Clear As Day by Babette James
4 1/2 Stars - scorcher - Romantic Times Book Reviews, May 2012
What's a girl to do when her summer lover wants forever?
Haunted by dark memories of her parents' volatile marriage, artist Kay Browning keeps her heart locked behind a free-spirit facade and contents herself with the comfortable affair she has every summer with easygoing photographer Nate Quinn.
The only trouble with her plan? This summer Nate’s come to Lake Mohave to claim the lover he can't let go. He’s done with the endless traveling and settling for temporary homes and temporary loves. Kay's always been more than just a vacation fling, and now he must convince this woman, who sees love as a course to certain heartbreak, to take that leap of faith and learn how safe love with the right man can be.
With a splash, she erased the frustrating daydream. This wishful imagining fixed nothing. Her sheltered little camp would still be empty. Should she give in, pack up the camp, and hit the road north to Lake Mead instead? Just break her routine for once.
No, but it was definitely past time to get her tush out of the water and do something constructive. This lonely gnawing in her bones and brain was unacceptable. Kay pushed to her feet, facing out to the scenic lake created out of a stretch of the Colorado River and the rugged land beyond shimmering with heat.
Work, right, but it was too early in the day for the hard afternoon light she needed for the Coyote Point painting. She was too restless to read or fish and not in the mood to take the boat over to the marina, chat with George, and buy ice.
She rolled her shoulders and stretched, enjoying the hot air licking over her wet skin. As she wiggled her feet in the sand and gravel-bottomed shallows, a flurry of minnows darted past her ankles, and her silver toe ring glinted beneath the clear water. She paused, caught by the possibilities in the sparkling sun on water and the intricate, shifting reflections over gravel.
Yes! Exactly the distracting challenge she needed. Shaking the water from her ears, she pivoted toward camp.
"Kay!" That male voice was not her imagination.
"Oh, shit!" She twisted and dropped into the water, sinking neck-deep.
Mother always said, among other things, that a lady never goes skinny-dipping and must always wear a proper hat. Kay was only half skinny-dipping, but she fervently wished she'd worn something a bit more substantial than a baseball cap and the bottom half of the quintessential teeny-weenie yellow polka-dot bikini.
Shit, oh, shit, oh, shit. She so hated when Mother was right.
Okay, time to find out who'd just gotten an eyeful. The guy had called her name, so she should know him. Oh boy, if she'd flashed old George...
She wiped water from her face, sucked in a breath against her pounding heart, and peeked around.
She must be sun-dazed. Nate? With a beard? Hair curling over his ears? No way.
Just because a familiar slouchy fishing hat topped those unruly, sun-bleached blond curls and just because this guy possessed the same deep-water tan and footloose taste in clothes as Nate with his electric blue Hawaiian shirt, bright orange swim trunks, and beat-up deck shoes didn’t mean--
"Hey, babe. Now that I've finally caught your attention, how about a hug from my girl?" He opened his arms. "Am I coming in after you or are you coming out?" Only Nate’s voice held that mellow timbre like chocolate for her ears.
"Nate! What..." Giddy delight flushed over Kay, clearing her shock. She dashed from the water and into strong arms, a wonderful hug, and a better kiss that launched her mind into a blissed-out whirl of oh, yes and why?
The oh, yes won out until the need to breathe forced them apart.
Nate gave her a long look, his usually easy gray eyes holding a new, simmering heat.
She trailed her fingers over his collection of pebbles on the table, polished by sand, wind and water. Be happy. Be happy. How could she feel so happy and terrified at the same time? You'd think one would cancel out the other.
She would be happy. They would talk. She would sort out her mind.
Don't worry, be happy.
She slipped on her leather sandals and picked up her sunhat, sunglasses and beach bag. "All set."
As Kay and Olivia arrived at Spider Camp, Nate was talking and taking casual shots of Dave sitting on his boat. Dave waved. Nate stopped talking the moment she came into sight, his attention fixed on her in a way that rushed heat through her and kicked a happy tumble in her heart.
He waved. "Hey, babe!" He raked his gaze over her. "Stop right there." He raised his camera and made swift adjustments. "Okay, move." Rapid shutter clicks followed his order. "Oh, yeah. Beautiful. Slower. Perfect."
He met her halfway and kissed her hot and hard. "I was about to track you down. You look great."
"And you look happy."
"Life is good.” He gave her another quick kiss. "I took some awesome shots today."
Be happy. Kay smiled. She just needed to practice. Starting now. "Want a beer then to celebrate?"
"Sounds great." Nate slid an arm around her waist and whispered in her ear, "Damn, I love this suit on you. Why does it always make me want to peel you out of it?" He caressed his hand down over her bottom, holding her close. He softly nipped her earlobe. "Between this one and that yellow-dot one, I am one happy man."
Desire twisted and heated through her. Wanting him was so easy. That, at least, she never doubted.
"Let's go swimming, so I can play. Hmm?" he murmured, with more little nips. "Please?"
Go on, practice being happy. Go swimming. Play. Relax. Enjoy. Love.
What was so hard about all that?
Kay tugged the knot of her pareu free and tucked the wrap into his hand. "Okay." She pulled away from him and strolled off, slipping off her shirt and tossing it, her sunglasses and hat on a chair as she passed, kicking off her sandals as she reached the damp sand.
Running feet pounded up behind her, and Nate scooped her up in his strong arms. He charged laughing with her into the water and threw them both in, the cool shocking splash against her sun-heated skin driving a giggling shriek from her.
Laughter and friendly catcalls rang behind them from their friends.
Nate tugged her to her feet, his body hard and warm against hers. He shook the water from his hair. A big smile, alive with affection and delight, lighted his face. Mischief danced in his eyes. "Come on, follow me." He swam with lazy strokes toward the moored boats and flipped around, floating on his back, waiting. When she followed, he kicked farther on, putting Lloyd's and Dave's boats between him and the shore. She caught up with him. The water here was breast deep. He snagged her wrist and drew her close.
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