Known as the Graveyard of the Pacific, Barkley Sound is notorious for surging swells with the power to pull helpless victims into its merciless abyss…
Sergeant Holly Rudd arrives in the coastal community of Bamfield after local divers discover a body with a knife jutting from its chest in the waters of Barkley Sound. As she investigates the crime, Holly soon realizes the sleepy town is rife with secrets. But what unsettles her most is the residents’ insistence that she bears a striking resemblance to the victim of a murder from three decades earlier. She shrugs off the uncanny likeness as a coincidence. But her simmering attraction to Finn Carver, one of the divers who discovered the corpse, isn’t so easy to ignore.
Finn, a former Special Forces soldier, knows it’s best to keep his distance from Holly. Yet it isn’t long before they both give in to the consuming desire they share. And as the danger escalates, Finn and Holly must rely on each other to thwart the plans of a cold-blooded killer who’s intent on keeping the past buried.
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Holly Rudd stepped off the speedboat and looked around. Vancouver Island was the size of Scotland, but with a population of only three-quarters of a million people, most of whom where based in the provincial capital, Victoria. The rest were scattered among tiny out-ports and communities like this one—Bamfield, population one-hundred and fifty-five hardy, adventurous souls, according to the last census.
“You can’t moor that there.”
She looked the guy up and down. Surfer blond hair and bare feet. Rugged good looks and attitude to match. She dumped her bag at her feet and turned to the guy who’d ferried her over from Ucluelet. Handed him fifty bucks. “Thanks for the ride.” He waved as he sped away.
She turned back to the dude who stood with arms crossed over his broad chest, radiating impatience and hostility. Sexy as hell. She was tired from lack of sleep, exhilarated by the thought of what the day might bring, but she sure as heck wasn’t blind.
“This is private property.” Blue eyes glittered. Pale hair glowed like white gold in the rays of the rising sun. Hot, tanned, gorgeous. Just her luck.
She raised a brow and checked her watch. “I’m meeting someone here.”
“Public dock is another minute that way.” He jerked his thumb down the inlet.
She smiled coolly. Twelve long years on the job and she was still dealing with macho bullshit. “But someone’s dropping a car off for me here.” She pointed up at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans sign on the side of a large wooden building and started toward it.
He blocked her path. “There’s no one there today.”
She rocked back on her heels, let her eyes range over the square jaw and heated eyes. “You’re not very friendly.”
He didn’t crack a smile. “Not in my job description.”
Not in hers either, but she found smiles worked better than growls when gathering information.
His mouth pinched, then he backed off, relenting. “Tell me who you’re supposed to meet and I’ll get someone to track them down.”
“Who are you?” She had a feeling she knew.
He blew out an impatient sigh. “Look, lady, I don’t have time for this—”
“Excuse me?” Those pale brows formed a formidable line.
She held out a hand. “Sergeant. Sergeant Holly Rudd. I’m with the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit.”
“You’re a Mountie?”
A proud member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police by any other name. She nodded.
He stood stock still, nothing moving but the glitter in his eyes. Finally he sucked in a breath and shook her hand. “Nice uniform.”
She glanced down at her ragged old t-shirt, cut-offs, and thongs. “I was caught a little unprepared this morning as I was officially on vacation. Thankfully I always pack a uniform.” She tapped her bag with her foot, smiled widely, and watched his eyes grow a lot more friendly. And then they shifted straight back to suspicious as he realized she was cataloguing his expressions like a facial analysis program. “And you are?”
Ah. Her fingers tightened on his when he would have let go. “You called it in?”
“I did.” He forcibly disconnected her fingers.
“I’m going to need all the gear you wore last night, and the other diver’s. Forensics will want to check it out.”
He regarded her with one of those silent, steady gazes people used when they wanted to argue but couldn’t. “I’ll need it back ASAP. I have a busy dive schedule this week.”
“You can use something else for a day or two, right? I’ll make sure they do a quick turnaround.” She needed this guy on her side.
The little time she’d had before the boat trip she’d used to pull up background information on the two guys who’d found the body. Finn Carver had been in the military. Right now he looked ready to go into combat. “Any chance the dive team arrived yet?” she asked.
“No. Their ETA is eleven o’clock. West Coast Marine Service had a call north of Prince Rupert last night. It’s going to take them a few hours to get back here. So far you’re it.” His eyes scraped her form. He didn’t look impressed. She should be insulted, but she worked best when people underestimated her.
“I want to check out the crime scene ASAP.”
His face gave away nothing but skepticism. Those arms crossed again over that muscular chest. Mouth pressed into a firm line. She let her eyes wander over him. He really was very attractive and absolutely untouchable. Knowing that gave her a distinct advantage.
“You can take me down,” she suggested.
He gave her one of those sideways glances. Not hostile. Not friendly. “Whoever is in charge of the investigation probably wouldn’t be very happy about that.”
“Me. I’m in charge. On the ground anyway.” Although she was the newest member of the major crime unit here on the island, she had plenty of experience. She let her grin reach her eyes this time. This was her first case as primary investigator in a murder investigation and she didn’t usually have to work this hard to charm anyone. “I just helped solve a case down in Blaine.” RCMP, municipal, and FBI collaboration. A hell of a big deal. “Guy murdered his wife, dumped her in Semiahmoo Bay. We found enough evidence to prove he was lying and he confessed.” To her, at the end of a bloody knife. She rubbed the newly healed scar on her arm. “I’ve been working with forensic experts in Burnaby for some time, looking at decomp after seawater submergence.”
