Hank Night Horse believed in minding his own business except when something better crossed his path. A naked woman was something better.
Technically, Hank was crossing her path. He was about to step out of the trees onto the lakeshore, and she was rising out of the lake onto the far end of the dock, but the breathtaking sight of her made her his business. She was as bold and beautiful as all outdoors, and she was making herself at home. Maybe she hadn’t noticed the moonrise, couldn’t tell how its white light made her skin gleam like a beacon on the water.
At his side, Phoebe saw her, too, but she knew better than to give their position away without a signal. With all that skin showing, the woman looked edible. Phoebe was trying to decide whether to point or pounce. Hank knew his dog. He couldn’t help smiling as the woman turned to reach for a towel hanging over a piling. She was slender but womanly, with a long, sleek back and a sweet little ass. If he moved, if he made the slightest sound, he would kill a perfect moment. It would be a shame to see her . . .
. . . stumble, flail, go down on one knee. From graceful to gawky in the blink of an eye, the woman plunged headlong into the lake without a sound issuing from her throat. Hank was stunned.
Phoebe took off like a shot, and their cover was blown.
Fall back, regroup, find new cover.
She had the water, and he had the dog. Excuse my dog. She has no manners. And the woman . . .
. . . should have surfaced by now. Maybe the water had her.
Phoebe was paddling to beat hell. Hank skittered sideways down the pine needle-strewn path until his boots hit the dock, reminding him that whatever he was about to do, the boots had to go.
And then what? He was a man of many talents, but swimming wasn’t one of them. If the adoption people had told him Phoebe lived for the water, he would have walked right past her and taken the Chihuahua in the next cage. Instead he’d saddled himself with a big yellow bitch who thought she was a seal. Or a dolphin. Dolphins could rescue swimmers, couldn’t they?
Dive, baby, dive.
Swish! The woman’s head broke the water’s surface like a popped cork. Phoebe paddled in a circle around her, yapping exuberantly as though she’d scared up some game.
The woman spat a watered-filled “Damn!” toward the open lake as Phoebe circled in front of her. “Hey! Where’d you come from?”
“She’s with me.” The water sprite whirled in Hank’s direction. “You okay?”
“Fine. Where did you come from?”
Hank jerked his chin toward his shoulder and the pine woods behind his back. “My dog—Phoebe, get over here—my dog thought I shot you.”
The woman laughed. A quick, unexpected burst of pure glee, which Phoebe echoed, adding gruff bass to bright brass.
“Are you coming in, too?”
He hadn’t thought it through. Hadn’t even realized he was sitting at the end of the dock with one boot half off. “Not if I don’t have to. It looked like you fell.”
“I did.” Eyeing him merrily, she pushed herself closer with one smooth breast stroke. Her pale body glimmered beneath the rippling water. “I have fins for arms and two left feet that want to be part of a tail.” She looked over at the dog paddling alongside her. “I’m not dead in the water. Sorry, Phoebe.”
“She thought you were flapping your wings. If you really had fins, she wouldn’t’ve bothered.”
“But you would have?”
He pulled his boot back on. “The way you went down, I thought you’d had a heart attack or something.”
“Klutz attack.” She bobbed in place now, her arms stirring the water just beneath the surface. She made not going under look deceptively easy. “The water’s fine once you get used to it. Now that I’m back in I wouldn’t mind company.”
“You’ve got some.” He glanced straight down. Booted feet dangled over dark water. Damn. He felt like he was the one caught with his pants down. Had to get up now. He’d recover his dignity once he had something solid under foot. Needed something to hang onto, and words were all he had. Keep talking. “That dog won’t hunt, but she sure loves to swim.”
He scooted toward the piling. “I’m not givin’ up the best seat in the house.” Until I can grab that post.
“So you’re one of those guys who’d rather look than leap.”
“I’m one of those guys who’d rather watch than drown.”
There was that laugh again, warm and husky, like an instrument played well and often. “And you were going to save me exactly how?”
“By throwin’ you a life boot.” He smiled, more for his hand striking the post than his wit striking her funny.
“No need to.” Her voice echoed in the night. “My feet are touching bottom.”
“If I stood up the water would only be up to my waist.”
“From what I saw, that would make it about two feet deep.”
“Come try it out.” She dared him with a wicked, deep-throated chuckle. “Bring your depth finder.”
What a sight. The strange woman and the dog he fed every damn day were treading in tandem, two against one. Phoebe should have known better.
“I’ve got a measuring stick.” Hank grinned. “But it retracts in the cold.”
“Speaking of cold . . .” She hooked her arm over Phoebe’s shoulders. “If you’re not going to join us, I’d like to take another stab at getting out.”
Post in hand, he stood. “My feet are touching bottom.”
“Yours is wet.” He laid his hand on the towel she’d left hanging over the post. “Bring it up here and I’ll dry it for you.”
“One free look is all you get, cowboy. A second will cost you.”
With the pounding of her fist she sent a waterspout into his face. He staggered back as Phoebe bounded onto the lakeshore.
“Damn! You must have ice water in your veins, woman.”
“Warm hands, cold heart. Go back where you came from, please.” She assumed a witchy pitch. “And your little dog, too.”
If he could’ve, he would’ve. Back to the little house in the North Dakota hills where he’d grown up, where his brother lived with his wife and kids, and where the only water anybody had to worry about was spring runoff. Even though he liked the Black Hills—what red-blooded Lakota didn’t—he wasn’t big on weddings or wild women. But Hank Night Horse was a man who kept his word.
He touched the brim o f his hat. “Nice meeting you.”
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