The Hemsworths apparently had another brother, and he was a lifeguard at Barking Beach.
The guy’s name actually happened to be Liam, but Cody Grant thought he resembled Chris—thirties, six-three and muscular, with short, tousled, sandy-blond hair. His beard was a bit more than scruff but not too thick, and his eyes were deep blue. Very Thor, minus the long locks and magic hammer.
As Liam Fox peeled off his blue uniform shirt, he certainly looked like a superhero, revealing a six-pack—or, holy shit, was that an eight-pack?—with hair sprinkled perfectly over his pecs.
A woman jogging across the sand openly stared and then stumbled, red-faced. Same, girl, Cody thought, watching Liam race into the surf with a rescue board. Same.
Cody and his fellow trainee, Mia, were at the north end of Barking Beach for orientation, which had been interrupted by a middle-aged man flailing in the water, having gotten in over his head, literally, when he’d stepped off a sandbank. Cody, Mia, and head lifeguard Teddy stood watching Liam haul the gasping man onto his board.
By them a sign read:
DANGEROUS CURRENTS: NO SWIMMING
There was even a picture of a stick figure swimming with a giant red X over it. Cody squinted out at the dozen people in the water directly in front of the sign. “People just don’t read, I guess?”
Teddy laughed. “Nope. Welcome to Barkers. I like to start with a little talk here by the water, and now Foxy’s giving us a rescue demo. Couldn’t have planned it better if I tried. As you can see, people can get into trouble in a blink. Especially tourists. And they will, because the one thing you can count on is bloody tourists not paying attention to the warnings.” He grinned, the white sunblock on his lips giving him a ghoulish look.
Liam—Foxy, which was a fitting nickname if Cody had ever heard one—had paddled the middle-aged man the ten meters or so back to shore and was pointing down the beach toward the safe swimming area marked by red and yellow flags.
Teddy said, “Even when the surf is gentle like this, people can get themselves in trouble by panicking. And you’ve both been clubbies for a few years, so you know how rough it can get in the impact zone when the swells are up and those waves really hit.”
Mia said, “I joined Nippers when I was five, and I got my SRC when I was thirteen. So I was a clubbie for more than a few years.” She gave Teddy a nervous smile. “Um, for the record.”
There was a hint of a smirk on Teddy’s sun-worn face. He was around forty, wrinkles in the corners of his eyes and pale hair buzzed short. “I know, Ms. Jee. That’s one of the reasons you’re here.”
Cody hadn’t earned his Surf Rescue Certificate until he was sixteen, but to be fair, he’d only moved to Western Australia from Canada and joined the local Surf Life Saving Club at thirteen. His swimming experience had been in pools and lakes until then. He didn’t share any of this since it was irrelevant—he’d damn well earned this opportunity.
Teddy said, “We had dozens of people try out this season for the two trainee spots. Both of you are qualified and don’t need to prove anything. Except out there.”
Cody inhaled the briny air and dug his toes into the wet sand, gazing out at the crystal-clear blue water of the Indian Ocean. Gulls cried, bickering over some scraps. People swam, most splashing safely in the shallows. Others relaxed on the beach, dozing or reading. It wasn’t insanely crowded yet since it was still spring, but Cody knew thirty thousand people could cram onto the single kilometer of sand and sea.
Liam jogged back to them, holding the handle of the long rescue board. He was soaking wet, glistening drops of water caught in his chest hair, his navy uniform board shorts clinging to his meaty, sculpted thighs. He slid the board back into its metal holder on the sand by the danger sign, bending to fiddle with something. Across his incredibly fine ass, the shorts read: LIFEGUARD in white block letters.
“Good work, Foxy!” another lifeguard called as he drove up in one of the ATVs and hopped out. “Showin’ off for the newbies, hey?” He pushed up his Ray-Ban sunnies and grinned with a slightly horsey mouth full of teeth. His ginger curls were damp, and he gave Cody and Mia an enthusiastic handshake.
