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by K. A. Mitchell
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: A vacation fling. No complications. No connections. And no regrets. Trauma surgeon Jae Sun Kim has just lost the job he wanted more than anything else in his life. Looking for a way to hit the reset button, he takes a scuba vacation. He didn't plan on seasickness, or a dive master who is sex-on-the-beach personified. Shane McCormack's tendency to drift away from complicated situations has landed him a job as a dive master in Belize, which isn't as glamorous as it sounds. But with the big three-oh looming, asking his parents to bail him out again isn't an option. The job isn't without its perks, though, and as soon as he figures a way to keep that hot but arrogant ass of a doctor from tossing his cookies over the side of the boat, he plans to flirt the control freak out of his brittle shell. The close quarters on the ship generate more heat than either expects, but a vacation fling is all that's in the plans. An unexpected adventure leaves them changed in ways that make it impossible to go back to their old lives. The risks they'll both have to take could leave them with nothing but more scars, or the best souvenir of all. Warning: This title contains m/m snark and sex. If you experience side effects from reading about either of these activities, please consult a physician before reading.
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: March 2010
119 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [299 KB]
Reading time: 189-265 min.
The scuba instructor was destined for skin cancer by forty.
If Kim were a dermatologist instead of a trauma surgeon, he'd have dollar signs in his eyes at the sight of the freckled arms and back of the man assigned to give the scuba refresher course to the people going on the Sea Magic dive tour. Of course if Kim really were on his way to being a trauma surgeon, he'd be looking for a place to live in San Diego instead of getting ready for a live-aboard scuba dive vacation in Belize.
Kim must have lost his mind along with his chance at the fellowship at Sharp Memorial Hospital. It was the only explanation. He didn't make random vacation plans. Or any vacation plans. He hadn't let a vacation--hadn't let more than a few hours off--interrupt his careful plans to appease his parents' disappointment about the lack of grandchildren by becoming a surgeon. A surgeon who lived the width of a continent away so that they never found out he was gay.
Having a carefully structured life plan had been ideal--until Dr. Warren decided at the age of fifty-nine he preferred golf to heading up trauma surgery at Sharp. How was Kim supposed to have been prepared for that? His second-choice fellowship had to come through, even if it sent him to a less sunny part of the Pacific Coast. Dr. Emerson couldn't be retiring too, could he? Exactly how cold did it get in Oregon?
Calculating the eventual payment sun damage would exact from the freckled instructor did nothing to ease Kim's frustration at being forced to take this refresher course. The tour company made anyone who hadn't logged a dive in the past three years suffer through another round of instruction. Kim hadn't logged a dive since he'd gotten his certification in high school fourteen years ago, but he'd learned it the first time. Like differential calculus, molecular biology and organic chem.
After the scuba instructor finished helping a woman adjust the buoyancy compensation vest she was wearing, he turned around to look at Kim. "Thanks for joining us."
Even if Kim didn't really need to be here, it wasn't his fault he was late. They had sent his luggage to the wrong hotel and by the time he had that sorted out, there was the whole confusion over his name at the dive shop where he had picked up his rental. No, he was not a girl, and he was very secure in his masculinity, but that mask and vest wouldn't fit him even if he were inclined to wear neon pink.
"So can any of y'all tell me why it's important that y'all don't hold your breath when breathing compressed air?"
The guy might have been giving a lesson on a dude ranch. The lilt in his voice made cactuses and Stetson hats tumble out along with his words. Which in a less stressful situation might have been nice, because a tall guy in boots, a hat and dusty jeans, drawl pouring sweetly from a wide mouth, was the kind of thing Kim had been known to bookmark on his laptop. Especially when that cowboy parted with the dusty jeans and boots in the first thirty seconds. He could leave the hat on for the ride.
But finding a cowboy here, in a hotel pool surrounded by hibiscus-laden rain forest, was an incongruity Kim's brain was having trouble reconciling. That, the snide welcome, and the fact that as a rule people got on Kim's nerves had him answering the challenge in a tone that usually got people to back the hell off.
"Surfacing from even ten feet underwater while holding a breath of compressed air can induce barotrauma resulting in a pneumothorax. In other words, a burst lung. Messy, but not fatal."
The instructor was trying to scare his students into correct behavior, which might have been practical, but Kim couldn't ignore the medical error.
"The lungs don't sense pain. It's not until the damage is done that the pain results."
"But you're still talkin' 'bout pain." Scuba Cowboy wasn't going to let it go. "Thank you, Mister--"
He had the instructor's full attention now. Blue eyes--probably contacts--and sun-streaked red hair. Every genetic reason to minimize exposure to the sun. Whether it was in the cowboy's native Texas or here in the Yucatan. Lean face, but damn, cute nose, wide smiling mouth.
He couldn't be more Irish--except for the whole Texas drawl thing. But then Kim couldn't be more Korean.
"So Doctor Kim, you wanna remind these nice people what happens when you don't follow the dive tables and get all the nitrogen out of your bloodstream?"
