Rain Shadow (A Bluewater Bay Novel)

Rain Shadow: A Bluewater Bay Novel by L.A. Witt
Author: 
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-366-7
eBook release: 
Oct 19, 2015
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-367-4
Print release: 
Oct 19, 2015
Word count: 
59,600
Page count: 
230
Type: 
Cover by: 

This title is part of the Bluewater Bay universe.

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Jeremy Rose came to Bluewater Bay to work as Anna Maxwell's bodyguard, not to escape his increasingly bitter relationship with his estranged kids. He just wants to focus on his job and be alone for a while. He's done with love, especially now that three years after his long overdue divorce, he's got a front-row seat to the rapid deterioration between Anna and her girlfriend. Cynical doesn't even begin to describe him.

Then Anna and Leigh's attempts to reconcile put him in the crosshairs of marriage counselor Scott Fletcher. Scott's exactly what Jeremy needs right now: gorgeous, hot, horny, single, and 100% uninterested in a relationship. The problem is, too much no-strings-attached sex — and too much time in each other's company — inevitably builds emotional connection.

Except Jeremy refuses to seek counseling for his broken family, and Scott refuses to get seriously involved with men who work dangerous jobs. They both need to realize they can only hide for so long from the pain they came here to escape. They must face their pasts before they lose their shot at a happy future.

Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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Chapter One

Four o’clock was way too fucking early for this.

Okay, so I was used to early mornings after late nights—kind of came with the territory of guarding a workaholic in the entertainment industry. But getting up at the ass crack of dawn to stand in a parking lot with a bunch of strangers, clinging to a cup of coffee, in the middle of January? This was bullshit.

Beside me, Anna burrowed her face into the zipped-up collar of her parka. “Please tell me the bus is almost here.”

“Should be.” Leigh glanced at her phone, then stuffed it and her hand back into her pocket. “We’re supposed to leave by four fifteen.”

Anna grumbled something I didn’t understand. Leigh shot her a look, but Anna ignored it.

Come on, you two. It’s too early. Give it a rest.

Their counselor had planned to go on the trip with his wife, but couldn’t, so he’d passed his tickets on to Leigh and Anna, suggesting it would be a good change of scenery for them. It was a chance for them to do something together that they would both enjoy so maybe they could reconnect. Ideally, it would alleviate some of the tension caused by Anna working too much, and whatever else had had the two of them butting heads since well before the production company had hired me as Anna’s bodyguard.

And a day trip that started in a freezing-cold parking lot at four in the morning seemed like just what they needed.

I rolled my eyes. Wasn’t like the two of them needed to just sleep the fuck in and relax or anything. But whatever. I wasn’t getting paid to grade their counselor. I was here to keep overzealous Wolf’s Landing fans and a handful of deranged stalkers from putting their hands on Anna. If she came to me for advice, I gave it, but otherwise I kept my mouth shut about the quack and stayed out of it.

Anna yawned, wobbling a little on her feet.

“You all right?” I asked.

“Uh-huh.” She rubbed her eyes. “Tired.”

“It’s a three-and-a-half-hour drive.” Leigh nestled her face into her collar. “We can probably catch up on some sleep on the way.”

“Good idea.” Anna yawned again. “C’mon, stupid bus. Mama needs a nap.”

And so does her bodyguard—not that he’ll get one.

Anna had been working ridiculous hours all week, which meant I had been too, but they’d been taking a bigger toll on her than me. Though I suspected it wasn’t just the show that was keeping her up at night. The air between her and Leigh had been frostier than usual. They hadn’t been screaming at each other lately, but that probably wasn’t a good sign. Usually, those two argued more than I had with my ex-wife or my kids did with each other. Combined.

But lately, it had been chilly silence. At least when they were fighting, they were talking.

Or maybe I was wrong and the snake-oil peddling counselor was actually helping. Maybe they were calmly working through things now. One could hope, anyway. I knew all too well how long a relationship could continue even when it was well past salvaging—and how miserable it could make anyone within a ten-mile radius.

