When Jessie Devlin receives the newspaper article that Rob Carlisle has been released  from prison, more than likely sent by Carlisle himself, she vows she won’t let him destroy the life she’s struggled to rebuild. But memories of that spring night ten years ago keep flashing back, causing Jessie to cringe at the thought of a man’s touch. Then Cole Harper walks in the door to rent the twin cottage she owns on the South Carolina coast.

Cole Harper’s mission is unlike the dangerous black ops military assignments in the Middle East that almost cost him his life. Medically discharged from the army, he’s vowed to find and kill the traitor who gave up their team, and Harper is starting where he believes his target is hiding―on the South Carolina coast. After his torture at the hands of a sadistic enemy, Harper has given up any hope of a normal sex life, until he meets Jessie and her lesbian lover, Darian. Can they succeed where the military doctors failed? Can he protect Jessie from the revenge of her assailant while carrying out the revenge of his own?

Secrets, fears, and danger combine to bring two damaged people together if only they can escape the forces pulling them apart.  




Chapter One  

The Renter


Even after receiving the letter, Jessie kept the door to the rental office open and the storm door unlatched. She wouldn’t be intimidated, nor would she change her life after she’d spent the last ten years getting it together.

She checked her watch, saw the shiny black Jeep pull up in behind her car where she lived and had her office. Right on time, Mr. Cole Harper. He got out and looked around. She scooted back to her desk, heard him climb the stairs and open the door.

“Jessie Devlin?”

“That’s me.”

“Cole Harper.”

“Come on in, Mr. Harper.”

“Harper’s good. I’m used to last names.”

As soon as he stepped through the door, she decided that if she were ever interested in men again, she’d be interested in this guy―tall and well built, handsome in a rough, seen-it-all way. His alert, dark green eyes checked out the room with cautious stealth. He wore worn jeans, a long-sleeved polo shirt, leather flip-flops, and walked with an almost imperceptible limp, but Jessie noticed it.

“Quiet around here,” he said.

“You should have been here a few weeks ago.”

“I’m looking for quiet, so this suits. Mind if I see the cottage?”

No chit-chat. Okay, all business. Fine with her. “Come on.” She led the way down the stairs and across a beach-access path to an identical cottage, built on pilings to protect the houses from high tides during storms and hurricanes. They climbed the stairs, and she unlocked the door. “Nothing fancy, but it’s fully furnished and has everything you’ll need.”

He walked through the two-bedroom house, unlocked the glass door, and went out onto the deck. Bracing on the railing, he watched the ocean. The tide was coming in, bringing with it the still-warm breeze from the sea. A couple of gulls levitated over the deck. She waited a few minutes. Without turning around, he said, “I’ll take it.”

No questions? Just, I’ll take it? “For how long?”

“I don’t know, but I’ll give you plenty of notice.”

“Rates climb in April, if you’re still here, also during spring break in March. That’s more.”

“If I’m here, I’ll cover break week.”

He still hadn’t turned around. Now he did, and she had a better look at his face in the sunlight. A scar parted one eyebrow, but it didn’t detract from his good looks. On the contrary, it added a rugged quality, like the hero in an adventure movie.

They walked back to her house.

At the desk in her great room, he said, “I have cash.”

“Fine, but I’ll need to see your driver’s license and a credit card.”

He pulled his wallet from his back pocket with his left hand and flipped it open. “Here’s the license, but I don’t have a credit card.”

“Everyone has a credit card.”

He steadied his gaze on her. “I don’t.”

The fine hairs on her arms stood at attention. Who doesn’t have a credit card these days?

When she hesitated, he said, “I’ll pay it all in advance, if that makes you feel better. If I skip out, you’ll have my money.”

“I don’t imagine you’ll answer this if you plan on doing anything to bring the cops, but are you―”

“No, I’m not doing anything illegal, and I’m not running from the law. I just left the military and haven’t had time to set up anything like checks and credit cards. I’m not sure where I’ll be going when I leave here. I just need a place to wind down. Somewhere quiet where I can get my shit together.”

