Second in NYT & USAT bestselling author Julie Ann Walker’s new romantic suspense series featuring former navy SEALs
The former SEALs of The Deep Six return in a sizzling series from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Julie Ann Walker.
A COVERT MISSION
Maddy Powers’s life revolves around cocktail parties, political fundraisers, and charity events — but she can’t forget the daring former SEAL who appropriated her father’s yacht a few months ago … or the scorching kiss they shared before he disappeared into the deep blue sea.
SPARKS A FLAMING DESIRE
Bran Pallidino carries a dark secret behind his lady-killer eyes — one that keeps him from pursuing a serious relationship with Maddy. But when she’s taken hostage during a trip to the Dry Tortugas, the men of Deep Six Salvage drop their treasure hunt for a sunken galleon and embark on a dangerous mission to save Maddy.
WITH EARTH-SHATTERING REPERCUSSIONS
As they fight her merciless kidnappers, they discover this isn’t a simple hostage situation, but something far more sinister. Passion boils between Bran and Maddy, but what good is putting their hearts on the line if they don’t survive the dawn?
Before she could see if that look was back on his face, she dropped to her knees beside Bran’s chair and snatched the needle and synthetic suturing thread from him. Their fingers brushed, just for an instant, but she jumped like a live current zapped her.
It’d been like this from the beginning. Or at least it’d been like this for her. When she looked up to gauge Bran’s response, his face was a mask of ridiculous calmness. Which annoyed her for two reasons. The first was that it made all those doubts she’d been having swell to mammoth proportions. The second was that she judged the expression to be completely misplaced. You know, considering she was seconds away from going at him with a hooked needle, and that she had suddenly morphed into Lady Shimmy McShakyFingers.
“You ever done this before?” He cocked his head. Now was not the time to notice how his dark, wavy hair curled over the top of his ears.
“Stitched a guy up?” She nodded and smiled. Then she shook her head. “Nope. But my grandma taught me how to sew on a button. Does that count?”
She’d meant it as a joke, but he just crossed his ridiculously muscled arms over his ridiculously wide chest and presented her with his oozing thigh like he had all the faith in the world in her.
Before she allowed herself to contemplate what she was doing—and who she was doing it to—she pushed the needle through the skin on one side of the wound. She gulped and briefly squeezed her eyes shut when she had to muscle it through. Bran’s tan flesh was thick and tough.
“See,” he said, his deep voice absurdly steady, making a mockery of her trembling fingers. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
She squinted up at him. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”
“I’m fine,” he assured her. Again.
“You keep sayin’ that and I’ll stop believin’ you. Me thinks he doth protest too much and whatnot.” She wiped the back of one hand over her forehead. It came away damp with sweat and a smear of Bran’s blood.
“Anyone ever tell you when you wear that particular expression, your nose and face all scrunched up, you look like a raisin with eyes?”
She blinked at him, mouth open. “Do you really think it’s wise to insult a woman who’s holdin’ a needle this far away”—she held her fingers an inch apart—“from your Grand Master of Ceremonies?”
His white teeth glowed against the dark whiskers on his cheeks and chin when he flashed a smile. Bran seemed to sport a perpetual five-o’clock shadow. And his twinkling dark eyes, swarthy complexion, and shaggy hair made her realize once again how much he resembled a pirate of old. All he needed was a gold hoop earring and parrot.
He lifted a brow. “That’s a good one. Maybe we should invite her over the next time we have our Who Can Come Up with the Best Euphemisms Contest. What’d’ya say, Mason?”
Bran had a way of making contractions out of multiple words at once. Maddy figured it was because he was an East Coaster and they did everything fast, including talking. Not that she didn’t have her own linguistic idiosyncrasies. She did a pretty mean fixin’ to and y’all. Not to mention she usually dropped the g’s off the end of her words, but that was mostly because the g sound wasn’t soft on the ear. And as anyone from Texas would tell you, the rounder and longer and softer words were, the better they sounded.
“And when I said you looked like a raisin with eyes,” Bran continued, turning back to her, “I meant you looked like a really adorable raisin with really beautiful, gray, sea-after-a-storm eyes.”
Maddy gaped at him. Now there was no denying it. He was coming on to her? Right? Right? Despite the direness of their situation, her inner Maddy let loose with an enthusiastic happy dance complete with hip shakes, finger guns, and maybe a few leaping heel clicks.
But before she could come back with some clever reply à la Joey Tribbiani—How YOU doin’?—Bran cupped her chin in his hand.
Gone was the smile. Gone was the twinkling light in his eyes. Now his expression was serious as a death. Just flip! As if he had some sort of internal switch that could change him from Teasing Bran to Terrifying Bran.
“Hey.” His palm was warm and dry against her clammy skin, his calluses a gentle abrasion. “You’re doing great. Just keep stitching and talking, and it’ll be over before you know it.”
Aha! Now she got his game. He wasn’t coming on to her so much as trying to distract her from the gruesomeness of her task. Darnit.
“I think I can accomplish the first,” she admitted, swallowing the bile that climbed up the back of her throat when she pushed the two halves of his wound together before threading the needle and string through the flesh on the opposite side. “But the second might be askin’ too much.”
The new-penny smell of blood hung thick in the humid air. She ignored it, breathing out of her mouth as she tied off the first stitch. She tilted her chin, admiring her handiwork.
Not too shabby, even if I do say so myself. Grandma Bettie would be so proud.
“So, you sew,” he said. “I’ll talk.”
“Deal,” she agreed, going to work on the next suture. If she didn’t think about what she was doing, she could pretend she was just stitching together two pieces of really tough, really leaky fabric.
“I’m sorry I didn’t respond to your email,” he said. Just like that.
She thought about herding him toward the end of the conversation the way a cattle dog herds a cow toward an open gate, with a bark and a few nips at his heels. But then she thought, Why the hell not? If he was willing to air their private business in front of two audience members, by God, so was she.
After she finished the third stitch, she lifted her eyes to his face. “I was wondering about that. And a little…hurt, I guess.”
About the author
Julie Ann Walker is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Black Knights Inc. romantic suspense series. You can find her on her bicycle along the lake shore in Chicago or blasting away at her keyboard, trying to wrangle her capricious imagination into submission. She lives in Chicago, IL.