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Deputy Ryan Larson frets over his unwanted attraction for the surly Talia Johnson. When pandemonium breaks out on the beach, Park Ranger Johnson’s life becomes endangered. Ryan races to help her, but will her stubbornness prevent him from saving her?


“Stay with us, sweetheart. I’ll get you to the hospital. Everything will be okay.”

She’d shivered from the cold, yet her forehead warmed in the spot Ryan had kissed her. She had longed for that kiss from the first day she’d laid eyes on him. Every time he’d arrived on scene, her heart fluttered so hard she could hardly think straight. Confident and competent, he was always in control. She admired him. 

But that nasty dark cloud always hovered. Disappointment because he’d participated in that damn bet. When it came to Ryan Larson, her brain and heart battled, and her mouth always spoke her mind.

The nurse returned. “Let’s get this tube out of you now.”

Reactively, Talia coughed and gagged as the nurse removed the tube from her throat. 

“How you doing?” the woman asked.

Talia swallowed hard. Her sore throat itched. “Groggy.”

“That’s to be expected. It will pass soon. By the way, you have some men anxiously waiting to see you. We’ll get you to them shortly.”

Men? Plural?

She assumed one would be her dad, but could the other be Ryan? She willed him to be here.

Lights flashed overhead as the nurse wheeled her into another room, similar to the one she’d just left. The quick rushes of light made her stomach queasy. She swallowed hard a few times to tamp it down. Slowly but surely, it began to work.

Within minutes, her dad bounded through the doorway. Her heart panged at the concern in his red-stained eyes.

He flew to her side. “You gave me quite the scare. The doctor said everything went well.”

Talia didn’t have enough breath to speak.

“They repaired the puncture in your lung.” He brushed a strand of hair off her cheek. “You’ll be fine in time.”

“Men,” Talia whispered gruffly.

“What?” He leaned closer.

“Nurse said…men here.”

A smile tugged at his lips. “Ryan’s here. Just waiting for the go-ahead to come in and see you.”


“Do you really need to ask that, honey?”

She closed her eyes. Tears escaped the corners and slid down her face. 


She opened her eyes. 

Her dad’s sober gaze grabbed hold of hers. “You can’t be afraid to love someone out of fear of losing them. I know what it did to you when your mother died, and you saw what it did to me. But don’t block your heart off like this. Yes, I lost your mother way too soon, and as painful as that was, is…I wouldn’t hesitate to love her all over again, even knowing I’d lose her too soon. Our time together, our love for each other, was worth every heartbeat, far outweighing my pain now.”

Talia lay silent, processing her dad’s words. He was right. She’d intentionally pushed Ryan away in fear of potential heartache. “But…the bet.” She whispered, unable to let it go.

“I think you need to ask Larson about it. You may be surprised at his response. Trust me.”

No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t deny her feelings for him. When he’d held her gently in his arms as he’d carried her to his squad, she’d never felt so safe and secure. And when he’d kissed her so tenderly on the forehead, she never felt so cared about by someone other than her parents.

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