The hero, Dare Logan, is in the midst of a tropical tempest, on a cruise ship. His ex is on the small tropical island he’s just left. And he can’t stand where he is.
The storm was a bitch, approaching near gale.
Dare leaned into the railing around the hurricane deck, his fingers white-knuckling the cold metal, the relentless wind buffeting him and forming his jacket and pants so hard against his body they were like a second skin.
Freezing. He was so damn cold.
The wall of wind, unyielding.
He sucked in a breath through his nose, lips clamped together. He’d opened his mouth a moment ago, and airborne spray and some marine concoction had hurtled in as the torrent of air had whipped his breath away. No, thanks.
He stared, gaze narrowed, at the boiling sea. Watched the waves dancing crazily, froth bursting into life then gone from existence the next second as new sections of briny ocean reared. Strained to see the island he’d left just a few short hours ago, and made out the grey shapes of palms in the distance bowing in the ferocious wind.
“A mess.” One of the crewmen appeared at his side, and he felt strangely comforted by the presence of another human. “Captain wants everyone inside.”
Dare didn’t answer, just kept his eyes straight ahead. A thousand possibilities cycling through his mind. Considering.
The relentless storm. What the gale force winds were doing to the water. Heaving it, slashing it into sharp lines that could cut.
How a bunch of tiny humans could protect themselves on land against Mother Nature’s evil bitch step sister.
His cellphone dinged, and he turned, huddled away from the conflagration. He palmed his phone protectively within the confines of his slicker, checked.
A text from Mack.
Keeping his lower half pressed against the bulwark, he made his way to a tiny shielded section and ducked inside. While he could still hear the wind, its effect on him was momentarily reduced to zero. Except for the cold. He was still so damn cold.
Inside and out.
He peered at the screen, drew the configuration to unlock it and was greeted by Mack’s latest communiqué.
How’s paradise, jerkface?
Mack. Buddy extraordinaire. And another Jack’s Bay boy.
He’d gone to Mack for help with increasing his cash flow for some costly and unexpected equipment for the latest job he’d taken on for his crew. Mack had given him sound advice that had taken into consideration his current need while barely adding to his mounting loan. Smart as hell with numbers, dude was. Dare swore he got it by osmosis. His dad made money in consumer goods and the Stones never lacked for the latest Pagani roadster or designer vacation.
But it didn’t change who Mack was. The truth was, whatever he could do to help a buddy, it was done. The guy was often a pain in innumerable ways and he certainly couldn’t help it if every woman within ten kilometers of him went ape-shit for his good looks, and dropped her panties on command. Made him the world’s lousiest wingman.
But if you needed him, it was done. Without fanfare. Mack didn’t want accolades. Just knowing you were his buddy seemed to be enough, though he’d never say it or even hint at it. Just a clipped, brief, “I’ll get back to you” followed by him getting back to you with what you needed, no embellishment.
All Mack wanted was your friendship.
And yeah. All the warm pussies. Which he always got. Damn babe magnet.
He clicked his response. Storm. A mess. You?
Read that. U safe?
A long pause, where the wind howled around him, blew past him like a deranged bat out of hell.
But his eyes were fastened to the screen as his gut wrenched in anticipation. Wait for it, he told himself. And it came. Bastard.
How is she? Safe?
A sigh expunged from him as something deep in him pinched razor sharp. I don’t fucking know would be honest, but he couldn’t—wouldn’t—admit that. It would cut him into tiny bits that would never heal, bits that, though they were bleeding, didn’t let him feel. Couldn’t.
Bleeding, yet numb. His new normal.
He couldn’t very well say Dunno. I blew her off for a job.
His breathing accelerated, and he forced himself to put the reality out there. He always forced himself to face the truth, or at least, he tried. He texted the awful acronym.
A pause, then the rest of the text came, damning in its brevity.
And the vile taste in his mouth overwhelmed him and something jolted through him.
Fuck him, fuck Mack. Fuck the lousy job he needed and Tabby’s medical shit, the mountain of bills. Fuck the asshole that left his mom after promising her the moon.
Mostly, fuck himself.
He clicked off the cell with a flourish, was just about to jam it into his inner pocket, when he heard the querying ding.
“Fuck it. What does he want now?”
We’re thousands of miles from each other and a few words can still split me open.
Customer. Gotta go. Hang in there bud.
