Authors: ROBIN GIANNA,
Tags: #ROMANCE - MEDICIAL
Damn. His pulse kicked up and made him a little short of breath.
Chaperones were a very good thing.
farms of papaya, mangoes and acres of rubber trees brought them to the soaring Grand Cape Mount, then eventually to the shoreline. Though John Adams had offered, Charlotte insisted on driving, of course. Trent had to wonder what made the woman feel a need to be in charge all the time. Didn’t she ever want just to relax and go along for the ride?
Patience kept up a steady chatter until her father told her he’d give her a quarter if she could stay silent for five minutes. After she failed to manage that, Trent entertained her with a few simple card tricks he let her “win” that earned her the quarter after all.
They parked at the edge of the road and, as they unpacked their things from the car, Charlotte shook her head at Trent. “Is there a soul on the planet you can’t charm to death?”
“To death? Doesn’t exactly sound like you mean that in a nice way.” Trent hooked a few beach chairs over his arm and they followed John Adams and Patience, who carried their lunches and a few plastic pails and shovels.
“Okay, charm, period. Everyone in the hospital thinks you’re Mr. Wonderful.”
“Does that include the director of the hospital?”
“Of course. I’m very grateful you filled in here—twice—until we can get another doctor.”
Her voice had become polite, her smile a little stiff. Was she regretting that her rare time off had to be spent with him? Or could she be having the same problem he was having—wanting to take up where they’d left off at her house, knowing it was a hell of a bad idea?
As they approached the beach, Trent stopped to soak in the visual spectacle before him. A wide and inviting expanse of beige sand stretched as far as he could see, palm trees swaying in the ocean wind. A few houses sat off the shore, looking for all the world as though they were from the Civil War era of the deep south in the United States.
“How old do you think those houses are?” he asked Charlotte.
“Robertsport was one of the first colonies founded here by freed slaves. I think it goes back to 1829, so some of the houses here are over a hundred and fifty years old.”
“That’s incredible.” He looked back down the beach and enjoyed the picturesque lines of fishermen with their seining nets stretched from the beach down into the water, about ten of them standing three feet apart, holding the nets in their hands. Several canoes sat on the shore, obviously made from a single hand-carved tree. One was plain, but the other was splashed with multiple colors of paint in an interesting hodgepodge design.
He was surprised to see a few surfers in the water farther down the beach, not too far from a cluster of black rocks in the distance. The waves were big and powerful, but were breaking fairly far out.
“I didn’t know the people here surfed. I know Senegal is popular for surfing, but didn’t know the sport had made its way here.”
“I’m told an aid worker was here surfing maybe six or seven years ago. A local was fascinated and gave it a try. It’s starting to take off, I guess, with locals competing and some tourists coming now.”
“You know, we could always borrow a board from them. Want to give it a try?” he teased. The waves were pretty rough, so he knew there was no way she’d even consider it. The water closer to shore, though, was comparatively calm. Hopefully, he could get her into the lapping waves without it being too scary for her.
“Um, no. I think I’m going to be happy just beaching it, thanks anyway.”
He’d have to see what he could do about changing her mind. They stopped in the middle of the wide beach and Charlotte laid some blankets on the soft sand. Patience tossed her toys and plopped down next to them. “Daddy, come help me build the castle!”
“How about we eat first, li’l girl?” John Adams said. “Miss Charlie and I brought some jollof rice, which I know you like. I don’t know about everybody else, but I’m starving.”
“You always starving, Daddy.” The child grinned up at her father and Trent saw again what a strong bond there was between the two. The same kind of bond he’d seen grow so quickly between Chase and his son, even though he hadn’t met them until the child was a toddler.
That surprising emotion tugged at Trent again, just as it had when Chase had told him about having a new little one on the way. A pinch of melancholy, knowing he’d likely never experience that kind of bond—though he knew only too well that not every family was as close as it seemed. That sometimes the chasm grew too large ever to be crossed.
After lunch and some sandcastle building, complete with a moat, Trent decided it was time to push Charlotte a little, to encourage her to face her fear. She was on her knees smoothing the last turret of the castle, and he pushed to his feet to stand behind her, smacking the sand from his hands. “Come on, Miss Edwards. Time for your psychotherapy session.”
