Book two of Shore Secrets
Small-town park ranger Casey Hobbes has spent her life under the radar, carefully guarding a secret. “The forest flirt,” as her best friend calls her, keeps things casual with men. That way she’ll never care enough to be tempted to share the truth about her past. But when she spots a half-naked stranger on the lake’s edge, Casey can’t resist his muscles or his charm and she’s all-in for enjoying both, while keeping emotion out of it. What could be the danger of one summer fling?
Professor Zane Buchanan has built his entire career on exposing the dark realities of cults, but one—the Sunshine Seekers—remains infuriatingly impossible to crack. Zane’s shocked to discover its sole anonymous survivor is hiding in his new hometown. It’s nearly impossible to concentrate on work, however, when he’s derailed by his attraction to the beautiful blonde in khaki uniform shorts.
As things between Casey and Zane heat up, she struggles with keeping her past from him. And Zane’s on a quest to expose the truth, no matter the consequences. Will their growing emotions finally unseal Casey’s big secret? Or will she turn her back on love to keep the past safely buried?
- “Barth’s multi-layered characters make this a satisfying romance with an unusual and very appealing setup.” ~ Publisher’s Weekly
- “Book two of the Shore Secrets trilogy is a cleverly written romance that will keep readers extremely anxious to find out what could happen next as the plot thickens. Zane and Casey’s game of cat and mouse is infectious and their desire for each other is burning hot. Readers will agree Barth’s latest is a real nail-biter, especially when it comes to whether Casey will ever gain enough courage to spill the beans about her secret.” ~ RT Book Reviews
When Casey Hobbes got an eyeful of the half-naked man emerging from Seneca Lake, she pulled onto the shoulder without even signaling. She could justify the move because he was technically breaking the no swimming after sunset posted rule, even though she was off-duty. Much of her job as a New York State park ranger comprised of reminding people that rules were for their safety. But deep down? Casey wasn’t even kidding herself. It was that impossibly broad chest and shock of dark brown hair mussed over the top of the scuba mask that drew her like a moth to a bug zapper.
Moving fast now, he emerged the rest of the way from the water. It was black, the same color as the night sky above. So although he wasn’t pale, his legs starkly contrasted his surroundings, making him easy to spot in the moonlight. His long, strong legs. Well muscled. Casey liked the looks of a man who worked out. She couldn’t stand the over-pumped gym rats who resembled nothing more than anatomically correct balloon people. No, this guy was just hot. Yummy hot. S’mores melting over a campfire hot.
Or maybe not so hot. ’Cause he’d wrapped his arms around himself without even removing the scuba tanks strapped onto his back. Even from across the road she could tell he was shivering. See? It didn’t pay to break the rules. What kind of idiot didn’t wear a wetsuit, even in June, to dive in the Finger Lakes? Casey swung her Jeep into the parking lot of the lakefront park and grabbed for the emergency space blanket she kept tucked behind the passenger seat.
Sticking her head out the window, she asked, “Sir, do you need help?”
He shook his head. But his teeth were chattering so hard he couldn’t actually answer. Geez. Why were the hot ones always so dumb? With a sigh, she hopped out. Hurried over, unsnapped the belt at his waist where the flashlight hung and slipped the straps of his gear down his bare arms with no resistance from him. Probably because his arms were absolutely ice cold. Now they hung limp at his sides.
So she wrapped the blanket around him tight herself. Its foil crinkling scared a flock of geese straight up into the starry sky. Casey rolled her eyes up toward the Big Dipper in exasperation. Great. What was she supposed to do with a six-foot-tall mansicle frozen in place at the edge of the lake? Knowing body heat was the quickest way to deal with hypothermia, she wrapped her arms around him, too. Tried not to notice that it brought her flush against ridged abs. Or how well her head tucked into the hollow of his collarbone.
This was strictly basic first aid. If he were a woman, or a sixty-year-old guy with a pot belly and a bad comb-over, Casey would still be responding the same way. His core temp had to be raised ASAP. But still, it didn’t suck that he was a wall of sheer, solid muscle against her torso. She tucked her thighs and calves along the outside of his, almost hissing at the cold searing every exposed inch between her uniform khaki shorts and the tops of her boots.
Surprised his teeth had stopped chattering already, she jerked her head up. But Casey couldn’t see anything behind his fogged-over mask. Only a well-formed pair of lips beneath it. Generous. Curved up just the tiniest bit. Lips that made her want to throw caution to the wind and start nibbling.
“How do you feel?”
“Cold. Prickly, like I’m getting acupuncture from a hundred doctors all at once.”
Whew. No ambulance needed, then. Just her blanket and time. “That sensation will pass. It’s good news, actually, that you aren’t numb at all.”
“Nope. Definitely not numb.”
Was that a twitch of…seriously…when most of his body still felt like an unthawed surprise from the freezer? Casey released her embrace a split second after he began to push away.
