The Pacific Rim: home to the largest animals on the planet, the deadliest drug runners on two continents, and one fiercely independent scientist determined to protect an endangered species from the impacts of a global conspiracy, even if it costs her the ultimate price.
Kaitlyn O’Donnell is a marine biologist immersed in the most important project of her career when her life is catastrophically altered by a savage string of events. Trapped in the crosshairs of a malicious foe, she
must outwit and outrun an enemy she doesn’t understand and never saw coming. To survive, she must trust a reclusive stranger with a stormy past and a dark secret, but trust doesn’t come easy to those who’ve been betrayed.
Michael Storm was a man with a heart and a mission. When both were destroyed in a single blow, he retreated from the world, planning never to return. He didn’t expect lightning to strike twice in one lifetime.
When the sins of Michael’s past collide with Kaitlyn’s raging present, can they both outrun the storm shadow?
Order Storm Shadow from:
“Come on, damn you!” Buck Dugan shoved his hand deep into the fleece-lined pocket of his arctic parka to retrieve his highly-prized but rarely-used satellite phone from its concealed position. His one big purchase—in celebration of his dream job as Lead Biologist aboard the Sea Searcher I, a 230-foot fisheries research ship operating on the Bering Sea—offered both hope and exasperation in his moment of greatest need. His career, maybe even his life, was on the brink of implosion, his dream of “making a difference,” about to vanish into sea spray, and he couldn’t get a single bar of reception!
Moving quickly from bow to stern, Buck stole another quick glance at the sat phone, and tried simultaneously to hold it high enough to intercept signal, yet shield it from the view of potential witnesses.
“Just need a couple bars, Mama Gaia,” he whispered to the only eternal, impartial witness he’d ever acknowledged—a force neither benevolent nor malevolent, which presided over the waxing and waning of life, experiencing all.
Like a dying lover, Buck coaxed the object of his affection for one last kiss, “Help me get through and I’ll make it worth your while.”
The ship lifted on a swell of churning, frostbitten sea and two bars magically appeared on the touch screen. His heart lodged in his throat, grateful for such a timely response, even as his sarcastic nature slipped into gear. The air temperature was a balmy thirty-eight degrees, and rising, but the sea was about as placid as a shiver of sharks—an excellent day to risk life and limb for a bunch of whales!
“No sweat,” he said aloud to calm his own nerves, “this is exactly why you became a biologist.”
Palms damp, nerves jittery—but not from the cold—Buck’s fingers moved quickly over the key pad. Within seconds his Bluetooth earpiece came to life, the loud ring assaulting his recently injured ear.
He secured the phone high on the nearest rigging, to maximize the signal, then began disentangling the buoy line he was about to drop into the arctic water. He’d been trapped on this Trojan seahorse for weeks, performing his duties under false pretenses, all the while formulating and dismissing multiple, fallible plans; if they suspected him of noncompliance, or whistle-blowing, he’d be fish bait.
After four seemingly interminable rings, the voice of his former college heartthrob came through loud and clear.
“Well hello there, stranger! I was just thinking about you. How’s the—”
“Kait, listen; I don’t have much time.”
“What’s wrong, Buck?” Her voice changed instantly from happy-to-hear-from-you friend, to alert problem solver. Not for the first time, he cursed himself for having been too busy, and too shortsighted, to grab hold of the best woman he’d ever known.
“Someone bought the count! This ship is a phantom; the whole study is a fabrication. You’ve got to warn people, collect real data to contradict what they present to the IWC at the next legislative session. They’re padding the numbers to get the kill-ban removed on Blues.”
Static crackled in his ears, mixing with Kait’s voice as he struggled to hear her. “I’m losing you, Kait! Did you hear me?”
“I heard—” silence, then static, “—you sure? —are you?”
The hairs on Buck’s neck stood on end, signaling that someone was near. He stopped working the buoy line and gazed at Mother Nature’s finest canvas. Before him, the horizon rolled-on in an endless expanse of slate-blue sea, juxtaposed by the first luminous rays of dawn breaking through low cumulous clouds. It would be a beautiful August day on the Bering—sunny and warm, he predicted with feigned optimism—a rare occurrence, and the only chance he’d had to raise the proverbial red flag for the rest of the world.
