Authors: Amy Andrews
He was a misogynist. A masochist.
Bloody-minded. Arrogant. Bastard.
And she was much too good for him.
So she swam. She swam and she swam until she couldn’t swim another stroke. And then she stopped.
She had no idea how long she’d been swimming. All she knew was her arms, legs and lungs were screaming at her and the beach seemed a very long way away. And the thought of having to swim all the way back was not a welcome one.
Damn it. Now look what he’d done
He’d chased her right out into the middle of the bloody ocean. She sighed as she prepared to swim back.
Finn stood on the cliff top, his anxiety lessening as Evie came closer to land. Stupid fool to go out swimming by herself. The water might look calm to the untrained eye but the swell often made swimming very hard going and the tide was on the turn—always a more dangerous time to be in the water. From this vantage point he could see a rip forming close to the shore before his eyes.
And Evie was swimming right into it.
‘Evie!’ he called out, even though he knew it was futile all the way up here, with the wind snatching everything away.
He hit the stairs at a run, his gaze trained firmly on Evie, watching as she started to go backwards despite her forward stroke. Seeing her lift her head, her expression confused when she realised what was happening. Noting the look of panic and exhaustion as her desperate hands clawed at the water as if she was trying to gain purchase.
Thank God his raging thoughts had brought him to the cliff edge. That he’d sought the ocean to clear his head after their bitter exchange.
‘Evie,’ he called out again as his foot hit the sand. Still futile but coming from a place inside that kicked and burned and clawed, desperate to get the words out. ‘Evie!’
It took Evie long seconds to figure out she’d been caught in a rip. And even longer seconds to stop fighting the pull at her legs and push at her body. No matter how much she kicked and bucked against the current, bands of iron seemed to pull tighter and just would not give.
Over the pounding of her heart her sluggish brain tried to remember what every Aussie kid growing up anywhere near a beach had been taught from the cradle.
Don’t fight it
Lie on your back and go with it
Wait until it ebbs then swim parallel to the beach
Conserve your energy
Evie felt doomed immediately. She was already exhausted—where on earth would she find the energy to swim back again once this monstrous sucker had discharged her from its grip? She opened her eyes to glance wistfully at the rapidly receding shoreline.
And that’s when she saw him.
A shirtless Finn running into the ocean, looking right at her, his mouth open, calling to her maybe? She couldn’t hear the words but just the sight of him made her heart sing. Half an hour ago she could have cheerfully murdered him but right this second he was what he’d been since that night she’d plonked herself down next to him at the gala—her everything.
She was tired and cold but suddenly she felt like everything was going to be okay and she finally relaxed and let the current sweep her along, her gaze firmly fixed on him as he threw himself into the rip and headed her way.
Her numb fingers found her bump and she whispered, ‘Daddy’s coming, baby.’
Finn caught up with her five minutes later as the rip swept them closer and closer to the rocky headland that divided this bay from the next.
Her lips were a pale purple and her teeth were chattering but she essentially looked in one piece and the tight fist around his heart eased a little. They weren’t exactly out of the woods but she wasn’t taking on water.
‘You okay?’ he shouted above the crash of the waves on the nearby rocks.
Evie nodded, smiling through lips that felt frozen to her face. The man didn’t even have the decency to look out of breath. ‘C-cold,’ she whispered.
Finn knew it would be impossible to warm her up in the water. ‘I think it’s weakened enough now that we can swim back. That’ll get the blood flowing again.’
Evie kicked into a dog paddle and managed a feeble smile. ‘Yay.’
‘Are you going to be able to manage the swim?’ Finn asked.
Evie looked at the distant beach and thought about her baby—their baby—depending on her to manage. ‘Guess I’ll have to,’ she said, knowing every arm movement, every leg kick would feel like swimming through porridge.
Finn could hear her exhaustion and wondered just how far she’d make it in the swell. He scanned around. They were situated between the two bays now, with the rip spitting them out directly in front of the rocky headland—the nearest piece of terra firma.
