Maddy Powers’s life revolves around cocktail parties, political fundraisers, and charity events — but she can’t forget the daring former SEAL who appropriated her father’s yacht a few months ago … or the scorching kiss they shared before he disappeared into the deep blue sea.
Bran Pallidino carries a dark secret behind his lady-killer eyes — one that keeps him from pursuing a serious relationship with Maddy. But when she’s taken hostage during a trip to the Dry Tortugas, the men of Deep Six Salvage drop their treasure hunt for a sunken galleon and embark on a dangerous mission to save Maddy.
As they fight her merciless kidnappers, they discover this isn’t a simple hostage situation, but something far more sinister. Passion boils between Bran and Maddy, but what good is putting their hearts on the line if they don’t survive the dawn?
Bran opened his mouth to tell them to stop poking at each other like children. But before he could say anything, a dull pop, pop echoed across the water, barely discernible above the snap of the mainsail as it tugged against the boom basket when a particularly strong gust of briny-smelling wind pulled the fabric tight.
The fine hairs on the back of Bran’s neck stood on end, his adrenaline spiked, and hundreds of missions to the ass ends of the earth flashed through his brain. If he lived ten thousand lifetimes, he’d recognize that sound for exactly what it was…
Pop! Pop, pop, pop! Another barrage carried over the waves and slammed into his eardrums like percussion grenades.
“Maddy!” He hadn’t realized he’d roared her name aloud until he saw Alex jump straight into Mason’s lap and turn to stare at him with wide, frightened eyes.
“Huh? What?” she asked, then squawked when Mason hopped from his seat and bobbled her like a hot potato. Once Mason set her on her feet, she smacked him on the arm and glared. “What the heck was that all about?” she demanded. “You could’ve launched me overboard and—”
But that’s all she managed before another unmistakable pop sounded over the water.
“What is that?” she asked, pushing her glasses up the medicated bridge of her nose.
“Gunfire,” Mason gritted.
“Gunfire?” Alex’s face went so white it was hard to see where the white zinc oxide stopped and her skin started. “Wh-why? There isn’t hunting on the Dry Tortugas, is there? I mean, what could anyone possibly hunt? There are only seabirds and turtles and…it’s dark.”
“That’s not the sound of a fuckin’ hunting rifle,” Mason gritted between clenched teeth, lifting his eyes to Bran. The look on Mason’s face was one Bran knew all too well. It said one thing and one thing only. Trouble. The kind of trouble that separated men into two distinct categories: the quick and the dead.
Without conscious thought, Bran turned the key and engaged the catamaran’s dual engines, adding their man-made horsepower to Mother Nature’s wind power. The butterflies in his stomach grew lead wings and fell like rocks.
“Get the M4s!” he yelled, disgusted to hear his voice was nothing more than a reedy bark of sound, barely discernible over the roar of the engines and the hiss of the waves against the twin hulls as the sailboat picked up speed.
It must have been loud enough. With a hitch of his chin, Mason disappeared inside the cabin.
“What are M4s?” Alex called, blinking against the salt spray splashing over the deck as the catamaran plowed up one wave and down another.
Bran didn’t answer. He couldn’t. His pounding heart was sitting in the back of his throat, strangling him. He once again lifted the field glasses, but he couldn’t see much of anything beyond the spray of white water kicked up by the outboard engine of a dinghy that had detached itself from the fishing boat and was now plowing toward the shore of Garden Key.
When Mason reappeared on the deck—two minutes later? Ten? Bran couldn’t say; time was moving at a snail’s pace—their trusty weapons were strapped to his back.
Now, it wasn’t unusual for a boat to come equipped with firearms. The open oceans were the last great frontier, and it behooved a smart captain and crew to always be able to defend themselves. What was unusual was for a boat to be carrying fully automatic, gas-powered, 5.56 mm NATO round-firing pieces of death-dealing machinery, the kind of weapons strictly off-limits to civilians unless you bought them out of the back of a van or, in Bran’s and Mason’s case, unless you appropriated them from good ol’ Uncle Sam—with the blessing of their CO, of course.