“Hiya! I’m Brandon, but everyone calls me Ronnie.”
Cody tried to puzzle out the nickname. “Ronnie?”
“The hair,” Ronnie said. “Ronald McDonald.”
“Oh! Gotcha.” Cody could see it, actually, with the toothy grin and gangly frame. Ronnie seemed about twenty, Cody’s age.
Ronnie said, “You giving them the same inspirational speech you gave me a couple years ago, Cyclone?”
Teddy shrugged. “Pretty much.” His name was Edward Tracy, and apparently there was some famous cyclone from back in the day that was called Tracy—hence the “Cyclone” nickname. Teddy seemed pretty laid-back to Cody, and the nickname might have been ironic. There could be many layers to Aussie nicknames, although some were just whacking an “o” or “y” on the end.
Teddy cleared his throat. “Here goes. You’re both starting at the bottom. Over the next seven months, if you swim to the top, I might have jobs for you next season, or even over the winter since we patrol the beach all year. The first step is passing your traineeship and qualifying. So work hard and be willing to learn. Et cetera, et cetera.” He was holding two official turquoise, long-sleeved uniform shirts, which he handed over. “Try not to stuff up too badly.”
Ronnie hopped back in the ATV. “As rousing as ever, mate! That’s why they pay you the big bucks!” He drove off with a wave.
Teddy grinned. “Also, taking the piss out of each other is always encouraged.”
The lightweight shirts provided sun protection and were emblazoned front and back with LIFEGUARD. Mia pulled hers on over a navy bathing suit, freeing her long, dark ponytail from the collar. She was of Malaysian descent, and after the final trainee competition, Cody had heard an old guy hanging around the beach call her a “wee stunner,” even though she was five-ten and actually two inches taller than Cody.
Cody wore navy boardies like all the other guys. Liam’s still clung to his thighs distractingly, and Cody really wished he would put his shirt back on. He was trying to be a professional here. Liam’s face was distracting enough—those cheekbones—let alone his bare chest dripping wet. With those red nipples looking so…bite-worthy.
Is that a word? Wait, don’t answer that. Focus!
Liam solemnly handed over their navy LIFEGUARD baseball caps. Cody curved the stiff brim so it would fit better. He’d just had his brown hair trimmed short, and he smoothed the cap on his head. They’d already received their lifeguard-branded jackets, sweatshirts, and other gear, but it was nice to have a little ceremony of sorts.
“Looking good.” Teddy gave Cody and Mia the shaka sign surfers used—thumb and pinky finger extended and three middle fingers curled in. “Now you’ve got to live up to the title. It doesn’t say ‘trainee’ on your shirts. With members of the public, you’re full-fledged lifeguards. Ready for your first day? Whaddya reckon, Foxy?”
“Too right they are,” he answered in a sexy rumble of a voice, giving a serious nod.
It was still surreal to Cody that he’d achieved his goal. He’d been coming down to Barking Beach—really Barkininy Beach or just “Barkers” to the locals—since he’d moved to Perth. He’d absolutely idolized the lifeguards in blue. Also lusted after them, but what gay teenage boy wouldn’t?
“Foxy’s the senior lifeguard on duty today, so he’ll keep an eye on you two while I’m doing paperwork in the office,” Teddy said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder toward the squat council building in the distance beyond the grassed area and parking lot. “Don’t be too hard on ’em, Foxy. Wait ’til their second day for scrubbing the shower block.”
A hint of amusement tugged Liam’s lips. “We’ll see how this arvo goes.” He scratched his throat, the scrape of his beard audible, and yep, that was another tug of lust in Cody’s belly. The afternoon—“arvo” to many Aussies—would be a disaster if Cody didn’t focus.
