Devil and the Deep (Deep Six #2)
by Julie Ann Walker
The former SEALs of The Deep Six return in a sizzling series from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Julie Ann Walker.
A COVERT MISSION
Maddy Powers’s life revolves around cocktail parties, political fundraisers, and charity events — but she can’t forget the daring former SEAL who appropriated her father’s yacht a few months ago … or the scorching kiss they shared before he disappeared into the deep blue sea.
SPARKS A FLAMING DESIRE
Bran Pallidino carries a dark secret behind his lady-killer eyes — one that keeps him from pursuing a serious relationship with Maddy. But when she’s taken hostage during a trip to the Dry Tortugas, the men of Deep Six Salvage drop their treasure hunt for a sunken galleon and embark on a dangerous mission to save Maddy.
WITH EARTH-SHATTERING REPERCUSSIONS
As they fight her merciless kidnappers, they discover this isn’t a simple hostage situation, but something far more sinister. Passion boils between Bran and Maddy, but what good is putting their hearts on the line if they don’t survive the dawn?
The word rolled over Bran’s heart like an Abrams tank, smashing the organ beneath its steel tracks.
“Maddy…” He whispered her name. “I…” He stopped himself from saying, I woulda answered if the satellite dish hadn’t blown down. Because he wasn’t sure that was the truth. And he was many things. But a liar wasn’t one of them.
The muscles on the back of his neck tensed, and he ran his hand over them before blurting, “The truth is, I didn’t decide to come ’til the last minute.”
“Why?” She blinked up at him, her stormy eyes searching his face.
He didn’t say anything, simply raised a brow and waited. Maddy was a smart cookie, so it didn’t take her long to figure it out. He saw the moment shock and realization struck.
“Oh.” She shook her head, frowning. “Sorry… I thought maybe we were… Because there was that thing on my father’s yacht. And then the last three months we’ve… But…never mind. Doesn’t matter. My bad.”
Bran didn’t know which he regretted more. Seeing that look on her face, or the burning mothersucker of a gash across his thigh.
On second thought, I do know. It was definitely her expression. His thigh would heal with time. But he’d never forget that he’d hurt Maddy. Hurt her, mislead her, and…embarrassed her in front of Mason and the park ranger.
“Maddy.” He cupped her chin in his hand again. Partly to make her meet his eyes, and partly because he couldn’t stop himself from touching her. Her skin was so soft and warm. Had there ever been a woman as eminently touchable as Maddy?
“Sure, I get it.” She jerked her chin from his hand.
“Well, I sure as shit don’t,” said the park ranger whose embroidered name read “Rick.” Seriously? Ranger Rick? He was once again in front of the kitchenette’s counter. But he wasn’t leaning against the Formica countertop. He was pacing back and forth. Back and forth. “I don’t get anything about this.” There was a slightly hysterical edge to his voice. “Who are those men? What are they doing here? And who in God’s name are you guys?”
Bran stared down at the golden crown of Maddy’s head glinting brightly in the dim light. His fingers itched to run through the strands of her short, silky hair. Then his fingers weren’t itching to do anything but curl into fists. She no longer hesitated on his stitches, instead going after them like a dollar-a-day factory seamstress. He had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from sucking in a harsh breath when the needle punctured fresh flesh.
He thought about asking her to take it easy, but she had made that comment about his Grand Master of Ceremonies—which he’d like to keep fully intact and sporting just the one hole. So he decided to keep his mouth shut and endure. And besides, he probably deserved it after the way he’d bumbled things between them.
You really are an asshole, you know? the supremely unhelpful voice that lived in his head commented.
Roger that. He knew.
“I can’t answer the first question,” he told Ranger Rick, his eyes nearly crossing when Maddy hit a particularly tender spot. Sweat broke out across his brow and the back of his neck. “But if I had to guess, I’d say the answer to the second question is ransom. Maddy’s family is beyond rich—we’re talking Daddy Warbucks—and whoever these assholes are, they probably thought it’d be easy to snatch her from a remote island in the middle of the Gulf.”
