Hot buttered rum standal.., p.4
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       Hot Buttered Rum: Standalone Romance (Silk Stocking Inn Book 4), p.4

           Tess Oliver

  The thought of a storm sent my mind back to Turner. He had made more than a small impact on me. I couldn’t say that about any other man I’d met lately. It might just have been the similarities to the vision I had of my pirate character or it might just have been that I hadn’t met any man worthy of ‘impact’ in a long while. One thing was certain, I had never been with a man who knew my body so well, so quickly.

  Even under the shade of the trees, a warm blush covered my skin just thinking about those hot, intimate moments pushed up against the wall with a tall, dark stranger’s hand pressed between my legs.

  I decided the setting was the perfect place to think about my story. My mind was always so cluttered with work projects that I rarely had time to escape to my writing. The Silk Stocking Inn would be the perfect place. I was, as Coco had pointed out, unplugged for a few days, and I decided to take full advantage of it.

  The gentle movement of the boat and the rhythmic sound of the waves rolling up on shore made it easy to drift off into a blissful state of drowsiness. My mind coasted back to the last part of my story where the pirate captain asked for the heroine to take his hand.

  I was deep in thought and hadn’t noticed that the canoe had begun to rock back and forth until a cold splash of water hit my face and startled me from my daydreams. I sat straight up and wiped my eyes twice to clear the haze that clouded them. Only it wasn’t haze. It was fog. A deep, bone chilling fog had filled the entire cove. Even the dark red branches of the trees above my head were nearly erased by the thick mist. Although mist was far too faint of a word for the thick like cream soup fog. Ghostlike wisps of moisture trailed eerily through the gray cloud as heavy drops coated my skin.

  I grabbed the paddle and shoved one end in the water to turn the canoe. As I spun around, I squinted through the nearly opaque haze, hoping to catch a glimpse of the inn. But it was no use. Coco had mentioned that bad weather rolled quickly in and out of the cove. I lowered my paddle and decided to wait it out.

  Unfortunately, the canoe and the tide had a different idea.

  Chapter 7

  The fog had somehow churned up the current, and small waves lapped over the sides of the canoe, soaking my legs and boots. With each passing wave, the canoe was pushed closer and closer to the tangled tree roots lining the rocky shore. Coco’s canoe would be ruined, and I would more than likely be pitched against the hard rocks.

  I lowered the paddle again and pulled against the tide. My best option was to paddle away from the trees, in what I surmised was the general direction of the inn.

  My arms grew tired quickly as I fought the force of the tide. Suddenly, the canoe shot forward. I hardly had to move the paddle. I’d caught the current leading back to the beach. I sighed and relaxed enough to consider what yummy delights Coco might have waiting for me when I trudged back inside, wet and cold.

  The fog was still dense, and I couldn’t see much past the nose of the canoe as it rose and fell with each passing wave. I was soaked, both from the turbulent water and the fog. A shiver shook my body. I let go of the paddle just long enough to rub some warmth into my arms.

  Something white loomed in the distance. I passed it off as the same streams of ghostly looking moisture I’d seen earlier. But as the white silhouette neared, I recognized the outline of the buoy. Coco’s warning dashed through my head, sending my pulse into overdrive. I wasn’t heading back to shore. I was being dragged out to open sea.

  I sat up with a gasp. As I did, my knees shot up and knocked the paddle into the water. I leaned over and frantically grabbed for the oar as it floated away from the canoe. My fingers couldn’t reach it. I hopped up and knelt on the wooden seat to reach low over the side. In the distance, I heard the stutter of a motor boat, and I cried out in fear that I’d be struck by a passing ship.

  A large swell struck the side of the canoe, and I went face first into the cold, dark water. I surfaced and sucked in a sharp breath, drawing in more water than air. I struggled to keep my head above water as I worked through the coughing fit that followed.

