Kat slid another stack of empty crates across the closet floor and stacked them in the hallway. How much more junk would she find left behind by the former tenants? She'd rented the apartment yesterday. The super had suggested she wait until the cleaning people went through, but she'd told him she had to get in immediately. Her post-graduate classes began next week, and she needed to be able to focus on the demands of school. She'd always known she wasn't the smartest student in her classes, but she was willing to work twice as hard to get what she wanted.
"Besides, how bad can it be?"
In hindsight, not her best moment.
Whoever had lived here last had apparently owned a banana company. Every closet was stacked with empty banana crates. Why, oh why, had they kept all these?
She grabbed another stack of the crates, put them behind her, and shoved. The hallway was full now, trapping her inside the dark closet amid all the crates. She sat on the floor and pushed them with her feet, which only helped slide her farther into the closet.
"Ouch!" Something scraped the back of her thigh. She lifted her leg. Something cold had taken off a layer of skin, and she was bleeding. "Damn it to hell. What is that?"
She spun around and, crouching on the floor in the shadows, felt along on the floor. The cold weapon was a metal hinge. She felt around some more and found another one. Was there another storage space beneath this closet?
"Probably full of banana crates," she muttered and searched for a handle. "There it is."
She grabbed the small knob and yanked. It didn't budge. Brushing sweat from her forehead, she grabbed the handle again. "Oh, you're coming open."
She pulled with all her might. The door swung up, almost hitting her in the face and knocking her off balance. She grabbed at the air, but nothing stopped her fall through the dark hole.
The air around her grew warmer as it rushed over her skin. She sucked in a breath to scream, and the taste of salty, ocean air filled her mouth. The fall seemed to last forever, and she knew without a doubt that when she landed she would be dead.
A moment later, though, she had the sensation of something gritty and warm beneath her. She opened her eyes, blinked, and blinked again. She had landed in a sand dune, and fifty yards in front of her the tide rolled in with a whoosh down a long stretch of white sand sparkling like amethyst crystals in the golden sun.
"What in hell?" She scrambled up from the sand and spun around, taking in what could not be true. Behind her stood tall palm trees amid dense vegetation. Before her, the blue, open sea.
She stared down at her hands, as if they could answer the questions pounding through her head. Was she dead? Was this heaven? She rubbed the sand between her fingers. It certainly felt real enough. Remembering the cut, she turned to look at the back of her leg. She was still bleeding. People didn't bleed when they were dead. So, if this wasn't heaven or hell, where was it? She looked up at the sky overhead, seeking the trapdoor she'd fallen though, but that was silly, wasn't it? All she saw was a vast expanse of azure so bright it almost hurt her eyes.
Male voices floated on the air with the sound of the crashing waves. Fear gripped her, and she crouched back into the sand and stared in the direction of the voices. Deep, whooping laughter and the pounding of running footsteps stopped her from breathing. Her heart racing, she sank deeper into the grassy dune and fought back the urge to cry.
Six men broke from the dense growth some thirty yards away.
All six were deeply tanned and long limbed with sinewy, defined muscles on their arms and legs, their bellies as flat and chiseled as any gym rat ever dreamed of. They stood in the sand, glancing nonchalantly around.
And every one of them was naked.
Kat gasped then quickly clamped her hand over her mouth.
All six turned toward her, and she crouched lower, her heart pounding like a drum corps. In spite of the terror racing through her entire body, she couldn't take her eyes off them. Five of them had dark hair of varying lengths, but the sixth was blond. Otherwise, they could have all been cut from the same perfect slab of marble.
The blond turned toward the others, the muscles of his ass clenching as his feet shifted on the uneven beach. "I'll talk to her."
"No! I'll talk to her." The tallest of the six with long, wavy hair took a step toward her, followed quickly by the blond. "Honey, are you hurt?"
All of them were so stunning, for a moment she ignored the fear coursing through her. How many times had she daydreamed something like this? Six naked men, alone with her on a tropical island? If it weren't so bizarre, it would be a dream come true. But no matter how amazing they looked and how like countless fantasies she'd had, this seemed... She shook her head to clear her thoughts. They were still six naked men, and she had dropped into the middle of nowhere.
Or had she knocked herself unconscious when she fell through the door, and this was precisely that--a dream.
There was no way to be sure. The sense she should bolt was strong, but even if she did, could she outrun them? What would happen if they caught her? A hot thrill moved through her at the thought, and she shook her head again. This wasn't normal--she liked normal. Boring sometimes maybe, but she could count on normal.
She rose from the sand, since she obviously wasn't hiding from anyone, and tried desperately to slow her breathing and decide what to do.
The tall man held up both hands and stopped walking. She struggled not to let her gaze move lower than his shoulders. She failed.
"My name is Tristan. What is your name?"
She looked from one man to the next. Each of them calmly met her gaze as if women appeared on this beach every day. Was this really even the beach? Her mind was spinning and making it next to impossible to concentrate or know what to do.
That was it though, wasn't it? It had to be a dream, or fantasy, or unconscious delusion. None of them appeared the least bit surprised to see her. If this were real, wouldn't they be startled? Something other than standing there naked looking fabulous? This had to be a dream.
She cleared her throat and squared her shoulders. "My name is Kat. Where are we?"
"An island." The blond folded his hands loosely in front of his groin. She noticed none of the others did the same and wondered if that meant something. "I'm Kyle. Are you all right?"
The tall one, Tristan, frowned at Kyle then turned to her and smiled. His teeth were straight and as white as she'd ever seen. If this was a fantasy, her subconscious was hard at work on every detail. "Kat. What a beautiful name. Welcome to Mombala. We have a camp nearby. Please let me take you there. I can treat that cut."
The other four dark-haired men nodded their agreement. Kyle simply stared, his brow furrowed in what looked like concern, as Tristan resumed his approach. His gaze caressed her as he moved, and warmth spread through her limbs that had nothing to do with the rising sun glittering over the sea.
He stopped before her, then knelt to the ground and placed his hand on her thigh. "With your permission, I'll see to your injury."
She stared down at the top of his head, the waves of sunlight playing over his coal-black hair. She nodded then turned slightly, and his warm, smooth hands slid over her thigh. She placed her hand on his shoulder to steady herself, and he gazed up.
"Kat, I can make that feel better." He smiled again. "Much better."
"If this place is what I think it is," she said, a low heat beginning to gather between her thighs, "I might let you."
He nodded and rose slowly, sliding his hands up her leg as he moved. The sun warming her back and shoulders could not compete with the heat generated with each stroke of his fingers. "Then this place is exactly what you think it is."