by Nicole Blanchard
First to Fight Series #1
Publication Date: September 20, 2016
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Suspense
Read for FREE in KindleUnlimited: Amazon
I’ll do anything to save her.
A woman I’ve never met, whose name I don’t even know, gambled her own life to protect my child. In return, she was taken by a mad man.
I’ll put my career, my security, and my life on the line to get her back, even if it means facing the truth about my own mistakes.
The only thing she can’t trust me with…is her heart.
This is a FULL LENGTH, STANDALONE with a HEA and NO CLIFFHANGER.
“Anchor is an out of this world, incredible story that combines an adrenaline-laced thriller with a sweet, steamy romance.” The Wonderings of One Person
“It had a perfect combination of action, suspense and romance.” Crystal’s Crazy Book Ramblings
“Heart pumping and thrilling!” Kawehi’s Book Blog
I wish I could say it was the sexy blonde who’d been wrapped around me like ivy on a pole all night who woke me, but it isn’t her sugar-sweet voice blaring through my cell-phone speaker.
“I swear to God, Gabriel, if you aren’t there at six o’clock on the dot to pick up Emily, I’m going to the lawyers to renegotiate custody.”
“Don’t threaten me, Taylor,” I say with a weariness now characteristic of all our conversations. What I wish I could do is bark orders at her. It’d be so much easier if I could deal with my ex-wife like I do the men under my command. It would have made being married to her a hell of a lot more bearable. Pulling on a pair of pants and choking down a swallow of coffee from a forgotten mug on my nightstand distracts me long enough so I don’t go off on her ass. “It’s not even seven in the morning. I know what time I have to be there.”
Behind me, the blonde stretches on the white cotton sheets, and I take a moment to admire the miles of tanned skin before I duck out the sliding glass doors leading from my bedroom to my back patio. My dog Rudy is hot on my heels and streaks across the pavers to water the bushes and dive in the pool with a gorgeous view of the beach.
She snorts, and I have to wonder what possessed me to marry her. “That’s what you said the last time, and I waited by the ferry for over an hour. This is why we got divorced. You never do what you say you will.”
“I told you, I had an emergency. You know I volunteer with the Coast Guard. Search‑and‑rescue missions don’t just fit into a schedule.” I keep my voice calm and level, but when Taylor’s pissed, she’s like a spooked Chihuahua—she can’t seem to stop yapping.
“Yeah,” she says in a tone I have heard way too often over the years, clipped with a dash of bitter. It’s about as appetizing as the two-day old coffee I’m drinking. “You can be there for everyone but your family, right? You’ve got a lot of lives to save, but you keep missing the ones right in front of you.”
I sigh into the phone. It’s too early for this shit.
Taylor gives a half laugh, devoid of humor. “Right. We’ll see you tonight at six o’clock.” There’s a pause, and I know she wants me to fill it with apologies and assurances, but I’m done with apologizing to her. As soon as the ink was dry on our divorce papers, I didn’t look back. “Don’t be late, Gabe. Okay?”
There’s static, some background chatter, and then a bright, bubbly voice comes over the line. One that melts the frown right off my face and makes the day seem brighter, even on this side of noon. “Daddy? Hi, Daddy!”
“Hey there, sugar plum.” My voice warms and the tension eases from my shoulders.
“Whatcha doing?” Emily laughs, causing me to smile.
“Watching Rudy swim.” Rudy lurches from the pool to bring me a ball, and I throw it back in the water for him. “What are you doing? Can’t wait to see you tonight.”
“Can’t wait to see you, Daddy,” she says and then describes her summer school, her friends, and any other thought traipsing across her five-year-old brain in vivid detail. I could listen to her talk for hours. She’s about the only female I can stand for any length of time.
As she chatters on, I amble across the sand-colored, concrete pavers and sit down next to the pool, my cup of coffee by my side. Rudy paddles over with the neon yellow tennis ball clamped between his jaws. I wrestle it from him and then throw the ball to the far side of the pool. He splashes in, ignorant of all of my human problems, and dog-paddles to his goal.
The sound of the sliding glass door draws my eyes back to the house, and I find the blonde posed in the doorway. The white sheet is draped around her body and offers teasing glimpses of her toned legs and ass. And she is toned. Everywhere. I spent many, many hours getting well acquainted with every part of her last night.
