Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water

by Julie Ann Walker

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Overview

"Walker blends the tender romance of a reassuring touch with lusty sex scenes, and her dialogue is spot-on. Readers will be panting for the next in the series."—Publishers Weekly, STARRED Review

In a world on the brink
There's more than one kind of treasure
and more than one secret at the bottom of the sea

Only two things could make former Navy SEAL Leo Anderson return to the world of weapons and warfare. First, a capsule of chemical weapons lost on the ocean floor, and second, a plea for assistance from the one woman he can't seem to forget—CIA Agent Olivia Mortier.

Now, working together to race against the clock and a deadly terrorist faction, Leo and Olivia must find the missing capsule, all the while battling the intense desire burning between them. If they can survive, can their growing attraction become more than just a momentary flare?

The Deep Six Series:
Hell or High Water (Book 1)
Devil and the Deep (Book 2)

Praise for Full Throttle:
"Quick witted and action packed." —RT Book Reviews, 4 stars
"Heart-pounding...Walker has outdone herself." —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"Amazing...took me on the ride of my life." —The Book Whisperer
"A wonderful, intense story with fabulous romantic tension." —Tome Tender

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781492608912
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 07/07/2015
Series: The Deep Six , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 61,441
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Julie Ann Walker is the USA Today and New York Times Bestselling Author of the Black Knights Inc. romantic suspense series. She is prone to spouting movie quotes and song lyrics. She'll never say no to sharing a glass of wine or going for a long walk. She prefers impromptu travel over the scheduled kind, and she takes her coffee with milk. 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. For more information, please visit www.julieannwalker.com or follow her on Facebook www.facebook.com/jawalkerauthor and/or Twitter @JAWalkerAuthor.

Read an Excerpt

Hell or High Water

A Deep Six Novel


By JULIE ANN WALKER

Sourcebooks, Inc.

Copyright © 2015 Julie Ann Walker
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4926-0891-2


CHAPTER 1

Present day

10:52 p.m. ...

"And the Santa Cristina and her brave crew and captain were sucked down into Davy Jones's locker, lost to the world. That is ... until now ..."

Leo "the Lion" Anderson, known to his friends as LT — a nod to his former Naval rank — let his last words hang in the air before glancing around at the four faces illuminated by the flickering beach bonfire. Rapt expressions stared back at him. He fought the grin curving his lips.

Bingo, bango, bongo. His listeners had fallen under a spell as deep and fathomless as the great oceans themselves. It happened anytime he recounted the legend of the Santa Cristina. Not that he could blame his audience. The story of the ghost galleon, the holy grail of sunken Spanish shipwrecks, had fascinated him ever since he'd been old enough to understand the tale while bouncing on his father's knee. And that lifelong fascination might account for why he was now determined to do what so many before him — his dearly departed father included — had been unable to do. Namely, locate and excavate the mother lode of the grand ol' ship.

Of course, he reckoned the romance and mystery of discovering her waterlogged remains were only part of the reason he'd spent the last two months and a huge portion of his savings — as well as huge portions of the savings of the others — refurbishing his father's decrepit, leaking salvage boat. The rest of the story as to why he was here now? Why they were all here now? Well, that didn't bear dwelling on.

At least not on a night like tonight. When a million glittering stars and a big half-moon reflected off the dark, rippling waters of the lagoon on the southeast side of the private speck of jungle, mangrove forest, and sand in the Florida Keys. When the sea air was soft and warm, caressing his skin and hair with gentle, salt-tinged fingers. When there was so much ... life to enjoy.

That had been his vow — their vow — had it not? To grab life by the balls and really live it? To suck the marrow from its proverbial bones?

His eyes were automatically drawn to the skin on the inside of his left forearm where scrolling, tattooed lettering read For RL. He ran a thumb over the pitch-black ink.

This one's for you, you stubborn sonofagun, he pledged, flipping open the lid on the cooler sunk deep into the sand beside his lawn chair. Grabbing a bottle of Budweiser and twisting off the cap, he let his gaze run down the long dock to where his uncle's catamaran was moored. The clips on the sailboat's rigging lines clinked rhythmically against its metal mast, adding to the harmony of softly shushing waves, quietly crackling fire, and the high-pitched peesy, peesy, peesy call of a nearby black-and-white warbler.

