The Frogman, Prince coming March 2014.
This unedited version is brought to you by my shark commentator Chumly.
THE FROGMAN, PRINCE
A princess, a toad and a shipwreck.
by Rogenna Brewer
©Rogenna Brewer ~ All Rights Reserved.
Soaked to the skin and without a windbreaker, Lily shivered as he cut the runabout across its own wake at reckless speeds. “Have you had your fun yet? I’d like to go back now. I’m cold and wet.”
“What’s the matter, Chapel? Getting a little nippy back there?”
Even though his back was to her she crossed her arms over her breasts. “I suppose this your idea of a wet T-shirt contest?”
“Hooyah! What are you complaining about? It’s ninety degrees in the shade.”
“There is no shade.” Her teeth chattered.
“My point, exactly,” he said. “You’ll warm up in no time.”
As he throttled down, she prepared to grovel. Maybe even apologize if that’s what it took to get back to her ship. She couldn’t see The Lily Pad on her horizon. By sight distance on open water that meant they were at least two to three miles away.
After dropping the anchor, he turned off the engine and then promptly threw the key overboard.
Lily sprang to her feet. “What did you just do?”
She knew exactly what he’d just done. Stranded them in the middle of nowhere with no radio and no ignition key.
“I’ll get us back to the ship when I’m ready.” He crossed his arms, looking even more austere in sunglasses. “After you accept the fact that you’re stuck with me until my mission is complete.”
She threw her hands up in surrender. “I accept.”
Rather than satisfy his demand, her submission seemed to irritate him. He picked up his HK and forced it on her. “If you’re that convinced you don’t need me, release the safety and take your best shot. Out here where nobody else can get caught in the crossfire.”
“I’m not going to shoot you!”
“Could have fooled me.”
“I only wanted to—argh!” She threw the damn thing over the side.
“What the—” He threw off his shades and cast her an exasperated look as he dove in.
“Serves you right,” she mumbled as the water rippled in his wake.
It was a good twenty, twenty-five feet to the sandy bottom speckled with colorful plant life and coral formations. She watched him frog kick his way down through clear water toward his precious weapon. “Grab the key while you’re down there. That’s why we keep keys on bobbins. So we don’t lose them.”
Not that he could hear her. Frogs didn’t have ears.
Seconds passed. Then minutes. What was taking him so long?
Lily checked her watch with tempered impatience. How long could a person hold their breath? Two, three minutes? That much time had passed already. What was she worried about? He was a frogman. He might be able to control his breath holds for longer periods. Four minutes, five?
She focused on the spot where he’d disappeared. Still no sign of him.
Maybe he had some of that James Bond equipment with him. “Lieutenant?”
He broke through the surface on the other side. “Miss me?”
Lily jumped. “No.” She crawled up onto the cushions to stare down at him. “Was just wondering if you’d found the key?”
“So you admit you need me.” He tossed the submachine gun to the bottom of the boat. Followed by a handgun. When he made no move toward the dive platform to get out of the water, she peered over the side.
“Is there a whole Army/Navy surplus store down there?”
She touched her nose. “You have a nose bleed.”
He sniffed and wiped at the blood.
“Maybe you should get out of the water,” she suggested.
“Yeah, fine shark bait. Chum.”
“Afraid of sharks, Chapel? Here I thought you were fearless.”
She wasn’t so sure about this new nickname he had for her. It made her feel like one of the guys—his guys. That was a good thing, right?
Or his way of demoting her from Captain.
She liked it even less than him calling her Lily. Which felt far too intimate, even if she had been pointing a gun at him at the time.
“Quit playing around.” She reached down to help him up.
Her mistake. He launched her over the side and underwater right along with him.
Lily broke the surface coughing to clear her lungs.
“Jerk.” She splashed him in his arrogant face.
“I’m the only shark in these waters.” He pinched her thigh and she darted out of his reach like a spooked fish. For every stroke he took toward her, she took one away from him, like a well-choreographed water ballet.
He got right up in her face and she’d splash him until he backed off. You’re it, he tagged her and she went chasing after him underwater like they were a couple of kids. Lily loved the water. She was a strong swimmer and had had been since she was a kid, but she was no match for the frogman’s powerful strokes. By the time he let her catch up to him and she tapped him on his foot she needed to surface for air.
The Lieutenant bobbed up beside her.
Treading water in the shadow of the boat, she found an unexpected peace in their odd truce. Until she remembered he’d cost her an entire day of diving. Maybe more. “Where are we?” she asked.
He looked around and shrugged. “I have no clue.”
“I meant the Lily Pad. What are our coordinates? I haven’t been on the bridge since—” He’d unceremoniously carted her off. “Since this morning,” she said, holding her tongue in opposition to the teasing glint in his deep blue eyes.
His wet midnight lashes were spiked and incredibly long. “Where is it you want to be?”
Thinking he spoke metaphorically, she rolled her eyes. She opened her mouth to deliver a biting commentary, when she realized what he meant. He studied her with too much intent for mere allegory.
“Seriously?” The Lily Pad was over her intended dive site?
He offered a curt nod. “Still afraid?”
“Of you, ha.” She laughed. But maybe a little worried by how much he seemed to know about her intentions. “Let’s just say I have a healthy respect for predators.”
“Do you consider me a predator?”
“Don’t be so impressed with yourself. I thought we were talking about sharks in the water.” She stopped mid laugh. “Tad—”
He took one look at her face and glanced over his shoulder without berating her for using a variation of his name he didn’t like. “Just a curious reef shark, and a little one at that. He’s been hanging out with us for awhile.” He lifted her onto the dive platform and disappeared underwater.
