Authors: Linda Conrad
Once again searching his handsome face and darkened blue eyes for any sign of regrets, she was pleased to see instead that desire still flamed in them. Passion rippled pleasure across his features. Passion for her. What a high it gave her to know he wanted her as much as she wanted him.
Pulling her to his chest, Nick kissed her fast and hard. She nearly fainted from the sensation it caused in her gut.
Thank heaven for the winds. She still had a little time to figure out how to put off facing their ultimate destiny.
Annie tried to clear her mind but standing under the vibrating water jets in Nick's shower stall was fogging up her senses. The bewitched night with him had been beyond her wildest imaginings. But she knew the storm, and their time together, was almost over.
Everything between them had changed.
Would he allow her to continue working with himâto help him? Deathly afraid that her emotions were going to get in the way, she worried that maybe the two of them had to talk about it anyway.
But for now, stinging needles of pulsing water sent hot messages to every body part, reminding her of Nick's touchâ¦of his kisses. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine the water was his fingers, caressing and stirring her body to life.
She began to ache for him again.
The glass shower door behind her snapped open and she spun around to find Nick, stepping naked into the shower. “What are you doing?” she squealed with a laugh.
“The winds have picked up once again. The hurricane's not over. We've been given more time.”
He reached for her, dragging her into his embrace and kissing her senseless. Not that her senses were overly sharp right this minute. Her whole world had become hazy, soft and all watery around the edges.
Along with her body. Her knees wobbled as he slid his hard slick chest against hers.
Annie grabbed hold of his upper arms to steady herself, but Nick didn't give her a chance to fall. He lifted her off her feet and encouraged her to wrap her legs around his waist.
He turned them both around and pressed her back against the shower wall. The water pounded down on them while he entered her with one swift and sure thrust.
“I couldn't stay away when I heard the water running and knew you were in hereânaked,” he groaned. “I neededâ¦ I shouldn't haveâ¦”
Whatever else he had wanted to say was lost to the heat and the fire they created. By now, Annie thought she should be too familiar with his body inside hers to be surprised by the explosions he caused.
But each time was a shock of electricity, warmth and blinding passion. They rocked violently, but in perfect harmony, under the beat and sting of the water all around them.
Together they left the world, their reality and the ticking clock of the time they had left far, far behind.
An hour later, they sat dressed in shorts and T-shirts at the kitchen table. Annie bit into a banana that she'd just peeled, and Nick's mouth watered. The image of her wrapping those wide, full lips around certain body parts of his made him instantly hard again.
This had to stop. The winds had finally died down for good and he needed to get back to business. He had to stop driving himself crazy wanting her.
And they had to come to some agreement about their future. As soon as everyone returned to the island, things would get back to normal.
But everything seemed so different now. He felt a core change in himself since making love to Annie. Not able to think clearly about it, Nick brushed aside the strange new sensations.
He would dig up his old reserve and put distance back between them. She would hopefully agree to continue being his trainer. Perhaps this would even turn out to be his second chance in life for friendship. Maybe that's what these strange feelings were trying to tell him.
Friendship would be wonderful, but every time Annie gazed up at him, he felt the heat in her eyes. That would complicate things. He was not “forever” material. He'd already proven that with one desolate marriage. He was not about to drag Annie down, too.
This crazy storm brought them together, but it had just been wild sex. He'd better find his missing self-control. And fast.
It was bad enough that he'd broken the promise to himself about celibacy. Hmm. On second thought, that was one promise he was extremely glad he'd broken.
But never again.
He intended to talk to Annie. Perhaps if he explained everything just right, she would agree to remain on the island and become his friend.
There was no way he could bear to lose her entirely. The mere thought of never seeing her again drove an icy wedge of pain deep into his chest.
“Listen,” Annie said, bringing him out of his thoughts. “I think I hear someone calling you.”
Both he and Annie stood and moved toward the hallway. But before he got to the doorway, Rob Bellamy ap
peared and moved into the kitchen toward them. Rob was the ex-SEAL who had stayed to look after the dolphins.
“You two make it through the storm in one piece?” Rob asked.
“We're fine. But I can't say as much for sections of the roof. How'd the dolphins come through?”
“We made it okay during most of the storm,” Rob answered. “But just when it looked like we were home free, there was one last storm surge that tore a hole in the perimeter fencing. Two of the dolphins came up for breath right then and were caught up in the outflow.”
It was all Nick could do to keep from panicking. He snapped his mouth shut for fear of saying something he would regret and paced to the sink and back again.
“Which two?” Annie asked Rob. “Not Sultana.”
Rob nodded and Nick fisted his hands. “Where are they? Did you call them back with the sound transmitters?”
“We have them back in the lagoon now. They didn't want to be outside any more than we wanted them to be. But the shock of it distressed them both.”