His lip started to thin. He was definitely not buying it.
“If you’re too scared to go back down there…”
He snorted and whirled away. “What am I, eight?”
“If you don’t take me down I’ll find someone who will,” she called to his retreating back.
He stopped, tension stretching the muscles tight across his shoulder blades. “I thought people who found the bodies were suspects?”
Knowledgeable about police investigations. Check. “At this stage everyone’s a suspect, but I can take care of myself.”
A harsh sound was forced out of his mouth. “Just what a potential dive buddy wants to hear.” He swiveled back to her and moved so close she smelled his scent and felt his body heat. She held her ground, watching his nostrils flare. He was trying to intimidate, but she’d been a cop for over a decade, had grown up with cops. There wasn’t much she hadn’t seen or dealt with, and brawny guys with bad attitudes did not scare her. “This isn’t some macho pissing contest. Wreck diving is dangerous, especially at this sort of depth. Only experienced divers should be down there.”
“I can handle it.” Her voice was sharp. He wasn’t a pushover for female charm or pretty smiles. Perhaps proving she was damn good at her job would work instead.
He went to walk away, but she reached out to touch his arm.
“I have dive training.” She spoke softer this time. She’d learned to dive exactly so she could pursue this sort of investigation.
He paused, those eyes of his diamond hard. “Prove it.”
She let go of his arm and bent to pick up her bag. Unzipping the tote she pulled out her brand-new PADI diving certificate. “I just completed the basic dive training yesterday.”
“Fortuitous.” He plucked the book from her fingers and flipped through it. “You did four open water dives and think you’re ready for a thirty-meter wreck dive?” He shoved the book back in her hand and stalked away. “Not on your life, Sergeant Rudd.”
“I checked you out, Mr. Carver.”
“I bet you did.”
She followed him into a low-slung single-story building, the room full of tanks and neoprene. The desk overflowed with papers, keys, coffee mugs. Where was everyone? The place was quiet as a graveyard. He picked up the phone.
“I heard you’re the best dive instructor this side of the Pacific. If anyone can get me into that wreck it’s you.”
“Getting you into the wreck wouldn’t be the problem.” His eyes flicked over her, unmoved by flattery. He started talking on the phone. “Johnny? Finn Carver here. I’ve got a woman called Holly Rudd claims she just completed a PADI course with you?”
It went silent and Holly leaned against the doorway, straining to hear above the background sound of running water.
“What was she like under pressure? Think she could hold her own on a thirty-meter wreck dive?”
She watched his face, trying to gauge the answers, but his impassive features gave nothing away.
“Would you trust her with your life?” The reply made Finn smile. “That’s what I figured. Talk to you later.” He hung up.
“What did he say?” She could have kicked herself for asking.
He stared at her, then bent down and started filling an air cylinder. “You don’t want to know.”
Her eyes widened despite her efforts to conceal her emotions. “Well, it won’t be anything I haven’t heard before.” She lived in a man’s world and never forgot the fact, but she was done playing games. “Are you taking me down or not? So far we’ve only got your and Professor Edgefield’s word a body even exists. And even if there’s a body, it doesn’t mean it’s a homicide.”
He snorted. “Trust me, it’s a homicide.”
This was her first murder as lead investigator, and she would not be thwarted. Checking out the crime scene with the body still in place was imperative as long as she didn’t contaminate the scene. The guys on the Underwater Recovery Team were no more likely to take her down than he was. She geared herself up for an argument.
“You do exactly as I say. No pulling rank or cop bullshit when we get down there. And you’ll owe me.” Carver disconnected one cylinder and began filling another. His eyes were flat and hard.
“You’re going to take me down?” A rush of adrenaline shot through her. She nodded. “As long as it isn’t illegal, I’ll owe you.” She nodded.
“Down there I’m boss. You have to trust me implicitly.” He took a step closer and her mouth went dry. “If I put my hands on you…” He rested both hands on her hips and she felt the imprint of each burning hot finger. She forced herself not to react. This was a test. She didn’t fail tests. Ever. “If I grab you, you don’t freak out. You help me do whatever the hell it is I want to do. You follow my lead exactly and we’ll both get out of there alive.”
She found herself staring up into those bright blue eyes, only inches from hers. Energy sizzled between them. A sudden wave of sexual awareness mixed with mutual mistrust, a subtle perfume of complication.
Red burned his cheekbones. He released her. He hadn’t expected it either.
“I have to trust you. Think I can do that?” Blue eyes held her gaze.
She didn’t make a joke about putting her hands on him because suddenly it wasn’t funny. One, he was a suspect and she refused to feel anything for him that wasn’t strictly professional. Two, they were going to dive a hazardous shipwreck at thirty meters with a rotting corpse at the end. It wasn’t the sort of treasure most divers dreamed of, but she wasn’t most people. She kept her mouth shut. Nodded.
Toni Anderson is a former marine biologist who conducted her Ph.D. at the Gatty Marine Laboratory in St. Andrews, Scotland, and traveled the world with her work. She was born and raised in rural Shropshire, England but, having lived in five different countries, finally settled in the Canadian prairies with her husband and two children—about as far from the ocean as possible. She combines her love of travel with her love of Romantic Suspense and writes stories based in some of the places she’s been lucky enough to visit. Coming next are two Romantic Suspense books set in the wilds of Vancouver Island for Montlake Romance.
She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, Kiss of Death Chapter, and The International Thriller Writers’ Association.
When not writing, she’s walking the dog, gardening or ferrying the kids between school, piano, and soccer games.
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