He vowed right there to only think of Liam Fox by his real name, because “Foxy” was way, way too on the nose. Lusting over another lifeguard was not in the job description. Forget Liam’s broad shoulders and gorgeous blue eyes. Also his red nipples and wet abs. And he probably had a great smile. Cody hadn’t seen him truly smile yet, but he imagined it would light up his handsome face, and—
Hello, that’s not how you stop lusting over a colleague!
He and Mia followed Liam across the sand to the lifeguard tower, and Liam asked, “You know what ‘Barkininy’ means?”
Mia eagerly answered, “It means ‘bite’ or ‘biting’ in the indigenous Noongar language.”
“Very good,” Liam said. He seemed much more serious and official than Teddy did, even though Teddy was the boss.
Cody had known the meaning too and tried not to resent Mia for answering before him. He said, “It’s an apt name for the beach. The rips can be brutal, huh? I heard there’s been a big spike in drownings and near-drownings along with the influx of tourists after Barking was named Australia’s top beach a few years back.” He cringed at himself. Like this is news to Liam? He works here!
Liam dutifully said, “You two have done your homework. So you know there are three openers on at five. First light is around five-ten this time of year, and it’ll get earlier as we head into summer. There are usually six people on shift through the day—more during the silly season or if it’s a scorcher. As trainees, you’ll be shadowing us, and also patrolling on your own if need be.”
“The silly season” was the Christmas school holidays, when beach attendance would explode as the temperature rose. It was mid-October now, and the beach was busy already.
Liam finally pulled his shirt on over his head, most of the water that had hung on his skin now evaporated in the sunshine. Not that Cody was looking too closely or anything. There was a reddish, oval AFL football tattooed on Liam’s right arm, so he must have been a big fan of the sport.
Mia twisted her fingers together as they crossed the sand, and Cody wanted to tell her to breathe. He was nervous as hell, but he could imagine it was ten times worse for her. There had been the odd female lifeguard in the past, but at the moment the service on Barking Beach was entirely male.
A young family watched their lifeguard procession curiously from under their bright umbrella, and Cody waved to the toddler, the girl clapping in delight and waving back, nearly stomping her little sandcastle in her excitement as her parents laughed. Cody laughed too, the knot of tension loosening a few degrees.
I’ve got this. I’m not going to stuff it up.
The wide-windowed lifeguard tower sat in the center of the one-kilometer stretch of beach, one story high, with a concrete ramp in the back that zigzagged up from a narrow access road along the park. The ground floor of the tower was a garage and storage area where the buggies and boards and other equipment were locked up nightly.
Liam led the way up the flight of wooden stairs from the sand to a landing and the main door on the side of the tower. A sign read:
ONLY KNOCK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY OR SERIOUS INQUIRY
Cody smiled to himself. He could tell the council had created that formal, wordy sign. Being ushered inside that door by Chris Hemsworth’s lifeguard doppelganger was possibly the most epic moment of Cody’s life thus far, and he took a moment to savor it.
Up a few steps to the right was the semicircle main area, the front windows curving to give a clear view to the south end of the beach and north to a rocky headland. Coogee and Fremantle were up the coast. There was always a steady stream of cargo ships waiting for entry to Freo’s commercial port, and one steamed by in the distance.
“Hiya,” a young man said, sitting in an office chair at the long, low counter—what the Aussies called a “bench,” although Cody still thought of a bench as something to sit on. The counter extended all the way across under the windows. There were a couple of landline phones, notepads and pens, and a computer monitor showing the CCTV feeds from tower cameras.
The blond man wheeled around with a grin. “I’m Damo. Welcome to Barking Central.” He nodded to the guy beside him in another office chair, who was peering out at the northern end of the beach through binoculars. “This is Hazza on the binos.”
“G’day.” Hazza only looked away from the water for a moment to smile before peering back out. He was in his late twenties, with dark skin, his almost-black hair shaved around the sides and curly on top.
Cody supposed Damo’s name was actually Damian, and Hazza was likely Harry or Henry. At school, Cody’d somehow been called “Sneezy” for a few months because he—wait for it—sneezed a few times on the first day. “Codes” he could deal with, but he hoped to avoid anything ridiculous.
