Excerpt from Friendly Fire
Stepping aboard the gleaming white cruise ship Escapade, Navy SEAL First Class Jeremiah Winters took advantage of his six feet three inches to observe the events unfolding ahead of him. Crewmembers had formed a line on either side of the motley throng of incoming passengers, hurling confetti on their heads, shaking hands, and calling out words of welcome over the upbeat jazz music performed by the crew's musicians, a fitting choice for the port city of New Orleans. The festive atmosphere combined with the warmth of the early April sun brought a smile to Jeremiah's lean face, but then an unexpected premonition skittered down his spine, erasing it.
He cut a sidelong glance at his teammate and fellow passenger, wondering if Tristan had picked up on dark energy. Of course, not. Grinning and grooving his way along the deck, the golden haired navigator's thoughts were entirely optimistic as he anticipated their voyage to the Western Caribbean. His recent break-up with a long-term girlfriend was, for the moment forgotten.
Just my imagination, Jeremiah thought. After all, he worked day in and day out with a small group of the most highly skilled warriors on the planet, protecting innocent people like this boatload of vacationers. He and Tristan kept the populace safe; they didn't mingle with them. Naturally, this environment of uncontrolled liveliness, so different from the disciplined world in which he normally lived, was bound to stir his uneasiness.
However, it was hard to dismiss his premonition out of hand, having invested so much time and energy in learning to harness his sixth sense—especially when it whispered that something bad was going to happen.
He dragged his feet. "Wait," he said, putting a hand on Tristan's musclebound arm as he hunted for the source of his disquiet.
"What's wrong?" Tristan's dark-blue gaze touched briefly on his profile, and then he, too, started looking around.
Ahead of them, crewmembers pulled passengers aside so they could take their boarding photos, available for later purchase. The cameraman called out instructions. "You, little one, turn to the right. Mother, shift to the left. Now, everyone smile!" Holding his camera to his eye, he peered through it.
Click, click, click. In Jeremiah's mind, he saw a rifle instead of a camera, heard bullets explode from it and punch into the family members, spraying blood and gore over the canvas backdrop. He blinked and the vision disappeared.
Tristan elbowed him. "Dude, what's going on?"
Jeremiah scanned the deck fore and aft. What could he possibly say? I've got a bad feeling about this? His teammates had learned to take his intuitions seriously, but Jeremiah had no desire to burst Tristan's bubble right then, not when this was the happiest he'd seen him since his girlfriend had ditched him. Nor did he wish to ruin their vacation before it even got started.
"Nothing. I'm good."
The cameraman waved off the family and called up the next party to stand before the screen. The long auburn tresses of a thirty-something woman distracted Jeremiah from his churning thoughts. Per the cameraman's instructions, she turned to face him with her preteen daughter and another young woman, and the breath tangled in his throat.
Emma Albright? It couldn't be.
He blinked, doubting his eyes. The college professor who had so utterly captivated him, who had altered the course of his life forever and remained the ideal of womanly perfection in his psyche, had scarcely aged in the five years since he'd left George Mason University. She might be thinner, almost willowy now, her cheekbones more sculpted, but the lips that curved into a smile as she made bunny ears behind her daughter's head, were the same rosy lips that had brought Wordsworth and Coleridge to life for him.
They'd shared something intense and unexpected and so confusing to his impressionable heart that he had dropped out of school mid-semester to become a knight errant, a Navy SEAL, taking on such giants as drug cartels and ISIS extremists in her name.
What were the odds that he would drive all the way from Virginia to New Orleans to board a cruise ship and run into her here?
Click, click, click. The camera's digital sounds summoned the same horrific vision of bullets puncturing flesh, blood spraying, and bodies falling.
Jesus, no! Not her.
Drawn to his horrified stare, her gaze shifted past the photographer to make eye contact. His heart suspended its beat as he waited for recognition to widen her soft blue eyes. Her brow knit as if she were struggling to place him, but then she turned away, throwing an arm around her daughter's shoulders. With a prick of hurt, he watched her move away, chatting amiably with the other woman who looked to be her sister, given their similar facial features.
It wasn't any wonder that she hadn't recognized him. Five years ago, he'd been a lanky twenty-three-year old with thick-lensed glasses. The Navy hadn't just corrected his vision with laser surgery; they'd packed fifty pounds of raw muscle onto his frame. Even if she had recognized him, there would be two thousand four hundred passengers sailing to the Western Caribbean on this ship. They could travel for the next seven days and never cross paths again.
But that wasn't what he hoped would happen, was it?