The thrid book in Cherry Adair's Cutter Cay series plunges into a Vortex of high-sea adventure and romance, where a long-lost treasure is a deadly lure--and love is the most dangerous current of all...
Searching for a sunken ship off the coast of Peru, treasure hunter Logan Cutter manages to pull a very different kind of prize from the sea--beautiful gallery owner Daniela Rosada. Dani claims she was thrown overboard by ruthless pirates and begs for his protection. But Logan is no stranger to a woman's lies, and something about her story doesn't add up.
IN TOO DEEP
With her knowledge of Peruvian artifacts, Dani offers to help Logan translate an ancient map that will lead them to a shipwrecked treasure--and into a carefully laid trap. But the closer they get, the deeper she falls for him, not realizing that Logan is hiding a secret of his own. By the time she learns the truth about his boat, his brothers--and his blood feud with pirates--it's too late. By falling in love, they've set a course for disaster...
"Thrilling and hazardous! When you add in the sensuous sizzle, you have the full Adair package." --Romantic Times on Undertow
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St. Martin's Paperbacks
May 22, 2012
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Excerpt from Vortex by Cherry Adair
She fought him off like a feral wildcat, their bodies rising and falling in the swells. Grappling to get a secure grip on the woman's slippery, flailing limbs, Logan Cutter struggled to restrain her, keep her face out of the water, and not drown himself in the process.
Over the surge of the roiling, moonlit-speckled black water, the warning bells sounded. Three long rings, followed by the ship's whistle, alerted everyone there was a man overboard.
Woman overboard in this case.
Except there were no women on board Sea Wolf this voyage.
If not for his dog barking, and that fleeting glimpse of the white strobe on the woman's life vest seen briefly in the vast darkness, he would've gone to bed, none the wiser.
Salt water stung the scratches she'd already scored across his throat and face. "Lady, stop fighting me!"
Sirens bleating. The slap of the waves. She could do little more than gurgle now and again as the sea filled her mouth. But she fought him with such intent, he was afraid he would have to knock her out to save her. The other alternative was to swim away until she went under. A little water in her lungs wouldn't kill her. But it might shock her into awareness. Or not.
The floatation device she wore wasn't foolproof, as was evidenced by her repeatedly sinking below the surface.
Logan grabbed whatever he could--her hand, this time--hauling up so her head breached the surface chop. She coughed, gagged, fought harder for purchase. She tried to climb his body.
"I'm trying to help--Shit!" Her thrashing leg found his groin. He managed to close his fingers around her upper arm. Now she shrieked bloody murder, grabbing at his hair, his face, his reaching hands. She was as slippery as an eel as she battled to scale to the highest point. His head.
He went under. Came up spluttering, peeling her octopus arms off him, so he could control where they went and how. "I get it." He managed to grasp both slender wrists in one hand. "You're terrified. I won't let you drown, hear me? I got you. Just let me--"
Mindless with fear, she was out of control. Dangerous to them both as, despite--or because of--his hold on her, she planted one foot on his extended leg and started climbing his body again. "--ver hit--wom--my life," He bit out. "--ut, lady, if--don't--rescue you,--gonna--ave--slug y--. Your choice." None of his threat came out in a neat stream, as he, too, was gagging and spitting out water. His words washed out of his mouth the minute he uttered them.
Moonlight shone on the woman's pale, wet face, glinting in her terrified eyes as she batted at his hands. Logan doubted she even saw him. She was in full-on panic mode. Her instinct for survival primal, she was too afraid to hear his assurances. He grabbed a handful of long hair as she went under again, pulling her head to the surface. He jerked his face out of reach--too late--and was rewarded with her elbow smacking him in the mouth.
Their bodies rose with the next swell--he saw the lights of his ship--then sank into the next dark trough.
It wasn't uncommon for drowning victims to use their rescuer as a floatation device. "Damn it, we'll both drown at this rate!" He was already hoarse from the salt water and so much yelling. He could've saved his voice. She was too panicked to hear him. "Settle dow--" His nose got in the way of the top of her hard head. "Ow!"