“Oh! My! God!” Alex screamed when she saw the rifles. “Where the heck did those come from?”
Bran barely spared her a glance. “Come on! Come on!” he yelled, punching the throttle as far as it would go and willing the sailboat to move faster.
It wasn’t long, three seconds maybe, before he felt Mason’s bulk on the steps leading to the captain’s perch. Mason placed a hand on Bran’s shoulder and leaned over him to kill the running lights.
Good idea. Don’t know why I didn’t think of it. Oh, right. Because all he’d been thinking was Get to Maddy! Get to Maddy!
“You need to ease off, bro,” Mason said.
“Screw you,” Bran grumbled, shrugging off Mason’s heavy palm. “Maddy’s on that island.”
“I’m not trying to be a cocksucker here,” Mason said, the next-to-last word sounding more like cocksuckuh. “But we go in there full tilt and guns hot, and we’re likely to end up deader than fuckin’ doornails.”
“I know, man.” Mason nodded. “But we need to do this the right way. The SEAL way.” Mason gave Bran’s shoulder a squeeze that conveyed a million things at once: Get your shit together. Don’t worry, I got your back. Once more into the breach, dear friend…
Roger that. The SEAL way.
Bran managed a nod and throttled back the engines despite all his instincts screaming at him to do the opposite.
“Good.” Mason said when the catamaran was no longer plowing hell-bent for leather toward Garden Key. “Now how do you want to play this?”
“Don’t know,” Bran admitted, his scalp on fire like every single one of his hairs had ripped out of their follicles. His lungs attempted to crawl into his throat to join his heart—apparently it’s a party in there—and his mind was spinning out of control. “I don’t—”
“Okay, okay.” Mason hit the side of his heavy fist against Bran’s shoulder. “So the way I see it, we got two options. Option one is we use the marine radio to call back to Wayfarer Island and tell LT there’s a situation on Garden Key. We should still be within hailing range.” His face said he wasn’t sure about that last part. Truth to tell, Bran wasn’t either. Marine radios weren’t built to carry signals over great distances. They were meant to be used for close ship-to-ship communication. “Then LT can use the satphone on the island to call the Coast Guard on Key West.”
“And after that?” Bran demanded. Each second they sat flapping their lips felt like an eternity. “We wait out here and twiddle our dicks until the authorities show up while who knows what happens to Maddy? Hell no. Plus, there’s always a chance that they”—he punched a finger toward Garden Key and whoever the hell was firing off those weapons—“are monitoring the marine channels. If we use the marine radio to hail back to Wayfarer Island, they’ll know the Coasties are on their way, they could…” He couldn’t even countenance the end of that sentence, much less voice it. If only they had a satphone onboard, they could make the call to Key West themselves and no one would be the wiser. I wish. But there was that old saying about wishing in one hand and shitting in the other and seeing which one filled up faster. “No way, paisano.” He adamantly shook his head. “We hafta maintain radio silence until we know what we’re dealing with.”
“Hey!” Alex called from the deck. “What are you two talking about? Shouldn’t we be—”
“Alex!” Mason bellowed, which was so unlike him that Bran actually flinched. “It would be wicked awesome if, for once in your life, you shut your chowderhole!”
Alex wasn’t one to let something like that slide. But she was as taken aback by Mason’s outburst as Bran was. She snapped her mouth shut, blinking rapidly behind the lenses of her glasses.
“Okay, so that leaves us with option two,” Mason continued as if they hadn’t been interrupted.
“We need to get eyes and ears on that island. And I think I have a plan for how to do that.”
“I’m listening,” was what Bran said. What he was thinking was I can’t believe this is happening again!
Julie Ann Walker is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Black Knights Inc. romantic suspense series. You can find her on her bicycle along the lake shore in Chicago or blasting away at her keyboard, trying to wrangle her capricious imagination into submission. She lives in Chicago, IL.
a Rafflecopter giveaway