Thunder Point Book #2
June 25, 2013
With humor and insight, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr explores letting go of the past—and finding something worth building a future on.
Single dad and Thunder Point’s deputy sheriff “Mac” McCain has worked hard to keep his town safe and his daughter happy. Now he’s found his own happines with Gina James. The longtime friends have always shared the challenges and rewards of raising their adolescent daughters. With an unexpected romance growing between them, they’re feeling like teenagers themselves—suddenly they can’t get enough of one another.
And just when things are really taking off, their lives are suddenly thrown into chaos. When Mac’s ex-wife shows up in town, drama takes on a whole new meaning. Mac and Gina know they’re meant to be together, but can their newfound love withstand the pressure?
Originally published July 2013 in mass market paperback and eBook.
The way that wetsuit hugged her body—it was like art. She had incredibly strong legs, a perfect round tush, breasts about the size of his palms. She’d been born in a coastal town and was probably as comfortable on the water as she was on the land or in the sky—diver, swimmer, surfer, helicopter pilot. Ham was in his charge, and he’d been watching Sarah for an hour; she’d gone all the way out to the mouth of the bay and back. She was finally coming in, just ahead of the fishing boats headed home to the marina.
This life was the furthest thing Cooper had ever envisioned for himself. He had come to Thunder Point last October to look into the death of a good friend, Ben. To his surprise he had inherited what was Ben’s falling down bait shop with a bar. For lack of a better idea, he renovated, turning it into a first class beach bar, and had found himself a new home. He also found a woman, another surprise—he hadn’t been looking. After all the women in his life, short or long term, it was as if Sarah was everything he’d been waiting for.
He had officially opened the beach bar—no more bait—in late February. Now, as the proprietor, there was plenty of time to visit with folks from town, let the gentle lapping of the bay soothe him, watch his woman on her board, gently gliding across the calm water between the huge off shore boulders in the bay. He had a farmer’s tan, stronger shoulders from lifting and hauling bar supplies and a lot of new friends when he’d always considered himself a solitary kind of guy.
Sarah leaned her board and paddle against the dock and came up the stairs. When she reached the deck, he tossed a towel at her, and she dried her feet.
Hamlet stood to his horse height and wagged.
“What are you doing?”
“Absolutely nothing. Just watching my mermaid.”
She laughed. “Hamlet behaving?”
Cooper nodded. “He said he’d prefer to live here, with me.”
“Did he now?” she asked with a laugh. “Get your own dog.”
“There isn’t room for another dog around here. Come here,” he said, pulling her onto his lap.
She went to him, sat down, picked up his coffee and helped herself to a sip.
“Want me to make you a hot cup?” he asked. “You cold?”
She shook her head. “It’s nice out there. Breeze gets a little chilly sometimes, but the sun is so wonderful. You start to crave sun around here after winter rains and winds.”
Her cell phone rang. She’d left it on the deck with Cooper when she took her board out. She picked it up and said, “Yes, little brother?” Then she listened and laughed. “I’m at Cooper’s. I just took my board out—the bay is beautiful. I have the Razor and the dog. Then yes, have fun and I’ll see you later.”
She clicked off.
“How many times a day to you talk to Landon?” he asked. It was just Sarah and sixteen-year-old Landon; they were a family of two and kept pretty tight tabs on each other. And with Sarah being a Coast Guard Search and Rescue pilot who worked out of the North Bend station, sometimes it wasn’t easy.
“As many as it takes. Now that he’s dating Deputy Yummy Pants’s daughter, I don’t worry so much. Well, I worry that Mac might shoot him if he gets too frisky with Eve, but I figure that’s a long shot, forgive the pun. I think we check in three or four times a day.”
“At least,” Cooper said. “Did I interpret that last call to mean you’re now free for dinner?”
She grinned at him. “Is the chef preparing something special?”
“It won’t be busy here tonight, at least after seven—weeknight, sunset over. I have some steaks in the freezer, potatoes in the cooler….”
“Do you have anything green?” she asked.
Cooper ran the bar menu on deli items purchased from Carrie’s deli in town—simple things from pizzas to sandwiches as well as some desserts—things that could be served cold or warmed. This was not a restaurant. Cooper bought himself a grill for his own use, but didn’t use it to serve patrons.
Cooper had also inherited a helper, Rawley Goode, a Vietnam Vet who was not overly friendly and while he might be a good cook, he wasn’t pleasant enough. And he was needed for other things—maintenance, cleaning, purchasing and delivery from big box stores like Costco that were out of town. Therefore, personal groceries were often in short supply.
“I bet you have something green,” he suggested.
“I live on green things,” she said.