He grabbed and twisted the cord of her life vest in one unyielding fist, holding her at arm's length and kicking out, dragging her with him. Her head went under again. He tried to hold it up, but getting her to the ship took precedence over worrying about her swallowing a little water. "My ship is two hundred yards away. Stay still and I'll get you there. Keep fighting me, and I'll haul your unconscious ass the rest of the way." At least that was the way he heard it in his head; to her, it was probably disjointed babble.
She sank, and this time when he hauled her head up she wasn't fighting, but hung limp in his grip. Exposed to the cold water for who knew how long, she was now unconscious, the vest keeping her on her back, head mostly out of the water.
Logan spat out water as a wave slapped him in the face. Where the hell were his men with the dinghy? He struck out for the lights of the Sea Wolf in long, sure strokes. She was damned lucky he was a strong swimmer. Exactly what she needed right now. She could sue him later for manhandling her.
He wasn't a particularly inquisitive guy, but the woman's presence begged the question: What the hell was she doing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at midnight a hundred miles from land?
The fishing trawler he'd noticed earlier had disappeared before dark, and that was hours ago. If she'd been out here that long, it was a miracle anyone had found her. If it hadn't been for Dog, Logan would have finished his nightly exercises and gone to bed, none the wiser.
Finally able to do his job without her fighting him tooth and nail every step of the way, he wrapped an arm across her chest, tightening his grip as they rose and fell with the waves. He fought to keep her head out of water as best he could by grabbing ahold of her long hair, which stuck to her skin like seaweed. Logan tucked her against his hip, waited until a swell lifted them, and scanned the area between himself and the lights of the ship for a sign of the dinghy.
He heard muffled shouts, and the throb of an engine, more lights flashed on from his ship, the searchlight strafing the water a few feet ahead. He and the woman went down into a dark trench. He kicked, swimming one-armed, holding her tightly to his side.
"Who is it?" Galt, one of his divers, yelled, bringing the inflatable dinghy alongside Logan and the woman.
"Not one of us." Logan treaded water as he maneuvered the dead weight into position for his friend to pull her over the side. "Good?" he asked, as Galt grunted, hauling the body over the lip by her vest and easing it into the bottom of the raft.
"Haul ass. I'll swim back."
"Didn't doubt it." Galt's teeth and bald head glinted in the moonlight. He used the motor to power back to the Sea Wolf, leaving Logan to follow.
* * *
"Wow. A mermaid. Is this our lucky day or what?" Daniela Rosado stayed limply silent as she listened to guys' happy tones. Her chest hurt. Someone had thumped her lungs, and she vaguely remembered spitting up a lot of water. It was a miracle she hadn't inhaled half the ocean. Her throat and lungs burned. Her body ached, and she was freezing.
Furious and freezing.
"A mermaid with hypothermia," a deep authoritative voice pointed out, not sounding pleased. "Harris--where are those warm blankets? Dell, bring the first-aid kit, then go find her something dry to wear. The rest of you clear out. Wes, you stay. We have to get her out of these clothes."
Oh, no you don't. No one's stripping me. It took every ounce of reserve she had to remain limp, not stiffening in resistance at their comments. She just needed a few more moments to gather her thoughts.
She was no longer in the water. A plus. Cold and wet, she lay on an equally cold and wet flat surface. Not the hard deck this time, but a bed. Streamers of wet hair covered half her face, water dripping down her throat, to pool in her ears. Her teeth chattered as she shivered.
"Where the hell's Harris? Good man." A heated blanket was wrapped around her by large, sure hands. It was then tucked tightly around her body, sealing the icy wet fabric of her clothing against her wet, chilled skin.
Was she on board the Sea Wolf after all? The last few hours were foggy, and her brain felt sluggish and uncooperative. If she was on board, it was more fluke than meticulous planning. The idiots could've drowned her.
