Toben’s cut-off jeans were uneven, but the length of muscled legs revealed was impressive. He wore a short-sleeved button up shirt… hanging open to reveal far too much of him. His jeans rested low on his hips. The sharp cut and dip of muscles of his chest and stomach had her dipping beneath the water again.
When she came up, Toben was laughing.
“Did you hear that, Ma?” Rowdy asked.
She shook her head. “What?”
“Otis’s joke,” Rowdy said.
Otis had told a joke? She glanced at her nephew. He was smiling. So was Dot. Were they really having a good time? She grinned. “What joke?”
“What do you call a bear with no teeth?” Otis asked.
“A gummy-bear,” Otis answered.
“Next time the water’s up we could float down to the first bridge?” Toben asked. “Not much current right now, but it sure feels good.”
“Your eye’s all messed up.” Dot pointed out. “Looks like it hurts.”
He nodded. “It doesn’t feel good.”
“What happened?” Otis asked.
Toben glanced at her. “I walked into something.”
She frowned. The thing he’d walked into was sporting an angry bruise on his jaw. Mitchell had left before Rowdy woke up because he didn’t want to upset her son. She knew boys would be boys, but why would Mitchell and Toben exchange blows? What good would that do? Maybe Toben hadn’t changed. The Toben she remembered had either been picking up women or starting fights.
“Next time you should watch where you’re going.” Rowdy said, swimming to the flat rock.
Toben was still looking at her. “There won’t be a next time.”
She hoped that meant he and Mitchell had reached an understanding. If they were going to do this, raise Rowdy together, no one should be throwing punches.
“I’m jumping,” Rowdy said, leaping off the rock.
The water splashed, eliciting laughter all around.
Poppy smiled, watching them together. For the first time in days, the three of them were getting along.
“How deep does it get?” Otis asked.
“I’ll find out,” Poppy swam out. The water they’d been swimming in wasn’t deep, she could sit and the water reached her chin. But in the middle of the river, she had to stand on tip-toe in places. “Too deep.”
Surprisingly, none of them argued. They took turns jumping off the rock, splashing each other and spinning in the inner tube she’d carried down.
Toben surfaced beside her. “Good to see them smiling. I was beginning to think they didn’t have it in them.”
Poppy nodded, acutely aware of how close he was. “What happened with Mitchell?” she asked.
He swam around her, putting them face to face. “Does it matter?”
Her gaze locked with his. “Yes.”
“He the one you’re engaged to?” he asked, his voice wavering slightly.
“No.” She opened her mouth, then closed it. “Does it matter?”
His blue eyes narrowed but he didn’t say anything. Instead he disappeared beneath the water. Seconds later, his hand grabbed her ankle and he tugged her under.
Poppy plunged beneath the water, swallowed in sensation. His hands sliding up her bare stomach. His arm sliding around her waist, anchoring her against him. He was warm, and strong, his bare chest pressing against hers and lighting a fire inside of her. She was going to drown, in this—not the water. And then he was tugging her back to the surface.
“He got you, Ma,” Rowdy said, laughing.
She sputtered, her hands gripping Toben’s shoulders until there was air in her lungs. But seeing his chest, the rounded muscles of his shoulders, his thick neck and square jaw… She was gasping for air. Her fingers curled into the wet fabric of his shirt.
Don’t look at him. Don’t do it.
Her eyes met his. And the hunger she saw there, raw and fierce, had her pushing off of his chest and back under the water. She swam back to the rock, pulling herself out and onto the flat surface. It was hot, so she spread her shirt out and sat, dazed.