“Oh, thank God,” someone said. “There’s the bus.”

The whole group turned as a repurposed school bus with Mount Olympus Tours emblazoned on the side pulled into the lot. If the driver knew what was good for her, she had every heater on that thing blasting.

The brakes squeaked, then hissed. The door opened, and a cute blond guy in a red Mount Olympus Tours golf shirt skipped off the bus and singsonged, “Well, good morning, everyone!”

I cringed. That kind of cheerfulness at this hour was like someone kicking on a strobe light when I was hungover.

The cheerful guy shivered. “Brr, it’s freezing out here!”

“Well done, Captain Obvious,” someone muttered, and snickers rippled through the group.

The guy didn’t seem to notice, though, and herded us all onto the bus, checking us in as we went.

“Oh, thank you, Jesus,” Anna said, almost groaning as she boarded ahead of me. When I followed, I understood why—the driver was indeed blasting the heater. I peeled off my parka, but despite the warmth, I left the flannel shirt on over my T-shirt to keep my shoulder holster covered.

A few rows from the front, Leigh sat against the window, and Anna took the aisle. I sat one row behind Anna, in the aisle seat kitty-corner to hers. This crowd didn’t look particularly threatening, but I was on the clock. From this vantage point, I had a better view if anyone tried anything.

I didn’t expect much from some middle-aged tourists, a sleepy family of four, or the German couple chattering in the back, though.

One teenager wore a Wolf’s Landing T-shirt, and Anna definitely noticed him—she was subtly keeping her head down and her face covered by her baseball cap. Fortunately, she wasn’t as easily recognizable as the actors on the show since she wasn’t the one in front of the camera. Unfortunately, some of the people who did recognize her were the reason I had this job.

This kid didn’t seem to notice her, though. Hell, with his earbuds in and his attention fixed on his smartphone, Carter Samuels and Levi Pritchard could’ve walked in and started making out—wouldn’t that have been a sight?—and he wouldn’t have noticed.

Once everyone was situated, the blond guy stood in front of us with his clipboard in one hand and the bus’s microphone in the other. “All right, welcome aboard, everybody!” he chirped. “Are we all ready to go see some eagles?”

A halfhearted, “Yeah,” went through the group.

He sighed dramatically. “Oh, come on. I know you all didn’t get up at this hour unless you wanted to. Are we ready to see some eagles or not?”

That prompted a slightly more enthusiastic response.

“That’s what I thought. Now we’re looking at about three and a half hours on the bus, which will get us there in time to catch our boat on the river. Everybody bring their cameras?”

A few people held up phones, and three hoisted giant SLRs with foot-long lenses.

“Good!” The blond guy grinned. “Well, I’ve been out there every day this week, and there’s been eagles as far as the eye can see. So expect lots of opportunities to get pictures.”

“Can we stop for coffee?” someone called out from the back.

“You can get coffee on the ferry out of Port Townsend. And we’ll stop again in Sedro-Woolley.”

A few people muttered, “Thank God.”

Our guide smiled like he didn’t need any coffee now or ever—jerk—and went on, “Okay, so let me give you a bit of background. Every winter, bald eagles congregate along a stretch of the Skagit River. Anybody know why?”

“To eat the dead salmon,” came a response near the front.

“Good! See, bald eagles are scavengers, so . . .”

While he went on and on, the driver put her giant coffee cup aside and the bus started moving, the diesel engine groaning like it agreed that this was too early and too cold. I suspected the group would perk up as the morning wore on, but for now, the collective fuuuuuck radiating from everyone was bordering on comical. Especially with Mr. Morning Person damn near bouncing as he told us about the eagles.

From across the aisle from me, someone grumbled, “No one should be that chipper before 9 a.m.”

I laughed and turned my head, ready to reply, “No shit, right?”

