Authors: Janice Kay Johnson
By Janice Kay Johnson
Copyright 1993 Janice Kay Johnson
All Rights Reserved
Cover Art by Rae Monet, Inc. Design
This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used factitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
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I’m really excited to be making three of my earlier romances available again. One of the big drawbacks to writing series romance is that the books don’t stay on the shelves very long. As much as I love real books (I confess, I even love the
of new books), I’m sold on e-books if only for the amazing benefit of having them readily available for purchase and to be read at any time. We all know how frustrating the hunt can be for that elusive book written ten or fifteen years ago by your new favorite author!
Working on these three books to make them ready to go up online turned out to be fun. I was a little nervous – after all, I’d like to think I’m a better writer now than I was then, right? – but I was also happy to find I really liked every one of these books, originally published by Meteor as Kismet Romances. The biggest difference I could see is that there’s more of my life in these books than you’d find in my more recent ones. I wrote more about what I knew. No, I’ve never had to flee from Mafia hitmen, like Megan does in DANGEROUS WATERS, but I was quite a serious competitive swimmer from the time I was nine years old until college. Didn’t make the Olympic team, but I know the sacrifices that have to be made to compete at that level. I worked as a lifeguard, too, through high school and college. Long days at a beach, keeping the kids safe? Been there, done that. HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE? I had young daughters when I was writing it, and had grown up with horses. Yes, I’ve always especially loved Arabians. And
fell off the swing when I was five years old and knocked myself out. ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE? Well, there’s the daughter again (one of my two is even a Katie, I was really getting close to home there), and I really love old houses – the first house my husband and I bought was an old farmhouse and we discovered the never-ending surprises that accompany each project. (New vinyl in the bathroom? Oh, gee, the floor is rotting. Solution? Completely gut room.) Plus, I have to tell you this town is, thinly disguised, my own small hometown. The hike to the ice caves? A long-time favorite.
One warning, just in case you read Kismet Romances – DANGEROUS WATERS was originally published as LIFESAVER. I always hated the title, and decided now to go back to my original. The other two books have retained their original titles.
I love to hear from readers! Look for my Facebook page and, coming soon, my website at
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Megan Lovell hesitated at the stop sign, then finally turned her small red Civic to the right, onto the lake road. The highway would be faster, but the evening was too beautiful to waste.
Peach and pink and golden, the sky glowed like a stained-glass window above the pine- and fir-cloaked ridge beyond the lake. But for the plumes of some power boats out in the middle, the water was uncannily still, reflecting the sky and the deep purple shadows that moved down the valley, bringing dusk here sooner than it came to the world beyond. It was a display that made her wish she had her camera.
Lights were on in the cluster of waterfront cottages she passed as people cleaned up after dinner, got the children ready for bed, settled down with a book. Already the gaudy tint had faded, softened, and the ridge was black. The water still shone like a mirror, but it would be dark soon, too.
Megan left the cottages behind as the narrow road rose to follow an empty cove of the lake. Sheer granite rocks sloped down into the water. A few small twisted firs and hemlock clung to cracks. On impulse she steered the car into a dirt turnoff, then parked it and climbed out. She found a comfortable rock to sit on as she watched the show. The colors were incredible, incandescent and yet soft and subtle like the merest wash in a watercolor, with the ridge forming a black silhouette. The sight tightened her throat. It was moments like this, utterly peaceful and achingly beautiful, that made living here worth the price of isolation.
The low coughing sound of a boat engine broke the stillness, coming from beyond the point. When it came in sight, the big white powerboat was moving slowly, at about trolling speed, cutting a silver wake in the still water, making tiny waves slap at the rock walls of the cove. Megan couldn't see any fishing poles, but the boat was familiar: she was fairly certain it was rented from the marina. The engine was turned off as the boat drifted into the large, deserted cove. Megan watched with idle curiosity, wondering if the boaters were having engine trouble, or simply enjoying the evening as she was. She doubted they could see her or the road above, and even they were indistinct in the increasing shadows.
In fact, it was time to go. She was suddenly aware of how hungry she was, and how tired. The heat of a new sunburn singed her shoulders and cheekbones and her eyes felt the strain of a day spent staring at water reflecting the sun's brilliance. From fall to spring Megan taught kindergarten in the small local school, but from the time she'd quit competitive swimming she had spent summers lifeguarding at the public beach. The county had been good about giving her time off to do endorsements; in return, she'd been something of a tourist attraction for the first few years. She had worked at the beach for six years now and as the manager for the last four.
"You ought to be sick of the lake," she said aloud. But somehow Megan knew that she wasn't and never would be. Devil's Lake was home. If she sometimes felt she had to pay a price for the right to belong here, it was a belief she kept to herself.
