TITLE: Rain Shadow
PUBLISHER: Riptide Publishing
SERIES: Bluewater Bay
Jeremy Rose came to Bluewater Bay to work as Anna Maxwell's bodyguard, not to escape his increasingly bitter relationship with his estranged kids. He just wants to focus on his job and be alone for a while. He's done with love, especially now that three years after his long overdue divorce, he's got a front-row seat to the rapid deterioration between Anna and her girlfriend. Cynical doesn't even begin to describe him.
Then Anna and Leigh's attempts to reconcile put him in the crosshairs of marriage counselor Scott Fletcher. Scott's exactly what Jeremy needs right now: gorgeous, hot, horny, single, and 100% uninterested in a relationship. The problem is, too much no-strings-attached sex — and too much time in each other's company — inevitably builds emotional connection.
Except Jeremy refuses to seek counseling for his broken family, and Scott refuses to get seriously involved with men who work dangerous jobs. They both need to realize they can only hide for so long from the pain they came here to escape. They must face their pasts before they lose their shot at a happy future.
Four o’clock was way too fucking early for this.
Okay, so I was used to early mornings after late nights—kind of came with the territory of guarding a workaholic in the entertainment industry. But getting up at the ass crack of dawn to stand in a parking lot with a bunch of strangers, clinging to a cup of coffee, in the middle of January? This was bullshit.
Beside me, Anna burrowed her face into the zipped-up collar of her parka. “Please tell me the bus is almost here.”
“Should be.” Leigh glanced at her phone, then stuffed it and her hand back into her pocket. “We’re supposed to leave by four fifteen.”
Anna grumbled something I didn’t understand. Leigh shot her a look, but Anna ignored it.
Come on, you two. It’s too early. Give it a rest.
Their counselor had planned to go on the trip with his wife, but couldn’t, so he’d passed his tickets on to Leigh and Anna, suggesting it would be a good change of scenery for them. It was a chance for them to do something together that they would both enjoy so maybe they could reconnect. Ideally, it would alleviate some of the tension caused by Anna working too much, and whatever else had had the two of them butting heads since well before the production company had hired me as Anna’s bodyguard.
And a day trip that started in a freezing-cold parking lot at four in the morning seemed like just what they needed.
I rolled my eyes. Wasn’t like the two of them needed to just sleep the fuck in and relax or anything. But whatever. I wasn’t getting paid to grade their counselor. I was here to keep overzealous Wolf’s Landing fans and a handful of deranged stalkers from putting their hands on Anna. If she came to me for advice, I gave it, but otherwise I kept my mouth shut about the quack and stayed out of it.
Anna yawned, wobbling a little on her feet.
“You all right?” I asked.
“Uh-huh.” She rubbed her eyes. “Tired.”
“It’s a three-and-a-half-hour drive.” Leigh nestled her face into her collar. “We can probably catch up on some sleep on the way.”
“Good idea.” Anna yawned again. “C’mon, stupid bus. Mama needs a nap.”
And so does her bodyguard—not that he’ll get one.
Anna had been working ridiculous hours all week, which meant I had been too, but they’d been taking a bigger toll on her than me. Though I suspected it wasn’t just the show that was keeping her up at night. The air between her and Leigh had been frostier than usual. They hadn’t been screaming at each other lately, but that probably wasn’t a good sign. Usually, those two argued more than I had with my ex-wife or my kids did with each other. Combined.
But lately, it had been chilly silence. At least when they were fighting, they were talking.
Or maybe I was wrong and the snake-oil peddling counselor was actually helping. Maybe they were calmly working through things now. One could hope, anyway. I knew all too well how long a relationship could continue even when it was well past salvaging—and how miserable it could make anyone within a ten-mile radius.
“Oh, thank God,” someone said. “There’s the bus.”
The whole group turned as a repurposed school bus with Mount Olympus Tours emblazoned on the side pulled into the lot. If the driver knew what was good for her, she had every heater on that thing blasting.
The brakes squeaked, then hissed. The door opened, and a cute blond guy in a red Mount Olympus Tours golf shirt skipped off the bus and singsonged, “Well, good morning, everyone!”
I cringed. That kind of cheerfulness at this hour was like someone kicking on a strobe light when I was hungover.
The cheerful guy shivered. “Brr, it’s freezing out here!”
“Well done, Captain Obvious,” someone muttered, and snickers rippled through the group.
