“Tyler! Get out right now,” she shouted, no longer caring who was watching.
The lifeguard climbed a few steps down from his tower, still confused but obviously wanting to get her and her kid away from the pool before she had a full-on panic attack. He’d better hurry.
Before he could get all the way off his tower, a leanly muscled man with artfully tousled hair and a smile on his face that would charm a used car salesman, came up to him. He clapped the lifeguard on the back and said something to him that made the guard nod and climb back up his tower.
No, no, no! He needs to rescue Tyler! Lena slid her other foot into the pool, closing her eyes briefly against the wave of terror that strangled her. She waded in up to her shins, biting her lip to keep back the whimpering scream that crawled up her throat. Black spots flickered at her vision, and the world tilted slightly, but she fought it back, sucking in one breath after another until the world righted itself. She needed to get to her son.
The man who’d spoken to the lifeguard yanked his shirt over his head and kicked off his flip-flops. He waded into the pool, aimed a megawatt smile at her, and held up a hand in a slight wave. Her stomach unclenched a fraction. He looked a bit familiar. Actually, he reminded her of Cher, her soon-to-be sister-in-law. They had the same hair color, similar features. But she hadn’t met him before. Still, something about him calmed her a bit. He waded across the pool toward Tyler, and Lena almost collapsed, her head swimming with unreleased adrenaline and overwhelming relief.
She backed out of the water, her body relaxing a few more degrees now that it was no longer imminently in danger from drowning. And yes, she knew that was an exaggeration, but at that moment she didn’t care.
The man made it to Tyler. He leaned down to talk to him. Tyler immediately grabbed his hand and dragged him closer to the glass. Lena closed her eyes and groaned. She’d given Tyler the stranger-danger talk a million times and still he was way too friendly with strangers. Especially men. And no, he probably wasn’t in any danger from the kind, charismatic man who was crouched in the water pointing at fish with him, but still. You never knew. He should have at least looked back to her for permission to speak to him.
They talked a little more, and then Tyler jumped up and down, a huge grin on his face. He held his arms up to the man who swung Tyler up on his shoulders and started walking toward her. Tyler looked so natural sitting up on the man’s shoulders, giggling and chatting away. She’d have to take the man out to dinner or something to thank him for rescuing her baby.
The world spun around her again, and she wasn’t sure if it was from sheer and utter relief that Tyler was safely out of the water, the insanely hot sun she’d been standing in for the better part of the afternoon, the fact that she’d been up to her shins in water for the first time in twenty-four years, or the realization that the tempting man with the amazing smile had an incredible body to match. Her panic had eclipsed anything else, including the toned muscles and broad shoulders of her new hero. But with her son safely out of harm’s way, it was hard not to notice. The man had the body of a freaking god, all tanned and hard, streams of water running down his chest and glistening in the sun.
The stranger took Tyler down from his shoulders, and his smile warmed the residual ice from her blood that Tyler’s stunt and her own little foray into the pool had put there. Her son’s hand slipped into hers. She looked up at the man to say thank you.
The last thing she saw was the smile dropping off his face before everything went black.
Elliot carried the woozy woman into his room, her little boy following anxiously behind.
“Is Mommy going to be okay?”
Elliot glanced down, feeling like he had in grade school whenever the teacher had called on him to answer a question he couldn’t answer—squirming with anxiety and no clue what to say. He sure as hell hoped the woman was okay because he had no idea what to do with the kid.
“No worries, little man. She’ll be fine. I promise.”
He laid her down on the bed, making sure her head was cradled comfortably on the pillows. She looked up at him, squinting like she couldn’t quite make him out. Then she sighed and closed her eyes. Within seconds, a faint snore emanated from her perfect heart-shaped mouth. His eyebrows rose, and he glanced back at the boy who giggled.
Elliot bit back a laugh, held his finger up to his lips, and mock whispered, “Let’s be quiet so she can sleep.”
The boy nodded and clapped his lips together. He stood staring at Elliot. At a total loss, Elliot turned back to the woman. He took off her fanny pack—the fact that she wore one had probably shocked him more than her fainting into his arms—pulled a light blanket up over her and stood back. Her blond curls spread over the pillows like a halo. Her full lips were slightly parted, and he had the sudden urge to lean down and kiss her.
He almost snorted. The last chick he’d dated had been disturbingly into fairy tales and had made him watch a lot of Disney films. Casting himself in the roll of Prince Charming wasn’t something that had ever entered his mind before.
The little boy climbed up next to his mother and patted her cheek.
“Mommy,” he whispered.
When she didn’t respond, he looked up at Elliot, his blue eyes open wide.
The lifeguard had checked her out and had figured it was probably heat exhaustion combined with a possible panic attack, if the look on her face when she’d waded into the pool had been any indication. He’d recommended taking her to her room and calling the hotel doc. Elliot wasn’t real sure about hauling a nauseous, hysterical woman with a kid into his hotel room, but he’d done what the lifeguard suggested. The front desk assured him the doctor was on the way. Hopefully, the man would get there soon.
“What’s your mom’s name?” he asked the boy.
Elliot grinned. “I know, but what’s her real name? What do other people call her?”
His nose wrinkled. “Uncle Oz calls her Lenny, but Mommy doesn’t like that.”
Elliot laughed. “Lenny, huh. Oh. Uncle Oz? Is your uncle Nathaniel Oserkowski?”
“Yup. That’s my name, too. Tyler Nathaniel Oserkowski.”
“Good to meet you, little dude. I’m Elliot Debusshere.”
“My name’s not dude. It’s Tyler.”
“Oh. Okay. Sorry. Hi, Tyler.”
Tyler just looked at him. Okay then. Elliot cleared his throat. “I’m your aunt Cherice’s brother.”
That got a grin out of him. “Aunt Cher!”
“Yep. So it looks like we’re family.”
Tyler’s face scrunched in confusion at that new concept.
There was a knock on the door, and Elliot hurried over to let the doctor in.
After a quick exam and diagnosis of mild heat exhaustion and anxiety, the doctor left with orders for rest and water, and he was once again alone with Tyler. Once the boy had been assured his mother would be okay, he’d turned his attention to his surroundings. Elliot watched the little kid wander around, poking into corners, looking into cabinets.
He pulled out his phone and dialed his sister, his fingers drumming on his leg until she picked up.
“Hey Elliot, how’s it going?” Cher said.
He exhaled, relieved she’d answered. “Not great. I ran into Oz’s sister at the pool. She had a bit of a panic attack and then passed out from heat exhaustion.”
“Oh my gosh, is she okay?”
“Yeah, the doc said she’d be fine. She woke up long enough to get some fluids in her, but she’s resting in my room right now.”
“Good thing you were there! Is Tyler with you?”
“Yeah.” Elliot turned his back and walked to the other side of the room so Tyler couldn’t hear him. “Can you guys come get him?”