Night Swimming

Ballantine Books (May 2003)
ISBN-10: 0804120048

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The deeper you dive, the sweeter the reward

When college offered an escape, Lily fled her hometown of Coral Beach and never looked back. Now a marine biologist, she must return there on a job to preserve the reefs that give the town its name. But going back means dealing with her past, her family, and worst of all, Sean McDermott. As teens, while Lily passed through an especially awkward phase, Sean—attractive and self-assured—was her constant tormentor. Lily doubts that things will have changed. But Lily’s awkward phase is long over . . . and though she finds that Sean still makes her blood boil, it’s for very different reasons.

As mayor, Sean knows how important it is to maintain the town’s natural beauty—and if the return of Lily Banyon is the price he has to pay, so be it. He can overlook her cold shoulder and give back as good as he gets. What’s harder to disregard is the fact that Lily has grown into a smart and beautiful woman, as passionate about saving Coral Beach as she once was about leaving it. While working closely together, it becomes obvious to Sean that if he and Lily can put the past behind them, they could have a passionate future. . . .

Read the Reviews

". . .NIGHT SWIMMING is a compelling, thoroughly entrancing story of love and families and second chances. Sean and Lily are multi-layered, very likeable characters, with fears and foibles, hopes and vulnerabilities that make them wonderfully realistic, and which will endear them to readers. . .

. . .Laura Moore writes knowledgeably and realistically about family dynamics, conflict, and passion, both adversarial and loving. Her descriptions of the small coastal town and of the reefs and the plant and animal life found there bring the setting vividly to life. A varied cast of secondary characters, from meddling grandmothers to greasy-palmed developers, rounds out the story, adding depth and texture to this wonderful, well-written tale.

For a captivating, almost impossible to put down story of love and second chances, I highly recommend NIGHT SWIMMING. Laura Moore is an author that readers will want to watch, for she may well be one of tomorrow's romance superstars."

Susan Lantz
Romance Reviews Today

"Laura Moore brings her readers another top-notch novel with NIGHT SWIMMING. This time instead of her excellent equestrian themes she delves into the life of Lily Banyon, a marine biologist who goes home to Coral Gables, Florida to do a job checking out the health of the coral reef that gave her hometown its claim to fame. Here she meets Sean McDermott, now the mayor, and the guy she’s never been able to forget. . .

. . .You'll enjoy seeing how these two extraordinary people come to grips with their long time secret attraction.

Ms. Moore stories are innovative, passionate and thought provoking."

Suzanne Coleburn
Reader to Reader

"At one time in our lives we have wanted to escape our past and never look back. This is true for Lily. When she left for college she thought that she would never return to Coral Beach, that her past was just that. Now she is returning as a person who could save the most valuable thing in the town--its reef and shoreline. This story is filled with passion and reward. Take the time to find out what it is all about."

Rendezvous Reviews

"Reminiscent of Jude Deveraux's contemporary romances, Laura Moore writes deeply emotional and passionate stories and her third book, NIGHT SWIMMING, is no exception. . . . It is obvious that the author has done her homework and knows a lot about coral reefs off of the Florida coast. The protagonists are both interesting and likeable. . . . All the secondary characters are good including Hal, the swim coach, Kaye, Lily's mother, and Dave, Sean's best friend. Then, of course, we have the smarmy bad guys that are trying to undermine all that the mayor and Lily are trying to do. It all comes together to make an engaging story. Laura Moore has written a page- turner with NIGHT SWIMMING."

Marilyn Heyman
Heroes and Heartbreakers


pp. 64-74

"So what's got you in such a piss-poor mood?" Dave Cullen asked. "I thought the meeting went pretty well." He had his elbows propped on the Rusted Keel's scarred and pitted bar, one hand wrapped around an ice-cold beer. He took a long pull, swallowed, and added, "After all, the good guys came out on top today."

Seated next to him, Sean acknowledged his friend's comment with a tired shrug. He supposed Dave was right. But that did little to dislodge the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that with Lily Banyon on the scene, things would go to hell in a handbasket awful quick. Too tired to explain the hows and whys, Sean concentrated on his whiskey, savoring its smoky peat-flavored bite.

