultimate adventure.
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A Swift River Romance
By Kristina Mathews
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Kristina Mathews
All rights reserved.
"Man this water's really pumping." Carson Swift hiked a few steps ahead of his twin brother, Cody. His feet landed firmly on the familiar trail to Hidden Creek, but his thoughts were a million miles away. Make that eight hundred miles, give or take, depending on whether he took Highway 50 or Interstate 80 through Nevada. "With the water this high, I don't think we'll catch a lot of fish."
"Good thing we have steaks in the fridge." You'd think he was nine, not twenty-nine, by the way Cody trotted along excitedly, skittering small bits of gravel along the well-worn path. He was too damn happy with his life. "We're not pulling anything out of the river today."
"At least it's finally warming up." What a coward. Carson had dragged his brother out here to have a serious conversation. Instead, he was discussing water conditions. The weather.
"I thought winter would never end." Cody would probably still catch a fish or two. He had that kind of luck. Women and trout landed at his feet without much effort. "But summer's coming and it's going to be a hot one."
Another summer stretched out in front of them. Long, hot days on the river. Longer, hotter nights at the Argo — throwing back a few beers, shooting pool, picking up pretty strangers. Who wouldn't want the easy life of a whitewater guide?
"June bookings look pretty solid." Carson tried to look at the sunny side of the creek. Business was good. That wasn't why he wanted out.
"We should get quite a few bachelorette parties." Cody had suggested advertising in the regional bridal magazines. His idea was to offer Girls' Weekend trips, complete with a selection of local wines and discounted cabin rentals. It was one of the few times he'd taken an interest in the business itself.
Most of the time Cody was all about the fun. Hot babes and cold beer on a warm summer night were the only things he seemed to care about. Except in winter, when he'd head up to the mountains to ski. Leaving Carson to take care of repairs and maintenance.
"Plenty of family trips too." All those intact families. Smiling. Laughing. Bonding. Being there for each other. Reminding Carson of what he didn't have.
"Don't forget bachelor parties." Cody was always up for a good time. The man lived his life as though it was one big party. A lot of guys would give up their flat screen TVs to walk in his sandals. "Man, we've got the best job in the world."
"Sure. A day's work for us is a vacation for most people." Carson still loved the heart-stopping rapids and Zen-like calm stretches on the river. He still loved helping people connect with nature and discover a little something about themselves along the way. And he still loved the constant, yet ever-changing force of the river.
It was the change that called to him now. He might as well be guiding the jungle boats at Disneyland. He was seeing the same sights, telling the same jokes over and over again until he felt like one of the automated characters. He needed a change of pace. A change of scenery. A change of company.
"Yeah, we've got it made." Cody trotted along like a kid on the first day of summer vacation. He had no idea his brother didn't share his enthusiasm for the status quo. Carson was afraid of becoming stagnant. A breeding ground for bad blood.
It wasn't that Cody was a bad guy. He was just there. Always. They lived together. Worked together. Ate together. The only thing they didn't do was sleep together. Although there had been women who would have been willing to take on them both. Cody probably could have been talked into it, but it was bad enough sharing breakfast and small talk with his brother's dates. Carson wasn't about to share anything more.
He should just get it over with. Say the words. I'm leaving. But the lump in his throat rose like the spring runoff, drowning out his voice. If he could think of another way to get Cody to grow up already, he'd take it. But the only way to get him to change would be to force it on him. He had to toss his brother overboard and hope he'd come up swimming.
"What the hell?" Cody skidded to halt. "Is that woman actually swimming? In this high water?"
* * *
Damn. This water is cold.
Lily came up for air, sputtering and spitting out a mouthful of river water. She grasped for something — anything she could hold onto. But the current was too fast, too strong for her to grab hold of anything. She tried to find her footing, but the force of the river kept her from getting her legs underneath her. Quickly she realized that it was probably for the best. If anything, she could end up breaking a leg if she slammed against a rock. Or worse, her foot could become entrapped and it wouldn't be long before the river pulled her under, drowning her.
She wondered how long it would take to find her body. Would some fisherman stumble upon her days, weeks, or even months from now? Or would the current eventually pull her downstream, where she'd wash up lifeless on the shore?
For the first time in her adult life, Lily was thankful she was childless. There was no baby to leave motherless. Left to be raised by her rat-bastard ex-husband.
Water shot up her nose, and Lily coughed. She tried once again to regain control of her body, but she was caught in a force too powerful to fight.
The movies were all wrong. Her life didn't flash before her eyes. Nothing but water and sky and regret rushed past her as she was carried downstream.
Lily didn't want her last conscious thought to be about her ex. About her failures.
As a wife. A daughter. An employee.
A woman who hadn't been able to conceive.
She tried to think of something positive. Relaxing her body, she willed her last thoughts to be about something beautiful. Like Hidden Creek. She'd always loved it here. The smell of the pines and the whisper of the wind through the trees. How the night sky was so clear and the stars shone so brightly she felt as if she could reach up and touch them. Blackberries that would be ripe in another month. She could bake a pie in the cozy kitchen of her cabin.
