Authors: Teresa Reasor
Braden’s features took on a look of intense concentration as desire rode him hard, but the shadow of other emotions clouded his eyes. “Dinna let them come between us, Coira. Dinna let them destroy us.”
“Never,” she said on a gasp as he pushed into her harder and harder, bringing her to the edge of completion and shoving her over it. She held him tight as he pulsed inside her and his heartbeat pounded into her.
She prayed the vow she had just given him would not be tested.
Quinn floated a few feet from the diver atop the stone. A small stream of air bubbles rose from her regulator then stopped. He shook his head. The body would lose the gases suspended in its lungs once he started his ascent with her. His stomach clenched.
Don’t think about it.
He hated body recovery and all the awful details that went with it. He had to hurry things along and start his decompression.
Quinn slanted the light down her body. No wires, ropes, or twine were visible. How had she tied herself to the stone? The dark neoprene material of her dry suit blended into the slime layer on the rock. Her tanks hung in position and nothing seemed caught around them. The light, looped about her wrist, still shone a weak beam upon the mud packed surface to one side of the stone. A shiver trailed up his spine.
He turned the underwater torch at an angle so the light wouldn’t reflect off the glass of her mask and grasped her arm to give the body a tug to pull it free. She turned her head to look at him. He jerked his hand back, a startled cry erupting from beneath his regulator. She couldn’t be alive. She blinked her eyes, as though coming awake from a nap, and shielded her vision as he shined the light directly into her facemask.
He grabbed her pressure gauge. How could she have any gas left? There was precious little. If she ran short of air, they could buddy breathe until they reached the deco station. He had to get her back to the vertical line so they could make their ascent.
He turned the face of the gauge in her direction and motioned with his light to get her attention focused, then pointed in the direction of the ship.
She signaled her understanding with a bare hand, bone white, her movements sluggish. Jerking her glove free from her weight belt, he shoved it at her. She put it on, and then signaled thumbs up.
How long had she been at seventy meters? Had she had a seizure? The possibility of brain damage ran through his mind. He wrote a question on his wrist slate and turned it in her direction.
She focused the weak beam of her dive light at her watch and went still. She signaled thirty minutes. Shite. She’d been unconscious for part of that time. She should be dead.
He grasped her arm and tugged her in the direction of the guideline. They stopped for a moment atop the drop-off at one hundred and twenty-five feet. He watched her for any signs of embolism or seizure. She pulled a grease pencil from the wristband slate on her arm and wrote a word then turned it for him to view.
He pointed back the way he had come.
She nodded, pressing a hand to her chest in a signal of relief.
He stayed close by her side until they reached the vertical down line secured beneath
stern. Following the rope up to the forty-six meter mark, they leveled off and grasped the structure of the PVC deco station he had lowered over the side before leaving the ship. Emergency tanks hung from the platform by rings in case just such a situation arose. He watched as she switched regulators to the emergency tank. He helped her remove the tanks and harness she wore and secure the other.
Raising the computer that hung against his chest, he calibrated his decompression times. He watched as she did the same. Her face looked grayish white behind her mask as she turned the face of her computer toward him so he could read it. Bugger. She’d be decompressing while the storm blew in. And it would be dark before she surfaced. Fuck.
She rubbed clear the wrist slate and wrote her decompression schedule on its surface. She turned it toward him. He nodded his understanding. She obviously knew what she was doing. What had happened?
His deco stop wound down. He had to leave her. If he did so, and she experienced any number of the problems possible, he would not be there to help her. Anger lodged in the back of his throat. She had been bloody foolish to stay so long. More than bloody foolish. Sodding suicidal. He found the possibility of losing her, after finding her alive, unacceptable.
He was still vacillating about a course of action when she signaled him to go. His movement’s jerky with frustration, he checked the heavy, welded O ring to which she had hooked herself and exchanged his freshly charged torch for hers. She put her thumb and forefinger together making a signal for okay. He returned the signal. Worry nagged him as he swam upward.
