Coming Soon


Dead in the Water debuts this summer!

Dead in the Water debuts this summer!

Read on for an *uncorrected* sneak peek!

 

Prologue

July 29th, 1624…

Dead.

All dead.

And very soon I will be dead too, Bartolome Vargas thought as he carefully wrapped his journal in oilcloth before placing it in the lead-lined box he had salvaged months earlier from the flotsam washed ashore after the wreck of the grand galleon. 

The Santa Cristina…

Who could have known she would not survive her maiden mission?

Certainly not Bartolome.

The first time he laid eyes on her, anchored in the shipyard in Barcelona with her towering mainmast and hardwood hull gleaming in the sunshine, he had thought to himself, ‘Tis a ship to ply the seas long after the good Lord calls me home.

Alas, Mother Nature had made other plans for the magnificent vessel.

Mayhap the galleon could have survived the early season hurricane had she not been weighed down and riding low in the drink with a belly full of treasure from the New World. After all, she had been built tough by Spain’s best shipbuilders. A veritable floating fortress.

Overburdened as she had been, however, there had been no hope for her when the seas grew angry and the winds howled like the very hounds of hell.

“’Tis why I made my decision,” he said aloud to no one.

Or ’twas possible he said it aloud for the benefit of the ghosts surrounding him. The invisible specters of the men who had sailed and fought by his side. All of them gone now. He, their commander, their capitán, was the lone survivor of the once heralded crew.

Of the 224 souls who had sailed the Santa Cristina, only thirty-six had survived the violence of the big ship’s sinking. Thirty-six brave men who had continued to follow Bartolome’s commands despite the trials and tribulations they had faced once they found themselves marooned on the spit of mangrove forest and sand. Thirty-six sailors who had continued to prove themselves good and true sons of Spain until, one by one, they too had succumbed.

Some had fallen victim to the elements or injury. Others to illness. But the last of them had been taken by that merciless demon known as thirst. 

After the blue death descended upon their camp, and after Bartolome dumped their water barrels in a desperate bid to keep more of his men from falling victim to the terrible illness, the stingy sky had refused to replenish their drinking supply with even one drop of rain.

Helplessly, Bartolome had watched the last of his crewmen suffer the debilitating headaches and hallucinations brought on by dehydration. His own weakened state had made it impossible for him to stop those who had run into the sea, gulping of the salty water in a desperate attempt to quench their unbearable thirsts.

Of course, their efforts had only expedited their departures into the great beyond.

But mayhap ’twas their intention all along, he silently mused as he closed the lid on the lead-lined box. And surely ’tis no sin to hasten death when death is inevitable.

The only thing that had been left to Bartolome then had been to dig their graves with the help of Rosario, the midshipman who had become his right-hand man. And then Rosario, too, had fallen quietly into the arms of death.

With the last of his strength, Bartolome dug Rosario’s grave that very morn. Now he lowered the box into the shallow hole beside the midshipman’s body.

“Keep this safe, my friend,” he whispered, brushing a strand of hair from Rosario’s cold brow. For the first time in weeks, the young sailor appeared at peace. No more furrowed forehead. No more pinched lips. No more glint of pain in his dark eyes.

Bartolome had dressed Rosario’s body in his very own waistcoat, the buttons of which were stamped with the Vargas family seal. “You now hold the key to the location of the treasure.” He gently placed one of Rosario’s limp hands atop the precious box.

Bartolome had no idea how long it took him to shovel sand back into the grave, his withered muscles shaking with fatigue. But eventually the deed was done, and he wiped a hand across his brow despite his shriveled body having long ago lost the ability to sweat.

The wooden cross he had carved from the limbs of a mangrove tree found a home at the head of the narrow mound. He pressed his signet ring into the marker until the pattern from the ring was deeply imprinted upon the soft wood.

His hope was that one of his countrymen would stumble onto the remote island, find the graves, and know the significance of the symbol on the cross. If so, and if they had an ounce of intelligence, they would dig up the body with the expectation of it being Bartolome himself, a captain known for his cunning and wits. A captain who would insist on leaving behind a clue, a code, that only their good king himself could decipher. A code that would pinpoint the location of the Santa Cristina’s enormous bounty.