Her cabin. The one thing she'd fought for in the divorce. The place where she'd hoped to raise a family.
But now it would go back to Brian.
Over my dead body.
With a new sense of urgency, Lily fought back against the current, flailing about as if her life depended on it.
* * *
Carson turned his attention to the river. He expected to see the slow, graceful movements of a woman out for an afternoon swim. He expected smooth, easy strokes and efficient flutter kicks as she propelled herself through the water. He expected to pass her by without another thought. Instead, he felt his muscles tighten, his heart rate accelerate, and his vision narrow as the realization that she was in trouble hit him like a flash flood.
Instinct kicked in. He dropped his rod, pulled his keys and phone from his pocket, and raced into the raging river. He dove into the waist-deep water, swimming aggressively toward her. The current was strong. He had to be stronger.
"Just relax. I've got you." He kept his voice steady, projecting strength, confidence, and competence. He couldn't let her panic. He knew he was trying to save her, but there was no way of knowing what was going through her mind.
She struggled briefly, mumbling something, as he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her against his chest. The buzz of adrenaline flooded his system, blocking out the cold, the current, and everything but the need to keep her head above water and bring her to shore. He kicked hard to propel them away from the strongest part of the current. Working with the flow of the river and not against it was crucial in getting them both out alive.
The river slowed as they approached the eddy. Carson adjusted his grip and his hand slid up over the smooth curve of her breast. He corrected his hold on her, but not before his thumb grazed her nipple.
Get her out of the water.
All the hours of training drained from his head. This wasn't the first time he'd rescued someone from the river. It certainly wasn't the first time he'd touched a woman's breast. He should be able to get his mind back on track. Once they made it back to dry land, then he could think about her perfect breasts. When she was safe, he could let his mind wander in the direction his fingers had wanted to go. Not to mention his mouth.
"I've got you." He tried to sound calm, in control. Like someone who knew what he was doing. Her life was still in his hands. "Trust me."
Her body relaxed against his as she wrapped her arms around his neck. Relief flooded him as he realized she wasn't going to panic and try to fight him. He still had to get her out of the water. Then get her somewhere warm. The image of his bed flashed through his mind and he brushed it away like a pesky mosquito.
Cody stood downstream, holding his rod case over the water. A rope would be better, but they'd left the hoopi in the truck. The tubular nylon webbing, often used by climbers, was one of their most valuable pieces of river gear. Almost as versatile as duct tape, and Carson wished he had some with him. He did have his brother. Cody might not remember to pay his cell phone bill on time, but get him on the river and he was one of the most reliable men around.
"Hold tight." Carson reached for the case, and grabbed hold as Cody pulled them toward the shore, reeling them in like a couple of steelhead. Carson got his feet under him and helped the woman stand.
"You're okay. You're going to be just fine." His legs felt like wet beef jerky now that the adrenaline drained from his system. His heart rate should be returning to normal, but he'd just felt her up in the middle of the river and he didn't even know what color her eyes were. Let alone her name.
"Thank you." She shivered.
Hidden Creek would be a very different river in another month. Once the runoff slowed, it would be marked with gentle riffles, calm pools, and some of the best trout fishing in Northern California. Today, it was a surging flow carrying a winter's worth of snowmelt as it merged into the South Fork of the American River. Not as cold as it had been a few weeks ago, but still cold enough that twenty more minutes might have led to a different ending.
Carson tore off his wet shirt and pulled the woman against his bare skin. "I've got to get your core temperature up." He massaged her arms and torso briskly, hoping she wouldn't think he was some kind of perv. But, damn, she felt good pressed against him, soft in all the right places and naked except for her bikini bottoms. The idea was to warm her up, but he was the one on fire.
"Cody. Give me your shirt." His words came out harsh and demanding. His brother obeyed, pulling the dry T-shirt off and tossing it to him in one swift motion. Carson slipped it over her head, breaking the contact but not the impact of her bare skin against his.
"What's your name?" Carson asked.
"Lily Johnson." She held her hand out, but quickly retreated. "Sorry. It's Price. Lily Price."
She shook her head before extending her hand again. Her grip was firm and surprisingly warm. Had she recently changed her name or was her confusion because of injury? He glanced down at her left hand. Bare. But that didn't mean a thing. The river was a thief. She'd been known to take jewelry, sunglasses, and bathing suits. Even lives.
"I'm Carson Swift." Carson dropped her hand, but he still felt the charge as if he'd been struck by lightning, and the water only intensified the conductivity. "This is my brother, Cody."
"Oh, so there are two of you." She let out a sigh of relief. "I thought I was seeing double."
"We're twins." Cody reached out to shake hands. "Identical."
"Nice to meet you both." Lily glanced from one brother to the other. The glazed look in her honey-gold eyes told Carson she'd have to work at telling them apart. They were too much alike. On the outside.
