Peachland Passions Series Book 3
Colton and Nina were childhood best friends and teenage sweethearts. Nina thought they would always be together, right up to the moment that she learned she was pregnant... and Colton ditched. Now Colton is back, he's a smoking hot firefighter, he's not a scared little boy anymore... and he wants his girls back.
Smoking Hot Summer
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From Chapter One:
He was a solid hundred yards out and vibing with the refreshing cool of the waves when he saw them. His vision zoomed onto the little girl -- Louisa -- first, and then her mother. It was inconvenient, really, since the pain that sliced through his chest and lodged in his left shoulder felt an awful lot like a heart attack -- he imagined -- and he was way out in the lake, nowhere near the shore.
Colton flipped over on his back and floated, but his eyes stayed focused on the pair on the dock. They had it to themselves for the moment, and as he watched, Louisa wrapped her arms around Nina’s waist. Next thing he knew, he heard the sound of a shriek, and the child -- his daughter -- started wrestling against the taller and stronger woman at her side. A moment later Nina toppled with a large splash into the lake, and the pressure in Colton’s chest eased. Without even realizing he was going to, he slowly began swimming nearer.
From the angle he was approaching the dock, Colton could no longer see Nina. Probably, that meant she couldn’t see him either. He figured that was the only reason she hadn’t fled to safer waters. He could still hear her, though, and that was painful enough. The only thing more excruciating, Colton figured, was once again living in the same town as the woman -- and knowing he was unwelcome in her life.
“Come on, Lou, jump.”
“Louisa Joy, you got this. Get your tush in the water.”
“It’s too deep, momma. I’m not ready.”
“Then go down the ladder, Lou. I’m freezing out here.”
“Ladders are for babies,” his daughter said, making Colton grin. Although, he noted, she still didn’t jump off the side of the dock.
Colton was close enough that he could hear their conversation clearly, and Louisa’s fear pinged his heart. He’d learned to swim here at Swim Beach -- all the local Peachland kids did -- and he could still vividly remember the fear he’d felt as a boy when it came to jumping off this very dock and into the darkness below.
Jumping into swimming pools never fazed him. He could see all the way to the bottom and tell what was underneath him in a pool. There had just been something about jumping into the inky darkness of the lake water that at Louisa’s age had scared the bejeezus right out of him.
When he’d let himself wonder about this girl, asked himself in which ways she might be like him, this was hardly what he’d imagined. Still... It touched him.
Colton placed his palms flat on the sides of the dock. His muscles contracted and he hauled himself effortlessly up out of the water and onto the surface of the dock. The motion rocked the planks, dipping the wood under his weight so that the end of the dock Louisa stood on tipped upwards slightly. She didn’t make a sound, just stretched her little arms out to balance herself against the rocking of the waves, so Colton didn’t speak, either. He simply stood on his own side of the dock, water running down his muscular body in streaming rivers that made puddles around his bare feet.
Now Nina could see him. Colton knew, because her eyes had gone wide and seemed to be locked on his pecs. He didn’t mean to flex them, it just sort of happened involuntarily when he noticed her scrutinizing them with an expression that made him think of a hungry lioness. With Nina, the description was all too apt -- she was far more likely to eat the heart from his chest than she was to cuddle up and purr at his side.
These days, anyway.
He’d filled out since their days together. He’d been a scrawny teenage boy in those days -- in more ways than one, it turned out. Despite the distance between them these days, Nina still liked the way he looked, Colton knew. They’d proved that the year he’d first moved back to town.
She’d been drunk when they’d run into each other at the club. He hadn’t realized just how drunk until they’d woken up together the next morning, and she had no memory of the night before.
He remembered. Every devouring, burning detail. Maybe it took booze to get Nina to forget that she hated him. But, she’d forgotten firmly enough that he knew that whatever her mind thought of him, her body still liked him just fine.
“Good to see you haven’t stopped bullying people into jumping off this dock, Nina.”
The eyes which had been roving over his six-pack jerked up to lock with his gaze. Hers flashed and sparked. His showed nothing but calm amusement.
“It’s a surprise to see you at all, Boyd.”
And not a pleasant one, her tone said. The grin which spanned his cheeks was as involuntary as flexing had been earlier.
