The Hidden Cove Trilogy is available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.
Her bare feet slipped as she ran over slimy stones worn smooth by the never-ending flux of the tide. Through the darkness and fog, Megan pulled ahead of the dogs and gained on the light that grew larger up ahead.
At first what looked to be a lantern, the glow in the distance spread out as if it were the lights of several houses or even a small town.
By now, she should have reached Mrs. Carlisle’s set of cottages, yet Megan encountered only the rocks, the sea, the wind, and the fog. The trees grew right up to a few feet of the shoreline, from what she could tell from the shadowy shapes through the murkiness. Craning her neck, she strained to listen through the crash of waves so close the spray splashed her in cold stings.
Even though the barking from behind grew distant, she scurried like a snow crab across the wet sand and stones.
From the SUV breakdown, to getting lost in the fog, to…
Fleeing for her life.
The surreal night closed in around her along the thin strip of shore soon to be covered by the rise of the tide.
Only it was.
What if she ran away from rescuers? Yet with the strangeness—
Mist plastered heavy ringlets to her face and neck. Her khakis, blouse, and shoes… Long gone. With no memory of stripping off her clothes or discarding her boots, she certainly didn’t recall how she came by the cotton-type shift that clung to her body and legs like a thigh-length slip or petticoat.
Atop a thin patch of sand, she dug her toes into the gritty, soppy stew and raised herself upright. The dampness numbed her toes and wrapped her legs in a chill that goaded her to miss her lost boots and pants. Barely able to tug salty air into lungs crimped tight beneath the curve of her ribs, Megan swayed on her feet and peered into the dense vapor.
What the heck was going on?
She gripped her knees and bunched the strange, coarse material of her sparse new outfit. At a loss, she released the skirt and felt along her temples and hairline for any sort of head injury.
A master chef didn’t just go from meal plans that included fennel soup to minus her clothes and shoes.
None of this made any sense. Not Megan’s separation from her missing friends or the disappearance of her clothes. Nor the undeniable unease about the dogs on her trail. If they were part of a search party, she needed to stay put, but the very idea sent a jolt of outright panic through her.
And what about the voice she thought she heard? The words spoken right in her ear…
Something about angst and woe.
Usually, Megan was a perform-under-pressure kind of gal, but—
Once again, the howls and barks broke the crash of the waves in shrill yowls, and Megan bolted in the opposite direction.
Her shoulder then her side and hip rammed into a solid mass. A grip latched onto her upper arms, and firm fingertips dug into her flesh.
Twisting around to face her attacker, her front met with a rock-solid chest and abs. A set of masculine hips and thighs jutted to meld to the contours of her pelvis through the thin cloth of her mystery outfit and his thick canvas-type pants.
Shock robbed Megan of her voice, while an unexpected, delicious tingle swirled low in her belly.
“Lass, why be ye out in this muddle?” The low rumble of a male voice overrode the crash of the waves. “Though, as a rogue chilled to the bone, I don’t mind such a boon.” His mouth covered hers and stole her gasp.
The brush of his lips, even through the dampness of the foggy night, surged heated warmth from her mouth straight to her core.
Never had Luke Morlander’s touch overwhelmed a woman to such a degree. Not even in the deep throes of passion and most certainly not to the point of drowning. With his arm latched about her shoulders and collarbone, he brought her limp body to the surface. He grabbed a lungful of air and swam, one handed, toward the ship.
Once he reached the rope ladder, he dove beneath her and braced his shoulder in her midsection. With the woman’s body balanced, the curve of her naked hip and her bare bottom very much in his line of sight and her gracious breasts pressed against his back. Despite the tightness of throbbing need, he climbed the swaying rungs.
On board the damaged Wayfarer, he placed her upon the schooner’s deck.
In a gentle roll, he turned the beauty on her side—what he wouldn’t give to bring her visage to life on a figurehead of the grandest of ships—and, as he supported her chin, he nudged beneath her shoulder blade and above the waist of her tapered back with the ball of his hand.
On his third and hardest shove, Abigail coughed. Water gurgled and spewed from her mouth before she raised her head and looked around. Even though her hair hung in heavy, wet golden ropes about her head, Luke beheld a beauty so great his chest hitched and his shaft tightened and lengthened. In the caress of moon glow, her high cheekbones, upturned nose and wide eyes, of which neither the daytime sky nor the sea could rival their color, captured his gaze.
“Tell me, what are you doing out in the cove? Has someone harmed you?” Luke reached out to stroke her trembling chin. “Have you too much ale and gotten into some sort of folly?”
“What? Of course not.” She shook her head and blinked. She even closed her eyes and popped her lids open again as if she expected the view of the schooner deck and of Hidden Cove to change. “I’m dreaming. That’s all.” She fingered worn planks of the deck, then reached for him. As he knelt beside her, she stroked the curve of his jaw. “This isn’t a dream, is it?”
