Bestselling Author Delilah Devlin
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A former Special Forces soldier, looking forward to the peace and quiet of his new houseboat, finds his solitude shattered by the arrival of his neighbor and her kid.

Note: This 7,000-word short story was originally published in SILVER SOLDIERS.

Read an Excerpt

Joe Tiegan shoved the scraper against the edge of the old, wood-grain linoleum he was intent on removing this day. The linoleum chipped, but he couldn’t completely lift the last little scrap stuck to the floor at the foot of his kitchen cabinet. Leaning into it, he placed his other hand against the one holding the tool and shoved it again. This time, his hand slipped, sliding down the dull edge of the metal scraper with enough force that he winced.

He tossed the scraper away, gripped the edge of the counter, and hauled himself to his feet. He’d been at it too long as it was. His knees were sore and so was his lower back. It was time for his reward for a day’s hard work. He turned to the small but full-sized fridge beyond the counter and pulled out a beer.

As he strode through the living area to the deck, still engulfed in late afternoon sunshine, he shook his head. His boat looked a hundred times worse than when he’d purchased it. The furniture was dated and grubby, the flooring scuffed and chipped. The shiplap paneling needed to be stripped and stained.

He’d first toured it at sundown when the sun had been low on the horizon and painted the boat in warm, soft colors. The 1999 Myacht houseboat wore its age well, but in the bright light of day, he could see a hundred projects he’d have to undertake to modernize it. After making sure the hull and the engines were in good shape before he’d signed the contract, he’d figured he could handle the rest of the renovations himself. Now, he wondered if he’d taken on too much.

As he made his way to the small deck at the back—aft, he reminded himself—he knew the salesman had read him like a book. Fresh out of the Army, all he’d wanted was to live near water after multiple deployments in the Middle East. The price of houses along the Florida coast, even tiny ones, had quickly sent him searching for alternatives. The idea of a houseboat, a footloose kind of existence where he could move his house up the inlets and find a new view when he got bored, appealed.

Houseboats, even older model ones like this old tub, didn’t come cheap, but if you were willing to put in a bit of work to polish up an unloved boat, it was affordable.

Not that he didn’t have plenty in the bank. He could’ve bought a cottage and all the furnishings. He’d been frugal during his last years on active duty. Plus, he had his retirement. He didn’t have to work. He could kick back, fish off his deck, and enjoy his golden years. While he’d loved his time in the Army, he’d always kept in the back of his mind what the reward would be—an early retirement where he had choices and could make his own decisions regarding how he wanted to live his life.

Some of his friends didn’t have it as good as he did. They had wives to support, kids to put through college, and mortgages they’d pay for the rest of their lives.

And while he did sometimes envy them the fact they weren’t alone, he prized his freedom above all else.

Or at least, that’s what he’d keep telling himself.

He’d tried marriage early in his career, but it hadn’t lasted long. One too many deployments had given his young wife too much time on her hands. She’d found a job she loved and another man she loved more. When she’d told him she was leaving, Joe hadn’t been angry. Instead, he’d kissed her cheek and wished her well. She’d deserved better than a sometimes-husband.

He settled into a folding chair on the aft deck. A light sea breeze brought the scent of the ocean. He was getting used to the fresh saltwater scent mixed with the odor of dead fish. The spectacular view and the soothing, subtle rock of the boat beneath his feet were worth the fishy smell.

He was glad his boat had been moored at the end of this dock. He had only one neighboring boat that was never occupied, which gave him considerable peace and quiet. And privacy. He often kept his roll-up blinds open as he slept without worrying that someone might peek into the windows. He did like sleeping in the nude.

As the sun set on the trees bordering the inlet, he enjoyed the night sounds of birds settling, frogs croaking, crickets chirping, and the unending sound of water lapping at the hull of his new home.

He raised his bottle and toasted the sunset. “Life’s good.”