The guy didn’t seem to notice, though, and herded us all onto the bus, checking us in as we went.
“Oh, thank you, Jesus,” Anna said, almost groaning as she boarded ahead of me. When I followed, I understood why—the driver was indeed blasting the heater. I peeled off my parka, but despite the warmth, I left the flannel shirt on over my T-shirt to keep my shoulder holster covered.
A few rows from the front, Leigh sat against the window, and Anna took the aisle. I sat one row behind Anna, in the aisle seat kitty-corner to hers. This crowd didn’t look particularly threatening, but I was on the clock. From this vantage point, I had a better view if anyone tried anything.
I didn’t expect much from some middle-aged tourists, a sleepy family of four, or the German couple chattering in the back, though.
One teenager wore a Wolf’s Landing T-shirt, and Anna definitely noticed him—she was subtly keeping her head down and her face covered by her baseball cap. Fortunately, she wasn’t as easily recognizable as the actors on the show since she wasn’t the one in front of the camera. Unfortunately, some of the people who did recognize her were the reason I had this job.
This kid didn’t seem to notice her, though. Hell, with his earbuds in and his attention fixed on his smartphone, Carter Samuels and Levi Pritchard could’ve walked in and started making out—wouldn’t that have been a sight?—and he wouldn’t have noticed.
Once everyone was situated, the blond guy stood in front of us with his clipboard in one hand and the bus’s microphone in the other. “All right, welcome aboard, everybody!” he chirped. “Are we all ready to go see some eagles?”
A halfhearted, “Yeah,” went through the group.
He sighed dramatically. “Oh, come on. I know you all didn’t get up at this hour unless you wanted to. Are we ready to see some eagles or not?”
That prompted a slightly more enthusiastic response.
“That’s what I thought. Now we’re looking at about three and a half hours on the bus, which will get us there in time to catch our boat on the river. Everybody bring their cameras?”
A few people held up phones, and three hoisted giant SLRs with foot-long lenses.
“Good!” The blond guy grinned. “Well, I’ve been out there every day this week, and there’s been eagles as far as the eye can see. So expect lots of opportunities to get pictures.”
“Can we stop for coffee?” someone called out from the back.
“You can get coffee on the ferry out of Port Townsend. And we’ll stop again in Sedro-Woolley.”
A few people muttered, “Thank God.”
Our guide smiled like he didn’t need any coffee now or ever—jerk—and went on, “Okay, so let me give you a bit of background. Every winter, bald eagles congregate along a stretch of the Skagit River. Anybody know why?”
“To eat the dead salmon,” came a response near the front.
“Good! See, bald eagles are scavengers, so . . .”
While he went on and on, the driver put her giant coffee cup aside and the bus started moving, the diesel engine groaning like it agreed that this was too early and too cold. I suspected the group would perk up as the morning wore on, but for now, the collective fuuuuuck radiating from everyone was bordering on comical. Especially with Mr. Morning Person damn near bouncing as he told us about the eagles.
From across the aisle from me, someone grumbled, “No one should be that chipper before 9 a.m.”
I laughed and turned my head, ready to reply, “No shit, right?”
But I just stopped.
Maybe it was because he’d picked that exact moment to sip his coffee, and the movement of his unshaven jaw made both his cheekbones and his stubble stand out like holy fuck, but . . . holy fuck. He had a few lines alongside his mouth and eyes that intrigued the hell out of me, and the way his lips moved slightly when he swallowed his coffee did crazy, crazy things to my brain. He looked oddly familiar, but I couldn’t place where—or if—I’d seen him before.
Beneath a gray Mariners baseball cap, his blue eyes flicked toward me, and he lifted his eyebrows.
“Um.” I cleared my throat. “Good point. About . . .” What had he commented on again? I glanced at the front of the bus, and our fearless leader was still being entirely too cheerful as he briefed everyone who was listening. To the guy beside me, I said, “About him. Being chipper.”
The guy chuckled and raised his cup. “Thank God for coffee for the rest of us, am I right?”
“Yeah.” I shook mine, which was nearly empty. “I should’ve gotten a bigger one.”
“Good thing there’s a Starbucks on the route. And probably one at the ferry dock.”
I was about to praise a few deities, but he picked that moment to casually take off his baseball cap, scratch the back of his head, and put the cap back on.
God help me—he was almost entirely gray. Salt and very black pepper, but definitely more salt. And there went my ability to speak.