Immediately, her back stiffened. “I’m not done with the castle yet. Maybe later.”
“Come on. It’s hot as heck out here. Think how cool and refreshing the water will be.”
“I’m going to watch Patience swim first.” She turned to the little girl. “Remember you told me you wanted to learn to float in the lagoon? I want to see you.”
And, if that wasn’t an excuse, he’d never heard one. Obviously, it was going to be tough going getting her in the water.
John Adams grasped the child’s hand and pulled her to her feet. “Good idea. Come on, let’s get in the lagoon and cool off.”
The child’s expression became even more worried than Charlotte’s. “No, Daddy. I don’t want to.”
She pointed at the lagoon water, separated from the ocean by about fifty feet of sand. “There’s neegees in there. I don’t want to get taken by the neegees.”
“There’s no neegees in there, I promise.”
“For true, Daddy, there are. They talk about it at school.” She stared up at her father with wide eyes. “The neegees are under the water and they grab people who swim. They suck people right out of the lagoon, and nobody knows where they go, and then they’re never, ever seen again. Ever.”
John Adams chuckled and pulled her close against his leg. “Sugar, I promise you. There’s no such thing as neegees. Just like there’s no witchcraft where someone can put a curse on you. All those are just stories. So let’s get in the water and I’ll help you learn to float.”
Patience shook her head, pressing her face to her dad’s leg. “No, Daddy. I’m afraid of the neegees.”
Inspiration struck and Trent figured this was a good time to put those psych classes he’d teased Charlotte about to good use and solve two problems at once. “Patience, you know how Miss Charlie is afraid of the rip currents in the ocean? How she’s afraid to go in the water too?”
The little girl peeked at him with one eye, the other still pressed against her father’s leg. “Yes.”
“How about if Miss Charlie decides she’s going to get in the water even though she’s afraid? Then, when you see how brave she is, and how she does just fine and has fun, you can get in the lagoon with your dad and have fun too. What do you say?”
Patience turned to look at Charlotte, whose expression morphed from dismay to serious irritation as she glared at Trent. He almost laughed, except he knew she was genuinely scared.
“I guess if Miss Charlie gets in the water and doesn’t get bit by a shark then I can be brave too.”
“Thanks for that encouragement, Patience. Now I really can’t wait to swim,” Charlotte said. She narrowed her eyes at Trent, green sparks flying. “And thank
for leaving me no choice here. I’ll be back after I get my swimsuit on.”
“I’ll check out the rip situation before we go in.” Trent jogged into the water and leaped over the smaller waves before diving into a larger one. The water felt great and the inside of his chest felt about as buoyant as the outside. Charlotte was trusting him to help her feel safe in the water and he was going to do whatever he could to be sure she did.
Swimming parallel to the beach for a little in both directions, he didn’t feel or see any major rips in the sand, though he’d still have to pay attention. Satisfied, he bodysurfed an awesome wave into shore, standing just in time to see Charlotte emerge from the path that led to the car.
Her beautiful body wore a pink bikini that wasn’t super-skimpy but still showed plenty of her smooth skin and delectable curves. His pulse quickened and he reminded himself this little swim was supposed to make her feel safer and get past her fear. It was not an excuse to touch her all over.
Yeah, right. It was a damned great excuse, and not taking advantage of it was going to be nearly impossible.
“Ready?” He walked to her and stroked the pads of his fingers across the furrows in her brow, letting them trail softly down her cheek.
“Not really,” she said under her breath. “But, since I’m now responsible for Patience not being afraid of the water for the rest of her life, I guess I have to be.”
“I hope you’re not mad at me. It’s a good thing you’re doing for her. And yourself.” He grasped her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “Don’t worry. I’ll be with you the whole time, and if you get really freaked out we’ll head back in.”
She nodded and gripped his hand tightly as they waded into the water, up to their knees, then her waist. In just another minute, the water was lapping at her breasts, which was so distracting he almost forgot to look for too-big waves that might be bearing down on them. He forced himself to look back at the ocean, making sure they weren’t ending up in a dangerous spot, before returning his gaze to Charlotte’s face. Her eyes were wide, the fear etched there clear, and he released her hand to put his arm around her waist, holding her close.
