Hollywood star Isobel Manella leads a charmed life in many ways: interesting roles, surrounded by friends and family, and the ability to sense precisely what those around her are feeling. Her empathic skills help her and her team shine.
Sailor and film handyman Devlin Jones enjoys the job niche he’s created along Seattle’s waterfront. His skills as a Jack of all trades keeps him fed, companionship can always be found, and his beloved Dragon sailboat lies moored just outside his back door.
However, when Devlin takes Isobel on an evening sail, he brings aboard far more trouble than he’s ever faced before. As an assistant on her upcoming film, he thought he could just sail through the gig. Little did he know she’d completely change the uncharted course of his future.
Isobel Manella stood at the end of her pier. Sadly, she was there in both the literal and metaphorical sense. The film actress in her appreciated the juxtaposition, but the woman she was didn’t at all. Except it wasn’t even a dramatic pier, it was just a little floating dock, and the crashing waves were inch-high wind ripples rolling across the quiet urban lake to lap below her feet.
“What was I thinking?”
The gull bobbing gently nearby didn’t answer back and she really, really wished it would.
Reflecting the Seattle skyline, Lake Union lay quiet beneath the summer sunset. The breeze rippled the surface just enough to break up the bright reflection of the lowering sun. It was hard to believe that she was in the heart of a major American city. Her home in San Antonio might boast the River Walk, but it had nothing like this.
The lake was a half-mile wide and a mile-and-a-half long. The southern shore was protected from the urban core by a thin line of restaurants and a wooden boat museum. The expanse of a park filled the north end with a lovely grassy hill that caught the evening light.
To the east and west, tall hills rose steeply, thick with a piney green so verdant that it practically clogged the air with oxygen. Only scattered apartment blocks and low office buildings risked those slopes that resisted most attempts at urbanization.
On this quiet June Tuesday, the lake was thick with more sailboats than all of Canyon Lake on July 4th weekend. Every year, Mama had made a point of driving the forty miles from San Antonio to take her and Ricardo there for the parade and fireworks. After she’d died, they’d only gone one more time—to scatter her ashes where their father’s had been all these years.
Isobel had never become attached to the sea; it was too vast and unruly. But she loved the happy bustle of a big lake.
The shoreline here was lined with marinas for boats of all sizes from daysailers to mega-yachts. Even a few massive workboats added their contrast to the scenery.
Several large houseboat communities also gathered along the shore. Though houseboats conjured the wrong image for her. A houseboat was a trailer on a rectangular metal hull rented for a few days on Canyon Lake. These were actual floating homes, hovering along finger piers that stuck out from the shore. They created a world away from the city, a quiet corner, without having to travel miles through sprawling suburbs to seek some peace. From here, the predominant evening sounds were the slapping of sails interrupted by the occasional hard burr of a seaplane lifting from the water.
No, the problem wasn’t the lake. Or the “houseboat” she’d rented for the team. She turned to look at it, a pleasingly eclectic mix of old and new. The weathered cedar-shake siding was offset by the dramatically large windows.
It had four bedrooms, three baths, and a luxurious great room that spanned the entire first floor and made it easy for her team to all be together or spread out in smaller groups. It had an open plan kitchen that reminded her how much she used to enjoy cooking, back when she had the time.
The back deck had a rack of single and double kayaks. A smaller deck spanned across the two front bedrooms on the second story. And the rooftop deck was ideal for looking out over the lake to watch the sunset light up the sixty-story-high Space Needle even though the sun would soon be sliding off the lake and going behind Queen Anne hill.
She could happily stay here forever.
Another spatter of laughter sounded from the rooftop deck, which she could hear clearly from where she’d “reached the end of her dock.”
The problem was her team.
Not that she didn’t love them all.
But the other members of Shadow Force: Psi were now three couples. Her twin brother had married Isobel’s best friend. They now supported each other more than her. She wouldn’t wish it otherwise, but still she missed them—even though they were right …there, up on the roof. And her best friend’s stepbrother had just become engaged to a lovely English lass. Even the quiet Hannah and her cowboy husband were utterly charming.
But she could feel their happiness.
She and Ricardo had grown up in a hard household. Papa dead in the Gulf War. Mama a single mother who’d run an entire nursing staff at a major hospital. Isobel had run their household from the time she could reach the stovetop from a stool.
They’d made it. A tight, hard-working unit. Then, while Isobel was in college and Ricardo in the Army, Mama was suddenly gone. Her death still left a hole in Isobel’s heart that the last decade had proved would never heal.
By keeping her team close, she was surrounded by happiness every day.
Yet she wasn’t just a third wheel to Ricardo and Michelle’s happiness. She was now a seventh wheel to all three couples.
Shadow Force: Psi was between missions, so they’d all accompanied her here and were looking forward to helping on her latest film—with an excitement that was a little overwhelming. They’d arrived in Seattle just this morning and everyone had plunged into enjoying themselves as not a one of the others had been here before. Nine years and a lifetime ago she’d been here to shoot her breakout rom-com but not been back since.
