Stroke. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe. Sloan’s sun flushed skin prickled quickly in the cool water. For the next twenty minutes, she focused on the rhythm. She released every concern from her mind and swam. No, in hooker mode her legs couldn’t kick as furiously as she wanted nor arms stroke as hard, but her muscles still sang. The effort gave her brain a welcomed respite from the restless night.
Covert work had always been Sloan’s forte. Morphing into someone else. Hiding who she was. What she’d endured. But this assignment held in the balance every desire she’d clung to since the day she’d quit mourning her parents and started fighting, everything she’d thought beyond her grasp after so long struggling to make it a reality. This assignment had also tapped a well of emotion she’d thought long ago drained.
His voice destroyed her solitude. The dark timbre resonated down Sloan’s spine like a cellist’s bow being dragged across the C string. A fresh wave of gooseflesh crested over her. She curled the water’s surface and turned toward Baine. Words froze in her throat. Thick and unruly dark hair cropped neatly around his ears, but dipped and swayed wildly at his forehead. The perfect handle for screwing. Jezuz. If that one wasn’t enticing enough, the swells and dips of his traps, shoulders, and biceps provided a feast of options to grip while riding the sculpted V of his hips. Everywhere she looked his swarthy skin wrapped taut—over a defined eight pack, thick and sturdy legs, corded forearms. The short crinkles of brown hair that peppered across his chest and peeked out from the waist of his swim trunks sizzled her brain.
“Thank you.” Sloan aimed for courteous and non-solicitous, tamping down the resentment, warring curiosity, and wicked lust he stirred inside her with every bit of self-control she possessed.
The bespoke suit he’d worn so well the night before had been traded for charcoal swim trunks and a towel slung over one shoulder. He moved toward her with grace that belied his bulk, before dropping his towel on the chaise next to hers. Of all the chairs and loungers in the place, he’d chosen the only occupied lounger on the entire patio. The act, though in all likelihood innocent, rang in Sloan’s ears like a war cry. A deliberate move in a complicated game of chess. Having just finished her laps, his timing was too perfect to be coincidence.
Baine turned and settled his gaze on her. Sloan searched for any sign of recognition in the sky blue orbs, in the tautness of his square jaw, or the furrow of his brow, and found none. Good.If he recognized her, the mission would be ruined. Not that she’d live to see the fallout. It was good that his eyes hadn’t alighted with remembrance, but heedless of the boon, emptiness pitted her belly.
Every battle honed instinct screamed for Sloan to retreat. In submission, she pushed off the bottom and glided to the stone outcropping only a few feet away from the enigma that was Baine Kendrick. She should hate him on sight. Anger roiled just under the surface, but the sudden and undeniable physical awareness of him played bumper-cars with the ire and her brain.
“It’s all yours,” she said, levering herself out of the water. Thousands of droplets rained off her body, and Baine’s intent study likely cataloged each. Like a damn schoolgirl, her cheeks heated.
“That’s good,” he said. A smile pulled at one corner of his mouth. Then he added, “I think you would put me to shame in a proper race.”
Sloan shook her head, unable to speak. The twinge of memory of two forgotten children racing over the green grass was too sweet and painful to rouse.
He held out a towel, and she forced her feet to close the distance. Proximity sent a jolt of electricity coursing through her, similar to the energy that surged before a fight, but different. She swallowed hard, struggling to ignore the nuance, which made her hyper aware she wore only strategically placed strips of spandex. When her fingers closed around the terry cloth, Lana and Cynthia came ambling through the doorway onto the patio. Their conversation quieted once they saw her and Baine. The women waved.
“Good morning, ladies.”
They beamed at him as they walked by, then settled on side-by-side lounges at the opposite end of the row. Sloan nodded and soaked up the excess moisture from her hair and body in preparation for her escape. She secured the towel around her body with a tuck of its tail at the top of her breast, and gave him the best smile she could muster.
“Lotion me,” he asked. Though his tone made it sound like more like a command.
Sloan turned a palm up. “I’m sorry, I don’t have any.” She motioned toward the other women. “They might have some, and I’m sure they’d happily help.”
“And you wouldn’t,” he countered.
While she sputtered, something she didn’t recall ever having done in her life, he reached across her to a side table and plucked a tube from a decorative bowl. His body came so close to hers the heat he radiated seeped into her marrow. As he retreated, the dusting of dark hair on his chest tickled her arm.
“Here,” he said, slapping the lotion into her hand.
He sat on the end of the chaise, elbows on his knees. Hunching didn’t diminish his presence in the least. In fact, it drew Sloan’s attention to the sloping topography of his chest and the spread of his shoulders, which dwarfed the chair under him. When she didn’t move he tilted his chin up and directed her behind him with a thick arm.
She circled him in a wide arc, but surrendered, tucking behind him on the hard wood. Clinically, like she treated a field wound, Sloan uncapped the sunscreen, deposited a dollop on her palm and began rubbing it onto his back. From his nape she worked her way out over his shoulders, denying the tingle the friction created below her waist. Until he leaned into her touch.
Megan Mitcham was born and raised among the live oaks and shrimp boats of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where her enormous family still calls home. She attended college at the University of Southern Mississippi where she received a bachelor's degree in curriculum, instruction, and special education. For several years Megan worked as a teacher in Mississippi. She married and moved to South Carolina and began working for an international non-profit organization as an instructor and co-director.
In 2009 Megan fell in love with books. Until then, books had been a source for research or the topic of tests. But one day she read Mercy by Julie Garwood. And oh, Mercy, she was hooked!