She looked down. He had such a nice face, she thought. She would just concentrate on that and wouldn't think about the rest of him. Right now. "I appreciate that, Sheriff. I've been playing it by ear so far, but I think it's time to put together an actual list, with pricing and services. If I do all that, formalize it, I have to apply for a business license. "

That wouldn't be a problem, she assured herself. She was clear.

"It's going to keep you busy. "

"I like being busy. There's nothing worse than not being able to do anything with your time or your interests. " She shook her head. "And don't I sound dull and boring?"

No, but she had sounded grim. "How do you feel about recreation?"

"I approve of recreation. " Her eyebrows lifted as he hooked a hand lightly around her ankle. "And just what is that?"

"I call it the long arm of the law. "

"You're too nice to pull me in after I've come over here to offer to feed you. "

"No, I'm not. " He gave her foot a playful little tug. "But I'm willing to give you a chance to strip first. "

"That's considerate of you. "

"My mother raised me right. Come on in and play, Nell. " He glanced back at Lucy, who was busy paddling around with the ball in her mouth. "We've got a chaperone. "

Why not? she thought. She wanted to be with him. Even more, she wanted to be the kind of woman who could be with him. A woman confident and open enough to do something fun and foolish like tossing off her clothes and diving in.

The grin she sent him was quick and careless. As she toed off her shoes, he treaded water. "I changed my mind. I'm going to watch," he warned her. "I'd tell you I wouldn't peek, but I'd be lying. "

"Do you lie?"

"Not if I can help it. " His gaze lowered as she gripped the hem of her T-shirt. "So I'm not going to tell you I'll keep my hands off you once you get in here. I want you wet and naked, Nell. I just plain want you. "

"If I wanted you to keep your hands off me, I wouldn't be here. " She took a deep breath, started to peel off her shirt.

"Sheriff Todd! Sheriff Todd!"

"There is no God," Zack grumbled as the lovely glimpse of creamy flesh vanished under Nell's hastily tugged-down shirt. "Out here," he called. "Is that you, Ricky?" To Nell, he said, "It'll only take me two, three minutes to drown him. Just stand by. "

"Yes, sir, Sheriff. "

A towheaded boy of about ten scrambled across the rocky slope, his freckled face pink with excitement. He gave Nell a hasty nod. "Ma'am. Sheriff, my mom said I was to come right over and tell you. The tenants in the Abbott rental are having a big fight. There's screaming and crashing and cursing and everything. "

"Is that Dale Abbott's or Buster's place?"

"Buster's, Sheriff. The one right across from ours. Mom says it sounds like the man in there's beating the woman something fierce. "

"I'm on my way. Go on back. Go straight home and in the house. "

"Yes, sir. "

Nell stayed where she was. She saw a blur of tanned, muscled body as Zack levered himself out of the water. "Sorry, Nell. "

"No, you need to go. You need to help her. " It felt as though there were a thin glaze over her brain as she watched him hitch on jeans. "Hurry. "

"I'll be back as soon as I can. "

He left her there, hated leaving her there with her hands gripping each other tightly, and bolted up the steps to get a shirt.

He was at the Abbott rental in under four minutes. A handful of people edged the street while the sounds of shouting and breaking glasses poured out of the house. A man Zack didn't recognize jogged up to him as he approached the deck stairs.

"You're the sheriff. I'm Bob Delano, renting the place next door. I tried seeing what I could do, but the doors're locked. I thought about breaking one in, but they said you were on the way. "

"I'll take care of it, Mr. Delano. Maybe you could keep those people back. "

"Sure. I've seen that guy, Sheriff. Big sonofabitch. You want to watch yourself. "

"I appreciate it. Get on back now. " Zack pounded a fist on the door. Though he'd have preferred to have Ripley with him, he hadn't risked waiting for her to answer his beeper call. "This is Sheriff Todd. I want you to open the door, and open it now. " Something shattered inside, and a woman began to wail. "If this door isn't open in five seconds, I'm kicking it in. "

The man came to the door. Delano was right. He was one big sonofabitch. Six-four, maybe, and a good two seventy-five. He looked hungover and mad as piss.

"What the hell do you want?"

"I want you to step back, sir, and keep your hands where I can see them. "

"You got no right coming in here. I'm renting this place paid in full. "

"Your rental agreement doesn't give you leave to destroy property. Now back up. "

"You're not coming in here without a warrant. "

"Bet?" Zack said softly. His hand shot out, lightning-quick, gripped the man's wrist, and twisted. "Now, you want to take a swing at me," he continued in the same mild tone, "we'll add resisting arrest and assaulting an officer to the mix. More paperwork, but I get paid for it. "

"By the time my lawyer's done, I'm going to own this fucking island. "

"You're welcome to call him-from down at the station house. " Zack cuffed him and looked around with relief as he heard Ripley pounding up the stairs.

"Sorry. I was all the way over on Broken Shell. What's this? Domestic dispute?"

"And then some. This is my deputy," Zack informed his prisoner. "Take my word, she can clean your clock. Put him in the back of the cruiser, Ripley. Get his particulars, read him his rights. "

"What's your name, sir?"

"Fuck you. "

"Okay, Mr. Fuck You, you're under arrest for. . . " She glanced back at Zack, who was already moving through the broken glass and crockery to the woman sitting on the floor, holding her face in her hands and sobbing.

"Destruction of private property, disturbing the peace, assault. "

"You got that? Now unless you want me to kick your ass in front of all these nice people, we'll just walk to the cruiser and take a little drive. You have the right to remain silent," she continued, giving him a helpful shove to get him going.

"Ma'am. " She was late thirties, Zack estimated. Probably pretty when her lip wasn't split and her brown eyes weren't blackened. "I need you to come with me. I'll take you to a doctor. "

"I don't need a doctor. " She curled into herself. Zack noted shallow cuts on her arms, gifts from flying glass. "What's going to happen to Joe?"

"We'll talk about that. Can you tell me your name?"

"Diane, Diane McCoy. "

"Let me help you up, Ms. McCoy. "


Tags: Nora Roberts Three Sisters Island Romance