But I just stopped.

And stared.

Maybe it was because he’d picked that exact moment to sip his coffee, and the movement of his unshaven jaw made both his cheekbones and his stubble stand out like holy fuck, but . . . holy fuck. He had a few lines alongside his mouth and eyes that intrigued the hell out of me, and the way his lips moved slightly when he swallowed his coffee did crazy, crazy things to my brain. He looked oddly familiar, but I couldn’t place where—or if—I’d seen him before.

Beneath a gray Mariners baseball cap, his blue eyes flicked toward me, and he lifted his eyebrows.

“Um.” I cleared my throat. “Good point. About . . .” What had he commented on again? I glanced at the front of the bus, and our fearless leader was still being entirely too cheerful as he briefed everyone who was listening. To the guy beside me, I said, “About him. Being chipper.”

The guy chuckled and raised his cup. “Thank God for coffee for the rest of us, am I right?”

“Yeah.” I shook mine, which was nearly empty. “I should’ve gotten a bigger one.”

“Good thing there’s a Starbucks on the route. And probably one at the ferry dock.”

I was about to praise a few deities, but he picked that moment to casually take off his baseball cap, scratch the back of his head, and put the cap back on.

God help me—he was almost entirely gray. Salt and very black pepper, but definitely more salt. And there went my ability to speak.

Maybe I was just tired of younger guys. Except silver foxes had always turned me inside out, even back when I was still in denial. Anna sometimes met with Hunter Easton, the author of the Wolf’s Landing series, and he was just . . . distraction on wheels. But this guy? Fuck.

And I was staring.

I cleared my throat. “So, you been on one of these tours before?”

He shook his head. “I’ve been meaning to for a few years, but didn’t quite get around to it. You?”

“No, I just moved up here last year.”

His subtle grin screwed up my senses so much, I almost didn’t hear—or understand—his question when he said, “You must’ve come for the TV show.”

“The— Right. Yeah. Wolf’s Landing.”

“So, either your episodes haven’t aired yet, or you’re not an actor.”

I chuckled. “You a fan?”

“Big time.”

“Yeah, me too. But no, I’m not an actor. Just security.”

Something flickered across his expression, but he erased it with a smile. “I’ll bet you get to see some interesting things.”

“You could say that.” I extended my hand. “By the way, I’m Jeremy Rose.”

“Scott Fletcher.” He shook my hand, and his was warm from holding his coffee cup. “Nice to meet you.”

“Yeah. You too.”

He smiled, then took a sip of his coffee. “Well, I hope you brought a raincoat.”

“A—” My heart skipped. Did he— Oh, right. An actual raincoat. Not a condom. Because we were two random strangers talking on a bus, not a couple of guys trying to hook up and— I cleared my throat. “Do you really think we’ll need one?”

The faintest smirk played at his lips, making me wonder if he was thinking about the double entendre now. His shoulder rose in a slight shrug. “You never know. It is January, so you can’t really go anywhere in this state without getting wet.”

I studied him. “You know, that’s what I heard before I moved up here, but . . .” I waved a hand at the mostly clear sky outside. “Can’t say I’ve seen it.”

He chuckled. “Well, no. Not in Bluewater Bay. We’re in a rain shadow.”

“A what now?”

“A rain shadow. The clouds coming in off the ocean have too much moisture to get over the Olympic Mountains, so they dump it on the coast. The . . .” He nodded in the general direction of the ocean. “The west coast, I mean. Not the north one.”

“Oh. Interesting.”

“Yep. It’s nice, because by the time the clouds get to us”—he gestured above us—“there isn’t much left.”

“Huh. Learn something new every day, right?”

He laughed softly, a hint of color blooming in his cheeks. “Guess I’m flying my nerd flag, aren’t I?”

Smiling, I said, “There are worse things.” And definitely less attractive things. Then I nodded toward the empty seat beside him. “Just you?”

