A few years ago, she would have been in the big middle of it, possibly the one sitting on the broad shoulders of the shirtless hottie, twirling her bikini top over her head. She touched the inside of her wrist, the small stylized seahorse tattoo there, some‐ thing from her old life.
But now she was the manager of The Friendly Shores Hotel in Starfish Shores, and it was her responsibility to see the place wasn’t ripped apart by spring breakers who were frustrated by the constant rain that kept them inside. She lifted her fingers to her mouth and whistled shrilly, but the sound barely penetrated the raucous noise. She pushed her way down the hall, shouting herself hoarse to no avail. Hands clamped on her ass and she maneuvered with experience to avoid the grabby college student. Once upon a time, she would have leaned back into those hands, and the man wielding them. She might even have grabbed a bottle from one and helped herself to a healthy swig.
She cursed the unceasing rain that had the spring breakers trapped in her hotel, instead of partying by the pool or out on the beach, or any other damn where. This was her first spring break as a manager, and everything that could go wrong, had.
A ding behind her signaled the elevator opening and she turned, wondering if more tenants were coming to invade the hallway. Instead, she turned and met the blue-eyed gaze of Deputy Whit Calhoun. The last time she’d looked into those eyes, she’d been bent over the back of a cruiser, her hands being cuffed behind her by his father. The khaki shirt he wore told her before she even got a good look at him that he’d continued to follow in his father’s footsteps. So not a deputy anymore. He was the sheriff now.
He made a sound that she couldn’t believe she’d heard over the cacophony, and almost immediately, everyone in the hall turned toward him. Once he had their attention, he strolled into the center of them and raised his voice.
“We’ve had some complaints about the noise and mess. I need you all to make sure everything here is picked up, no glass or anything left on the floor, then head on back to your rooms, or out someplace else. I apologize for the weather. I know that’s not what you came here for. But there are other ways to have a good time.”
She marveled at the command in his voice, and the way the guests responded, meekly turning away and collecting the mess. He shifted his shoulders and approached her.
“Aren’t you going to give your friends a hand?”
She snapped her back straight. “I’m the manager here.” Surprise widened his eyes and his gaze flicked to the snug tank and jeans she wore before he brought his eyes—decidedly warmer—back to her face. A smile canted his lips. “Well, well. Melody Servantes. Good to see you again. I didn’t know you were back in town.”
She put her hands on her hips—drawing his gaze again—and scowled, remembering the party he and his daddy busted up all those years ago, not so different from this one, where she’d been arrested for being drunk and disorderly, and underage. How she hadn’t been too drunk to hear his father tell him, as he pushed her into the jail cell, that no one should be surprised she was in trouble, given who her father was. The words had filled her with a strange mix of defiance and defeat, and she’d never forgotten that emotion.
She’d left Starfish Shores shortly after, but had missed the beauty of her hometown. “I’ve been back about four months.”
“And I haven’t seen you before now?”
What was he asking, if she had been in trouble? She wouldn’t satisfy him with an answer. “Who called you?” she asked instead.
He lifted a broad shoulder. “One of the hotel guests who didn’t want the noise anymore. You up here to calm them down?” That she hadn’t been able to accomplish her goal made her defensive. “I was getting there.”
The glint in his blue eyes told her he didn’t believe her.
Around them, the crowd thinned and disbursed, leaving a few wet spots from spilled alcohol, but no bottles, broken or otherwise.
“You need any help with them, you let me know.” He inclined his head and ambled back to the elevator. “You going down?”
She gritted her teeth. Yes, she needed to go down, but she’d be damned if she’d ride the elevator with him.
“I’ll just make sure everything gets cleaned up,” she said.
“Suit yourself.” He stepped into the elevator, and with one last look at her, he pressed a button and the doors shuddered closed.
She let her shoulders slump, then headed for the cleaning closet for the carpet cleaner and the vacuum. She hadn’t worked her way up to manager without knowing how to clean up messes. Hell, she’d had more than her fair share of experience at that.
At least the grocery store off the main drag wasn’t as crowded that evening as most places in town—though the cereal and frozen pizza had been wiped out, as had the wine and beer section. Mel hadn’t seen the store so decimated since the last hurricane had clipped Starfish Shores when she was sixteen.