And if not? If no Spaniards arrived to find the grave and the secrets within? Then the massive cache of riches would remain safe in its new resting place. Safe from the covetous hands of Spain’s enemies. Locked away in a coral-encrusted tomb for all eternity.

Bartolome dropped his hand atop the hill of sand covering Rosario’s corpse. “Rest well, my most trusted and loyal crewman. If there is an afterlife, you deserve all the glory that awaits you.”

Dragging himself to the water’s edge, he lay on his back and let the surf lap at his legs. The beating of his heart kept rhythm with the warm waves as he stared into the cloudless sky. And then, after a time, his pulse grew thready and the world around him dimmed.

Bartolome couldn’t see the bastard, but he knew the instant Death sat next to him.

“’Tis where I wish to face my end,” he told the Reaper, his voice a harsh rasp of sound. “Here, on this beach overlooking the watery grave of the Santa Cristina. The tide will carry my body out to sea where the fishes will pick my tired bones clean. A fitting end for a sailor, me thinks.”

Death did not answer him, of course. But Bartolome thought for sure he could feel a cold, bony hand land upon his shoulder.

“I am ready,” he declared staunchly. He had lived his life fearlessly. It was only fitting he greet his end with the same courage. “Take me.” 

With that, Bartolome Vargas, Spain’s most celebrated sea captain, breathed his last.

 

Chapter 1

Present Day

6:35 PM…

“You ever have the urge to tell someone to shut up even when they aren’t talking?”

Dalton “Doc” Simmons frowned at Cami. The toothpick caught between his teeth pointed at the floor. “What the hell? I’m just standing here.”

“And silently calling me dirty names. I can feel you doing it even if I can’t hear you.” Her lips pursed. Lips that were plush, full, and painted a rich, velvety red. “Which is so much worse. Because then when I call you out for silently calling me dirty names, it makes me sound crazy.” She narrowed her eyes. Eyes that were dark, heavily lashed, and tilted up at the corners.

Hands down, Camilla D’ Angelo was the most beautiful woman Doc had ever met.

Not that he put a whole heck of a lot of stock in beauty. The Hope Diamond was said to be one of the most dazzling gems ever cut, but everyone who’d ever owned it had died a mysterious death.

Beauty had a way of hiding what was sinister. 

Okay. Back up. He wasn’t going so far as to say Cami’s loveliness came with a curse. But she was a lawyer, so…

“But maybe that’s your goal. To make me sound crazy.” She tapped a ruby-red fingertip on her chin. “You’d love to see me wrapped in a straitjacket. Admit it.”

“I’ll admit no such thing.” He noted how his blood bubbled with pleasure.

Trading barbs with Cami was…stimulating. Maybe because she was the only woman whose mouth he’d ever been tempted to simultaneously kiss and tape shut.

Although, having done that first thing, he wasn’t stupid enough to attempt it again. Not because it hadn’t been good, but because it’d been too good. A kiss that’d gone past his lips to sink into a space that, for years, he’d purposefully kept empty.

It’d been an alarming kiss. A dangerous kiss.

A kiss that will not be repeated.

“I wouldn’t wish the indignity of a straitjacket on anyone,” he assured her. “I’m a firm believer in bodily autonomy. So if it’s looking like you’re heading toward some sort of unwilling confinement, please know I’ll put you out of your misery and smother you with a pillow first.”

Her mouth flattened into a straight line. “What a gentleman.”

“I like to think so.”

He wouldn’t have thought it possible, but her mouth flattened further, until her red lips disappeared completely. “Apparently, when it comes to sarcasm, you’re tone deaf.”

“Oh, no. I picked up what you were laying down. I’m simply being magnanimous and choosing to ignore it.” She opened her mouth to come back at him with something scathing, no doubt, but he cut her off by adding, “But since you brought it up, let’s address it.” He checked his watch. “By my count, that was two hours of stonewalling silence followed up with sarcasm. It’s like we’ve been married for ten years.”

“You could only dream of being so lucky. And those two hours of stonewalling silence were a direct result of you accusing me of purposefully making your job harder than it has to be.” A fascinating wash of pink stained her high cheekbones. She enjoyed their linguistic tussles as much as he did. “You’ve called me a witch before, but surely you don’t think I’m capable of conjuring up a storm.” Her hands were fisted on her hips as she stood with her legs slightly apart to counter the movement of the decking beneath her feet.

