by Anita Philmar
Skinny-dipping to cool off in the Trinity River couldn’t cause any problem…could it?
Wading into the water, Carolyn Evans takes one step too far and finds herself neck¬-deep in the river and fighting for her life.
After saving Carolyn from drowning, Zack Goodman is trapped in an awkward situation when they’re both rescued by a steamboat and hauled on deck.
Naked and embarrassed, Carolyn is quick to save them from humiliation and claims they are married.
Will Zack release her from her claim of matrimony? Or will he teach her once words are spoken…they are not so easily retracted?
“Come on, Sadie.” Carolyn stepped out of her petticoats and threw them into the buckboard wagon before wading into the Trinity River. The temperature tipped a hundred, and sweat dripped down her back. “There’s no one around for miles and I want to cool off.”
“Yes, but we said we’d only be gone for a few hours. Now that we’ve had our picnic, we should head back.” Sadie’s high-pitched tone reflected with her fear. “You know how Richard’s family watches me. They’re looking for a reason to kick me out of my home. And if they should find me skinny-dipping, they’ll…”
“Oh, don’t worry about them.” Carolyn’s feet sank into the muck at the bank of the river before she plowed her way deeper into water. “They can’t take your property and they know it. Richard was your husband, everything he had belongs to you. I only wish my husband had something to leave me when he died.”
“Carolyn, you just don’t understand.”
“Just enjoy yourself for…” The sudden depth surprised Carolyn, and she plunged deep into the river. Water covered her head and filled her mouth.
Kicking her feet, she swam back to the surface. Her hair fell over her eyes. She swished her head about to clear her line of sight. “Sadie, careful…”
An unexpected swift current swirled around and pulled her away from the shore and down river. She stared at the bank as she bobbed farther and farther away. A wave of deep fear captured her. How could she get back to shoreline?
“Carolyn,” Sadie yelled and waved her hands, “kick your feet and work with the current to reach the bank.”
Following her friend’s instruction, Carolyn struggled against the water desperate to move closer to the shore, but the currents pulled her further and further into the center of the river. She lost sight of Sadie. In a panic, she kicked her legs harder. “Sadie,” blurted from her mouth and she choked out, “I’m going to die,” before her head went under water for the second time since she entered the river.
“Save me!” The panicked voice rang through the trees.
Zack Goodman waded further out into the Trinity. He scanned the murky water and caught sight of movement in center of the river. A head bobbed briefly before it disappeared, and a pale hand slapped at the surface.
“Aw shit, Logan, someone is drowning.” He glanced back at his best friend. “Stay here, I’ll…”
Unwilling to waste time on words, he dove into the river and swam quickly toward the place where he’d last seen the flailing limbs. He had no doubt Logan would watch their stuff until he returned.
“Help!” This time the hysterical voice was directly in front of him. Zack lifted his head.
Something cold brushed his forearm, and then a foot hit his thigh. He grabbed for an arm as a clinging body wrapped itself around him. His head sank beneath the surface and he fought to disengage the grip of the other person. Drowning victims didn’t understand they needed to allow their rescuers room to move.
He kicked his legs, and his head broke the surface. A wad of hair blocked his sight. “Easy now, you have to loosen your hold or we’ll both drown.”
The fingers around his neck loosened, and he eased back to stare into frightened dark eyes. Fear had drained the woman’s face into a mask of white. He kicked his legs in a repetitive motion to keep both their heads above water.
“Now listen carefully, just relax. That way you’ll float, and I can drag you ashore.” Zack worked his hands along her side and offered reassurance. “Trust me, together we’ll make it through this.”
“Okay, but don’t let me go.”
Her frighten tone vibrated through his head.
“Don’t worry, I won’t.” Zack edged away from her and lifted her body. Round firm breasts bobbed briefly above the water’s surface. He marveled at the sight and his hands slid to the curve of her hips. No clothes inhibited his path. His body responded to the close proximity of her naked body. The snug fit of his wet pants bit into his growing erection. “I, uh…think we better get to moving.”
Zack eased out of her embrace and worked his way behind her while keeping one arm around her waist. Once he had her in position, he glanced around for the nearest shoreline.
A loud horn sounded, and a steamboat rounded the curve in the river.
“Aw shit.” Zack tightened his grip and kicked his feet faster to move closer to the shore.
“Oh, God, I don’t want to die.” The girl in his arms dug her nails into his arm. Her muscles tensed, and she sank deeper into the water. He gasped a quick breath before the weight of her body pulled them both under again.
Water streamed up between them, and she turned in the circle of his arms. Her hands gripped his shoulders, and she shoved him deeper in her attempt to keep her own head above water.
He sank into the murky depths and freed himself from her panicked grip. She yelled, and her foot connected with his chest. Air exploded from his lungs. He swam away from her and quickly rose back to the surface. A loud whir roared in his ears.
