She’d saved his life … And, while she hadn’t expected him to thank her, exactly, he could at least have had the decency to treat her with an iota of respect.
But, as Maddy climbed into the cab and Luke drove them across the beach to the café, her breasts tingled and heat pulsed insistently between her thighs.
She squirmed in her seat.
Trust her bits to come out of hibernation and do the happy dance for a guy who might as well have had a neon sign above his head saying Women—approach at your peril.
Ryan King cursed as he hauled his leg up one more step. He dropped his head between his shoulders, counted to ten and concentrated on keeping down the nausea churning in his gut. Not easy when his thigh was throbbing in unison with the stabbing pain at his temple and his whole body was so cold he was pretty sure he was about to lose several vital appendages to frostbite.
‘You stupid idiot. This is your own fault,’ he hissed. ‘What the hell were you trying to prove?’ He winced as the words bounced off the rock face.
Great, now you’re talking to yourself too.
The mighty hadn’t just fallen, they’d landed flat on their face, Rye thought grimly as he gripped his thigh in hands clumsy with the cold to force his leg up the final step. Pain shot through his knee and made the groin muscle cramp. He sucked in a breath and panted as clammy sweat mingled with the salt water, making the cut on his forehead burn.
He swore and waited for the worst of the agony to pass.
Unfortunately, that gave him way too much time to contemplate just how much of an idiot he’d been.
Spending close to two hours proving that he’d never be able to surf again and practically getting hypothermia into the bargain hadn’t been the smartest thing he’d ever done. Headbutting his own board and then having to get rescued by a lifeguard—and a girl one at that—had added a nice thick layer of insult to the injury. But allowing the girl’s sultry emerald eyes, her slender but surprisingly voluptuous figure to taunt him into thinking he was capable of doing more with her than simply lose his temper had to count as one of the lowest moments of his life.
Maybe not as low as those first weeks in hospital, doped up to his eyeballs, drifting in and out of agony and anchored to the bed. And maybe not as low as the day, three months later, when he’d discovered it wasn’t just his leg and his ego that had been irreparably damaged by the bike accident. But right down in the toilet his life had become in the last six months, nonetheless.
He’d felt the unfamiliar throb of arousal in his groin, had barely a second to rejoice at the surging heat before cold reality had doused it—leaving him feeling angry and bitter and humiliated all over again.
After they’d finished prodding and poking him, the doctors had assured him the impotence was psychosomatic and only temporary—brought on by the physical and mental trauma he’d suffered. And he’d believed them.
Until the summer evening in his Kensington penthouse when the look of pity and disbelief on Marta’s face had made the truth inescapable.
One thing was certain: if a stark naked Marta Mueller with her expensive supermodel’s body and her superstar I’m yours for the taking act couldn’t get a rise out of him, no pixie-faced, sultry-eyed girl clad in a full body wetsuit was going to manage it.
Pushing the ever present humiliation to the back of his mind, Rye stumbled forward and focused instead on getting to the house in one piece. His useless leg had seized up completely, forcing him to drag it across the rocky ground, his bare feet slipping in the mud. Each bump and slide had pain stabbing under his kneecap and tightening around his thigh like a vice. He glowered at the dark clouds, the pouring rain and cruel wind a perfect accompaniment to his black mood.
He let out a shaky sigh as his fingers grasped the heavy brass handle and he butted open the pantry door with his shoulder. As he shut out the angry weather and lumbered towards the suite of rooms he used in his grandfather’s house, trailing mud and water on the marble tiles, his rough humourless chuckle echoed in the darkened hallway.
If only the old man could have seen him now. In one of the many lectures Charles King had given him as a rebellious teenager, his grandfather had warned him he would have to pay for his sins in the end. Who knew the old sod would get the last laugh from beyond the grave?
‘PHIL, can I take the rest of my shift off?’ Maddy forced the request out, determined not to prevaricate a moment longer. She walked back across the empty café. They’d had all of three customers so far this afternoon and, even though the rain had finally petered out, the storm clouds were still hovering. She could have left hours ago and she doubted Phil would have objected. ‘I’ve got something I need to do,’ she said, dumping her tray on the bar and perching on one of the bar stools.
Phil’s ruddy face widened into an easy smile as he slopped out the glasses. ‘Damn woman, you know I’m putty in your hands. That your every wish is my command.’
‘Great, does that mean I get a pay rise?’ Maddy asked, fluttering her eyelashes comically, the easy flirtation a familiar game.
She happened to know Phil only dated long, leggy airheads. And she didn’t qualify in either category. Plus Phil was her boss, and sleeping with the boss was a big no-no for her—one of the many little Freudian hang-ups from her dysfunctional childhood that she’d had to learn to live with.
‘As soon as you go on that date with me, we’ll definitely talk about a pay rise,’ Phil continued, still playing the game.
‘Yeah, right.’ Maddy laughed. ‘Listen, I’ll make up the time tomorrow, if you want. Today was my last lifeguarding shift of the season,’ she finished, deciding to cut to the chase.
She didn’t know how long the rain was going to hold off, or how long her resolve would hold out.
Phil glanced at the clock as he set the dirty glasses into the washer. ‘No need to make up the time, Mad,’ he said, as she knew he would. ‘You’re good for it.’
Phil might be an incorrigible flirt but he was a great employer in every other respect.
‘Thanks, Phil.’ Maddy climbed off the bar stool, untied her apron and pulled the pins out of her hair, shoving them in her pocket. She shook her head, allowing her short cap of chestnut curls to fall into place.
‘Hey, before you go, I hear congratulations are in order,’ Phil remarked. ‘Luke says you pulled your first floater out this afternoon like a pro.’
‘Thanks,’ Maddy replied, a little abashed by Phil’s praise. The incident hadn’t exactly ended as well as it might, which was why her conscience had been bugging her all afternoon. ‘I’m afraid the job’s not quite done yet, though. We didn’t do any of the standard checks on the guy. He shot off so fast.’
Phil dropped the bar rag into the sink. ‘Seems to me, if he left without getting checked out that’s his problem, not yours.’
‘Technically, maybe.’ She’d been trying all afternoon to convince herself of that fact. But her conscience wouldn’t let her. ‘But I should have made sure he was okay before I let him go.’
What if he had water in his lungs? Or a concussion? He could even now be unconscious on the floor of his mansion. She’d never forgive herself. Having dragged him out of the sea, she felt responsible for him. Which was ridiculous, of course—and probably just another biproduct of her Miss Fixit curse—but knowing that wasn’t going to help her sleep tonight until she knew for sure he was all right.
‘There’s not much you can do about it now,’ Phil added.
‘Actually, there is.’ Walking round the bar, Maddy stuffed her apron and pad in their cubby hole. ‘I’m