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Second Chances: A Romance Writers of America Collection

J. Kenner

  The Fisher Men: Levi's Story by Christina Lauren

  Scandalous by Cassandra Dean

  One Hot Mess by Tina Ferraro

  Something Old, Something New by Lizzie Shane

  Reload by Tara Wyatt

  When Life Imitates Art by Marilyn Brant

  Under a Burning Sky by Renee Luke

  Just Looking by CiCi Coughlin

  Covert Hearts by Ariella Moon

  One Night by J. Kenner

  The Jilt by Sharon Sobel

  Fortune's Treasure by Liliana Hart

  Twice Shy by Damon Suede

  Love Is in the Air by Rachel Hauck

  The Family Tree by Brandi Willis Schreiber

  Homecoming by Kerri Carpenter

  Jake's Djinn by Alyssa Day



  IT'S A STRANGE FEELING to have every tiny moment of my life documented.

  Granted, I should be used to it by now: last fall a camera crew boarded the larger of our two boats--the Linda--and, aside from the few precious moments we're in the bathroom each day, have barely left our sides since.

  There's not much else that's off limits. The Fishermen airs on The Adventure Channel every Thursday during primetime and chronicles the lives of my two older brothers and me as we fish up and down the Pacific Northwest, spend our downtime at the local bars, and generally try not to make complete asses of ourselves on national television.

  The constant presence of cameramen and boom mics is why, as I step through the tiny pocket door from the bathroom and into the sleeping quarters I share with Finn and Colton, I've put on a towel. Dave stands, tinkering with the settings on his camera for dim light. Ellis is watching him, waiting for the go-ahead.

  Colton is mumbling something as he fully comes to, cranky. It's three in the morning, and Dave woke us all up a half hour early when he knocked his equipment box down the narrow steps into the belly of the boat. Of course, Colt can't complain about that on camera so he's staring at the floor, face a tight portrait of Irritation.

  I try to maneuver around the crew as I gather my clothes and head into the bathroom to dress. When they're not filming, we're on the boat for twelve, maybe fifteen hours, and then back to land and home to our own beds. Much preferred by all. But our producer, Matt Stephenson-John, likes the "dynamic of the brothers on the boat," which I really think means he likes when we get at each other's throats. So, when the film crews are here, the three of us stay for an entire week in the Linda's cramped sleeping quarters. Colton complains about every damn thing, and Finn wants to murder us after two nights.

  The worst part is right now we're not even out on open water; we're still docked at the slip, awaiting a shipment of lumber we need to fix a couple of interior walls. The life of a fisherman often includes more maintenance than actual fishing.

  Like today. While we do the repairs, Hollywood will be shooting filler footage--the stuff that's coupled with dramatic music or narration to set up a subplot about the rough life we have out here or to lead into some much-deserved down time with "locals" (aka models flown in from Vancouver). If there's one thing I've learned so far, it's that shirtless filler footage seems to trump everything else. I'd like to pretend the focus of the show is the plight of the modern-day fisherman, the changing environment, and our constant struggle to keep up with it all, but as my sister-in-law, Harlow, repeatedly points out, the show is really just about the man candy.

  And by points out I mean she sends us Tumblr memes, GIFs, and, once, notice of the hashtag #noshirtthursday trending on Twitter.

  It drives Finn crazy but, to be fair, I'm not really bothered by it. The show is the reason we still have a boat and the reason we're even still on the water. Without it, we would have lost everything, and the life I've always known--along with the company my grandfather started--would have been gone for good. Fishing these waters isn't the same as it was when my great-great-grandfather was doing it. There's more competition and fewer fish. The odds are against all of us. So if I get to be out on the water, who cares if there's a camera in my face?

  The air is cold as I make the short climb to the deck. I hear Finn before I see him, already shouting orders to Colton as they attempt to untangle a net that snagged on some debris.

  "Walked up here to find him like this," Colton says, unruly hair covered by a wool cap. I can still see the pillow lines on his face as he squints down at the wire he's splicing. "Thought I'd at least give him someone to yell at."

  I look past them to the pallets of wood on the weathered dock. "Everything here?"

