by shannon moore redmon
Bethel pushed back the straw fedora from her face, scanned the ocean waves in front of her, and let the warmth of the sun melt away the fuzziness of last night. Natalee and Patty, her two best friends, insisted on dancing away Bethel’s sorrows. Stupid ex-boyfriend. How could he be engaged after dumping me just six months ago?
Maybe her friends were right. Time to move forward. But she had one rule—no more lifeguards.
Natalee shoved her phone over in front of her. “Look at this guy, Bethel.”
Her friends wanted to set her up, but snapping random photos of hunky men on the beach wasn’t her top priority. She wanted their Charleston, South Carolina, getaway to clear her head, not clutter it up with more male options. “Too muscular, and he’s a lifeguard. I told you guys. No more lifeguards. No one like Paul.”
Patty sat forward and checked out the screen. “Since when did you turn against muscles? And not all lifeguards are bad. This guy’s gorgeous.”
Bethel dug her feet into the sand, stood, and tossed her hat onto the chair, freeing her long hair to drop against her back.
“I think I’ll go for a jet ski ride. Anyone want to join me?”
Natalee peered up at Bethel, shielding her eyes from the sun. “You’re just trying to avoid being set up, but leaving won’t stop us. We’ll stay here and find you the perfect man by the time you get back.”
Bethel rolled her eyes and walked up the beach away from her friends. They’d keep their promise and have a slew of images for her to peruse when she returned.
A new watersports shop was open to the left of Folly Beach Pier. Bethel pushed open the door, and the bell dinged overhead, announcing her arrival. A guy with sea-green eyes and dark, chiseled features glanced up at her.
“Hi. Welcome to Adventure Water Sports. My name’s Mario. How can I help you?”
His voice danced through her like the drumming music from last night’s club and scattered her thoughts. “Um. Hi. I want to rent a jet ski.”
He flashed his smile, made whiter by the bronze of his skin. “Half an hour or an hour?”
Her enamored brain muddled his question. “For what? Oh, you mean the jet ski, right?”
“That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”
Her nervous laugh tumbled into the space between them. The sheer presence of this man demolished her cool demeanor. “Of course. Yes. I’ll rent it for an hour.”
“Great. I’m going to assign you Annie.”
“You name the watercraft?”
“I do.” He leaned his toned arms onto the counter in front of her and lowered his voice. The smell of saltwater and sunscreen pulled her closer. “Makes the job more fun, and I’ll be your guide for the day. Hope that’s okay.”
Her heart bobbed like a fishing lure in the water. “Sure. My name’s Bethel.”
He extended his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
She slid her hand into his, a spark of interest rising within her. He must’ve felt something, too, as he held onto her longer than an average greeting.
“We’re going to have a good time.”
They headed out, hopped on the jet skis, and pierced the ocean breaks into calmer water. Mario sped ahead, showing off some tricks and how to spin the craft in a circle before stopping beside her.
“Push about half throttle and then turn the handles to a sharp left, placing your foot on the back side. Annie will turn you around, then hit the throttle to pull out. Got it?”
“I think so.”
Bethel took off. Water sprayed and wind whipped her curls around her face. The buzz of the motor whined louder. She pressed the handles to the left, stepped back with her foot, then slipped. Her body fell, weightless, as she tumbled into the cool saltwater folding over her, burning her nostrils.
She kicked and let the life jacket float her toward the lighted surface, breaking through for a gulp of air. Mario’s strong hand grasped the shoulder of her floatation device then lifted her onto the back seat of his jet ski.
“Yeah. I’m great. That was awesome!”
“That’s my girl.”
His words permeated through her. She’d missed being someone’s girl. Mario took her hand and placed it around his bare abdomen. Ripples of tight muscle pressed against her fingertips. She flattened the curves of her body against his warm skin.
“Hold on. Let’s go get Annie and then we can ride back in. Our hour’s up.”
She breathed in the scent of him one last time. The hour flashed by way too fast.
They docked the jet skis, and Mario extended his hand to help her off the craft, then she stepped within inches of his body. “Thanks for a great time.”
He stared into her eyes and didn’t release her fingers. “I’d love to see you again.”
Her gaze flickered to his full lips and back to his green eyes, even more vibrant with the reflection of the setting sun. “I’d like that.”
His hand reached up and tucked one of the dark curls behind her ear. She leaned in and placed her lips against his with a quick kiss. “Thank you for a fun day.”
Without hesitation, he leaned forward and kissed her back, a slow moment enticing her to want more, but he pulled away. “That’s how much fun I had.”
Her pulse raced, thrilled by his response. “Will you be around tomorrow?”
“I’ve got to work, but I’d love if you came by.” He tossed a thumb over his shoulder. “Not here though. I’m working my other job.”
She kept her hands on his muscular biceps. “And what would that be?”
He stood a bit taller, flashed his bright smile, then lifted his eyes to meet hers again. “I’m a lifeguard.”