there are a lot of ruts in the ground. I wanted you to be able to see without that shoe on.”
Extending his hand to assist her from the jeep, Briana first stared at it and then moved up to eye him incredulously. “Why are you suddenly being so nice to me? I thought I was the enemy.”
A grin flashed in the torchlight. “Maybe I’m hoping to get lucky?”
She arched an eyebrow.
He chuckled, and stepped back. “Don’t worry Ms. Holt, you’re safe with me. I’m not going to touch you.”
That answer didn’t particularly mollify her.
“Why?” She eyed him. “You don’t like women very much, do you?”
“I love women. They just never seem to work out. I’m on a self-imposed sabbatical, if you will.” Even in the dark, his smirk flared. “And I’m not about to fall off the wagon with you.”
Briana swung her legs out of the jeep and tested the ground for rocks with her bare toes. “Good, I feel better now.”
“I’m serious . Be careful over here. There are a ton of shells in the ground.” Nick disregarded her cynical look and wrapped his fingers around her arm to guide her towards the deck. He reached past her for the double doors, and ducked inside to flip on a lamp, bathing the cottage in a soft amber glow.
“You don’t lock the doors?”
“Most people don’t even notice the driveway. I don’t get many visitors.”
Briana stood just inside the entryway, taking in the polished wooden floorboards, balsa furniture , and rattan fans. It was decent décor for a staid bachelor, a tag she placed on him after a quick glimpse of his ring finger. “That’s because your demeanor can be obtrusive at times.”
Nick’s back was to her as he rummaged through the kitchen cabinets and then tucked his long body down to search the refrigerator. He met her eyes over the rim of the door.
“Mmmmm. But then you go and do or say something nice just to keep me off balance.”
“Is it working? Are you off balance?”
“I fell into your arms, didn’t I?” The comment was meant to be flippant, but it brought back the same intensity to his expression that she witnessed in the jeep.
“Beer, wine, guava juice or coffee?” His voice was gruff, distracted.
“Coffee,” she said. “But I’ll make it. You’ve got a lot of work to do, I imagine.”
Nick wavered, leaning his hip against the counter. Wrinkles of concentration flanked his eyes, and his mouth was set in a grim line as he measured her.
“You could have been seriously hurt out there.”
The grave look on his face was contagious. Briana sobered and recalled the sensation of the wave against the back of her legs, collapsing them. In a flash, the memory hurled her back in time as she struggled to stay above water, watching her parents tread only a few feet away, urging her to kick , kick.
A wave came, and they were gone.
“I don’t want anyone to get hurt out there, Nick.” Her voice was hoarse. “Do what you have to do to ensure that.”
The drum of a keyboard, and Nick’s muttered exasperation enabled Briana to track him down to a cozy, but crammed den in the corner of the bungalow. This was perhaps the only spot without access to the lanai, and because of its limited windows, was cast in shadow. Only the glow of the computer monitors illuminated it.
Clearing her throat, she set the coffee mugs down on the vacant corner of his desk. Everything else was consumed with graphs, text books, and reams of notes.
Nick sat back. “Thanks.” He motioned with his hand. “Come here and take a look at this.” Stretching, he wheeled over another chair, as Briana slid into the narrow gap and tried not to notice her leg inadvertently brush against his.
“Did you find something?” She leaned forward, intrigued by the array of charts and simulations on the screen.
“There’s no record of unusual seismic activity.”
“Seismic activity!” She dipped closer to the lucent display. “It was just a wave. A
London Casey, Karolyn James