I hear him yelling.
It’s too late. I’m already in the water. The deep end of the ocean.
Well, not really.
Shallow coastal waters to be precise. Even at my height of five foot five the water barely covers my shoulders.
I see what I’m looking for. The sliver glints in the pristine aqua waters.
The spotted eagle ray brushes my leg. I’m careful as I watch the long, whip-like tail in the water.
Then, I hear a splash and some mumbling curses.
“Are you crazy?” he asks and grasps my shoulder.
Six of these suckers swirl around us, and my heart hammers in my chest. Little, they are not, ten feet wide, maybe.
Another one heads straight for me. Strong arms wrap around my waist from behind.
“Just stay calm,” his deep voice commands.
The man they call the Manta Ray Whisperer picks me up at the waist and the eagle ray glides by us.
Panic grips me when I don’t see the silver below the surface.
“Miss, we need to get back to the boat.”
Ignoring his words, I wiggle from his hold. My hope fades with every passing second.
Please, God, let it be there.
“I’ve got to get it, please give me a moment.”
“You’re not hearing me . . . come on.” He tugs on my bikini strap.
I spin back to face him. This close, I can see the flecks of blue in his green eyes sparkling beautifully against his tan skin. “Please, help me. It’s a silver bracelet.”
He’s tall and tan and sexy as hell. I want to weave my hands through his unruly blond hair. A sexy surfer god with a southern accent—a pissed off sexy surfer dude. His narrowed green eyes are my indication.
“Fuck,” he hisses the curse. “Generally, the eagle rays are a shy species, and they’re wary of divers. But those tail spines are venomous and can inflict serious wounds. You got me out here looking for a damn bracelet?” He shakes his head.
“You go back to the boat, then,” I call over my shoulder. “Are you even old enough to be doing this, surfer boy?”
“I’m twenty-nine, plenty old enough, sweetheart.” He grips my wrist and pulls me toward him.
For a moment, my gaze holds his, and I notice his incredibly shaped brows. He’s chiseled to perfection. High cheek bones, perfect mouth, even his nose is flawless. This guy is well built, and his tattoos are doing everything for my lady parts.
“We’re leaving now,” he snaps.
Pulling from his grip, I move slowly in the water. An eagle ray skates in the water inches from me.
It’s an epic stare down. Woman versus sea beast.
“Miss, you’ve got two choices—come back to the boat with me willingly, or I carry you over my damn shoulder—caveman style. And I’d really like to keep my southern gentleman rep intact.”
“It’s here, I just know it. Hold on.” My eyes focus on the sand at the bottom of the water.
Come on. Come on, I don’t want to lose you here.
Water splashes in front of me coating my face and chest. I know I don’t have much time. A long tail lashes out again.
A low growl sounds in my ear as the Manta Ray Whisperer’s arms lock around my waist once more.
“Hold on, I see it,” I shout.
“Keep your voice down,” he orders. “Do you want to get stung?”
“Wait, please,” I say and wiggle out of his arms. Reaching down, I pluck the sliver from the water and shove it on my wrist.
His green eyes narrow. “Got your bracelet, princess?”
One strong arm curls around my waist, and he hauls me up and over his shoulder. Nerves splash in my belly, and dread rears its head.
This guy looks like he works out every chance he gets. I get to the gym as much as possible, and I love doing yoga. I’m fit, but I still have cellulite and my stomach isn’t flat as it once was.
“You know, I’ve met a lot of spoiled rich girls, but at least they had enough sense not to do what you just did for a silly bracelet.”
This guy has some nerve and a serious attitude problem. Southern gentleman my ass. If only he knew what this bracelet means to me. The sentimental value that it holds in my heart.
We get back to the boat and he drops me into the water. I go under and break the surface seconds later.
“Hey, you can’t do that to me,” I yell.
“Seems that I just did, princess.” He climbs up the ladder. His arms flexing as he pulls himself up.
My heartbeat quickens, much like it does when I hit my stride on the treadmill.
“What’s your problem?” I feel the wrinkles in my face deepen.
“My problem? My problem is that you could’ve gotten both of us injured, and there’s no one around for miles. We could have died out here. Not to mention, I’m responsible for this expensive yacht, and I didn’t have time to anchor it in place while you decided to take a dive into eagle ray waters.”
His words hit me with impact. But in my defense my emotions took over my body. The bracelet is too important to me. I never meant put him or me in danger.
“I . . . I’m not a spoiled rich girl,” I tell him as grasp the handles of the ladder. The water sluices off my skin as I climb higher.
Is my ass jiggling?
“Pfft, whatever. You rented this boat for a few hours by yourself. And—” His gaze sweeps down my body— “you look like you stepped out of the pages of Vogue by the way you’re dressed. Who wears this much jewelry?”
Standing on the back of the boat near the grill, I squeeze the excess water from my hair. When I’m finished, I stomp up the stairs and trek through the cabin.
I’m about to tell him off, but I bite my tongue. I don’t owe this man-child a damn thing. This is the first time in years I’ve had a vacation by myself. It’s long overdue, and I want to bask in every luxury that I can.
Champagne in my plunge pool—yes, please.
Breakfast on the beach—yep.
Private yacht tour with a guide—bucket list, hell yeah.
But this is much more than I bargained for.
“Listen up, fashionista,” he barks. “How about I take you to one of the prettiest beaches here and you can strut around in your bikini sippin’ champagne and taking selfies for Instagram. Hashtag, living my best life.”
My eyes lock on his green ones, his gaze is strong and serious. Straightening my shoulders, I toss him a glare and tie my sarong around my waist.
The boat rocks back and forth hard and I lose my balance. My breath races as panic shoots through my veins.
“Oh no!” My hands grip the back of the captain’s chair.
I expect an obnoxious comment, but instead he smirks.
“Don’t worry, I won’t let you go overboard, again. Do me a favor and put any treasured possessions in a safe place.”
An awkward silence settles between the two of us.
“Are you ready?” he asks.
“Yeah. I’m ready.” I settle onto the lounge on the back of the boat and zip up my jewels in the side pocket of my bag.
“Hang on, princess.”
He turns on the engine and my hand rests on top of my head. “Can you do me a favor and not call me, princess?”
“Sure thing.” He glances at his phone screen and back at me. “Minka.”
My name rolls of his tongue in the most gorgeous way. The rasp of his gritty deep southern accent sends a shudder rolling down my spine.
The boat moves along the shoreline at a slow rate of speed. He signals a few points of interest and then steers the boat into a private cove.
“Locals only spot,” he tells me. “But by far one of the prettiest views here.”
He shuts down the boat engine and then drops anchor. “Next time you want to go for a swim at least let me do this first.”
The warning brings my annoyance back. But before I can tell him off, he hands me a glass of champagne. My eyes study the tattoo on his right forearm. It’s a script and I don’t know the language. I’m good with French, Japanese, and a little bit of Chinese but I have no idea what this language is.
“Go on, enjoy the view. Head to the back of the boat and sit on the lounger. I’m going to make your lunch.”
Glass in hand, I do what I’m told.
Blowing out a deep breath, I feel all the tension leave my body. I watch as he takes his time washing his hands before marching back to front of the boat.
He’s not wrong about the view. And it irritates me that he’s right.