The Wayfarer II was a large vessel, with a J-frame crane attached to the aft section and a HIAB hydraulic loader on the bow that kept the ship equally weighted in the water. But the approaching hurricane had begun to rile the seas, making the Wayfarer bob like a cork.

“I never called you a witch.” His tongue worked the fraying end of the toothpick in his mouth. A psych major would probably accuse him of having an oral fixation. But Doc would argue his affinity for the wooden sticks was simply habit. One he’d picked up from his old man because, as a boy, he’d done everything he could to become his father’s Mini-Me. “I said you were witchy. There’s a difference. And I know you’re not responsible for the storm. But you are responsible for having us wait until the reef was submerged before retrieving the treasure.”

Her smooth brow lined with frustration. “The law is responsible for that. Not me.”

Admiralty law, a salvor’s best friend, stated it was finders keepers when it came to recovered goods within state or federal waters. Unfortunately, Captain Bartolome Vargas had removed the treasure from the wreck of the Santa Cristina and hidden it beneath the reef that protected Wayfarer Island’s lagoon from the ravages of the open ocean.

A reef was considered “waters” so long as it was submerged. But if a speck of it peeked above the waves? It was considered land.

Admiralty law didn’t apply to land.

“Instead of busting my balls over how tough the last day has been, you should be thanking me for finding the loophole that allows you to keep all of this to yourself as opposed to having to share it with Uncle Sam or the state of Florida,” she continued, throwing out an arm to indicate the treasure piled atop the tables in the ship’s computer room.

One tabletop held a collection of conglomerates. They were what happened to silver coins when they came in contact with seawater. Corrosion and other maritime accretions fused the currency together into rocky-looking wads that perfumed the stale air inside the room with the briny smell of the sea. But Doc knew as soon as they were electronically cleaned, the pieces of eight—coins like the one that hung on a chain around his neck—would be revealed.

Another table was mounded with doubloons. Unlike silver, gold wasn’t affected by its time in the ocean. The doubloons winked under the artificial light as if they’d been minted the day before.

Then there was a small tabletop displaying swords and daggers, each ceremonial and encrusted with gems. A larger table held religious artifacts, all ornamental and heavily bejeweled. And still another was heaped with uncut emeralds that’d been mined from Colombia nearly four hundred years earlier.

Truly, the immensity of the Santa Cristina’s treasure was a mindboggling sight to behold. And that wasn’t counting the gold bullion and silver ingots the Deep Six crew had already cataloged, packed away in straw-lined boxes, and stacked against the walls of the ship’s engine room.

For the first few hours, when Doc and his former SEAL Team members and current Deep Six Salvage partners had hauled up the gems and coins and artifacts from where Captain Vargas had hidden them, he’d marveled at each new piece of wealth. But as the treasure trove had grown, he’d begun to feel an overwhelming sense of surreality.

How could he, Dalton Simmons, a poor kid from Nowhere, Montana, be a one-sixth owner of a lost treasure estimated to be worth nearly half a billion dollars?

And yet…here I am. A millionaire. A multimillionaire.

Thanks to Cami and her legal wrangling. 

It rankled, but he dutifully told her, “Thank you for finding the loophole that allows us to keep all this.” One corner of her mouth hitched up, but it fell into another straight line when he added, “I just would’ve liked the loophole better if it hadn’t meant we had to wait for a king tide smack-dab in the middle of hurricane season.”

She shook her head. “All you had to do was wait for a king tide. That the next one happened to occur in the middle of hurricane season didn’t have anything to do with me. It was bad luck and worse timing.”

“Not true.” He lifted a contradictory finger. “There was a king tide earlier in the year, but we missed it while you were poring over precedent.”

“Wildly obscure precedent that I would again stress is the reason you’re able to keep all this. Now”—she pointed toward the hallway—“you see that door? For the love of god, do me a favor and go find out what’s on the other side of it.”

He felt a chuckle rumbling around in his chest and suppressed it. “For the love of god? I thought you told me you weren’t religious.”