Unperturbed by Sean's silence, Dave nursed his beer, the fingers of his free hand drumming an accompaniment to one of the bar's perennial favorites, Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay." which someone had selected from the jukebox's list. The Rusted Keel was Sean and Dave's preferred after-hours hangout, one of the few remaining places in Coral Beach the tourists hadn't taken over, most likely because from the outside the bar looked like a run-down bait and tackle shop. Stepping inside, one's second impression wasn't much better.

Though there were a few tables covered in ancient red-and-white checked plastic, no one in town came to the Keel for its spiffy decor. Most of the regulars avoided the tables, preferring to congregate around the pool table in the back, or to while away the hours throwing darts at the dartboard with unerring, unnerving accuracy. For those more vegetatively inclined, the battered TV above the bar where Sean and Dave were sitting was tuned to ESPN twenty-four-seven. And, of course, there was the jukebox, which hadn't been updated since Don McLean's "American Pie." Five songs for a buck.

But the finest thing about the Rusted Keel was its clientele. Not a single person in the place besides Sean and Dave had a political bone in his body. After a hard day fighting the good fight, there was nothing so relaxing as the sweet scent of beer, salted peanuts, and political indifference. Sean had never once been approached by someone wanting to know how to obtain a building permit for a two-car garage, nor been badgered about why he'd voted for or against such and such a proposal. And while every now and again a disgruntled fisherman or boat captain shot Dave a hostile look, the tacit rule at the Rusted Keel was that while bitching about the Marlins' or the Dolphins' miserable season was acceptable behavior, griping to locally elected officials who only wanted to throw back a couple of beers in peace was not.

But Sean's drink of choice this evening was whiskey rather than Rolling Rock, and he was staring moodily at the dust motes, which told Dave he hadn't yet shaken off his mayoral responsibilities.

"Come on, Sean, quit worrying," he said. "You knew after the panel voted to continue the study that Ferrucci would be in attack mode. Ever since you beat him in the mayoral election he's wanted to kick your butt. He's not going to let an opportunity pass him by, especially not on this issue." He pushed a red plastic bowl toward his friend. "Here, have a peanut, it'll make you feel better."

Always nice to see words of wisdom penetrate, Dave thought, as Sean reached an scooped out a handful of the salted nuts. "So, what'd you think of the bodacious Dr. Banyon?" he asked while Sean munched. "Liked her photographer, too. Very sparkly."

"Forget it," Sean replied. The peanuts had apparently revived him. "Banyon's trouble with a capital T. Her assistants probably are too," Sean added between mouthfuls. "Should've told me you were planning on contacting the Marine Center. I'd have warned you to avoid Lily at all costs."

"Sorry, bud." Dave shrugged his shoulders. "I only learned yesterday that there had been a change of plans, that we'd be getting Banyon in place of Hunt. I couldn't exactly call back and say, 'Thanks, but no thanks.' Not that I would have anyway." He paused for a swallow of beer. "From that nifty recitation you gave earlier, you obviously don't need me to tell you she's one of the best. You read her latest book?"

"I've glanced at it," Sean muttered into his glass.

Dave looked at him out of the corner of his eyes. "Pretty thorough glancing," he said mildly. "Banyon's got a great track record. Not afraid to tackle tough issues or tough opponents. With someone like her on the panel, we'll be sitting in clover."

"Don't be fooled by Lily. As you'll discover, the experience is much closer to lying in a field of poison ivy."

Dave grinned. Dr. Lily Banyon did indeed look like the kind of woman who'd leave her mark on a man. He glanced at Sean, wondering. McDermott was behaving a bit peculiarly. Moody, tense, and edgy. Not Sean's usual m.o., that was for sure. "Come on, Sean," he said. "Banyon can't be as bad as you imagine. After all, she jumped in and saved her photographer when Ferrucci was going for the jugular. Pretty damned courageous, if you ask me."

Sean scowled but remained silent.

"Did you see how big Karen Masur's eyes grew when Ferrucci was tearing into her, all for the greater good of Coral Beach? I thought she was going to faint. Ferrucci did, too. Swear to God, his teeth must've grown four inches. Noticed it when he flashed his signature smile." Dave gave a mock shudder. "His smile disappeared damned fast, once Banyon leaped into the fray; so you see, that proves Banyon's got the right instincts."

"What that really proves is that Ferrucci's got a big mouth." Sean gave a small grin, suddenly looking more like his usual self. "Maybe I should write Pete a thank you note for being such an ass."

