Nobody But You
Sophie Marren parked her ex-husband’s boat, tied it to the dock with knots she copied off a YouTube video on her phone, and flopped to her back on the fancy sundeck, trying to will away her seasickness.
And yes, she was well aware that parked wasn’t the correct boating term, but then again, neither was the word husband, at least not as it had pertained to her marriage.
She’d made vows and kept them, but her ex? Not so much…
Old news, she reminded herself, and let out a long breath. That was something she was working on, new choices—such as living without the fist of tension around her heart, the constant pressure and fear to try to be something, someone, she wasn’t.
Her glass was going to be half full from now on, dammit, even if it killed her. And it might.
“And yet you now live on a damn boat.” She shook her head at herself. Week one of the new digs and it looked like she wasn’t going to make it to week two.
The early morning was quiet, the only sound being the water rhythmically slapping up against the hull of the boat, then the dock. Boat…dock…boat…dock—“Dammit!” she cried, quickly sitting up before she got even more seasick. She had to get ready for work. But the air was cold—she was cold—and with the boat rocking as it was, she hadn’t yet risked losing an eye to put on mascara.
From somewhere nearby came the song of the morning birds, all chipper and happy, making her wish for a shotgun. She put a hand to her stomach, but it kept doing somersaults. This was because she could get seasick in a bathtub.
Sophie groaned, hoping death came quickly. Cedar Ridge Lake was one of the larger high-altitude lakes in Colorado, and it didn’t help that the winds had kicked up this morning, causing rolling waves across the entire surface.
When yet another gust hit, brushing the strands of hair from her damp face, she risked cracking open an eye. From her vantage point, she could see the impressive Rocky Mountains shooting straight up to the limitless, shocking azure sky marred only by a single white fluffy cloud that resembled a pile of marshmallows.
Her stomach, normally in love with marshmallows, turned over again. “Gah,” she managed, and quickly squeezed her eyes shut just as her cell phone buzzed from the depths of her pocket. She pulled it out and hit answer without looking, since looking would mean opening her eyes again and facing that all of this wasn’t just a bad dream but her life. “Hello?”
“I just wanted you to know I had your car towed to the scrapyard.”
Lucas, ex-husband and the bane of her existence.
“And I had a bonfire with whatever clothes you left in your closet too,” he went on. “So I hope it was worth taking my boat.”
She knew neither of these things was true, because he was too cheap and also a little bit lazy. He simply wanted to punish her for taking his boat. The irony was that she’d wanted nothing from the divorce. Nothing but out. Nothing but the chance to find herself again and not just be an extension of Lucas Worthington III, hotshot lawyer on the rise.
Hindsight being twenty-twenty and all, she now knew she should’ve asked for a small portion of money instead of taking a moral stand and refusing a penny of spousal support or any of their assets. But she’d gone into the marriage with nothing, and in the end she hadn’t wanted anything from Lucas but out. Not a single thing.
When she’d said so to the judge, he’d called her aside and admonished her for cutting off her nose to spite her face, because she was entitled to not walk away penniless.
Hurt at the realization her marriage had been nothing but a sham from the get-go, she’d said fine, she’d take one thing, the one thing she knew Lucas had loved far and above anything he’d ever felt for her—his damn boat.
Petty? Okay, yes. But given that Lucas had managed to have the boat tied up in “renovations” for the past six months since their divorce, and that he’d also managed to get her fired from her office managerial position at a local inn so she’d had to give up her apartment, the joke was on her.
Karma was such a bitch.
Why couldn’t he have loved his huge house? Or the Lexus…Neither of which would be affected by the morning breeze, bobbing up and down and up and down and up and down—
“Oh God.” Clamping a hand over her mouth, she breathed slowly through the nausea.
“I want my Lucas back,” Lucas said, and if she could have, she’d have laughed at the ridiculous ego it’d taken for him to name the vessel after himself, including painting The Lucas on the hull of the boat for all to see.
“Are you even listening to me?” he demanded.
Nope. She wasn’t. She didn’t have to; she had a sheet of paper saying that they were consciously uncoupled, thank you very much. And to prove it, she disconnected the call and then let out a long breath, hoping to die before he called again.
“Hey, what are you doing?” a male voice called out from the direction of the dock.
From flat on her back, Sophie froze. Maybe if she didn’t move he’d assume she was dead and move on.
“You can’t moor here, ma’am.”
Right, moor, not park. She’d known that. But ma’am? What the heck was that? Her mom was a ma’am. Her grandma was a ma’am. Ma’am was for old people, not for twenty-five-year-old women who were desperately trying to get their lives together. Very carefully, Sophie sat up and narrowed her eyes at the guy standing on the dock staring at her.