Static turned to prolonged silence in his earpiece.
Bad time for a dropped call.
“Ty chyo blya?” came a deep, rusty voice. “What ze fuck you do?”
Buck had grown accustomed to the saw-tooth rantings of the ship’s captain, a 6-foot, 6-inch Russian behemoth, who’d spent more of his life at sea than on land, and had the weathered skin and scars to prove it. His hostility, if not his words, were unmistakable.
“Just untangling this buoy, Cap.”
Captain Vladokov glowered and moved closer, edging Buck against the steel rail of the ship. His piercing blue eyes spoke volumes as he pulled the wool cap from Buck’s head and glared at the Bluetooth resting on his ear.
With a tilt of his head, the captain’s eyes locked first on the sat-phone clipped above their heads, then on Buck with a small shake of his head. “I told zem you ver boy scout,” he said in disgust.
“Too late, Vladokov. The cavalry has been warned.”
Buck felt his feet leave the deck as Vladokov shoved him effortlessly over the rail. He didn’t resist his fate—he’d always known he would die young. Violence always took the peaceful warriors who were brave enough to show humanity another option.
Death was a heavy price to pay for trying to do good and protect others, but he’d accomplished much in his life, and experienced everything that mattered.
For just a moment, Buck felt himself suspended mid-air, his life flashing before his eyes—Kait laughing, his mother crying, friends rejoicing after triumphant rallies, protests, and demonstrations, incredible places he’d seen with his own eyes and experienced with his own senses, beauty and madness he’d witnessed firsthand, the birth of a baby blue whale, and the slaughter of hundreds of dolphins and whales—then icy water stabbed at every inch of his body, engulfing him.
His lungs heaved in shock as he sank to the murky depths of Davy Jones’ tomb. He embraced the pain, knowing that when it ceased, so too would his amazing life. He would freeze to death before the ship came back to retrieve his body, and he was certain they wouldn’t grant him even that small honor.
He only hoped Kait had understood his call.
“Dude, we are seriously screwed!” A scruffy young man buzzed anxiously around an open hatch on the main deck of an aging oceanographic research boat.
“Stow it, Frankie. Hand me the retainer wrench.”
Frankie watched a grease-covered hand reach through the air from behind an engine larger than the Mini Cooper Roadster he’d been drooling over for the past month. Checking his watch for the tenth time in as many minutes, he slapped the wrench into the disembodied hand. “We’re already two hours late! If you don’t get this tub running, we’ll miss the first drop. He’ll skin us alive and throw us to the sharks!”
And I won’t get my hands on that car.
“He’s not going to kill us, Frankie. He needs us.” Determination shaped the voice from below, and maybe a touch of arrogance.
“You’re wrong, Doc. He don’t need nobody. Flunkies are a dime a dozen in his world. You think he needs us, ‘cause we need him, but that just ain’t the way it is.”
“We’re not flunkies, and I’ve had enough of your dire predictions and paranoia.” A pair of swamp-green eyes looked up from the engine, stressed to the edge and ready to strangle Frankie if he didn’t zip his lips. Those same green eyes looked past Frankie’s carrot-top head at a glistening blur of white rounding the far end of the private pier. “What in blue blazes is he doing here? Is he a raving lunatic?”
Frankie looked up, his face transforming from worried anticipation to instant immobilizing fear. “Shit! Oh, shit! We’re dead!”
“Game face, Frankie. Now! Guide them to dock behind the Triton. Stall them there while I get rid of the security guard. We’ve got to get them out of here before anyone sees them and starts asking questions.”
The two parted ways, their nerves strained to the breaking point. One sent the aging security guard on a fool’s errand, while the other rushed to appease the Devil.
To the casual observer, the Devil was a suave Latino businessman with black, silver-flecked hair, whose lean body and sharp edges were masterfully disguised by his custom-tailored, white sport suit and loafers. Those unfortunate enough to know him were painfully aware that his deceptively refined appearance hid the criminal, often dastardly tactics he used to sculpt his world.
