Meena has a secret guarded closely by her family—a secret as dangerous as the sea and buried just as deep. When court-appointed community-service workers are assigned to Flukes, the family-owned animal sanctuary, everyone is on high alert. It doesn’t help that Meena finds herself attracted to sexy-as-sin Blake Weathering, one of the new workers. If he wasn’t so distracting, she might be able to land Flukes a much-needed cruise-line contract.
Blake Weathering, the first in his family to attend public school, has developed a tough image. Unfortunately, it lands him in trouble. Now banned from his high school graduation ceremony, getting his diploma is dependent upon a community-service gig cleaning up fish crap. No diploma, no trust fund fortune—and no way to escape his overbearing father. The last thing he needs is the distraction of a mysterious girl with teal eyes who pulls at his heartstrings.
When Blake discovers Meena’s secret, they are both thrown into a desperate search for information about her past. Two worlds pull them in opposite directions, and they will have to fight to hold on to all that really matters.
“He’s friendly.” Blake’s voice was amused and he automatically scratched under Mitch’s chin. She squee’d loudly and spit water at his face.
“Mitch is a girl.” He held his hands up to ward off her wet assault and I couldn’t help but laugh. He didn’t seem irritated by Mitch’s antics, just amused and wet.
“My apologies, Mitch. I did think it was weird that you were so pretty if you were a boy.” Blake reached out a hand and scratched her chin again. He looked at me from the corner of his eyes. “Did you tell her to do that?”
“What? Oh, the splashing? No. She’s just sensitive.” Jallia came over and rolled onto her side. I traced my hands over her belly and cooed under my breath. The baby was healthy and happy. He was going to be a big boy. “Not long now, Jallia. You’re going to have your son out and playing in no time.”
Mitch nosed her mother for a minute, checking the baby as well. After a minute, Stormy started making noises about being hungry and I laughed. I set the fish bucket between Blake and Ime. “Here, feed them, but don’t let them knock the bucket over.” Mitch rose out of the water and flopped onto the decking between us. “Mitch! You got my clothes wet!” I yanked the bucket out of the way and pushed Mitch back into the water.
Stormy darted through the water and opened his mouth for Blake to deposit some fish. It didn’t take us long to empty the bucket and I enjoyed answering Blake’s questions. He was smarter than I had given him credit for.
“Are these markings from the other dolphins? They look like teeth scrapes.” Blake leaned close to Stormy and peered at the teeth rakings on his melon.
“Yeah. Some of them are from playing, roughhousing. Some of them are from being irritating. He is a nosy guy.” I ran my hand over Stormy’s head. “Most of them fade pretty quickly. They shed their skin every two hours.”
“Wow. Didn’t know that.” Blake looked down at the water and frowned. “So my legs are covered in dead dolphin skin. Nice.”
He was so engrossed at looking at his legs in disgust, I couldn’t help myself. It was the perfect chance to get payback for his insulting Flukes. I shoved his shoulder, pushing him into the water. “Now it’s all over you.”
Mitch laughed her dolphin laugh, but Jallia scolded me. When Blake came up sputtering, he glared at me. Mitch spit water at him, but he ignored her and swam to the platform. I thought he was going to sulk until he got closer. He looked up at the last minute and his mischievous smile pulled at the corners of his mouth. His brown eyes twinkled and I knew I was in trouble. I tried to get up and out of the way quickly, but he was faster than I thought. His strong hand closed around my ankle and dragged me into the water. Mitch darted down to me and I grabbed onto her dorsal fin. She surfaced quickly and scolded Blake with sharp whistles.
“She had it coming!” Blake held his hands out in front of him and laughed. He splashed water at me and I returned the favor. Mitch and Stormy joined in, but Jallia swam away, not in the mood for playing. His smile was infectious as he played with the dolphins, not minding when they dunked him or pushed him around. I found myself watching more than playing because I liked seeing him look so happy.
“You had it coming first. Calling Flukes a hellhole.” I laughed at his fake hurt look.
“I apologized! And it’s not like I didn’t notice that I was getting all the crap jobs last week.” He pretended to hold his heart. “I’ve paid my dues. What else can you want from me?”
“Fine. We’re even.” I rolled my eyes and shifted a little farther away from him.
There was something compelling about him, something that made me want to be closer. He was dangerous.
“Looks like you lost something.” He tapped his head and I frowned.
“Ugh. My hat.” I looked around and saw it floating toward the sandy bottom. I took a deep breath that I didn’t need and dove after it. When I came back up, Blake was looking at me with wide eyes. “What? It’s my favorite.”
“How deep is this part of the cove?” He looked down and frowned. “What? Eighteen, twenty feet?”
“Something like that.” This part of the cove was twenty-eight feet. Mentally, I berated myself for being so stupid. I should have sent Mitch or Stormy after my hat, but I didn’t want teeth marks on it.
“Heh.” Blake looked at me, his eyebrows drawn together.
I hauled myself onto the platform and felt his eyes following me, making my heart jump in my chest. He pulled himself out of the enclosure and peeled his shirt off.
The boy was gorgeous and he knew it. The exact kind of guy I should avoid at all costs. He twisted the shirt in his hands, wringing as much water out as he could.
“What next?” Blake slung the wet shirt over his shoulder.
The water droplets that ran down his chest drew my attention like a moth to flame. My fingers itched to touch him. I scrambled to my feet and backed away from him slowly while squeezing the edge of my shirt. Needing a distraction, I picked up the bucket and turned toward the ladder.
“The others should be here soon. I need to go help Dad with the assignments and then we can come up with a plan for the crews.” I didn’t look back at him after climbing the three short rungs, trying to shake the weird spell he seemed to have on me.
About Nichole Chase:
Nichole Chase is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Suddenly Royal, The Accidental Assassin, Flukes, The Dark Betrayal Trilogy, and several short stories.
Nichole lives in Georgia with her husband, energetic daughter, superhero dog, Sulcata tortoise, and two cats. When not writing, you may find her reading, painting, crafting, or chasing her daughter around the house while making monster noises.