Damo tucked his long, shaggy hair behind an ear and said, “Welcome to the best job in the world. Sun, surf, and heaps of topless chicks.” He gave Cody an exaggerated wink and said, “Don’t let ’em distract you too much.”
Here it was already, Cody’s golden opportunity to announce that he was gay. He opened his mouth and… No. He aborted, instead laughing and keeping his smile in place as Hazza told a story about meeting his now ex-girlfriend on the beach back when he was a trainee and how jealous she’d been whenever he rescued anyone young and pretty.
Cody still had a chance to clarify that he was gay, but his gut told him to hold off. He sure as hell wasn’t going back in the closet, but he’d let himself get through the first day—maybe the first week or two—before he declared himself. It wasn’t his style to lay low, and it made him antsy. But strategically, it made sense to let the guys get to know him first.
Damo said, “This one time, there was a chick who—” He broke off, looking at Mia and chuckling awkwardly. “Actually, since we’re co-ed this season, I should be more politically correct. Didn’t mean any offense.”
Cody glanced at Mia, whose brow furrowed as she said, “None taken.”
“Cool.” Damo whirled back around, catching himself on the drawer-less counter before he picked up binoculars and looked to the south.
Liam said, “You should be more professional on duty no matter who’s working.”
“I know.” Damo winked over his shoulder. “It’s a good thing I’m so charming, hey?”
Hazza dryly said, “Good thing.” After a beat he added, “And strangely single.”
They laughed, and Liam said to Mia and Cody, “Look, we’re all mates here, and we have fun, but we know when to be serious too.”
Damo shot Liam a raised eyebrow. “Some of us more than others. Just saying.” He turned back to the window.
Liam chuckled, but it was awkward, his big body hunching. He scratched the back of his neck and stared at his bare feet. Considering he looked like a freaking movie star, he seemed suddenly uneasy in his own skin. It was curious, and Cody almost squeezed his arm, wanting to reassure him. Fortunately, he kept his hands to himself.
The radio by Hazza crackled. “North end to Barking Central. Got a couple of heads out the back. Croc’s waking up. Might have to go for a paddle.”
Looking through the binoculars, Hazza muttered, “Yep. They’re floundering. Just off the sandbank. Looks like two teenage girls.” He spoke into the walkie. “Copy that, Ronnie. I’ve got eyes on them.”
Damo wheeled over next to him and peered through his own binoculars, both of them staring intently, all joking vanished. Cody squinted into the distance, but the tower was too far away to really see anything without assistance. Hazza said into the radio, “Yeah, you’d better get wet. Doesn’t look like they can swim a bloody stroke.”
The tinny voice said, “Yep, Central, I’m in.”
As Damo went back to surveying the rest of the beach, Cody and Mia crowded in behind Hazza eagerly. Hazza spoke through the radio. “Nicky, Ronnie needs a hand out the back of the Croc.”
“Double rescues can be tricky,” Liam said, grabbing a spare pair of binoculars. “If someone’s free, always best to get backup.” He stared out for a few moments, then passed the binoculars to Cody, leaning close, a big hand on Cody’s shoulder as he pointed. His breath tickled Cody’s cheek, his voice low. “See them? You know how to focus the binos?”
It was warm in the tower with the midday sun, despite the AC unit chugging in the corner and fans mounted on the ceiling. Sweat gathered under the brim of Cody’s cap, his skin prickling. “Uh… Yep, got them. Thanks.” Liam moved over to Mia, and Cody breathed deeply, adrenaline pumping as he watched the rescue unfold.
Barking’s regular rip current was nicknamed “the Croc,” and the name said it all. As the tide got lower, the current pulled water out at a few meters per second in a merciless funnel. The best way to get out of a rip was not to swim to shore against it, but sideways out of the corridor. Of course, most tourists didn’t know this. Some locals didn’t either, especially if they panicked.