Jessie knew what that meant. She liked Inlet Cove for the same reason. So, he was a vet. Maybe he’d been in the thick of things. “A couple of months up front will be fine.”


She’d already quoted him the monthly rate online. He peeled off the right amount of bills―one month’s rent, two as a deposit. “Now, if you’ll sign this lease, we’re good.”

He held down the contract with his right hand. All four fingers looked like they’d been broken and hadn’t healed properly. He didn’t even look over the contract before he initialed the pages and signed the last one with his left hand.

She did the same, gave him the keys, and with a polite nod and something that passed for a smile, he limped out the door.

As unobtrusively as possible, she watched out the window as he backed his SUV from behind hers and parked under the rental house. He unloaded a couple of satchels and a computer case, carried them up the stairs to the front door, and disappeared inside.

Paperwork called, and she forgot about her new renter until she saw him return later with a few bags of groceries. She hadn’t heard him leave.

Many men came on to her before they knew she had no interest. It wasn’t conceit on her part, just fact. This guy hadn’t even blinked when he came through the door. Maybe he wasn’t into women. Could be, she thought. Nothing surprised her anymore. Why was she even thinking this? If she didn’t know better, she’d consider herself insulted.


The next morning, Jessie took her usual swim in the inlet just after sunrise, followed by coffee on the deck. This had been her daily routine in temperate weather since she moved here six years before. She loved this shabby beach community. The air smelled clean and salty. No glitz or glitter. No high-rises. Just a forgotten stretch of South Carolina coast in the off-season, a bustling vacation spot during summer.

She brought her storyboard sketchpad out onto the deck. The Atlanta agency had given her plenty of time on this job, so she didn’t feel rushed. She looked around the beach and saw a few people combing for shells. A couple of families with pre-school children played in the water and dug in the sand. Gulls fought over some washed-up remnant of fish. A typical early fall morning at Inlet Cove.

Harper came out on his deck with his laptop and set it on the outdoor table. He didn’t look over, but the houses were close, and he had to know she was there, if only out of the corner of his eye. Definitely not Mister Friendly. Fine with her. Chatting wasn’t her strong suit either.

He worked for a couple of hours, then took his computer inside, came back out, and leaned over the railing like he had when she showed him the house. He didn’t turn toward her, so he took her by surprise when he called out, “How’s the water?”

So he knew she was there. “Still warm.”


The cottages sat on a narrow stretch of beach facing the inlet. If she wanted waves, she walked the short distance around the point.

Harper walked to the edge of the waterway, the limp more pronounced now as he trudged through the sand dunes. He didn’t remove his T-shirt, but that didn’t hide the strong, muscled back. Broken fingers, a scar, and a limp. Since he’d recently been released from the military, he must have been hurt overseas.

Someplace quiet where I can get my shit together.

He dove into the water and started across the channel, heading to the island on the other side. She held her breath. Signs warned of the dangerous currents at high tide where the ocean converged with the inlet. Surely he’d seen them. What if he hadn’t?

She called out to warn him, but the wind muffled her voice, and he didn’t react. She needn’t have worried. His strong strokes identified him as an excellent swimmer, and he crossed without a problem. She saw him on the other side, walking the shoreline.

She went inside but kept checking to see if he was on his way back. After an hour, at the height of high tide, she saw him swimming across the channel and held her breath again. She went out onto the balcony and watched as he walked to her cottage. His shirt clung to his body. Jessie didn’t know why that attracted her attention, but it did.

“It’s beautiful over there,” he said. “Pristine. I walked the beach, sat and sunned awhile.”

“Looks like you got sunburned. Good thing you were wearing a shirt, or did you take it off?”

He shot her a long look that spiked right through her, then nodded and said, “Is that a public beach? I didn’t see many people. Just a few who arrived by boat or Jet Ski.”

She noticed he didn’t answer her question. “The island’s owned by a family who, thankfully, has refused to sell out to developers.”