Waves thundered where the sea met rock and Finn knew they’d be smashed mercilessly, their bones as insignificant as kindling. But the bay on the other side seemed much more sheltered and he could see a couple of areas where they might be able to gain purchase on this calmer side of the headland and pull themselves out of the water.
It would certainly be quicker and less energy-sapping than the arduous swim back to shore.
‘There.’ He pointed. ‘We should be able to get onto those rocks. Go. I’ll follow you.’
Evie felt tired just looking at the waves sloshing against the rocks. He didn’t consult with her or seek agreement from her. Typical Finn—used to everyone jumping when he demanded it.
Finn frowned at her lack of activity. ‘C’mon, Evie,’ he said briskly. ‘You’re cold, you need to get out of the water.’
Evie looked back at him, his unkempt jawline and freaky blue eyes giving him a slightly crazy edge. Like he conquered rough seas and rocky headlands every day.
‘Evie!’ he prompted again.
Evie sighed. ‘Okay, okay,’ she muttered, kicking off in a pathetic type of dog paddle because anything else was beyond her.
Two slow minutes later they were almost within reach and Finn kicked ahead of her, looking for the best purchase. Finding a smooth, gently sloping rock that was almost like a ramp into the water, he reached for it. A breaker came from out of nowhere and knocked him against the surface, his ribs taking the brunt of the impact. Pain jolted him like a lightning strike and cold, salty water swept into his mouth as his breath was torn from his lungs.
Evie gasped. ‘Finn!’
‘I’m fine,’ he grunted, gripping the surface of the rock as pain momentarily paralysed his breathing. He lay for long moments like a landed fish, gasping for air.
Finn rolled on his back at an awkward angle, half on the rock, half in the water. ‘I’m fine,’ he said again as his lungs finally allowed the passage of a little more air. ‘Here,’ he said, half-sitting, the pain less now. Still, he gritted his teeth as he held out his hand. ‘Grab hold, I’ll pull you up.’
Evie did as she was told and in seconds she was dragged up next to him and they both half wriggled, half crawled onto flatter, water-smoothed rocks back from the edge, away from the suck and pull of the ocean.
They collapsed beside each other, dragging in air and recovering their strength. Evie shut her eyes against the feeble breaking sunlight and wished it was strong enough to warm the chill that went right down into her bones. The wind didn’t help, turning the flesh on her arms and legs to goose-bumps, tightening her nipples.
Finn lay looking at the sky. His ribs hurt—for sure there was going to be a bruise there tomorrow—but now they were safe he wanted to throttle her for scaring ten years off his life. He sat up. ‘Let’s go.’
Evie groaned. Despite how cold she was, she just wanted to lie there and shut her eyes for a moment. ‘Just a sec.’
‘No,’ he said standing up. ‘Now. You’re hypothermic. Walking will help.’
And if he stayed here with her he was going to let the adrenaline that had surged through him have free rein and it was not going to be pretty. His brain was already crowded with a hundred not-so-nice things to say to her and given that he’d already dumped on her earlier, she probably didn’t need another dressing down.
He crouched beside her and grabbed her arm, pulling firmly. ‘Now, Evie!’
Evie opened her eyes at the distinct crack in his tone—like a whip. She knew she should be grateful, she knew she should apologise for calling him a coward when the man had jumped into a rip to help her, but she wasn’t feeling rational. She wanted a hot shower and a warm bed.
Normally she’d fantasise about snuggling into him in that bed too but he was being too crabby and today was not a normal day.
‘Okay, okay,’ she said, letting him drag her into a sitting position and going on autopilot as she assisted him in getting her fully upright. She leaned heavily against him as her legs almost gave out.
He cursed. ‘You’re freezing.’
Evie frowned at his language but nodded anyway, her teeth chattering for good measure. ‘Cold,’ she agreed. ‘Tired.’
