Read He's So Fine Page 1

  To Laura and Julie and HelenKay,

  for loving me through the writing

  of this one despite the fact that

  I wasn’t always lovable :)

  Chapter 1

  For a guy balancing his weight between the stern of his boat and the dock, thinking about sex instead of what he was doing was a real bonehead move. Cole Donovan was precariously perched on the balls of his feet above some seriously choppy, icy water. So concentrating would’ve been the smart move.

  But he had no smarts left, which was what happened when you hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in far too long—your brain wandered into areas it shouldn’t.

  Sex being one of those areas.

  He shook his head to clear it. It was way too early for those kinds of thoughts. Not quite dawn, and the sky was a brilliant kaleidoscope of purples and blues and reds. Cole worked with a flashlight between his teeth, his fingers threading new electrical wire through the running lights on the stern. He only had a couple hours before a group of eight was coming through for a tour of the area.

  That’s what Cole and his two partners and best friends did—they hired out themselves and their fifty-foot Wright Sport boat, chartering deep-sea fishing, whale watching, scuba diving…if it could be done, they did it. Sam was their financial guy and boatbuilder. Tanner was their scuba diving instructor and communications expert. Cole was the captain, chief navigator, mechanic, and—lucky him—the face of Lucky Harbor Charters, mostly because neither Sam nor Tanner was exactly a service-oriented person.

  They’d had a warm Indian summer here in the Pacific Northwest, but October had roared in as if Mother Nature was pissed off at the world, and maybe in need of a Xanax to boot. But business was still good. Or it had been, until last night. He and Tanner had taken a group of frat boys out, and one of the idiots had managed to kick in the lights running along the stern, destroying not only the casing but also the electrical.

  Cole could fix it—there was little he couldn’t fix. But as he got down to it, a harsh wind slapped him in the face, threatening his balance. He kicked off the dock so that he was balanced entirely on the edge of the stern. Still not a position for the faint of heart, but after five years on oil rigs and two more running Lucky Harbor Charters, Cole felt more at ease on the water than just about anywhere else.

  He could smell the salt on the air and hear the swells smacking up against the dock moorings. The wind hit him again, and he shivered to the bone. Last week, he’d been out here working in board shorts and nothing else, the sun warming his back. Today he was in a knit cap, thick sweatshirt, cargo pants, and boots, and he was wishing for gloves like a little girl. He shoved his flashlight into his pocket, brought his hands to his mouth, and blew on his fingers for a moment before reaching for the wires again.

  Just as they connected, there was a sizzle and a flash, and he jerked, losing his footing. The next thing he knew, he was airborne, weightless for a single heartbeat…

  And then he hit the icy water, plunging deep, the contact stealing the air from his lungs. Stunned, he fought the swells, his heavy clothes, himself, eyes open as he searched for the flames that surely went along with the explosion.

  Jesus, not another fire. That was his only thought as panic gripped him hard. He opened his mouth and—

  Swallowed a lungful of seawater.

  This cleared his head. He wasn’t on the oil rig in the gulf. He wasn’t in the explosion that had killed Gil, and nearly Tanner as well. He was in Lucky Harbor.

  He kicked hard, breaking the surface, gasping as he searched for the boat, a part of him still not wholly convinced. But there. She was there, only a few feet away.

  No flames, not a single lick. Just the cold-ass swells of the Pacific Northwest.

  Treading water, Cole shook his head. A damn flashback, which he hadn’t had in over a year—

  “Omigod, I see you!” a female voice called out. “Just hang on, I’m coming!” This was accompanied by hurried footsteps clapping on the dock. “Help!” she yelled as she ran. “Help, there’s a man in the water! Sir, sir, can you hear me? I’m coming. Sir?”

  If she called him “sir” one more time, he was going to drown himself. His dad had been a sir. The old guy who ran the gas pumps on the corner of Main and First was a sir. Cole wasn’t a damn sir. He was opening his mouth to tell her so, and also that he was fine, not in any danger at all, when she took a flying leap off the dock.

  And landed right on top of him.

  The icy water closed over both of their heads, and as another swell hit, they became a tangle of limbs and water-laden clothing. He fought free and once again broke the surface, whipping his head around to look for the woman.

  No sign of her.

  Shit. Gasping in a deep breath, he dove back down and found her doing what he’d been doing only a moment before—fighting the water and her clothes, and herself. Her own worst enemy, she was losing the battle and sinking fast. Grasping the back of her sweater, Cole hauled her up, kicking hard to get them both to the surface.

  She sucked in some air and immediately started coughing, reaching out blindly for him and managing to get a handful of his junk.

  “Maybe we could get to shore first,” he said wryly.

