Caldwell Sisters - Book Two - Lucianne Rivers
Santa Fe Police Detective Margo Caldwell needs a vacation, but the wild goose chase her mother’s death triggers isn’t quite what she had in mind. Margo and her sisters must locate their father, or the Caldwell estate will remain unsettled—and they’ll never know why their father didn’t return from the Gulf War.
Pursuing a lead, Margo heads to the Virgin Islands in search of Zach Caldwell. To navigate the waters of the Caribbean, she needs a boat and a captain. Too bad Captain Adrian Prince, with his mesmerizing muscles and wicked grin, may be a gunrunner.
Adrian takes Margo on his delivery route to small islands near St. Thomas that hide more than wildlife, booze, and sexy boaters. On a remote, mangrove-ridden patch of sand, they find gun-toting Zach Caldwell. When their mission turns deadly, Margo must save Adrian’s life—and her own—even if she loses her heart in the process.
Title: Thrill Me (Caldwell Sisters, #2)
Author: Lucianne Rivers
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: 82 pages
Launch Date: September 2011
© 2011 Lucianne Rivers
Margo Caldwell hadn’t been on vacation in over five years. She’d never flown in a plane or seen the ocean—until now—flying 30,000 feet above the crystal-blue waters of the Caribbean.
Despite the stunning view, Margo closed her eyes and leaned her head against the airplane window, the thrum of the craft vibrating beneath her clammy forehead.
How quickly things had changed. She’d made detective at the Santa Fe Police Department only two weeks ago, a short-lived triumph since her mother had passed away a couple of days later.
Her mom was gone, and her father, Zach, who had supposedly died twenty years ago, might be alive and living in the Virgin Islands.
Margo needed some downtime. If she found Zach Caldwell during her trip, that would be a bonus.
Well, more than a bonus. She and her younger sister, Allison, didn’t remember their father—they’d been so young when he’d left. But her older sister, Jane, remembered their dad fondly and would be ecstatic if Margo found him.
Their mother’s will had surprisingly stipulated that the sister who found Zach Caldwell would decide who inherited most of the family estate.
Frowning, Margo tried to comprehend her mom’s motives for drafting such a strange will. All three sisters had decided that Allison would get the Five C Ranch, no matter who found their father. Ally had made the ranch her home. Alongside their mother, she had turned the property into a retreat center and inn, then nursed their mom during her battle with cancer. Ally deserved to stay there.
Even so, their mother had left a quarter of the estate to Zach Caldwell—wherever he was. Margo’s mom had received a phone call a couple of weeks before her death from a man who wouldn’t identify himself. He’d told her Zach was still alive, not killed in the military as they’d thought. She had hired a private investigator who found no record of a Zach Caldwell killed in action. Instead, he’d discovered two men living in different parts of the world that may be Margo’s dad.
Jane, who’d been able to take time off work on short notice, had pursued the first lead and was now in Guatemala. Margo smiled at the image of Jane, the impeccable news anchor, swatting her way through tropical jungle. Margo had taken the second lead and was now on her way to the Virgin Islands.
Her head knocked against the window as the aircraft encountered turbulence, jolting her usually steady nerves. Familiar adrenaline coursed through her, settling at the pit of her stomach.
A female flight attendant walked up the aisle saying, “Seatbelts fastened.” She stopped next to the man sitting in the aisle seat of Margo’s row whose buckle was undone. The man folded his arms and ignored the attendant, who frowned fiercely.
Margo knew the man’s look well. She’d gotten that same expression countless times when encountering a recalcitrant suspect.
Trouble at 30,000 feet.
The plane dipped and shuddered in shifting air currents.
The attendant, whose name tag said Emily, braced her arm on the headrest of the man’s seat. “Sir, you need to wear your seatbelt and stow your tray.”
Margo glanced at his tray table, four empty plastic cups strewn across it, drained of gin and tonic.
Margo wanted to punch him out. She had a mean right hook.
“Sir—” Emily said.
“I’m not wearing the damn belt, so piss off.” The man spoke with a slur, his voice overloud.
