Authors: Kimberley Troutte
He laughed. “Tavon is pretty incredible, but he’s a softie. Your father hired us to bring you home. We’re Americans, not part of Chinese organized crime.”
“Dad called you?” Impossible. No way, and yet, if he did, she was saved. Her eyes burned.
“Not me personally, but yeah. Come on, Mack can explain things once we get out of here. Aren’t you tired of treading water? We’ve got food and dry clothes for you on the
For a moment her resolve melted. Maybe Charlie was telling the truth. She really, really wanted to trust him. To trust someone. She was tired. Not to mention hungry, cold and scared. And she needed help to get back to Mr. Lee’s to check on him and recover the memory card. But anyone could say her father sent them. It wouldn’t take much digging to find out she was Duncan Fitz’s only daughter. These guys were not the kind of men her dad would send. Not in a million years.
A speed boat went by and the waves splashed into her face. While she was wiping the water out of her eyes, Charlie grabbed her. “Gotcha.”
Big mistake. After the day she was having, she never wanted to be manhandled again.
“Let go!” She fought.
She kicked as hard as she could and her boot slammed into him. By the way he grunted and doubled over, she’d hit the primary target. Oops. It was her best chance to get away.
If she could swim for help…
The nearest boat was about a hundred yards away with an American flag painted on the side. A man and woman were onboard with their backs to her. They were focused on the sinking ship. It wasn’t every day that a billion dollar yacht sunk to the bottom of Victoria Harbour. When she got closer, she’d yell for help. Putting her face in the water, she swam as fast as she could with that stupid life vest on. She couldn’t beat her best high school free-style record in these clothes and life vest. Still, she was eager to give it a try.
She was panting for a breath. Her boots were full of water and so damned heavy, but she kept swimming as hard as she could.
The sound of a powerful, fast-moving speedboat hummed nearby. She couldn’t stop now. Keeping her head down, she wind milled her arms past the vest, and pulled through the water.
She could see the couple on the boat pretty well now. She lifted her exhausted arms out of the water and forced them to wave. “Hel—!”
Strong hands gripped her vest and spun her around. She found herself nose-to-face-mask with Charlie. She didn’t hear him coming. The bastard wasn’t even breathing heavy.
He pulled the breathing thingy out of his mouth and took the mask off. “What are you doing?”
“Getting away from you.”
“Not happening,” he growled. “Be a good girl and put this mask on. We’ve got to dive. Now.”
“News for you handsome. That’s not happening, either.” But she might still have a chance to get away if the couple on board saw she was in trouble. “Help—!” She began again, but to her great surprise, he shut her up.
Not with his gun, nor his fists.
Charlie’s full lips smothered her cry
harlie had been silently stalking his target in the water. Why’d she try to get away? Sometimes there was no understanding a woman and this one was completely spooked. The team was trying to save her. Didn’t she see him eliminate the guy on the yacht?
She was a pretty good swimmer, all things considered. The vest kept her so buoyant that her stroke went wonky and the clothes and sexy boots weighed her down. She’d tire out in no time and he’d grab her. He smiled at the thought.
Sure, Amber Fitz was damned stubborn, irritating, and hell, the woman knew how to use those sexy boots for savage ball-smashing underwater kicks. But she was also amazingly brave for a civilian. Few women Charlie knew outside of the Navy could’ve handled themselves half as well as Amber had today. She was a beautiful scrapper. He liked that. He also liked her smoky voice and the way the tension lines around her mouth eased back and her eyes softened when he’d mentioned her dad.
She was tough on the outside and soft in the middle—like the Tootsie Pops he and Willy used to fight over as kids. As he swam after her, silent as a shark, he planned ahead. How many licks would it take to get to her yummy center? Mixing business with pleasure was more Willy’s style, but Charlie loved challenges. Amber Fitz was a puzzle he itched to solve. A brilliantly gifted hacker wouldn’t break through the D.O.D’s multiple firewalls and stash the data in a barrel of drying tea leaves. It made no sense. If she was after the money, why didn’t she sell it to the Chinese? They would have paid trillions for the memory stick.
Shit. Up ahead, she’d spotted a boat and was swimming for it. Her thin arms thrashed through the water like some psycho windmill.
He picked up speed.
“Charlie, what’s going on out there?” Mack’s voice came through his comm unit. “Are you bringing her in, or what?”
“Working on it.”
“Work faster. Triad speedboats are circling. They must know she’s off the yacht,” Mack growled.
He caught up with her and spun her to face him. Shock widened her pretty eyes. She had to listen to him now. Members of the Triad 14K were searching the waters for them. It was time to dive. So when she tried to yell for help, he did the only thing he could do short of rendering her unconscious and dragging her limp body through the water. He kissed her. Hard.
His body temperature ran naturally hot and her cool slick lips felt good, too good. He ran his tongue along those lips, experimenting, tasting. He expected to get a slap or another boot to the testicles. What he didn’t expect was Amber opening up, letting his tongue rush in. She stopped treading water and wrapped her arms around his neck, hanging on. Letting go.
She kissed like a woman who hadn’t been properly satisfied in months. He filed that intel in the important data folder. Since he hadn’t been with a woman for…well, Willy would call it infinity…maybe he and Amber could come to terms. Pleasurable terms.
She broke the kiss, but didn’t let go. “What’re you doing?”