“I know this.”
“And you eat like a fourteen-year-old boy. You’d live on steak, hamburgers and home fries if it weren’t for me. If I go home to shower and change and bring a salad or a vegetable back with me, will you clean your plate?”
He loved her. He was frequently shaken by the intensity of his passion for her. He’d clean his plate, and then he’d tune her up for good measure. He knew his eyes glowed and knew she interpreted him correctly. When the “Closed” sign was on and the doors were locked, they’d eat steak in front of the fire and then retire to the playpen, his large bed upstairs. “Take my truck and leave the Razor.”
“I have to work in the morning.”
“That’s okay. You can take my truck and your dog home later. Much later. Then I’ll drive your Razor across the beach to trade vehicles tomorrow morning.”
Sarah was finished in the bathroom and on her way out the door before Landon stirred for school. She left him a note and twenty dollars for gas or lunch or incidentals. She certainly didn’t mind driving to work while feeling so fit and fresh after a day off on the bay, a good dinner with Cooper, a couple of hours of recreation under the sheets—something Cooper had a particular talent for. It added up to making her feel brand new and full of energy.
The station was getting ready for a big inspection in the next couple of weeks, and there was plenty to do, from preparing for check rides to auditing maintenance records. They’d have to show the command they were one of the best air stations in the Coast Guard, and they’d have to get ready while performing business as usual. Given that Sarah, Lieutenant Commander Dupre, was second in command of the flying operation at the station, her role in this prep would not be small. It was no surprise that when she turned on her computer there was a note from her immediate boss, Buzz Bachman, asking her to come to his office ASAP. She was sure, if she knew the man at all, he had a long list of things for her to do.
She made herself a cup of coffee on the way, stirring in some cream and sweetener. “Morning, boss,” she said, entering the small office.
“Morning, Dupre. Check the door.”
She turned to close the door and thought, Oh-oh, someone’s in trouble. The commander’s door was seldom closed, and when it was someone would generally say, “The spanking light has been lit.”
“We have a busy week and an inspection team en route the end of the month.”
“We’ll be ready,” she said, sipping her coffee.
“I want to tell you something I’m not supposed to know,” Buzz said. “How’s your poker face?”
She lifted an eyebrow. “When has my poker face ever let you down?”
“This could be tougher. It affects you directly.”
The eyebrow dropped. “Make it fast,” she said. “Rip that Band-Aid off.”
He took a breath. “I have a mole in HR,” Buzz said. “I’ve been cultivating him for a long time. I want as much warning as possible for my next change of assignment. What I didn’t expect was to have it whispered in my ear that there was nothing in the pipe for me yet, but one of my ‘men’ was being looked at for an assignment. An early assignment because of compelling need. Dupre.”
She was stunned silent. Her mouth hung open slightly. She forcibly closed her mouth. “I get an automatic refusal if they don’t even know I’m a woman. Right?”
“I wish. I shouldn’t say anything. It could all go another direction. Between now and notification, someone could put in for those air stations, and this could all go away. But I wanted you to have as much time to think about this as possible—we have two retiring Commanders and a compelling need with no outstanding applications for those locations and they’re both …” He paused to cough lightly. “They’re both on the east coast. Main and south Florida. As you might surmise, you’re probably going to be awarded a promotion within the year. Commander. I suspect that makes you a better than prime candidate.”
“And I’m not due for either,” she said, sliding forward on her chair a little bit.
“There’s no surprise here, Dupre. You’re good at your job. You’ve had a successful Coast Guard career. You’d make an excellent boss. You’re an excellent leader now.”
She looked at him earnestly, humbly. “I need another year here. Landon …”
“I know your situation, and I sympathize. That’s why I’m breaking protocol and leaking this. So help me, you let on, and we’ll have a real issue ….”
“Crap, there’s gotta be some wiggle room in here ….”
“I just gave it to you. I think you’ll be notified by June and will have a couple of months.”
She shook her head. “This plays hell on my family … Landon is prime scholarship material, but not if I move him. That’s saying nothing of the trauma of moving a kid right before his senior year in high school, moving him away from his football team, his friends, his school, his town. He’s done so well here, you have no idea.”
“I have every idea,” Buzz said. “I know exactly how you feel—I’ve gone through two divorces, proof of how the pressures weigh down the family. At least you’re not married.”
But there’s someone I can’t bear the thought of leaving, she thought. “Damn it, I love my job. But I don’t love this part.”
“And the Coast Guard loves you, Dupre. I thought you deserved time to think of your options. Aren’t you from Florida?”