Then he turned his eyes to the open ocean past the underwater reef surrounding the side of Wayfarer Island, where his father's old salvage ship bobbed lazily with the tide. Up and down. Side to side. Her newly painted hull and refurbished anchor chain gleamed dully in the moonlight. Her name, Wayfarer-I, was clearly visible thanks to the new, bright-white lettering.

He dragged in a deep breath, the smell of burning driftwood and suntan lotion tunneled up his nose, and he did his best to appreciate the calmness of the evening and the comforting thought that the vessel looked, if not necessarily sexy, then at least seaworthy. Which is a hell of an improvement.

Hot damn, he was proud of all the work he and his men had done on her, and —

His men ...

He reminded himself for the one hundred zillionth time that he wasn't supposed to think of them that way. Not anymore. Not since those five crazy-assed SEALs waved their farewells to the Navy in order to join him on his quest for high-seas adventure and the discovery of untold riches. Not since they were now, officially, civilians.

"But why you guys?" The blond who was parked beneath Spiro "Romeo" Delgado's arm yanked Leo from his thoughts. "What makes you different from all those who've already tried and failed to find her?"

"Besides the obvious you mean, mamacita?" Romeo winked, leaning back in his lawn chair to spread his arms wide. His grin caused his teeth to flash white against his neatly trimmed goatee, and Leo watched the blond sit forward in her plastic deck chair to take in the wonder that was Romeo Delgado. After a good, long gander, she giggled and snuggled back against Romeo's side.

Leo rolled his eyes. Romeo's swarthy, Hispanic looks and his six-percent-body-fat physique made even the most prim-and-proper lady's panties drop fast enough to bust the floorboards. And this gal? Well, this gal might be prim and proper in her everyday life — hell, for all Leo knew she could be the leading expert on high etiquette at an all-girls school — but today, ever since Romeo picked her and her cute friend up in Schooner Wharf Bar on Key West with the eye-rolling line of "Wanna come see my private island?" she'd been playing the part of a good-time girl out having a little fun-in-the-sun fling. And it was the fling part that might — scratch that, rewind — did account for the lazy, self-satisfied smile spread across Romeo's face.

"I'm serious, though." Tracy or Stacy or Lacy, or whatever her name was — Leo had sort of tuned out on the introductions — wrinkled her sunburned nose. "How do you even know where to look?"

"Because of this." Leo lifted the silver piece of eight, a seventeenth-century Spanish dollar, from where it hung around his neck on a long, platinum chain. "My father discovered it ten years ago off the coast of the Marquesas Keys."

Tracy/Stacy/Lacy's furrowed brow telegraphed her skepticism. "One coin? I thought the Gulf and the Caribbean were littered with old doubloons."

"It wasn't just one piece of eight my father found." Leo winked. "It was a big, black conglomerate of ten pieces of eight, as well as —"

"Conglomerate?" asked the brunette with the Cupid's-bow lips. Tracy/Stacy/Lacy's friend had given Leo all the right signals the minute Romeo pulled the catamaran up to Wayfarer Island's creaky old dock and unloaded their guests. It'd been instant sloe-eyed looks and shy, encouraging smiles.

Okay, and confession time. Because for a fleeting moment when she — Sophie or Sophia? Holy Christ, Leo was seriously sucking with names tonight — sidled up next to him, he'd been tempted to take her up on all the things her nonverbal communications offered. Then an image of black hair, sapphire eyes, and a subtly crooked front tooth blazed through his brain. And just like that, the brunette lost her appeal.

Which is a good thing, he reminded himself. You're gettin' too old to bang the Betties Romeo drags home from the bar.