The two girls flapped their arms, trying to fight the current and wearing themselves out. Their heads were close to going under, hair over their faces, waves washing over them. Ronnie kneeled on a long blue rescue board, powering forward with both arms. He had to get through the impact zone where waves broke, paddling against the merciless thrust of the ocean, then angling over and using the rip to get him out quickly.
The exhausted girls clung to Ronnie’s board as he reassured them. Liam said, “It’s tough to balance two patients on the board to take in, so Nicky will come out and collect one of them. You guys know this from being clubbies, but we’re going to go through everything.”
“Absolutely,” Mia said as Cody nodded.
Liam said, “Most of us grew up in the volunteer system too, and you might do the odd rescue, but it’s nothing compared to being a professional lifeguard. The volunteers do a great job up at Coogee and other beaches, but it’s full-on here and getting busier every season.”
“There we go.” Hazza turned away, apparently satisfied as Ronnie and Nicky paddled the patients back into the beach, catching waves to help them along.
Damo asked Cody, “Where were you a clubbie?”
“Mullaloo, in the northern beaches. It can get big, but there aren’t nearly as many people. Mostly locals who usually know better.”
“North of the river! Had a mate move up to Scarborough and never saw him again,” Damo joked, everyone chuckling. “Although I hear the kite surfing’s wicked up there.” He glanced at Cody over his shoulder, giving his blond hair a toss. “What’s that accent?”
“Oh, right. Canadian.” Over the years, he’d picked up a lot of the lingo, but his accent had stayed stubbornly Canuck. After a disastrous attempt to force an Aussie accent to fit in, he’d let it be. “I moved here when I was thirteen.”
“Big move,” Damo said.
“Why’d your family come here?” Mia asked.
“My dad’s from Perth, but he got a scholarship to do his undergrad in Vancouver. Met my mom there. Eventually came back for a post-doc research grant. He’s a scientist.”
“Cool,” Mia said. “Are your folks still up in Mullaloo?”
“Nah, my mom missed skiing too much, and my older sisters went back to Canada for uni, so they’re all in Vancouver again.” No one wanted his life story, so he shut up before launching into how his parents had fully expected him to go with them and attend university back home.
Liam said, “You must miss them.”
“Oh yeah! Doesn’t mean I don’t love them and everything.” Cody was admittedly a little defensive about his choice to stay in Australia. Some people couldn’t imagine living so far away from their family, and sometimes he felt like he was deficient since he was so independent.
“Of course not,” Liam agreed, and Cody couldn’t tell if he meant it. He cursed himself for overthinking. Liam probably didn’t give a crap one way or the other.
“There’s ocean in Vancouver, isn’t there?” Mia asked.
“Oh yeah, but the Pacific Northwest’s not like this. It rains a ton. It’s a lot colder. It’s paradise here. I love it.”
“’Course you do.” Hazza shot him a grin. “This is the greatest spot on Earth, mate. Now we’ll see if you can keep up with the Aussies, eh?”
Damo shook his head. “With those chicken arms? I dunno. Rescue board alone is what? Ten, twelve kilos? Let alone with a patient on top.”
Cody bit back an indignant response about how much he could bench press and that being short didn’t mean he was weak, and he did not have chicken arms! Plus, he was an Aussie now, thank you very much. But if he let teasing get to him the very first day, he’d never make it. He shrugged carelessly. “Pound for pound, chickens are stronger than lions.”
Damo and Hazza glanced at each other, brows creased. “Is that true?” Hazza asked. “Nah, a chook can’t be as strong as a lion. Could it?”
Liam said, “I sincerely doubt it. All right, let’s get you two out there.” He nodded to Mia, who had stood by silently while the guys ribbed Cody. “Ready?”
“Absolutely,” she replied seriously, spine ramrod straight like a soldier at attention.
