“I’m so sorry,” she whispered.
She dropped to her wobbly knees in the sand and shoved her wet hair out of her face with shaking fingers. “Dr. Scott? Did you hear me?”
She waited for the rest of his response, desperately gripping the phone.
“You might have lost Tank,” he repeated.
“Yes,” she said softly, hating herself.
Grace looked around the beach. The empty beach. “Yes.”
“Well, then, I owe you a big, fat kiss.”
Grace pulled her phone from her ear and stared at it, then brought it back. “No,” she said, shaking her head as if he could see her. “I don’t think you understand. I lost Tank. In the water.”
He muttered something that she’d have sworn sounded like “I should be so lucky.”
“What?” she asked.
“Nothing. I’m two minutes away. I got a break in the ER and was coming home to make sure you showed.”
“Well, of course I showed—”
But he’d disconnected.
“Why wouldn’t I show?” she asked no one. She dropped her phone back into her purse and got up. Two minutes. She had two minutes to find Tank.
Okay, so maybe chocolate doesn’t make the world go around, but it sure makes the trip worthwhile.
Josh’s day had started at five that morning in the gym. Matt and Ty, his workout partners, spent the hour sparring in the ring, beating the shit out of each other while Josh lifted weights. The three of them worked hard while retaining enough breath to sling ongoing insults and taunts. It was what friends were for.
By six-thirty, he was in the ER, patching up a guy who’d gotten in a bar fight in Seattle hours before but had been too drunk to realize he was bleeding profusely as he drove down the highway. From there, Josh had moved on to a heart attack victim and then to a two-year-old who’d swallowed a few pennies and was having understandable trouble passing them.
By noon, Josh wasn’t even halfway through his day, and he’d already been overloaded and overworked and was quite possibly teetering on the edge of burnout. He could feel it creeping in on him in unguarded moments, like now when he was parking his car between his house and the beach to deal with Grace Brooks.
He knew who she was. He’d seen her around. Blue eyes, a quick smile, long, shiny blond hair, and a willowy yet curvy body that could drive a man right out of his mind if he gave it too much thought.
As he walked across the sand toward the water, doing his best not to give it any thought, he caught sight of her in the water. She was facing the waves, her hands on her head in a distraught pose. With a frown, he picked up the pace, just as something dashed toward him in his peripheral vision.
Something named Tank. Josh scooped up the sand-covered puppy and held him away from him. The pug wriggled intently, running in the air, trying to get closer to Josh. Finally giving up, Tank refocused his attention on the woman in the ocean.
“Oh, I see her,” Josh said. “And what the hell have you done now?”
Grace was panicked. It was one thing to lose a job. It was another thing entirely to lose the job. Damn. Her parents had always told her “keep your head down and work hard” and she’d done her best. She really had.
But she’d still screwed up. And it wasn’t like she could call them for advice on this. Neither of them could possibly understand the thought process that had led her to a dog walking job, much less why she’d placed fun as her newest, highest priority. “Tank!” she yelled at the waves. “Tank?” Wading back in up to her waist, she turned in a full circle to rescan the beach, then went utterly still.
Standing on the sand was a man. His tall, broad stature implied strength and control, and he was rocking a pair of navy blue scrubs and dark wraparound Ray-Bans.
Holding her archnemesis.
The puppy was panting happily away, and Grace could have sworn he was smiling. Forget the pig or alien theory—Tank was a rat. Relief at seeing the thing alive nearly brought her to her knees, but she’d have drowned, so she locked them—just as the next wave hit her from behind.
She was very busy fighting a full-facial, saltwater cavity wash when two big hands gripped her arms and hauled her upright.
Dr. Scott, of course.
She coughed and choked some more—very attractive, she was quite certain. Then she realized that she was up against her rescuer, held there firmly as the water swirled around their calves. “I’m okay,” she gasped.
“Yes,” she said, but he didn’t let her go. “Really,” she promised. “I’m good.”
He nodded and continued to hold her against him.
Except…he wasn’t holding her at all. She was clinging to him, soaking up the warmth and strength of him radiating through his now-wet scrubs. Well, crap. Forcing herself to loosen her grip on him, she stepped back, working on searching for a different grip entirely—the one on her fast-failing dignity. Hiking her dress up to her thighs, she frog-marched out of the water as fast as she could so as to avoid being flattened by the next wave. By the time she hit dry sand, she was feeling a little bit like a drowned kitten. One glance down assured her that she didn’t look like a drowned kitten. She looked like she was trying out for a wet T-shirt contest.
