She nodded. “And they need my help. I can’t stop now.”
He’d already concluded he’d do whatever it took to make her stop. If that meant helping her complete what she’d started—whatever that might be—then that’s what he’d do. “I won’t tell your father, Josie, but only if you let me help.”
She glanced up at him. With her eyes full of caution, and perhaps a hint of regret, she shook her head.
“It’s your choice,” he said. “You either tell me everything that’s going on, or I tell your father.”
Her eyelids fluttered shut. The single tear that slipped out struck him harder than if she’d been sobbing. So did her sigh.
“You can’t help, Scooter,” she whispered. “No one can. Gloria would be furious to know I’ve told you as much as I have.”
He caught her beneath her chin, keeping her gaze locked with his. “I don’t give a damn about Gloria. She never should have dragged you into this. But I do care about you, Josie. No one will know that I’m helping you. I promise.”
The want in her eyes could have blinded him and the desire to kiss her right then had him pulling up fortitude he didn’t know he had. Keeping his lips from going where they wanted to go, from doing what they wanted to do, he repeated, “Just you and me. I promise.”
Putting a touch of finality to his words, he let her loose and tossed a couple of chunks of wood into the pail as he stood. His mother had told him to let what had happened rest years ago, and stupidly, he had, mainly because Roger had started waging vengeance against Galen, and everyone had known who’d win that war.
He continued tossing burned wood in the bucket. She needed some time to weigh the consequences of the options laid out before her. “Let’s get this cleaned up so I can pull up the anchors.”
Josie didn’t say anything, just started picking up the large pieces of wood, and in no time they had the area cleared of anything except ashes, which he kicked through the cracks between the wooden planks. With or without her information, he’d be investigating what was happening in Duluth.
“I’ll put this in the boat and then get the anchors,” he said, lifting up the bucket.
“How many anchors are there?”
“Two,” he answered. “I wanted the platform to be as steady as possible.”
“Are they tied to these ropes?” she asked, leaning over the left side of the raft, where he’d threaded anchor ropes through the large holes he’d drilled in the side boards.
“Yes, but they’re heavy. I’ll get them.”
She shot him a glare. He chose to ignore it. After setting the pail in the boat, he went to the side of the raft opposite her, to pull up that anchor first. Made from a large chunk of old scrap iron he’d had lying around, the anchor was heavy and it took a hefty tug to break it loose from the sandy lake bed.
Hand over hand, he pulled up the rope until he was able to grasp the iron and set it on the platform. No longer held down, the barrel under the raft on that side rose in the water, making the raft rock.
A yelp had him turning around.
Backside in the air, Josie was hanging over the edge, pulling on the other anchor rope.
“I told you I’d get it,” he said, rushing to her side of the raft. The fast shift of weight rocked the structure more. He tried to grab her, but wasn’t fast enough. Her squeal ended with a splash.
Head first, Scooter jumped in, searching the spot where Josie had submerged. Her hands could be twisted in the rope, pulling her downward. Although the water was clear he couldn’t see her, so he surfaced in order to dive lower.
“You fell in, too?”
He spun around. Josie held on to the raft with one hand, water dripping from her hair and eyelashes.
Her eyes widened and then she dove sideways. He watched as she retrieved his hat before it sank. Her movements were agile, her form sleek, confirming what he’d already known. Just like him, she’d been swimming in this lake her entire life.
A moment later, she plopped his hat on his head. He waited for the cascade of water to subside before reaching out and grabbing her waist. The desire to pull her close assaulted him again, along with the idea of kissing her. He was dead set against either of those things happening again, and hoisted her upright and then set her on the platform. Releasing her as soon as she was settled, he placed his hands on the wood beside her.
“No, I didn’t fall in,” he said. “I jumped. I didn’t know if the anchor rope was wrapped around your hands.”
She scooted backward and then stood, moving to the far side of the raft so it wouldn’t topple over when he crawled out of the water. “Of course it wasn’t wrapped around my hands. I know better than that.”