Dave laughed. "Be bighearted, send him a fruit basket while you're at it. So, how far back do you and the doctor go?" he asked casually.

Sean swirled the amber liquid at the bottom of his glass. "Pre-diaper. Lily's hated me from the womb. And probably will--right up to the grave."

Dave whistled softly. "Is this possible?" he asked in an awed tone of voice. '"You mean to say there's a woman alive who won't canvass the entire district for you on election eve?"

"Stuff it, Dave," Sean replied without heat. "When we were kids, Lily had a notebook where she listed all the reasons why I was the scum of the universe. Didn't take her long to run out of pages and move on to volume two. One of her favorite pastimes was to quote passages to me. I still remember a few of them." He drained his whiskey and signaled to Charlie for another round.

Dave shifted in his stool and studied Sean's closed expression. "That's it." His grin spread slowly. "You got a thing for the beautiful scientist."

"Yeah." Sean's shrug downplayed Dave's discovery. "But like I said, Lily's detested me forever. I doubt her attitude has changed much." And after the way he'd behaved toward her earlier, at the reef meeting, it was practically guaranteed Lily wouldn't be entertaining any warm, fuzzy feelings about him. Probably thought he was a bigger jerk than ever.

"So how long have you been suffering the effects of unrequited, uh, you know . . ."

Sean tilted his head, his look measuring. "Would you believe eighth grade?" He smiled and waited.

"You're kidding!"

Sean solemnly shook his head. "I kid you not."

"Eighth grade," Dave mused aloud. "What'd she do?"

"Took off her sweater in Ms. Geller's English class," Sean replied with a sorry laugh.

"She took off her sweater?" Dave echoed, his expression mystified. Understanding dawned as he recalled what he'd been like at age thirteen, a hormone-crazed adolescent. "Oh yea, right." He nodded sagely as he brought his beer to his lips.

"I was a goner from that day on," Sean said. "Didn't matter where I was. One look at Lily, and my mind and body went haywire. The worst of it was, I never quite figured out how to shake the Lily Effect. the next four years in high school were absolute torture."

"Oh, man," Dave said with an appalled laugh as he clapped a hand to Sean's shoulder in a show of fraternal commiseration. "I'm sorry. That's a hell of a tough break."

They leaned back in their stools while Charlie set new drinks before them.

"Thanks, Charlie," Sean said, going for his wallet.

Dave stopped him with a wave of his hand. "No, let me. When I have a story this sad, you buy the rounds."

"Thanks." Sean managed a rueful smile. His hand reached back to knead the kinks in his neck. "Yeah, it's a mess," he conceded. "On top of being Lily's public enemy number one, I've got Ferrucci trying to shove these development people down my throat--when he isn't attacking me on community TV."

"Don't waste your time worrying about Ferrucci's machinations, Sean. It's Lily Banyon you should be devoting your, uh, energies to. You're not a lust-struck teenager anymore. Why don't you spend some time with her, let her get to know the real you?" Dave ignored Sean's decidedly unenthusiastic grunt. "Hey! I've got it! You can tag along on the research boat as an observer."

"A monumentally bad idea," Sean said flatly.

"Why not? It's perfect. You ran on an environmental platform; this shows how committed you are to monitoring the reef's health. You don't need to go often--otherwise our friend Ferrucci will cry foul--just enough to dazzle her with that McDermott charm. So, how about it?"

Sean shook his head. "No dice, not in a million years. I don't want to be anywhere near her."

Dave wasn't cruel enough to tell Sean he was lying like a rug.

A brief silence ensued as they nursed their drinks, absorbed in thought. At the corner of the bar, a conversation rose in decibel, becoming animated.

"Yo, Frank, take a look at what just walked in! Is it Christmas already? 'Cause that sure is a pretty package."

"You got that right. . . . Wouldn't mind unwrapping her bows."

Instinctively, Sean cast a glance over his shoulder and groaned in despair. The scene from Casablanca played in his mind. . .Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she had to walk into mine.

This could not be happening. This was his turf, his town, his bar. She had no right to trespass.

Okay, so this wasn't Casablanca. This wasn't Rick's Cafe. Sam's fingers weren't summoning the haunting melody, "As Time Goes By," from the ivories of an old upright piano. There weren't any ceiling fans with long propeller-like blades slicing through thick clouds of cigarette smoke, nor were the voices that could be heard an exotic melange of foreign languages and accents.