“God, I’m sorry. Really.” He stumbled back a few steps, and his mouth hung open. “That was an involuntary reaction. I mean, you’re beautiful, so it wasn’t entirely involuntary. But it was a purely physical reaction to stimulus. To all of you pressing up against all of me. I swear I’m not trying to accost you.”
Huh. His rapid backpedaling rang true. The stranger appeared to be a genuinely good guy. She’d cut him some slack. Besides, he was still shivering. Whatever little heat she’d imparted to him had all pooled in that overachieving organ tenting the front of his trunks.
“I’m not worried. I can’t imagine anyone committing to hypothermia on the off-chance that a woman might drive by, decide to try to rescue them, and then stick around to get kissed.”
“Kissed? Who said anything about a kiss? Not that I wouldn’t be on board with the idea.” His voice turned smug, even as he tugged the blanket tighter against another round of shivers.
Damn it. Casey certainly hadn’t meant to mention a kiss. She blamed the slip on working overtime three days straight. The height of tourist season here in the Finger Lakes, and yet she’d stupidly offered to cover so one of her rangers could attend a wedding over the weekend. Exhaustion was her only excuse. It had nothing to do with how she could see the leading edge of brown hair across his chest over the crisscrossed top of the blanket.
“Sit down. Pull your knees up to your chest.” Casey led him to the base of a hemlock tree. Put two fingers to his neck. A strong pulse, but slower than normal. She’d better hang with him for a few minutes to be sure it picked back up. Keep him talking to be sure his words didn’t slur or slow down any more. “I don’t think you need a hospital, but I can take you there if you’d like.”
He shook his head, which sent his air hose and mouthpiece flapping. “No way. I’m a man. I can tough this out. But your lake really ought to come with a warning sign.”
Tourists. Always happy to toss blame on someone if they were in any way put out. Casey generally loved the visitors who flocked to the Finger Lakes May through October. She loved watching them be struck by the natural beauty of the area, the charm of the quaint downtown. But in her occasional role as an enforcer of rules, they tended to drive her nuts. This one was no exception. Although he was much, much better looking than the usual complainer. That made it a little easier to be patient with him.
“It does. It says no swimming after sunset.” She pointed to the wooden sign clearly visible, less than ten feet away. “That’s why I came over here in the first place.”
“Why?” His lips quirked into another smile. “Are you the swimming police? A cape-less and more stringent version of Aquaman?”
Funny. And anyone who could tease a grin out of her while this tired was a miracle worker. Or at least someone worth getting her flirt on with. “No. I’m a ranger with the New York State Park Service. Saving people from their own, nature-induced stupidity is all in a day’s work.” Casey sank to the grass beside him. Ran her fingers in a slow arc across the soft blades to help resist the urge to rub his arms. Or really, rub anything else within reach.
“I’m not stupid. What I am is fully certified to scuba dive. I’ve gone night-diving dozens of times all around the world. In open oceans. Under conditions far more treacherous than a placid lake.” The smugness was gone, replaced by a generous helping of pissyness. As if her words, and strict adherence to the rules, had threatened his very manliness.
“But you’ve never done it in this lake, I’ll bet. Seneca Lake is special. More than six hundred feet deep. So even though the top ten feet or so warm up in the summer, everything deeper than that stays right around forty degrees.”
He shook his head, as if still confused. “It’s the middle of June.”
“Which is why the top layer is warm,” she said patiently. It was a phenomenon she explained dozens of times every summer.
“You’re right. I let my enthusiasm get the better of me. I should’ve asked around and gotten informed before jumping into a new environment. No clue it was so deep. Usually I’m much more painstaking with my research.” More crinkles of the foil as he shrugged. “I screwed up.”
Impressive. She couldn’t wait to tell her friends about him. Not that they’d believe her. “Wow. A man who admits he’s wrong? I thought those were a myth.”
“I’ll go you one better. Not only can I admit I’m wrong. I’m going to apologize, too.” With the back of his hand, he shoved the goggles to the top of his head. “I’m sorry my stupidity disrupted your evening.”
Flutter. Double flutter. Yup, that was her heart sputtering at the combination of the reveal of his handsome face paired with an apology. Wide-set eyes under straight brows gave him a disarmingly rugged look. Now that she could see his whole face, Casey was hooked. The only problem being that darkness kept her from telling the exact color of the eyes staring into hers so earnestly.
“That’s okay. I didn’t have any plans.” Casey regretted the words before her mouth stopped moving. Way to sound both desperate and boring at the same time. On top of her lecture about the lake rules, she must be coming off about as attractive as a crotchety spinster of a frontier schoolmarm.
He reached out to tug at the end of one of her long, blond braids. “A beautiful woman like you? That’s hard to believe.”
“That’s a line,” she countered. “And not a particularly good or inventive one.”
“My brain’s still thawing out. Give me five minutes and I promise I’ll do better. Much better.”
“I’ll give you ten. But you’d better not disappoint me.”