  "Yeah, delivered about an hour ago." Colton looks up. "Rain coming in. Probably need to get it all on board and covered before it starts."

  I follow his gaze to where the sun should be, but there's nothing but gray sky and angry clouds in the distance. "Let's get to work."

  I stand on the deck, watching as the crane operator lifts the banded material and the machine creeps toward me.

  "Easy," I shout, motioning for him to come forward, keeping an eye on the bottom of the cradle as it swings in the air. It's even darker now; the incoming storm is reflected in the gunmetal waves as they lap with increasing force against the hull. The temperature continues to drop and the air smells of pine and salt as the wind picks up, whipping at our clothes and jostling the Linda against the dock.

  "A little higher." I lean farther over, needing the load to clear the side. "A little more ..."

  Out of the corner of my eye I can see the camera rolling and, for a split second, I take my eyes off the crane. And that's when it happens. The operator swings a hair too wide as the wind whips through the harbor, and the entire thing tips. Two boards slip from the center of the bundle and hit the deck with a thundering crack, a section of one shearing off with the impact and ricocheting against the wood and then up, straight toward me.

  I'm thrown back from the force of it.

  I hear Finn and Colton's voices--they're yelling, they're running--before I realize what's happened. Warmth seeps along my leg, and when I push myself to sit, I see a two-foot-long shard of wood going through my pants and straight into the center of my thigh.

  WHEN I OPEN MY eyes again, my head feels fuzzy.

  "There you are," Colton says. His fingers are cold against my arm. "Should have known you'd try to get out of work."

  "Holy hell." My throat is dry and my voice cracks. When I try to sit up, I find that I'm tethered to the bed with about a dozen tubes and cords. My leg feels like it's on fire. I just hurt.

  Finn leaves the group of men he's been talking with and moves to stand on my other side. "If you needed a nap, you could have asked."

  The doctor is at my side almost immediately. "How're you doing there, Levi?"

  My voice is broken glass and sandpaper. "I've been better."

  "You've got a pretty nasty puncture. We were able to get most of the splinters out, but because of the nature of the wound and the chemicals used in the pressure-treated lumber, we're not going to stitch it up yet."

  I blink at the group of men in the corner, including Matt and the other producer, Giles Manchego. Panic clenches in my gut. Although the first season has started to gain steam, and we've just begun filming the second, I know the contract allows for termination at any time if we're unable to perform our regular duties.

  Like, one might think, fishing.

  Finn correctly reads my expression and squeezes my arm. "It's okay, Lee," he says quietly. "I don't think they'll admit it, but they fucking love this. They got it all on camera." He motions to my bandages. "Something tells me they're going to milk the shit out of it."

I ignore him.

  "What do I need to do to get back on the boat?" My voice is stronger now, and I push up onto an elbow.

  Finn and Colton share a look before being joined by the producers. "I had a feeling you were going to say that," Giles says, pleased. "We've come up with a compromise. If you agree to it, of course."

  "Okay," I say, wary. Finn's jaw is tight, and I know him well enough to know--whatever the idea is--he doesn't love it, but isn't going to say no, either. Colton, on the other hand, looks like he's about to laugh.

  "We're going to let you return to the boat next week, on the condition that you allow a nurse on board," Matt says, and manages to deliver this news without giggling gleefully.

  A nurse on the Linda, tending to my injuries while we shoot filler footage of Finn and Colton throwing nets and rewiring the fuse boxes?

  The hell?

  "A nurse?" I repeat.

  Matt nods. Finally, Colton can't contain his laughter, and a giddy bark breaks free of him before he covers his mouth with a fist, coughing out, "Sponge baths, man."

  "I still think this is a bad idea," Finn growls. "I mean, come the fuck on."

  "We realize it's not ideal, but we've already scheduled the water crew for on-deck shoots for the next couple weeks," Matt tells him. "We can't change the shot list without a lot of juggling, guys."

  "And once we push off, Levi won't want to stay at home, off the boat," Giles reasons.

  I nod. "It's true, but--"

  Matt puts his hand on my arm. "There is no but. Without medical personnel monitoring the injury, the studio lawyers won't let you step foot off the dock. This solution satisfies everyone."