“I wasn’t before I met you. But I’ve taken to getting down on my knees at night and praying for you to go mute.”

One corner of his mouth lifted into a languid, flirtatious smile.

Her eyes narrowed with suspicion. “What’s that look for?”

“I’m imagining you down on your knees.”

She gasped and left her mouth hanging open long after the sound escaped.

Camilla D’ Angelo gave as good as she got when it came to oral arguments—thanks to all the practice her career provided, no doubt. But he’d learned he could beat her at her own game when he tossed in a little sexual innuendo.

It was fascinating how she blinked and sputtered and blushed to the roots of her sleek, black hair when he hinted at anything carnal.

“Oh!” She stomped her foot. “You are the most aggravating—”

“Children!” Romeo yelled in exasperation. “I’m trying to count my riches like Scrooge McDuck, and your arguing is ruining the experience for me!”

“Here, here,” Uncle John seconded from his seat at the emerald table. He had a jeweler’s loupe plugged into one eye, making him look like a Borg off Star Trek. Although, his Earnest Hemingway hair and salty seadog beard went a long way toward ruining the sci-fi effect.

Before Doc could respond, the sound of bare feet slapping against the metal decking had him turning toward the computer room’s open door. The remaining four members of the Deep Six crew, all still wearing their wetsuits and leaving damp footprints behind, shuffled into the room.

“Water’s startin’ to kick up out there,” Leo “The Lion” Anderson, their former lieutenant and the current head of their salvage operation, said as he folded a fresh stick of Big Red gum into his mouth. Glancing around the room, he asked in his slow, Southern drawl, “Where’s my wife?”

“In the galley making cupcakes for dessert,” Cami told him before turning her attention to Brando “Bran” Pallidino. “By the way, I took your lasagnas out of the oven fifteen minutes ago like you asked.”

Bran scrubbed a hand through his dripping, wavy brown hair and nodded his thanks. Before he could say anything, however, a larger than average wave rolled beneath the ship.

“Erp.” Cami lifted a hand to her mouth, her skin paling instantly. But she was quick to drop her fingers and make a face at Bran. “Sorry. I promise that erp has nothing to do with your lasagnas. They look and smell delicious.”

Doc crossed his arms and leveled a censorious look on her. The woman got seasick in a bathtub. And somehow she’d agreed to take on a job representing men who made their living on the ocean. “You didn’t take that Dramamine pill I gave you, did you?”

She bristled and he imagined her as a black cat, back arched and hair raised. “First of all, you may be a doctor, but you’re not my doctor. And second of all, Dramamine makes me sleepy. I didn’t want to nap my way through all of this.” Again, she threw out an arm to indicate the treasure.

“And now you’re paying the price.” His censorious look deepened. “You are the most stubborn woman to ever pull on a pair of pants.”

Her chin jutted out. “You’re calling me stubborn? Oh, that’s rich.”

LT sighed heavily—LT was the nickname everyone used for Leo; it was a nod to his former rank. “Have they been at it like this all afternoon?” he asked Romeo. But before Romeo could answer, he shook his head. “Never mind. It doesn’t matter. We have more important things to deal with than the ongoin’ animosity between our attorney and our resident malcontent.”

“Hey!” Doc objected, snatching the toothpick from his mouth. “I’m not a malcontent. I’m just…” He stopped, searching for the right word.

Perhaps he had been a malcontent. Once upon a time. In the years following his tragedy. But recently he’d been feeling so much better.

What had caused the change in him?

When it occurred that the better question was who had caused the change in him, he decided it was best just to shut his mouth and leave his sentence dangling.

LT rolled his eyes and turned to Bran. “Go grab everyone and bring ’em here, will you, Brando? We need all hands on deck for this discussion, seein’ as how our decision on what to do next is gonna affect us all.”

“I take it you weren’t able to finish.” Doc narrowed his eyes at his former lieutenant.

LT shook his head, causing water droplets to drip from the ends of his sun-streaked hair. “But let’s wait to talk about it ’til we got everyone.”

Doc recognized LT’s tone. It was the same one LT had used numerous times when they’d found themselves all the way in harm’s way, in the place where metal meets the meat. And hearing that tone now made Doc’s stomach sink.

