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What would it feel like to send high-voltage electrical currents through an intruder?
I hope I don't have to find out.
Kelsey Chambers wrapped her fingers around the electroshock device Captain Neely had left with her. Someone had boarded her boss's boat and started the engine. She'd spent enough time on The Buccaneer while working on her travel writing assignment to feel the subtle shift, recognize the rhythmic hum of the motor. It wouldn't be Captain Neely and his wife since they were on the island to celebrate their anniversary.
Sitting in the galley of the small but luxurious yacht, Kelsey left her laptop and the images she'd taken of the San Juan Islands and bounded up the steps.
Gripping the weapon, she stepped above deck into a dreary Pacific Northwest day. Angry voices shouted from the end of the secluded pier. Men ran toward The Buccaneer.
A bullet ricocheted too close for comfort.
"Get down!" a man yelled from behind.
Before she had a chance to face him, he shoved Kelsey to the ground at the same moment she fired the weapon, sending the charged projectiles into the air to connect with nothing. She cried out as her torso slammed against the deck, her knees taking the brunt of it. Where had he come from?
"Good thing you can't aim, lady, I'm trying to protect you!"
Kelsey made to push up.
"Stay down," he hissed, and held her in place.
Another bullet flew by. Covering her head with her arms, she decided to take his advice. "What's going on?" she asked.
Ignoring her question, he held her down as if hoping the danger might pass if they waited long enough. Kelsey wasn't so sure. Peeking through the protection of her arms, she caught a glimpse of his Dodgers' baseball cap, sunglasses and then Recognition squeezed her, crushing her breathless.
No It couldn't be.
"Jake?" Confusion hit her like a squall. Jake Jacobson was the man she'd fallen hard for before they had ended their relationship a year ago. "What are you doing on The Buccaneer?"
From his awkward position next to her, Jake stared back in stunned silence, but then shouts from the pier grew louder and his expression turned dark.
"We have to hurry. Can you make it to the cockpit?"
"I'm not going anywhere with you!" Had she really just said that? This hardly seemed like the time to let their past stand in the way.
Hurt flickered across his gaze before it turned cold. "You will if you want to live."
Under the circumstances what choice did she have? Face the men shooting at themmight as well have been a firing squador leave with Jake. For a half second, she almost weighed the choices.
He nudged her toward the bow. On trembling knees she crawled forward, up the three steps and hunkered behind a captain's chair in the cockpit. All the while, more gunfire rang in her ears.
Who were these men, and why were they shooting at Jake? At her by default?
His back to her, he took the helm, steering The Buccaneer away from the dock. How had he managed the mooring single-handedly? He needed a code to activate the keyless ignition. Where did he get that? Too many questions bombarded her as everything happened within a fifteen-second span of time. Her mind finally wrapped around the fact that Jake was leaving the dock and taking her with him.
She was being swept right along with the boat.
Lord, how do I get out of this?
Still, to flee the boat while several men shot at them wasn't an option. They had to get away from the gunfire, and she wouldn't stand in Jake's way as he ferried them to safety.
Or was she making a huge assumption here thinking the men at the pier were the threat to her safety rather than Jake?
Escape now. Ask questions later.
A window in the cockpit shattered. A scream tore from Kelsey's throat, as if her voice had a life of its own, and she hunkered even lower, wrapping her arms tightly around her head.
The Buccaneer accelerated, transporting Jake and Kelsey away from the dock and the marina.
"We're out of range now," Jake said. "You can get up."
Slowly unfolding from her position, she stood to face him. "What what are you doing here? What's this all about?" she demanded. The more she thought about it, though, it seemed apparent Jake was on the run and had stolen The Buccaneer as his means of escape, Kelsey his accidental passenger.
Or was she? He'd seemed surprised to see her on deck, but he could have been faking. Was abducting her part of his plan all along?
He pulled his sunglasses off and glanced her way. Wow. She'd forgotten how he could overwhelm her with those blue eyes. Right now they were the same brooding color of a stormy Pacific Ocean. But he looked different somehow.
"Kelsey?" Jake squeezed his eyes shut and opened them like he'd gotten something in them. "I thought I was seeing things before."