“Just me.” He rubbed his eyes. “I couldn’t think of anyone who’d want to get up at the crack of dawn to go with me.” Lowering his hand, he yawned. “Maybe that should’ve given me a clue.”

“You never know. Could be worth it.”

“At this rate, the eagles had better perform ‘Hotel California’ or something to make it worthwhile.”

I laughed. “Eagles the Musical?”

Scott chuckled. “That would get me out of bed in the morning.”

“Yeah, now that I think about it, me too.”

Anna turned around and glanced at me, her lips quirked. Then she rolled her eyes, shook her head, and faced the front again. Yeah, she’d be ribbing me about this later.

To Scott, I said, “So what made you decide to do this? Bird-watcher?”

“Not really.” Scott played with the lid on his cup. “Just been spending a bit too much time at home these days. Thought this would give me a chance to get out of the house and out of Bluewater Bay for a little while.”

“Doesn’t seem like a town people really need to escape from.”

Scott chuckled. “You really haven’t lived here very long, have you?”

“There something I should know about it?”

“Well, I mean, it’s not a bad town.” Scott sat up a little, pausing to twist a crick out of his back. “I like the town, and I like my condo. But sometimes, you just need a change of scenery before the walls close in, you know?”

“Yeah, I do. That’s how I wound up in Bluewater Bay.”

Scott smiled. “Before Wolf’s Landing, that was how most people wound up in Bluewater Bay.”

“Including you?”

Instantly, the smile faded, though he tried and failed to force it back to life. With a tight shrug, he said, “Well, like I said, that’s how most people wind up here.” He cleared his throat and gestured out the window. “You been up to Hurricane Ridge yet?”

I went along with the subject change, but inwardly I cringed.

Good one, Jeremy. You’ve known the guy forty-seven seconds, and it’s already awkward.

That has to be some kind of record.

 

Chapter Two

Despite the momentary awkwardness, Scott and I managed some benign small talk for a little while, but early morning fatigue kept interrupting. Eventually, the conversation faded away, and I stared out the window as the highway took us through the tree-covered foothills on the way through Sequim and Discovery Bay and on to Port Townsend.

When the bus rolled onto the ferry in Port Townsend, a few people were still awake. The boat’s gentle rocking motion finished most of them off, though—the boat wasn’t halfway across the water, and nearly everyone was sound asleep.

I was struggling hard not to join them. As long as I was on the clock, I could not fall asleep, so I walked up and down the aisle a few times. Went outside to get some air and coffee. Walked the aisle again.

“You can always sleep like everyone else,” our guide chirped after my umpteenth lap.

“No, no, I . . .” Think you’re somehow sucking all the energy out of the group, you perky little shit. “Just don’t want to sit too long. Fucks with my back.”

He frowned. “The river can get a little rough. You going to be okay on that boat?”

I waved a hand. “I’ll be fine. Long as I move around a bit now.”

“Okay. Well, just holler if you’re not sure!”

Wincing, I nodded. The guy’s voice was completely bearable at a normal hour after a full night’s sleep. This early, though? Ugh.

Shouldn’t you be testing the oxygen levels in a mine somewhere?

I headed back toward my seat.

Scott hadn’t moved. Like everyone else, he was out cold. He’d pulled his baseball cap down over his face, and really all I could see of him were his long fingers, folded loosely together in his lap.

No ring. No tan line from a ring.

That could mean a lot of things, but he was also here alone. For all I knew, he was a straight guy who didn’t like wearing his wedding band. Or single, but straight nonetheless.

Though it was possible he was gay. There was no shortage of gay men in Bluewater Bay, after all. I’d heard that the arrival of Wolf’s Landing had upped the town’s queer population by a significant percentage, so there were more than most places, and it could be safely assumed that a person might be queer.

Still, that wasn’t an assumption to make off the cuff, especially not if we were going to be stuck on the same bus and boat for the next twelve hours.