  I grabbed hold of the side of the canoe, but I couldn’t pull myself back inside. The freezing water slowed the movement of my legs, and I felt myself moving farther out with the tide. The fog that had rolled in so suddenly seemed intent on staying. I was trapped in a terrifying nightmare and hoped that someone would wake me soon.

  Another large swell lifted the canoe and me higher. As it rolled beneath me, the daunting silhouette of a boat’s hull came into view. I screamed and tried hard to climb back into the canoe, but the turbulent sea was working against me.

  A deep voice pierced the thick mist. “Take my hand!”

  The man was leaning off the side of a rope ladder. His warm breath had dissolved the mist around his face. It was Turner. A sob burst from my lips at the sight of him.

  “Let go of the canoe and reach for my hand.” He leaned out as far as he could. I let go of the canoe and lunged for his outstretched hand. My fingertips brushed his, then the icy water yanked me under. I flailed my arms and legs, trying to find the surface. The dark skies muted the sunlight, and it was impossible to get a sense of direction. Full panic engulfed me, and my heart felt as if it would explode from the terror of drowning.

  Like a cork had been popped from a massive champagne bottle, a violent burst of bubbles swirled around me. A strong arm wrapped around me, and in seconds, I was sucking in misty air.

  When my lungs had finally refilled with oxygen, a shuddering sob left my mouth.

  “I’ve got ya. You’re all right, Ginger.” Turner’s deep, soothing voice and the comfort of his strong arm around me brought on another sob.

  My body trembled with cold and shock. I was little help to my rescuer as he swam through the choppy waves toward his boat. We reached the ladder hanging over the side.

  “Grab hold and I’ll give you a push up,” Turner said between gulps of air.

  My fingers were numb as they curled around the first rung. My legs were exhausted and cold and they felt like rubber as I frantically searched for a foot hold on the ladder. Turner’s big hand went beneath my bottom and he pushed me out of the water. Somehow I managed to climb up and over the side of the boat.

  Once on deck, I collapsed to my knees and hugged myself. The uncontrollable shaking that wracked my body was a combination of the freezing water and the terror left behind from nearly drowning.

  Turner’s hand clamped around the railing of his boat as he pulled himself up and over.

  “Coco’s canoe,” I said, “I’ve lost her canoe.”

  “No, it hasn’t been pulled out to sea yet. The canoe will find its way back in on the tide.”

  A beam of light poked through the thick fog, and I lifted my face to feel the warmth.

  “Looks like the fog will leave soon.” Turner reached down his hand. “We need to get you out of those wet clothes and under the covers before hypothermia sets in. Your lips are turning blue. I much prefer them pink.”

  I was shaking so hard lifting my hand to his was a struggle. He seemed to sense that I was already well on my way to a dangerously low body temperature. “Christ, I need to get you inside.” He leaned down, swept me into his arms and carried me to a small set of stairs that led below deck.

  I curled myself against him, hoping to find heat, but he too had just pulled himself from the same icy water. He carried me through a mini galley kitchen, and I caught a glimpse of Dexter sitting on a perch with a peanut in his beak. He dropped the peanut and cried ‘pretty girl’ as we walked past. Hearing it made me smile.

  “A pretty wet girl, Dex. I need to get her dry.”

  I was so relieved to be safe and alive, tears pooled in my eyes. “Thank you for jumping in,” my voice broke. The violent tremble in my chin didn’t help. “I nearly drown—” Another sob cut off my words.

  “Shh, you
re fine. You didn’t drown.” He sat me on the edge of a narrow bed that had been nailed to a corner of the small room. Two portholes looked like big round eyes just above the bed. Turner knelt down in front of me as more tears rolled from my eyes. He combed his long, wet hair back with his fingers. His blue eyes glittered with concern.

  “I’m sorry, I’m not usually such a crybaby. After coming to the nightmarish conclusion that I would be swept away into the endless sea, you were such a sight to see.”

  Turner set to work removing my boots. “You can cry all you want, my soaking wet beauty, but I need to get you out of these clothes before you bite through your tongue with those chattering teeth.”

