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Violet Morgan sighed with relief as she turned the key to the car into the off position. She stretched languidly and sucked in a deep breath, then opened the door and stepped out at the edge of the forest. Finally, she could breathe some fresh air.
It was a three mile hike up the mountain to reach the Morgan cabin, situated on the far side of an ice cold lake of the freshest water in the whole state of Nebraska. In the winter, this place was usually completely covered in snow too deep to navigate, making it impossible to reach the home away from home without the use of her father's private helicopter. He may not have a title in reality, but as the head ranger for the whole park, her father may as well be king of the mountain.
Although she had grown up here among the trees, she'd been sent off to college straight after graduation, and seven years had somehow gone by in a haze of studies, followed by a constant flow of work as a fashion consultant. However, now that she owned the company, she would be able to work on her designs from any place in the world, with no one to tell her what to do but herself.
As she left the crunching gravel behind in favor of soft moss, twigs and dirt, she couldn't help but think of how much her life had changed since she'd last stepped into this forest. One failed romance and plenty of alone time later, she wished in some small way that she could have returned here with someone in tow, but so far she hadn't been able to fill that void in her life.
After an invigorating hike through the dense foliage, Violet finally topped the rise and found the lake. It was as pristine and perfect as she remembered it, and she wasted no time in disrobing and running toward the water, secure in the knowledge that not one other person was nearby to see her let go.
This part of the lake was covered in lily pads, and she could hear the loud croaking of the frogs who made their home there. She'd never been too keen on the idea of being so close up to the slimy little creatures, since every time she'd tried to hold one it had squelched through her fingers and wriggled away, and that childhood memory gave her a little chill, making her wade away as fast as possible.
However, as she moved, she felt the chain of her necklace snap. The small golden bell she'd received from her mother not long before she died dropped into the water with a sickening plop, making her gasp with dismay.
"Oh no, Mama!" she wailed as tears slid down her cheeks. "How will I ever find it again?"
"I could find it for you," said a man's voice. Gasping again, Violet turned and glared as a man came up out of the water not far away from her.
"What are you doing in my lake?" she demanded hotly as she ducked further down into the waist-high water, trying to cover herself. "What did you see?"
"About fifty tadpoles, by my estimation. I'm Dale Menkin, resident herpetologist," he answered. "My cabin is just over there."
"When did they put another cabin up here?" she asked incredulously. "We've never had anyone sharing this lake before."
"Ma'am, I assure you, I've been living out here for the last four years," he answered. "And if I find your necklace, which cabin might I be bringing it to?"
"I—um, I'm Violet Morgan," she answered with a blush. "Would you mind closing your eyes till I get back to shore and find my clothes?"
With a chuckle, he asked, "You mean to tell me you can draft all those fancy, revealing clothes, but you're afraid to be seen in the buff?"
"Don't go all scientific about me," she scolded him. "I'm not a specimen, Mr. Menkin, and I'll thank you not to treat me as one."
"Well, Miss Morgan, when I find your trinket you must promise me something," he said with a smirk.
"And what might that be?"
"I want you to cook me some breakfast, and then we could sit and talk," he said. "I've been out here pretty much on my own over a year now, so I could really use the company."
"Oh," she answered, looking him over. He was wearing a wet suit, a snorkel and some goggles, so she really couldn't say if he was handsome or not, but she assumed he'd probably let his appearance go after so long a time.
She hated to admit that she was vain, but there it was. He certainly wasn't what she'd dream of calling the least bit fashionable. However, since he was a scientist he might at least know how to behave in a civilized manner, and there wasn't anyone else to talk to out here, so she said, "Sure, it'd be the least I could do. I'll give you my cell number. It should still work, even out here. It has global positioning and all that."
"Well, I don't think you brought it into the lake, any more than I brought mine," he pointed out with an amused chuckle. "But I'll get to work on that right away, and when I find it I'll let you know. It won't be difficult to find you. There are only three cabins on this whole lake."
"That's good, then I won't have to worry about finding any more men witnessing my skinny dipping endeavors. No peeking, now, I'm going to go get settled in."
"Great," he said with another chuckle. "And hope to see a bit less of you later."
"Right," she said, mortified all over again. She was back to shore in record time, and she halfway hoped she'd never see him or the necklace ever again. Still, it was her only memory of her mother remaining, so she'd be very glad of its return.
Violet, now fully clothed and ensconced in her cabin and hair neatly brushed out, had busied herself almost immediately with arranging her wardrobe to her satisfaction. She hummed as she cooked herself a burger in the lavish kitchen, seasoning it to perfection and encasing it in bread she'd baked in the machine as she'd put her things away.
Sighing contentedly, she sat at her table and took a bite, only to be annoyed when she heard her cell phone's ringtone that indicated she had a new text message. Digging it out of her purse, she pressed a button and read what it said.