Emily’s eyes widened.
The woman sitting next to Margo, sandwiched between her and the drunk, shifted away from him and gave Margo a sidelong, worried glance.
Drunks could be mean. Over the past five years, Margo had spent more time restraining men who’d overimbibed than she’d spent doing paperwork. The drunks were often belligerent and resisted arrest—struggling, spitting, smack talking. As much as she wanted to lean over and tell the man to fasten his seatbelt and stop being a dickhead, Margo knew it would only escalate the situation.
Passengers in nearby rows craned their necks to get a better view of the truculent man in row twenty and see what the attendant would do next. Emily was young. Maybe Margo’s age—mid-twenties or so—weighing about one hundred pounds. Drunk guy was at least three times that.
Emily narrowed her eyes.
The man stacked his empty cups, crushed them in one pudgy hand, then threw them on the floor of the aisle.
Oh, no he didn’t.
“There’s trash on the floor,” he said, crossing his arms.
Emily’s eyes flashed with anger. So did Margo’s.
“Excuse me, miss,” she said to Emily before Emily did anything rash. Margo knew how easy it was to act on impulse. That’s how lawsuits happened.
Emily swallowed visibly and looked at her, eyebrows raised.
“I’m an officer of the law. Do you need some assistance?”
Drunk dude turned and glared at Margo. “Ain’t no guns on a plane. What are you going to do?”
Margo smiled politely and turned to the woman in the middle seat. “Would you mind switching with me, ma’am?”
The woman nodded, looking relieved.
Emily stood by as Margo and the woman unbuckled their seatbelts then traded places. Leaving her seatbelt undone, Margo angled herself and faced the dumb asshole in the aisle seat. He stared back, his face turning a dark red. She could take him. A quick jab to the solar plexus would knock the wind out of him.
“Please buckle your seatbelt,” Margo stated in a tone that, she hoped, brooked no argument.
Drunk guy blinked. Margo saw the cogs and wheels of his alcohol-fogged brain working ever so slowly. He opened his mouth and Margo knew they had reached the point of no return. If he didn’t back down now, things would get ugly. Silently willing him to fasten his damn seatbelt, she held his gaze, aware of the plane’s descent toward landing, the eyes of the other passengers, breaths held all around.
“Fine, jeez,” he said, finally, stowing his table with a slam, then clicking one end of his seatbelt into the other.
“Thank you.” Margo nodded at Emily, who appeared wary and understandably nervous.
The other passengers murmured and gossiped with their neighbors, but the tension had seeped away, leaving Margo’s temples pulsing. Not allowing her emotions to affect the steadiness of her fingers, she plugged in her seatbelt.
Emily walked away, darting a distrustful glance back at the offender who sat with his eyes boring into the back of the seat in front of him.
As they landed, Margo stayed on full alert, her body ready for anything.
So much for her vacation.
The plane taxied to the gate and stopped. Margo gathered her belongings then followed the drunk to the exit, close on his heels. They passed Emily by the open hatch. She offered Margo a grateful smile, which Margo returned.
Drunk guy chose that moment to vomit on the steps leading down to the tarmac and both of their grins faded.
He’d better not be planning to drive.
Margo sped out of the airport in an open-topped, red Renault sports car, warmed by the Caribbean sun. She felt lighter, having left her badge and gun at home. While she was on St. Thomas, she planned to live a little. She’d worked four ten-hour days a week for five years without taking a break. Tough but exhilarating. Then her mom had reached her final days and Margo had gone north of Santa Fe to the family ranch to be with her.
To say good-bye.
Blinking back tears, she donned sunglasses then checked her speedometer. Most of the other motorists were driving too fast, some taking hairpin turns at about twenty above the speed limit.
Margo pulled into heavy traffic on the road that skirted town and followed the curve of the bay. The sun glinted on the ocean harbor. She counted six huge cruise ships moored around its perimeter. Charlotte Amalie, the capitol city, sloped up a hill on the left, and whitewashed, red-roofed buildings covered the incline. She’d read about Bluebeard the pirate having lived on the island in the early 1700s and spotted the Martello tower, now a hotel, that had supposedly housed him. Perhaps she could play tourist while searching for her father and visit the centuries-old fortress.