His hulking bodyguard, devoid of empathy or any other form of basic human decency, stood like a sentry at the gates of Hell. Black sunglasses obscured his dark, square face, and his long, black hair greased into a short tail was knotted with a black leather tie. A black suit and an even blacker AK-47 completed his ensemble, the ominous weapon balanced in his blocky hands as if permanently attached.
The Devil and his minion stood stoically on the deck of the sleek 85-foot ocean yacht as Frankie approached. His stomach lurched as he stepped aboard, ready to beg forgiveness and buy some time.
Without waiting for an explanation, the Devil spoke in a soft, fluid mixture of Spanish and English, making his displeasure clear. “Frankie, you disappoint me.”
Soulless eyes looked to the bodyguard for only a moment; instantly, the butt of the AK-47 slammed into Frankie’s gut and the wafer-thin punk doubled over in pain.
Returning from the security booth, Doc saw the exchange and hurried to intervene. “It’s not his fault,” he said coolly as he too stepped aboard the yacht. “The engine on my rig blew. We’ve been trying to fix it.”
“You think to violate our agreement?”
“No, just explaining the delay. It couldn’t be helped.”
Colder than the cosmos, the Devil stepped closer, eye to eye. “She is not the only rig at your disposal, Doctor Russell. Take another.”
“That’s not possible on such short notice…” His words died on the breeze as a long switchblade appeared at his throat. Beads of sweat formed at his temples and his heart began to race.
“Are you so weak, so insignificant that you cannot take any rig you want?” The Devil’s voice cut through the air with contempt, “Maybe you are the wrong man for the job.”
Stuffing down his ego’s need for retaliation, Doctor Russell carefully responded with his customary authority. “The other research vessels are at sea—we have numerous projects underway at all times. Only the Neptune II is under my exclusive command. I can have her repaired and underway within a day or two.”
“And ruin my reputation for delivering on time?” The Devil pressed harder with his knife, drawing a thin line of blood. “I don’t think you understand the nature of our arrangement. I say jump, you jump—even off a 100-foot cliff.” His eyes drifted to the Triton. “You have places to go, people to meet. Pull some strings.”
Swallowing back the angry bile bubbling up his throat, the doctor made one last attempt at reason. “Switching to another vessel would draw unwanted attention. The Triton came in last night and she’ll be going right back out on Monday. They’re working on a top priority project. If I take her, there will be too many questions.”
“No more excuses,” said the Devil with gallows conviction.
From behind him, the bodyguard slammed the rifle into Doctor Russell’s kidney, blasting pain through every cell in his body. The fifty-something baby-boomer fell to his knees as the cold barrel of the AK-47 pressed against his cheek, threatening certain death if he didn’t think of an immediate solution. The situation was quickly escalating far beyond anything he’d bargained for when he’d first crossed that shadowy line between need and greed, right and wrong.
Deals with the Devil always come at a much higher cost than expected.
He and Frankie had passed the point of no return. They had no choice but to keep navigating the treacherous waters around them. The alternatives were death or exposure—neither one tolerable to a man who, until recently, had played by society’s rules and elevated himself through education, sacrifice, and the sweat of his own brow. If he was exposed, the consequences would be staggering. He would lose everything he’d worked so hard to achieve and be forced to endure a painfully bleak future. Death, on the other hand, would preclude a future entirely—the epic fail to end all epic fails.
Hindsight renders the genius a fool.
The bodyguard’s finger twitched hungrily on the trigger and the doctor ceded to his fate. “All right, all right! Give me one hour to cover our tracks and smooth the way. We’ll meet you at the rendezvous location in two.”
Kaitlyn O’Donnell drove north toward La Jolla, California, heading to her office on Saturday morning after only a few hours of restless sleep. Weekends were too short these days; she needed every minute to prepare for another two weeks at sea. Taking a deep breath, she massaged her neck with one hand while steering with the other. Four weeks down, six to go, she thought wearily, then we can all take a nice long breather.
Reviewing a mental list of everything she had to accomplish in the next 24-hours, Kait marveled at the fact that things were going so smoothly. Thanks to that fateful call from Buck—Was it really only ten weeks ago?—and the charitable cooperation of key members of the Board of Directors at Scotts Institute of Marine Research (SIMR), four reputable research teams were well on their way to derailing what could be the biggest ecological scam since the Gulf Oil Spill. Some days she still couldn’t believe she’d been able to pull everything together on such short notice, or that she’d even had to.