  He reached for the buttons on my shirt and hesitated for just a second to make sure it was all right.

  “I don’t think prim and proper is helpful when I’m about to freeze to death.” My words were beginning to sound long and stretched as if I’d been drinking. Not a good sign. Turner seemed to come to the same conclusion. He undressed me. My limbs flopped weakly as if I’d somehow left my bones behind in the cold, restless sea.

  “I’m sorry I’m not more help but nothing seems to be working right now. With the exception of my tear ducts. They’re working overtime,” I rambled on with long, slow words.

  The boat lurched abruptly to one side. Turner caught me before I pitched sideways off the bed.

  My body was so numb with cold, I hadn’t even realized that I was completely naked until his warm hands wrapped around my waist. He lifted me farther onto the bed and wrapped me in the blankets. They had the same soapy scent that I’d smelled on him the night before when he’d had me pressed between the wall and his hard body.

  “Your sheets smell good. Like you,” I muttered. It seemed being close to hypothermia had some of the same side effects as too many glasses of wine. “Why do I feel drunk?” I asked trying to keep my eyes open.

  “That’s your body slowing down because of the drop in temperature.”

  My eyes were drifting shut until the image in front of me popped them open and gave me a little shot of sobriety. Turner had pulled off his shirt. His arms were even better than I’d imagined. The tattoos on his shoulders bulged and stretched as he rolled off his wet jeans.

  “I’m not trying to take advantage of you. I just need to use my body heat to keep you alive.” He stepped out of his shoes and jeans and straightened.

  He’d left on his boxer briefs. They fit snugly around him. There wasn’t anything disappointing about the man. Quite the opposite in fact. He was the perfect romance hero and then some. And those last words floated through my head. I’d seen them before. “. . . where every heart’s desire is filled . . . and then some,” I muttered as the cold in my bones and blood began to pull me into a fuzzy sleep.

  The small bed creaked as Turner lifted the covers and climbed in next to me. “Cuddle close, my frozen treat. This is the only way I can think to warm you up fast.”

  He wrapped his arms around me and held me tightly. I scooted as close as I could and worked hard to make sure every inch of my skin was touching his. Slowly, the numbness melted away, and I could feel his warmth transfer to me.

  Moments before, I was freezing and terrified that I would die alone in the sea, but now I was warm and safe in the arms of a man who I’d only met yesterday, a man who I was certain I would not soon forget.

  The motion of the boat made me even more sleepy, but before I drifted off in my perfectly awesome man cocoon, I peered up at him. He looked at me through his dark lashes.

  “If I do happen to die while I’m tucked in this bed with you, I just wanted to say thank you. It’s a really great way to go.” I closed my eyes and fell asleep.

  Chapter 8

  I lifted my arms intending to do a nice long stretch before climbing out of bed and getting ready for work, but my fist stopped on a bearded chin. I sat up with a start and hit my head on the edge of a porthole. The man attached to the bearded chin squinted up into the harsh daylight pouring through the same porthole.

  I glanced down. My nakedness quickly reminded me where I was. “Hey there, you.” I snatched the corner of the blanket and yanked on it in an attempt to cover myself. I managed to cover one breast and used my arm to cover the other.

  Turner sat up on an elbow and a teasing smile crossed his lips. “You do remember last night when you, without hesitation or modesty, dropped your robe for me?”

  I pushed my salt-stiffened hair back behind my ear. “Yes, well that was because I was lightheaded from a hot bath.”

  His laugh shook the tiny room. “Ahh, the ole’ intoxicated by bubbles excuse. I like it. Makes me wish I had a bathtub right here on the Pickled Pepper.”

  It was my turn to laugh. “Pickled Pepper? That is not exactly a prestigious or even menacing name for a pirate boat.” The second the words left my mouth, I felt my cheeks redden from embarrassment.

  “Pirate boat, huh? Is that how you see me? A pirate?”