Maybe it was the way the tropical sun was turning the surface of the pool into a thousand mirrored reflectors, because Kim thought that Shane McCormack had just winked one of his artificially blue eyes.
Kim got it. Scuba Cowboy wanted Kim to be his medical bogeyman. Which, given the audience of self-absorbed adventurers, would be fun.
"Severe pain is common in all stages of decompression sickness. In Type I, skin rashes and cyanosis may occur. Also pitting edema, where your skin is so saturated with fluid it loses elasticity and doesn't come back when you push on it. Like an impression on a wet sponge."
A woman wearing enough gold jewelry to equal the Gross National Product of El Salvador grabbed the arm of the man next to her. The pretty blonde who'd needed help with her vest wore an expression of horror. Shane looked amused. The crinkles around his eyes deepened.
The medical words were often scarier than the actual definitions. "In Type II, we see seizures, hemiplegia, dysarthria." He was getting to the scary stuff now. Scary enough that he'd paid for an extra night in the hotel to make sure he was able to fly without risking decompression sickness. "When you get the frothy blood coming out of your mouth, that's when it's really bad. Pulmonary, respiratory and neurological effects can be fatal without immediate treatment involving a hyperbaric chamber."
Kim hadn't had this much fun since the Halloween when he'd dressed up as Death and wandered through the hospital. Fortunately only three people had known it was him, and he had enough on them to blackmail them into silence.
"How much does that cost?" asked the man with the gold-encrusted woman on his arm.
"A lot," the instructor said. "Y'all have diver's insurance? Because most regular medical insurance won't cover it."
After terrifying them physically and financially, the instructor put them all through drills, setting up equipment, retrieving a lost regulator and sharing a regulator. He made each of them swim down to the center of the deep end of the pool with him to demonstrate the skills, taking Kim last.
Finally Kim escaped the refresher class, only to have Scuba Cowboy track him down as he headed down the marina to the berth of the live-aboard scuba ship.
"That was fun," he drawled.
Freaking out the rest of the class had been fun, but Kim just wanted to be alone. "While it has been my life-long goal to offer you this brief moment of entertainment, I really just want to get my gear on board."
"Aren't you a prickly son of a bitch? Y'know, loading your gear is part of what you're paying the tour company to do."
"Am I also paying them to have you insult my mother?"
Shane chuckled and pulled the bag holding Kim's diving gear off his shoulder.
"Don't expect a tip." Kim took off down the floating boards, unsurprised that Scuba Cowboy's long legs could keep up even with Kim's fastest stride. Trotting down the dock would be undignified and probably pitch him into the water. He couldn't wait to get aboard. No matter how small the single stateroom was, he'd be alone.
When they reached the berth, Kim stopped abruptly. The trip might have been an impulse, but he had looked at the brochure, carefully calculated the square footage, and selected a cruise that promised a more stable structure of boat. But instead of boarding The Sea Horse III, the ship at the berth was The Sea Glider II.
Shane was already swinging on board, handing off Kim's bag to a steward. Turning back, Shane asked, "What?"
"That is not the right boat."
"Yeah, the usual ship is in dry dock after a run in with Hurricane Bradley. This is about the same, different layout, same number of berths."
The jump panic had induced in Kim's heart rate eased at Shane's words.
"Best part is, there's an extra bed with this layout so I don't have to sleep in the crew quarters. The chef's fucking one of the stewards and they're really noisy."
This was probably one of those male-bonding things Kim observed so frequently, the urge of all males, gay or straight, to talk about who was doing who as a lead-in to a discussion of their own sexual prowess. Shane might have been flirting with him or he might have just been making conversation. Kim had never had particularly accurate gaydar. His putting a mental tab on Shane as someone who'd look hot as hell on his knees with Kim's dick in his mouth didn't mean the opinion was reciprocated.
Shane jerked his thumb at the locker on the diving deck that bore Kim's name on a neon bright laminated card. Just like the first day of kindergarten. "I'll stow your gear for you."
"Thanks." Kim ground the word out from between clenched teeth and then headed for the guy with the clipboard to get directions to his stateroom.
Kim didn't believe in fate or luck. But as soon as he got to Stateroom B, stepped over the hatch and saw the bunk beds he knew. He wasn't prescient, just smart. Odd number, odd one out. He grabbed Scuba Cowboy's stuff off the top bunk and shoved it to the bottom. Kim was paying for the room; he got to pick the bunk.
Sliding the contract and confirmation from his bag, Kim reread what he already knew. "Sea Magic Diving reserves the right to substitute any part of the itinerary or accommodations due to weather or other circumstances beyond the company's control. There are no refunds."
Kim did have a clause that offered a "hurricane" check, entitling him to a tour on a different date if weather forced a complete cancellation. But that wouldn't apply.
"Well, hey again." Scuba Cowboy's red head poked through the hatch. That tall body took up far too much of the tiny space.
"You might have said something earlier."
Feeling trapped, Kim vaulted up onto the top bunk. The ceiling was so low, maybe he should switch again.