With one big gulp, he swallowed both air and water. His lungs rejected the mixture and he choked out a cough.
Plop. An object hit the water, and he stared at a floating white circle. Waves crashed around him.
“Grab hold, and we’ll pull you up.” A voice boomed from the steamboat.
Zack glanced around and caught sight of the girl struggling to reach the device. He swam to her and shoved her closer to the floating ring. Then he grabbed ahold of the device and wrapped his arm around her waist. “Just hold on, and they’ll lift us up.”
Her eye grew wider. “But…” She glanced at the boat’s railing.
The rope tied to the device lifted the ring onto its side. Zack tightened his grip on the girl and repositioned her into its center. “Put your head through here, and wrap your arms over the sides.”
She did as he instructed seconds before the device rose up between them. He wrapped his arms around the ring and grabbed ahold of the rope.
His feet dangled in the water for a moment before they swung on the end of the line. The motion slammed him into the side of the steamboat. Pain radiated along his right side, but he didn’t loosen his grip.
The rope jerked them upward.
“Oh, God, what if they drop us.” The girl buried her head in his shoulder. “Thanks for at least trying to save me.”
Her naked body plastered against him eased the pain in his back. Silky skin caressed his stomach and her warmth penetrated the fabric of his pants. Need heated his blood, alleviating the cold chill of the river.
He glanced up at the concerned expressions of the people lining the steamboat’s rail. His body hid the girl in his arms, and he wondered what the curious passengers would say when they finally arrived on board?
Strong hands gripped her legs and Carolyn’s toes touched the deck. Once steady, she released her grip on the floatation device and slipped out of center to wrap her arms around her savior. He alone could save her from facing the crowd of people, who must be gawking at her naked behind.
She buried her face and mumbled into the warm haven of his chest. “Please just throw me back in the river.”
Someone dropped a wool blanket around her shoulders.
“It’s okay.” The man holding her loosened his grip and securely wrapped it around her shivering shoulders. “We’ll find you some clothes and you’ll feel as good as new.”
The deep voice warmed her insides. She lifted her head and stared into a pair of emerald jewels, the sexiest eyes imaginable. Then she shifted her gaze to his thick auburn eyebrows, broad forehead, and dark wet hair. A complete stranger, yet the sharp features of his nose and jaw seemed almost familiar. “Honey, you’ll never convince me to go skinny-dipping again.”
The people around them laughed.
She released her hold on him and wrapped the edge of the blanket around the front of her body. “I know it was supposed to be fun, but as a married couple we should remember what kind of trouble such shenanigans can get us into.”
Willing to play along, Zack lifted his head and stared at the shoreline. Heading further along the river, he wondered if Logan had seen the steamboat and suspected that they might have been plucked from the water.
The crowd shifted, blocking his view.
“Now, now, let me through.” A tall man, in a white suit parted the people milling around them. The thinning gray hair on the man’s head matched the thick, bushy mustache over his lips. He offered a toothy grin which revealed stained tobacco teeth.
“Okay everyone, the excitement is over. Let’s give this young couple some room to breathe. They must be feeling a might peckish after their swim.” The man waved his hands about to force the onlookers back.
“You youngins follow me. I’ll show you to a cabin and then rustle you up…”
“Hey Captain, ain’t you afraid to leave them two alone?” An older man called out.
“Nay, she looks like she fell down in a sticker patch and the cows ran over her. He’ll be lucky if he’s not stuck in the doghouse for days.” Another man heckled.
The crowd burst into laughter.
Zack tightened his hold on the girl in his arms and they turned to follow the Captain.
Brushing back her hair, the girl tightened her hold on her blanket and strutted through the crowd with her head held high.
Zack, pleased she hadn’t dissolved into tears, smiled at the people gathered up on deck and followed her as the Captain led the way inside.
After weaving their way through the bowels of the steamboat, the Captain paused by a door marked private. “Y’all sit a spell in here while I find clothes to fit you. We’re due to arrive at Liberty here in…” He pulled his watch out of his front pocket and read the time. “Shouldn’t be too long now. I’ll send someone along here in a bit with some clothes. Though, I’m not too sure what we’ll be able to rustle up for the lady.”
“I ain’t really picky at the moment.” The girl bit her lip and settled on the edge of the cot that was positioned against the far wall of the cabin.
The Captain smiled and offered a curt nod to Zack. Then the man stepped through the door, closing it behind him.
Zack scanned the small room and avoided looking at the girl. His rescue attempt had put a major crimp in his plans to head to Galveston with his best friend.
Hell, Logan probably thought him dead.
“I’m sorry for causing you all this trouble. It was just so hot and…” A low sob broke from the girl.
Zack drew in a breath to maintain his patience with her and stared. Instantly, he recalled her soft body next to his, the plush bounty of her breasts and her arms tight around his neck. No, a fully developed woman.