Margo headed east toward Redhook Bay. She’d booked a villa at The Reef and Rogue, which sounded promising. The name suggested the presence of snorkeling and hot, ripped, modern-day pirates—but that was probably her vivid imagination waxing hopeful.
The journey to the hotel took forty minutes due to rush hour traffic and only one lane each way. Around 7:00 p.m., she pulled into the resort. Behind the inviting white-stucco building, a blazing sunset lit the lilting waves of the bright blue ocean.
Margo checked in then made her way to her villa. Inside, someone had turned on the ceiling fan in preparation for her arrival. Warm, fragrant air wafted over her, the florid scent drifting in through an open sliding door covered with a mosquito screen. She crossed the cream-colored, tiled floor, slid the screen open, and went out onto the little balcony. Blooming plants surrounded the stone courtyard below. Beyond, the sea glowed in shades of pink and orange.
She sat on one of two deck chairs, resting her legs for what seemed like the first time in weeks. The air remained warm, despite the rapidly fading sunlight. The sound of drums and tropical music floated on the breeze, their rhythm echoing the pace of her heart. Margo sighed and relaxed her shoulders.
She wondered what her mother would have thought of this sudden departure from the familiar. Since Margo had been twenty years old and dropped out of the University of New Mexico, she and her mom hadn’t gotten along so well.
Since Margo had been a teen, she and her mother had clashed.
Margo often thought she must have inherited her father’s genes. What was he like? He’d been a soldier, so she certainly took after his interest in law enforcement. Was he an adrenaline seeker too?
Her mother had disliked Margo’s constant need for excitement, including her tendency to serial date since the age of eighteen. Margo wasn’t a slut, even though she’d dated twelve guys in eight years and slept with most of them. In her opinion, the term “slut” merely referred to picky daters. Why waste a year on a guy if the sex was bad? Move on. Be done with it. So what if that meant she ended up dating more men in the long run?
Margo’s last relationship had ended in disaster. She’d made the mistake of dating the brother of a fellow officer. After she’d dumped the guy, his cop brother had bad-mouthed Margo to her colleagues. Lesson learned. Now that she’d become a detective, her reputation was more of an issue than it had been during her freshman year in college.
Her first investigative case would be assigned when she returned, making this vacation all the more important. She’d enjoy herself, relax a bit, and test her mettle as a detective by finding her father. This would likely be her last vacation for another five years.
She caught the smell of barbecue on the wind, and her stomach growled, begging for food. Dinner would be good, and then maybe she’d hit the hotel gym before bed. She went inside, changed into workout shorts and a T-shirt with the sleeves cut out, then left her villa and headed for the resort’s beachfront restaurant.
Black waves lapped on white sand illuminated by colored lanterns that dangled from the restaurant’s slanted roof. Margo stood at the entrance and waited for a hostess. The other patrons had dressed for dinner—women in long flowing skirts, men in slacks—many sipping cocktails topped with tiny umbrellas. They had their style, Margo had hers.
A smiling hostess greeted Margo and seated her at a beachside table. “Welcome.”
“Thank you,” Margo replied, settling in her chair.
She perused the menu, enticed by the aroma of grilled meat. Not surprisingly, everything on the drink menu had rum in it. She could drink almost as much as any male cop on the squad—but not tonight. The swish of the ocean was oddly soothing. If she added alcohol into the mix, she’d probably fall into bed without running her daily five miles.
Couples held hands and smiled at one another over plates of lobster. Margo enjoyed her fillet of fish, deliciously prepared with lime and some exotic spice she couldn’t identify. Yep. Rum would wash this down nicely. She finished her dinner and paid the check before she could order a drink with a seductive, tropical-sounding name.
