Excerpt from A Venture of the Heart

Sage turned back to the jaw-dropping waterfall, wondering if it had a treasure-filled cave behind it like it would in the movies. 

“Time to investigate,” she murmured. She took a deep breath, cutting through the cool water with ease. 

The noise, current, and mist grew stronger the closer she got. After a few attempts at swimming directly at the base, she realized the powerful cascade made reaching it more difficult than she had expected.

She might be cautious, but she wasn’t a quitter. Sage redoubled her efforts and fought through the current, swimming toward the side of the cascade rather than directly at it. She’d always been a strong swimmer and had even lifeguarded her way through college, but this challenge was testing her strength. Her breathing grew rapid and her body strained with the effort. 

Finally, she broke through the strong flow. Laughing in accomplishment, she treaded water directly behind the beautiful blue curtain. She looked around to see a small cavern worn into the rocky wall about the same size and depth as the backseat of her Toyota and completely blocked from view by the falling water. Not exactly a secret cave but still a nice find.

Enjoying the peaceful setting, she gripped the rocky wall and caught her breath. After a few minutes, she let go of the edge and slipped under the water again, ready to return to the shore. Before she could push off the wall, she felt a strong arm wrap around her waist haul her above the water and backwards into a hard, male body. 

Sage yelped in surprise. 

“Are you okay?” Pax asked over the pounding beat of the waterfall, his voice rough with concern.

“I will be when you let me go!” She struggled against him until he dropped his arm. “What the heck was that for?” she demanded, spinning in the water to face him.

Soaking wet and fully clothed, Pax glowered at her. He gripped the rocky ledge with one hand and shoved the other through his wet hair. He looked ticked. Really ticked. “I walked away for a few minutes and when I came back, you were gone.”

“You walked away? Some lifeguard.”

His jaw clenched. “I needed a break.”

“From what? Is watching me swim that hard of a job?”

“You have no idea.” He spoke so low that his words were almost lost in the sound of the cascading water.

“Fine. We can take a break now.” Sage grabbed the ledge, boosted herself out of the water, and scooted over to put some extra space between them.

Pax stared at her with a hard, unreadable expression. “I thought you were hurt.”

He’d been worried about her? Right or wrong, the thought was satisfying.

 “I didn’t mean to scare you.” She shrugged. “I just wanted to see if the waterfall hid a cave full of pirate’s booty.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“What? It could happen,” she said on a quick bubble of laughter.

“Are you a fan of pirates?”

“I admire their spirit of adventure.”

“Seriously. You?” Pax asked, a smile playing around his lips.

“Don’t sound so surprised. People often appreciate qualities in others they lack themselves. Take you for example. Right now, you probably admire people who remember to take their clothes off before swimming.” She patted the spot next to her. “Care to join me?”

Pax sighed and lifted himself out of the lagoon. Water streamed down his face and his muscles contracted in effort. When he positioned himself next to her on the ledge, his size immediately overwhelmed the intimate space. 

His sun-warmed skin smelled amazing. She drew in a long breath of him, and her gaze dropped to his mouth. His full, wet lips were parted slightly and only inches away. If she tipped her head and leaned closer, she could taste him. Her pulse kicked up, and her breathing grew heavy. She wanted his mouth on hers—had never wanted anything so much.

She licked her lips and raised her gaze to meet his. The undeniable desire burning in his eyes made her breath still. He leaned closer, and she groaned.

“Sage?” He breathed her name, a warning in the low, sexy tone.

The tone triggered a memory from the past. A memory of that night by the pool. A memory of craving Pax’s touch more than air. A memory that ended in equal amounts pain and embarrassment.

Rational thought broke through the surreal scene and screamed at her to stop. No way would she let sexual desire control her.

“I have a boyfriend,” she croaked.

Pax’s body, no more than a second away from touching hers, stilled and his expression hardened. He gave a nearly imperceptible nod and leaned away. 

Good. She felt relieved. Right? 

“To be honest, boyfriend is a little inaccurate,” she said, filling the silence before it became too awkward. “We’ve only gone out a few times, but he’s got promise. He’s a banker. So that’s nice. I mean, he’s responsible, which is nice. And other things too, of course. Like, um, punctual, logical, stable.” Holy buckets, she couldn’t seem to stop the ridiculous flow from spewing. “And he loves Wisconsin. We both want to put down roots there. We’re a smart match,” she added weakly before clamping her lips shut in a pained half-cringe, half-smile combo.

“Smart match?” he asked, his expression flat.

“I’ve seen what happens when boyfriends are chosen for the excitement they offer in the present. I plan for the long run instead, and Will is a good fit for my future.”

“Will?”

“William Pembrock, that is. Well, the son, not the father.”

“From the bank?”

“You know him?”

“Oh, yeah,” Pax said with a humorless smile. “My dad loves him.” He scrubbed a rough hand down his face. “Let me get this straight. You’re dating the guy who has final say over my loan?”

She nodded.

“So that makes kissing you an even worse idea,” Pax growled.

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