“Long ago and far away. I grew up in Boca, practically on the water, but I’ve been north for most of my Coast Guard career. And there’s no family left in Florida—it’s just me and Landon. And I only have one more year of him before he goes off to college, starts a new life.”
“You always have that option we’re not talking about, even if you can’t retire yet.”
“Resign my commission? I have no idea what I’d do outside of the Coast Guard,” she muttered, looking into her coffee cup.
“And I know that feeling, too,” he said.
She looked up and connected eyes with him. She gave a half smile—small wonder he’d been married twice, he was a good looking man. Blond, expressive brown eyebrows, strong, smart, and a set of choppers that would put Donny Osmond to shame. All this had earned him the nickname Buzz Lightyear. “Why do you have a mole in HR?” she asked.
“I can retire,” he said. “I want plenty of notice on the next assignment, which should be coming down the pipeline in about six months. I don’t want a new location or a promotion. I’d like to fly forever, I love helicopters and I love the C-130 even more. Captain means more desk time than flying time and I have kids in California and Alaska. I’m moving on, Dupre. In probably a year.”
“But what are you going to do?”
“I’m working on that. But I’ve been down this road, and I have twenty in; my decision is made. You’re the one who has decisions to make. Maybe there’s some family friends around who can keep Landon in this school for one more year?”
She shook her head. “There’s no one.”
The only ones who came to mind were Gina or Cooper. Gina was trying to start a new life with Mac, aka Deputy Yummy Pants, and had a small house crowded with her mother and sixteen-year old-daughter. And Cooper? Oh, as great a pal as he was for Landon, he wasn’t in the market for instant guardianship. “The Coast Guard has always been inconvenient,” she heard herself say. “Not a lot of stability. But the job made up for that most of the time.”
“Where does Landon stay when you sit alert overnight?”
“He’s pretty much okay on his own, as long as he has phone numbers. If I have a temporary assignment out of town, like simulator training or something, there’s this guy I’ve been seeing …. Local guy, civilian. He doesn’t mind Landon duty for a few days or a week, but trust me …”
“Guy?” Buzz said. “Guy? Why don’t I know about this guy? He some kind of perv?”
Sarah smiled in spite of herself. “Not in a bad way,” she said.
“How long has this been going on?”
She gave a shrug. “Six months or so.”
“You never bring him around. You protecting us from him or something?”
“I could be protecting him from you ….”
“Hm. Well bring him around sometime. Happy Hour or something. I just wanted you to have a head’s up on the assignments,” he said. “With any luck someone requests a relocation in the next couple of months—just the right person to just the right relocation …”
“Two of them?” she asked cynically.
“There are people who would kill for a chance like you have,” he said.
“I know,” she said. She could go far in the Coast Guard; Commander was a prestigious rank in a demanding service, and she’d earned it. She was only thirty-three. “I could quit, but I can’t retire ….” Quit and do what? There was the little matter of paying rent, buying food, making car and insurance payments … Tuition. She stood up. “Well thanks, boss. I guess.”
“Don’t panic,” he said. “Yet.”
Landon was only five when their parents were killed in an accident, spent one horrifying year with their mean, spinster aunt and then had spent the last ten years as her responsibility. She’d moved him five times, put him through a divorce from a man he’d grown attached to and now, just when he was happiest … No, she couldn’t do it yet, not until she had time to think it through.
She could tell Cooper. He loved her; he was proud of her. But he’d just put all his energy into setting up his local business, and she couldn’t give him the options of breaking it off with her now or leaving behind all that he’d acquired to follow her. She could tell that his new lifestyle not only suited him, he was very happy. Relaxed.
She hadn’t even made it home after work before Landon called her cell. “You going out to Cooper’s tonight?”
“Not tonight,” she said. “I have things to prepare for our inspection.”
“If Eve comes over for homework tonight, will it bother you?” he asked.
“Nope. I’ll take my paperwork to my bedroom. What are you cooking?” she asked.
He laughed at the joke. “Want me to pick up a pizza? I still have that twenty you left me.”
“I’ll make sloppy joes. Save the pizza money. I sit alert tomorrow night, and you’re on your own. And before you even ask, no, Eve cannot spend the night.”
“Damn,” he said, making her laugh.
She made the same excuse to Cooper, though he didn’t buy it as quickly. “Can’t you do your paperwork tomorrow night while you sit alert?”
“I have enough for both nights. We’re gearing up for a big inspection. I’ll see you in a couple of days. I mean, we’ll talk, but—”
But I have to work on my poker face.
“—But, I have the day off after my twenty-four at the station, and I’ll come out. If the sun’s shining, maybe I’ll take out my board.”
“I love it when you do that,” he said. “The ocean is more beautiful when you do that.”
© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.