A pulse throbbed on her forehead. Point of contact where they'd hit her. She'd do a little hitting herself when she caught up with them. But before that, Daniela had to gather her wits and come up with a story to explain how she'd ended up in the water.
As several men in the room made suggestions as to what to do with her, she drifted as if she was still in the current. It was really hard to put together two consecutive thoughts, let alone plan a course of action, and she let herself float.
Why hadn't they just listened to her? Taken a few extra days to formulate a plan?
Because they were idiots, that's why.
"Hand me that other blanket." A deep, take-charge, make-it-happen kind of voice.
"Her clothes are wet, maybe I--"
Whatever the softer toned man had been about to say was cut off as Mr. Take Charge started chafing her body with hard, rough hands. He didn't seem to care much where he rubbed, but at least she was warming up. Maidenly hysterics weren't appropriate right now. Getting warm was somewhat of a priority; she'd been in that water a long time. Brain sluggish, responses too slow, didn't matter. Daniela knew she had to think, and she had to think fast.
She was so angry she was surprised her fury wasn't turning the water on her skin to steam. The morons. The idiots. The scumbags. They'd thrown her overboard. Hit her, and thrown her overboard.
No warning, no discussion. She was going to kill them.
Now she had to decide--while she still could--what the best course of action was. Open her eyes and say hi? Stay limp and mute as she figured out what to do next? The longer they thought she was out of it, the longer she had to make up a plausible story. And the more time they had to strip her naked.
Limp it was. Unless stripping was imminent.
The man with the rich, deep voice got up from the side of the bed at her hip, leaving a cold spot. "Wes, she's all yours. Get the lead out, she's still shivering. Call me when she's tucked in."
"Why does Wes get to tuck her in?" another man demanded, amusement lacing his words. He sounded a bit farther away than the others.
"Because our mermaid's modesty is safest with him. Give a holler when she's dry."
Several pairs of footsteps retreated, a door closed.
A firm hand placed on her shoulder gave a little squeeze. "You can open your eyes now."
Daniela's sea-salt encrusted lashes fluttered, and she let out the shuddering breath she'd been holding.
The man crouching down beside the bed was in his late thirties, muscular, with a sandy brown buzz cut. Even with a smile, "Wes" didn't look safe at all. His broad shoulders blocked her view of the room she was in. They were alone.
"Hi, how're you feeling?" he asked gently, moving a hank of wet hair off her cheek. Cold water ran down her neck.
"Cold." She shivered. Her teeth clicking together like castanets made it obvious.
"Like some hot tea?" He picked up a steaming mug from the table beside the bunk, in a hand the size of a turkey.
"Please." She was annoyed at how weak her voice sounded. Weakness was the last damn thing she wanted to show. Ever.
Cupping the back of her head, he tipped the mug to her lips. The tea was sweet and warm, not too hot. Daniela drank greedily, her throat parched from the salt water. Even the act of swallowing was exhausting. "Enough."
He took the mug from her lips. "Want help getting out of those wet clothes, or would you rather take a hot shower?"
No. But she wanted the heat enough to say, "Shower." She was as breathless as if she'd been running, instead of just lying there in a damp puddle on the clammy blankets. God, she hated feeble. She didn't do weak and feeble or wimpy. People took advantage if there was one second when your guard was down. Took advantage of--She cut off the thought mid-whine. Enough!
"I'll help you." The giant got to his feet, then leaned over to scoop her up in his arms. Strong. She stiffened. "Don't worry," he said cheerfully. "I won't drop you. Two steps and we're in the head--That's bathroom to you." He let her slide to her feet, but kept an impersonal arm around her shoulders to steady her as he turned on the shower. "Need help?"
This coming on board the Sea Wolf had been an insane idea when they'd proposed it. She'd argued vehemently that it wouldn't work. Daniela knew if she was given a couple of days to think it through she could come up with a better plan. Of course the better plan was not to be near her cousins at all. That would've been the intelligent plan. But she'd been desperate and out of options.