“Lass, I’m in search of my friend, Everett Quinn. I mean to spend the night aboard the beached vessel in hopes he will return. I’ve not seen him since we parted ways two nights’ past. Do you know him or have you encountered him?”
“I don’t know that person, but what I do know is that…” Her lower lip trembled. “Until just now I thought I was trapped in a dream and that I’m all of a sudden very cold.”
“The fantasy of sleep is fine, well, and good, lass, but how did you truly get out here, far from the harbor and the village?”
“I…” Confusion glinted in a gaze that slid from the barrier island, to the rocky shore of the mainland, then back to his face. “I was with my friends. Somehow we were separated, and I fell in the water.”
“Let’s get you dry and warm, then I’ll take you to the village.” Had the wench been trapped beneath the ocean deep far too long? So much so that her brain was addled?
“I don’t recall seeing you in Harbor’s Keep, but with so many arriving in the harbor each day…”
A harbor from which he fled. Only to wind up in these unlikely dealings. Though he’d never met the lass, the open vulnerability in her deep blue gaze encouraged him to try to comfort her so he shared his most recent adventure. “You see, my mates and I, former pirates all three are we, narrowly escaped the collapse of the mainmast from a burning ship. Sadly, from a fire I, Nathan Blakely, and Everett Quinn are accused of setting.”
“On a ship like this one?”
“Even larger than the schooner here. A frigate retired from the Royal Navy and used to run supplies, even from the Orient.” Perhaps if he wooed her with grand tales, she might share more than a kiss.
The blue tint of her lips, and the shiver that coursed through her body, prompted him to help her to her feet. “Come with me. My friend or one of his crew no doubt left behind clothes. They’ll be more fitting for a lad, but at least they’ll keep you warm.”
Shoulders slumped, Abigail fingered the dripping cloth of her sleep garment. “So unsettling.”
“You’ll soon get your sea legs.” Outside the captain’s quarters, where a lantern still burned from Luke’s search of Everett Quinn’s papers, he spoke through the hand-span slit of the open doorway.
For propriety’s sake, he blocked his own greedy gaze by standing against the door. “You see, to save this vessel, the Wayfarer, a supply runner not associated with any know fleet, from Captain Zachariah Donovan’s attack on her, it is, er, alleged that the three of us concocted a plan to burn the captain’s frigate instead.”
“Are all the ships in your harbor like this one?” She paused amid a slap of wet material on the wooden floor of the quarters and the rustle of cloth. “I mean, are they all powered by sails?”
“By sail or from the hard work of men with oars.”
“You see, when Captain Donovan discovered his ship aflame, he claimed, albeit falsely, that his wife was on board the burning vessel. Everett, Nathan, and I tried to help them put out the fire, to save the tyrant’s supposedly endangered wife, but the captain turned on us, to hide the fact that she wasn’t aboard, no doubt. Thanks to his underhanded actions, we were pulled into the drink by the severed mast and the three of us barely escaped the harbor at Harbor’s Keep with our lives.”
“So you’re, allegedly, on the run?”
“For the last two days. Our waylay location is here in Hidden Cove, so this is where I found Quinn’s vessel. It looks to have been beached by the storm that hit shore night before last.”
The ache in his nethers panged with passion so hard that he gave in to his desire and pushed the door inward. Instead of finding the lovely lass dressed, he discovered her tucked into bed. She seemed to have used extra linens to dry herself, then crawled beneath the covers.
“I’m exhausted.” She covered her mouth with a delicate, lady-like gesture and yawned. “I thought maybe if I napped…”
A warm ache of concern spread under the left side of his rib cage. “You hope to awaken from what you think is a fanciful slumber.”
She peered out at him from heavy upper eyelids and blinked. Her weak smile twitched at the outer corners of her mouth. “Or maybe I climbed into bed on the off chance that, whether this is a dream or not, that maybe you…”
How could a virile man, even one with a questionable past, say no to bedding a lass who seemed, though a bit confused, rightly eager?
Even though he’d sought land and a steady life, his former pirate nature, on this September day, rose to the forefront, as it usually did when it came to dealing with the lasses. Aye, as ashamedly as it was and with need pulsing deeply through his hardness, Luke licked the salt of the sea from his lips and stepped into the room. Always, there was time for a frolic or two or three. “I assure you, this is no dream, lass. This night ’tis only you, me, the sea, and raw need.”
“Hello,” he called out through his cupped hands to complete the farce. Mouth quirked to one side, he yelled, “Is anyone else on this godforsaken chuck of rock?” With a snort, he turned from the ledge. His boot toe scuttled rock across the outcroppings in a clatter of rock over rock.