Was there no end to the greed of humanity?
As it turned out, endangered blue whale populations in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans were in serious jeopardy thanks to a deceptive team of “experts” bought and paid for by unidentified members of the whaling industry. Those “experts” had spent the entire summer orchestrating false population counts in the whales’ sub-polar summer feeding grounds, allegedly padding the numbers in an attempt to get the species delisted under the Endangered Species Act and removed from the worldwide hunting ban regulated by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The consortium of eighty-eight countries was constantly challenged to balance the conservation of whales against the demands of an obsolescing industry as well as the cultural and economic preservation of subsistence-whale-hunting tribes.
Everything the fake research team had done thus far looked perfectly scientific and above-board—Kait couldn’t prove anything without a willing eyewitness and a lot of evidence. Unfortunately Buck had dropped completely off the grid after his mysterious call, laying the burden of collecting irrefutable proof squarely in her lap.
After a week of failed attempts to track him down, Kait had shocked everyone, including herself, and used several long-overdue vacation days to fly to Alaska and find him. She’d needed confirmation that the situation was really as dire as he’d indicated before sounding the drums of war. This was not her first political rodeo, but if she didn’t handle it just right, it could certainly be her last.
Her meeting with Captain Vladokov at the edge of an old-growth pine forest, on the rickety planks of an isolated fishing wharf—weathered by at least fifty treacherous years of harsh winters and prolonged summer days—had left her deeply depressed and raging mad. The hard-hearted mercenary claimed that Buck had fallen overboard when nobody was looking. His body had never been found, despite several supposed attempts to do so, and she had been dismissed with a barely-veiled threat she would never forget: “Best not ask too many qvestions, Missy. People ‘round here don’t like strangers. Bad things can happen.”
Kait shivered from the memory. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw Buck drowning, frozen and alone, in the Bering Sea. A tear slid down her cheek. Nobody deserved to die like that, certainly not the idealistic humanitarian she’d secretly swooned over in college. He’d introduced her to the exciting world of activism, and taught her that some fights were too important to watch from the sidelines.
By calling to warn her, without having an escape plan if he got caught, Buck had thrown down the gauntlet; by accepting his challenge, and picking up the battle where he’d left off, she’d made herself susceptible to the same horrible fate. Part of her had wanted to pretend that nothing had really happened, to go on about her life as if she’d never answered his call, never gone to Alaska, but the guilt and depression would have been more than she could bear. Indeed, there’d been no real question; if she had chosen to do nothing, her life would have become meaningless, and Buck’s death would have been for nothing.
This was beyond a doubt the greatest challenge she’d ever accepted. At its inception, she’d had no idea how to unveil and debunk a conspiracy, especially one with such global implications. She’d wisely kept her mouth shut until she was safely home in San Diego, then carefully planned her strategy and begun quietly recruiting anyone and everyone who would listen. Growing bolder with each success, she’d eventually hounded the SIMR Board of Directors into cooperation and called in every IOU she could remember, and a few she’d made up. She’d bribed, blackmailed, cajoled, and even resorted to a little harmless pilfering from other projects, but even with her small army of scientists, supporters, and gear, she would still need a slew of miracles to win this fight. Mother Theresa she was not.
The loud ring of her cell phone jolted Kait back to the present. Everyone had their assigned tasks for the weekend—they should know exactly what to do.
“Kait, glad I caught you.”
“Hi William,” she said with relief. “I’m on my way to the office. What’s up?”
“Bad news, Kait. I just got a call from the President of the Board. Apparently some high profile research team requisitioned the Triton for the next ten days. He said it was approved a long time ago, but the paperwork got lost in the shuffle. They’re putting out to sea today.”
“What? They can’t take our ship! We only have six weeks left to wrap things up and submit our report to the Commission! The Board gave us priority access to the Triton until then.”
“Yes they did, but this can’t be avoided.” William heaved a sigh. “Look, I’m pressed for time. Reach out to the Poseidon in the Philippines and the Proteus down near Peru. Ask them each to put a crew member on whale watch duty while the Triton is unavailable. I’m heading north to the Oceanus Research Platform. I’ll ask them for help too.”