Following the paved pathway leading around the resort, Margo found the well-equipped gym. Inside she spotted a rack of barbells and excitement bubbled in her stomach. Her love of Olympic-style weightlifting had motivated her to seek training at her Santa Fe health club. She’d started working out the year she quit UNM, needing an outlet for frustrated energy, and become addicted. Weightlifting was better than sex. At least the sex she’d been having for eight goddamn years.
Margo picked up a bar then fixed weights to the ends, having found some spring clips on a nearby bench.
Starting from the floor with her hands wide on the bar, Margo hefted the weight to her hips. She widened her stance midpull, lifting and squatting low to catch the bar before rising with 100 pounds of metal above her head. Impressive for a five-foot-two woman who weighed a hundred pounds herself.
Someone whistled as she lowered the weight, resting it on her thighs then dropping it to the ground.
Margo turned to see a man, the only other person in the gym, leaning against one of the cardio machines, watching with genuine surprise. His blue eyes narrowed as he gazed at her, his arms crossed. By the looks of the muscular shoulders and considerable biceps beneath his black workout shirt, he’d lifted his share of heavy weights. The guy looked like a professional athlete. He stood about six two, his long legs dusted with the perfect amount of hair.
“Impressive,” he said, nodding toward the barbell.
Margo studied him—brown crew cut, boyish cheekbones. He was younger than her, maybe by a couple of years.
“Thanks.” She smiled widely. Lifting always left her in stellar form.
He pushed away from his post, stepping toward her platform.
“I can spot you if you like.”
“I was just about to switch to squats.” Margo gestured toward the squat rack in the corner.
She’d hook her head under the metal bar, rest the weight on the back of her neck, and do a series of plies. Margo liked the idea of having someone behind her to take the weight if it became too heavy.
“How much do you lift?” His deep voice rumbled through her belly, touching off nerves, fostering excitement. He moved closer and she caught his scent, or imagined she did. He smelled like sexy, healthy man—good enough to lick all over.
The temperature had increased in the gym, and not because of the tropical weather.
“I squat 200 pounds,” Margo replied.
He raised an eyebrow. “How much do you weigh?”
“About half of that.”
He hefted a bar onto the rack, his tanned arms rippling with the easy movement, despite the weight.
Hormones on overdrive, Margo brushed past him and ducked under the horizontal pole. Every nerve zinged on full alert. She caught the pressure of the weight on her shoulders, lifted it out of the restraints, then stepped back, sensing him behind her.
Back arched, she lowered into a full squat three times, tightening her butt and thighs, relishing the heaviness of the weight and her body’s ability to take it. Engaging her hips, she rose to standing from the final rep then walked forward and effortlessly replaced the bar on its hook. He kept his hands close behind hers in case he needed to make a catch. Electricity shot up her back and neck.
Wanting to gauge his reaction, Margo faced him. She smiled into his eyes. In her experience, attraction this intense never occurred in a vacuum.
Regrettably, she read no reciprocal heat in his gaze. His eyes dipped for a second, falling to her lips, but not lower.
It would have been the perfect moment for him to kiss her.
“Adrian?” a woman called from the gym’s open door.
Enter the blonde.
Frickin’ blondes were the bane of Margo’s brown-haired existence. The one time she’d been really into a boyfriend—a UNM football player—he’d dumped her for a fair-haired track and field athlete.
Adrian turned at the sharp sound of the woman’s voice and put space between him and Margo.
“Hi, Linda.” He nodded.
Linda wore a short evening dress that flattered her slender figure. She stepped inside on precariously high heels and glared at Margo, apparently sensing a rival. It appeared that Linda and Adrian were a couple.
Bummed, Margo bent to grab her cup of water from the floor, then took a generous swig while eyeing their interaction.
“Aren’t you done yet?” Linda asked.
Adrian crossed his arms. “Haven’t even begun.”
“We’re going to be late for dinner,” Linda whined, the sound compelling Margo to clutch her hands into fists.
Margo’s gaze shifted to Adrian.
A shuttered expression fell over his handsome features. “The restaurant will still be there in thirty minutes.” He spoke with extreme politeness. Did Margo imagine the grit beneath the smooth tones?