“Hey, watch out!” said a female voice so weak that the waves far below near overrode her words. “Down here.”
Approaching the jagged edge of a stone outcropping, Nathan peered over. At first, he searched the rocks far below, then his eyes settled on a splash of pale coral a third of a way down the slope.
Lying on her back, a woman looked up at him through the circle of her ringed fingers. “Wow.” Although low and weakened, her voice echoed in a throaty sensuality that sent a stir of interest directly to his groin. Smiling from beneath her hands, she peered through the cupped circle of her fingers with an intense golden brown eye. “Now that’s one hell of a money shot.”
All Nathan managed was a single blink.
“Come on fair-haired, bronzed, and ruggedly handsome, a little help here.” Dropping her arms beside her, with a wide smile on her face, the lass stared up at him with a hungry lustful expression that most men longed to see mirrored upon a willing wench’s face. “I hit my head when I fell. When I try to stand…” By her sides, she spun her index fingers toward the heavens. “My whole world tilt-a-whirls.”
As the woman lay upon the outcropping, the damp cloth of her nightdress clung to her to reveal the jut of her full breasts and the feminine mound at the juncture of her thighs.
Squeezing her eyes shut as if against an onslaught of pain, she called out, “Anytime now. Really.”
If the injured woman couldn’t rise without feeling faint, then the only solution was for Nathan to climb down to her and bring her aloft. Then he’d be questioning her on how she got to an island where the only access was by boat and inquire as to why she was here, invading the sanctity of his solitude.
After he retrieved a rope from the tower, he lowered his coat to her. “Cover yourself, lass, I’ll do my best, but pieces of stone might fall loose during the climb.” Anchoring a sturdy rope in a wrap of two jutting boulders—granite was something Rock Island had plenty of—Nathan lowered himself off the cliff. Boot soles to stone, he scaled down the rock face.
“So, man with the most awesome sexy butt ever, do you have a name? I’m Jo, short for Joanna, Ellis. I was out with friends and fell, but then again, I have no idea exactly how I ended up here.”
“You claim to have injured your head. A bump on the noggin can cause a great deal of confusion from the brain rattling around in the confines of the skull.” Nathan lowered himself in slow steady strides along the rock wall. The rope bit into his calloused palms, reminding him to take his time and of the jutting rocks at sea level below.
The crashing of waves all but echoed the pound of his heart as he drew closer to her. “I thought I heard you calling out during the night, yet when I looked for you or shouted out, I didn’t set eyes on you or hear your reply.”
“Don’t you think maybe you ought to call in an emergency team? I’m not so sure about that single rope climb without a harness. I mean, I’ve climbed solo, but with the two of us, and with my dizziness… I’m not so sure about this.”
“There is no team on Rock Island. Just myself, Nathan Blakely, Lighthouse Keeper of Rock Island Lighthouse, at your service.” Still holding the rope, Nathan lightly settled his weight on the ledge beside the woman.
“Island?” She shook her head, then winced, as he knelt next to her. “I fell off the mainland shore where the barricade’s missing on the road near Hidden Cove. My friends and I were on the way to check out Harbor’s Keep Lighthouse and…”
“The Keep’s on a barrier island and won’t be up and running as a working lighthouse until spring. Despite Captain Donovan’s laying stake to the building of her, I hope to transfer there as keeper soon enough.”
“Well, if I fell off the shore of Penobscot Bay, then how do you explain that I ended up here on your island?”
Nathan gently touched the bump and scrape on her forehead. At her wince, he pulled his hand back. “There’s swelling. You’ve got quite a goose egg there.”
“Ouch.” The lovely Joanna Ellis, with a pert nose and dark soulful gaze, shoved his hand away.
“No other injuries?” He examined the length of her ribs from bottom toward the slopes of her full bosom.
“No, I’m fine… Except for the bump on my head and for the fact every time I raise it, my whole world spins.” Her eyes widened. “Wait. I get it. I hit my head and this being on an island thing and you, eye candy deluxe, are a concussion-induced hallucination. Or maybe I’m in a coma. Yeah, sure, I could be. In some sort of hospital along the coast, where big, bold, and bronzed visits me in my head injury-fueled delusions.” First, she shoved aside his coat that served to protect her from falling debris, then clasped his shirtfront, and pulled Nathan down to her.
“Lass, I’m not sure that you know what you do.” He tugged back, at least a bit, from her pull.
“I know exactly what I’m doing.” Her golden brown eyes bore into his gaze. With a stout yank that belied her size, she drew him close and brought his lips to hers in a searing kiss.
The touch of her lips chased the thought of her injuries, of their precarious location on the rock face, and of his duty to the lighthouse out of his skull. The absence of thought filled with an overwhelming surge of raw, blatant need.