But hey, at least he was something to focus on and keep myself awake with for the time being.

After the ferry dropped us off, the bus took us across a few of the islands in the north end of Puget Sound, then continued along the highway toward the town of Sedro-Woolley. Not far from where the highway intersected with Interstate 5, the driver pulled into a parking lot. There, people started stirring.

Our impossibly perky guide jumped up and faced us. “Okay, folks. Rise and shine!”

Grumbles and murmurs rippled through the bus.

“We’re in Sedro-Woolley,” he went on. “So if you want coffee or you need to use the restroom, now’s the time. We should be in eagle country in—” he made a big show of checking his watch “—a little under an hour.”

In front of me, Leigh stood and stretched. “You guys want anything?”

“The usual.” Anna got up to let her girlfriend out. “You need money?”

“I’ve got it. Jeremy?”

“Coffee.”

Leigh laughed. “Could you be more specific?”

“Surprise me. Just make sure it’s very, very caffeinated.”

“High octane, super unleaded. Got it.”

“Thank you.”

She followed a few other people off the bus.

Anna dropped back into her seat and scrubbed her hand over her face.

“How you holding up?” I asked.

“I’ll be better once I start mainlining some coffee.”

“I hear that.”

She craned her neck to look at me. “You don’t mind us dragging you along for this, do you?”

“Nah. Can’t be any worse than when you made me sit through that god-awful play in town.”

“Oh, come on!” She smacked my arm. “It wasn’t that bad.”

“Uh-huh. Levi still owes me for that night.”

Anna clicked her tongue. “Clearly you just don’t appreciate good theater.”

“Please. I probably appreciate it more than you do.”

“Except when Levi directs it.”

“I’m not saying he’s a bad director. I’m just saying that play was badly directed. Or just bad. I don’t know.”

She laughed. “Well, I’ll be sure to tell him to consult with you for the next one.”

I chuckled.

Movement beside me caught my eye, and when I turned my head, I met Scott’s gaze. He gave a quiet laugh, as if our conversation had amused him, and then stood and stretched.

“You going in?” He nodded toward the mini-mart.

I shook my head. “No, I—” I hesitated, glancing at Anna, then shrugged. “My friend’s getting us coffee.”

Anna twisted around. “I can text her and have her bring one more if you want.”

“No, no. That’s okay.” He rolled his shoulders. “I should probably move around a bit anyway. Excuse me.”

Anna and I straightened in our seats to let him go by, and as he made his way off the bus . . .

Goddamn.

That ass.

As I shifted my attention back to Anna, she smirked, and my face burned.

“Shut up,” I muttered.

“I didn’t say a word.” She smothered a giggle.

“Uh-huh.”

A few minutes later, Leigh returned with coffee and, bless her heart, a pack of chocolate-covered doughnuts. I wasn’t usually big on sweet stuff—neither were the two of them—but, this morning those little bastards hit the spot.

I was just sucking some of the icing off my index finger when Scott returned, and goddamn him, his eyes went straight to me.

We both froze for a second.

Then he cleared his throat, and I lowered my hand. He took his seat again while I wiped my hand off and dropped the napkin in the bag we’d all been using for trash.

“Is the coffee decent?” he asked, gesturing with his steaming cup.

I shrugged. “It’s not Stomping Grounds, but it gets the job done.”

“Good enough.” He brought the cup to his lips and carefully took a sip. As he lowered it, he wrinkled his nose. “Yeah, definitely not Stomping Grounds.”

“It’s caffeine, though.”

“And God bless caffeine at this hour.” He rolled his eyes. “Man, this seemed like a good idea when I bought my ticket.” Bringing the coffee up again, he added, “Should’ve looked at the schedule first.”

“I hear that.”

“I think next time I’ll drive over the night before and get a hotel room.”

Whatever witty comment I might’ve had died with the mental image of Scott and a hotel room. I shook myself and swallowed some of my own coffee.

