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Short Contemporary Romance

Tides of Hope

TIDES OF HOPE (Book 1, Lighthouse Lane)
Steeple Hill, 2009; ISBN 978-0-373-87529-0

After fourteen years as a Coast Guard search and rescue specialist, followed by a three-year stint at headquarters in Washington, Lieutenant Craig Cole has been assigned to command the Coast Guard station on Nantucket, where he hopes to quietlyfinish out his career. It’s as far away as he can get from Hawaii, where he lost his family to the sea. But his peaceful existence is shattered when he clashes with feisty red-haired charter fishing boat captain Katherine MacDonald. A descendent of a famed Nantucket whaling family, Kate doesn’t take kindly to a safety violation citation after the new hot-shot Coast Guard commander beefs up inspections. Since being widowed four years ago while pregnant with her daughter, life has been difficult enough, and she determines to give a wide berth to the by-the-book lieutenant. But once his young daughter arrives and it’s clear he’s a fish out of water when it comes to winning her heart, Kate steps in to help. Sparks fly—but neither wants to take the risk of loving again. Yet it seems God has other plans for them…if they can find the courage to put their trust in Him.  

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excerpt

 “Sorry to interrupt, sir. But I’ve got a hot one for you.”

Swiveling his desk chair away from the foggy view of Nantucket Harbor, Lieutenant Craig Cole looked up from the boat hours report he’d just started reading and gave his executive petty officer his full attention. “What’s up?”

“A complaint, sir. From the owner of one of the local charter fishing operations, who isn’t too happy about a safety citation we issued this afternoon. The captain asked to speak with you, but you were at that special Conservation Commission meeting. I’m not making any headway, so now that you’re back I thought you might want to take over.”

The subtle twitch of his aide’s lips put Craig on alert. Boatswain’s Mate First Class Ben Barlow had been stationed on Nantucket for two years, and he’d been an invaluable—if slightly irreverent—source of information since Craig’s arrival four weeks ago, guiding him through several rocky passages. Another one seemed to be looming on the horizon.

“Okay, Barlow. What’s the story?”

The man walked into the office and handed over a copy of the citation. “It’s pretty straightforward. Expired flares.”

Craig scanned the document. The vessel was an older boat, a thirty-one-foot Wellcraft Suncruiser named the Lucy Sue. Although it was equipped with a sufficient number of flares, they were out of date. The inspection had been done by the station’s newest—and youngest—crew member, but Craig considered the man to be dependable and conscientious.

“This looks in order. What’s the problem?”

His aid’s lip twitch gave way to a grin. “The captain says we’re being hard-nosed. The flares are only a month out-of-date, and she says everyone knows they’re good for at least six months longer than the expiration date. However, she claims she did intend to replace them before resuming operation this season.”

She. Craig checked out the name on the citation. Katherine MacDonald. Was the captain’s gender the source of Barlow’s amusement?

Lowering the sheet of paper, Craig appraised his aide. “I don’t care what she says. This is a clear violation of regulations.”

“I explained that to her, sir. But she isn’t backing down.” The man tried to stifle his grin. Failed.
Craig’s eyes narrowed. “Do you know this woman?”

“No, sir. But I know Chief Medart had a lot of respect for her.”

From what he’d heard about his predecessor, Senior Chief Sandra Medart was a solid officer. He’d found no evidence of a lax operation during his brief tenure, though it was more laid-back than he was accustomed to after his past three years at headquarters in Washington, where protocol and procedures reigned supreme.

“Are you suggesting that Chief Medart let personal feelings influence her enforcement of the law, Barlow?”

“No, sir.” The man’s reply was prompt. “But Captain MacDonald has lived on the island her whole life, and she’s been doing fishing charters for at least a dozen years. I believe she’s descended from an old island whaling family. Her roots here are deep.”

“That doesn’t exempt her from the law.”

“No, sir. She’s waiting in my office, sir.” The man inclined his head toward the door.

Listening to an unjustified tirade hadn’t been part of Craig’s Friday afternoon agenda on this last day of March, but he’d expected some backlash once Nantucketers got wind of the beefed-up inspection program he’d implemented earlier in the week. And PR was part of the job in a command post—especially this one, as Admiral Paul Gleason had reminded him when he’d called to tell Craig his request for reassignment had been granted. This would be his first test, Craig supposed—smoothing ruffled feathers without backing down from his firm position on safety-regulation enforcement.

“Send her in.”

“Yes, sir.” His aide retreated as far as the door. “One word of warning, sir. She has red hair. And a temper to go with it.” Making no attempt to hide his grin, he closed the door behind him.

At the petty officer’s parting remark, Craig took a moment to psyche himself up for the coming exchange. He’d dealt with plenty of distraught people during his career. Handling a small-time charter-fishing boat captain should be a piece of cake—red hair notwithstanding. He’d diffuse her anger by remaining calm, cool and sympathetic, he decided. And he’d do his best to keep the encounter as nonconfrontational and pleasant as possible.

But thirty seconds later, when Katherine MacDonald stormed across his office to his desk, planted her hands on her hips and pinned him with a glare, his hopes of a cordial discussion disintegrated. For a woman so small—Craig estimated her height at no more than five foot three—she projected as intimidating a presence as any of the hard-as-nails instructors he’d encountered during his Coast Guard career.

As he rose under the scrutiny of her turbulent, flashing green eyes, a memory of the worst squall he’d ever encountered suddenly flashed through his mind. It had happened back in his early days as a rescue swimmer, when he’d been stationed in Alaska. A small cargo vessel out of Kodiak had lost propulsion and drifted onto the rocks at Cape Trinity, forcing the three crewmen to ditch into the icy, churning sea. As Craig had waited, legs dangling over the edge of the Jayhawk, for the thumbs-up from the flight mechanic to drop into the roiling swells, he’d known the dicey, dangerous mission would be forever etched in his memory.

For some disconcerting reason, he felt the same way about this encounter with Katherine MacDonald.

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