Isobel had been managing it, enjoying their sense of fun.
Until Michelle had announced that she was pregnant.
The general excitement had turned to near ecstatic joy. Hannah had exchanged a look with Jesse, who then announced that they were going to start trying, too. Michelle had cried on Hannah’s shoulder that she might not be facing this alone—as if that was possible in this group.
Isobel couldn’t be happier for them…but her mind couldn’t shut them out.
They each had their unique gifts. Some of them could switch them on and off, others couldn’t. Michelle and Ricardo shared a telepathic link that was unique to them, and always worked without fail. Though Ricardo occasionally complained about being unable to shut out his wife’s thoughts. The others had absolute control over their skills. Hannah and Jessie could do strange things with creating sounds, really strange and useful things if they were in physical contact. Michelle’s stepbrother Anton could send his vision out to take a look around without having to drag his body along. And his fiancée Katie could feel if someone had been in a certain spot and then use her wilderness tracking skills to follow their trail.
Normally, her own empathic gift was wholly under her control. She could choose to sense what those around her were truly feeling, or she could shut them out and just be “normal.”
It was a skill she’d always had, but hadn’t known was unusual until Papa had been killed in action. Mama had put on the brave mask for her four-year-old children, but Isobel had been overwhelmed by that hidden grief. She’d had to learn at a very early age how to turn off her extra sense in order to survive.
But tonight the joy was so thick in the air, she hadn’t been able to shut it out. She couldn’t breathe.
“How can we stand it?” she asked the gull who had drifted to the other side of the dock.
Apparently deciding that she couldn’t (or that Isobel was not being sufficiently forthcoming with some torn bread), the gull fluttered aloft and soared off in search of less frustrating places.
If only she could do the same.
Again happy laughter, big and deep this time. It sounded as if Michelle’s stepbrother, Anton, had talked Katie into all of them trying to have their children close together even though their own wedding was a month off.
Isobel rubbed her own midriff.
She ached to be like them. Be one of them in this moment.
But all she could see of the future was becoming Auntie Isobel. Always cheering for others but never for herself.
Her face had been on every cover from Vogue to The Hollywood Reporter as her career had exploded. Even her Christmas blockbuster had busted the block beyond all projections. People had imaginatively dubbed her “The Sun-kissed Actress.” No matter how non-PC it was to emphasize her skin color, it was true that fortune was absolutely smiling down on her. Amazing career. Incredible friends who truly understood the joys and fears of being gifted. A challenging life with the secretive Shadow Force.
And the personal life of a lone oyster. At least those lucky mollusks got pearls.
Every man who saw her instantly thought he knew her—and wanted to conquer her. Not her, but rather her-the Movie Star. Her chances of finding what all of her friends up above were now celebrating decreased with each passing film.
The evening was still bright, but soon the team would notice she was gone.
Michelle would come find her first; she knew Isobel’s moods better than Isobel did herself. She’d slip a friendly arm around Isobel’s waist—her emotions thick with the green velvet of her core kindness, and rolling pink with compassion—and say something completely outrageous that would make her laugh and feel as if she belonged and was just being foolish.
Isobel didn’t want to be consoled. She didn’t want to live through her friends’ relationships, through their children.
Since playing the “Crippled Girl” in The Pied Piper of Hamlin during second grade—a role she’d landed because her mother the nurse had been able to borrow a child-sized crutch from the hospital—she’d loved acting. But the price! The price was terribly high, and growing all the time.
She closed her eyes and concentrated on shutting herself off from others.
There was only her, the evening breeze, the warmth of the early evening sun on her face. She leaned toward its warmth. She could just—
“Don’t do it!”
Isobel opened her eyes and looked at the man who’d called out to her. He floated a short way off in an elegant sailboat. It was long and lean, with a teak deck and a bright-varnished wooden hull. She’d never sailed on one, but she knew it was a model called a Dragon. It had been easy to remember because it was how sleek a flying serpent should look.
“Don’t jump, lady. Whatever’s wrong, it’s not worth it.”
She looked down at the water lapping quietly a foot below her bare toes. One of the first things they’d all done on arrival this afternoon was jump into the water and swim about to wash off the flight from San Antonio.
“I think I’d survive the fall.”
“Maybe there’s a hungry Kraken lurking below. Why risk possible doom when you can sail?”
She focused on the man. His skin was roughly as dark as her own though differently toned—less Latin-brown, more desert ochre. Black hair strayed down to his collar and a close-trimmed beard and mustache emphasized the strong cheekbones that stood out despite his mirrored sunglasses. He wore denim cutoffs, and the edge of a colorful tattoo peeked out from the sleeve of a white t-shirt that declared, “I’d rather be sailing.”
She nodded toward his t-shirt. “But you are sailing.”
“Wouldn’t you rather be sailing?”
“I’d rather be doing anything.”
Releases 9/29. Pre-order now. (Print and Audio available 9/29.)
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