Good. That’s for the best. I don’t need to worry about some weird guy staring at me. I have more important things to concentrate on.
Stretching my legs out, I swing them to the side of the chair and stand, resting my hands on my hips as I first look left, then right. No watcher to be seen. Where could he have gone in that quick amount of time? I didn’t even hear him leave, so what is he? Stealth?
I’m probably worrying for nothing. He’s just some player who liked the way I looked or whatever. I’m too paranoid after what happened. Hacking into someone else’s life and messing with her personal shit has a way of making me feel uneasy, yet that doesn’t seem to stop me. I’m doing something I shouldn’t, so I tend to think everyone else is up to no good as well.
Shaking my head, I start for the water, the sand warm on the soles of my feet. A group of kids are to my right, splashing and playing along the shoreline, their hands full of colorful plastic buckets and shovels. A couple is standing waist deep in the water, the waves crashing against them, pushing them into each other’s arms, and they laugh.
My heart pangs but I ignore it. I don’t believe in love or couples or dating or any of that crap. Love is for fools. Despite my sisters’ blissed-out lives, and their steadfast belief I can find the same, I know that’s not for me.
No way would I allow anyone to get too close. Hand him the power to hurt me. And I refuse to give that up.
I walk straight into the cold water, shivering as it hits my ankles. My calves. My knees. Despite the heat of the sun and the hot sand, the water is freezing, but I don’t care. I’m belly-button deep now and I bend my knees, dunking myself to my shoulders and giving a little yelp when the cold water wraps itself around me.
The rhythmic waves push me out a little farther and I fall backwards into the water until I’m floating, the sun warming my face, the water swirling around my head. I can taste the salty tang of the ocean and I close my eyes, spread my arms out, and splash my fingers in the water. It feels good. Peaceful.
Until a massive wave comes out of nowhere, sending me straight underwater and slamming me into the bottom. I reach out to try and brace my fall, my hands scraping along the rocky shore, and feel a particularly sharp rock slice across my palm. The pain is excruciating and I kick away from the ground, trying to push myself above water, but another wave slams into me, sending me rolling.
Water shoots up my nose and into my mouth and I close my eyes, struggling against the waves. I want to call out. I want to throw my hands above the water and signal to someone, anyone, that I’m probably fucking drowning here, but it’s no use.
I can’t do it.
Another wave hits me, though this one isn’t as powerful, and it sucks me farther out to sea, making me roll and tumble like I’m a ball in the wind. I kick hard, my foot hitting the bottom of the ocean, and it gives me the leverage I need, propelling me forward. I open my eyes, I can see the water above me, the light shining down upon it from the sun, and I kick even harder, determination urging me on.
Strong arms wrap around my middle, dragging me above water, and when my head pops out I take a deep breath, only to immediately start coughing. The arms are like steel bands around my stomach, firm but not too tight, as if my rescuer is aware if he squeezes me too much I’ll start coughing even more. I can feel his warm, hard chest against my back as he drags me back to shore, and I drop my arm against his, clutching onto him, afraid he’s going to let me go.
“You all right, princess?” His voice rasps against my ear, deep and rumbly and with a hint of a Southern accent. Despite my fear, the exhaustion, the sudden and complete pain I feel radiating from the palm of my hand, my entire body tingles at the sound of his voice.
I nod, my teeth chattering, the adrenaline and terror over what I’ve just experienced combining to send me possibly into shock. My rescuer readjusts his arm around my waist, his hand splayed across my bare stomach, and I glance down to study his thick, muscular forearm. His skin is golden, covered with a smattering of dark hair, and his hand … his hand is huge. It practically covers my entire belly, and I’m no skinny little twig.
His fingers seem to caress my skin and the air whooshes out of my lungs, making me dizzy. I let go of his arm, holding my hand out, palm up, and that’s when I see it. The jagged cut open across my palm, the blood flowing freely from it.
Oh crap. That’s bad.
“You’re hurt.” He notices the cut, too, and that seems to spur him into action. He moves faster and I go limp, overwhelmed at the sight of the cut, the blood, the pain that radiates from my palm all the way up my arm. “We need to find you help.”
“I—I thought you were my help.” My voice comes out a breathless rasp and I swallow hard, wincing at the pain that follows. I took in too much salt water and my throat aches, my nose burns.
“Medical help,” he says gruffly as we emerge from the water.
I turn my head to the side, trying to catch a glimpse of my rescuer, but he’s so tall and my neck hurts. He glances down, his eyes going wide when he sees that I’m looking at him. Shock courses through me and I part my lips, the words that follow scratchy, making my throat ache.
“It’s you.” Him. My watcher has turned into my rescuer.
“Hey!” I look away from him to see a hotel employee running toward us, his expression one of pure panic, and my last thought before my body goes weak and my head blanks is that he doesn’t look like much help at all.