“William, this is insane!” Kait’s heart raced as she imagined her project sinking faster than the Titanic to a deep, watery grave. “Everyone’s been working themselves to the bone for this; we’re the only ones in a position to contradict the false numbers. You know the Maui team’s engine blew up two days ago; without the Triton in place next week, we’ll have a giant gap in our data! A few reports from vessels in random locations won’t fill those gaps in a meaningful way.”
“I am perfectly aware of the problem, Kait, but there is nothing I can do about it. The President was adamant. Give your crew a well-earned break. Get the Maui team back on the water ASAP. It’s only ten days; you’ll have several weeks left to collect additional data when you get the Triton back.”
“William, we already missed two weeks at the beginning of the migration. We can’t afford to lose another week at the height of the season!”
“We have no choice, Kait. Do what you can with the existing data, keep the remaining crews on the water, and sit-tight until they bring the Triton back. Whatever you do, don’t rock the boat! Need to run—my ride is here.”
Kait tossed her cell phone onto the passenger seat and slapped her palms against the steering wheel. Inhaling several deep breaths, she tried to quell the storm brewing in her mind, but a feverish fury began to sweep through her.
That’s it? No discussion or recourse?
The Board gives the Triton to another team and we’re just supposed to hand it over without a sneeze?
Never mind that her suddenly spineless, jellyfish-of-a-boss had just agreed to quash the most important project of her career. To heck with getting an accurate population estimate on an endangered species; the commissioners can bloody well wait until next year for a complete set of data. So what if the whaling industry gets their way in the meantime and drives the Blues closer to extinction!
Kait’s body thrummed with anxiety as she flipped a U-turn and headed south. There was no time to go to the office now—she had to get to the wharf and unload her team’s data and equipment before the usurpers took over her ship!
She wasn’t just fighting an anonymous group of conspirators anymore; now she was being undermined by her own employers. With both of the Pacific teams scuttled for a week or more, her estimate of the North Pacific blue whale population would be less than sterling. Solid data from two long-term studies in the Atlantic would help protect the Atlantic populations, but would be insufficient to counter the falsified numbers for the Pacific populations; she’d be laughed out of the IWC proceedings or ignored completely.
The overall findings from all four teams had to be impeccable to prevent this coup. That meant all four teams needed to collect at least another month of solid data just to get their foot in the door and postpone an IWC decision. After that was accomplished, a more complete count of the populations could be conducted by other scientists. A ten day gap in an already truncated count, would leave them dead in the water.
I need more time!
Today, like most days at the SIMR wharf, was as quiet as a graveyard; all but the Triton and the Neptune II spent the majority of the year in international waters with multiple projects under way. Kait pulled into her usual parking spot, under the only shade tree, and ruminated over William’s not so subtle warning. “Whatever you do, don’t rock the boat!” There was an implied “or else” in that statement.
Or else, what?
After five years working together, William had to know she wouldn’t let the Triton go without a fight. Under normal circumstances she was a reasonable person—a reliable and dedicated employee, according to her latest performance review—but there was nothing normal about the current situation. This project, and the difficulties entangling it, were pushing every one of her “hot” buttons. She couldn’t sit tight and do nothing!
Despite the occasional disagreement, Kait had always been able to work things out with William; he was her mentor, a trusted advisor and friend. He’d been instrumental in helping her get this project up and running—had invested a great deal of his own extremely limited time to help her devise a plan and get through all the red tape—and not once had she felt compelled to contradict his orders.
Emerging from her car, Kait stared at William’s old pickup. There were too many unknowns to process, too many negative ramifications if she allowed this obstacle to block her, but she couldn’t think of a viable solution in such a short timeline. Her thoughts whirled like a hurricane, swamping the calm center that usually sustained her.
Maybe she should defy William’s orders and take the ship and her crew out on the water without Captain Hallor and his operations crew. What could they do to stop her?
Send the Coast Guard to escort us back.
Prevent me from getting my Captain’s License.
