Lieutenant Nic Riley is the only girl in a long-time Navy family, and she’s determined to prove she’s just as seaworthy as her brothers. When she aces training for submarine duty, it calls for a celebration—and one incredibly hot guy is happy to party with her all night long. But when Nic boards the sub and finds herself face to face with her hunky fling, the idea of spending six months underwater takes on a whole new meaning . . .
Having a girl in every port was Lieutenant Kyle Hutchinson’s style—until the explosive night he spent with Nic. Dating onboard is firmly off limits, but Kyle can’t get her off his mind much less out of his vicinity—until a junior seaman’s devastating stunt puts Nic’s career in danger. Kyle won’t let her take the heat alone, even when it means risking his own reputation, but fighting for a future together will be a whole new battle . . .
Praise for Gail Chianese and her West Side Romance series!
“Engaging and down-to-earth . . . features characters readers can root for.” —Library Journal
“This book will make your heart smile.” —Kristan Higgins, New York Times bestselling author
“A series destined for the keeper shelf!” —Roxanne St. Claire, New York Times bestselling author
“The West Side Romance series is like the perfect pick-me-up latte—hot and steamy, with a layer of frothy fun on the top!” —Jessica Andersan, New York Times bestselling author
“Convincing characters, hot love scenes, and emotional depth.” —Library Journal, Starred Review
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Love Runs Deep
The Changing Tides Series
By Gail Chianese
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Gail Chianese
All rights reserved.
Music pounded in her ears and chest. Smoke filled the air, stinging her eyes. The smell of sweat and stale beer tickled her noise and Lieutenant Lily "Nic" Riley couldn't be happier. After weeks of study in preparation for life on a submarine, she and her fellow female officers had not only survived fire training, but also the wet trainer. Having twenty thousand gallons of water pumped into a small, enclosed space and then sticking a hood over her face had been almost more than she could handle. In the end, she proved her father wrong; she could take it like a man.
"Let's pray we never have to go out the escape trunk in real life. Y'all, I almost lost it right there." Cherise Johnson's slow southern drawl dragged the sentence out.
"Really?" Lindsey Pratt looked from Cherise to Nic and back. "I thought it was killer fun. Sure beats tipping cows in Nowhereville, Kansas."
"I'm with Cherise, once was more than enough." Nic raised her glass. "A toast to us, the future rock stars of the Navy and for kicking butt during training."
The three tapped the rims of their glasses together before taking sips of their drinks, or in Lindsey's case, downing half the bottle. They made an interesting and contrasting trio. Cherise with her close-cropped curls, curve-hugging dress, stilettos, and don't-mess-with-me face. It wasn't that she wasn't nice; she simply kept people at a distance. Lindsey, who had burned her good girl clothes the minute she boarded the bus for boot camp, wore leggings, knee-high boots, and a slinky top that was only held up by her double D's. Her blond, unruly curls fit Linds's personality. Both friends made Nic's outfit look very girl next door. Even her waist-length brownish-black hair hung straight as a stick.
In normal life, chances were low the three of them would have crossed paths, but the Navy had a way of bringing people together, of creating bonds stronger than blood and flesh. While Nic and Cherise had served together aboard the USS Ronald Reagan a few years back, they didn't meet up with Linds, who was brand new to the Navy, until sub school.
They'd ditched the base as soon as liberty hit, heading north and away from fellow squids and prying eyes. Being the only Navy brat in the group, Nic was familiar with New England and picked Boston as their destination.
New York would have been fun, if it hadn't been Fleet Week. All she wanted was a weekend of fun where she could forget she was the Admiral's daughter.
"Just think, in five days we'll report to our first boats. One hundred and forty men and me. Sounds like heaven." Lindsey took another drink of her beer and looked around.
"Um, Lindsey, you know you can't date the men on your boat, right?" Cherise, ever the practical one, pointed out the bad news to their man-crazed friend. "Fraternization?"