Enter Dalton "Doc" Simmons and his nearly six and a half feet of homespun, Midwestern charm. He'd been quick to insert himself between Leo and Sophie/Sophia. And now her gaze lingered on Doc's face when he said in that low, scratchy Kiefer Sutherland voice of his, "Unlike gold, which retains its luster after years on the bottom of the ocean, silver coins are affected by the seawater. They get fused together by corrosion or other maritime accretions. When that happens, it's called a conglomerate. They have to be electronically cleaned to remove the surface debris and come out looking like this." Grabbing the silver chain around his neck, Doc pulled a piece of eight from inside his T-shirt. It was identical to the one Leo wore.

"And like this," Romeo parroted, twirling the coin on the chain around his neck like a Two-Buck Chuck stripper whirling a boa.

Their first day on the island, Leo had gifted each of his men — damnit! ... his friends — with one of the coins, telling them their matching tattoos were symbols of their shared past and their matching pieces of eight were symbols of their shared future.

Leo tipped the neck of his beer toward Doc. "Maritime accretions, huh? You sound like an honest-to-God salvor, my friend."

Doc smirked, which was as close to a smile as the dude ever really got. If Leo hadn't seen Doc rip into a steak on occasion, he wouldn't have been all that convinced the guy had teeth.

"But even a conglomerate of coins wouldn't be enough to guarantee the ship's location," Leo added, turning back to the blond. "My father also found a handful of bronze deck cannons. All of which were on the Santa Cristina's manifest. So she's down there ... somewhere." He just had to find her. All his friends were counting on that windfall for various reasons, and if he didn't —

"But, like you said, your dad tried to find this Christy boat for" — Leo winced. Okay, so the woman seemed sweet. But the only thing worse than mangling the name of the legendary vessel was referring to it as a boat — "like twenty-some-odd years, right?"

"And Mel Fisher searched for the Atocha for sixteen years before finally findin' her." He referred to the most famous treasure hunter and treasure galleon of all time. Well, most famous of all time until he and the guys made the history books, right? Right. "In shallow water, like that around the Florida Keys, the shiftin' sands are moved by wind and tide. They change the seabed daily, not to mention after nearly four centuries. But with a little hard work and perseverance, you better believe the impossible becomes possible. We're hot on her trail." Her convoluted, invisible, nonexistent trail. Shit.

Doc slow-winked at the woman by way of agreement, twirling the toothpick that perpetually stuck out of his mouth in a circle with his tongue. It must have dazzled poor Sophie/Sophia, because she sucked in a breath before batting her pretty lashes and sidling her lawn chair closer to him. Throwing an arm around her shoulders, Doc turned to wiggle his eyebrows at Leo. Just like the others, Doc was never one to pass up an opportunity to feed Leo a heaping helping of shit. Par for the course considering Leo was ... fuck a duck ... used to be their commanding officer, a prime target for all their ass-hattery.

Yeah, yeah, Leo thought, quietly chuckling. So, I pulled the Roger Murtaugh, I'm-gettin'-too-old-for-this-shit bit. And you think I screwed up royally when I turned down what she was offerin'? So, go ahead. Rub it in, you big corn-fed douche-canoe.

"Why do you need to find that old treasure anyway?" the blond asked. "You have a private island." She motioned with her beer toward the rippling waters of the lagoon, tipsily splashing suds into the fire and making it hiss. "Aren't you r —" She hiccuped, then covered her mouth with her fingers, giggling. "Rich?" she finished.

"Ha! Hardly." Leo rested his sweating beer bottle against the fabric of his swim trunks. Here in the Keys, shorts and swim trunks were interchangeable — unlike his possible bed partners, apparently.

Come on, now! Why can't you get Olivia Mortier out of your head?

And that was the question of the hour, wasn't it? Or more like the question of the last frickin' eighteen months. Ever since that assignment in Syria ...

"But if you're not rich," the blond insisted, "then how can you" — hiccup — "afford to own this place?"

No joke, Romeo had better double-time her up to the house and into his bed. One or two more brewskies and she'd be too many sheets to the wind for what the self-styled lothario had in mind for her. Romeo may be a horndog extraordinaire, with more notches on his bedpost than Leo had sorties on his SEAL résumé, but like all the guys, Romeo was nothing if not honorable. If Tracy/Stacy/Lacy was too incapacitated, Romeo would do no more than tuck her under the covers with a chaste kiss on the forehead. And as their SEAL Team motto stated: Where's the fun in that?