“You saying you missed me?”
It was just a quick comeback. He hadn’t meant anything by it. Still, Colton regretted the words the moment they left his lips. Or rather, he regretted them the instant the look of unguarded pain flashed in Nina’s beautiful cat-shaped eyes. The look was gone in a second, but it made him feel every bit the asshole he was. He’d been the one to put that look in her eyes. Not just with his words, either. And he knew it.
“Come on, Lou,” Nina said. Her eyes had dismissed him, settling with some urgency onto her daughter. But Lou ignored her mother, and turned, instead, to look up at the man standing on the dock, the man who had put the tense tone into her mom’s voice.
“Hello,” she said, “My name’s Louisa.”
“I know. It’s a good name. I like it.”
Lou gave him a curious look, like she’d never given that a second thought. A name was just a name, and Louisa was hers.
“What’s your name?”
He took a few steps closer, so that he was standing in the middle of the dock instead of at the back edge. It didn’t appear to bother Louisa at all that he had moved nearer. She was a confident kid, if you didn’t count the jumping into the lake thing.
“I’m Colton,” he said. “Did you know your mom and I learned to swim together? Right here. She used to always try to get me to jump in off this dock, too.”
“Really? Were you scared?”
“Well,” Colton said, “The water’s really dark.”
“Yeah,” Louisa said, nodding quickly. “I mean, I’m not scared, though. I’m just taking my time.”
“I get that.” He gave her a little smile and walked over some more until he was standing on her side of the edge beside her. “I’m gonna jump in, though. Do you mind?”
She wagged her head so fast Colton was amazed she didn’t get dizzy enough to fall in.
“I don’t mind. Or,” she craned her neck sideways in a gesture that Colton recognized instantly as the one he made when he was thinking through a problem, “I guess we could jump together.”
“At the same time?”
She nodded, and her eyes beamed up at him in a way that made his heart quiver.
“I like that plan,” he said.
Holding out his palm, he offered her his hand, then held his breath and watched her decide whether or not to take it. She did. Her little fingers clamped around the side of his hand in a life grip that showed just how scared she truly was up here.
“Ready?” Colton asked.
Louisa squinted her eyes shut tight and nodded. In response, Colton closed his hand around her smaller one.
“You jump, I jump,” he said. “One, two…”
He never got to three. Louisa took a huge, blind faith leap, and her momentum tugged him forward so that he jumped, too. He released her hand as the water dragged him under, then surfaced beside his splashed and spluttering ex.
“Three,” he said, and when Louisa giggled and grinned at him, he smiled back.
“Did you see me jump, mom?” Louisa demanded.
“You were amazing, Lou,” she said with a smile for her child, “So brave.”
“What about me?” Colton said. “I was brave, too.”
The look Nina gave him told him he’d been brave indeed -- to even exist in her presence. Her smile withered into the flat, angry look she reserved for only him. The expression didn’t change until she lifted her eyes from his and directed her attention back at Louisa.
“Come on, Lou,” she said, “We need to get back. Cassidy and Ian are going to think we drowned.”
Louisa didn’t argue, she just started paddling her way after Nina. Stopping, she turned slightly in the water.
“Thanks, Colton,” she said.
“It was my pleasure, Louisa.”
Treading water, he watched them swim off and felt an emptiness leaching the pleasure of the swim from his body. Time to go. Still, he waited, watching. Nina was halfway back to shore when something broke inside him, and he plowed his arms into several quick, ground-eating strokes of front crawl. He cut the distance between them in half before he called out.
“Hey, Nina,” he called, “Is your number still the same?”
Her stokes faltered, and she twisted in the water so quickly that a little whirlpool formed around her body.
The harsh, demanding suspicion in her tone only made his voice calmer, more reasoned.
“I’m going to call you later.”
“Why?” She asked again, and this time placed a pained emphasis on the word.
“Don’t you think it’s time?” Colton asked. He spoke so softly, and yet his words arrowed straight to her heart. The gorgeous brown eyes of the bravest person he knew, the only woman he’d ever loved, locked with his as she tread water a few feet away.
And in her eyes the moment before she turned to swim after their daughter, Colton saw a look that could only be described as stark, visceral terror.