“I doubt developers are looking to dump a bundle on a resort island.”

“Not with so many empty condos along the main beach. I figure my view’s safe for a while. The family lets a local college’s marine biology department use it for research.” She leaned over the railing. “I felt guilty for not warning you about the current. It’s dangerous, but you’re an excellent swimmer.”

“I saw the signs. They challenged my stubborn nature. I can see that it might be trouble for someone less experienced. The current’s strong, with a solid undertow.”

“Someone succumbs almost every year.”

“I believe it. How long have you lived here?”

“I moved down from Columbia about six years ago. My father left me both cottages in his will. I could have sold them when the market was high and made a bundle. Not now. But I never wanted to sell them. I’ve always loved it here.”

“I don’t blame you.” He scanned the beach. “I wouldn’t sell either.”

Just then, Darian came out onto the deck and put her arms around Jessie from behind, cupping her breasts and kissing the back of her neck. “Here you are. I called for you inside the house. Figured you were out here.”

Darian obviously hadn’t seen Harper below the deck. She saw him now. “Sorry,” she said, separating herself from Jessie. “I didn’t know you were with anyone.”

Harper didn’t blink. The guy was cooler than an arctic breeze. Jessie didn’t know whether to be impressed or concerned. “Darian Romero, Cole Harper.”

“Hi, Cole,” Darian said. “You must be the one renting Jessie’s cottage.”

“That’s me. I’d better get going. Don’t want to take up your time. See ya, Jessie. Nice to meet you, Darian.”

“Same here.”

“Take care,” Jessie said. “Careful of the current.”

He waved over his shoulder as he walked away.

Darian buried her mouth in Jessie’s ear. “Did you see his cock jerk when I kissed you?”


“It did. Not much, but it did.”

Jessie turned, squinting into the afternoon sun. “I thought you didn’t notice those things.”

“I usually don’t, but he’s a looker, even to a confirmed dyke like me.”

Jessie thought the same thing, but she wouldn’t tell Darian. They weren’t in a committed relationship, and Jessie didn’t want to be in one, with Darian or anyone. Both agreed no strings, so it worked out fine. They got what they needed from each other when they felt like it, then Darian went home or Jessie did. They rarely spent the night at each other’s place.

“What’s his story?”

“Haven’t a clue. All I know is he’s ex-military, has broken fingers, a limp, and he swims like a shark in a T-shirt.”

“Probably doesn’t want to show off his hot bod to a couple of lezzies.”

“He didn’t know my sexual preference until you came out here and played patty cake with my boobs.”

“Don’t be too sure. I’ve been told countless times that we give off vibes, whether we mean to or not. Besides, as far as he’s concerned, you could be bi.”

Jessie drew her lover close. “I could be, but I’m not.”


Harper never would have guessed. Neither one of them looked like dykes, especially not his hot little landlady. But something happened to him when the other woman put her hands over Jessie’s breasts and kissed her neck. For the first time in over two years, his cock felt like it had some life in it. Not much life, and not for long, but it moved, all by itself. Nothing he and the doctors tried had succeeded that far. He didn’t know whether to drink to that or be depressed that the only thing that shot some action to his dick was a couple of lesbians kissing. He was truly fucked.

He went straight to the deck and plopped onto the chaise to dry off. His focus strayed through the railing slats to the cottage next door. The two women were drinking coffee and talking. He wondered whether Darian lived there. He hadn’t seen another car last night. Why the hell did he care? With his dead cock, he wasn’t interested in anything, and neither one of them would hop in his bed, for sure, but he couldn’t forget that little spark of electricity in his groin. And he couldn’t forget the crystal blue color of Jessie’s large, liquid eyes. Sad eyes, he thought.

He flexed his right hand. All the exercise in the world wouldn’t lessen the stiffness. He was a mess. Didn’t he tell Jessie he needed to get his shit together? Shit? What about baggage? More baggage than most could carry. The doctors told him the load would lighten with time. But the only way that would happen is when he found Teddy Meeghan.

And killed him.