“She's gone into early labor. That's why I'm here. We could sure use an extra pair of hands in the lagoon.”
“Go back down there,” Nick ordered. “I'll put on shoes and follow right behind you.”
Rob left and Nick turned to Annie. “Stay here. You'll be safe. I'll try to call you later if the phone service comes back up.”
“No,” she said and delayed him by laying a hand on his arm. “I'm coming with you.”
He shook his head, but she tightened her grip on his arm. “I don't need protecting, Nick. I'm more capable than you are of helping in the lagoon. You haven't been in the water sinceâ¦you know.”
She had him there. If it came down to who was the stronger swimmer, he would lose. In the excitement he'd forgotten his hesitation about returning to the ocean.
“All right, fine,” he muttered.
But he had a strange feeling that nothing was ever going to be fine between the two of them again.
Nick sat on his haunches and braced his hands against the edge of the wooden deck that spanned the lagoon. He held his breath as he watched the three humans and one mother dolphin labor, trying to bring a new life into the world early.
Rob and Elinor Stansky both had on scuba gear and periodically each would surface to give instructions to Annie. Nick was stiff from holding himself rigid. His nerves were shot.
But Annie was a marvel of serene determination as she half swam and half walked through the choppy water. She kept up a steady stream of chatter directed toward Sultana; soothing, settling and calming the distraught mother-to-be.
When Nick caught a glimpse of Annie's eyes, he saw they were shining and bright with breathless awe. She was experiencing a new high, a glimpse of nature's wonder.
It made him ache, thinking that it should be Christina there in the lagoon with her beloved dolphin. She would've killed to have this opportunity to bring one to life.
Of all the things Nick wished that he could've done for Christina, bringing babies into the world was number one on his list. Any baby.
He didn't consider himself a superstitious man, but he sensed that there was some preordained reason why Annie was the one here and very much alive. She was so different. Not as sophisticated as Christina, and not as technically pretty either, she was so much more vivid and full of energy.
He'd already idly wondered about what advancing age would bring to Annie's features. Imagining that her colors would soften, Nick just knew her face would grow more round and beautiful with every year. In his mind, he could even see the tiny, laugh lines as they grew bolder around her eyes.
Nick refused to think about the very strong probability that he would never get the chance to know how she would look then. Would never be able to grow old with her.
For now, Annie was as wild and free as a dolphin. She was strong and special. And he wanted her again so badly he was nearing explosion.
Nick bit back his inappropriate needs and Sultana's baby was soon delivered. Laughing and clapping her hands, Annie bounced out of the lagoon and ran toward him.
Her hair was damp, her green eyes dancing.
And Nick vowed they would have their talk about being just friends. They wouldâjust as soon as he saw those big eyes darken while he slid inside herâone more time.
he next couple of daysâand nightsâwent by in a blur of activity. It was as if a steamy romance novel and a fairy-tale life had magically combined to make Annie happier than she'd ever been.
While Nick worked with a crew from the village, cleaning up the air-landing strip and bringing back the islands's electric power, she helped out in the lagoon and kept the center's records straight for him. No one had been able to leave or return to the island yet and a wonderful sense of community had developed within the small survivor's group.
“That's enough,” she told Nick as he finished his last rep with the barbells. “It's almost dawn. Let's go get something to eat.” She threw him a towel, laughing when it hit him in the head.
He cocked an eyebrow and before she could move
away from him, he had her in his arms. His hands were everywhere all at once as he kissed and tickled, ruffled and stirred.
“Nick! We're all sweaty. Stop that,” she chuckled.
Groaning, he grabbed her bottom with both hands and dragged her up against his groin. “Sex is best when it's messy,” he whispered in her ear.
She sighed and clung to him. It was a major miracle that she'd learned enough about sensual things over the past few days to agree with him about that.
Her breathing became ragged, and the stars that a few minutes ago had disappeared from the early-morning heavens were suddenly back. But this time they were in her eyes. Nick could make her lose her mind and become blind with need by just a touch.
“I can't seem to keep my hands off of you,” he moaned. But a minute later he pulled away and dropped his hands after he'd made sure she was steady on her feet. “I think we'd better stop now, though. Let's go to the kitchen for breakfast.”
After they'd eaten fruit and bread and had coffee, Nick asked that she accompany him to his office. She'd noticed a quiet, sobering change in him during the last few minutes of breakfast. And when she smiled and raised and lowered her eyebrows suggestively, he only shook his head.
“Afraid we don't have time this morning, Annie,” he told her harshly. “We need to talk.”
Heaven help her. She'd wondered when the “talk” would happen. But she didn't feel ready quite yet. Wanting just one more day, one more hour, even a few more minutes in his arms, she tried again to search his eyes
for that soft blue haze of desire she loved seeing so much. But it wasn't there.
