Maybe not such a good thing, because the stretch of quiet gives me a chance to dwell on the hottest jerk-off session of my life. I could live nine lifetimes and never get the sight of Naomi out of my head. I almost wish I could forget her taut ass, her spread thighs. Her finger pushing into the smoothest, juiciest-looking pussy I’ve ever laid eyes on. Christ, even before she fingered herself on my bed, I was sick with lust from the moment I woke up until the second I fell asleep at night. Now I’m a walking, talking hard-on. She’s been avoiding me the last few days, but I can still feel her. Sometimes I swear I can hear her moving around in her bedsheets from across the driveway. Been sleeping with my window open hoping for it.

When did I become such a masochist?

I need this woman who is devoted to someone else. Someone whose idea of courtship probably doesn’t include having to wipe her down afterward.

With a disgusted curse, I check my watch and cross the deck to make sure the oxygen levels are where they need to be. I make a quick notation on my dive log and resume pacing.

Dating and women and sex are not foreign things to me. I’ve been in relationships, albeit short ones, thanks to my restlessness, inability to communicate and chosen career. During those brief blurs of shore leave while with the service, I met women. I’m not some wet behind the ears kid in the throes of his first crush. I’ve simply never had a woman get to me like this. I want to hold, kiss her and get inside her head almost as bad as I want to sleep with her—a mind fuck if I’ve ever heard one.

Wedged in between the moments I’m thinking of getting her naked, I’m thinking of her breezing into my living room looking like a hot to trot housewife, bubbly and determined to make my sister’s first friend date a success. I think of her screeching like a barn cat and calling it singing. I think of her leaning across a table full of empty beer glasses and telling war stories.

I’m going to admit it. I’ve got a serious thing for the beauty queen.

And I have no goddamn clue what to do about it.

The group of divers make their way onto the boat, one by one, and I guide the vessel back into the marina. I started this business because diving is in my blood and I wanted to stay in practice for when I redeploy. I deadlift in my garage, run, dive, stay focused, so I don’t miss a beat when I go back. Being a weak link is not an option for me. That’s what I am here. Maybe not weak, but I’m the link that doesn’t fit.

You like to keep people safe. Don’t you think that’s nice?

I mishandle a rope when Naomi’s voice tinkles into my mind like a crystal-clear bell. I’ve never thought of nice from that perspective before. Nice is making fancy drinks and smiling and picnics at the beach. Shit I will never find myself doing. But what if Naomi is right and I have my own way of being a…strong link for my sister? Right here in Florida?

There’s no way I could ever be as effective here as I am overseas, but maybe I should try talking to Birdie more. It can’t hurt, right?

Footsteps approach me from behind and I brace, checking the urge to reach for a weapon that definitely isn’t there in my peeled down wetsuit. It costs me an effort, but I turn slowly, non-threateningly, to meet whoever is coming—and I rock back on my heels when I see who it is.


“Fuckin-A.” One of the closest friends I have in my assigned Special Forces group slides off his mirrored sunglasses, raising a shaggy blond eyebrow. “Took my life into my own hands sneaking up on you like that. Guess I’m missing the action.”

“You and me both.” I put my hand out and we shake hard, a count longer than normal because we’re glad to see each other but definitely not comfortable with hugs. “What are you doing in St. Augustine?”

“Don’t know. Can’t sit still—you know how it goes.” He rolls back his shoulders. “Decided to take a drive down from Nashville for the weekend. Get some air.”

“Long way to come for some air. Something up?”

“You going to pry into my affairs or buy me a fucking beer?”

As recently as a couple of weeks ago, the prospect of going out into a crowd and sitting at a bar with my back turned would have given me a lot of pause. Sitting among strangers, no control over the endless variables. No weapon or plan. It would have made me sweat and probably suggest grabbing a six-pack and heading home instead. Yeah, having Musgrave with me makes it easier, but it’s more than that. Going to brunch with Naomi broke the seal. I got through it, even though the eggs had cilantro in them. I’m more capable now…thanks to her.