“I’m going to hold you now, so you feel more comfortable. Don’t worry, I’m not getting creepy.” He grinned and she gave him a weak smile in return. “In fact, why don’t you get on my back and we’ll just swim a little together that way until you feel more relaxed?”
“I admit I feel...uncomfortable. But I’m not a little kid, you know. Riding on your back seems ridiculous.”
With that body of hers, there was no way she could be mistaken for a little kid. “Not if it makes you feel less nervous. Come on.” He crouched down in the water up to his neck. “Get on, and wrap your arms around my throat. Just don’t choke me if you get scared or we’ll both drown,” he teased.
To his surprise, she actually did, and he swam through the water with her clinging to him like a remora attached to a shark, enjoying the feel of the waves sluicing over his body. Enjoying the feel of her weight on him and of her skin sensuously sliding across his, just the way he’d fantasized.
“Okay?” he asked as a slightly bigger wave slapped into them, splashing water into their faces.
“Okay. I admit the water feels...nice.”
“It does, doesn’t it?” He grinned, relieved that this seemed to be working. “Ready to try a little on your own, with me holding your hand?”
“Um, I guess.”
She slid from his back and, as she floated a foot or so away, her grim expression told him she wasn’t anywhere near feeling relaxed. He took her hands and wrapped her arms behind his head, then placed his arms around her. Her face was so close, her mouth wet and parted as she breathed, her dripping hair glistening in streaks of bronze. He wanted, more than anything, to kiss her.
And, now that they were facing one another, pressed together, the sensuous feel of her soft breasts against his chest, of her legs sliding against his, was impossible to ignore. The sensation pummeled him far more than any wave could, and he battled back the raw need consuming him. He could only hope she couldn’t feel his body’s response to the overwhelming one-two punch that was delectable Charlotte Edwards.
“I...I’m not too freaked out, so that’s good, isn’t it?” Her voice was a bit breathless, but of course they were swimming a little, and treading water—though his own breath was short for a different reason.
“Yes. It’s good.” Holding her close was good. The feel of her body, soft and slick against his, was way better than good. He wanted to touch her soft satiny skin all over. Wanted to slide his hand inside her swimsuit top to cup her breast, to thumb the taut nipple he could feel poking against his chest. To slip his fingers inside her bikini bottom and caress her there, to see if she could possibly be as aroused as he was.
The world had shrunk to just the two of them floating in the water. Intensely focused on all those thoughts, Trent forgot to pay attention to the waves. A large whitecap broke just before it reached them, crashing into their bodies and engulfing them.
Charlotte shrieked and her wide, scared eyes met his just before the wave drove them toward shore. He held on to her, crushing her against him so she wouldn’t get flung loose, and her arms squeezed around him in return, tightening behind his neck. “Hold on!” he said as the surf took them on a long, rapid, undulating ride to shore.
Pressed tightly together, they rode the wave, and as it flattened Trent rolled to be sure it was his back and not hers that scraped along the sandy bottom. They slid to a stop in about five inches of water, just a short distance from the dry shore. With Charlotte still clutched in his arms, Trent rolled again so she was beneath him, shielding her from the surf. The last thing he wanted was for a wave to hit her from behind and startle her before she could see it coming. He looked into her eyes as water dripped from his face and hair onto hers. “Are you all right?”
“Yes. I’m all right.” She dragged in some air. “Though I think I know how a surfboard feels now. Or a piece of seaweed.”
He chuckled, then glanced up to see that John Adams and Patience were in the lagoon, the child’s little body lying flat with his hands supporting her as she practiced her floating.
With a grin, he looked back down at Charlotte. “Looks like it worked. You being brave helped Patience be brave. You even rode a wave into shore!”
“Only because I was attached to you.” A little laugh left her lips and she smiled at him. One thick strand of hair lay across one eye and clung to her face and lips. “I’m glad Patience got in the lagoon. Funny; I kind of forgot to be scared, too. Because of you.”