  "And helps ratings," Finn says, looking over at them. "I mean, let's at least call it what it is."

  "You're right," Matt says, nodding. "It's television. This is a bump in the road, but let's at least use it to our advantage. The audience is going to want Levi there. Because, yeah, if I'm honest, capturing his frustration is good TV." He looks at me, apologetically. "All right? We'll keep her on the crew ship. She'll only come on the Linda to check you out."

  None of us can argue with that.

  Finn lifts his chin. "Why do I have a feeling you already have someone picked out?"

  Matt's mouth twitches. "We're looking into some options. We'll keep you posted."

  THERE ARE ABOUT A hundred ways to be killed on a fishing boat on any given day. Things swing overhead, lines and nets are all over the place, we're being constantly jostled by the ocean, and--even while trolling--we're moving at a speed of up to eight knots at any given time.

  Add in a bum leg, painkillers, and a set of crutches, and it's a recipe for disaster. But obviously, the producers of the show realize that this is an angle they can manipulate--the danger of life at sea--and only six days after the accident, I'm at the harbor, following my brothers and the crew to the slip.

  "You sure you're okay to do this?" Finn asks for about the tenth time since he picked me up.

  As the kid brother, I'm not surprised that Finn is hovering, but I'd still like to push him off the side of the dock.

  "Would you stop?" I growl, and he shoots me a stony, protective look.

  Beth, our location manager, stops us before we climb on board and looks at her clipboard. "Today we're getting--" she flips the top page up and then drops it down, "ten shots."

  The boom operator comes to me, adjusting the wireless mic hidden in my parka.

  "We're pushing off as soon as we can get everyone loaded and micced," Beth says, nodding to Ashleigh, the PA, to go ahead and get aboard the Lenny Lou, the ship the crew is based on and which houses all of the sound, filming, and mixing equipment. They're supposed to remain as unobtrusive as possible, but really, they're not very good at it.

  Looking to Finn, Beth says, "Emmy will ride with you guys today."

  "Emmy?" Finn says and then turns to look behind me. The protective big brother hat slips for a moment, and a sharp laugh bursts past his lips. "Well, would you fucking look at that."

  How had I possibly forgotten about the nurse? We turn to see a woman in the distance, confidently making her way toward us. I'm relieved to see she's wearing jeans, boots, and a heavy ski jacket rather than a tiny white dress and nurse's cap.

  But fuck me if my chest doesn't grow tight at the sight of her.

  Emmy Lewis.

  A familiar pang settles in my chest when I think back on how fucking in love with her I was. It was sweet at twelve, desperate at fifteen, and nearly painful when we turned seventeen and I still hadn't got up the courage to tell her how I felt.

  Fucking Matt, fucking Giles.

  I blink over to Matt, my pulse racing. "Is this a joke? She's not really a nurse, is she?"

  "Of course she is." He rocks on his heels. "Registered nurse. We borrowed her from Mount St. Mary's over in Victoria." I can see the glimmer of delight in his eyes. He's hit the jackpot. "Let's hop on board and keep the cameras rolling."

  So they can capture her climbing onto the boat.

  Because right now, they're capturing my reaction and I'm too stunned to school it.

  I turn, letting Colton help me up the stairs.

  "Did you know?" I ask him under my breath.


  I growl. "How the hell'd they find out about her? I never told anyone."

  "I suspect the same way they knew Elise would want a revenge fuck over things that happened ten years ago, and that Tiff would fly off the handle on camera in a jealous rage."

  This nearly makes me laugh. Colton's drama with all the women he juggles keeps our ratings at the top of our time slot.

  "But to be fair, Lee, you were never all that subtle about it," he adds. "Pretty sure even Dad knew."

  "But you didn't tell them?" I ask.

  "Hell no."

  I look over at his face, seeing the truth in his expression.

  "This gonna be okay?" he asks me quietly.

  "Is it gonna be okay that I have to pull my pants down and let Emmy Lewis check out my thigh two inches from my cock every goddamn day for a week?"

  "Probably more than once a day, too." He laughs, shaking his head and helping me get both crutches beneath my arms when we're on deck. "I don't fucking know, Levi. This whole thing is a goddamn rollercoaster."