Of their own accord, his eyes tracked over to Cami. She too had picked up on the ominous ring in LT’s voice, and the expression on her face pretty much mirrored everything Doc was feeling. He was suddenly hit by the oddest urge to throw a comforting arm around her shoulders.

Then again, maybe the urge wasn’t odd. Because as much as she vexed him, he liked her.

Liked her swift mind and sharp tongue. Liked the ornery sparkle in her eyes when she was arguing with him. Liked the way her laugh sounded like pure delight when he said something to tickle her.

In fact, were it not for her chosen profession, he could’ve imagined them becoming friends. The kind of friends to feed each other heaping helpings of shit on the reg, of course. But friends all the same.

And in the eternal words of OMC, he thought, ‘how bizarre.’

With the exception of the wives and girlfriends of his teammates and partners—who didn’t really count because they were the wives and girlfriends of his teammates and partners—he’d only ever been friends with one other woman.

The woman.

His woman.

Thankfully, he didn’t have time to ponder the hows and whys of just what that meant before the computer room filled with people.

LT’s wife, Olivia, wore the frilly apron LT had gotten her for her birthday. And considering she was a former CIA agent, as comfortable carrying a loaded weapon as she was wearing a wire to a meeting with international drug dealers, it was an odd thing, indeed, to watch her flitting around looking like Betty Crocker.

Bran’s wife, the minuscule Maddy, looped an arm around Bran’s trim waist and smiled up at him when he bent to drop a loud, smacking kiss on her temple. There was so much love in Bran’s eyes when he looked down at his wife that Doc’s own heart melted. Just a little.

Chrissy and Wolf found a spot beside Uncle John at the emerald table. Chrissy’s diving skills were as good as any Navy SEAL’s, so she’d been helping them haul up the treasure. Her ponytail was still wet from being down at the dive site, and Doc watched as Wolf absently twisted the damp, blond rope around his long, tan fingers.

Mia Ennis, the brilliant marine archeologist they’d brought on to oversee the excavation, went to sit on Romeo’s lap. The couple was still in the honeymoon phase of their relationship, and Doc had to refrain from groaning when they made googly eyes at each other.

And last but not least there was Alexandra Merriweather, the historian they’d hired to study the old documents relating to the Spanish fleet. She broke a strawberry Pop-Tart in two and handed half to Mason.

Peas in a pod, Doc thought as he watched Alex shove her tortoiseshell glasses higher on the bridge of her nose so she could grin up at her fiancé as they both laid into the pastries. Or maybe it was more apt to say Mason and Alex were two sides of the same coin. Because as chatty as Alex was, that’s how closed-mouthed Mason was. And yet they belonged together, complemented each other.

Glancing around the room then, Doc came to a startling realization.

I’m the last man standing. The only member of my former SEAL Team who isn’t head over heels in L.O.V.E.

Of course, that was because he’d been there, done that.

Got the T-shirt and lost it, he thought miserably. Lost everything, in fact.

As happened anytime his past reared its ugly head, he felt the terrible void that lived in the center of his chest yawn wide. Felt himself falling into it, traveling back in time to a dirt road. To a pair of wide blue eyes. To the girl he’d loved since the eighth grade.

Lifting his right arm, he ran a reverent finger over the delicate flower tattooed on the inside of his wrist. He’d gotten the ink when he was eighteen years old, the day after he proposed. The day after that blue-eyed girl said yes.

But just like his memories of her, the tattoo was beginning to fade. The flower growing fuzzy around the edges. No longer so bright and pure.

And that hurts worst of all.

That she was paling in his mind. That sometimes he went hours, even a whole day, without thinking of her. Without missing her.

Especially recently.

“Sorry! I got stuck in the bathroom. That door lock is like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing.” The last and newest member of their merry band of misfits burst into the computer room, the sides of her windbreaker flapping like a drunken bird.

Her name was Dana Levine and she worked for the FMC—the Federal Maritime Commission. Cami had brought Dana on to bear witness to the salvage since, according to Cami, “We need a Fed who will swear under oath that you guys didn’t touch so much as a single coin of that treasure while the top of the reef was exposed.”

