Any Fin For Love
by Petie McCarty
Genre: Contemporary Romance
She could almost hear the fish laughing at her . . .
Cody Ryan’s father never missed fishing the annual Loon Lake tournament until his unexpected passing. This year, Cody packs up her how-to fishing videos and her dad’s old johnboat and gives him one final entry.
Gage Connor needs some R&R away from his coast guard deployment catching drug smugglers along the Louisiana coast, so he borrows a bass boat from his buddy and heads to Loon, Alabama to do some fishing.
When Gage and Cody meet at Loon Lake, their attraction is immediate and intense—until the two discover there is only one boat slip left on the lake and they both need it, and there’s only one vacant hotel room left in Loon and they both want it. And so, their competition begins. Both vow to keep their distance from the other for their own peace of mind, but fate has other plans. The tournament pairing party picks the two-man teams and chooses Gage as Cody’s partner.
For two days.
Alone on a boat.
Working as a team.
Good things come to those who bait . . .
Billy’s voice boomed into the microphone as she mounted the three steps to the stage, and everyone quieted down. “Miss Cody Ryan is the first female entrant in the history of the Annual Loon Fishing Tournament.”
The women of Loon erupted again, and Billy added, “Doc Taylor and I checked the rules closely, and nowhere does it say a female cannot compete.”
Male angler voices rumbled now, and Cody could feel a warm flush sliding from her neck to her cheeks.
What had she been thinking when she started all this?
And what had made Gage frown at her so?
Did he still intend to fish the tournament?
Was his name still in the cowboy hat?
Why should she even care? The jerk had spent the afternoon with Lila. Cody should want him to forego the tournament—out of sight and out of mind—but her heart didn’t work that way. Refusing to meet his gaze once she reached the stage, she stared at a spot well to the right of the tent flap, careful to keep Billy and Lila in her peripheral vision.
“So we wish Cody the best of luck,” Billy was saying, though his expression didn’t agree. He turned to his daughter who was ogling Gage at the back of the tent. “Lila, pick Cody’s partner out of the hat.”
Still Lila stared at Gage, who stared at Cody, who desperately wished he would look anywhere but at her at the moment.
“Lila,” Billy snapped.
She startled and finally noticed her father’s glare, which made her pass a glare on to Cody as she reached into the big black Stetson. Her hand scrabbled in the bottom of the hat for a few seconds, and she frowned when Billy kept jiggling the Stetson.
“Hold still,” Lila muttered under her breath and snatched out one of the folded papers. She cast another of her toothy smiles out to the crowd. Until her eyes focused on the piece of paper in her hand, that is. The smile winked out, and her gaze shot to her father. “No,” she whined through clenched teeth.
“Read it,” he grunted.
Their matching glares dueled for an eternity, and Lila finally leaned over the microphone and said flatly, “Gage Connor.”
Cody’s jaw dropped. She shouldn’t’ve been so shocked. There were few names left. She had feared she would end up Zeke’s partner, since his name hadn’t been called either. Gage stalked down the center aisle, his long strides making short work of the distance, and Lila tracked his advance, looking dumbfounded.
Billy appropriated the microphone and hip-checked Lila aside. “Cody Ryan and Gage Connor will go out in the last flight, second to last boat, place number forty-nine. That leaves the last two names.” He picked the papers out of the Stetson himself, though Cody at her close range would have said it looked more like he peeled them off the hat interior.
“Zeke Tumson and Alvin Harper,” Billy announced and frowned as Zeke and Alvin followed Gage up the steps. “Lila, the shirts.”
Only Lila’s eyes moved, and they followed Gage’s progress as he strolled over to stand next to Cody. When Lila’s gaze shifted to Cody, the orbs darkened to glittering obsidian pools, and Cody swore for a moment they elongated to cat’s eyes but decided her imagination had accomplished that feat.
“Dang it, Lila,” Billy grumped and snatched the t-shirts out of the box and shoved them into the hands of the last four contestants. To Cody, he said, “Sorry about the size, but we didn’t expect a woman to enter.”
Maybe it was the way he said woman, but she struck a chin-up defiant pose. “I don’t suppose you did.”
He ignored her and announced, “Zeke and Alvin will be in the very last boat, number fifty in flight ten.”
Billy then addressed the audience. “There is a three-rod limit. Y’all will have to make do. Absolutely no live bait. The first flight of ten boats goes off at 7:00 a.m., so don’t be late. There will be ten minutes between flights. If both contestants on a team have boats, flip a coin to see whose boat you use the first day, and then use the other boat the second day.”
“What?” Gage thundered, suddenly coming to life.
Cody wanted a hole to open in the stage and swallow her up. She knew whoever got stuck with her as a partner would be mad about her johnboat. She just didn’t think the stickee would be Gage.
Billy smirked at Gage. “That’s right. You flip a coin to see which day you fish from her johnboat.”
“No way,” Gage bellyached.
A rumble of laughter swept through the tent, and Cody fought back tears. She swallowed three times to get the lump back down her throat until she caught sight of Lila’s ear-to-ear grin, and then her blood simmered to a boil.
“That’s the way it is,” Billy said, clearly as pleased as his daughter. He turned back to the crowd. “If there’s only one teammate with a boat . . .” His sideways smirk at Cody made her hands ball into fists. “Then you use the same boat both days.”
Great. Now Zeke and Alvin were grinning ear-to-ear, and Gage looked ready to explode. Big surprise there. The man had finally shown his true colors.
Billy hadn’t finished. “We start at seven both days. Y’all will have exactly eight hours to fish. I repeat, the first flight of ten boats leaves promptly at seven. The weigh-in each day will commence at three o’clock, and you’ll be given your weigh-in bags just before your flight in the morning. If your flight leaves at 7:10 a.m., then you must be back to weigh-in at 3:10 p.m. You will be docked one pound of fish for each minute you are late for your weigh-in. If you are more than fifteen minutes late, you will be disqualified.” He glanced around the tent to be sure all entrants paid attention. “Each boat must have a live well, and no more than five fish can be held in the live well at one time.”
He hesitated and then looked as though a light bulb flicked on. He spun around to face Cody. “Do you even have a live well?”
Every face in the tent focused on Cody.
“Yes, I do,” she said indignantly. “I wouldn’t have entered your tournament if I didn’t. I read the rules.”
“What is it? An Igloo cooler with an aquarium pump?” he taunted.
She gulped. “Yes.”
A rumble of laughter shot through the crowd.
Eyes narrowed, hands fisted at her sides, Cody stared them all down. She spotted the two rows of females smiling in the back, all giving her the universal thumbs up sign, and her chin notched up higher.
Billy couldn’t resist a final jab. “Well, Mr. Connor, it looks like you’ll spend one day in a johnboat.”
When the laugher spiked again, Cody didn’t wait for the formal dismissal. She stomped down the steps, paraded down the center aisle with her head held high, and marched right out the back of the tent.
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Petie spent a large part of her career working at Walt Disney World—”The Most Magical Place on Earth”—where she enjoyed working in the land of fairy tales by day and creating her own romantic fairy tales by night, including her new series, The Cinderella Romances. She eventually said good-bye to her “day” job to write her stories full-time. These days Petie spends her time writing sequels to her regency time-travel series, Lords in Time, and her cozy-mystery-with-romantic-suspense series, the Mystery Angel Romances.
Petie shares her home on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee with her horticulturist husband and an opinionated Nanday conure named Sassy who made a cameo appearance in No Angels for Christmas.