"Hey, it's Dale Menkin," it read. "I found the chain, but I don't know what you had on it. Help a guy out? I'd really like an excuse to see you in some of those fine fashions you're so keen on."
Suppressing the urge to chuckle herself now, Violet adopted a bit of a scowl instead. Hadn't she come out here for some alone time? If she started texting him, the man might take it as some sort of encouragement. Still, she should at least find out how he'd gotten her number.
She caught herself thinking of how much taller than her he'd seemed, but firmly reminded herself they'd been in a lake and she'd been crouching. Then her mind wandered, and she found herself thinking of the mellow baritone voice and the sparkling bright blue eyes she thought she'd been able to detect beyond the goggles.
"You are not having romantic notions about some nerdy frog man just because he's the only guy in town," she told herself firmly. Ten minutes later, completely disgusted with herself for doing it, she was typing something into the little phone.
"Where did you get my number? It's not even listed."
She could barely eat her burger as she waited for his reply. Several times she forgot to chew, and found herself sitting with her mouth full and staring off into space. Stop it, she told herself. You don't know anything about him. You don't even know what he looks like. You came here to relax.
The phone rang this time. Biting her lower lip nervously, she answered it. "Hello?"
"Hey, it's me," said her father. "Did you make it to the cabin in one piece?"
"Yes, for the most part," she answered.
"What does that mean, for the most part?"
"I sort of lost my necklace," she answered, somewhat mechanically as she fidgeted, wondering how long he would be on the phone, and would the frog man respond while she was talking to him.
"What? But you love that necklace," he gasped. "Wait, what do you mean sort of?"
"It fell in the lake, and the resident herpetologist said he was going to look for it," she explained.
"Oh, you met Dale?" her father replied, his voice sounding a bit hopeful.
"Yes, I did," she answered. "Well, sort of. Actually I have no idea what he looks like since he was in his frog get up. But I promised to make him breakfast and talk if he found it. I don't know, Dad, I'm not sure I should do it. He studies frogs for a living, for goodness sakes. What could we possibly have to talk about?"
"Well, you did promise him," her father pointed out. "You should always keep your promises."
"Maybe he won't even find it," Violet suggested.
"I wouldn't count on it," he replied. "That man was made for just such jobs."
"You're no help at all," Violet grumbled. "I'll have to talk to you later. I'm absolutely exhausted."
"Sure thing, hon," he said. "And Violet, couldn't you just for once try seeing a person as more than just the outfit they're wearing? You might find out it's more fun to wear nothing at all."
"Dad!" she gasped. "I'm hanging up now."
Violet pressed the button, and almost immediately the phone indicated that she'd received another text. It said, I'm a scientist. Go figure. And your figure is quite nice, by the way.
Her fingers flew as she responded: I thought you had your eyes closed.
Only after you asked me to close them. Will you let me come over? I promise to keep my hands to myself.
Violet's eyes widened. She felt her pulse quicken, and she had a great urge to drop the phone as if it had suddenly become too hot to hold onto. She responded, What, you mean now? What about breakfast?
I still don't know what I'm looking for. Are you going to tell me?
A little golden bell, she told him. It could be anywhere by now.
Well, I will start with the most obvious place and work my way outwards.
You can come over when you find the bell, Violet told him.
Unfair, he replied. How shall I ever fall asleep tonight?
I'm sure you'll think of something.
When Violet woke the next morning the first thing she did was reach for her cell phone. Sure enough, the frog man had written her again. It said, I'm off to go for a swim. Feel free to hop in—your swimsuit is divine.
Blushing furiously, she replied, Maybe this time I'll actually have one on.
Spoil sport, he replied.
Violet suddenly realized she had a huge grin on her face that she couldn't seem to wipe away. Was she actually grinning over a frog man? This was insane. She didn't even know what Dale Menkin looked like under all that gear. Flirting with him and then finding out he was hideous could lead to disaster, and yet it had been a long time since she'd felt so stimulated just by a conversation.
She had half a mind to go down to the lake immediately, but she didn't want to appear too eager. After all, what if the frog turned out to be a toad? How would she handle things then? Yet within an hour she found herself walking eagerly down to the shoreline and lying on her towel, applying sun tan lotion and lying back to enjoy the sun.
"Not swimming today, Miss Morgan?" came a teasing, masculine voice. It gave her a little shiver to hear it, even though she had known she would.
"You're blocking my sun," she grumbled, forcing herself to keep her eyes shut. She was afraid he would not be in his suit, and she wasn't quite ready for her fairy tale to end.
Chuckling, Dale moved to the side and said, "Better?"
"Much," she answered, then sighed melodramatically as she stretched her arms and wriggled into a more comfortable position.
"Do you do that often?" he teased her. "You do it very well."
"Pervert," she said, unable to hide her smirk.
"I have something for you," he said in a sing-song voice, making Violet open her eyes.
"You found it?" she asked in surprise.
"Come, sit up a bit and I'll put it on you."