Nick was all business as he led them to the office. He motioned for her to sit at his desk instead of on the sofa. Then he perched his bottom on the edge of the desk next to her. Too close to ignore, yet too distant to touch.
“We have the airstrip back in good enough shape so that the first of the returning staff will be able to fly in from the States later this morning,” he said softly. “I intend to be aboard the plane for its round trip out.”
“Oh?” Annie wondered if that meant he wanted her to go along. Maybe this was his way of sending her back to the States and firing her.
She took a breath and asked. “Will you need me with you when you go?” If this was the end, she intended to leave gracefully.
“I need you to stay here,” he said.
Taking another deep breath because she found she'd been holding the last one, Annie straightened her spine and waited for the rest. She refused to cry, dammit.
“I'd like for you to take over my responsibilities with the research center,” he said roughly. “Working with the scientists in the lagoon and doing the paperwork. Just more of the things you've been taking care of for the last few days. Would you mind?”
Stunned, she fought not to let her voice give away how badly he'd gotten to her. “Mind? Not at all. Personal trainers have to keep records on their clients that are quite similar. And I love working with dolphins. But why won't you be doing it?”
Nick took a deep breath himself, as if he'd been
afraid of her answer. “When I return to the island, I'll be bringing construction crews and equipment with me. There's so much destruction from the storm. The village is in shambles. Houses, businesses, even the clinic has been partially destroyed. It'll take us a couple of months of hard work to get things back in order.”
She'd only been traveling to the lagoon and back to this house since the day of the storm. But the way he described the island, it sounded awful. Except of course, the part about her staying here to help him out with the research center.
Nick narrowed his gaze at her. “There's something else. Uhâ¦about us.”
Well, finally. Here came the part she'd known they had to get to eventually. She bit her lip to keep in the scream that was threatening to overwhelm her.
But before Nick could say what he'd meant, a sudden gust of her nasty pride reared its square little chin, causing her mouth to open and words to come spilling out without thought. “You don't have to tell me, I know, your knee is healed. I've been trying to think of a way to tell you it was time for me to go anyway. This'll be a good opportunity for us to make the break and yet still allow me to continue to help out on the island I've grown to love.”
The frown lines appeared on his forehead, but he crossed his arms over his chest and didn't say anything.
Inside she was crying, but outside she managed a half smile and hurried aheadâwith words spewing and thoughts flying. “Thank you for being kind enough toâ¦uhâ¦show me the ropes during the storm, so to speak. I'll be forever grateful and I just know we'll be the dearest friends until our dying days.
“You were so right when you said it would be simple. Our hormones were just acting up because of the storm.” She babbled on, afraid that if she stopped it would be on a sob.
“If you'll just help me gather up my things from the ruins of my suite before you go, I'll move out to the pool house while you're in the States. I realize your mother likes to stay out there when she comes to visit, but there should be room for us both in the two bedrooms and it will be so much moreâ¦respectable that way when the staff returns.”
She gulped in a breath and started for the door. “Let's go grab a shower and meet back here in an hour. Okay?”
Annie almost made the doorway before she realized what she'd just said and spun back to him. “I meanâ¦we'll each grab a showerâ¦separately. And get dressedâ¦in different rooms.”
Nick was still scowling, but he never made a move or a sound. So she turned around and literally ran out of the door before she made a total fool of herself and begged for him to come with herâone last time.
She knew she had lots of crying and damning of the saints to do. And it would be much better if she got a good head start on that while in the shower. All alone.
Passionata grew agitated as she gazed into the crystal. The fog of time covered her view as she turned away, shaking her head and softly cursing.
“Wrong direction, young Scoville. All wrong.”
Crossing arms under her breasts, she let her lips narrow into a disapproving line. “I'd hoped this would be easier. But noâ¦
“Stubborn man.” She frowned. “All right. It is past time to stir in trouble, make you reach out for solutions. Let's just see how bad we can make your circumstances before you give in to the magic.”
She waved a hand over her crystal and invoked the magic. “Every difficult travail will come your way now, Scoville. Remember the magic. Use it at long last.”
“Most of the reconstruction is completed then?” Nick's mother asked him over the phone early one morning.
It had been six weeks since the hurricane and he'd been working eighteen hour days trying to get the village back in shape. He hadn't minded the hard work a bit. Most of the time it kept him busy enough so that his mind didn't wander back to Annie.
Nick had moved his office down to a construction shack near the village and turned his own in the main house over to Annie so she could keep the dolphin records in his place. The few times they'd been in each other's company since the storm had been totally unsatisfactory and had left him aching and miserable.
There had been those two conflicted and terribly quiet meals they had shared on the nights when he just couldn't bear to think of her eating alone. And their extremely short biweekly meetings to discuss the dolphin center had been stilted and more than a little uncomfortable.