No, absconding wouldn’t solve anything. If SIMR was willing to permit such a colossal catastrophe, she might very well lose her job, maybe even destroy her career and the solid reputation she’d worked so hard to build. Not to mention that her actions could jeopardize the jobs and careers of her crew.
She could tell them what was happening, give them the choice to stay or go. Or, she could keep quiet and take the blame for her defiance, alone. If her crew didn’t know there was trouble, they might not get the axe.
I can’t lead a mutiny. There has to be another way.
Nothing came to her frazzled mind. She hadn’t asked Buck to drop this atomic bomb in her lap, but he had. When she’d asked SIMR to get involved, she hadn’t expected them to entrust the task to her, but they had, despite her protests that she didn’t have what it would take to get the job done. Now, after everything had been resolved and the teams were up and running, they were pulling the rug out from under her, practically pushing the button on the atomic bomb. She couldn’t ignore this new obstacle, and if she couldn’t find a way around it, she’d have to find a way to push through it.
That’s why Buck had passed the baton to her in the first place; he’d known she would fight, had known she wouldn’t back down, no matter the personal cost, when it came to defending the innocent. The threat was real and Buck had given his life to stop it. He was counting on her to rise to the challenge, and she was doing her best not to let him down.
“Skirt or pants, you’re the toughest, smartest person I know, KO. You’ll always be the knock-out that delivers the knockout blow!” His parting words when they’d said goodbye after college had shocked her to the core. They weren’t true, but the sentiment had been incredibly sweet. She wasn’t so tough or special, just tenacious—perhaps to a fault.
Over the years, Kait had learned time and again, that when she wanted something, it was up to her to make it happen. Nobody was going to do it for her and nobody was going to make things easy; Nobody was a cold-hearted son-of-a-sea-slug. She no longer questioned the lows to which people could sink and no longer apologized for reaching for what she wanted. Buck had been a way-shower in her life, a shining point of light that inspired others to integrity and right-action. He had kicked butt when it was needed, but in a gentle and loving way. He had taught her and others, not by pontification, but by demonstration, in every aspect of his own life.
Poor Buck. Each time she imagined him sinking into a frozen abyss, her stomach clenched with an overwhelming sense of doom. She couldn’t let him down. She had to fight for justice, for the whales, and for Buck, even if it meant losing her job!
Biting back on the urge to scream at the world, she headed for the pier. “It’s just one more roadblock,” she said aloud as she walked. “I’ll never concede victory to a bunch of lying butchers who’d wipe out every species on the planet to pad their own coffers!”
Focusing on the most immediate problem, Kait began calculating possibilities and forming a new plan. The crew had left most of their personal belongings, and all of the most important equipment and samples, aboard the Triton during their weekend respite. She had to get ready to abandon ship and call the crew back for emergency salvage duty. Jogging down a sidewalk edged by ice plant, she stopped to call her first mate and put the crew on notice. When Bowie didn’t answer, she called the second mate, who answered after only one ring.
“Randy, it’s Kait.”
“Hey there, boss lady. You’re supposed to be sleeping-in this fine morning.”
“No time—the project is in big trouble. I don’t have time to explain, but I need you to call Bowie and the rest of the crew and get them down here to the pier, ASAP. We need to make sure all data has been transferred from the ship to the lab; unload all the equipment and samples; start tracking down an alternate vessel, maybe several.”
“Another research team is commandeering our rig; the Board put us on mandatory shore leave for ten days! That’s all I know right now. I’m going to try to put a stop to this, but if I can’t, we’ll need a backup plan.”
Kait stopped in her tracks. “What the…?”
As the private pier came into view, she saw a large unfamiliar yacht docked directly behind the Triton. The Neptune II sat at the far end of the pier on the opposite side; it was docked more often than not lately, but she was still surprised to see it there. Red flags of warning waved in her mind as she hurried toward the security gate. “Randy, I’ll have to call you back. Round up everyone as fast as you can and get down here. I’ve gotta go—there’s a strange yacht at the dock.”
“Kait, don’t—” Randy hollered into the already silent phone.
Kait reached the abandoned security booth and buzzed herself through the gate with her badge. Barney, the long-time guardsman she’d befriended, was nowhere to be seen. With any luck he was already investigating the trespassing vessel. If he wasn’t, she would have to take matters into her own hands.