Shane suddenly seemed to get the idea that his presence was not only a surprise but completely unwelcome. The wide-mouthed grin turned to a thin line, shine in the eyes going out like someone had flicked a switch. "Well, then, guess I'll see ya at dinner." He ducked back through the hatch.
Kim stared at the entirely too-close ceiling. While they were still berthed, he should make the call he'd been putting off. Still stalling, he looked at his BlackBerry display. Roaming. No kidding.
Kim let out a quick breath of relief when Joey picked up. Kim wouldn't put it past Aaron to answer his boyfriend's phone--the controlling prick--and Kim wasn't in the mood for Aaron's sarcastic comments right now.
"Jae Sun? I'm so glad you called. We were worried." Joey's voice was earnest. But then he always sounded earnest. Like whatever you said was going to be so important he couldn't wait to hear it. The joys of a social worker's highly perfected bullshit.
Kim still didn't know why his hated given name didn't bother him when Joey used it. Maybe because the pronunciation was as dead-on as any of his relatives.
When he didn't show up for Joey's brunch, Kim figured someone might have noticed. "Yeah, well I'm sorry about this morning. I'm in Belize."
"I just wanted to ask if you would bring in my mail and water my plants. That asshole you live with has a key to my place."
"Sure. I'd love to but...is everything okay? Why are you in Belize?"
That was the trade-off. No biting remarks from Aaron, but Joey wouldn't let him go without an explanation.
"I just wanted a vacation. Kind of a post-residency celebration," Kim lied.
"I heard about the fellowship. I'm so sorry."
Was there anyone who didn't know that Kim's entire future had just been fucked over? "Thanks for mentioning it. So you'll take care of the mail?"
"Sure. But what are you--?"
"I'm going scuba-diving."
"I didn't know you liked to dive. I've heard it's beautiful there. One of my exes said he'd never seen anything like the Blue Hole. We were planning to..."
While Joey went on about his ex-boyfriend's opinion of the diving in Belize, Kim amused himself by imagining what sort of remarks Aaron would have on the topic of a big blue hole.
And then he didn't have to imagine it because Aaron grabbed the phone. "The only hole I'm interested in at the moment better not be blue."
Joey's muffled laughter was still audible.
"Why the hell aren't you at work, Chase?" Kim should have called Elaine to pick up his mail. But Joey loved doing shit like this.
"I am at work."
"I wasn't aware that Shands Hospital was now providing fuck breaks for the paramedics."
"Maybe if you got laid more than once a decade you would."
"Please tell me you're not in an ambulance." Kim squeezed his eyes shut against the image.
"What I am in is a hurry."
Joey's voice came back on the phone. "I'll take care of everything for you. Mail, plants. Do you have a fish or a cat?"
Kim rarely had time to see the inside of his house. "No."
"How long is your trip? It sounds wonderful."
Aaron had the phone again. "Don't bring home any tacky souvenirs." Kim heard rustling, and he tried to imagine a struggle for the phone rather than what they were probably doing. Aaron maintained possession of the phone. "Talking on the phone is not at all what I had in mind for your mouth, Joey."
"Well, I'm not exactly getting what I had in mind for your dick either."
Or maybe they'd put Kim on speaker. He could just disconnect. He doubted they'd even notice he was gone. Pair of self-absorbed, love-sick idiots.
"Joey, could I just get five seconds?" Kim said as politely as he could.
He heard a brief struggle and then Joey's light tenor came back. "Okay."
"If anything comes from St. Vincent's in Portland--"
"Yes. Check my answering machine too. And then call me. If you can't get through on the cell, call Sea Magic Diving Tours out of Belize and get me the message."
The ship came alive with a low vibration that hit Kim first in the tiny bones of his ears. "Sorry, Joey, we're about to take off."
"Sounds great. Go yell bon voyage for me."
Even if this was the sort of thing where people tossed streamers off one of the three decks of the 120-foot yacht, Kim wouldn't be doing that. "I will. You'll call, right?"
The vibration grew until it was a bone-jarring rumble. "I've got to go, Joey."
"Have a great time."
"I'm sure I will." In a lifetime full of lies, little and big, Kim was sure he'd never told a bigger one.
The thrum of the engines increased, pressure building from the floor, through the walls and into his skeletal system until it buzzed along the sagittal suture in his skull. An inviting white pillow topped the iridescent blue-green bedspread on his bunk. It was only two thirty here, three thirty at home--twelve thirty in sunny San Diego--but Kim had been on a plane at five this morning. Not that the last decade of his life in med school and residency hadn't made him immune to sleep deprivation, but a nap would probably help his body adjust to the time shift and the motion of the ship. He took one of the prescription-strength antiemetics he'd brought and settled back against the pillow.
He had set himself to wake up in two hours, enough time to take a quick look around before dinner, but he woke up in less than half that, teeth and fists clenched against a wave of nausea. Seasickness wasn't something Kim had factored into his plans. He'd been on boats before and had never had his stomach so much as lurch. He'd even taken antihistamines to be sure his Eustachian tubes and sinuses would be clear on the dives.
He might as well have puked the four grand this week was costing directly into the tiny toilet in his cabin.