Megan was about to slide off her boulder and retreat to her car when motion out on the boat arrested her attention. Two men were standing. She thought they were men. The boat rocked as they seemed to be lifting something bulky, struggling to get it over the gunwale. Then the long dark shape fell, raising a small splash as it hit, sending ripples to shiver over the mirror-like surface of the lake. For a second the shape seemed to move, to struggle, although that might have been an illusion. For then, slowly, it slipped beneath the water in quiet surrender.
Megan's mouth was open, a cry trapped in her throat. For a moment stillness reigned as the men stared down at the water and she tried to comprehend what she had seen. Already the ripples were fading, the dark shape gone as if it had never been. By the time the boat engine roared harshly to life, Megan had jumped from the rock and was running.
Over the guardrail, sliding down a slab of granite, desperately pushing past small firs. The soles of her canvas tennis shoes slipped and she fell to her knees, but she didn't even notice the pain. The rocky point that protected the cove sloped downhill, not wide enough to have been built on, but a faint trail showed that fishermen or teenagers out for a skinny dip sometimes came this way. Megan let her feet find their own path, faster than was safe. Her eyes were glued to the spot where the ripples had begun. The boat had sprung away, the powerful engine at full throttle, and in a wide curve disappeared out into the open lake.
Stumbling to a stop where the point dropped into the deep, cold water, Megan kicked off her shoes, ripped off her jeans. She hadn't even stopped to think. A lifeguard didn't, when someone was drowning. Knowing it was probably futile, still she was about to dive in when something white broke the surface of the water out in the middle of the cove. A splash, an arm reaching for the help that wasn't there. Another splash. That much she could see. The struggle was weak, desperate. She hit the water, scarcely aware of the shock from the cold. Head down, she sprinted, faster than she had ever gone back in her racing days. She didn't want to take her eyes off the victim, but there was too far to go. Speed was more important.
Several times she lifted her head, focused just long enough to be sure she was aiming in the right direction. Near the end she swam with her head up, her crawl stroke choppy but fast. Ahead, the struggles diminished. Hold on, Megan screamed silently. Hold on. For a second she lost sight, as if the lake had won, but then a dark head reappeared, a feeble splash.
It was a man, floating on his back, eyes closed, water sliding over his face. He looked dead.
Megan slipped up behind him, cupped his chin and swiftly tucked her other arm over his chest, locking his long body against her hip. She was prepared when he fought briefly, though she was submerged by his weight and strength. When he collapsed into quiescence again, Megan shook the water from her face and said urgently, "It's okay. I'm going to help you. Can you hear me? Just relax."
For a second he stirred and she tightened her grasp, but then she heard a hoarse voice. "Can't swim."
"It's okay," she said again, her legs opening and closing in a powerful scissor kick. He was heavy, too heavy for her. She had to snatch breaths as water rolled over her face. Darkness was closing with frightening suddenness. It was a miracle that she had seen him thrown overboard. Ten minutes later she wouldn't have. If only she could swim for the nearest shore, but the rock slabs dropping into the cove were too steep. Only at the tip of the point would she be able to pull him out. Already she was exhausted.
She had told him a lie. It wasn't okay. They wouldn't make it. Not like this. If he couldn't help... But she refused to think about it. Stopping, Megan treaded water, supporting his head and shoulders. She could hear herself breathing in desperate gasps.
"I need your help," she said forcefully. "Are you listening?"
An eternity seemed to pass, and then his head nodded, rocking against her breast.
"I need you to float on your back, with your hands on my shoulders. You have to keep your arms stiff. Can you do that?"
Again the pause, the achingly slow response. Again a nod. She wondered if his thoughts were moving as slowly.
As he floated free, she kept her hand beneath his neck, making sure he didn't swallow water. They changed position, his hands groping blindly before finding her shoulders to grasp with frightening strength.
For just an instant his eyes opened. She could tell they were light colored, his face was so close to hers. In their glazed depths she saw the battle he fought to hold on. Her lips moved to reassure him again, but the words died as his eyes closed.
She used the strong breaststroke that had won her a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. Their passage was utterly quiet. Time seemed to have begun and ended. It was a nightmare, her fear a part of the gathering dusk and the bone-deep cold of the water. What if her strength gave out? Would she have the courage to let him go, watch him slip into the dark tomb below?
The sound of a car passing on the lake road came to her, then the muted call of an owl. She wondered if the man might have died, if his fingers might be clenching her in a death grip. Then the rasp of a harsh breath stilled that fear.
The point lay just ahead, like the back of a great beast rising out of the lake. Megan strained her eyes to see, praying that she wouldn't ram his head against a rock. Almost there, she thought. Almost there. Dark water slapped over the man's face and he coughed weakly. He must have a concussion at least, she thought.