Now look where she was.
"I can close my eyes and help you with those buttons if you like. Promise not to peek."
She shook her head.
His eyes crinkled, his smile pretty cute, as he said cheerfully, "If it makes you feel better, I'm gay."
Daniela held onto the sink to keep her balance. She didn't trust his smile or care about his sexual orientation. He was a head taller, and at least eighty pounds heavier than she was. She backed up.
"Tell you what," he said gently. "I'll leave the door open a crack, and wait right outside in case you need me. Take your time. Get warm." He gave her a worried look. "Are you sure...?"
"Yes." Sure that she didn't want to be naked and vulnerable in such tight quarters. He was between her and the door.
"Okay." He backed out and pulled the door so just a sliver of the cabin beyond showed.
The tiny bathroom was already filled with steam. It would be ridiculous to stay in here shivering when she didn't have to. But she'd be quick and keep her eyes trained on the door the whole time. She snapped the door closed, then locked it. Then, still shivering and shuddering, she stripped off her soaking wet shorts, sleep shirt, and panties, dropping everything into the sink.
"Oh, don't you look attractive?" Her lips twitched. She looked like a drowned rat. A pale-faced, big-eyed, drippy-wet drowned rat.
Rubbing her palm over the foggy mirror, she lifted her bangs to inspect the swollen lump on her forehead. It throbbed in time with her erratic heartbeat. There was a giant bruise as well as an oozing three-inch cut over her left eye. That explained the pain and the headache, but those were the least of her problems.
They'd snuck into the locked cabin and hit her while she was sleeping, the miserable scum-dog cowards. She stepped into the pounding water, careful not to let the hot water beat on her forehead. All she needed was to pass out, necessitating that someone come in and rescue her. Again. She carefully lathered her hair. What the hell had the idiots hit her with? She was fortunate they hadn't killed her before they'd tossed her into the water.
They were fortunate they hadn't killed her, Daniela thought grimly as she used grapefruit-scented gel to wash the salt water from her skin and hair.
She had a fairly recent aversion to water, but she'd been on the swim team in high school, and once in the water, even slightly dazed by the blow to the head, she'd let the life vest do its job. Until the realization had struck her that she couldn't see any lights, and might very well drown out there in the middle of the Pacific with no one being any the wiser.
There was a good reason her side of the family had nothing to do with their side of the family her whole life. Her cousins were not only criminals, they were stupid criminals.
"How're you doing in there?" Wes yelled over the sound of pounding water.
"Great. Be right out." Getting out, and feeling considerably more herself, Daniela turned off the water.
"I'm going to hand you some clothes, ready?" Her guard/babysitter said through the door.
"Thanks." Wrapping the towel tightly around her body, she unlocked the door, wedging her bare toes against the base so that it couldn't be pushed open more than a few inches. It was false security, as she well knew, because if he wanted to, he could shove the door open any time he wanted. The idea of that big guy in this minute bathroom, with her naked, made Daniela sick to her stomach. Her armpits prickled with nerves, and a sheen of sweat made her skin clammy in the steamy bathroom. Her own reaction pissed her off.
Still, she almost slammed the door those scary few inches. And then what? Stand here naked forever?
The clothing was stuffed through the crack in the door. Bunching the fabric in one hand, she murmured, "Thanks," then firmly shut and locked the door again, immediately letting out the breath she'd been holding. If she had a prayer of pulling this off, Daniela knew she had to get a grip. Center herself. Remember what was at stake.
She dropped the towel and quickly dressed, men's boxers still in the store's plastic bag, socks, jeans, a plain gray T-shirt, and a fleece hoodie sweatshirt. She didn't care how anything fit, it was clean and dry, and baggy enough to hide her braless state. She unlocked the door, combing her fingers through the wet strands of her dark, shoulder-length hair as she stepped into the dimly-lit cabin. "Thanks, I feel much--" Her heart stumbled, then started beating double time.