Maybe I was just tired of younger guys. Except silver foxes had always turned me inside out, even back when I was still in denial. Anna sometimes met with Hunter Easton, the author of the Wolf’s Landing series, and he was just . . . distraction on wheels. But this guy? Fuck.
And I was staring.
I cleared my throat. “So, you been on one of these tours before?”
He shook his head. “I’ve been meaning to for a few years, but didn’t quite get around to it. You?”
“No, I just moved up here last year.”
His subtle grin screwed up my senses so much, I almost didn’t hear—or understand—his question when he said, “You must’ve come for the TV show.”
“The— Right. Yeah. Wolf’s Landing.”
“So, either your episodes haven’t aired yet, or you’re not an actor.”
I chuckled. “You a fan?”
“Yeah, me too. But no, I’m not an actor. Just security.”
Something flickered across his expression, but he erased it with a smile. “I’ll bet you get to see some interesting things.”
“You could say that.” I extended my hand. “By the way, I’m Jeremy Rose.”
“Scott Fletcher.” He shook my hand, and his was warm from holding his coffee cup. “Nice to meet you.”
“Yeah. You too.”
He smiled, then took a sip of his coffee. “Well, I hope you brought a raincoat.”
“A—” My heart skipped. Did he— Oh, right. An actual raincoat. Not a condom. Because we were two random strangers talking on a bus, not a couple of guys trying to hook up and— I cleared my throat. “Do you really think we’ll need one?”
The faintest smirk played at his lips, making me wonder if he was thinking about the double entendre now. His shoulder rose in a slight shrug. “You never know. It is January, so you can’t really go anywhere in this state without getting wet.”
I studied him. “You know, that’s what I heard before I moved up here, but . . .” I waved a hand at the mostly clear sky outside. “Can’t say I’ve seen it.”
He chuckled. “Well, no. Not in Bluewater Bay. We’re in a rain shadow.”
“A what now?”
“A rain shadow. The clouds coming in off the ocean have too much moisture to get over the Olympic Mountains, so they dump it on the coast. The . . .” He nodded in the general direction of the ocean. “The west coast, I mean. Not the north one.”
“Yep. It’s nice, because by the time the clouds get to us”—he gestured above us—“there isn’t much left.”
“Huh. Learn something new every day, right?”
He laughed softly, a hint of color blooming in his cheeks. “Guess I’m flying my nerd flag, aren’t I?”
Smiling, I said, “There are worse things.” And definitely less attractive things. Then I nodded toward the empty seat beside him. “Just you?”
“Just me.” He rubbed his eyes. “I couldn’t think of anyone who’d want to get up at the crack of dawn to go with me.” Lowering his hand, he yawned. “Maybe that should’ve given me a clue.”
“You never know. Could be worth it.”
“At this rate, the eagles had better perform ‘Hotel California’ or something to make it worthwhile.”
I laughed. “Eagles the Musical?”
Scott chuckled. “That would get me out of bed in the morning.”
“Yeah, now that I think about it, me too.”
Anna turned around and glanced at me, her lips quirked. Then she rolled her eyes, shook her head, and faced the front again. Yeah, she’d be ribbing me about this later.
To Scott, I said, “So what made you decide to do this? Bird-watcher?”
“Not really.” Scott played with the lid on his cup. “Just been spending a bit too much time at home these days. Thought this would give me a chance to get out of the house and out of Bluewater Bay for a little while.”
“Doesn’t seem like a town people really need to escape from.”
Scott chuckled. “You really haven’t lived here very long, have you?”
“There something I should know about it?”
“Well, I mean, it’s not a bad town.” Scott sat up a little, pausing to twist a crick out of his back. “I like the town, and I like my condo. But sometimes, you just need a change of scenery before the walls close in, you know?”
“Yeah, I do. That’s how I wound up in Bluewater Bay.”
Scott smiled. “Before Wolf’s Landing, that was how most people wound up in Bluewater Bay.”
Instantly, the smile faded, though he tried and failed to force it back to life. With a tight shrug, he said, “Well, like I said, that’s how most people wind up here.” He cleared his throat and gestured out the window. “You been up to Hurricane Ridge yet?”
I went along with the subject change, but inwardly I cringed.
Good one, Jeremy. You’ve known the guy forty-seven seconds, and it’s already awkward.
That has to be some kind of record.