While everyone nursed their coffee and munchies, the bus pulled out of the gas station parking lot. Diesel engines groaning, it continued down a two-lane highway that took us past some rolling farm country before following the Skagit River into the forested foothills of the Cascades.

Heavy mist hung low over the trees, obscuring the higher branches. This was the kind of weather I’d anticipated when I’d moved to Washington, but it wasn’t as dreary and depressing as I’d expected. Maybe because it was temporary—tomorrow, I’d be back in sunny Bluewater Bay—but also because it gave this whole area an otherworldly atmosphere.

“Mom, look!” A kid pointed out the window, and everyone looked just in time to see a bald eagle with an impossibly huge wingspan sail down from a tree branch. A second later, it rose again, vanishing into the mist.

“Wow,” Leigh said. “I didn’t realize they were that big.”

“No kidding,” Anna said. “I knew they were big, but . . . damn.”

“Seriously.” I turned to Scott. “Maybe this trip was worth getting up early after all.”

He’d leaned across the aisle to see the eagle and now sat back. “Yeah, I think you’re right.”

Something about his smile gave me pause. As if he’d winked at me, but . . . he hadn’t.

“So.” He cleared his throat. “You by yourself?”

“No, I’m . . .” I gestured at Anna and Leigh. “With friends.”

“Oh, right. You mentioned that.” Scott glanced at them. He started to speak again, but that singsong voice from the front interrupted.

“Oh, look at this, folks!” The guide pointed outside. “There’s a juvenile right above us and three adults in that tree there.”

The bus slowed down, and as one, the whole group looked outside. The juvenile—almost entirely black, with his wings partially spread as if to dry them out—was maybe twenty feet above us, perched right next to the trunk of a bare maple tree. Three striking adults were spread out amongst the branches in the next tree.

All around, people spoke in hushed tones—as if we might spook the birds despite the closed windows—and cameras buzzed and snapped.

The bus kept moving, though.

Our guide called out, “We’ll stop on the way back if we see more, but we have to get to the river to meet our boat.” He tapped his watch as if any of us needed a visual cue that we were on a schedule. Though at this ungodly hour, maybe some of us did.

Minutes later, we reached the river. On the rocky shore there were two boats waiting for us. Everyone filed off the bus, and a couple of young guys handed us life jackets.

My life jacket was uncomfortable as fuck over my holster—I was pretty sure this thing wasn’t designed to share rib space with a Sig Sauer. With some monkeying around and creative rerouting of straps, I was able to put it on and still have access to my gun. Not that I suspected I’d need it, but I didn’t want to take chances. Nor did I want the gun visible. Worst-case scenario, I had the smaller .38 in an ankle holster.

Life jackets on, we all continued down to where the boats were tied.

And the boat operator was . . . wow. Damn. Between him and Scott, I had plenty to look at even if I didn’t see another eagle for the rest of the trip. Maybe getting up at ass thirty this morning had been worth it.

My own thought almost made me laugh out loud. It had been too long since I’d been laid, hadn’t it? I was starting to see the world through the only thing more deceptive than beer goggles—desperation goggles.

Or maybe the guy really did have an ass that looked that good. As he bent over to pull a line into the boat, I couldn’t help stealing a few glances.

Yeah. I needed to get laid, and soon.

Especially since I was on the clock, and I was supposed to be watching for anyone who might try to fuck with Anna, not anyone I might try to fuck. Even out here, where my presence was more of a formality than anything, I had to keep my guard up.

“The minute you decide nothing’s going to happen,” one of my instructors had drilled into my head, “is the minute shit goes south.”

Once everyone was aboard, the outboard motor revved, and the boat pulled away from the launch. The river was deep and wide, the current strong but not fast enough to make the boat feel out of control. Which was good. I’d gone white-water rafting with my kids once, and . . . no, thanks.