  Holding on to him with both arms and legs like a monkey clinging to a tree, she squeezed him tight. “I’ve g-g-got y-y-you,” she stuttered through already chattering teeth, then climbed on top of his head, sending him under again.

  He managed to yank her off him and get her head above water. “Hey—”

  “D-don’t panic,” she told him earnestly. “It’s g-g-gonna be o-o-okay.”

  She actually thought she was saving him. If the situation weren’t so deadly, Cole might have thought some of this was funny. But she was turning into a Popsicle before his very eyes, and so was he. “Listen, just relax—”

  “H-hang on to m-me,” she said, and…dunked him again.

  For the love of—. “Stop trying to save me,” he told her. “I’m begging you.”

  Her hair was in her face, and behind the strands plastered to her skin, her eyes widened. “Oh, my God. You’re trying to commit suicide.”

  “What? No.” The situation was ridiculous, and he was frustrated and effing cold, but damn, it was hard not to be charmed by the fact that she was trying to save him, even as she was going down for the count herself. “I’m trying to keep you from killing me.”

  The flashback to the rig fire long gone, Cole treaded water to keep them afloat as he assessed their options. There were two.

  Shore or boat.

  They were at the stern of the boat, much closer to the swimming platform than to the shore. And in any case, there was no way his “rescuer” could swim the distance. Though Cole was a world-class swimmer himself, he was already frozen to the bone, and so was she. They needed out of the water…fast.

  With a few strokes, he got them to the stern of the boat, where he hoisted her up to the platform, pulling himself up after her.

  She lay right where he’d dumped her, gulping in air, that long, dark hair everywhere. Leaning over her, he shoved the wet strands from her face to better see her and realized with a jolt that he recognized her. She lived in one of the warehouse apartments across from Lucky Harbor Charters.

  Her name was Olivia Something-or-Other.

  All he knew about her was that she hung out with Sam’s fiancée, Becca; she ran some sort of shop downtown; she dressed in a way that said both “hands off” and “hot mama”; and he’d caught her watching him and the guys surfing on more than one occasion.

  “Y-y-you’re bleeding,” she said from flat on her back, staring up at him.

  Cole brought his fingers to the sting on his temple, and his fingers indeed came away red with his
own blood. Perfect. Just a cut though, no less than he deserved after that stupid stunt of shocking the shit out of himself with the wiring and then tumbling into the water. “I’m fine.” It was her he was worried about. Her jeans and sweater were plastered to her. She was missing a boot. And she was shivering violently enough to rattle the teeth right out of her head. “You’re not fine,” he said.

  “Just c-c-cold.”

  No shit. “What the hell were you thinking?” he asked, “Jumping in after me like that?”

  Her eyes flashed, and he discovered they were the exact same color as her hair—deep, dark chocolate.

  “I th-th-thought you were d-d-drowning!” she said through chattering teeth.

  Cole shook his head. “I didn’t almost drown until you jumped on top of me.”

  “What h-h-happened?”

  “I was working on the electrical wiring and got shocked and fell in.”

  “S-s-see? You needed help!”

  He absolutely did not. But arguing with her would get them nowhere, except maybe dead. “Come on, the plan is to get you home and warmed up.” Rising to his feet, he reached down and pulled her up with him, holding on to her when she wobbled. “Are you—”

  “I’m f-f-fine,” she said, and stepped back to look down at herself. “I l-l-lost my favorite b-b-boot rescuing y-y-you.”

  She called that a rescue? “Can you even swim?”

  “Y-y-yes!” She crossed her arms over her chest. “A l-l-little bit.”

  He stared at her in disbelief. “A little bit? Seriously? You risked your life on that?”

  “You were in t-t-trouble!”

  Right. They could argue about that later. “Time to get you home, Supergirl.”

  “B-b-but my b-b-boot.”

  “We’ll rescue the boot later.”

  “We w-w-will?”

  No. Her boot was on the ocean floor and DOA. “Later,” he said again, and grabbing her hand, he pulled her across the platform, through the stern. He needed to get her off the boat.

  She dug her heels in, one in just a sock, one booted.

  “What?” he asked.

  Still shivering wildly, she looked at him with misery. “I d-d-dropped my ph-ph-phone on the dock.”

  “Okay, we’ll grab it.”

  “Y-y-yes, but I d-d-didn’t drop my keys.”

  “That’s good,” he said, wondering if she’d hit her head.

  “Y-y-you don’t get it. I th-th-think I lost my k-k-keys in the w-w-water.”

  Well, shit. No keys, no getting her inside her place. This wasn’t good. Nor was her color. She was waxen, pale. They couldn’t delay getting her out of the elements and warm. “Okay, plan B,” he said. “We warm you here on the boat.” Again he started to tug her along, needing to get her inside and belowdecks, but she stumbled against him like her limbs weren’t working.

