“I like the ocean, but come on. This is insane.” As the high-tech, custom-built catamaran rocks beneath my feet, I glance at my best friend, Cole Rayburn. With his head cocked playfully, he grins at me like I’m some sort of chickenshit. I smack him in the gut, but when my hand lands on a solid pack of muscles, it hurts me more than him.
When had Cole gotten so freaking hard?
More importantly, why the hell am I noticing? This is my best friend we’re talking about here. Yeah, okay, I haven’t seen him shirtless in years, and he’s always been solid. But now he’s all muscle and power, deadly and fierce like one of the sharks circling our boat. Really, I shouldn’t spend one more minute thinking about his hotness. A couple more seconds, sure, but definitely not a whole minute. That would just be wrong.
Saltwater splashes over me, and I push my damp hair from my forehead as I brace my legs. I glare at Cole. “Just because you’re an adrenaline junkie who likes to live every day on the edge doesn’t mean I’m not brave,” I say and look at the galvanized shark cage—a floating structure the staff promises me is safe. I give an unladylike snort. They can assure me all they want. But I’m smart enough to know that once we’re all crammed inside like sardines, we’ll be dangling like bait.
I plant my hands on my hips and lift my chin. “I’m adventurous,” I add. I’m not. At. All. “This just isn’t my kind of adventure.” Heading back to our gorgeous Cape Town hotel and soaking up the seaside sun—yeah, now that I could definitely get into.
Which makes me wonder why the adventure dossier I received from one of my friends—thanks to a New Year’s Eve game we played—involved a trip to South Africa to go cage diving. With sharks. Big ones. Great white sharks, to be precise. Sure, I’m a veterinarian and love animals, but come on. I don’t operate on anything that has thirty-five thousand teeth and can swallow me in one swift gulp.
“It’s safe, Reesey Piecey,” Cole says, and I glare at him for using the nickname he gave me when we were sixteen and I was stuffing my chubby face with a bag of sweet, candy-shelled chocolates. He was dating model-thin Jenny Garridy at the time. I used to call her the snake charmer. Then again, I had secret, hateful names for all his girlfriends, and believe me there were plenty of them. Weird that I can remember every last one and every freaking reason they were all wrong for Cole.
“Last I heard survival statistics were good. Not great, but good.”
“Cole,” I warn. Honest to God, we might be twenty-five now, but some things never change. Cole was always a kidder who liked to tease the hell out of me.
He laughs and drags me to him, the heat of his body doing the oddest things to me. Damn, maybe I shouldn’t have taken those two extra seconds to think about his hotness.
“I’m kidding. It’s one-hundred percent safe,” he assures me.
“I hate you,” I say. It’s a lie. We’ve been best friends since I skinned my knee on the playground and he helped me home, but right now he’s annoying me. And why doesn’t he put on a damn shirt already?
“Hate you, too,” he says, our usual endearment to each other when we mean the opposite. “You know I won’t let anything happen to you,” he says, his grin sliding into a concerned expression.
I give him a dubious look. Cole has always been there for me, but this isn’t a breakup, a skinned knee, or my parents going through a nasty divorce. It’s not the death of my sweet grandmother the night of the blackout during a wicked thunder and lightning storm, either. A shiver moves through me—the pets I care for at the clinic aren’t the only ones afraid of bad weather.
This is me, not-so-brave Reese Scott, jumping into the water with a handful of hungry sharks, and last time I checked, Cole was a lot of things, but a shark-fighter was not one of them. Which begs the question, why is he on this trip with me, anyway? Yeah, he’s an athlete who runs wilderness tours in Colorado, and he’s a level-six white water rafting guide, but this trip is supposed to be all about celebrating the second half of my twenties in an epic way—that is, finding a hot guy and having back-bending sex before returning home. How the heck can that happen with Cole hanging around? Not that I really plan on having sex with anyone. After getting dumped by my fiancé, I am so over men. Seriously, he thought I was trying to turn him into something he wasn’t? When did wanting to add a little fun and spontaneity to the relationship become me trying to change him? Jerk.
Cole, while he might be the epitome of fun and spontaneity, shouldn’t be here with me. I can stand on my own two feet without him hovering over me all the time, thank you very much. I have been doing it since he left New York to work in Colorado a year ago, right after I got engaged. He only returned home last month, temporarily leaving a job he loves to work with his uncle in construction to make ends meet while visiting—or rather, while keeping a close eye on me. But I can’t think about that right now because the captain is waving me over. Apparently, it’s my turn to jump to my death.
Even though my insides are in chaos, I try to appear calm, and take soothing breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth.
“Hey,” Cole says, and when I turn back to him, he’s standing over me, rubbing his knuckles over my arm in a comforting manner. Presenting composure—even though this is Cole, and nothing gets by him when it comes to me—I lift my chin to meet his gaze. When he turns those ocean-blue eyes on me, as deep and complex as the Atlantic waters crashing against the side of the vessel, I feel a measure of calm. Cole really is a good guy, a great catch. Why the hell isn’t he taken already?
Because he’s an adventure seeker and has no desire to get serious or put down roots.
Cole dips his head, and those kissable lips of his are right there, near my mouth. If I wanted to kiss him all I’d have to do is go up on my tiptoes. But I don’t want to kiss him. This is my best friend. I’m not sure why I suddenly need to keep reminding myself of that.
Get yourself together, girl.
“You’re in good hands. I promise,” he says as he continues to run his knuckles along my arm. Oh, he has good hands, all right. A shiver races down my spine.
What the hell? He’s touched me a million times and I’ve never gotten all tingly before—and what the hell is going on with my nipples? Seriously, enough already! Must be nerves from this adventure. Has to be. It’s the only logical explanation. Then again, it could be because I haven’t had sex in, like, forever.