Her smile is seductive and would have any man on his knees begging for round two, but verbal sparring with Taylor left a bad taste in my mouth. As she sashays across the lawn, my sole concern is for the very expensive Egyptian cotton sheet she’s getting grass-stained.
Maybe I’m losing my touch. Six or seven years ago, it took only the slightest glance at a half-dressed woman to get me in the mood.
Now it almost seems like a production just to get off.
Emily wraps up her updates, and I refocus on our conversation. “I can’t wait for you to tell me all about the rest when you get here. Don’t forget Mr. Wolfie, okay? We’ll take him for a ride around the island.”
As if she could forget him. She clings to the stuffed wolf I gave her before my last deployment as if she’d die without it.
She told me once it smells like me, and when she has it with her, it’s almost like I’m with her, too.
Kids have a way of sucker punching you in the heart.
It wasn’t long after her admission that I decided to stick closer to home and retired from my long career with the Marines. I never thought I’d give that up for anything, but when there’s a two-foot-nothing, bleach-blonde little angel crying because you’re never home, your priorities change. It becomes about them instead of you.
I hope I didn’t realize it too late.
Volunteering with the Coast Guard seemed like the perfect balance between my need to serve my community and country and my desire to be closer to my daughter. Once I decided to leave the Marines, I moved back to Rockaway Island where I grew up and took over my dad’s tourist boating business. Weekends like this, when I know it’ll be hours instead of months until I see her again, make those sacrifices worth it.
“Okay, Daddy.” Her giggle fills my ears. “Loves you!”
I glance back at the blonde as Emily sends me her love. Maybe the reason I can’t commit to another woman isn’t because I’m not interested. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to disappoint the most important one in my life—my daughter. “Loves you, too, sweetheart.”
I hang up, and a small hand pulls me to my feet. The blonde reaches down and draws me against her. My fingers linger on her hips, but then they move to her arms, my touch causing her to shiver. She mirrors my movements and wraps her arms around me. There’s a slight pause where I’m tempted to take her back to bed, but the temptation is not enough to rip the blanket off her and get reacquainted.
“Thanks for a great time,” she says. Her voice is still hoarse from all the screaming she did. The cottage I inherited from my parents after they died is a good mile from any neighbor, which is a good thing. If it were closer, we would have kept them up half the night. I feel bad about turning her away. Almost.
I kiss her, taking care not to be too rough on her swollen lips. Because I enjoy the kiss, I lengthen it until her nails dig into my skin. I’m not an asshole, and I don’t use women, but I make sure they enjoy our time together. My dad taught me that much before I left at eighteen to explore parts unknown and take down bad guys. The women I spend time with know up front our relationships won’t go any deeper than twisting the sheets.
“Same time tomorrow?” she asks as she pulls away, gasping softly to catch her breath. Her chin is tipped up to face me, and she bites her lip as she waits for my response.
“Sorry, can’t. I’ll be busy.” I trail a finger down her arm and enjoy how she shivers against me. “But this was fun.”
“It was.” Her eyes flick down to my lips, and I have to hold back my own smile. “See you later?”
I take a step away as though to help her back up the steps, but really I’m just ready for her to leave. “Maybe.”
I give her a final kiss, and she walks back into the house to get dressed as I walk back to my previous spot by the pool. A little while later, I hear the front door open and close and then a car starts and drives down the gravel driveway.
Rudy paddles up to me, and I throw the ball back to him a couple of times. I check the forecast on my phone for the afternoon and note a squall spinning up west of the island. It shouldn’t take a turn in our direction, but I make a note to keep an eye on it.
Even so, I’ll keep my ringer on and my phone clipped to my belt for the rest of the day.
If I’ve learned anything from my years marching through deserts, hacking through jungles, and weathering waves the size of skyscrapers, it’s luck can change in an instant. In my experience, when everything is going well, things always take a turn for the worse.
Also in the Series
About Nicole Blanchard
New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author Nicole Blanchard lives in Florida with her family and their menagerie of animals. She chooses each day to chase her own fairy tale even if they contain their fair share of dragons. She is married to her best friend and owns her own business.
Nicole survives on a diet of too many books and substantial amounts of root beer and slim jims. When not reading, she’s lavishing attention on her family or inhaling every episode of The Walking Dead and The Big Bang Theory.