  Plan C, he thought grimly, and swung her up into his arms.

  She clutched at him. “N-n-not necessary—”

  Ignoring her, he got them both into the small galley, where he set her down on the bench at the table. Keeping his hands on her arms, he crouched in front of her to look into her eyes. “You still with me? You okay?”

  “Y-y-y—” Giving up, she dropped her head to his chest.

  “Not okay,” he muttered, and stroked a hand down the back of her head and along her trembling frame.

  Truth was, he wasn’t much better off. His head was still bleeding, and his shoulder was throbbing. He had nothing on her, though. She was violently trembling against him. Easing her back, he got busy. First he cranked the heater, then he opened their linens storage box, pulling out towels and blankets, which he tossed in a stack at her side. “Okay,” he said. “Strip.”

  Chapter 2

  Olivia’s head jerked up, and her dark eyes met Cole’s. “Wh-wh-what?”

  Not good, he thought. She wasn’t tracking. “Your clothes are keeping you cold,” he explained as gently as he could. “So you gotta lose ’em. Towel dry and then we’ll wrap you in blankets.” He kicked off his boots and pulled off his water-laden sweatshirt, which hit the floor like a fifty-pound weight. “I’ve got spare clothes here. I’ll get you something to wear.” His T-shirt went next. Another thunk.

  Not moving, she stared at his chest. “You’re c-c-crazy if you think I’m g-g-going to s-s-strip—”

  “That,” he said, “or I call nine-one-one. Nonnegotiable, Olivia.”

  She blinked. “You kn-kn-know my name?”

  “Yeah. You’re the woman who watches me and the guys surf while pretending to talk to Becca. Get moving, Supergirl.”

  “I d-d-don’t watch,” she said, her gaze still lingering on his chest.

  He had to laugh. “Okay, fine. You don’t watch us.” And he was the Tooth Fairy.

  “And I’m f-f-fine,” she said with a shiver that nearly threw her off the bench.

  “You’re blue, is what you are. You could pass for a Smurf.”

  She flashed those dark eyes at him. Clearly she had plenty on her mind, but she was shaking too hard to let him have it. Lucky him.

  “Look,” he said. “I’ll close my eyes, okay? And it’s not like we’re going to do the stupid chick flick thing where we have to get into bed together to warm each other up.”

  “G-g-good, ’cause if you tried it, you’d be w-w-walking funny tomorrow.”

  If she could toss out threats like that, she probably wasn’t in immediate danger of dying from hypothermia. But caution and safety first, as he’d learned the hard way over the years. “You’re still shaking badly,” he said. He grabbed a huge beach towel and shook it out, holding it up between them.

  Instead of jumping up to follow his unspoken command, she narrowed her eyes.

  But she wasn’t the only one who could play tough-as-hell. “Strip,” he said again, losing the gentle voice and going with the one he’d used as chief positioning operator and navigator, directing crews on the rigs. “Or I’ll do it for you.”

  In truth, this was an empty threat, but the Boss Voice got through to her. She stood up, glaring at him before ducking behind the towel.

  There was some movement, some rustling, which he took as a good sign. “We’ll get you dry,” he said, staring up at the ceiling to avoid catching a peek at her. “And then I’ll find you a pair of sweats and help you break into your place, since you lost your keys trying to kill me—er, save me.”

  Her head reappeared for the sole purpose of delivering a pretty impressive eye roll, then she vanished behind the towel again. When he heard the heavy, wet thud of her clothes hitting the floor, he leaned forward and wrapped the towel around her body as best he could. His fingers inadvertently brushed the soft, wet skin of her shoulders and back, and he had to force himself not to think about the fact that she’d dropped her sweater and jeans. He was about to do the strip routine himself, and he didn’t want to be sporting wood while he was at it. “Dry off,” he said, and stepped back from her.

  She nodded but didn’t move.

  “Olivia?” he asked.

  Her face was a mask of misery. “M-m-my arms won’t w-w-work.”

  Shit. He quickly and gently pushed her back down to the bench, sat at her side, and began to pile blankets over the top of them both.

  “W-what are you d-doing?”

  “Sharing my body heat,” he said.

  “I c-c-can’t feel any h-h-heat.”

  “You will.” Beneath the blankets, he reached for the towel she still had wrapped around her. “Don’t freak,” he warned. “I’m just going to remove the wet towel and pull you into me.”

  She opened her mouth, but using her sluggishness to his benefit, Cole quickly stripped the towel away from her, wrapping his arms around her, pulling her into him as two things happened simultaneously. One, she squeaked. Probably trying to formulate her next threat.