Excerpt From Deadrise

“I’ve got it.” Griff slung it onto his shoulder. He nodded to her shoes. “You might want to take them off. The boards have a lot of gaps.”

She peered past the flare of her black dress pants to her matching black Gucci pumps and then took a step back, meeting him stare for stare. “Okay? I appreciate the warning, but I can handle it.”

There was no way in hell she was walking barefoot. If he meant to reduce her to a sniveling girly girl, he’d misjudged her quiet demeanor. Robbie reached up to his wide shoulder and slid the bag off and back onto hers. “Nash. I’m good.” She shut the trunk and motioned for him to lead the way.

“You’re sure?”

Damn it. He was laughing at her, maybe not with his mouth, but definitely with his eyes.

“I’m sure.” She motioned again for him to precede her, but he held his ground.

Okay. Ladies first.

The weathered boards creaked with every step. With Griff behind her, the pier became a tightrope and the quicker she got off it, the less scrutiny she’d be under.

Water slick as oil splashed against the moorings below where a dark twin outboard was moored. Her father, already seated at the center console behind the wheel, leaned over the back of the seat. “Robbie, come on, girl. I’m starving.”

That was her line, and she was moving just as fast as her high-heeled pumps allowed. The added attention only infuriated her. She picked up the pace and then stopped, completely immobile. Crap! She pulled her foot up from the heel lodged tight between the boards of the pier. But the heel remained rooted, causing her and her heavy overnight bag to list to the right. She didn’t even want to hear, I told you so.

Not from Griff.

“You shouldn’t have come, bright eyes,” Griff whispered against her ear.

Robbie’s stomach fluttered in that womanly way when she was attracted to the opposite sex. He knew exactly what he was doing. He’d called her that once before when they were young. Robbie took a deep breath. She had been unsure of boys at the age of fifteen. But at twenty-nine, she’d long since learned how to handle flirtatious men. His games weren’t going to work on her now.

The weight of her bag slid off her shoulder, and strong arms lifted her from her shoes into his arms. “My—”

“I’ve got them,” he said, and with minimal effort leaned down allowing her bottom to rest against his thighs while he yanked her shoes free. Griff handed her off to her father who steadied her once her bare feet hit the cold metal of the boat deck.

“Got her,” Skip called out.

Griff untied the moorings and hopped in, dropping her shoes to the deck, the metal echoing hollow against the pitch of night.

“I’ll turn her about,” Skip called out as the boat purred to life. He hit the throttle, and the boat lurched.

Robbie flew forward, the gray decking of the boat growing closer. A strong hand gripped her arm.

“Find a seat,” Griff ordered.

No . . . really? What did he think she was trying to do? Fall on her ass?

But rather than make a case for his domineering attitude, she grabbed the closest bench and sat, her back pressed against the rear seat of the boat. The icy spray of the bay dotted her face. Shoeless, she sat, her toenails painted in L’Oréal’s Pink Fusion Coral, and she curled them under. Her once tidy hair pulled at the knot against her nape, escaping into flyaway wisps.

Griff and her father stood at the console talking. Their conversation left to her imagination. The twin motors, located directly behind her, revved at high speeds, drowning out their words.

She could handle this. But first she needed her shoes. She’d be kidding herself if she hadn’t fantasized about meeting Nash someday in the future—but on her terms. Somehow windblown, barefoot, and struggling to put a pair of shoes on wasn’t how she had pictured it. Those feelings of imperfection she’d suppressed for so long came screaming back, and she closed her ears and refused to listen. Spying her black pumps bumping along the deck, she inched forward off the bench. They were too far to snatch with her feet. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been on a boat, but the motion unnerved her. Standing was the last thing she should do. But they were so close.

Robbie concentrated. She took several deep breaths and pushed up to a standing position. The boat hit the water hard, and she hit the bench full-force with her bottom and grimaced when the pain shot up her spine.

Griff glanced over his shoulder, followed her line of sight, and smiled. He patted her father on the shoulder, said something that made Skip laugh, and the warm flush so easily provoked by Griff when she was a teen crept up her neck.

He grabbed her pumps and started toward her. Robbie swallowed and considered the inky black water surrounding her when he sat down next to her and handed over her shoes. “I meant what I said.”

The pressure of his service weapon poked her hip, a reminder things had changed since she’d been gone.

Robbie slipped her shoes on and pushed away from his warm thigh pressed up against her leg. She eyed him speculatively. “He called me.” She glanced at Skip.

With the motors running top speed—Skip enjoyed opening up on the bay—she was sure he couldn’t hear their conversation. But still, this wasn’t discreet. They were yelling to compete with the rumble of the motors in the back of the boat. Surprisingly, her father’s attention was drawn dead ahead, which made sense, the obstacles at night in the bay could get you killed if you weren’t paying attention.

Griff nodded toward Skip. “He told me. But Skip doesn’t always think things through.”

Like she didn’t know that, but there was something in her father’s voice when he’d called that Robbie couldn’t ignore. “I’m here now. He needs a lawyer.”

“I’ll get him one.” He moved closer and bent his head toward her. “Robbie, these guys play for keeps. Having you around is only going to make things worse for him.”

Robbie gripped the bench. “Don’t tell me my job.”

“Are you here officially?”

The truth was no. They didn’t know she was here. She didn’t want them to know. “From what you’re telling me, he needs protective custody.”

“Answer the question.”

She leveled her gaze on him. Of course, level for Griff had her craning her head up in an uncomfortable position. “Not officially.”

He stood. “I’m turning this boat around. You’re going home.”

She grabbed his arm. “I’ll pull rank on you. This is federal.”

“You making it official, Special Agent Duncan?”

“Damn right.”