“Sweetheart, if you don’t know, I must not be doing it right. Let me try again.”
He’d try all day, if she’d let him. She tasted sweet and felt good in his arms.
Her mouth opened as if she wanted to tell him to go to hell, but her eyes registered desire, and need. She couldn’t keep her gaze off his lips. Her cool cheeks flushed. The signs were promising.
“Trust me,” he said softly.
“I don’t know you.”
“I’m working on that.” He grinned. “Come on, give a guy a chance.”
Something flashed across her face. Astonishment?
“You’re…” She shook her head and water danced off her long lashes. “Impossible.”
“So I’ve been told.” He moved slowly, waiting for her to react, but she didn’t stop him. When he gently placed his lips on hers, she seemed to melt in his embrace. Maybe she’d wanted a man to come along and take control of her screwed up situation. He could be that guy.
“Charlie?” Mack’s voice droned through the comm unit. “Stop screwing around and—“
Charlie yanked the ear bud out of his ear. He had a few seconds. If the speedboats came back, he and Amber would dive out of sight. For the first time in months, he wanted to stop the world and simply enjoy kissing a beautiful woman. What a kisser she was. Where had she been all his life? She’d worked him up into a serious hard-on. He was relieved her karate kick hadn’t busted anything valuable.
The part of his brain that wasn’t focusing on the sheer wonder of Amber, worked out the details of how to save her life. The first dilemma—she was far too buoyant. It would be hard to force her to dive with him if she didn’t want to go, damned impossible when she was bobbing like a buoy. He had to strip the life vest off her. Would she let him?
Only one way to find out…
“I’m a Navy SEAL. Your dad sent us to protect you. Keep you safe.” He unfastened her life vest. “Do you believe me?”
“This is all pretty crazy. You here, showing up now, when I’m running for my life. But I want to believe you.”
“That’s a start. Let’s remove this vest. You are far too buoyant and you don’t need it. Where’d you learn to swim like that?” He unzipped the life vest.
She let him take it off her. “High school swim team. Now what happens?”
“We’re getting out of here, but first, put your hands on my shoulders.” Treading water for the both of them, he combed his fingers through her wet hair and kissed her again. He wanted, no he needed, her to trust him.
He’d get her out of there. Just a few seconds more.
The unmistakable sound of a fast-moving speedboat interrupted his thoughts. Out of time. The triad were right on top of them. Pulling back, he popped the rebreather in Amber’s beautiful mouth, filled his own lungs with air, and yanked her underwater as hard as he could.
Her muffled underwater screams said it all. Yanking her down without warning was a bad idea. She thought he’d tricked her, but he hadn’t. Not really. The way she thrashed and fought made it clear he’d burned the trust bridge. He grabbed her arms and forced her to face him. The look of betrayal in her eyes hurt worse than a boot kick to the gonads.
Her mind was spinning with confusion. The Black Pirate was here? How had he found her? She had a good ear for vocal inflections, which is why she picked up languages quickly, and had no doubts—Charlie was the Black Pirate. She was sure. His deep voice had rumbled through many of her steamy fantasies. If she closed her eyes, she could match his avatar with the words he spoke now.
Weeks ago, he’d asked her out on a date. She’d thought he was kidding around. She gave it half a thought, though, because…well, who wouldn’t? The Black Pirate was sexy as hell. She’d scoured the Internet for games he enjoyed, if only to play with him for a few minutes. She had a serious crush on the Black Pirate, the gamer. She had no idea who the real man was. Never in a million years would she have believed the live version would look like Charlie. If she’d known her online fantasy man was the tanned and muscular man swimming in Victoria Harbour she would have met him for that beer and dancing and lost herself in his green eyes. She wouldn’t be in this mess and Jacques wouldn’t be…
. She refused to think about his blood soaking her carpet.
Focus on Charlie.
Why was he here?
Had Dad really sent him? Her father knew many people, but she couldn’t imagine any scenario where her father and the Black Pirate would have rubbed elbows. None. Dad was buddies with businessmen and played golf with politicians. He didn’t hang out with Charlie-types who shot bad guys as effortlessly as he did in online war games.
She wanted to believe, though. With every molecule in her being she longed to accept that Dad had sent a hero to save her. And then he yanked her underwater and tried to drown her. Was Charlie one of the bad guys after all? Her head was spinning.
“What in the hell are you doing?” She yelled at him, which was tough when she was several feet underwater and had a thing stuck in her mouth. The device was still connected to Charlie. It allowed her to breathe without producing bubbles. Charlie, on the other hand, was holding his breath.
He gripped her arm and tried to draw her closer. She shook his hand off and narrowed her eyes at him.
Charlie jabbed his finger toward the surface again.
She looked up just as a speedboat zoomed over the top of the water.
That’s why he’d pulled her under, not to drown her, but to keep her from the triad. Panic pressed her like a vise. Would she ever get out of this mess? Even though she was the one with the rebreather, she couldn’t catch her breath.
Charlie took her chin in his hand and tipped her face up to his. His eyes were filled with comfort, his jaw firmly set. Kindness, power and strength. Charlie was a potent combination.
He lifted his finger to show that he had to go up to catch a breath. He wanted her to stay down and wait for him. When he fiddled with the tank on his back, she understood that he was going to take it off and put it on her. She gripped his arms and shook her head.
No. Don’t leave.