“That would be great, thanks. It’s hot out today.” She flipped her thick, chocolate-hued hair over her shoulder, giving him a better view of her body beneath her skimpy lace cover-up.
He didn’t miss the quick glance she raked over him, taking in not only the body he made sure looked impressive, but also the expensive watch on his wrist, his designer sunglasses, and the number to the penthouse suite he told the waiter to bill her drink to.
He knew her type. And usually he’d be very interested. But for some reason, he couldn’t keep his mind on her or the nonsense coming out of her mouth.
Elliot’s gaze wandered over the other guests enjoying the deluxe pool grounds. Water slides flowed from fake mountains, and an aquarium was set into one side of the pool, which gave the guests the illusion of literally swimming with the fishes—and a few sharks, if he wasn’t mistaken. There were a lot more kids around than he was used to.
The hotel had other pools he could have chosen. But this one, with its waterfall and palm trees sprinkled liberally around, had felt more tropical, like he was relaxing in some jungle oasis rather than at a five star resort.
The woman beside him asked him something, and he turned to ask her to repeat the question when he caught sight of a total knockout standing ankle deep in the opposite side of the pool. But what had caught his attention wasn’t the fact that her modest, one-piece swimsuit clung to her like plum-colored perfection, accenting her blond coloring and showcasing her beauty in a way that the skimpiest bikini never could have. Or even the fanny pack she wore around her waist— Who wore those anymore? It was the look of sheer terror on her face.
Her eyes were wide, staring at a little boy standing in the shallow water near the aquarium.
“Tyler!” she shouted. “Get out of the pool right now!”
Stacy tsked. “Some people. If you can’t control your kids, you shouldn’t bring them out in public.”
Any interest Elliot might have had in her evaporated.
“I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go. If you’ll excuse me,” he said. He stood and gave her a sharp nod before heading toward the pool.
The woman had waded a little farther in. Her face was completely bloodless, so pale even her lips had lost their color. Her gaze darted from the child to the surrounding water like they were standing in a river of molten lava instead of a pool not more than three feet deep.
Elliot wasn’t sure what he could do to help, but he was going to find out.
Lena paced back and forth near the edge of the hotel pool, her heart pounding in her throat. The pool sported a large ramp that sloped gently into deeper water instead of the typical cement lip and the water lapped gently at her toes. That was as far as she’d go. Under normal circumstances. She and any body of water, no matter how large or small, did not mix. Ever. And if Tyler wouldn’t get out, she wasn’t sure what she was going to do.
“Tyler Nathaniel, you get out of the pool right now!” she called again.
Tyler, nearly drunk with joy over his first foray into a massive, watery wonderland, pretended not to hear her.
She couldn’t really blame him. The pool had been designed as a child’s fantasyland come to life. Waterfalls, water spouts, and jets sprouted out in every direction. One wall of the pool even butted up to an aquarium. The wall was thick Plexiglass, enabling the kids to “swim” with the exotic fish.
While Lena knew there was no logical chance of the fish and her child actually touching one another, she’d done her best to steer Tyler clear of that wall. No need to make the whole swimming thing even more dangerous than it already was. Especially for an inexperienced kid like Tyler. Heck, he’d never done more than run through the sprinklers in their backyard before. Even those little plastic baby pools had been too much for her to handle.
But when he’d seen the amazing pool at the hotel where they were staying for her brother Oz’s wedding, Tyler had begged her and she’d finally given in. After all, swimming was a totally normal part of life. For most people. And she didn’t want to inflict all her fears on her child. But still… What if she couldn’t get him out?
Panic clawed at her throat, and she choked back tears. He was having a good time and theoretically, she knew he was safe. With a life vest and arm floaties, he wasn’t likely to drown in the waist-deep water he stood in. Especially with a lifeguard on duty. But it was time to go, he wasn’t interested in leaving, and she couldn’t go in to get him.
“Tyler!” she called again, trying to keep the fear from her voice. She didn’t want to freak anyone out. He ducked under another waterfall, his laughter echoing from behind the water.
“Come on, Tyler, we need to go. You can come back later.”
“Ten more minutes!”
“No, Tyler, now!”
He giggled and ran farther off, water spraying around him as he splashed away.
She hated resorting to bribes and usually didn’t need to. Tyler was a pretty good kid. But enough was enough. At that moment, she’d promise him anything as long as he got out of the damn pool.
“Tyler, it’s time to go get some ice cream! Don’t you want to go get a nice, big hot fudge sundae? You can get extra sprinkles.”
“No, I wanna swim!” he said, splashing around.
That surprised her. Tyler loved ice cream more than any other food in the world. Okay. Bigger ammo.
“I’ll let you stay up past your bedtime tonight.”
No response at all.
“You can play the Xbox that’s in our room!”
That one made him pause. She didn’t usually allow him to play video games. Finding an Xbox in their hotel room had been the highlight of the trip for him until he realized he wouldn’t get to play it here, either. She was sure that bribe would work. And it looked like it might until one of the other kids excitedly shrieked. A shark had come up to the glass for a visit, and all the kids were getting as close as they dared. A huge grin broke out on Tyler’s face, and he headed straight for the wall.
Terror flooded through Lena. The water was now up to Tyler’s waist. And there was a freaking shark ten feet away from him! She didn’t care if there was glass between them. She wanted her baby out of that pool, now!
“Tyler!” She knew her panic was showing. She was drawing stares from other parents. One of the lifeguards had taken notice and was assessing the situation, unsure what to do, since no one was actually in danger. Well, maybe she was, from hyperventilating. She couldn’t seem to draw a deep breath.
“Tyler, get out right now! I’ll take you shopping. You can pick out any toy you want.”
Nothing. He didn’t even look at her.
“How about we get you your very own Xbox? Do you want to go get an Xbox? You can play it every day!”
His little hand pressed against the glass, and Lena’s heart jumped into her throat. Her stomach roiled. She slid a foot farther into the water, her whole body trembling. It was up to her ankle. She hadn’t had any part of her body completely submerged since she was two years old and had almost drowned in her grandparents’ hot tub. She’d taken off her arm floaties when her mom wasn’t watching and had stepped right in. And had immediately sunk. She didn’t even remember the exact incident. But every time she got near any body of water, she could feel the pressure of all that liquid weight crushing her, pushing her down to the bottom, just like it had that day. Why did she let her own child traipse right into a watery death trap from which she couldn’t extract him? What kind of mother was she? And how the hell was she going to get her son when she could barely force herself to put more than her foot in the water?
There were enough people in the pool… Maybe she could convince a few to line up so she could walk across their heads. Or have them pass her around like in some concert mosh pit. She’d even ask a nice, strong guy to give her a piggy back ride if it would get her to Tyler without having to go in the water any deeper.
The boy laughed and pounded on the glass. The shark jerked and swished its tail.