He’s So Fine

Chapter 1

For a guy balancing his weight between the fly bridge 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 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 kind of thoughts. Not quite dawn, 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 he 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 boat builder. 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 were exactly service-oriented people.

They’d had a warm Indian summer here in the Pacific Northwest, but October had just recently roared in like 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 for the faint of heart, but after seven years on an oil rig 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 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 cold 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 sea water.

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—

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

Jesus. He managed to yank her off of 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 trying to save him. If the situation wasn’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 onto m-me,” she said, and … dunked him again.

For the love of God. “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 of the rig fire long gone, Cole tread 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 his so-called rescuer 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-Another.

All he knew about her was that she hung out with Sam’s fiancé Becca, ran some sort of shop downtown, 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, perfect, his fingers indeed came away red with his own blood. Just a cut, 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 open, and he discovered they were the exact same color as her hair — deep, dark chocolate.

“I th-th-ought 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, and 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 onto 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 herself. “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 that later. “Time to get you home, Super Girl.”

“B-b-but my b-b-boot.”

“We’ll rescue the boot later.”

“We w-w-will?”

No. Her boot was DOA – dead on arrival. “Later,” he said again and grabbing her hand, 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 t-t-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 below deck, 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 to a stack at her side. “Okay,” he said. “Strip.”