Thank goodness she knew how to cook—actually enjoyed cooking, or she’d be shit out of luck on the food supplies. She had no desire to wait for a table in a restaurant crowded with bored spring breakers.
She was straining to reach the last Diet Coke, way in the back of the top shelf, when a deep voice behind her rumbled, “Let me get that for you.”
She swung about to look into the blue eyes of Sheriff Calhoun. He was wearing his full uniform, including his hat. Just terrific. In the months she’d been back in town, she’d managed to avoid interaction with him, and now she’d seen him twice in one day?
“I can do it myself,” she said automatically.
“Sure, if you climb up on the other shelves to get it. Just stand aside and I can get it.”
She stayed where she was for a moment, but so did he. She knew she could out-stubborn him, but really, she just wanted to get out of here and go home. So she stepped aside.
He had to strain a bit to reach it, and she couldn’t help noticing the way the cotton pulled against those shoulders, and how his shirt became a little untucked, revealing bare skin at his waist.
Bare tanned skin, over tight muscle. Above a really nice ass.
Holy hell, she needed to get laid if she was lusting over the man who’d seen her at her lowest.
She took a step back as he dragged the bottle forward and turned to face her.
“That desperate for your caffeine fix?” The corner of his mouth quirked in a handsome grin.
“I’m not a pleasant person without it.”
He laughed. “How long has it been since you’ve had some?” She scowled and snatched the bottle from him and put it in her shopping cart. “You do remember arresting me, don’t you? You can see why you’re not my favorite person.”
He leaned on the handle of his own cart, looking up at her. “You do remember you were underaged, under the influence and in possession of an illegal substance. Not to mention that putting you in jail meant those two boys couldn’t do what they wanted to do to you.”
She ground her teeth together. He remembered everything. Did he think about it every time he saw her? “Maybe it was my idea.” That had been the rumor, anyway.
He straightened. “Some people may believe that. I don’t. You need anything else, give me a holler.”
He tapped the brim of his hat and headed off at that infuriating pace. But she couldn’t help herself from watching until he was out of sight.
Mel settled on her balcony with a sandwich. Sure, she liked to cook, but for some reason, not when she got back from the grocery store. So she’d treated herself to a deli sandwich, bag of chips and a soda.
The balcony was the very best part of her job at The Friendly Shores Hotel. She had an apartment on the third floor, facing west, as part of her salary, making sure guests had easy access to her if they needed her. She could only see the ocean if she set her chair just so, but she could listen to it all night long.
Unfortunately, the rain dripped right on the spot she needed to be to see the ocean, so she had to drag her chair closer to the sliding glass door, but the location beat the hell out of any other places she’d ever lived.
She crossed her legs in the chair, making herself as compact as possible to avoid the rain that occasionally drifted beneath the overhang.
Shouting from the beach surprised her as she bit into the sandwich. The rain was coming down pretty good. Why would anyone be out there? Probably just some of the guests fooling around on the beach. She couldn’t blame anyone for being stir crazy in this weather.
But the shouts increased in intensity, followed by a woman’s scream. Mel vaulted from her seat and peered over the edge of the balcony, but all she could see was a group of kids standing and pointing at the water. Damn it, had someone gone into the water? Knocking over her soda, she bolted for the front door and ran barefoot down the cement stairs, grateful she didn’t live in a taller building.
By the time she hit the deck, her feet burned from the friction, but she dared not slow down longer than it took to get a flotation log that hung on the wall in the pool area. If she was going in the water, she would not have someone take her down with him.
Her thighs ached by the time she crossed the wet sand to the group now thigh deep in the water.
“What’s going on?” she shouted, using up what felt like the last of her breath.
“Jesse went in the water and now we don’t see him!” the girl wheezed, rain plastering her hair to her head and shoulders. “He was so drunk. I don’t know what he was thinking.”
“How long since you lost sight of him?”
The girl shook her head. “I don’t know.”
The girl held up her phone. “I already did.”
Good. Adrenaline had gotten Mel this far, but she didn’t know what she could do on her own. The sky was growing darker every minute. “Point to the last place you saw him.”
Two of the boys joined the girl on the beach, and once Mel got a consensus about where to look, she dove into the waves.
Because of the storm, the waves were choppy, inhibiting her vision, and the ocean wasn’t as clear as it could have been. Damn it, this was going to be hard. And she was on her own.