‘Right,’ he said briskly. ‘Let’s go. Quick march. Up and over the rocks then onto the sand then up the stairs.’
Evie groaned as her legs moved, feeling stiff and uncoordinated as if they’d had robotic implants. ‘Oh, God, those bloody stairs,’ she complained as Finn dragged her along.
‘You’ll have warmed up by then,’ he said confidently.
‘Oh, yes,’ she mocked. ‘I’ll be able to sprint right up them.’
It was on the tip of Finn’s tongue to snap that she’d made her own trouble but he was afraid that once he started, the fear that had gripped his gut as he’d raced down those stairs would bubble out and he’d say more stuff that he regretted, like he had earlier today.
So he didn’t say anything, just coaxed, bullied and cajoled her every step over the headland, gratified to see her become more co-ordinated and less irrational as her body warmed up. When they reached sand he jogged ahead of her to where her bag had been discarded on the beach, took out her fluffy dry towel and jogged back to her, wrapping her in it.
‘You must be cold too,’ Evie protested as she sank into its warm folds.
‘I’m fine,’ he dismissed.
Somehow they made it to the top of the stairs and into the homestead and Finn was pushing Evie into the bathroom and turning the hot shower on and ordering her in. She’d never been more grateful for Finn being his bossy, crabby self.
Thirty minutes later Evie was tucked up in her bed and drifting off to sleep on a blissfully warm cloud when Finn barged in, carrying a tray.
‘Drink this,’ he ordered plonking a steaming mug of something on her bedside table along with a huge slab of chocolate cake on a delicate plate with a floral border. ‘Reginald insists,’ he said.
Evie struggled to sit up, every muscle in her body protesting the movement. ‘Well, if Reginald insists …’
She propped herself against the headrest, drawing her knees up as she reached for the mug. The aroma of chocolate seduced her, making her stomach growl and her mouth fill with saliva, and she was suddenly ravenous.
She sighed as her first sip of the hot sweet milk coated the inside of her mouth and sent her taste buds into rapture. Finn, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, prowled around the end of her bed, slapping the tray against his legs, and she tried her best to ignore him as she reached for the cake.
Finn paced as Evie ate, reliving their moments in the ocean, still feeling edgy from the hit of adrenaline. He’d tried not to think of the hundred things that could have gone wrong when he’d been in the water and trying to get her back to the house, but the minute the bathroom door had shut and he’d known she was truly safe, reaction had well and truly set in.
They’d been lucky.
been lucky. He wondered if she had a clue how close she’d come to being a drowning statistic. The thought sent a chill up his spine.
As much as she was a pain in his butt, the thought of her not being around was unthinkable.
Did she not realise how precious life was?
Had growing up with that damn silver spoon in her mouth blinded her to the perils mere mortals faced every day?
Bloody little princess!
His ribs grabbed and moaned at him with every footfall, stoking his anger at her stupidity higher and higher.
Evie had eaten half of the cake before his silent skulking finally got on her last nerve. ‘Why don’t you just say it, Finn?’
Finn stopped mid-pace and looked at her. Her hair was still damp from her near-death experience in an unfriendly ocean and despite her obvious exhaustion she looked so damned imperious and defiant he wanted to put her over his knee and spank her. He threw the tray on the bed.
‘What the devil were you doing, swimming by yourself? You could have been swept out to sea, dashed on the rocks, drowned from exhaustion, frozen to death or been eaten by a bloody shark!’
Evie blinked at the litany of things that could have befallen her. They’d lurked in her mind as the current had dragged her further and further away from the shore but she’d tried not to give them any power. Trust Finn to shove them in her face.
Did he really think she needed them spelled out?
Did he think she hadn’t collapsed on her butt in the shower, shaking from head to toe at the what-ifs? That she hadn’t thought about how she’d not only put her life at risk but the life of their unborn child? She’d never been more grateful to feel the energetic movements of her baby as she’d stripped off her clothes in the shower.