Tears burnt Regan’s eyes as the diver propelled himself up the down line. It had taken all her control not to give into the panic rippling through her. It stole her breath and made her heartbeat thrum in her throat. She had to stay calm. She’d managed this long. She could do it.
The diver hooked himself to the vertical line for his next decompression stop. His large, dark form twenty feet above her looked so close, yet so far away. He was angry with her, had every right to be. She was angry with herself. She wasn’t an amateur diver. She knew the dangers, understood how unforgiving a liquid environment could be. But the things that had happened, the experience she had just had, couldn’t be explained by nitrogen narcosis, or oxygen toxicity. She hadn’t imagined the electric surge that had shot through her body. She hadn’t dreamed everything she had seen or felt afterward. That she hadn’t drowned while in such a state was a miracle. Had he not come for her, she would have.
A tremor shook her. Had it been narcosis, or something more? Fear clawed at her heart and made it difficult to breath. She’d been fine before—just jet lagged. The chances it had been something more deep-seated, more emotional than physical, were slim.
I’m nothing like Evelyn. Nothing
. Besides, her troubles had been caused by drugs. She’d fried her brain with drugs.
Thoughts of what she had nearly put her parents through tormented her. Her father would have worried how he had failed to impress on her the diving rules. Her mother would have been devastated. She hadn’t wanted her to come to Scotland. Had argued it was too far away.
She’d abused their trust in her. They deserved better than what she’d just given them. She’d allowed her need for success to temper her decisions and placed herself, and Henry, in jeopardy. She hoped Henry’s would be the first face she saw, so she could thank him for sending help. Her stomach cramped with anxiety. Was he really okay?
Regan checked her watch and looked up to see the diver had moved on to his next decompression stop. Unhooking herself from the line, she swam up to the twenty-five meter mark. The minutes passed slowly allowing her too much time for self-recrimination and evaluation.
At the twelve-meter mark, the light above died and a strong current threatened to pull her from the deco station. She tethered herself to it to maintain her depth, but it was like playing snap the whip with a boa constrictor. Keeping her breathing even was next to impossible. To fight the forces at work above and below her, she wrapped one arm and leg around the line like an acrobat and held on.
She swam up to the six -meter mark, and was relieved to find the water growing progressively calmer. Her mouth tasted dry as dust from breathing the compressed gas. Visions of water poured over a tumbler of ice cubes tormented her. When next her roommates offered her a beer she’d take it, and thank them.
Exhaustion cramped her muscles, and she turned on the dive light intermittently, just to banish the dark now and then. She had never done a night dive, and after this experience, she never would again.
The ship’s running lights switched on as Regan surfaced to find the sky streaked with lightning and rain falling in diagonal sheets. Her movements clumsy with fatigue, she swam to the diver’s platform at the stern and shoved the light as far back on it as she could. A man’s head and shoulders covered by a hooded yellow rain slicker appeared over the railing. He removed a section of the aft bulkhead and stepped out on the platform. Regan scrambled to get her flipper-encased feet on the steps as he grabbed her tank harness. By sheer brute strength, he lifted her onto the scaffolding. Panting, she lay still, waiting for the buoyant feeling of submersion to recede. She released the small pony tank clipped to her harness she hadn’t used, and handed it to him.
Lightning cut a jagged path across the sky that left an after image on the back of her eyelids when she blinked. She jerked as a boom of thunder came almost on top of the flash.
“If you don’t move your arse t’will be fried American I’ll be scraping off m’platform.” Impatience gave his deep voice a huskiness that at any other time she might have found attractive. His Scottish brogue was as thick as shortbread.
Aware of the danger, she focused on trying to remove her flippers and get her feet under her. She rolled onto her hands and knees, the metal platform, rough and cold. Grabbing the chrome railing, she heaved herself up. In her weakened state, the tank on her back felt like a boulder.
The man grabbed her arm, saving her from toppling backward into the water. Her legs shook like jelly as she stepped onto the deck. Had she not been so dehydrated she might have wept with relief.