This was nice, though. And the scenery was stunning. With the low-hanging mist, the atmosphere contrasted sharply with the perpetual sunniness of Bluewater Bay. Much like I’d expected nothing but gloomy weather, this was what I’d expected Washington to look like—gray, wet, with thick moss on the trees and long-dead leaves scattered all over the rocky shore.

And . . . wow. The brochure had promised there’d be loads of birds, but I still couldn’t believe how many there were. Every time the boat went around a bend, there’d be more. As many as three or four in a single tree. Two fighting over a salmon carcass. Another youngster on a tree branch. A massive adult soaring low over the water. The biggest bird I’d ever seen, trying to chase some crows away from another half-rotted salmon. I’d probably seen half a dozen eagles in my entire life, and now they were just . . . everywhere.

During a particularly clear stretch, where the mist wasn’t hanging quite so low, I took out my phone and snapped a few pictures. Not good enough for National Geographic, but they’d be all right for Facebook. Maybe I’d upload them later when I had some signal.

Three rows up, Scott craned his neck to see something the person next to him was pointing out. For a few seconds, I forgot all about the eagles, and instead caught myself wondering what it would feel like—and what sounds he’d make—if I ran my lips along the skin between his scruffy jaw and his collar. God, maybe I’d just been sleeping alone too much lately, and—

I pulled my gaze away. I wasn’t getting paid to ogle strangers on this trip. Hot strangers. Possibly single strangers. Maybe even gay strangers.

I shook myself. What the hell was wrong with me today?

After one last glance in Scott’s direction, I shifted my focus toward Anna and Leigh. In front of me, they sat close to each other, pointing out birds and, as near as I could tell, having a great time. Good for them. They needed this. Maybe that counselor had been onto something.

Eventually, the boat turned back, and we retraced the stretch of river we’d already gone down. Some of the birds were in the same places they’d been before. Others had moved. By the time we reached the boat launch, the sight of an eagle—or several eagles—had ceased to be a surprise, but it was still impressive. They really were amazing birds.

Everyone disembarked, and we slowly made our way back toward the bus. Some people stopped for group photos or selfies while others watched the river and a pair of eagles arguing over a tree branch.

Scott and the boat operator were looking at something on Scott’s phone. They made eye contact, and Scott’s smile might not have done anything to the presumably straight boat operator, but it sure spun my head around.

Get a grip, idiot.

I pulled my gaze away and stayed on Anna and Leigh’s heels as they headed back with the others. On the bus, I scrolled through the photos I’d taken. Despite the mist, some of them had actually turned out decently, but my chest tightened. There was a time when I’d have sent the photos to my kids. Haley had always loved birds of prey, and Zach liked anything with animals.

They probably wouldn’t be interested in them now. Most teenagers didn’t particularly care about random texts and photos from their parents anyway. Mine would just as soon I never sent them anything. Haley had barely spoken to me since the divorce, especially in the last six months, and Zach just wanted to know if I was going to teach him to drive when they came to see me this summer. Or when he came to see me. If Haley didn’t want to, then I wouldn’t push her. Neither would her mother.

“Jeremy?” Anna’s voice brought me back into the present.

I shook myself and turned to her. “Sorry. What?”

She eyed me. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah.” I shoved my phone into my pocket. “Just, uh, trying to figure out how much Photoshop it’ll take to make these presentable enough for Facebook.”

She studied me like she didn’t buy it. And maybe she didn’t—we’d both vented about our respective personal situations, and she knew more than most people about my divorce’s aftermath, so she probably knew what was on my mind. Still, she put on a smile. “Well, if you don’t have any good ones, check with Leigh.” She nodded toward her girlfriend, who was talking to our guide about something. “She got a few amazing shots.”

“Good. I’ll, uh, check with her if mine don’t come out.”

We held each other’s gaze for a moment.

You sure you’re doing okay?

You sure you’re doing okay?

She nodded.

I nodded.

And we broke eye contact and settled into our seats for the bus ride back.