  “No, of course not. How silly. I’m just teasing you.” I quickly looked around the room to find a new topic. The corner opposite the bed held an old wooden desk that had been bolted to the floor. Maps and what appeared to be a logbook sat on top of the desk. All the items were held in place by shell-shaped paper weights. “Do you keep count of your catch in that book?”

  “It’s required by law.”

  I nodded. “Yes, of course, that makes sense. We wouldn’t want one, lone fisherman to drain the seabed of lobsters.”

  “I’m hardly in danger of that with my eight traps.”

  I looked around for another topic since the last one was short lived, but the sparsely appointed room was lacking in interesting objects. Other than the incredibly gorgeous man stretched out next to me. His muscular chest brought back the vivid details of the moments before I dozed off.

  I stared down at the wool blanket, and my throat tightened. “You saved me from the water.” I lifted my eyes to him. “And you warmed me to keep me alive. Thank you.”

  “Nothing any red blooded pirate wouldn’t do.”

  “And humble. Red blooded and humble.”

  “Yes, but you don’t know if my motives were pure. We scalawags are sort of known for saving wenches and taking them for our own.”

  “Guess my pirate comment is going to stick around for awhile. I hadn’t meant it as an insult.”

  “None taken.” He reached across the blanket and trailed his fingers along my arm. It sent a shiver through me, but I was no longer the slightest bit chilled.

  “As I’m sure you know, pirates have sort of been morphed into romantic characters in books and movies.” I began my ramble, not completely sure where it was leading or why I’d even started it. But I was fairly certain it had to do with the way his dark blue eyes were holding me as if I’d been pulled into a magnetic field. “Although—” I continued unabated, even though I sounded annoyingly garrulous even to my own ears. “I’m sure the real guys were far from romantic or, for that matter, good looking enough to grace a book cover.”

  Turner flashed his teeth and pointed at them. “I don’t think they had choppers like these either. But then Blackbeard and Calico Jack probably didn’t come from a family of dentists.”

  “Ah, that explains why you look as if you should be in a toothpaste commercial. Very nice, by the way. You have a fantastic smile. And I’m not just saying that to keep from walking the plank either.”

  “Now what kind of pirate would I be if I made a beautiful wench walk the plank? A stupid one, that’s for sure. Nope, a smart pirate always takes good care of his treasure.” Turner scooted up to his bottom, and the blanket shifted down to the waistband of his briefs. That was when I noticed the distinct bulge beneath the blanket that hadn’t been there a few seconds earlier.

  A decent woman would have quickly climbed off the bed an
d plucked up the discarded, wet clothes strewn across the floor. But after last night’s little episode, I’d given up the right to be labeled decent.

  I stared down at Turner. Every inch of me was stirred physically. Decency was highly overrated, as far as I was concerned.

  Turner’s fingers trailed lightly over the back of my hand as I clutched the blanket against me. He pinched the blanket between his thumb and forefinger. “What do you suppose a pirate might do if he had a beautiful, naked lass in his bed?”

  “I—uh, I’m not sure.”

  He tugged the blanket from my grasp, and it fell away from my breasts. “I think that’s what he’d do. But then I’m not completely sure because I’ve only been a pirate for a few minutes. I’m improvising.” He sat up, took hold of my face and kissed me.

  The one kiss was all it took. My body reacted instantly. I knew there was no argument my mind could come up with to turn off the flow of heat. Traces of his touch from the night before had lingered all morning and every intense sensation returned.

  With our mouths still locked together, I relaxed into his arms. The bed was hard and it creaked with every movement, but with the way his hand caressed my back, it was easy to ignore. There was no hesitation from either of us. I wanted this as badly as him. It was one weekend, I told myself. On Sunday afternoon I would drive back toward the city, back toward my dry, logical, highly successful life. I’d return to my drafting desk with only the memory of Turner’s kisses. But for now, I was going to take in all of it, his touch, the scent of hair, the taste of the salty sea on his skin.

  Research, I quickly assured myself. This was all in the name of writing romance. I was immersing myself for research. That new rationale made me smile.

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