She decided not to look at herself again and made the mistake of looking instead at her rescuer. He was close, close enough to force her to tilt her head up to see his face, close enough to ascertain that he clearly hadn’t shaved that morning.
The dark stubble on his jaw was incredibly disconcerting. And sexy.
“Arf!” Tank said from his perch, which was her purse, still lying on the sand. The little shit was standing on it like he owned it, wet, sandy paws and all. “Arf, arf!”
Nice. Grace gave herself a big mental thumbs-up for the “fun” that this job had been so far.
Josh nudged Tank off Grace’s purse, then attempted to brush the wet sand from the leather. Tank gave a pretend ferocious growl and began a tug-of-war with the strap.
Josh gave him another nudge and rescued the purse. He was doing his damnedest to concentrate on the situation at hand, but that was proving difficult given the sight of Grace, her clothes plastered to her like a second skin. Half of her hair was in a topsy-turvy knot on top of her head, with the rest plastered to her face. The tip of her nose had gotten sunburned, and her mascara was smudged around her drown-in-me blue eyes.
And then there was her mouth.
She had a full lower lip, one that warmed him up considerably and made him think about sex. Actually, everything about her—the oh-shit expression on her face, the way she waved her hands like she was trying to explain herself without words, the delicate clinking of the myriad of thin silver bracelets she wore on her wrist—brought to mind sex.
Sex and chaos.
Pure, unadulterated, trouble-filled chaos. The thing was, he’d been there before, in another time and place, and was no longer interested in such things. No matter how hot the packaging was.
And the packaging was very hot. Grace was wearing one of those flimsy little summer dresses that had a way of messing with a guy’s brain. The tiny straps had been designed with the sole purpose of making him want to tug them down—with his teeth.
Or maybe that was just him, and the fact that he hadn’t had sex in so long he’d nearly forgotten how it felt.
The pulse at the base of Grace’s slender neck was beating a little harder and faster than it should be. As a doctor, he knew these things. Plus, his own pulse was going too. Mostly because that hot little sundress was as sheer as tissue paper when wet, and she was most definitely wet.
Her underwear was white lace. God bless white lace. And Jesus, he really needed five minutes of shut-eye. And possibly a lobotomy. Or maybe he just needed to get laid.
Like that was going to happen when he was working 24/7.
Blowing out a breath, Josh scooped up the puppy that his sister had adopted with the sole purpose of sending Josh over the edge—which was working—and grabbed his shivering dog walker’s hand. He led her to his car and directed her to the passenger seat and put Tank into the back.
“W-where are we g-going?”
“Nowhere.” Josh cranked the engine and heater, then twisted around to extract his sweatshirt from the backseat.
“N-no, that’s okay,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ll g-get it all wet and sandy.”
“Put it on before your teeth chatter out of your head.”
Grace complied, then wrapped her arms around herself and huddled into the heater vents. “I’m sorry I lost Tank.”
The puppy perked up at his name and took a flying leap into the front seat, landing in Josh’s lap. Four paws hit the family jewels with precision. Sucking in a breath, Josh scooped Tank up and was promptly licked for his efforts.
“It’s so great that you found him,” Grace said.
“Yeah.” Josh sighed in grim resignation, swiping the puppy drool off his chin. “So great.”
Grace watched Josh set Tank onto the backseat. Again. Tank cried and leaped forward. Josh caught him in midair and dangled him in front of his face so that man and puppy were eye to eye. Tank panted happily, looking thrilled.
Not so the good doctor, though it was hard to tell what he was thinking behind his sunglasses. “You warmed up now?” he asked.
Grace smiled in relief. The puppy was okay. “I guess that means yes.”
“I meant you,” Josh said.
“Oh!” She laughed. “Yes, thank you.”
He just looked at her, and she realized he was waiting for her to get out. Right. He had to get back to work. She opened the door, and he did the same, getting out with Tank tucked under his arm like a football.
“Want me to put him away for you?” she asked, thinking it was the least she could do.