Don’t I have enough problems on my plate today?
What if the people aboard this vessel are responsible for said problems?
Then they’re about to get an earful from one very unhappy biologist!
Kait walked brazenly out onto the pier, her hackles rising to a whole new level. The yacht wouldn’t belong to the scientists from the invading research crew; scientists didn’t make enough money for such luxuries. Maybe it was someone from the Board; only a big SIMR muckety-muck would dare to dock alongside the private pier, and if that was the case…well, she just might salvage this day after all!
Mighty fine ship, she thought in a brief moment of conniving admiration. The Spanish Maiden was a real beauty with sleek lines and curves: undoubtedly fast in the water, and easy to handle without need for a licensed captain, or an operations crew. She’d be a nice substitute for the Triton if push came to shove, one that Kait could handle on her own with only her small team.
Yeah, and if wishes were fishes they’d all swim away.
As she passed the Triton and neared the Spanish Maiden, a vortex of butterflies began swirling in her stomach. Her mother’s disapproving voice echoed unwanted through her mind, “There you go again, sticking your neck out where it doesn’t belong. One of these days you’ll find out it’s not worth the effort.”
Just as quickly, her brother’s voice washed it out. “Don’t let her jinx you, Kit-Cat. Today is not that day.”
A moment of dread gave her pause; in the two days since the Maui team had informed her of their engine blowout, her worst fear had been the possibility of sabotage. She had kept her fear to herself, not wanting to spook the crew. What if she caught someone vandalizing her ship? What if they ruined all the equipment, or worse, destroyed the data her team had worked so hard to collect?
Don’t get swept away by paranoia just yet.
Kait took a deep breath to calm her nerves. The loss of the Triton and the Maui team’s engine blowup could be mere coincidence—both of the Atlantic teams were still on track at last report—but a nagging thought at the back of her mind refused to quiet. It might be wise to check out her own ship before hailing the unauthorized yacht.
Kait doubled back and quietly boarded the main deck of the Triton. First, she took the stairs up to the helm room on the second level and checked the control panel; the ship’s computer, radio, navigation system, and GPS systems looked fine—no sign of tampering. Next, she descended to the first level and inspected the wet lab and equipment lockers; everything was in place, exactly as the crew had left it last night. The blood and tissue samples waiting to be catalogued still sat in orderly rows, by date, in the refrigerator—she’d have to speak with James about the samples; he looked to be about a week behind schedule with his analyses.
Below the main deck, the dry lab looked ship-shape. She made a quick sweep through the crew’s quarters in the hold, and was only mildly relieved to find that everything was locked up tight with nothing out of place.
Just because you didn’t find trouble, doesn’t mean it’s not there. She’d have to investigate the intruding yacht to know for sure, but Kait felt herself growing more reluctant.
Where the heck is Barney?
Stepping off the Triton, she walked farther down the pier to the Spanish Maiden. A salty breeze lifted her hair, whipping it across her eyes. “Ahoy the yacht!”
Silence stilled the air around her as she waited for a reply. There had to be someone around keeping an eye on things. It was inconceivable that a trespasser would dock illegally and then just abandon such a primo vessel. Of course, if it was a board member, then they probably had a key to the security gate and had no doubt gone up to the warehouse facilities.
Pulling out her cell phone, Kait decided to call Barney and request his assistance. After three rings she heard the distinct ringtone he’d programmed into his phone for her number: “Hot Blooded” by Foreigner. He loved to tease her about how she made him feel like a young high school stud again instead of a sixty-something bag of bones. The song was muffled, but sounded like it was coming from somewhere nearby—he must be aboard the yacht.
When Barney didn’t answer her call, she started to worry in earnest. He could be having trouble with his diabetes again, like when she’d found him passed out on the floor of his security booth a few months ago.
Kait boarded the rear platform of the interloping yacht, not at all sure that it was the wisest course of action. As she climbed the stairs to the main deck, the engine purred to life, a low rumble vibrating the air. She hesitated, looking back at the dock, then crossed to a sliding glass door that hung open, and called inside the luxurious salon. “Hello! Barney? Can anyone hear me?”