“There was an article that ran in the Houston Chronicle about me and the scholarship girls and this trip,” Maddy said consideringly. “Anyone with an eye toward kidnapping could’ve seen it. I should’ve thought about that. I should’ve—”
“This isn’t your fault,” Bran assured her before turning back to Rick. “As for who we are.” He wagged a finger between himself and Mason. Just keep talking. Just keep talking. Ow! Shit!
He jumped. He couldn’t help it. And instead of looking contrite, Maddy scowled at him. Heaven help him, it made her mouth look even more tempting.
“What did I tell you about that tough-guy, don’t-cry crap?” she demanded. “Am I hurtin’ you?”
She narrowed her eyes, daring him to say I’m fine one more time.
He cleared his throat and motioned with a hand toward his half-stitched wound. “Please continue.”
She hesitated, turning her head to view him from the corner of her eye as if that might help her see through his bullshit. She must’ve been satisfied with what she saw—confirming he could have had a job on the stage—because after a second, she bent back to her work.
He blew out a covert breath and curled one hand around the edge of his chair, gripping the wood so hard he was surprised he didn’t splinter it. “We’re your neighbors,” he told Ranger Rick through his clenched jaw.
“Huh?” Rick’s youthful face scrunched up.
“We live on Wayfarer Island.”
“Ah, the six retired Navy SEALs who are looking for the lost treasure of the Santa Cristina.”
Bran lifted a brow.
“News travels fast in the Keys,” Rick clarified.
Ain’t that the truth?
Every time Bran made a supply run to Key West, some new stranger walked up to him and asked how the hunt was going. The Florida Keys were unique in that a person could disappear in them, just fall off the edge of the map as long as they kept a low profile. But keeping a low profile was damn near impossible when searching for a legendary treasure.
“But I don’t understand,” Ranger Rick said. He’d moved over to take Bran’s position by the front window, but he wasn’t watching the fort. He was eyeing Bran. “Why are you here? With machine guns? Killing people?” The young ranger had turned a milky shade of white at that last question. “I-I mean, that man out there…” Rick swallowed, and the sound his throat made was strangely loud inside the tight confines of the cottage despite the low rumble of the generator outside that supplied juice to the few electronics. “He is dead, right?”
“Graveyard dead,” Bran admitted without a hint of remorse.
“Oh, forgive us,” Rick murmured, crossing himself.
“Forgiveness is between him and God,” Bran insisted. “It was my job to arrange the meeting.”
“Man on Fire,” Maddy blurted.
Despite everything, Bran felt himself smiling. This was their thing.
Intoxicating physical chemistry, hurt feelings, and misunderstandings aside, they shared a mad love for the cinema.
“Huh?” Rick blinked, his face doing that scrunchy thing again.
“They’re here because I invited them,” Maddy said, forgoing an explanation for their brief tangent.
Sweat rolled freely down the groove of Bran’s spine. The blood loss was making him a little light-headed. And when he dragged in a steadying breath, Maddy’s sweet scent—that intoxicating aroma of fruit and berries he remembered so well—invaded his nostrils, making him grip the seat for a whole new reason.
Why did he have such a reaction to her? And how was he supposed to continue to fight it?
By remembering what the alternative is.
Annnnnddddd…there was that.
“I was hopin’ they’d stop by tonight and regale the girls with stories of the Santa Cristina,” Maddy added.
Mention of the teenagers had her swallowing what Bran knew was a lump in her throat. But that’s all she allowed. Just that tiny indication she wasn’t as fine as she seemed. And even though he had no business being proud of her, he found his chest expanding all the same.
“As for the machine guns…” she continued, only to trail off and bite her bottom lip when a particular stitch caused her trouble. She finally managed to tie off the thread—much to Bran’s relief—and finished with, “You got me.” She turned inquisitive eyes up to him. “Why do you guys run around Rambo-style all the time?”
“Old habits are hard to break,” he allowed.
That seemed to be explanation enough because she nodded and turned back to finish the last two stitches.
Julie Ann Walker is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Black Knights Inc. romantic suspense series. 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. She lives in Chicago, IL.