“No!” Harley said quickly, and all four girls craned around to look at her. “No nudity on the river,” she said. No nudity on the river? Jesus, she needed to think faster on her feet.

From ahead, TJ glanced around and gave them a long look, probably trying to figure out if he needed to be in on the conversation or if he should be thinking about running for the border. Harley gave him a little finger wave. She could handle it.


“I’ve got a better idea,” Shelly murmured. “Watch this. Help!” she suddenly shrieked, and flailed in her kayak until she managed to tip it over. “TJ, help me!” she screamed.

TJ was already maneuvering his kayak around. Harley knew it would take him no time at all to get to Shelly and haul her out of the water, where she’d probably crawl over him with her wet, warm, curvy body.

As far as tactics went, it was a good one, Harley conceded. And it might be a lot of fun to watch, except for two things.

One, TJ was paying her to avoid exactly this.

And two, she didn’t want any half-naked wet woman crawling all over him.

Well, unless she was the half-naked wet woman. “Shelly,” she said calmly while holding up a hand to TJ to let him know she had it handled. “Put your feet down and stand up. The water’s only up to your belly button.”

Shelly abruptly stopped screaming and flailing and stood up, sending Harley a pout. “You’re no fun.” She flounced through the water to her kayak. “You just blew my chance for some mouth-to-mouth.”

TJ was wearing his dark sunglasses and his baseball cap, which shaded his face, so it was hard to tell his expression across the fifty feet of water that separated them, but Harley was pretty sure he was amused.

And relieved.

He could thank her later. Maybe with some mouth-to-mouth of their own variety.

They went back to kayaking with no more close encounters of the made-up kind. After awhile, Lani floated up next to Harley and smiled. Harley returned it. “You doing okay?” she asked the coed.

“Yes,” Lani said. “It’s gorgeous out here.”

“It is.”

“You’re so lucky that this is your job. I think this would be the coolest job ever.”

“What are you going to do with your biology degree?”

“I was thinking about teaching, but I know now I want to do something different. I want to do something to help preserve the wildlife.”

Shelly turned back and smiled warmly at her friend. “You can do it, Lani.”

Kitty nodded agreeably. “You can do whatever you want.”

“Easy for you to say,” Lani said quietly. “You’ve both got your daddies’ trust funds.”

“So do you,” Tandy said.

“No.” Lani shook her head. “It was all stock options, which are gone.”

The others looked at each other, horrified. “You’re…broke?”

“Just about,” Lani said quietly.

There was silence for a few minutes as they absorbed this while floating down the river.

“I’ll help you, Lani,” Shelly said softly. “I have plenty of extra-”

“Me too,” Kitty said.

But Lani shook her head. “No. I mean thank you, but I couldn’t take your money.”

“It’s not mine,” Shelly said. “It’s my parents’, and they don’t give a rat’s ass how I spend it. It’s up to me what I do with it. And I give it to you.”

At that exact moment Harley warmed up to the Mountain Barbies.

A few minutes later, they rounded a corner and the water picked up speed. Simultaneously all four girls got into trouble. Lani and Tandy collided and knocked each other into the water, screaming as they went, naturally. TJ went after Tandy, and Harley went after Lani. Just as they got both of them straightened out, the other two girls steered directly into an outcrop of trees sticking out of the water.

And capsized.

There was more screaming, and lots of hair trauma. Then two otters swam right by Shelly, who got her earlier wish about being closer to TJ when she literally crawled up his body to get out of the water and away from the otters. Only she was too terrified to enjoy the experience. Harley explained that the otters were harmless to them, that they were just out looking for beaver dams to adopt, but it still took awhile for everyone to calm down.

When they stopped for the day, the girls sprawled out on the shore in the last of the sun’s warmth while TJ and Harley set up camp. Harley pulled the gear out of the kayaks, noting that the coeds had once again stripped out of their protective gear, down to their skimpy bikinis. She had ten years and ten pounds on them, and it was hard not to feel at least a little inferior.

That’s when she felt a lean hard body press up against her.

TJ’s hand settled on the nape of her neck, causing her entire body to shiver. He’d warned her that his kind of love was temporary. She’d agreed to temporary. So what was she supposed to do with the fact that it seemed like so much more? She was kayaking down Heart Break River without a paddle, but even knowing it, she had no idea how to protect herself. Even worse, she didn’t want to. She kept her gaze on the coeds, as gorgeous as the man behind her, and sighed.

“You’re beautiful, Harley.”

She let out a genuine laugh at that. She was wearing men’s board shorts, a loose T-shirt, a life vest, and completing the picture of loveliness, water booties to protect her feet, which had given her a ridiculous tan line. Her hair was undoubtedly a frizz-ball and she’d forgone her usual mascara and lip gloss in favor of full-protection sunscreen and ChapStick.