Evan Kennedy swigged the last of the tequila from the mini-bottle as her fiancé’s moans of pleasure drifted through the wall behind her. She set the bottle down and sank back onto the bed, curling her pillow around her ears. This was torture—absolute Geneva Convention–worthy stuff. Next time they stayed in a hotel, she would make sure the suite had two bedrooms that didn’t share a wall.
How was she supposed to sleep with that kind of erotic soundtrack in the background? Especially when the only company she had in her room was the hotel’s mini-bar and a subpar selection of cable stations.
The heavy thudding of a headboard banging against the wall started up, rattling the three empty bottles on her bedside table. Oh, the guys were on their game tonight—obviously celebrating the good news they’d all gotten earlier in the evening. No telling how long their show would go on. With a heavy sigh, she threw the comforter off her legs and climbed out of the bed, happy to find she only wavered slightly.
She needed air. Or at least some place where two happy lovers weren’t sharing passionate, wall-rattling sex while she lay in bed alone.
She yanked on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, then tucked the last mini-bottle of tequila into her pocket. The bars downstairs would be closed by now, and although she rarely drank, tonight she had the urge to get comfortably numb. She just had to make sure not to run into any of the people here for her and Daniel’s couples’ seminar. That certainly wouldn’t reflect well on the company. And the last thing she felt like doing was getting into a row with Daniel about “professional image.”
After running a brush through her hair, she stepped out of her bedroom and threw one last glance at Daniel’s closed door. The moans had turned to dueling male grunts. Clearly both parties were having a good time. An unexpected pang of sadness hit her in the gut, and her eyes burned as if tears were going to flow.
What in the world? Her hand went to her cheek, but of course no actual tears were there. She never cried. But that burning was the first sign she’d had in years that she was still physically capable of tears.
She shook her head. Maybe it was the tequila.
And the close quarters.
A walk would help.
She shut the door with a soft snick and made her way down to the lobby. As expected, things were quiet. The overnight desk clerk glanced up at her with disinterested eyes. She gave him a quick smile and turned in the opposite direction to head toward the pool and the beach beyond.
She slipped through the exit door, and the warm Gulf breeze wrapped around her, lifting her mood a bit. She closed her eyes and inhaled the salty air, letting it fill her lungs and hoping it would clear her head. But as soon as she opened her eyes again, the glowing swimming pool seemed to tilt in front of her. Whoa. Maybe she had overestimated her liquor tolerance. Three shots of tequila might have been two too many. She grabbed on to the back of a nearby lounge chair to steady herself.
Evan focused on the dark expanse of the Gulf of Mexico in the distance, waiting for the spinning in her head to stop. She just needed to make it to the beach, sit down in the sand, and get her normally iron-clad defenses back in place so she could return upstairs with a smile on her face. She didn’t need the guys seeing her this way. They’d want to sit down and talk about feelings and shit. And really, she just didn’t want to go there. The last thing she needed right now was for Daniel to put on his therapist hat with her.
After a few more fortifying breaths, she straightened her spine and made her way slowly around the edge of the pool and to the wooden stairs that led down to the beach. Almost there. But when she reached for the gate, the latch didn’t give. “What the—?”
She looked down and sighed at the sign attached to the weather-beaten wood. Private Beach—Closed: midnight to 6 a.m. No lifeguard on duty.
She stared longingly at the crashing waves, the peaceful solitude of the beach calling to her like a siren song. She peeked over her shoulder at the hotel’s main building. There weren’t any security cameras out here. Who would know? And Daniel had brought a hell of a lot of business to the hotel this weekend with the conference, so even if someone caught her, she doubted they would do more than politely direct her back to her room.
Without giving it more thought, she planted a foot on the lowest railing and draped her other leg over the top, making sure to keep two hands securely on the fence so her head wouldn’t start whirling again. She hoped no one was watching because she was sure she was executing the maneuver with the grace of a walrus, but at least she didn’t topple down the stairs. Score.
After a careful walk down the steps, she kicked off her flip-flops and curled her toes into the cool sand. Ahh, yes, so worth the rule-breaking.
Thunder rumbled in the distance, and the clouds far off on the horizon blinked with lightning. Damn, she should’ve brought her camera. The new lens she’d bought would’ve been perfect to catch the display. She moved closer to the water, stepping past the rows of hotel lounge chairs and closed umbrellas and not stopping until the spray from the crashing waves hit her face and the taste of salt alighted on her tongue.
The tide pooled around her feet, soaking the bottom of her jeans and sending a little chill through her. She rubbed her arms and glanced down the beach, taking in the deserted shoreline that stretched along the length of South Padre Island. The moonlight had turned the normally colorful view into silver sand and black water, but even in the darkness, she could tell she was alone on her three a.m. adventure.
No surprise there. People didn’t come on vacation to wander around alone half-drunk in the middle of the night. No, the people in those beautifully appointed hotels lining the beach were cuddled up to their loved ones right now, sleeping off a fun day. Or, like Daniel, having crazy monkey sex with their lovers. Lucky bastards.