Glad for the distraction from the melancholy turn of his thoughts, Doc watched Dana slip past LT and plop into a chair next to the table that held the conglomerates. She’d been on deck all day and her wild, windblown hair and slightly sunburned nose attested to the diligence with which she’d taken on the role of witness.

Doc would guess her to be somewhere in her mid-fifties. Her bouncy blond curls were interspersed with threads of gray, and there were laugh lines at the corners of her cornflower-blue eyes.

“Okay. Now that everyone’s here, it’s time to talk turkey.” LT’s voice rang with military authority. “We thought we were gonna be able to finish this evenin’, but that’s not gonna happen.”

Doc had pulled the early morning shift at the dive site, so he knew how much work was involved in bringing up the treasure. Knew all about spending hours waving a handheld metal detector over the seabed, waiting for the blinking light to indicate whether he’d found ferrous or nonferrous metals. Knew how tedious the sectioning off and gridding of the area could be, because even though the treasure had been removed from the Santa Cristina, it still had to be excavated in an archeological manner. Knew how slow and painstaking the process was of carefully attaching the treasure to lift bags—the vinyl-coated nylon satchels—that did the hard work of floating the riches to the surface.

He wasn’t surprised his partners hadn’t managed to haul up the last of the booty before they’d been forced to call it quits. No doubt the setting sun had combined with the wave action to make visibility impossible. But he was surprised to hear LT add, “And to make matters worse, looks like Julia’s gonna hit us after all.”

The hairs on Doc’s arms lifted in warning. “I thought the meteorologists said she was only going to skim us with her outer edges.”

“Apparently she changed her mind and changed directions.” LT made a face. “New projections say she’ll smack us head-on before turnin’ to make landfall somewhere around New Orleans.”

“Fuck,” Mason muttered. The man was a born and raised Bostonian. When he did deign to speak, it was a safe bet the F-bomb would be involved.

“She’s currently a Category 2, but they’re estimatin’ she’ll be a 3 by the time she reaches us,” LT continued, and Doc gave his earlobe an anxious tug.

As a bona fide landlubber, he’d never gotten comfortable with the tropical storms that crashed through the Straits of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Luckily, in the time he’d lived on Wayfarer Island, the biggest hurricane he’d had to weather had topped out at a Category 1.

Even then, he shuddered to remember how the rain hadn’t fallen from the sky so much as it’d been flung through the air like watery missiles that’d pummeled his exposed skin. How his hair had whipped around so violently that it’d stung wherever it’d hit his face. 

“How much time do we have?” Bran’s arm tightened around his wife’s shoulders when he asked the question.

“We’ll probably start feelin’ the winds off her leading edges around noon tomorrow,” LT said.

“Which gives us tomorrow morning to finish bringing up what’s left of the loot.” Bran’s concerned expression cleared. “Bada bing, bada boom. Easy peasy.”

Bran was a New Jerseyan and couldn’t help sounding like an extra off The Sopranos.

LT’s jaw muscles worked hard against the gum in his mouth. “There’s no way we’ll be able to outrun the storm in Wayfarer II if we wait to leave until the hurricane is almost on top of us. The ship’s not fast enough. We’ll hafta anchor her on the leeward side of the island and cross our fingers she can ride it out.”

“Um.” Alex raised her hand, her freckled nose wrinkling. “Is that really the best idea? I mean, what if she sinks? The treasure will go down with her.” She frowned. “Not that we couldn’t salvage it again. But for the love of all that’s holy, what a pain in the ass.”

“Which is why I say we sail her to Key West tonight.” LT’s drawl always grew more pronounced when he was working through a problem.

“And leave what’s left of the treasure behind?” One pitch-black eyebrow winged up Wolf’s tan forehead. “I know we were thinkin’ we got up all but about one, maybe two percent of it today. But two percent of half a billion dollars is still ten million. Are we really okay lettin’ the storm come in and scatter ten million benjis across the ocean floor?”

Whereas LT had grown up in New Orleans and spoke with the elongated vowels of the South, Wolf had a twang that was right out of an old Western. He’d spent his formative years on a reservation in northeast Oklahoma.

LT pinned a look on Mia. “You got everything cataloged and recorded at the site for the state, yeah? Everything you need to finish the paperwork?”

