Mmm...first encounters. I love it when characters in both movies and novels meet for the first time. It sets the tone for what's to come. Sometimes there's snap, crackle, sizzle...or maybe there's that slow burn of borderline contempt that you just know is gonna be fun to watch.
Is it Lust at First Sight...or Maybe Not Quite?
Riptide by Amber Lea Easton
Caribbean intrigue, scary stalker chic, revenge, and a sizzling love affair.
Nothing bad ever happens in paradise...or does it?
Let's see the first meeting between Lauren and Noah of 'Riptide'.
“You nearly killed me, you know,” a deep voice said from over her shoulder. “That was you on the Jet Ski, right? Reckless.”
Lauren turned her head and blinked several times. Merman in the flesh stood within inches of her left shoulder. Little earthquakes rocked through her body until she thought she’d fall off the stool.
“Noah, good to see you,” Austin said with a smile. “Lauren, meet Noah Reynolds. Noah, Lauren.” Austin pushed a beer in front of him. “I thought you were writing all day. What’s up? Procrastinating?”
“Mostly.” His wet hair curled against his forehead and into eyes that reminded her of expensive whiskey. A faded red T-shirt stretched across his chest. Moisture seeped through at the shoulders and neckline. He resembled a pirate—the Hollywood kind that makes every woman crave the bad boy.
“Mostly.” Austin snorted. “I’m beginning to think you’re never going to write again.”
“Be more concerned with your sister’s reckless moves on that Jet Ski. She nearly took my head off.” A smile tugged up the corners of his mouth while he took a long drink from the beer bottle without looking at her.
“I didn’t come close to you,” she said after finding her voice. “What were you doing way out there anyway? Danger zone.”
Watching a droplet of water slide down his neck made her squirm and lick her lips. Okay, so maybe island mode was a bit too much to handle her first day. She held the cold glass of sangria against her skin.
“Hey, Erin, Larry booked a private charter tonight. Want to ride along? He needs another dive master.” He ignored her and spoke to Austin’s manger slash girlfriend.
“Why aren’t you doing it?” Austin said.
“I’m not up for it. Bad day.” He shrugged. “What do you say, Erin? We’ll pay you.”
“Will you hold the boat for me if I’m a little late?” Erin asked. “I promised Austin I’d stay until he gets back from taking Lauren home.”
“No problem. Do you dive, Lauren?” His whiskey-colored eyes focused on her face.
She had a sudden craving for a shot of Jack Daniels. “No, I prefer seeing fish in an aquarium, especially the ones with big teeth.”
“Hang out here long enough and we’ll change your mind.” Erin smiled, but didn’t look her in the eye. “Won’t we, Noah? We’ll have you diving before the end of the week.”
She doubted it. She stabbed another cherry with her straw. God, she was a mess. Restless all of the time, unable to relax, paranoid about what these people knew about her reasons for being here, having erotic visions of the hot guy next to her. She should have filled that prescription her doctor had given her before leaving Atlanta. She needed sedation.
“What brings the island recluse out in the middle of the day?” Erin asked Noah.
“Island recluse?” The concept clashed sharply with the fantasies playing out in her mind.
“Yeah, this is weird, Noah.” Austin propped his elbows against the bar and looked at his friend. “Any special reason you’re over here so early?”
“Early?” she asked even though she’d coached herself to stay quiet. “Isn’t it at least four by now?”
“Ignore them,” Noah said with a wink. “Works for me.”
“Unless we’re diving or helping him fix up his shack, we don’t see him until at least midnight. He says he’s a night person,” Erin explained. “So what’s up, Noah?”
“Can’t a guy have a beer in peace?” He grinned as he pulled out the stool next to hers. “How long are you staying on Cayman, Lauren?”
“Six weeks.” Every instinct she had screamed, “Proceed with caution.”
“Do you like snorkeling?” His gaze slid over her face.
“As long as I can see the bottom, I do. Deep water equals big fish in my mind. I like to avoid predators when I can.” She inched away from him as much as possible without falling onto the floor. “I guess I’m not much of an adventurer.”
“Liar. I saw the way you drove that thing, remember?” His smile had her imagining what he would taste like.
I’ve lost all self-control, dignity, and common sense.
His fingers scraped at the edges of the label covering the beer bottle, but the smile remained as if he could sense her reaction to him...like a predator.
She gulped her drink, welcoming the alcohol-induced fog in her brain.
“Your timing for a sudden snorkel over here is interesting,” Austin said. “Didn’t you hear anything I said last night?”
“I heard you. Loud and clear. Simply having a beer, that’s all.” He faced Austin. “I’m not feeling too welcome. You need to work on your customer service skills.”
Erin held a clipboard toward Austin. “We’re short about two cases of crab legs and, with the buffet tonight, that could mean a big problem.”
“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Austin said with a final look between them.
“He asked you to stay away from me, didn’t he?” The thought of Austin having his big brother talk with his friends before she arrived simultaneously amused and annoyed her. Once again, she wondered how many details they knew and tried desperately not to care.