Normally, that knowledge wouldn’t bother her. She’d made her decisions, had created a good life for herself. For the first time, she was with someone who loved her—even if that love was only platonic. But for some reason, a hollow ache had rooted solidly in her chest tonight. And paired with the heated need that had settled between her thighs after listening to an hour of lovemaking, she was dangerously close to feeling sorry for herself.
Her fists balled. No way. Screw that. The alcohol had to be what was making her feel this way. She just needed to sober up.
She looked down at the water swirling around her ankles. A dunk in the surf would probably snap her into sobriety pretty quickly. But walking back through the hotel in dripping wet clothes wasn’t exactly wise, especially when she wasn’t supposed to be on the beach in the first place.
She gave the shore another quick scan, then shrugged. Oh, what the hell.
Evan stepped back from the water long enough to shimmy out of her jeans and T-shirt and tossed the clothes where the water’s edge wouldn’t reach. Despite the warm night breeze, her nipples beaded beneath her bra and goose bumps rose on her skin. A little zip of adrenaline went through her. Man, how long had it been since she’d done something like this, stepped outside the lines a little? She’d almost forgotten what it felt like.
To hell with the pity party. She was on a gorgeous beach and had the whole damn thing to herself. No more whining. She made her way back toward the waves and took her time submerging herself, determined to enjoy the luxury of owning this little piece of ocean for the night.
The water lapped at her as she moved further into the surf—bathing her legs, sliding up her thighs, soaking her panties. Mmm. The gulf was deliciously warm against her skin, caressing the dormant parts of her to full sensual awareness. Her hands cupped the water and drew it up and over her breasts, soaking her bra and the tightening buds underneath. A shudder went through her.
She wanted to sink into the salty depths and allow the sensations to take over, to wash away the dark emotions that had claimed her tonight. But even in her buzzed state, she knew tequila and swimming weren’t good bedfellows. So, she stopped when the waves crested at her chest and settled in to watch the light show on the horizon.
The distant storm had moved a bit closer, and though it still wasn’t near enough to be a threat, the view of the flashing sky was breathtaking. She wanted to kick herself for not bringing her camera. She’d had so little time for her photography since she’d gone on this seminar tour with Daniel she was beginning to worry she’d forgotten how to do it. Hopefully, when they returned to Dallas after this last stop, she could dedicate some time to her neglected studio.
With a sigh, she tilted her head back, closed her eyes, and dipped her hair into the water. Maybe that’s why she was in such a funk. She’d spent the last few months supporting Daniel’s passion and ignoring hers. She’d signed up for it, and the venture had turned out to be lucrative for them both, but it definitely didn’t feed the part of her soul that slipping behind a camera did. That part was downright starved.
Thunder rumbled closer this time. Reluctantly, she drifted back a few feet. It was probably time to get out. The alcohol-induced fog in her head was clearing, and based on the sudden uptick in wind, the storm would be on top of her in the next few minutes. But before she could take another step, pain—sharp and sudden—shot up her thigh.
She yelped and jolted backward, her arms flailing before she crashed into the water and went under. Saltwater filled her mouth, silencing her shout, and a burning sensation wrapped around her thigh and radiated outward.
Disoriented, she scrambled for solid footing, trying to get back to the surface. She knew she couldn’t have fallen into deep water, but the writhing pain and the knowledge that she was out there alone had panic edging in. She spread her arms in an attempt to tread water and finally felt sand against her toes. But just as she tried to push off, twin bands of heat wrapped around her upper arms and her entire body was propelled upward.
When her face broke the surface of the water, she sucked in a large gulp of air, half-coughing, half-choking. She kicked frantically, trying to make sure she didn’t get dragged back under.
“Stop fighting or you’re going to drown us both.” The rumbling male voice came from behind her, and the grip on her arms tightened. “We’ve got to get out of the undertow.”
Her heart jumped into her throat, but she forced herself to stop struggling so the stranger could help. His breath was warm on her neck as he pulled them both backward, but he didn’t say another word. The water seemed to be fighting their progress, and the man adjusted his hold until he had his arms hooked beneath her armpits. She wanted to tell him to let her go, that she knew how to swim, but her thigh was burning like a swarm of wasps had attacked it and her head was spinning again.
A few hard-fought minutes later, packed sand scraped against her heels, and she sucked in a deep sigh of relief. The man dragged her another few feet until they reached dry land, then set her down and kneeled next to her.
“Are you okay?” he asked, his broad chest heaving beneath his soaked T-shirt.
She lifted her gaze to the concerned eyes staring down at her, an odd sense of déjà vu washing over her. “I, uh . . .”
“I heard you scream. Are you hurt?” He touched the side of her head, evaluating her.
She wet her lips. “My leg . . . Something stung me . . . I lost my balance.”
He glanced down the length of her—the mostly naked length of her. Shit.