But other than those wonderful yet miserable times, he'd done a good job of pretending to avoid her.
Except, of course, for when he'd snuck down to watch her work in the lagoon without letting anyone
spot him. He could scarcely believe he'd turned into some kind of damned pervert, watching her and wanting her. And never letting Annie know about it.
Staying away from her was in her best interest, though. And he'd promised himself from the moment she'd moved out of the main house that he would always consider her interests first. Always. No matter what it cost him.
“Nicholas?” his mother's voice broke into his thoughts. “Are you feeling all right? I'm quite positive you've been getting enough rest and haven't been working too hard because I know Annie would never allow that.”
“I'm fine, Mother. A little tired maybe.” He hadn't been sleeping well at all. His dreams and thoughts kept centering around Annie and wondering what she was doing. And on what he would like to be doing with her.
“Annie's been busy with the dolphins,” he continued without giving it enough thought first. “We haven't seen much of each other since the storm.”
His mother made a distressed noise into the phone and urged him to pay more attention to Annie and her instructions. He found his mother's words terribly annoying. She really had no need to tell him how wonderful Annie was. He probably knew it better than anyone else on earth.
But that didn't make it right for him to be with Annieâ¦to use her just to satisfy his needs. In fact, Nick couldn't think of anything that would be less honorable.
“What was it you wanted at this unholy hour, Mother?” he asked with an irritated snap in his voice. He immediately thought better of it and began to apologize for being rude, but his mother didn't give him a chance.
“I'm on my way there, son. I'm concerned about you. The pilot tells me we'll be arriving right after lunch, and I'd appreciate it if you would pick me up at the airstrip.”
Nick took a breath. “Mother, there's no needâ¦”
“Nonsense. I want to see you.”
“But Annie is living in the pool house. It will be too crowded for you to move in there as well.”
“Her quarters still have not been repaired?”
“No, there were other more pressing construction needs.” And Nick had been putting off fixing Annie's suite until the very last minute. He wasn't entirely sure he could stand knowing she was sleeping in the same house and not act on his weaknesses.
“Well, never mind that,” his mother quipped. “Annie and I will get along famously. It'll be like summer camp with my sisters when I was a girl.”
His mother bid him a fast goodbye. And Nick was left quietly swearing as the dial tone droned in his ears.
“So how's the construction coming along,
” Her mother's voice resonating from the phone's earpiece at once soothed and distressed Annie.
In the six weeks since the hurricane, Annie was growing weary of endless cerulean skies, of baking heat that hovered in the nineties and of stifling humidity that closed in around her and made breathing difficult. She supposed it was partly the humidity and partly her depression that caused her to be so tired all the time.
In self-defense, Annie had made it a point not to see Nick any more often than was absolutely necessary.
When she wasn't working, she stayed by herself in the pool house, reading or answering letters. Except for lately, when she hadn't been able to finish reading even one page without falling sound asleep.
“I didn't wake you did I, honey?” her mother asked when Annie had left her first question unanswered for too long. “What time is it there?”
As if she'd been splashed with cold water, Annie shot upright and looked at the clockâ9:00 a.m. She was a half hour late to meet the team in the lagoon.
“We're only an hour ahead of you here, Ma,” she said into the portable phone while jumping out of bed and heading for the bathroom. “And I can't talk right now. I'm late for work.”
“Are you feeling all right? It's not like you to be late.”
“I'm fine. But the heat has been getting to me.”
“South Boston has been hot, too. Why don't you just cool off in the ocean?”
Annie wished it was that easy, but the heat and humidity dogged her wherever she went. “I've gotta go, Ma. I'll call you later.”
She dashed into the shower and out again in record time. Pulling her hair back in a ponytail and pinning the flyaway strands down, she hurried to step into her swimming suit. But when she dragged it up her hips, she was astounded to discover the darn thing felt too tight.
Could it have shrunk? That didn't seem likely since she'd been wearing it every other day for weeks. If anything, all this wearing and washing should've stretched it out.
Shoving the suit back down her legs, Annie eyed the bathroom scale and decided to give it a try. She might have been eating a tiny bit more than usual lately. But she'd chalked her ravenous hunger up to boredom and the heat.
Until she stepped on the scale. Oh my gosh. She'd gained eight pounds in the past six weeks.
The thought made her slightly queasy, but not enough to stop from grabbing a candy bar and some cheese crackers on her way to the closet to find something else to wear. She hurried into a pair of shorts and a T-shirt that felt a little tight but still fit around her middle.
Jamming her running shoes on her feet and deciding to think about her weight later, Annie headed out the door at a dead run. She nearly knocked both herself and Nick off their feet when they smacked right into each other on the other side of the door.