Boarding a cruise ship bound for Mexico, vacationing Navy SEAL Jeremiah “Bullfrog” Winters runs into Emma Albright, the only woman he ever loved… and lost.
Emma might still teach Romantic Lit at George Mason University, but life taught her there’s no such thing as everlasting love. Good thing she can still enjoy her vacation without falling for the man who captivated her years earlier.
But re-awakening Emma’s passions becomes Jeremiah’s current mission until violence breaks out on their port excursion to the Mayan ruins of Tulum. Now, love may be the only weapon powerful enough to save them both, if Emma can bring herself to believe in its permanence and power.
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An air of festivity accompanied the motley crowd of cruise ship passengers as they shuffled in an unruly line up the gangplank and onto the Norwegian Pearl. Even in early April, the noonday sun had begun to infuse the spring air with the kind of humidity expected in the port city of New Orleans. Crew musicians played upbeat jazz on the receiving deck, welcoming the passengers as they stepped off the gangplank onto the floating city that would be their home for the next seven days.
At six feet, three inches, Navy SEAL First Class Jeremiah Winters took advantage of his height to observe what was happening up ahead as he took his first step onto the ship. Crew members had formed a line on either side of the passengers moving down the receiving deck. They hurled confetti, shook hands, and called out words of welcome over the happy music. The tolerant smile on Jeremiah’s lean face faded slowly as an unexpected premonition skittered over him, causing his scalp to prickle.
He cut a sidelong glance at his teammate and fellow passenger, Tristan Halliday, and wondered if the former NASCAR racer had picked up on the dark energy. Of course, Tristan hadn’t noticed. 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. He had intended to travel with his girlfriend of several years, but their recent break up had necessitated Jeremiah coming in her stead.
I’m imagining the dark energy, he assured himself. 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 just like this boatload of vacationers. He and Tristan kept the populace safe; they didn’t mingle with them. But 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?” Tristan’s blue-green gaze touched briefly on his profile, and then he, too, started looking around.
Ahead of them, passengers were being pulled aside for their boarding photos, which they could purchase later. 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 scope 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 wrong?”
Jeremiah looked over his shoulder at the line of passengers behind him. What could he possibly say? I’ve got a really bad feeling about this? His teammates had learned to take his intuitions seriously, but he had no desire to burst Tristan’s bubble right now, not when this was the happiest he’d seen him since his girlfriend left 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 captured Jeremiah’s attention as he faced forward again. Watching her move into position with her teenage daughter, along with another mother-daughter pair, the breath tangled in his throat as she turned her face in his direction, per the photographer’s instructions.
Professor 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 unsuspecting daughter’s head, were the same rosy lips that had brought Wordsworth and Coleridge to life for him. They’d shared something intense and illicit and so confusing to his impressionable heart that he had dropped out of school midsemester to become a knight errant, 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.
As if drawn to his horrified stare, her gaze shifted past the photographer to make eye contact with Jeremiah. His heart suspended its beat as he waited for a sign of recognition in 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 her friend.
Picturing himself from her point of view, 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 on 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?