He rested his back against the bar and shrugged. With the way he captured his lower lip with his teeth, she suspected he held back another smile.
“Ah, I see,” she said.
“See what?” His smile escaped, guilty as hell.
“Austin likes you as one of the boys, but when it comes to his sister, stay back, my friend, stay back. Am I close to the truth?” Her gaze slipped down his neck to where wet hair curled beneath his ear. The thought of licking him there nearly sent her running toward the ocean to put out the fire in her gut.
Yep, definitely should have filled that prescription.
She nodded when Erin asked if she wanted a refill. Hell, at this rate, she’d need a pitcher to cool her off. Yep, definitely too early for island mode. She needed to ease into it...slowly...after a steady rum haze.
“More like give you some space until you’ve had time to…settle.” He slipped a pair of sunglasses over his eyes. Pity. Or maybe it was a good thing...she couldn’t decide.
She cringed at the way he said the word settle, as if it alone carried a deeper meaning. “Care to elaborate?”
He stretched his legs out in front of him. Flip-flops dangled from his toes. The man exuded ease and...island mode. “Your arrival is a big event around here.”
Big event, huh? She twisted a cherry stem between the fingers of her right hand while his words sank into her brain. She’d come here seeking anonymity not more attention.
He watched her face while he drank his beer, as if trying to read her mind. She’d seen that same expression on every single person she’d encountered since “that night”. With a sigh, she dropped the cherry stem on a napkin and looked hopelessly into her empty glass. She was tired of being a big event...sick of her story...didn’t want to ruin a moment with Merman thinking about it.
“You’ll like Cayman. It’s a good place to clear your head, get perspective,” he said.
“What do you mean? Perspective?” Tension straightened her spine.
“I know what happened in Atlanta. The attack, your leave of absence, all of it. It’s good that you’re here, that you’re taking time to—”
“Austin shouldn’t have told you.” Awkwardness replaced fragile confidence. She wanted...well, she wanted all kinds of things. Normalcy topped the list. “I didn’t want anyone here to know. I wanted to blend...stupid of me, I guess.”
He studied her for a minute before shaking his head. “I shouldn’t have blurted it out like that. I’m sorry.” He finished his beer and motioned at Erin for another. His bare knee bumped against the thin linen covering her thigh when he swiveled on his stool to face her.
Contact. Her core melted like candle wax, hot and wet. Scalding. She crossed and recrossed her legs. With a long sigh, she focused on the waves breaking against the reef off shore.
“I’ve been curious about you,” he said after a long silence pregnant with speculation.
“Curious about me? Why? Seems like Austin filled in the blanks before I arrived.” She stared at a palm tree swaying with the breeze, almost in rhythm to the music.
“I’m interested. Do I need a better reason?”
“Maybe.” She caught her lower lip between her teeth.
“I want to know you better, that’s all.”
“Why?” A shiver skittered across her skin despite the midafternoon heat.
“You’re my good friend’s sister. Do I need a better reason than that?”
“Knowing what you know, I need a definition of the word interested.” Suspicion clenched at her heart and battled with the need for this—whatever this was—to be easy. Simple. Normal.
“Austin will vouch for me. Honest,” he said with a smile that looked anything but trustworthy.
“I thought he told you to stay away from me. Remember? Stay back, my friend, stay back.” Their gazes connected through dark lenses. “What is it that you really want, Noah? Your next story line?”
“Ouch.” He flinched and shoved a restless hand through his thick hair. With a sigh, he stood and reached for his snorkel bag. “I deserve that more than you realize. We should talk another time. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.” When he looked at her again, a frown replaced the easy smile. “Enjoy getting settled, Lauren.”
Cursing beneath her breath, she watched him adjust the bag over his shoulder. Here stood a sexy man—an interesting one, too, which was rare—and she couldn’t stop acting like a paranoid freak.
With a shake of her head, she tilted her chin up, forced the suspicion aside, and looked directly into his face. “No, I’m the one who’s sorry. Sit down. Stay awhile. If you don’t mind being with a dangerous woman, that is.” She patted the vacated stool.
“Dangerous? I don’t think you’re dangerous…unless let loose on a Jet Ski again.” He shifted his weight from foot to foot. “You might think I’m the dangerous one once I’ve told you that I’ve started—”
She held both hands out in front of her. “Stop. No confessions. I won’t ask you for explanations if you don’t ask me for any. What do ya say? Deal?”
He hesitated a fraction too long. Her confidence quaked in the silence.
“For now anyway.” He held his hand out to her. “Friends?”
“Friends.” She clasped his hand and gasped. Electricity snapped through her veins. Visions more intimate than friendship flashed through her mind. She yanked her hand free.
His teeth tugged at his bottom lip, sunglasses hiding whatever expression dwelt in his eyes. After a minute, he reclaimed the empty stool.
“There are so many reasons I should have walked away,” he muttered.
“You should have ran like hell,” she whispered more to herself than to him. When he tilted his head back and laughed, she smiled. “I wasn’t joking.”
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