Linda pouted. Yes, pouted. Another of Margo’s pet peeves.
“I’ll meet you at the bar in fifteen, okay?” he offered.
Definitely a couple.
Margo crunched her paper cup and threw it in the trash can, her hopes of a holiday romance dashed. What were the chances of feeling that much attraction twice in one week?
Linda turned on one designer heel and wafted out the door, back to the bar, Margo presumed. She glanced at Adrian, the clenched set of his jaw proving that he was pissed.
“Sorry if I distracted you from your workout,” Margo said.
He held her gaze for one blue-eyed second. “I offered.”
The only thing he would be offering tonight.
“Thanks.” Her grin was genuine. It wasn’t his fault that he was one of those guys who was too hot to ever sleep alone. She could lose gracefully.
Even to a blonde.
Adrian Prince hated to have to do this. Breaking up with a girlfriend of two years was uncomfortable as hell.
Linda sat across the table, wide-eyed, her mouth open in disbelief. He knew what she was going to say. She’d been prom queen. She’d been first runner-up in the Miss Virgin Islands Pageant—one step away from competing for Miss America. She’d say that Adrian was insane.
But the only thing making him insane these days was Linda.
Linda, and her ego.
He sat back in the rattan chair and forced himself to take a deep breath. They’d met in college, him a football player, her a cheerleader. Linda’s beauty had stunned him into staying away, initially, until he’d discovered that their fathers knew one other through the church they attended. When he and Linda had met at a community picnic, Linda had made her attraction obvious until asking her out became a no-brainer. It wasn’t until a month into their relationship that he discovered how seriously she took her religious faith.
As in no sex before marriage.
Linda leaned across the glass tabletop and took his fingers in her slender hand. “Is it because I won’t have sex with you?”
No. It was because she wanted him to marry her.
They’d done plenty of other things in bed, skirting around the letter of Canon Law. He’d been attracted to her, affected enough to stay.
All of her constant talk lately had been about her friends getting engaged, getting married. He took the hint, but wasn’t about to act on it.
“You’re very beautiful,” Adrian said. “The right guy will appreciate you in the way you deserve.”
She looked put out. “What’s not to appreciate?”
He clenched his teeth, resisting the urge to say, “Your giant-sized sense of self.”
She gasped. He must have said it aloud.
Well, perhaps she could use the home truth. During their time together, he’d watched her interact with people. She could be callous as hell, snobby to boot. Not that he was an angel, but he liked to treat others with respect—even strangers.
“Bring the check,” she called to the waiter. Not a request, but an order.
No please or thank you. No manners. No consideration for anyone but herself, despite her devout religious beliefs. Definitely time to move on. As soon as the waiter left the check, Adrian tossed some cash on the table and pushed back his chair.
“Where are you going?” she asked, sounding a bit desperate.
“I thought you wanted to leave.”
Linda swished her golden hair away from her face. “I do not have a giant sense of self.”
She actually looked hurt.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” Aloud, he added, in his mind this time.
She stood and stepped past him a few feet, waiting at the steps onto the pathway leading from the veranda. He would drive her back into the capital where she lived, then go home and go to bed.
As they walked in the muted darkness along the plant-lined walkway, she brushed against him, a gesture that used to turn him on. Leaning against his shoulder, she murmured, “What if I want you?”
Her question made him a little sick. Was she really willing to compromise her beliefs with a man who had just broken up with her? He widened the space between them, absolutely apathetic toward her insinuated offer. “You should save yourself for someone who loves you.”
She stopped walking. “I thought you did.”
They’d both said the words, but he doubted what he had felt for Linda had ever been love. He shook his head. “I’m sorry.” His feelings for her had been reduced to a twinge of sadness.
Linda narrowed her eyes and stalked away. “I’ll call a cab,” she shouted over her shoulder, heading toward the lobby building.
A floorboard creaked on the balcony of a darkened villa nearby. The villas overlooked the ocean, but Adrian stood on the pathway between two buildings. He spotted a movement through the sidebars of the balcony closest to him.