"It's our pleasure." Cody emphasized the last word, letting her know that he was interested. Then again, Cody rarely met a good-looking woman he wasn't interested in.
"Well, thank you both for ..." Lily held her breath just long enough for Carson to suspect she was not as calm as she pretended to be. "Saving my life." She flashed them a fake smile to let them know she was fine, thank-you-very-much.
"Hey, no problem." Carson wanted her to believe it was no big deal. All in a day's work.
Except it was a problem. A big problem. He couldn't just walk away from her now.
Physically, she'd recover. She'd be sore for a few days, but the color had already returned to her cheeks. She stretched her arms overhead and rolled her head from side to side. He almost expected her to throw a few jabs in the air just to prove she was a fighter. But she kept casting glances at the river as if it might reach up and swallow her. Carson worried more about her emotional state. Fear could creep in like an unwanted vine and if left unchecked, it would take over, choking the life out of her.
"Let's get you someplace warm." Carson took her arm to lead her back up the path. "My truck is just down the creek."
"Oh, that's okay." Lily eyed the water again with mistrust. "My cabin is right on the river."
"Cedar shingles? Green trim?" Cody asked. They had fished this stretch of the river enough times to know the place she was talking about.
"That's the one." Lily's face lit up with pride. There were only a few residences along the way and hers was by far the most welcoming.
"Trust me," Carson said. "My truck is much closer."
She shrugged and then bent down to pick up his keys and phone.
"You might need these then." She handed the keys to him and their fingers brushed, sending a shiver down his spine.
"Is there someone we should call?" Carson asked as he took the phone.
"No." Lily shook her head. Sadness flickered across her face, disappearing almost instantly. "I'm enjoying the solitude of Hidden Creek."
"So you're all alone out here?" Cody's voice dripped with invitation. Could he be any more obvious? The woman had just been plucked from the river and Cody was trying to get her into bed.
"I'm taking a much-needed vacation." Lily's voice held a hint of defiance. "The first since my honeymoon seven years ago."
"So will your husband be joining you?" Carson's voice cracked like a thirteen-year-old boy. He half-hoped she was still married. Then he could just forget about her.
"My ex-husband can go to hell." Lily's voice shook a little. As if she wasn't used to using such strong language. Or maybe she wasn't used to standing up for herself. "Did I say that out loud?"
"You did." She made him laugh, in spite of everything.
"I am so embarrassed." Lily blushed, a deep, dark pink. "I'm not really the bitter ex. I swear."
"What, did the guy cheat on you?" Cody asked. Leave it to his brother to use a woman's divorce as an opener to hit on her.
"Yeah. Among other things." Lily looked down at the trail, as if it was the most interesting thing in the world. Obviously she didn't want to talk about it. She marched forward, but stumbled on an exposed root.
Carson grabbed her arm. Just to steady her. The sooner he got her back to her cabin, the better.
"Let's get you home. Get you warmed up, and we'll be on our way." Carson would sleep better knowing she had no lasting effects of her ordeal. Besides, he already felt responsible for her.
He needed someone else to worry about like he needed another Swift River Adventures T-shirt.
Maybe he could use another shirt. His was dripping wet and covered in dirt. Lily was the only one of them wearing a shirt, dry or otherwise. And damn, if she didn't look really good in it. Her hips swayed ever so slightly as she walked. She wasn't very tall, but her legs stretched long and lean beneath the faded blue shirt. Her damp hair fell just below her shoulders. Carson couldn't tell if it was light brown or dark blonde, but either way it would look great spread across his pillow.
He didn't need to peek at Cody to know he was thinking the same thing. They were way past the age of acting like horny teenagers. Or they should be. Besides, Carson wasn't going to stick around; he had no business lusting after her.
She was just something else he would leave behind.
* * *
"So, Lily, what were you doing swimming in such high water?" one of the brothers asked. The one who'd pulled them both from the river. He'd also given her the shirt off his back. Literally.
"I wasn't swimming." Lily didn't like the defensive tone in her voice. "I ... I fell in."
"Well, it's a good thing we came along when we did," the other brother said. He tried to keep his tone light, but Lily sensed an undercurrent of worry. They all knew what might have happened if the brothers hadn't been there.
Excerpted from Swept Away by Kristina Mathews. Copyright © 2016 Kristina Mathews. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really liked Swept Away by new to me author Kristina Mathews. It is a fast-paced story about bookkeeper Lily Price, a recent divorcee, and twin brothers Carson and Cody Swift. Carson and Cody are very close, however, Carson is considered the responsible one, while Cody likes to just have fun. Together they own and operate a successful river rafting business. When Lily falls into the river, it is Carson who comes to her rescue, and from that moment on a friendship, and subsequent romance evolves. Jealousy between brothers, embezzlement, and a ticking biological clock are a few of the themes explored in this book. I instantly connected with both Lily and Carson, and felt their attraction the second their bodies touched in the river. They are a hot couple, both in and out of the bedroom. Their story is replete with longing, discovery, and love. Overall, this is a passionate and well-written book. Complimentary copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.