With the caffeine wearing off, the heat blasting, and the fatigue of How early did I get up? setting in, people started dropping like flies before the bus had gone two miles. And with the steady hum of road noise and the constant motion, even I could barely stay awake.

In fact, despite my best efforts, I dozed off.

I awoke when we pulled into the gas station. Now my head was throbbing, and I desperately needed some coffee, but I didn’t want to wake Anna. I couldn’t leave her, though, so I made a “you fly, I’ll buy” deal with someone else who was going inside. With the giant cup of high-octane espresso in hand, I wasn’t falling asleep again anytime soon.

I turned, and my pulse shot up. Like nearly everyone else, Scott was asleep. Hat pulled down over his eyes, head turned slightly to one side, drawing my attention to the sharp edge of his salt-and-peppered jaw and his neck. His long fingers were wrapped loosely around his coffee cup, his shoulders relaxed, and his chest rising and falling slowly and—

Why am I staring?

I jerked my gaze away and looked out the window instead.

Okay, so it had been too long since I’d been laid. I’d been too caught up in postdivorce damage control for the last three years to even think about a relationship, and aside from a smattering of one-night stands, I’d mostly slept alone. In the year that I’d lived in Bluewater Bay, I’d taken advantage of the nightlife in places like Victoria, Port Angeles, and occasionally even Seattle, but guarding a workaholic meant my downtime was somewhat limited. And a chunk of that time was devoted to feeble attempts at repairing my relationship with my kids.

Recently, Anna had been so busy—she’d been directing an episode and producing two up until about a week ago—neither of us had had much time off. I was admittedly thankful that Leigh had put her foot down and demanded Anna start spending a little less time at work, because it meant I got to spend a little less time at work too.

Maybe now that I’d recharged from a long stretch of all work and no play, my libido was trying to tell me something.

I stole another glance at Scott.

Or maybe he really was that attractive.

* * *

When we arrived in Bluewater Bay, everyone started waking up. Not a moment too soon, either—my phone battery was nearly dead, and I’d already been to the end of the internet and back. Another twenty minutes without a working phone and I’d have been climbing the walls.

Leigh stood up and stretched. “What do you guys say we go find an early dinner?”

“I am so down with that idea.” Anna twisted gingerly, and her back popped loud enough to turn a few heads.

Leigh shuddered. “Oh my God.”

“What?” Anna laughed. “Now it’s not as stiff.”

“That can’t be normal.” Leigh grimaced as she pulled on her jacket.

“Probably not.” Anna put her own jacket over her arm and turned to me. “You ready?”

“For food? You bet.”

She laughed. “Well, it’s on me today since you had to get up at the crack of dawn for us.”

“I’m not going to argue with free food.”

“Of course you’re not.”

We filed off the bus and started toward the car.

We were halfway there before I stopped in my tracks and realized I had no idea how to find Scott again. I should’ve gotten his number. Or suggested friending him on Facebook. Or . . . something. There was no way in hell I’d see him again unless I made some kind of move now.

I turned around and quickly found him—just in time to see him pull out of the parking lot.

And with that, he was gone.

“Jeremy?” Leigh had stopped and was eyeing me. So was Anna.

“Sorry.” I patted my pockets, then pulled out my phone. “Thought I left this on the bus. Disaster averted.”

We kept walking, and I resisted the urge to look back toward the empty driveway where Scott’s car had exited. Talk about a missed opportunity.

Well, now I had something new to kick myself over.

from Prism Book Alliance

[W]ell developed, well executed, and well received.

from Crystals Many Reviewers

Bluewater Bay is one of my favorite fictional towns to visit and Rain Shadow was no exception.

from Blending Perspectives Book Reviews

[A] great addition to the Bluewater Bay series, and now I can't wait for Anna's story.

from Creative Deeds

Another great addition to the Bluewater Bay series.

from Smitten with Reading

[A]nother great installment to the Bluewater Bay series.

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