  We line up on deck, cameras rolling as we pretend to be going over what we need to do before we can push off.

  Emmy climbs aboard--so fucking pretty, still. Her eyes are too wide, a little wild, and I wonder if she feels the same way I did the first time I was around so many people and their cameras and mics I'd been instructed to ignore.

  "Hey, guys," she says.

  We all say our greetings--with various degrees of enthusiasm (Colton) and wariness (Finn). I land somewhere in the middle, but inside I feel the tight hum of anxiety.

  I can see it now, how the episode plays it, putting her name up on the screen--Emmy L.--and, below it, a little bit about her. Nurse at Mount St. Mary's Hospital, Victoria. Will they even need to add, And the girl who starred in a majority of Levi's teenage fantasies, or will the expression on my face suffice?

  Because I know for sure it's written all over me. Her hair is longer than it was in school, pulled into a smooth ponytail that hangs midway down her back. Her brown eyes are round with jitters, her cheeks pink in the wind. Fuck, that mouth. I know that mouth better than my own, I'd bet. She's wearing more makeup than I've ever seen on her, but I suspect that's thanks to the producers, and not anything she'd do on her own. Emmy was never that girl.

  She was always quiet, but unlike me--gangly and geeky from day one--Emmy's beauty made it easy for her to pick and choose how much she wanted to join in on the school's small social scene and not take any heat for it. I'd reckon every guy in school was in love with her. But other than Jackson McDaniel for most of junior year, I never saw her with anyone. Her dad was the principal of our high school; her mom ran a local flower shop in Bamfield. Her two older sisters moved away as soon as they grad
uated, but something about Emmy told me she'd always stay nearby. I always guessed she liked the calm of Bamfield, the peace of Barkley Sound.

  And I'd been right, because here she is.

  "Hey," she says to me, coming over. The wind whips her ponytail across her face, and I nearly reach out to help her disentangle it from her lip gloss. I'm positive the camera catches the tiny jerk of my arm, the focus of my eyes on her mouth. She grimaces, pulling it free. "Ack."

  "Hey, Emmy," I say, shaking her hand. My legs feel weak, but it's got nothing to do with the stitches running down my thigh.

  She blinks, her cheeks flushing pinker. "You remembered my name."

  "Course I do." Can the mic pick up the heavy pulse of my heartbeat? "So you're here to look after me, then?"

  She smiles, revealing the tiny dimple in her left cheek. "Hope that's okay."

  Is she fucking kidding me?

  "Yeah, I think I can manage." Even if I can't manage to wipe the grin off my face.

  Finn clears his throat. "Maybe you two should ..." He waves to the cabin, where the bunks are, letting his words trail off.

  "What?" I ask.

  Narrowing his eyes at me, he clarifies, "Let her check out your leg before we push off, dumbass. We need the all clear from your nurse."

  "Oh," I say, mouth dry. "Right."

  "For fuck's sake," Finn growls, and then turns, heading to the stern to untie the ropes.

  Turning to Emmy, I feel the heat of the camera's attention on us, feel the dark shadow of the boom mic inches from her face. "Maybe we can head into the galley, and you can take a look?"

  She swallows, nodding quickly. "Sure."

  Emmy waits while I maneuver my way down the stairs.

  I look at her over my shoulder. "Where do you want to go?"

  She thinks. "A bedroom maybe? A bathroom?" Lowering her voice as if it won't be caught on camera anyway, she whispers, "We could go to the kitchen, but I don't know if you want to go where they can follow us in? Since you'll have to ... uh ..." She motions vaguely to my pants, and I understand what she means: I'll have to take my pants off.

  In truth, it won't matter where we go. There are cameras everywhere.

  I give her a smile that's meant to be reassuring. "It's all right, let's just head in here."

  She follows me into the galley, around through the bedroom, and into the lavatory. The bathroom is small on its own, but with the two of us inside, and the camera crowding the doorway, it feels minuscule. But surprisingly, the light is good, it's clean, and there's running water, which is clearly all Emmy needs because she motions for me to sit, washes her hands, and begins unpacking her medical bag on the counter.