And just like that, dead space reigned as relief spilled into him, and the cell was cloistered away.
He turned his face back to the crazy that was in motion all around him, the wildness that he’d had a brief and somewhat unwelcome respite from him. Stepping into the wind, his clothes suddenly streaming behind him in weird lines, the harsh air blasted the sudden moisture from the rims of his eyes.
Damn it all, the internal voice yelled within him. You need this job. You need the money. Not just for the pay. With the connections, you could expand your crew, take on work internationally. You could be setting yourself up for life. Take great care of your mom, your sis. Set yourself up for…
The wind suddenly punched him with a wicked blast he couldn’t have foreseen and he almost let go of the railing. Almost fell backwards to smash into the iron bulwark behind him.
The question echoed in him, the punctuation of everything he’d been mulling, that had been roiling around in his gut.
Set yourself up for…what exactly?
The echoing emptiness inside clawed at him with ragged strokes. And he no longer had a defense against it all. And finally…
…felt. With Mother Nature screaming around him.
As fucking bad as when she’d first left. When he thought there was supposed to be oxygen in the air, but somehow he’d fallen into a part of the world where the parts per billion had been drastically reduced. To a part of the world where color had been sucked out of the universe, and his own cells were no longer properly aligned—at least not in the configuration they’d been in before. Suddenly, they didn’t fit, and everything bumped up against everything, abraded raw. It hurt just to look at their livingroom, when he’d loved it before, their clumsy bohemian approach to what they laughing called decorating obvious. To walk in the park. To order a cup of coffee at the diner, alone.
Nothing made any fucking sense any more.
And that feeling swirled around inside him again.
You have a life, the responsible dude inside him screamed. She left you, a-hole. You had no choice but to claw your way into a new thing you then called life. Try it on, make it fit. And some parts of it had been okay, had fit some. Not great, but ok.
But nothing fit in that one part. It was like the room was barred off, closed, boarded up. The furniture covered with dust piled on it, frozen in time like that old hag’s room in that so-called classic he’d been forced to read back in school. Haversham? Something like that.
And he’d tried to build a new room, God knew he had. Tried to open it to prospects but it hadn’t felt the same, had felt like shit and he’d shut that down. Lost himself in taking care of himself and his crew. His new family. And Ralph. Their mutt.
Ralph, who loved her as he did, and would go crazy protecting her.
And a thought flashed into his mind, as a particularly nasty, high wave broke onto the deck, a few meters away. Crashed into a million dirty jewels, breaking around him, then gone, as if it had never existed, in the next wild second.
Ralph would eat his nuts if he knew he’d left her on an island, in a storm.
What the hell was he doing here?
Protecting a business so he could be…alone? So she could possibly—and terror seized him by the throat—never come back?
“Enough. I’m done.” He strode off to find the crewman he’d so roundly ignored a few minutes earlier. Found the dude, made him talk to him. Was taken to the captain, made his case. Signed the fucking release for them to let him go on a shifting bar.
If the storm had been any fiercer, it would have meant the loss of life and limb almost certainly, and he would have been shut down. But something, somewhere, held for him. Even though all hell was breaking loose around him, the elements held themselves in stasis, didn’t wind up further until he was lowered onto the boat and slapping the cruiser through the rough seas at a demented horsepower, still too slow for him.
He didn’t know where he’d land. He’d been advised to go to a cove he’d seen briefly, but he hadn’t really paid attention and wasn’t really sure quite how to get there. Rocks to watch out for. Stuff like that.
And though an errant monster of a wave could wash him over and he be lost, and she’d never know he was coming—something in his heart clenched, yet, incredibly, sang at the same time. All those cells within his ravaged body came back into alignment.
He was on his way back for his girl.
Today, I’m giving away one copy of Real Deep to a randomly chosen commenter below! All you need to do is:
Follow me on Amazon and sign up for my newsletter, and let me know in the comments that you did J. Also, let me know what struck you most about Dare, in the excerpt!
Giveaway ends on Monday at midnight, so let all your friends know!
Sexy Small Town Military Romance
Real Men #2
A new, small town military romance series. Featuring full-length stories and shorts.
Read the entire series to fall in love with the men of Jack’s Bay!
Susan Saxx writes sexy, unexpected, heartwarming romances. Her REAL MEN series focuses on a band of Canadian military reservists and the strong women they fall in love with. Join her mailing list for exclusive teaser stories and release updates!