Dutifully, Violet sat up. She was disappointed to find him still in his wet suit and goggles, but she didn't say a word about it. Instead, she said, "Well then, I suppose that means I'll have to let you come over."
"For breakfast," he reminded her with a grin.
"Why do I think the thing you're wanting to eat doesn't come from the fridge?" she inquired sweetly.
"I don't know—it might if somebody was extremely weird," he pointed out.
"If they were, I'd rather not know about it," she answered.
"Come swim with me," he suggested, tugging on her hand to get her to stand up.
"I don't think I should," she said. "I wouldn't want to end up in your fridge."
He laughed. "I prefer my women a bit warmer than that, Miss Morgan."
"Oh, so it's to be the oven then?"
"No, how about a warmed up waterbed?" he suggested directly into her ear. Where his breath touched the flesh began to tingle. His hand that held hers felt good as well, suffusing her whole body with heat.
"How about getting your mind out of the gutter?" she quipped.
"Aw, sorry, I forgot you're the princess of the fashion world," he answered. "Why would you want to spend time with a guy like me?"
"No, that's not it," she quickly corrected him. "I'm just not the kind of girl who moves too fast. I mean, what do I even know about you? For all I know, you might even really have things in your fridge that you shouldn't."
Dale laughed again. "I can assure you I don't. So, is it to be breakfast then? Tomorrow?"
Violet shook her head and laughed. "I did promise, didn't I?"
"Yes, you did," he answered. "So, about that swim?"
"Maybe I'll catch you later," she answered, and he nodded and walked away toward the water, his flippers flapping almost awkwardly against the sand and pebbles. Violet laughed again and walked away.
Violet opened her eyes promptly at six in the morning and couldn't close them again no matter how hard she tried. She kept staring at her cell phone wondering if he intended to call or just show up on her doorstep. Try as she might, she couldn't quit picturing the man showing up in goggles and a wetsuit, and it kept making her giggle.
Finally the phone rang around eight, and she practically pounced on the thing. "Hello?"
"Good, you're awake," said a cheerful, very masculine voice.
Goosebumps rose on her arms as she tried to sound calmer than she felt. "Um, yeah, I've been up for a while. What do you want for breakfast?"
"Besides me, that is."
"Oh, well if I can't devour you it may as well be eggs and bacon."
"And toast too, I suppose?"
"Well, yeah, of course," he agreed wholeheartedly.
"When will you be here?" Violet inquired.
"Not too long, I'm walking up the steps right now."
"Oh, so about fifteen minutes, then," she said with a chuckle.
"Come on, there aren't that many steps," he said.
"You sound like you already know," she said suspiciously.
"So I've been up here to see the old man a time or two," he answered, sounding a bit winded now. "So, sue me."
"Naw, I think I'll just feed you."
"Sure you don't want to devour me instead?" he chuckled. "It would cost less."
"Yeah, but then who would all the tadpoles have to play with?"
"Well, there is that," he agreed. "Come open the door, I'm here."
"Okay," she said, walking to the door with the phone still in her hand. "Oh, I gotta get off the phone now, there's someone at the door."
"Okay, talk to you soon," he chuckled. The door swung open, and Violet got her first glimpse of the frog man without the wetsuit. She thought she would die of shock as she looked the man over from head to toe. To say he was drop-dead gorgeous would be an understatement.
"Oh, have you seen a frog man out here?" she inquired with a big grin. "I was supposed to have him for breakfast."
"Oh, really?" he chuckled. "Shall I go get the wetsuit then? I mean, if that's what does it for you—"
"Shut up and get in here," Violet said as she grabbed him by the arm and propelled him through the door.
"You sure your name isn't Violent?" he teased.
"You'd better hope not," she snickered. "I'm the one who will be slicing the bacon."
They continued their lively banter as Violet prepared the meal, as well as a nice hot batch of coffee, and then they spent a wonderful morning talking nonsense until noon. Then Dale stood to go.
"This has been the best breakfast chat I ever had, but I've got work to do," he said. "I'm heading up to the University, but would you like to have dinner tomorrow night? My treat?"
"I'd love to," she agreed as she stood to walk him to the door. He went out onto the porch, then turned and pulled her with him.
"How about a kiss for this old frog?" he inquired.
"What for?" asked Violet. "You already turned into a handsome prince."
Laughing, Dale said, "What better reason could there be than that?"
Violet had to agree, especially when next he took her into his arms and their lips met in the hottest kiss she'd ever received in her life. So maybe not all frogs were as slimy as she'd once believed. And maybe there was something to be said for moving a bit faster than usual. Who knew?
"See you tomorrow," she whispered with a satisfied smirk. "And come wearing chocolate."
"Don't you mean bearing chocolate?" he asked with a sly grin.
"No," she answered. "Most definitely wearing."
"Then I shall be here with bells on," he answered, and practically hopped all the way down the stairs.
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