It was time to actually be a Barking lifeguard. Mia and Cody were issued their walkie-talkies and bum bags holding basic first aid supplies. Damo nodded to the zippered pouch and asked Cody with too much innocence, “What do you call that?”
Cody attached the pouch around his waist. “I know you want me to say ‘fanny pack,’ but trust me, I learned that one the hard way.”
Damo laughed. “Come on, it’s your vagi—” He broke off, looking guiltily at Mia.
Mia calmly said, “You can say ‘vagina’ in my presence. Or ‘fanny.’”
“Just messing with the Canadian.” Damo said. “They’ve got some funny words over there.”
“‘Flip-flops!’” Hazza laughed. “That’s my fave.”
“All right, back to work before we get into a thong discussion,” Liam grumbled, beckoning Mia and Cody to follow him out of the tower and into one of the ATV buggies, this one with orange painted on the roll bar. After dropping off Mia to shadow a lifeguard at the south end of the beach, Liam left Cody with Ronnie farther north and went off on patrol.
Ronnie sat in a parked buggy, his gaze roving over the water. Cody took the other seat, reminding himself to breathe as he surveyed the water and settled in. This was it. He was lifeguarding. Sure, he’d done it as a clubbie, but this was for real. At the lifesaving club, there were always a bunch of volunteers on each shift. There was little pressure. Now he was being paid to be responsible for people’s lives.
Cody admitted, “A little.”
Ronnie laughed easily. “I get it. I was a trainee not too long ago. Got hired on since someone left. Hopefully the same’ll happen for you and Mia. First day’s nerve-racking, but it shouldn’t be too hectic this arvo. Don’t sweat it.”
“Is the second day easier?” Cody adjusted his sunnies, squinting as the sun glittered off the water.
“Nope.” Ronnie grinned. “I still get nervous. Still want to impress. Some of the guys have been doing this for years and years, back when it was just weekends, before all the tourists started coming. One of the senior blokes, Rich—Chalkers, we call him—he’s over fifty and grew up on this beach. Knows it like the back of his hand.”
“So, no pressure.”
Ronnie laughed. “Not a bit. But listen, the fellas are a good bunch. They can be tough on ya, but they just want you to learn and be your best. Try not to take it personally if you get some stick.”
“Cool. Teddy seems pretty mellow?”
“Yeah, he’s good. But he’s always watching. He doesn’t go off too often, but if you deserve it, he will. Not that he yells or anything, but you don’t want to disappoint him. That’s the worst feeling.”
A couple of teenage girls walked by, giggling and whispering. Ronnie gave them a wave, his gaze barely flickering from the water. “Foxy can be a real stickler. He’s wound pretty tight. He’s a good bloke, don’t get me wrong. Just not as chill. With most of the boys, you know from the tone of their voice on the radio how serious a situation is.” He laughed. “Harder to tell with Foxy.”
After twenty minutes of watching and waiting, Liam returned in the orange buggy. He walked over to them and said, “Not much happening.”
As if the universe hissed, “Just watch,” Ronnie’s spine stiffened, his attention zeroed in on something in the water. Cody’s stomach swooped as he scanned the waves and the people swimming there despite the warnings. He didn’t see anyone—
Wait. There. A man floundered off the sandbank, head bobbing under, the rip pulling him out.
“Reckon you’ll be in, mate,” Ronnie said to Cody. “He’s not going to be able to get back.”
Standing at Ronnie’s side, Liam added, “But if you want to watch this one, I can—”
“I’ve got him!” Cody was already tossing his sunnies and cap into the back of the ATV. His radio was clipped to his bum bag, and he unhooked the bag and tossed the lot into the back as well. He was in! He nearly landed on his ass, spinning to grab the long blue rescue board from the carrier on the side of the ATV before bolting for the water.
“Shirt off!” Ronnie yelled after him.
