“About time you all got here,” a voice called out of the shadows of the next berth. The only evidence of his presence was the smoldering tip of a cigar. The figure stepped into a pool of light cast by a pole lamp. He wore a pair of black Bermuda shorts, flip-flops, and an unbuttoned white shirt.
On edge, Gray searched to make sure the man was alone. Kane seemed to have no such qualms. The dog ran forward and greeted the newcomer warmly, bouncing a bit on his front legs.
“Stay down, Kane,” Tucker warned.
“I don’t mind him at all.” The man leaned over and gave the dog a vigorous rub. “Reminds me of my old dog Elvis. He was a shepherd, too. German, that is. What’s this boy?”
“Kane’s a Belgian shepherd,” Tucker said. “A Malinois.”
“Hmm. War dog, I’m guessing.”
“That’s right. Army. Retired.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, what was Kane’s rank?”
Kowalski glanced at Tucker. “Wait? Major Kane? Your dog outranked you?”
Gray knew that wasn’t unusual. A military dog always ranked one level higher than its handler, so any abuse was a court-martial offense. Not that Tucker would ever harm his partner.
Straightening, the man thrust a hand toward Gray. “Jack. Jack Kirkland.”
Introductions followed all around.
Their escort stood over six feet, with salt-and-pepper hair. From the scarring down one side of his body, he’d seen some action in the past. The man also carried his rugged, ageless masculinity with a boyish grace—even Seichan was struck by it.
Gray had never seen her so enthralled. He heard her giggle at something the man said. Seichan never giggled. It slightly pissed him off. A reaction that caught him by surprise. In a matter of minutes, the man had charmed everyone on his team.
Or almost everyone.
Kowalski shook his hand. “What’re you smoking?”
Jack glanced at the cigar balanced in his fingers. “Cuban. El Presidente.”
“Oh, man …” Kowalski stared at his own stogie, disappointed.
“I’ve got a whole case aboard the Ghost.” Jack nodded his chin in the direction of the dark berth. “I’m sure I wouldn’t miss one if it happened to grow legs and walk away.”
Jack headed off in that direction.
Kowalski stayed put. “That guy really gets me.”
Gray shook his head.
Okay, now I’ve lost everyone.
Seichan sidled up to Gray, brushing his shoulder and leaning closer. “Wow.”
That one word pretty much summarized the man.
Gray sighed and followed Jack toward the berth. No wonder Painter was so hesitant to drag this guy back into his life. If I were Painter, I wouldn’t want Jack within a thousand nautical miles of Lisa.
At least, the man was wearing a wedding ring.
“Here she is,” Jack said, stopping ahead. “My new pride and joy. The Ghost.”
Gray didn’t see anything moored in the neighboring berth.
Jack leaped from the dock, as if to plunge into the water, but he landed on a firm surface. Only then did Gray appreciate the docked vessel as it rocked under the man’s weight. Even still, it was hard to discern its presence against the dark water.
The submersible’s bulk remained below the waterline. Only a conning-tower-like hatch protruded above the surface and a fraction of its upper deck. What made it so hard to discern, what made it blend so well with the water, was that it appeared to be sculpted out of glass.
Jack tapped his toe against the clear surface. “Her shell’s made out of a new borosilicate polymer, strong as steel yet with a low refractive index, perfect for underwater viewing. And the deeper you go, the harder the glass becomes. Up to a point, of course. I’m not planning on testing that limit today.”
“I see why you call it the Ghost,” Seichan said.
“She’s my new love—comes with all the bells and whistles a guy could want.” He ticked them off proudly. “The latest sonar and communications equipment, fly-by-wire joystick, electronic buoyancy controls, expanded air supply. But what really gets me purring is her sexy curves. I designed her after the old X-1 mini-submarines. Sleek, fast, and seductive.”
Kowalski snorted at the hyperbole. “Do you need a moment alone with her?”
“Do you still want that cigar?” Jack countered.
Kowalski hung his head a bit. “Sorry, I should know better than to insult another guy’s girl. She’s sexy. Very, very sexy.”
“That’s more like it,” Jack encouraged with a huge, bawdy grin. “C’mon aboard. Let’s get you all settled. We have a bit of a jaunt to reach Utopia, but then again, whoever said getting into heaven was easy?”
Ignoring the man’s joviality, Gray stared toward the horizon, unable to shed his dark mood, knowing Amanda was not having this much fun.
The next contraction wracked her body.
Amanda sobbed, tears streaming down her heated face. Waves of nausea swept through her. Sweat soaked her gown to her skin. The worst of the pain was dulled by the miniepidural they’d given her, but not all of it.
“Dilated eight centimeters,” Petra reported from between her legs.
“Right on schedule.” Dr. Blake stood at her bedside, evaluating a labor monitor. “That was a good contraction. But I’m pushing another bolus of pit.”
Pit was slang for pitocin, a labor-inducing drug.
He injected the medicine into her IV line, then turned his attention to Amanda. He took her hand, which was strapped in place to the bed, and gave her fingers a squeeze.
“Would you like some more ice chips?”
Fury cut through her. She dug her nails into the tender flesh of his wrist. “Fuck you,” she spat at him. She never swore, but it felt good to do so now. “You goddamned monster.”
“I’ll get you some ice chips,” he said, unfazed by her outburst. He gently but firmly freed his arm, then patted her hand. “Everything’s going well. You’re doing great.”
Other medical staff worked at the periphery, monitoring vitals, trading out dirty linens that she’d soiled, dragging in equipment. A pair off to the side were preparing a radiant warming crib in anticipation of the newborn’s arrival.
Blake returned with a tiny paper cup full of crushed ice chips. He lifted it to her lips. But she turned her head away, refusing to cooperate in even this small measure.
She willed her body to resist, too.