Looping her arm through the strap on the flotation log, she swam, looking both above and below the surface for the idiot Jesse. She would not have some kid drown at her hotel, damn it. The salt stung her eyes and nose, but she couldn’t give up. Couldn’t give up. Her arms ached, her thighs screamed, but some kid was out here and--
There! There! She saw him flailing above the waves. With renewed energy, she plowed through the water toward him, feeling like she’d never reach him.
And then she did. He reached for her, but she managed to avoid him, to get him onto the flotation device. Once he had a hold of that, he calmed down a bit, so she didn’t have to slap the shit out of him to get him back to the beach.
Lights flashed against the darkening sky and for a moment she thought lightning, and here she was in the water with an asshole. But then she realized the light was colored—red and blue, to be precise. Then arms were grabbing her, lifting her, and she looked into the granite jaw of Whit Calhoun.
“Holy Shit. Holy shit, Mel.” Whit crouched beside her chair under the overhang of the hotel as one of the paramedics from Gulf Shores cleaned her feet. “What the hell were you thinking, going out there by yourself?”
“I was thinking if I didn’t find him, he was going to drown,” she shot back, her voice raspy from the salt water. She pulled the blanket closer around her, clearly miserable in her wet clothes. “I couldn’t just wait—I didn’t know how long it would take anyone to get here.”
“So you just grab something and throw yourself into the water?” The guy she’d pulled out of the water had been nearly twice her size. When he’d recognized her, fighting her way back to shore, he swore his heart stopped for a minute before he’d charged into the water afterwards. He flexed his toes in his wet socks. His shoes would never be the same.
“I’m certified,” she told him. “I’ve been thinking about applying for Search and Rescue. It’s part of the reason I came back to Starfish Shores.”
Search and Rescue? She was probably a buck twenty right now, drenched to the skin, slender, not even up to his shoulder in her bare feet. How could she think she could rescue someone?
But then, she just had, hadn’t she?
She looked past him at the ambulance where the other paramedics were working, surrounded by the young man’s friends, who were clinging to each other. “He’s okay, right?”
“Drunk as a skunk,” the paramedic kneeling before her said. “Puking up moonshine and sea water. But he should be okay. Brave thing you did out there.” He packed up his stuff, then rested his arms on his thighs, looking up at her. “Keep those cuts clean and you’ll be fine. And get out of those wet clothes and into a warm shower as soon as you can.” He rose and winked. “You can give me a call if you need help with any of that.”
Whit cleared his throat and the younger man sobered. But he placed a hand on her shoulder before he walked away.
“Kid would be dead if not for you.”
Mel raised defiant eyes to Whit. “Do we have business?”
“I need to get your statement.” And figure out why in the hell she’d scared him so bad. Yes, he remembered her from when she lived here before, the trouble-maker daughter of a small-time criminal. He remembered how tough she’d been then. She hadn’t softened much, and that intrigued the hell out of him.
“I heard shouting, I ran, I grabbed the flotation log, I swam, I found him, I pulled him in. Then you pulled me in.” She pushed to her feet and let out a hiss of pain. “There you go.”
“I’m going to need more than that. I can walk up with you, if you want.” She shrugged and hobbled around the corner of the building.
He walked beside her, resisting the urge to sweep her into his arms again. He got the feeling she wouldn’t be a fan of the maneuver. Maybe it was her independence, so different from his ex-fiancee Hillary, that drew him.
Well, Hillary had shown her independence in the end, hadn’t she?
“I was sitting on my balcony and heard shouting. I saw people gathered, looking at the water and pointing. I ran downstairs, stopped long enough to get the log, and ran up to the crowd. The girl with them told me what happened, said she’d called 911, but I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t wait.”
Whit stopped, the light from the cafeteria window washing over the walkway as he stared at her. “You couldn’t see him, but you went into the water anyway?”
“What was my option, Sheriff? To stand helplessly by and wring my hands until someone else came? I saved his life.”
“You sure as hell did.”
She pressed the elevator button and turned to look at him, her eyes weary, her body sagging as the adrenaline drained from her.
“Is there anything else, or can I go now?”
“Are you going to be okay?” He’d resisted to this point, but now he had to touch her arm through the blanket. “Can you get to your apartment by yourself?”