Uncertain if he should step any closer, he shifted restlessly. He splashed in the drippings from his wet pants. “What’s your name?”
She lifted her head and stared.
Zack stared right back at her and assessed her features. She resembled a drowned cat with her dark brown hair plastered to her scalp. Her huge brown eyes stood out in her pale face, and her full, red lips appeared puffy from the constant abuse of her teeth nibbling on them.
After a long silence, she adjusted the blanket around her shoulders and extended her hand. “Carolyn Evans.”
“Zack Goodman.” He stepped forward and clasped her small hand in his. The cold touch of her palm against his invoked a need to protect. He wrapped his other hand around hers and sank on the cot beside her.
“Are you still cold from being dunked in the river?” He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and drew her close. The soft cushion of her body next to his heated his blood. Would she slap him if he dove for a kiss?
“Yes. I should’ve never decided to go skinny dipping, but it sounded like such a good idea at the time.” She snuggled closer and laid her hand in the center of his chest. “I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to thank you for saving me.”
He peered into her velvety brown eyes and read the same hunger in her he was experiencing. “I’m sure we’ll come up with a way.”
She smiled and her gaze dropped to his mouth. “Everyone thinks we’re married.”
The thought sizzled through him. If she belonged to him, he’d…
The sudden touch of her soft lips on his cheek fried his brain. He tightened his hold on her and his tongue dove into the sweet haven of her mouth. She sighed, and the needy sound wrenched a groan from him. He deepened the kiss and plunged his tongue inside, skimming the edge of her teeth and playing with the roof, he learned the contour.
The blanket around her shoulders slid down against his forearm as she circled her arms around his neck. Liquid fire shot through his body, and a ravenous hunger grew in his groin.
Damn, when was the last time he wanted a woman so much?
Carolyn marveled at the savory essences of the man in her arms; dark, delicious and primal male. Her mind jumped to her husband, his fumbling hands as he ran them over her. Their time together had been so brief. Passion had outweighed finesse.
Breaking her mouth away from his, she drank in air. Her gaze met his, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to refuse this man. He’d saved her life, giving her a new chance. Yes, she should consider her job and her future. And she would…tomorrow. None of them would allow for such foolishness.
She felt a hand glide along her back. The rough pads of his calloused hands caressed her skin. His gaze dark with need, he guided her gently to the cot. The hard line of his chest covered hers and she melted under him.
“Please let me make love to you,” he whispered. The guttural tone reflected his building desire.
She ran her hands through his wet hair and focused on his handsome face. “But we don’t even know each other.”
He shifted, and one hand cupped her full breast. The light squeeze ignited a hunger in her core.
Was she insane?
Or just desperate?
The slight tug on her nipple brought her crashing back to the present. He rolled the stiff peak between his thumb and index finger. His hot breath seared her sensitive skin seconds before his burning lips replaced his fingers over the elongated nipple.
A scream of pleasure escaped from her throat. She fought to contain her passionate response and suppressed her shriek to a deep moan. The sound must have encouraged him; he wrapped his lips tighter around the tip and scraped his teeth over her aching flesh.
Need burned through her, and she lifted her body to offer him more. He didn’t disappoint and switched to her other nipple. Again, the sucking action drove her closer and closer to the edge.
She shifted impatiently beneath him and lifted one leg to rest her foot on his wet pants’ leg. With him still dressed, they had a small barrier between them. Yet, the hard line of his erection continued to bite into her thigh.
“Zack…” That was his name, right?
His mouth popped free, and he lifted his gaze to hers. The hand he’d used to caress her breast slipped lower. His fingers danced over her ribs and eased to the center of her belly. “You know, as your husband, I do have certain rights.”
She gasped as he brushed a fingertip over her pussy.
“You’re already wet.” He traced her delicate lips and offered a few brief swipes against her clit.
“Oh, please, we, uh, shouldn’t,” she stuttered unable to form a coherent thought. The man had her at “can I?” She couldn’t deny him or the passion forming between them.
He laughed and continued to play. A finger slipped inside; teasing, tormenting, and forcing her to surrender to the hunger building in her womb.
She gripped the side of the cot and wrestled with the desire to scream, beg, or perhaps demand he give her relief. Then he shocked her by lifting his hand, leaving her aching and empty.
“I need to taste you.” He ran a long tongue over his index finger, licking the digit, reminding her of how much she’d enjoy doing the same to his cock. Though she’d never tried such a wicked thing before, the idea suddenly had a strong appeal.
“Hmmm, if we weren’t pressed for time, I might be tempted to drink from your sweet, pussy for days.” He sucked his finger into his mouth. His emerald gaze held an assurance that he’d collect on that particular pleasure on another day.
Struggling to rein in her desire, she force out a laughed. “Then you like the idea of being married to me?”