But those differences were superficial, of no consequence. The only thing that really mattered was that Sean understood exactly how Bogie felt when his eyes lit on Ingrid Bergman. That terrible mix of bitterness, longing and fury eating away at him.

He groaned again.

At the sound, two men sitting at the corner of the bar broke off their conversation, eyeing Sean curiously. Just as quickly, they dismissed him and returned to their avid inspection.

"Must be lost or confused. Palm Beach is twenty-five miles north."

"Let's be friendly and give her direction. How 'bout that, Ray?"

"You frigging nuts? The only directions I'm giving her are to the slip where my houseboat's moored." He elbowed his companion. "Stop drooling, Frank. She's coming this way."

Because of the Keel's gloomy interior, Lily didn't notice that he and Dave were at the bar until she was almost upon them. The second she did, her step faltered. She was doubtless debating whether to spin 180 degrees and march right out again.

He should have known Lily would tough it out. After that initial hesitation, she strolled--it was the only word Sean could find that adequately described the confident sway of her hips--to the bar.

Once there, her gaze flit over Sean and Dave with total disinterest, the kind of look one reserved for strangers--with whom one had no intention of ever becoming acquainted.

"Tequila and lime, please," she ordered quietly when Charlie approached.

"Coming right up," Charlie said with a nod. He set a shot glass and a tequila bottle in front of her. Disappearing through the swinging door that led to the kitchen, he returned shortly with a white porcelain saucer, lime quarters neatly arranged in a radiating pattern.

Sean's eyebrows rose. Lily was getting the royal treatment; most of the Rusted Keel's patrons considered themselves lucky if they got their limes tossed into a plastic red Solo cup.

Charlie poured a shotful. The bar fell eerily silent as Lily leaned forward. Holding the lime bracketed between index finger and thumb, she bit into its flesh, her teeth flashing white in the subdued lighting. She lifted the shot glass to her lips. With a quick backward toss, she downed its contents. Her eyes closed.

Watching her, Sean imagined the fiery yellow liquor racing down her throat, setting her aglow from within. Involuntarily, his eyes traveled the sinuous contour of her profile and down the length of her neck. And descended further still.

Gone was the short jacket she'd been wearing earlier. The top two buttons of her blouse were undone. The blouse, made of some kind of shimmery material, shifted bluish purple in the half light.

Shadows and mysteries. The glimpse of Lily's milky white skin exposed by the shirt's plunging vee filled him with wanderlust, a need to explore until all her secrets were revealed. he moved restlessly on his stool.

A solid thud of glass against wood resounded in the near-silent bar. Then Lily was laying a ten-dollar bill on the bar and heading toward the door. In the wake of her departure, male speculation frothed in bloated bubbles.

Sean was already on his feet. He tossed a large tip on the bar. "Thanks again, Charlie. See you later, Dave."

"See you," Dave echoed. With a glimmer of a smile, he nodded in the direction of the parking lot. "Catching a ride?"

"That's the idea."

"Good luck."

"Thanks. I'll need it."

Sean had slipped his jacket off the back of the stool and was shrugging into it when one of the men seated at the corner spoke.

"Hey, McDermott, what's your opinion? Silicone for sure, huh?"

Sean paused to glance their way. Ray and Frank were partners in a small sport-fishing business. He knew them vaguely. Now he wished he didn't. He shook his head in contempt. "Think I'd tell you, Ray?"

Ray's eyes narrowed. "Like you actually know, McDermott. You claiming you've handled the goods, Mayor?" His tone matched the sneer on his face. "If so, the lady sure don't seem to remember." He poked Frank with his elbow. "Looked right through him, didn't she, Frank?"

"Like a pane of glass."

Sean ignored their snorts of laughter. "Let me give you some friendly advice." he said mildly. "I'd be real careful not to let the lady catch you staring at her like that."

Ray pulled a comical face, pretending to look scared, then laughed even harder.

Sean smiled in return. Yet when Ray opened his mouth to speak, he cut him off. "But if I'm the one who catches you gawking, if I hear you talking about her that way again--" he paused, and his smile turned dangerous, "--your sorry carcasses will be feeding the fish."

Copyright 2003, Laura Moore
Do not reproduce without permission