Will Walsh is a terrific sailor. And a terrible ex. Just ask Mae Mercer, the woman he left behind when a too-good-to-refuse promotion to the elite ranks of the Navy came on the eve of their wedding. Will might be a force of nature when he’s hunting down pirates and drug dealers, but that’s nothing compared to the way he capsizes Mae’s world when he returns home to Heart’s Ease. On a mission to reclaim her heart, he knows that failure isn’t an option. But this time, he might have to concede defeat: the only thing stronger than his desire to claim her is Mae’s desire to preserve her freedom. Can Mae resist the temptation to jump into this very able-bodied seaman’s open arms? Or will his wilful desire win out?
The air was rancid with sweat—the kind of sweat only a mix of adrenaline and an honest-to-Jesus fear for your life could create. At moments like this, his body was hypersensitive. A bead of sweat trickled down his forehead, its descent toward his eye diverted by his dense eyebrow. He wanted to move. Wanted to face whatever was waiting beyond the closed door. But this wasn’t his show to run. Will Walsh focused on his commanding officer, waiting for the signal to move.
The sound of gunfire from somewhere behind him did nothing to ease the tension, even with the call of clear a split-second later. Will closed his eyes and took a deep breath to steady his heart rate, then opened them slowly, allowing a false calm to wash over his body, relaxing too-taut muscles that needed to be ready to react.
Behind the door, that metal beast only four feet away, he heard the thunk of cargo being moved. They needed to break that sucker down now when they could be certain that at least one bastard didn’t have a semi-automatic trained on the door awaiting their arrival.
Dawe, his CO, locked eyes with him. A slight nod. The only sign he needed to hustle.
His foot connected with the door, an intense kick he’d practised for this very task. He had long, thick legs, and it wasn’t far into his training for the Maritime Tactical Operations Group that Dawe had given Will’s legs their own nickname: Battering Rams. Still, one kick at the door barely moved it. Another. And another. On the fourth kick, it caved.
With the balance of a lynx, he regained his footing and advanced.
“On the floor. Hands behind your back,” he yelled. “Haut les mains!” he repeated. In the Caribbean, there was a good chance French was this guy’s native language.
Will trained his C8 rifle on the lone occupant of the room as the man dropped to the ground, hands wrapping behind his head. A quick survey of the crates and Will knew their intel was right. There was enough coke in this room to fuel a hundred Wall Street wolves for a year.
“Clear,” Dawe yelled. “I’ll take him above deck. Go slow. Wait for backup before putting those rams to use again.”
The rush of boarding the rickety fishing boat was wearing off. The initial part of boarding a vessel was an intense flurry of establishing command and control. You didn’t know if someone was going to start shooting the moment you came over the top. But it was searching below deck that was the real thrill.
It always reminded him of playing spotlight when he was a kid. Other kids played the nighttime game in the woods around their houses. But Will had never played by the rules. Even then. Why hide in a droke of woods when there was a host of boats tied up to wharves all along the shore of Heart’s Ease? Soon his friends caught on, and the game became more secretive. Any of their parents would have lost their minds if they knew what the boys were up to. And one girl. Always that one girl.
Will pulled his mind back to the present. No time for thinking about home now. For thinking about her.
Hell, there was never a good time to think about her.
“Walsh. We need your skills here.” Bouchard’s thick French-Canadian accent echoed from above.
He peered down the hall. “All clear down there, b’ys?” Will hadn’t totally lost his Newfoundland accent in the twelve years he’d been in the Navy.
“We’re good,” Johnson called back.
Will slung his firearm over his shoulder and climbed the short few rungs to the deck. At the bow, three of his teammates had the crew on lockdown, their faces deadly calm, defying anyone to attempt to move.
Bouchard waved him to the stern.
“I don’t need your rams, my friend,” he said with a wicked grin. “It’s your other gift that’s required.”
It never failed. If there was fish on board, Will was the one who was going to have to deal with it. The first time they’d opened a hold of fish, three of the Navy’s finest, most elite, had puked all over the deck. Will had been the one to search and clear the hold. The stink of fish didn’t bother him. Especially in the cooler waters of the North Pacific where they’d initially trained. But in the heat of the Caribbean sun, even his guts rolled from time to time.
Given the threadbare nets hanging limply overhead, and the number of roaches he’d seen scurry away below deck, he didn’t hold out much hope that the crew of this boat were career-minded, professional fishermen. Fishing was an excuse to be at sea. The drugs below were the real catch.
He took a deep breath, pointed his gun at the hatch, and nodded for Bouchard to lift it open. It would surprise the shit out of him to find anyone down there, but desperation caused stupid people to lose what little sense they had.
It was devoid of human life, but ripe with rotting fish, likely put there before the boat even left whatever hellhole it called home and ignored ever since.
“I want your steak next time the mess fires up the grill,” Will said.
Bouchard’s face was pale. “How can you even think of food with that nauséabond?”
“It’s a gift,” he said and lowered himself into the furnace of stench.
An audible squish broke the silence as he landed above his knees in snapper. He pitied whoever was doing laundry.
“Toss me down something to move this crap around with,” he called up to Bouchard.
“Watch your head,” his friend said, handing a shovel down to him.
Slowly he stirred the fish around, looking for signs of hidden goods. Call it a sixth sense or penchant for lucky hunches, but he always trusted his gut, and this time he was certain he’d find something. Likely guns. Drug smugglers sometimes dabbled in gun-running. They’d store the weapons in watertight plastic. He’d know it when his shovel made contact.
He tossed the fish around, jabbing the shovel through the slime and gills, waiting to strike the contraband. It should feel hard. Instead, he hit a soft, big mass. It felt like a big fish. Maybe a swordfish? A shark? Curiosity got the better of him, and he dug through the fish to see what it was.
And then, Will Walsh did something he’d never done in all his years at sea. He threw up. Fell to his hands and knees and puked in a way he didn’t know possible. Less than a foot away from where he emptied his stomach was the bloated face of a woman. A woman who resembled Mae so closely she could have been her sister.
A delightfully romantic love story!-- Books & Benches blog --
Excellent contemporary romance in Atlantic Canadian setting.-- Atlantic Books Today --