"Nic, tell me she's joshing."
"Technically, it's only against the rules if he's either over you or under you," Nic replied.
"Well, those are my favorite positions." Lindsey winked. "But man, does that suck the fun out of the whole deal. Guess we better get our fill tonight to hold us over. And Lordy, we've got some mighty fine selections to choose from."
Nic let her gaze travel around the bar. She'd picked this place on the recommendation of a friend who had lived in the area specifically because said friend had promised it wasn't popular with the military crowd. The men-to-women ratio was in their favor. Not that she was looking to get laid like Lindsey, but it would be nice to let her hair down and have a little fun.
"Pick up a guy from a bar?" Cherise's stiff posture and snippy tone sent Lindsey sliding off her stool. "No way. I'll pass. My mom would roll in her grave — if she were dead. Plus, he could be a psychopath."
"Whatever." Lindsey went and stood at the bar, her back to her friends, head held high.
"Cherise, hon, don't you think that came out a little harsh?"
This was not what Nic wanted, to play the mediator, but she wanted to cut the tension and get back to relaxing. Once they reported aboard their respective boats it would be nothing but hard work and her focus would be strictly on business.
"Maybe, but that's all she talks about — men and sex. Some of us weren't raised that way."
"Neither was Linds. Her dad is a pastor and her boyfriend broke up with her right before she reported to sub school. Do me a favor?" She reached out and gave Cherise's arm a squeeze. "Go easy on her tonight."
Cherise nodded and Lindsey came bouncing back to the table with a fresh drink for each of them. "Nic, check your six. You've got an admirer."
Grabbing her phone, Nic slid off her stool and went around the table to stand in between her friends where she could get a good look. She held the phone up, reversed the camera, enlarged the screen and hit the button. While she was at it, she took a second picture, this time of the three of them. Going back to her seat, she brought up the first shot and checked out the guy in question. Good looking in a rakish-sort of way. Light eyes. Maybe blue, maybe gray? Hard to say from a picture. High, sharp cheekbones, a couple days' worth of growth along the jaw line and framing his mouth, which drew her attention to his very kissable lips. Fit, and with his messy, long chestnut brown hair there was no way he was military. Meaning he was a perfect choice.
Should she be interested.
Which she wasn't sure if she was or not.
Linds wasn't the only one who had wounds to lick, although Nic had dumped her own boyfriend, not the other way around. It had been over for a year, not weeks like her friend's relationship, and she couldn't say she'd been bitter about the break-up. More like relieved, which told her she hadn't been in love. Thank goodness since Mark had the emotional maturity of a thirteen-year-old and the staying power of cheap glue.
The whole thing did make her question her ability to feel deep emotions, because she always picked guys like him. Guys who seemed great at first, loved to have a good time, who everyone loved, made everyone laugh and yet, couldn't see past the end of the day to plan for tomorrow much less the future.
The music broke and deep, masculine laughter rumbled through the room, dragging every woman's attention in the place to the men at the pool table. Mr. Smooth's hand clamped down on his buddy's shoulder before stepping away to allow the man to take his shot.
He lifted his head as he brought the frosty beer to his mouth, eyes locked on to Nic and in that moment the world around her slowed. Her breath caught in the back of her throat and heat rushed her cheeks.
The corners of his mouth slipped upward right before he saluted her with his bottle and took a long pull, eyes never releasing her.
She broke first, turning back to her friends.
Linds grinned like a damn fool and Cherise sat with her mouth hanging open.
"What?" Nic didn't wait for them to answer. She took the last swallow of her Chambord and soda to moisten her desert-dry mouth and stalked off to the bathroom to splash cold water over the back of her wrists.
Holy guacamole. She needed more than cold water after that smoldering look; more like a time-out on an iceberg. Desire and embarrassment from the thoughts racing through her brain sent heat coursing through her body, turning her pale skin bright pink. Thank goodness for bar lighting. Since she didn't see any handy icebergs, she grabbed a paper towel, ran it under ice cold water and placed it on the back of her neck.