“I’m perfectly capable,” she said as the elevator slid open behind her.
She probably would have preferred that she hadn’t stumbled into the car in front of him, but she straightened, drew the blanket around her and lifted her chin as the doors closed behind her.
Whit walked into The Pit the next night, wondering if he should have just tried to drive farther inland and gone some place quieter. He was off-duty, but some of the spring breakers apparently recognized him anyway and gave him a wide berth.
As the crowd cleared in front of him, he caught sight of gorgeous long legs beneath a short white skirt at the bar. He followed them up and his grin widened when he recognized a familiar tank top. Gorgeous, courageous Melody Servantes sat with Brenda Wesley from the Top Tier bakery, surrounded by college kids, some reaching past them to get drinks, some more interested in the women. Melody was ignoring them, but by the way Brenda tossed her curls, he had a feeling she was enjoying the attention.
Then Melody spotted him, and her brows drew together over her beautiful dark eyes. He wasn’t deterred and headed toward her.
“Melody. Brenda,” he greeted, leaning on the bar to get the attention of Liam, one of the owners of The Pit. He let his arm brush Melody’s back, and felt her stiffen. She drew her arms toward her and he caught sight of a small tattoo on the inside of her wrist. Was that a seahorse? “You ladies enjoying the evening?”
“Looking for lawbreakers tonight?” Brenda asked, leaning around Melody to look at him.
“Looking for a beer tonight,” he replied, saluting her with the bottle when Liam slid his favorite brand across to him. “Why? You see something I should address?”
“Nobody’s causing trouble,” Melody said, not looking at him. “Everyone’s just having a good time.”
“Good.” He turned, scanning the crowd, wishing he didn’t always think like a cop, searching out which of these drinkers might be underage. He knew Liam and Sam, the owners, would be especially careful this week, but he’d seen some damned good fake IDs, and didn’t want to make any phone calls to distressed parents. “Then I can relax.”
“Can you relax somewhere else?” Melody asked.
Wow, she really didn’t like him.
“Mel!” Brenda gasped and elbowed her friend, and gave her one of those looks that women share when goals are being thwarted.
Huh. He hadn’t realized there was interest there, not that he would have acted on it. Brenda was a sweet girl, pretty, but entirely too virtuous for him. He’d done the virtuous thing, and it kicked him in the gut. Now he wanted something that had some teeth. Melody Servantes seemed to fit that bill.
“How are your feet?” he asked Mel, looking down to see she wore pretty flats with a jeweled strap that hooked between her toes. He couldn’t tell by looking that she’d barely been able to walk on them last night.
“Your feet?” Brenda asked her friend.
“Mel didn’t tell you about her adventure last night?” Whit asked.
“She saved a kid from drowning outside the Friendly Shores.” “You did?” Brenda’s voice raised an octave, drawing the attention of those around them. “Tell me everything.”
“I don’t—it was—there was no one else to help.” She gave Brenda the same abbreviated version she’d given him last night.
“End of story. He lived to drink and make stupid mistakes another day.”
Brenda wrapped an arm around Mel’s shoulders and hugged her. “That’s amazing. You are amazing. But then, I already knew that.”
“I don’t want everyone around town talking about it,” Mel said, leveling a look at Whit.
He lifted his hands, but couldn’t force a lie past his lips. He hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it, how she’d looked plowing through the water with that kid in tow.
“It was a sight to see,” he told Brenda.
“My feet are fine, I am fine, the kid is fine. Thank you for your concern,” she said, straightening her shoulders.
Dismissing him. He got that. He pushed away from the bar, lifting the bottle in farewell as he walked away.
Most of the crowd was way too young for him. At thirty, he never thought he’d feel like an old man, but he did right now. His gaze drifted back to Melody, who kept a suspicious eye on him. As he recalled, she was about five years younger than him, not so young that he felt dirty when he looked at those gorgeous legs, or the small of her back when she leaned forward. He couldn’t quite make out the tattoo there, but its existence made him a little crazy. He definitely needed to work on some goodwill with her.
At least he wasn’t the only man she was turning away. Boy after boy walked away dejected, but she treated most of them pretty gently. Not like the get-the-hell-out attitude she gave him.
Yeah, he definitely needed to figure out goodwill there. He just wasn’t sure how to start.
Between the Rainbows and the Rain is available at all retailers!