The yacht swayed mildly and issued a chorus of quiet creaks and moans as it absorbed rolling tidal swells. Hearing a distant thump, Kait stepped inside the plush cabin. She could see all the way forward, past a velvet sitting area and an elegant galley amidships to the polished navigation bridge. The luminous salon was empty but a flash of movement reflected by a window caught her eye and she called out again. “Barney, is that you?”
Again there was no answer. Her nerves tingled with alarm and she felt the distinct urge to run. As she turned to make good on that urge, she was instantly stopped by a large man blocking the sliding door. She looked up slowly and swallowed the fear that clogged her throat.
“Hello there. I’m sorry to intrude,” Kait said casually as she tried to calm her nerves. “Are you the owner of this yacht?”
A large, black-haired, muscle-bound thug stood before her, his feet spread in a wide stance, his ring-studded hands crossed casually in front of him. When he didn’t respond, she knew she was in trouble. This was no muckety-muck; he looked more like a wrestler-cum-Mexican Mafioso.
Stiffening her spine and standing as tall as she could, Kait called on every ounce of authority she could muster, despite the lurching in her stomach. “I’m from the Institute and unless you have some official business here, you’ll have to move your vessel.” Softening her tone slightly, she added an explanation, “You’re docked illegally, trespassing on private property, but if you leave now, I won’t report the violation.”
Sensing movement behind her, she turned just slightly to see that another man, thinner, and of a more average build, stood behind her blocking the path through the salon. He looked sleeker, his hair smooth and wet with gel, and he wore three gold chains draped around his neck. Neither of the men looked like they were in any mood to talk, much less cooperate.
Holy mackerel! Not good!
When Kait turned back toward the man blocking her exit, a large rifle had materialized in his hands, pointing directly at her chest. With the rifle he motioned for her to go down a set of stairs to the lower deck of the yacht.
Good criminy! Keep it together and get out of here!
Trapped between the two men, her skin crawled with anxiety as she turned to comply. She had to act fast, remembering somewhere deep in the recesses of her mind that nine times out of ten, going along with any attacker was tantamount to embracing a horrifying death. They moved in closer, forcing her toward the stairs.
With speed she didn’t know she possessed, Kait whirled around and knocked the man’s arm and gun away from her; it swung into the other man’s face and struck him. There was no way to get past them so she ran down the steep steps into a dark corridor. She opened the only door on the left hoping to distract them, and then ran down the short hallway to the right. It was a dead end with three small doors. She opened the door closest to the stairs and slipped inside, quietly closing it as they came around the corner.
Kate found herself in a tiny bathroom—the portal too small to climb through—no way out except back the way she had just come.
Leaning against the door, she willed the men to pass her by. The confined space held nothing she could use as a weapon—dumb luck was her only hope now.
When heavy footsteps approached, she held her breath. A nearby door creaked as it opened and her heart nearly stopped. Seconds felt like an eternity as she held perfectly still, waiting for them to move forward to the last door; when they did, she nearly fainted with relief. On shaky legs, she opened the door and made a dash for the stairs and the deck beyond. She had never wanted anything as fervently as she wanted, right now, to be off this yacht.
Kait could smell her freedom on the salty breeze, see it as she reached the top of the stairs. Her feet carried her swiftly, the men pounding up the steps right behind her. She sailed through the doorway into the bright sunlight and rounded a corner heading for the starboard bow, then toppled to her hands and knees. Scrambling to her feet again, she spared a quick glance back to see what she had tripped on—a body!
A blood-curdling scream ripped through Kait’s lips. Her heart thumped hard then skipped a beat. In the next second, as she turned to run, her head seemed to explode with pain. Everything around her swirled into bright colors as her feet and arms went heavy. She was falling ever so slowly, like a feather, midair. Bright colors faded to black.
Storm Shadow is a book that grabs you from its very first lines. I couldn’t stop reading it. Fingers crossed there is more to come. I NEED more Storm. -Hayley Still
Riptide Effect! The story pulled me in right from the beginning and took me on a wild ride throughout. Felt like I was there in the action and really enjoyed the storyline. A wonderful book and can’t wait for more! -Andrew Hands