He was tall, broad, and had the benefit of standing in front of the sun, which meant she could see his outline and little else. But his stance seemed aggressive enough that she felt herself wanting to shrink a little.
Which, for the record, she hated.
But there was a bigger problem. The motion of the boat bobbing up and down, compared to the guy standing on the end of the dock not moving up and down, made her want to toss her cookies. In defense, she lay down and closed her eyes again. “Did you really just call me ‘ma’am’? Because I’m not even close to a damn ‘ma’am.’”
Nope, ask anyone. They’d tell you Sophie Marren was fun and chill, though she didn’t tend to stay the course. She was a starter, not a finisher, as her mom would say, and she was absolutely not grown-up enough to be a ma’am. As proof, she was living on a damn boat, illegally parked while she was at it—oh wait, excuse her, moored.
“Fine,” the guy said. “You can’t moor here…Red.”
At the recognition of her long, wavy, deep auburn—okay, fine, red—hair, she choked out a laugh. He got a point for having a sense of humor. And ah, finally the wind seemed to be settling down. Around her the morning fell silent again. Even the birds shut up. Had the guy left too? Did it matter? Apparently it did, because she sat up—slowly—to look, and then groaned.
He hadn’t left.
He’d shifted, though, coming closer, allowing her a good look at him. Military-short, sun-streaked light brown hair. Square jaw at least two days past needing a razor. Wide shoulders stretching an army T-shirt to its limits. Flat belly. Lean hips encased in camo cargoes. As she watched, he pulled off his reflective sunglasses, revealing eyes the color of one of her favorite things when she wasn’t seasick—chocolate.
But if he felt any insta-attraction for her, he was really good at hiding it, because he looked at his watch like maybe he was in a hurry.
The story of her life, men being in a hurry to get away from her, and she decided right then and there she didn’t like him, hot or not. “This is a public lake,” she said.
“Yes, but you’re tied up to a private dock that belongs to that cabin.” He jerked his chin to the side, indicating the home just behind him.
The lake was multiuse. The west and east shores were owned by the state and were national forest land. There were public campgrounds on the northeast side, with houses on the north shore only.
The cabin that he pointed to was indeed privately owned, but she knew for a fact it was deserted because it’d been up for sale for months. Although—troublesome—the for sale sign had been taken down. Even more troublesome, the shades were raised and the front door was open.
Huh. Her bad.
“I was just taking a short nap,” she said.
One of his eyebrows took a hike nearly to his hairline. “At seven in the morning?”
Yes, well, that’s what happened when one had to keep moving one’s boat so as not to get cited for illegal overnight mooring. Not that she was about to admit that. “Didn’t sleep last night,” she said. The utter truth. “The winds were crazy and the boat never stopped rocking.”
“Using two tie-downs instead of one would help stabilize the boat quite a bit,” he said. “At the bow and at the stern.”
Something that Lucas hadn’t bothered to tell her, of course. “Thanks,” she said, slightly mollified.
“You can moor overnight. You just have to buy a permit for one of the public docks at the campgrounds, or tie up at a private dock—with permission of the owner.”
He was lake patrol, she realized. And a stickler for the rules. Not that she was surprised. The entire male population was on her shit list. Sometimes higher on the list than other times, but that was another story. “I’ll move the boat,” she promised, hoping to appease him enough to make him vanish.
He nodded and…continued to stand there.
Perfect. Still not feeling steady, she managed to get to her feet and sat behind the wheel. That she did so without puking was somewhat of a miracle. But before she could fumble the keys into the ignition, there came the click-click-clicking of heels running down the dock. Sophie turned her head in time to watch with the same muted horror she would’ve watched a train wreck.
A tall, leggy blonde was doing her best to run in painted-on leather pants and matching corset, vastly hampered by her store-bought double D’s bouncing up to her chin with each step of those five-inch stilettos.
“Lucas,” the woman called out. “Oh, Lucas…I’ve got the day off. We can play pirate and captive maiden again!”
Sophie managed to stand up and make herself seen over the windshield. Yep, it was one of Lucas’s regular sidepieces, which made her see red. On the positive side, though, apparently a brain couldn’t be both furious and sick at the same time, because she momentarily didn’t feel like puking up her guts.
“Whoops,” the woman said, skidding to a halt, tugging down the corset a little and very nearly causing a wardrobe malfunction of epic proportions. “I’m looking for Lucas.”
What was her name? Sophie wondered, trying to remember. Brandy? Candy?
“I’m Mandy,” Ms. Camel Toe said, sliding a side glance at Mr. Lake Patrol, who actually scored another point in Sophie’s eyes when he took a quick, dismissive glance and then refocused on Sophie herself.