Looking up, he saw the woman from the gym with the incredible strength and stunning body.
She gazed at him from a floor above, paused with one leg outstretched as if frozen midstride. Her expression was difficult to read in the moonlight. Even so, he detected a trace of embarrassment on her face. Had she overheard his conversation with Linda?
The woman on the balcony had a magic about her. He appreciated her solid, hard-bodied form, knew what it took to get into such fine shape, and respected her dedication and fitness. She emanated a heady allure that made him want to get closer. He didn’t know her name, but he wanted to.
She waved at him—a slight raise of her hand—and he responded in kind. They stood that way in the dim light for seconds. He realized what he must look like, palm raised in mute salute. Somehow riveted to the footpath, it took effort to stick his errant hand into his pocket. He should probably say something.
The woman looked past him, and he followed her line of sight. Linda was coming back, a look of fury on her face.
“I left my jacket in your car,” she said, and then noticed that they had an observer.
Linda’s mouth turned mean. Before she could call out a nasty comment to the girl on the balcony, Adrian took her arm, leading her away. “Let me give you a ride home, okay?”
She mumbled something that sounded rude as he risked a final glance at the veranda of the villa. With the click of a sliding door, the woman was gone—taking her magic spell with her.
Adrian’s cousin had wound up in the hospital—again. Bill had been in yet another bar brawl last night. He’d escaped before the cops came, but not before incurring a broken rib. Adrian stood in Bill’s hospital room, having trouble mustering sympathy.
“I promise, man,” Bill pleaded from his bed. “Just take my boat, do my rounds, and I’ll pay you more than you could get for a month of shepherding tourists.”
Bill wanted Adrian to captain his thirty-five-foot motorboat, The Cutting Remark, on a circuit of several small and remote islands around St. Thomas. If Adrian took the job, he’d have to find someone to run his boating service during that time.
“There are people living on those patches of sand that depend on me for supplies.” As usual, Bill overestimated his importance.
“That’s a little dramatic,” Adrian said. “Most of them have access to a boat.” It wasn’t as if Bill’s customers would starve.
Bill’s expression darkened. “I’ll lose my rent money if I don’t deliver.”
Gambling money, more like. Bill was known for losing bets.
Adrian mentally skimmed the roster for his business this week. His friend Tommy could substitute as captain for the daily dinner cruises, and Adrian was pretty certain he could find cover for any other calls to ferry visitors around. Frankly, he could use the extra cash Bill had offered.
“It’s a deal,” Adrian said. “No more bar fights, though.”
Bill handed him the keys to The Cutting Remark. Like Adrian, he lived on his small vessel.
“I’ll be out of here by the time you get back.” Bill tried to make a sweeping gesture but grabbed his side and grimaced. “There’s a route map on my laptop in the galley.”
“What am I delivering?”
“Everything’s listed on the itinerary and stowed in the hull.”
“Nothing illegal, right?”
Bill raised his right hand and winced again.
The Cutting Remark stank of unwashed male and old trash. Used to keeping his own vessel spotless, Adrian took the time to give Bill’s boat a thorough sterilizing. He loaded the food and water he would need for the journey—an estimated three-day round trip.
Relishing the opportunity to be alone, he’d brought his fishing gear and a thriller to read. It had been quite some time since he’d had the chance to read or fish. Linda had left a glorious vacuum of opportunity in her wake.
“I’m looking for Captain Prince.”
Adrian turned at the sound of his name, squinting against the bright sun to see who’d spoken. The weightlifting woman from last night walked down the narrow dock toward him. She wore blue jeans, running shoes, and a white tank. Her brown hair blew with the breeze, lifting away from a triangular face. She radiated an intense, edgy energy—all focused on him. Recognition dawned in her dark, keen eyes. She halted.
“Hey there,” he called.
“You’re Captain Prince?”
“I understand you offer a shuttle service for tourists.”
She approached at a slower pace, nearing where he stood loading boxes into the boat. Her hips swayed in the tight-fitting denim. Normally, he’d be glad to ferry her around. But not this week.