Shit! The fewer clothes on, the faster and lighter he’d be, and drowning patients had less to grab and pull under in their panic. Cody jolted to a stop and yanked off his blue uniform shirt, dropping it to the sand before grabbing the board and racing into the surf, splashing through the shallows and stretching out on his belly on the board, paddling, his arms doing a front crawl, legs kicking in the air. Like most people, keeping them still while he swam hard with his arms was like patting his head and rubbing his belly.
As he reached the shore break, he pushed to his knees and powered with both arms in unison, ducking his head into the frothing, salty wave. The board soared up on the cresting water, the nose lifting, and for a horrible moment he thought he might be pushed back and tumble over as the wave broke.
But then he was over the top, and he paddled against the incoming surf, eyes locked on the bobbing head and hand flailing for help. He realized he was holding his breath and forced an inhalation.
A surfer appeared in his peripheral vision as he caught the rip, and when he reached the man, she was holding him up on her board. Cody almost overshot them, and he sat up straight, straddling the long board. He reached for the man’s arm and hauled him over. To the woman, he said, “Thanks!”
She nodded and paddled away, heading back out to the lineup where surfers waited their turn for the next set. He knew surfers often helped lifeguards, although Cody wondered if he could have been faster to get out. Hazza in the tower was watching him, and probably all the others too. Liam definitely was. Was Cody doing everything he should? He ran through the checklist in his mind.
“You right?” he asked the man, who coughed and sputtered. “You’re okay. Catch your breath.”
The husky, dark-haired, older man didn’t seem to understand him, or if he did, he was possibly in shock. He gasped and clung to the board, draped over it, his legs still in the water. Cody squeezed his shoulder, gauging the incoming swells and the best way to get the patient back to shore.
He’d practiced it many times as a clubbie and in the lifeguarding course he’d taken, but doing it with a volunteer wasn’t the same at all as having an actual shivering, scared person’s life in his hands.
“You’re okay. I’ve got you. Get on your stomach and put your head at the front of the board.” He gave the man’s shoulder a gentle push, and then a firmer one, glancing back at the approaching waves. When he turned, the man’s head was practically in Cody’s lap.
“No, head up front,” Cody repeated, pointing. “That way.” He reached down and tugged one of the man’s thick legs toward him.
The man seemed to get the idea, and he stretched out on his belly with his head facing forward. Cody did the same, his face practically in the man’s butt as he paddled, keeping the patient’s weight toward the back so they didn’t nosedive when the next swell hit. Now he just needed to get the patient to shore without being hammered by a wave.
Glancing back, he paddled hard, hard, hard, and then the surge lifted them with that sensation of flying as they caught the wave, riding the crest of it toward the shore. The patient laughed in delight, and Cody almost did too. They hit the impact zone and didn’t nosedive, instead riding almost all the way, the patient rolling off at the end. Cody helped him up, and Ronnie met them on the sand, Liam watching from the buggies.
After a minute assessing the patient, the man insisted he was fine now and returned to his family on the beach, clearly embarrassed. Ronnie clapped Cody’s wet shoulder. “Nailed it! That was textbook.”
Then Cody saw the smile creasing Liam Fox’s ridiculously beautiful face. It was all white teeth and charming crinkles, and that smile was directed at him. It was beyond stupid to feel a fresh bolt of adrenaline, but he couldn’t resist basking in the attention for a moment.
Grinning, he picked up his shirt by the ATV and shook off the sand, his pulse still racing. His first rescue was in the books, and he’d nailed it.
Hazza’s voice came through the radio. “Chook’s first rescue!”
“Oh God, is that going to be my nickname?” Cody groaned.
Damo’s voice came on. “Go the chook! You legend.”
Ronnie howled with laughter. “Sounds like you’ve got your nickname, Chookie!”
Cody turned to Liam, but he was already back to business, watching the water, his smile gone without a ripple of it remaining on the surface. And no matter how much his logical brain argued against it, Cody’s stubborn soul vowed to make Liam smile again.
Copyright © Keira Andrews
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