What the heck was up with her? It took more than a pretty face to turn her to mush. She needed a guy with a sense of humor, a personality, and brains, which is why even though she'd succumbed to Mark's soulful brown eyes, she'd hadn't fallen. Okay, she'd admit his rockin' hot bod had helped, but that was kind of expected when the guy's a Navy SEAL.
Still she knew better. After all, she also had two older, good-looking brothers and watched friend after friend fall for them, only to be crushed when Liam and Reece looked the other way.
As her body temp cooled down, Nic shoved thoughts of the past and the future away. Deep contemplation of her future or past wasn't for tonight. Nothing could be done about the one and the other wasn't here yet. Nope, tonight was all about fun, hanging with her girls, and living in the moment.
Making her way back to the table, she let her gaze linger on the men around the pool table. Her 'friend' from earlier, for lack of a better word, currently had his backside to her as he bent over the table to take a shot.
As if he felt her gaze on him, he looked over his shoulder. One corner of his mouth lifted in a caught-you smile. Then he turned away and took his shot, sending his ball into the opposite pocket. She left him to his game and joined her actual friends, who had played musical chairs, putting her in the perfect spot to see and be seen by him.
Both Lindsey and Cherise had grins a mile wide on their faces and there were three fresh drinks on the table. Looks like one of them had a goal to get drunk tonight.
"Uh, guys thanks for the drink, but I'm not sure I want another yet." Nic twirled the ice around in her glass. At least it'd give her something to focus on other than a certain guy.
"We didn't order them." Lindsey's smile twinkled with mischief.
"Nope," Cherise chimed in. "These are from your admirer. Not that you have to do anything about it, but it is nice to be noticed once in a while."
Nic looked to each of her friends, to her drink, and, finally, across the room. Mr. Smooth lifted his beer in a salute, which she acknowledged with a smile and a nod.
"Suppose we should go over and thank him," Lindsey mused out loud.
"It is the proper thing to do." Cherise's pinched face didn't match her words, probably worrying again that the men at the pool table were serial killers or something.
"I wonder if his friend could teach me how to play," Linds asked.
Right. The chances were high that Lindsey wasn't talking billiards. Whatever; the girl deserved a fun night out as much as the rest. Even if she'd been the type to judge, Nic was in no place to do so. Something about glass houses and throwing stones flitted around her brain.
She hesitated, not really in the mood, but knew Lindsey would nag about wasted opportunity and Cherise would fret about proper protocol until she gave in and talked to the guy. Ugh. The things she did for friends.
Nic took a couple of minutes to calm the bouncing bumble in her stomach before walking over. She stood next to a pillar by the pool table, out of range of getting poked with a cue stick. It was Mr. Smooth's turn to shoot, and he had his back to her where she quietly admired his form. Feeling a little stalkerish, she cleared her throat. Not once did he look over his shoulder at her. The guy had focus, that's for sure.
* * *
Kyle Hutchinson hadn't started the day with any plans other than getting the hell away from home as fast as a commercial jet could fly. Five days with his family was more than he could take. One minute more of listening to his dad rag on him about taking care of him and his mom or being there for his dumb-ass brothers and he'd explode. Regardless of what his old man said, he wasn't running away from his responsibilities.
Hadn't he taken leave and flown home the second he'd gotten word about his mom's heart attack? Didn't he send home money every month to make sure the rent got paid? Of course if the dipshit twins, Keith and Kenny, would get jobs, his mom could cut back her hours. Just because Kyle chose to show his support from afar, didn't make him a cold-hearted bastard.
He knew not to let the barbs sink in, that he should be more than used to the comments and verbal slashing, but ten hours later and his dad's parting words still stung like a fresh wound with saltwater rushing over the raw flesh.