“My friend Tommy’s taking over for me. Boat’s docked over there.” He tipped his head toward the Maria, named for his grandmother who’d bequeathed the boat to him when she died two years ago. “Won’t be sailing out until tomorrow, though.”
“The flyer says ‘daily.’”
“Something came up.”
“I’ve asked around. Yours is the only boat available and I need to leave today.”
Her direct attitude delighted him.
“Yeah,” he said. “Most places require you to book ahead.”
She didn’t appear to be pleased. In fact, she looked thoroughly frustrated.
“I didn’t know that when my mother died it would result in a surprise trip to the Virgin Islands to look for a missing family member. Or that said family member would not be on St. Thomas as I was led to believe, but on one of the dozens of unnamed surrounding islands. Or that finding a boat to ferry me would be so goddamned hard…”
He raised an eyebrow. “Long morning?”
She clamped her mouth shut and put her hands on her hips. “I’ve been to Charlotte Amalie and back in a fruitless effort to find my father.” Her eyes narrowed. “His name’s Zach Caldwell. Heard of anyone around here by that name?”
He shook his head.
“Have anything I can eat?”
That took him aback.
“My blood sugar’s dropping, and I’m a little like the Hulk. You won’t like me when I’m angry and crashing from lack of food.”
“Sure.” He tossed her an apple from a box of supplies.
She caught it with ease and bit through its green skin with enthusiasm. Juice seeped from the pierced fruit and dripped onto her chin. She brushed the droplets aside with the back of her hand, her movements blunt, yet too graceful to be considered masculine.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Margo,” she said, between crunches. She stopped chewing. “So, you gonna give me a ride or what?”
“I can’t. I’m taking out my cousin’s supply boat. He’s indisposed.”
“Where are you taking it?”
To the dozens of unnamed islands she’d spoken of.
He didn’t have to say it aloud; his hesitation must have told her all she needed to know.
She chucked the apple core into the ocean and stepped nearer. Up close, she was affecting as hell. He could smell her, all soap and apple. Her brown eyes glinted with flecks of green, and if she wore any makeup, it was subtly applied because he couldn’t spot any cover on her flawless skin.
“I’ll make it worth your while if you add me to your cargo.”
“How?” He couldn’t resist asking.
She cocked her head, regarding him intently. “I could write you a glowing review on Trip Advisor.”
“And I could pay you double what it would normally cost.”
That would make it a stellar week for his bank account. He could afford to have minor repairs made to the Maria.
Just Margo and him on a boat in the middle of the blue sea for three days.
The image of her stretched under him in one of the four berths gave him the stirrings of a hard-on. His dormant libido kick-started with a rush of hormones, and he glanced at her ring finger. Thankfully it was bare.
“I’m leaving in an hour.”
She grinned, the expression lighting up her face.
“I’ll be back in half that.”
“I brought a contribution for the kitchen, or whatever it’s called on a boat,” Margo said.
“A galley.” Adrian eyed the bottle of golden rum she dangled from deft fingers. He already had two of those aboard.
“Make yourself at home.”
She looked around the deck. “Can I help you with anything?”
“I got it, just take a seat.”
“Should I wear a life jacket?”
“If you want.”
Her gaze fell to his chest, and he was sure she checked out his pecs. His white T-shirt pulled taut over them, and he resisted the urge to flex.
Adrian glanced at her toned arms and the smooth skin of her neck, bare to the midday sun. “You bring sun block?”
“Yes, Captain. I’m New Mexico born and bred—used to strong sunlight.”
She perched on one of the cushioned seats and stretched.
“What are you doing out here?” Adrian asked. Something about her father. He turned on the engine and she rose to stand by him as he guided the boat out of its slip.
“I’m looking for my father,” Margo said. “We thought he was dead. Turns out, he may be living here. My mother left him part of the family estate.”
“What makes you think he’s here?”
“We hired an investigator. He found a couple of men that might be my father—one of them here in the islands.”
The boat chugged away from the dock, churning water in its wake.