Right. Always the kidder.
That's all he could say after a year? He could put on a good act, or he no longer cared about her. Either way, he had some explaining to do.
Another boater laid on his horn in warning, and Jake returned his attention to maneuvering The Buccaneer completely out to sea.
Kelsey eyed the marina growing distant behind them, confused about what had just happened. "I asked you a question. What are you doing?"
"I'm taking this boat, what does it look like?"
"But why? You want to tell me why someone was shooting at you? At us? Why you're stealing this boat?" His explanation had better be good.
Jake cut her a quick glance then focused on the open waters of the Salish Sea between Washington and Canada. Storm clouds brewed in the distance and the wind picked up, the boat shifting as the water swelled with whitecapped waves.
She'd spent the last good-weathered weekend in the San Juan Islands, finishing out this assignment, and up until ten minutes ago, it looked like she had timed things just right. But how could she have planned for this? She arched a brow, waiting for Jake's response.
"Yeah, about that. I'm sorry," he offered. "I'm not stealing the boat. Just returning it to its rightful owner. I'd planned to make sure no one else was on board when out of nowhere those men started shooting, and then you showed up. I didn't wait around to ask them why, and I couldn't exactly shove you off board into a gunfight, could I? So you're along for the ride. At least for the moment."
He tossed her a half grin, but she could tell he wasn't any happier with the situation than she was.
More likely, though, his reaction had everything to do with being shot at and nothing at all to do with her. A guy like him? He must have moved on already.
An old, familiar ache traced across her heart. She shook off the unwanted melancholy and focused her attention back on the present.
Jake must be in some kind of trouble. That scared her, but she'd picked up the pieces of her heart long ago and couldn't afford to get involved now. Could she? No. Definitely not. In fact, if he was getting shot at, that meant she'd made the right decision when she'd ended their relationship.
"What's going on here, Jake? Really. And I want a straight answer."
He drew in a breath. "Three months ago I boarded this same cruiser yacht in order to reclaim it for the bank. It carries a hefty price tag so it's worth my time."
"Doesn't the boat belong to Hidden Passage Travel Magazine? "
"No. It used to belong to the magazine's owner, Davis Burroughs, but he defaulted on his loan."
Kelsey found it hard to believe that her new boss's boat was being repossessed. Was Davis in some sort of financial trouble? The magazine was thriving, wasn't it? And the last she knew of Jake, he still worked as a commercial pilot for Journey Airlines. Now he was some kind of repo man? None of this made any sense. "So, why didn't you take it then?"
"I tried to play nice, that's why, and explained why I was taking the boat. I faced off with an older couple and a few of their friends and ended up thrown into the warm water off the coast of Baja. Now that I finally located her again, I wasn't about to risk getting tossed this time and planned to take her when she was empty." Jake shut off the engine and allowed the boat to drift. "That part of my plan didn't work so well, considering you were on board."
"You might have looked first, ya know?"
"I already told you, I didn't get the chance." After scrambling around in a few compartments, he found binoculars, then peered through them, searching the water, the swells growing with the approaching storm.
Kelsey hoped they were heading back to land soon.
A hint of nausea swam in her stomach. She hadn't faced much of that on this assignment because she'd only traveled within the Inside Passagethe waterway that weaved in and out of islands, protecting travelers from the harsh waters of the open Pacific all the way to Alaska.
"Are you looking for those men who were shooting? You still haven't explained about that." Kelsey wasn't sure she wanted to know the answer, but she had to ask.
"I can't explain what I don't know. I've never seen those men before today. I can only guess that Burroughs must have hired them to keep anyone from trying to repossess the boat."
He lowered the binoculars and looked at her. Really looked at her this time. He acted like he was drinking her in after he hadn't seen her in months. That was the reaction she'd expected and maybe even wanted, but then again, maybe his first reaction was better, considering they were no longer a couple. His gaze drifted over her face, lingered on her lips a few seconds too long and then locked with her eyes.
Her pulse went haywire.
No. Definitely Not. You are not getting involved with him again. Forget that there hadn't been a day since they'd parted ways that she hadn't thought about him. And why, now that she thought she'd found a way to move on, he had suddenly showed up.