On cue, Romeo turned to Leo, snapping his fingers, a worried frown pulling his black eyebrows into a V. Leo hid a smile as he reopened the cooler and dug around inside until he found a bottle of water. He tossed it over the fire, and Romeo caught it one-handed. Then Mr. Slam-dunk-ovich made quick work of exchanging the blond's beer with the H2O. "Try this, m'ija," he crooned, really laying his accent on thick before leaning over to whisper something no doubt highly suggestive into her ear.

The blond giggled, obediently twisting the cap off the water bottle to take a deep slug.

"We don't own the island, darlin'," a deep voice called from up the beach. Leo turned to see his uncle coming toward them. The man was dressed in his usual uniform of baggy cargo shorts and an eye-bleeding hula shirt. His thick mop of Hemingway hair and matching beard glowed in the light of the moon, contrasting sharply with skin that had been tanned to leather by the endless subtropical sun.

Bran Pallidino, Leo's best friend and BUD/S — Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training — swim partner, had once described Leo's uncle as "one part crusty sea dog and two parts slack-ass hippie." Leo figured that pretty much summed up the ol' coot in one succinct sentence. "My great-great-I've-forgotten-how-many-greats-grandfather leased the island for one hundred and fifty years from Ulysses S. Grant."

"President Grant?" the brunette squeaked, coughing on beer.

"The one and only," Uncle John said, plunking himself into an empty plastic deck chair, stretching his bare feet toward the fire, and lifting a tumbler — filled with Salty Dog, John's standard grapefruit, vodka, and salted-rim cocktail — to his lips. Ice clinked against the side of the glass when he took a healthy swig. "You may not know this, Tracy," he said — Tracy. Leo snapped imaginary fingers and endeavored to commit the name to memory — "but ol' Ulysses smoked 'bout ten cigars a day. And my great-great" — Uncle John made a rolling motion with his hand — "however-many-greats-grandpappy happened to be the premier cigar-maker of the time. In exchange for a lifetime supply of high-quality Cubans, Great-Grandpappy secured the rights to make a vacation home for himself and his descendants on this here little bit of paradise for a century and a half." Uncle John's familiar Louisiana drawl — the same one Leo shared, though to a lesser extent — drifted lazily on the warm breeze.

The Anderson brothers, Uncle John and Leo's father, James, originally hailed from the Crescent City. Like their father before them, they'd trained to be shrimp-boat captains in the Gulf. But a chance discovery during a simple afternoon dive off the coast of Geiger Key had changed everything. They'd found a small Spanish gunboat equipped with all manner of archeological riches, from muskets to daggers to swords, and the treasure-hunting bug had bitten them hard. The following year, when Leo was just five years old, the brothers moved to the Keys to use their vast knowledge of the sea to search for sunken riches instead of plump, pink shrimp.

Unfortunately, they never found another haul that could compete with that of the gunboat. Uncle John gave up the endeavor after a decade, settling in to run one of Key West's many bars until his retirement six months ago. But Leo's father had continued with the salvage business, splitting his time between jobs and hunting for the Santa Cristina until he suffered a heart attack during a dive. Leo took solace in knowing his old man had died as he'd lived, wrapped in the arms of the sea.

"Ulysses S. Grant? So that had to have been, what? Sometime in the eighteen seventies?" the brunette asked.

"You know your presidents, Sophie." Uncle John winked, taking another draw on his cocktail.

Sophie, Sophie, Sophie. Leo really should have paid more attention to the introductions. I mean, seriously? What was his problem? If a woman's name wasn't Olivia Mortier, it just went in one ear and out the other? For shit's sake!

"I teach history at the Girls' Academy of the Holy Saints High School in Tuscaloosa." She hooked a thumb toward her friend. "Tracy teaches home ec."

Leo nearly spewed his beer. It wasn't high etiquette, but it was damn close.

"Ah." Uncle John nodded sagely. "Well, that explains it. And you're right. It was in the eighteen seventies."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Hell or High Water by JULIE ANN WALKER. Copyright © 2015 Julie Ann Walker. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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