By: Melissa Landers

Her face lit up as she pointed toward the simulator room. “You go ahead. I’ll slip into my swimsuit and meet you there.”

He tried not to watch her as she walked away, but he didn’t quite succeed. “Best shore leave ever,” he muttered under his breath.

Solara elbowed him. “You’re not really considering this, are you?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“What about Cassia?”

At the mention of her name, Gage perked up and began peering around the room for her. “Yeah, she’s cute. Did she come with you?”

Kane snapped his gaze to Gage’s.

“Whoa.” Gage flashed both palms. “Never mind.”

“Oh, they’re just friends,” Doran said in a sarcastic tone that was going to get his ass kicked if he didn’t knock it off. “So you’ve totally got a shot with her.”

Kane refused to lose his temper. This job offer was the first decent thing to happen to him in two years, and he wouldn’t ruin it by thinking about Cassia. Anyway, she’d made her feelings clear—she didn’t need him. So he put her out of his mind and strode to the beach simulator, calling over his shoulder, “You know where to find me. And by the way, yes. I’m really considering it.”

Half an hour later, he and Shanna were kicked back in the sand, wearing next to nothing and doing their best to manufacture sunburns. His mood had lifted, and he had her to thank for it. Her smile was infectious, she laughed at his jokes, and although he made a concerted effort to keep his eyes on her face, he couldn’t help noticing she rocked a bikini like nobody’s business.

But mostly he enjoyed talking to her. He hadn’t expected the conversation to flow so easily, or to learn they had so much in common. It turned out her father had cut and run before she was born, exactly as Kane’s dad had done. She’d grown up poor, too, and just like him, she’d learned at an early age to charm her way out of trouble. Her apprenticeship with a textile corporation had taken her to settlements he’d never heard of, and listening to her stories confirmed how much he could learn from her.

When the conversation began winding down, he traced a finger through the warm sand between their beach towels and told her, “Thank you for this. I almost forgot what it felt like to have fun.”

She watched him for a long moment, then settled a hand on top of his. “It sounds like you need a change.”

“I think I do.”

“So what’s holding you back? I can tell there’s something.”

More like someone. But he didn’t want to think about her.

“I know we just met,” Shanna told him, “but I’m a pretty good judge of character. I know you have a lot to offer, and I think we’d make a great team.”

He nodded. Gage was right. The two of them would be unstoppable.

“I also think we have a connection.” She turned toward him, propping herself on one elbow to bring her face closer to his. “I’m not imagining that, am I?”

Kane’s pulse hitched at her nearness. He found himself angling his body toward hers. “No, it’s not your imagination.”

The air between them seemed to thicken.

Time slowed down.

Neither of them moved or breathed until he reached out and took her cheek in one hand. He didn’t know what had prompted him to do it—he barely knew this girl. Maybe he was caught up in the moment, or maybe some small part of him wanted to get back at Cassia for hurting him. Either way, Shanna didn’t tell him no. She didn’t reject him or recite a list of reasons why they couldn’t be together. There was no regret in her eyes, only encouragement. And when her gaze dipped to his mouth, he knew what she wanted him to do. More important, he knew that whatever happened next, she wouldn’t call it a “slipup.”

So he went for it. He kissed her.

The moment their lips met, he released a sigh as a thrill passed through him. Her mouth was soft and warm, and she knew how to use it. But when he angled his face to deepen the kiss, his gut twisted, and not in a good way. She tasted wrong. She smelled too sweet. He could feel his body rejecting her.

He forced himself to keep going, hoping the kiss would eventually feel right if he gave it a chance. But a few beats later, he knew deep down that he’d made a mistake. He had just decided to pull away when the door behind them banged open, and they flinched apart, bumping each other’s faces.

Kane glanced at the doorway to find Doran and Solara staring at him. His breath caught, and he had to remind himself he hadn’t done anything wrong. He and Cassia weren’t a couple; this wasn’t cheating.

But one look at their pale faces and he knew that wasn’t the problem.