“Water.” The one word came out a weak croak. She shoved her mask upward and jerked it from beneath her waterproof hood.
A second man appeared at her side. “Did you not fancy slacking your thirst in the loch while you were swimming about in it then?” He grasped her other arm. Lifting her off her feet, the two escorted her beneath the awning mid ship. The men’s slickers dripped water. Their pant legs clung to them, dark and wet. They had obviously been standing out in the deluge waiting for her to surface. She owed them. More than she’d ever be able to repay.
“He’s asleep below. He was a wee bit distressed about the situation and found comfort in a bottle or two of McEwan.”
“’Twas more like a keg,” the larger of the two said, his tone wry.
They lowered her to a bench to one side of the hatch. Regan pulled free her gloves and hood and dropped them to the seat beside her.
“I’ll get you a bottle of water,” the shorter man said and disappeared through the hatch.
For the first time, Regan looked up at her rescuer. As he brushed back his hood, she looked into his face. Time stopped. Wet, tousled, black hair clung to his head and neck. His beard shadowed a jaw that warned of both strength and stubbornness. If he smiled creases would cut deep grooves in each cheek. Thick dark brows clapped together in a frown above his eyes. In the yellowish light, though she couldn’t make out their color, she felt certain they would be a devilish, Kelly green. He more than looked like the man she—Coira had made love with in her vision. He embodied him.
He started, his eyes widening, and his lips parted. He took a step toward her, then jerked to a stop. A fierce frown dug furrows between his brows. “Who—” He hesitated and seemed to think about what it was he wanted to say. “Are you—having any pain in your joints, lass?” he asked.
Her tongue numbed with shocked, Regan shook her head. Had she truly lapsed into some kind of nitrogen-induced coma? Her fingers trembled as she unhooked the tank harness and released her weight belt. He offered a muscular forearm for her to grasp. She grabbed it and heaved herself to her feet, then stepped out of the web of straps securing the tank around her legs. He pulled the rig free with the ease that spoke of practice and secured it to the side of the ship with other similar tanks.
“Here you go, lass.” The slighter man returned with a bottle of water and holding it by the neck, offered it to her.
Regan grabbed it, and murmuring her thanks, sank back on the seat. Twisting the cap off, she drank deeply from the container then set it aside. She ran her fingers through her hair making the short, thick curls to tumble about her face. She leaned forward to cover her eyes with her hands. What had happened to her? Fresh fear banded her throat and she swallowed with difficulty.
The wind shifted spraying rain across the deck. Lighting flashed so close Regan ducked and, as the crash of thunder followed on its tail, covered her ears. Quinn grasped her arm and pulled her to her feet.
“I dinna wish to be toasted by a bolt while we sit out here.”
Shoving the bottle into her hand, he guided her below and through the first door to the right. Long metal tables fastened to the floor ran in straight parallel lines on either side of a center aisle, their benches attached. A cafeteria-style service area sealed off the kitchen. At the far end of the room, a sofa and several well stuffed chairs arranged in a group sat against the bulkhead. A wooden shelf with screened doors held books and magazines. Mounted on the wall in one corner, a television flickered, tuned to a news channel, the sound muted. A dartboard hung beneath it, the darts sticking out of the cork like miniature missiles. Soft drinks, lined up with military precision, stood behind the glass door of a small refrigerator unit. An industrial size coffee pot sat on a table next to it. Cups hung from hooks under a shelf with a lip that held cups, bowls, and Styrofoam trays. Everything looked neat and hospital sterile.
Setting aside the bottle, Regan sank onto one of the benches, unzipped her dry suit, and struggled free of the sleeves. She rolled it down around her waist and pulled at the neck of the white, thermal underwear shirt she had on underneath.
The two men shed their slickers and hung them on hooks next to the door. The larger of the two strode over to once again stand close. His gaze ran over her in a way that brought a heated flush to her checks and sparked her resentment.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Quinn Douglas, SAT diver and salvage expert.” He thrust a thumb toward the other man. “This is Rob, m’ brother.”