A familiar tangle of hot emotion twisted in her throat.
She needed to get off this boat and away from him and whatever he was involved in. And what if Jake wasn't telling her the truth? What if he really was stealing the boat? Would Davis hold her responsible for letting Jake take it?
The electroshock weapon Captain Neely had left with her made more sense in this context.
"Now you can answer a few of my questions," he said.
"What are you doing here anyway? Did you know you're with someone who has gone to a lot of trouble to hide this yacht for months now? Someone who's apparently willing to kill to keep her from being taken away? Being with someone like that puts you in danger." Jake crossed his arms and peered at her from under his cap. "Tell me what you know."
Her in danger? Davis authorizing the use of deadly force? Something wasn't adding up. Jake was trying to turn things around on her. He had some nerve.
Kelsey took a few lengthy breaths, battling her erratic heartbeat. "I don't know anything. It has to be some sort of mistake."
On your part, no doubt.
She left Jake's side to look for the shock device she'd dropped. Davis had sent her on this trip, knowing that someone wanted to reclaim the yacht. That was a big disappointment in itself. Kelsey sighed. Travel writing was supposed to help her fulfill her dream of seeing the world, and she had hoped it would help her forget about Jake, too.
If only she hadn't ignored the niggling thoughts that told her this job was too good to be true. More than anything, she'd wanted it to be true. After all, chances like this only came along once in a lifetime. Yeah. That's exactly what she'd thought when she'd fallen in love with the man of her dreamsthe man right in front of her.
And the job of her dreams had led her right back into his path. Not only that, but apparently the moment she'd climbed aboard The Buccaneer, she'd stepped into danger.
Jake's mind reeled at seeing Kelsey again. His heart, too. But he couldn't let her know that. So he tried to act indifferent while he figured things out.
Even though he'd seen the two-person crew leaving the boat earlier in the day, Jake knew to check all the compartments before departing the marina. After flying off with an unwanted passenger the first time he'd participated in a repo, he'd had all the experience he ever wanted with that. But here he was again. And had Jake put her in danger today? Or was she already in danger and he'd come along at just the right time, saving her from harm?
All questions remaining to be answered.
The Buccaneer was beginning to look like more trouble than she was worth. The highend repossession gig was an adrenaline rush, but the edge of danger in this case had gone too far. And for once, the job was doing nothing to help him with his other goalkeeping his mind off things he wanted to forget. Make that people he wanted to forget.
Or better the one person he had wanted to forget, and the fact she had broken his heart. That's what he got for letting himself fall for her. Love and commitment. It was all overrated. The pain that came with a breakup canceled out anything positive. And even when you tried to forget someone, they managed to turn up in your life again and wash away the progress you had made on trying to forget.
He certainly hadn't planned on seeing Kelsey Chambers again, especially on board The Buccaneer. He had thought he'd left her behind for good. Seeing her now reminded him of all his failures, and yetlooking at her stirred up memories of so much more.
She stood before him now, graceful as the day he'd first seen her on that beach in Hawaii. Ash-blond hair perfectly framed her pretty face. Her striking hazel eyes with their exotic slant pinned him in place. She was the only woman he'd ever fallen for. Yet this time, she wore a guarded expression.
Jake took a weighty step back. A knot grew in his throat. Why did his pulse have to race at the sight of her?
"Who are you to Burroughs anyway?" he asked. "His girlfriend?"
Brilliant. His tone was anything but friendly and that made it sound like he still cared.
"What?" Her arms stiffened at her sides. "Davis is my boss, as if it's any of your business."
"You're right. I'm surprised to see you, that's all. I thought you worked for an airline magazine."
"I took a travel writing job a few weeks ago. I was just about to finish off an assignment exploring the Inside Passage. It was supposed to end in Puget Sound. Obviously, your appearance changes that."
The way she dragged out that last line, and the accompanying negative tone, begged for an apology from him, and without thinking, he gave one. "I'm sorry."
And those two little words echoed what he'd told her the day she'd broken things off with him. How many ways would she make him apologize this time? His gut felt like a storm anchor had lodged there. He wasn't sure he could be in the same room with her without going through the pain all over again.