The little marine archeologist nodded. “All that’s left is to photograph the final pieces once you’ve brought them up.”

LT ran a finger under his chin. “Then I volunteer to stay behind and salvage what’s left tomorrow mornin’ once the sun’s up and I can see what the hell I’m doin’ down there. I’ll load the loot into Uncle John’s catamaran and head west. The sailboat is faster than Wayfarer II. I’ll sail out of the path of the storm and hang out in calm water until Julia passes. Then we can all meet back here in what? Two days? Three tops?”

Doc opened his mouth to say there was no way in hell he was letting LT stay back to finish salvaging the treasure alone, but Dana interrupted him by asking, “Will the tide still be covering the reef tomorrow morning?”

“Accordin’ to the charts it will be,” LT assured her. “Plus, Julia will be pushin’ the ocean ahead of her. So we should be good to go.”

“I’ll need to stay to make sure of that, of course,” Dana said with a resolute dip of her chin.

“I’m stayin’ too,” Uncle John piped up. He was dressed in his standard getup of baggy cargo shorts and a Hawaiian shirt that was bright enough to blind a person. “I’m better at sailin’ the cat than you are anyway.”

When LT opened his mouth to argue, Uncle John—who was technically only LT’s biological uncle, but who held the honorary title when it came to the rest of them—lifted a wide, callused hand. “My mind’s made up, boy. You know better than to argue with me once that’s done.”

LT snapped his mouth shut, but a muscle ticked in his jaw.

“I’m staying too,” Doc told LT, making sure his tone brooked no argument at the same time he shoved the toothpick back into his mouth. “It’ll go faster tomorrow with both of us working.”

“And as your lawyer,” Cami added, “I’m duty-bound to stay until the very last coin is recovered.”

“I’m staying if you’re staying,” Olivia told LT.

“No.” LT shook his head, staring down at his dark-haired wife. “I want you safe in Key West.”

Olivia arched an eyebrow. “Safe? The way you tell it, there’s no danger. We’ll be long gone before Julia hits, right?”

“It’s settled then,” Doc declared with a decisive nod before LT could throw out any more objections. “The six of us will stay here and finish the job while everyone else makes sure the salvaged ship and the rest of the treasure is hell and gone out of Julia’s path.”

“Please say we have time to eat before heading to Key West.” Alex’s Kewpie doll mouth was pursed into a bow. “I’m starving.”

“I swear you must have a hollow leg,” Chrissy harrumphed.

“Jealous?” Alex wiggled her eyebrows.

Yes,” Chrissy declared. But the heat in her voice didn’t match the twinkle in her eyes. Chrissy and Alex had become fast friends in the months they’d been working with the Deep Six crew. Probably because they were cut from the same cloth. Both strong-willed. Both independent. Both crazy in love with former fighting men. “Because if I ate half of what you do, I’d weigh six hundred pounds.”

Alex shook her head. “Not necessarily. I recently read this interesting article about metabolism that said—”

A font of information. That was Alexandra Merriweather. She chattered on about the article as everyone shuffled out of the computer room, headed to the galley where Bran’s famous lasagnas awaited them.

Doc was the last one through the door, but his flip-flops skidded to a halt on the metal decking when he saw Cami standing in the passageway, her head cocked as she stared at him.

“What?” he demanded, ignoring how his heart thudded against his rib cage the instant he realized they were alone.

“I’m wondering why you didn’t try to talk me out of staying. You and me, stuck on a sailboat for two, maybe three days? I figured you’d consider that only slightly more appealing than a long walk through the seventh circle of hell.”

“Normally that would be true,” he admitted. “But I reckon I can pass the time by telling you the latest batch of lawyer jokes I found on the internet. And you’ll be too seasick to stop me.” He wiggled his eyebrows and the end of the toothpick at the same time.

He expected her to snap and snarl. So he was a little surprised when her wide mouth stretched into a toothy grin. Apprehension had his chin jerking back. “What are you smiling about?”

“Oh, I’m just plotting all the ways I could end you while we’re out on that little sailboat in the middle of nowhere.”

When she turned and sauntered down the passageway, her hips swishing dramatically, he got the distinct impression the approaching storm was the very least of his worries. 

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