“I don’t understand,” Mandy said, confused, staring at Sophie now too. “Who are you? And don’t even think of moving in on me. Monday mornings are mine and Lucas’s. Well, every other Monday, because he has very important meetings on the other Mondays. But he’s going to leave his wife for me, so back off.”
“Okay, I’ve got both good news and bad news for you,” Sophie said. “The good news is that he did indeed leave his wife. Me.”
Mandy did a double take. “You’re the coat hanger he dumped?”
Jeez, give up college and then your own life to run your husband’s busy schedule for him and suddenly people see you as a worthless extension of the man instead of being your own woman.
Good thing she was over that and back at work on herself.
Having no idea what she wanted to do for a living had her in temporary stall mode, but she was working on that too. She was doing the best she could at every job she tried. So far things hadn’t exactly panned out, but all she could do was keep looking forward.
Mandy crossed her arms. “So where the hell is Lucas?”
Later Sophie would feel bad for what popped out of her mouth. Much later. “He…passed.” Which, actually, wasn’t a total lie, because if a Mack truck didn’t run her ex over by week’s end, she might just do the deed herself.
Mandy blinked. “Passed as in…passed?”
You’re helping her out here, Sophie told herself. Saving her future heartbreak. So she did her best to look suitably grief stricken as she nodded and braced for hysterics.
But instead Mandy got all red in the face and stomped a stiletto on the dock. “Why, that bastard! He said that he’d had a lot of personal growth lately and he’d come to some life-altering decisions about us! And then he ups and dies? Are you kidding me?”
Sophie didn’t think that a hard-on counted as personal growth. She also felt she deserved a medal for sainthood for refraining from mentioning it.
“I had the diamond ring all picked out, with a matching necklace and bracelet and everything.” Mandy blew out a sigh. “Men suck.”
Now, there was something they could agree on.
“I need to board the boat,” Mandy said, her breasts quivering in indignation. “I left a few things down there that the asshole doesn’t deserve, even in death.”
“Such as?” Sophie asked.
“Lucas gave me a drawer.”
Sophie stared at her for a beat, then whirled and went belowdecks. She indeed found the drawer filled with lingerie and—ew—something in fluorescent pink that required batteries. Rather than touch anything, she yanked out the entire drawer and stormed on deck.
The contents of the drawer flew free and scattered across the dock. Lacy thongs, garter belts, skimpy bras…And last but not least, the fluorescent-pink battery-operated toy, which rolled to a stop at Lake Patrol Hottie’s feet.
And then began to vibrate.
Lake Patrol Hottie stared down at it. “You have a license for this?” he asked.
“It’s not mine!”
Mandy gave a big huff and gathered it up along with the rest of her lingerie, glaring at Sophie like this was all her fault. “I’ll have you know, Lucas loved me and my Rabbit more than you.” Then she whirled and headed up the dock, her heels click, click, clicking, her vibrator humming along in accompaniment.
Sophie sighed into the awkward silence between her and Lake Patrol Hottie. Actually, it was probably just her who felt awkward, because he stood there looking perfectly comfortable and at ease.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said.
“Don’t be. He didn’t really die.” She backed to the bench next to the driver’s seat and dropped onto it in sheer woozy exhaustion. “What I said was that he’d passed. As in he passed on me.”
And that was all she planned on saying on the subject.
But apparently he didn’t get the memo, because he crouched on the dock so that they were eye level and said nothing.
She grinded her teeth. The wind was back, dammit, and the boat began to rock. “Look, I said I’d move. I just need a minute.”
He nodded and…stayed right where he was.
“You don’t believe me?” she asked.
“Just waiting to see if you need any help.”
She eyed him suspiciously, but he seemed to mean it. He really would assist her if she needed it. But she didn’t need it. Not from him. Not from anyone.
Somehow she crawled behind the wheel. She started the boat before suddenly remembering she had to untie it first.
But her lake patrol guy was already on it, handling the ropes like he’d been born to the task, using his foot to push off on the hull so it didn’t scrape against the dock and get damaged. He then tossed the rope into the boat. “You’re good,” he said.
She stared at him. Was he kidding? She wasn’t good. She was a hot mess, and they both knew it. But then again, he’d meant the boat, not her, and she knew that too. Still, she appreciated his unsolicited help. “Thanks,” she said.
He nodded. Waited a beat. “Need help finding the throttle?”
This actually made her smile. “You’re a real charmer, you know that?”
“Yep. I’m fresh off the boat from charm school.”
“Where was it, Timbuktu?”
“Close,” he said, offering no further explanation.
Fine. Whatever. Over mysterious men, over men period, she hit the gas. When she glanced in the rearview mirror a minute later, he was still standing there on the dock, hands shoved in his pockets, watching her go.