So yeah, while he'd started the day out with very few plans, after the guys picked him up at the airport and suggested that they grab a couple of rooms and find a place with cheap drinks and a pool table, he jumped at the chance. He didn't have to report back into the command until Monday morning. They'd have very little downtime for the next six months once the boat got underway. They'd also have no female companionship either, but he wasn't looking to get laid. Not that he had anything against sex.
Then again, if opportunity knocked, it would be hard not to answer.
After all, this would be their last night out before getting underway in a couple of days and so far they didn't have any port calls scheduled. One hundred and eighty days of playing hide and seek with the enemy.
When his buddy, Bryant Gatlin, pointed out the women, Kyle had originally dismissed them, until she turned her head. He wouldn't describe her as pretty, at least not in the traditional sense. More like striking. Almond eyes, full lush lips, dark slashing brows that didn't fit with her slim face and creamy pale complexion. She was intriguing; some sort of mixed heritage that took the best of both parents and came out with the perfect package.
He could have gone on ignoring her too, except for that moment. If he hadn't looked up and caught the hungry yet wary look in her eyes, seen the flare of attraction when she met his gaze, he could have gone back to his game. Her instant dismissal piqued his curiosity. She dressed like she was heading out for a weekend picnic — flat shoes, short pants and T-shirt that hung loose on her frame, a sort of don't-see-me vibe, comfortable, casual but not the type to draw attention — rather than a woman on the prowl in a Boston bar. Maybe they had driven in from the Cape for a night of excitement? Yet, by the look of her two friends, who were dressed to impress, that didn't ring true for him. Curiosity got the best of him. He went against his better judgment and bought a round of drinks for the ladies hoping she'd come over to say thanks.
The three stopped short of getting in the way of his game and waited. He sunk the eight ball and held out a hand to his buddy, Mace Havers.
"Ladies, care to join us in a game? Mace, here, is on a losing streak and could use some help." Kyle pocketed the twenty that had been the wager between the two of them and held out the cue stick.
"Only if I wanted to make money by betting against myself, but thanks for the offer and the drink." Nic replied.
He liked her warm voice and the tilt of her head, confident with a touch of humor flashing in her eyes. This close up he could see she'd barely reach the middle of his chest putting her somewhere around five-four. The pièce de résistance was the sprinkling of freckles across her nose and over her cheeks.
He'd always been a sucker for freckles.
"Trust me, you can't be anywhere as bad as Mace." He offered up the cue to prove his faith.
She smiled and shook her head as she slid onto a nearby stool.
The petite blonde looked to Mace before answering. "I've played a little before. I'll partner with you."
"Count me out. I'm more of a darts girl," the tall black woman said.
"Well, looks like I'm stuck with Bryant as a partner." Kyle let out an exasperated sigh. "Guy can't shoot straight to save his life."
The third member of their party walked up in time to hear his comment. "Right, Hutch. Run with that, but we know the truth," Bryant said.
"He says that now, but I'm not the one who prematurely shot his last ball." Kyle winked at the woman before gesturing to Mace to go ahead and rack 'em.
"Whatever. I'll pass on this round. I'm going to see if I can get my ass kicked in darts too, just to round out the weekend humiliation," Bryant said.
Kyle's phone rang. He tossed Mace the stick and told them to start without him as he headed outside to take the call. He hit the Talk button.
"Mom, is everything okay?"
He listened to his mom ramble about how much she missed him already, how she wished he would come home to stay but knew his naval career was important to him.
"Don't let your father's words drive you away. You know he doesn't mean anything he says."
"Already forgotten and you're supposed to be resting. Not stressing about me. Thankfully it was only a mild attack this time. I'll call you when we return home, but if you need me before then, you've got the contact numbers. Love you, Mom."
As he headed back inside he put thoughts of his family out of his mind. He'd worry about his mom the whole underway, but he'd left both her and her doctor a list of names of people who could get a message to him in case of an emergency. It was the best he could do for now.
Excerpted from Love Runs Deep by Gail Chianese. Copyright © 2017 Gail Chianese. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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