“Seems he moved from the address the investigator gave me. The post office in Charlotte Amalie gave me a forwarding address, care of the marina we just left. I figured he either lives on one of the boats there, or uses the place as a port to another island that doesn’t have a post office.”
“Good detective work.”
She gave him a sharp look, but then smiled. “Piece of rum-soaked cake.”
“Sounds good to me. I like rum.”
Her gaze followed his hands as he manipulated the controls.
“So what’s your story, Adrian? You from here?”
He nodded, watching the water as they navigated around buoys and emerged from the cove into open sea.
“But you use the gym at the resort?” Margo asked.
“They have a good deal for locals. I live on the boat you saw this morning, the Maria.”
“That’s some sweet life you’ve got.”
“It’s pretty incredible, living on the ocean.”
“Ever been to the mainland US?”
Adrian shook his head. He could have gone for college, but had decided against it. “New Mexico’s pretty dry, right?”
She pursed her lips and nodded. “High desert.”
He grimaced and pretended he was dying of thirst. “Need. Water.”
Margo shook her head, grinning.
The sea opened up in front of them. St. John, the neighboring island, dominated their view as they motored over the gentle waves. A ferry passed on their left, and he changed his course to accommodate its wake.
Margo stood beside him, legs astride, holding the rail with one hand. The bra she wore beneath her white tank top made her tits look incredible. He risked a quick glance at them then shifted his gaze to her tiny waist before turning his attention back to the water. He wondered what she looked like naked.
“Where to first?” Margo asked.
“Thought we’d head east past St. John. There are a couple of ports of call in that direction.”
“St. John is the national park, right?”
“Yep. Great snorkeling. Not as good as when I was a kid, though. Reefs are dying.”
“And when was that?”
He put the vessel on autopilot and looked at her. “When did the reefs die, or when was I a kid?”
“I’m twenty-four, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Margo was clearly a bit older than him, and he wondered if their age difference bothered her.
“How long have you been working out?” she asked.
He liked the fast-paced change of subject.
“Since high school. I played football in college.”
“Is that where you met Linda?”
Wow. Margo certainly knew how to get to a point.
“Mmm hmm.” He sensed with Margo that he needed to hold some of himself back. If he made it too easy for her to get all the answers she wanted, he imagined she would get bored real quick. “Are you normally this nosy?”
“Runs in the family.”
She angled her hip against the frame of the boat and folded her lightly tanned arms. This time he was certain she was checking out his pecs.
“Jealous of my muscles?” Normally, he would never make such a vain-sounding statement, but her forthright look begged for a response.
She gave him a sexy grin. “They’re good enough to eat.”
Her gaze locked with his as if realizing the implication of what she’d said. Heat speared through his groin in a quick, espresso shot of need.
If it wasn’t broad daylight, he’d rip off his shirt so she could make good on her offer. Adrian had visions of Margo lapping at his chest with her pink tongue, then going lower. His pulse pounded, a flush of desire creeping up to his face.
Holy crap, he wanted her.
He forced his gaze back to the ocean.
“Linda and I broke up,” he said.
Where had that come from?
Straight from the direction of his rapidly swelling cock.
Margo gave him a slow smile, her eyelids lowering over darkening irises. “I heard.”
That’s right, she’d watched them last night from her balcony.
She turned, resting her forearms on the handrail, grinning down at the water.
“Point to the brunettes.”
She didn’t answer.
After a moment she asked, “You think you could teach me to swim?”
She didn’t know how to swim?
“Don’t they have swimming pools where you’re from?”
“I was never inclined to learn.”
She pushed away from the bar and went to her duffel bag, pulled out a bottle of suntan lotion and threw it to him. He caught it without blinking, used to receiving a ball.
Margo peeled off her shirt.
He stopped breathing.
The expression weak at the knees now made sense. Her beige push-up bra molded her breasts into at least a C cup. She turned her back and reached behind her to undo the clasp.
Uh bud duh, buh buh duh, buh. He imagined himself as Pluto, the cartoon dog with the lolling tongue.
“Maybe you could put those amazingly skilled, football hands to good use, Adrian.”