Authors: Marliss Melton
The Echo Platoon Series
Bestselling, Award-winning Author
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For my soul mate, if I have one.
"...and when one of them meets the other half, the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy and one will not be out of the other's sight, as I may say, even for a moment..."
on the topic of Soul Mates,
As he stepped on board the gleaming white cruise ship
, Navy SEAL First Class Jeremiah Winters took advantage of his six feet three inches to observe the events unfolding ahead of him. Crewmembers had formed a line on either side of the boarding passengers, hurling confetti on their heads, shaking hands, and calling out words of welcome while musicians played upbeat jazz—a fitting choice for the port city of New Orleans.
The festive atmosphere combined with the warmth of the early April sun brought a smile to Jeremiah's lean face, but then an unexpected premonition sent a frisson skittering along his spine and across his brain. Instantly, his smile faded.
He cut a sidelong glance at his teammate and fellow passenger, wondering if Tristan had picked up on the dark energy. Of course not. Grinning and grooving his way along the deck, the golden-haired navigator appeared to have forgotten all about his recent breakup with a longtime girlfriend, his thoughts solely fixed on their upcoming cruise.
I'm imagining things,
Jeremiah 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 like this boatload of vacationers. He and Tristan kept the populace safe; they didn't mingle with them. Naturally, this environment of uncontrolled liveliness and festive energy, so different from the disciplined world in which he normally lived, was bound to stir his uneasiness.
However, it was hard to dismiss his premonition out of hand, having invested so much time and energy into 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 and hunting for the source of his disquiet.
"What's wrong?" Tristan's dark-blue gaze touched briefly on Jeremiah's profile, and then, perhaps picking up on his teammate's mood, he, too, started looking around.
Ahead of them, crewmembers pulled passengers aside so they could take their boarding photos, available later for purchase. The cameraman called out instructions
"You, pretty lady, turn to the right. Husband, give her a hug. Now, both of you smile!" Holding his camera to his eye, the short, sandy-haired man peered through it.
Click, click, click
In Jeremiah's mind, he saw a rifle instead of a camera, heard bullets explode from it and punch into the young couple, spraying blood and gore over the canvas backdrop. He blinked and the vision disappeared.
Tristan elbowed him. "Dude, what's going on?"
Jeremiah scanned the deck fore and aft. What could he possibly say?
I've got a bad feeling about this?
His teammates had learned to take his intuitions seriously, but Jeremiah had no desire to burst Tristan's bubble right then, not when this was the happiest he'd seen him since Mariah ditched him. Nor did he wish to ruin their vacation before it even got started.
"Nothing. Forget it."
The cameraman waved off the family and called up the next party to stand before the screen, and the long auburn tresses of a thirty-something woman distracted Jeremiah from his churning thoughts.
Per the cameraman's instructions, she turned to face him with her preteen daughter and another young woman, and the breath tangled in his throat.
Emma Albright? It can't be.
He blinked, doubting his eyes. The college professor who had 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 rosy lips that curved into a smile as she made bunny ears behind her daughter's head, were the same that had brought Wordsworth and Coleridge to life for him. Indeed, they were the same lips that had captivated him to the point that he often hadn't heard the words they'd formed at all.
He and Emma had shared something intense and unexpected—and so confusing to his impressionable heart that he had dropped out of school mid-semester to become a knight errant, a Navy SEAL, taking on such giants as drug cartels and ISIS extremists. In his heart, he did what he did for her, in her name, though he barely admitted that to himself.
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.
Her gaze shifted to intercept his fixed stare, and his heart suspended its beating as he waited for recognition to widen her soft blue eyes. Instead, they narrowed as if she thought him familiar but didn't know why. And 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 the other woman who looked to be her sister, given how they favored each other in appearance.
Well, of course she hadn't recognized him. Five years ago, he'd been a lanky twenty-two-year-old with thick-lensed glasses. The Navy hadn't just corrected his vision with laser surgery; it had packed fifty pounds of raw muscle onto his frame.
Even if she had recognized him, there would be 2,400 passengers sailing to the Western Caribbean on this ship. They could travel for the next seven days and never cross paths again.