Lily jerked her feet out of the water and tucked them in tight. Though she didn’t doubt him, she’d lived on the water her entire life and couldn’t identify a single species of shark by its dorsal fin. But her father was like that, too. He said it wasn’t just the fin, but in the way the shark moved. She preferred caution to being bitten even by a small shark.
The Lieutenant popped back up. “It’s okay.” He reached for her waist. “He doesn’t have any big brothers with him.”
Lily pulled back. “I’m done for the day.”
“You should get back in the water.”
She got up and moved back to her seat.
The Lieutenant hauled himself up and onto the boat, water sluicing from his wet clothes. “There are over three hundred species of sharks. Maybe twenty of them are man-eaters. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“I’ve been diving with sharks all my life. I’m not afraid.”
The boat seemed overcrowded now that he was back on board. “What happened?”
“Nothing.” Confused by his line of questioning, she took a moment to slick back her hair. She started shaking even with the summer sun beating down on her.
“Lily,” he coaxed. “Tell me about the accident? The night your father....”
“I don’t remember anything.” More importantly, she didn’t want to remember.
“You were found clinging to a buoy the next morning. In shock, hypothermic.” He found a beach towel, stowed under one of the bench seats, and draped it around her shoulders. “Ten miles from the dive site. Any of this ringing a bell?”
“I said, I don’t remember.” She pulled the towel tighter.
“Did you swim or drift that far on your own? Or did somebody help you?”
“Don’t you think I’ve asked myself that question?”
“A month later you entered Cuba under a Canadian passport with the help of a man named Jean-Claude Perot—”
Shrugging off the towel, she handed it back to him. “I’m not speaking to you, Lieutenant, without an attorney present.”
“I’m not the law.” He snorted. “But if I know, you can bet the State Department knows. That’s why you need to cooperate with me. I’m after a bigger fish. If you help me catch him, I’d be willing to overlook a few things.”
“Guess I was wrong about you not being a predator.” He was dangerous. “I’m sorry,” she said, turning away from him. She squeezed the excess water from her T-shirt and tied the stretched end into knot beneath her breasts. She pulled off her sopping sneakers and flung them into a corner. “I don’t know anything.”
“I’m not taking no for an answer.”
When she turned around again, he’d stripped out of his Hawaiian print shirt, tanned muscles working as he wrung it out and draped it across the side of the boat. Under her watchful eye, he peeled all the way down to khaki swim trunks.
“How many of those are bullet wounds?” she asked, taking inventory of his scars.
“Don’t ask.” The coolness was back in his gaze. He slipped his sunglasses back on, making it even harder for her to read him.
She feigned interest in a chipped fingernail. “I wasn’t trying to kill you.”
He retrieved his guns and began disassembling them.
“I want my ship back.”
“All in good time.”
“How much do you know about me?”
“Everything.” He slammed the last piece of the HK back in place. In what, under a minute?
“Come here, Chapel.” He held out the submachine gun.
“I thought we already tried this once. Aren’t you afraid I’ll just toss it over the side again?”
“You won’t get a second chance. Now come here.”
Lily rose from the seat more out of curiosity than a willingness to obey his command.
He checked the safety and handed it to her. He took up a position behind her and faced her toward the water. “Pick a spot about fifty feet out and aim toward the water. But try not to shoot our friend if you should see him circling.”
“What are we doing? I’m not a mind reader.”
“Firearms practice,” he said with a touch of impatience. “You’re right-handed, so put the butt end tight against the pit of your right shoulder. Like this.” He pressed up behind her.
The contours of their bodies molded perfectly as he helped position the gun. Repulsed by that fact, she tried to hold herself ridged, but he wouldn’t allow it.
“How did you know I was right-handed?”
“You slap right handed,” he reminded her.
Why his comment sent a warm feeling through her she didn’t know.
“Tight,” he insisted, pressing the weight of the gun snug against her shoulder. “Now, sight down the barrel. Right eye. Got your spot all picked out?”
“The S, Sicher position is safe. Einzelfeuer, E is single shot and Feuerstoß, F designates continuous fire.” His instructions reminded her the weapon was manufactured in Germany. He set the toggle to F. “Ready, aim—“
Deafening uncontrolled bursts in rapid-fire succession spit from the gun barrel and stirred up the water. Hot cartridges flew back at them. Until she let up her finger and the sputtering ceased.
“—and squeeze.” If he hadn't been standing right behind her the recoil would have knocked her on her ass. “We call that spray and pray.”
Her straining arm muscles relaxed as he supported the gun for her. She tilted her face toward his. Taking in the firm stubble covered jaw, the deeply etched scar, the shaded eyes, she wished his face wasn’t so hard to read.
“Try this,” he said, bringing her attention back to the gun. He set it on semi-automatic. “Sight down the barrel. Notice the sway. Even if you try to hold it steady there’ll be some movement.”
She’d noticed but thought it showed her inexperience or lack of upper body strength.
“Control the sway with a figure eight motion. Back and forth. Make it smaller and smaller.” He demonstrated.
“Infinity,” Lily corrected. “A figure eight on its side is the symbol for infinity. It means forever.”
“I know what infinity means.” He sounded irritated. “When you hit the middle of…infinity, hold your breath and squeeze. One, two. Ready to try?”
She took a deep breath. “Ready.”
“Hold.” He held her at the waist, one hand pressed against her bare midriff.
She stiffened. “What are you doing?”
“Checking your breathing. Again, hold. Squeeze, one, two.”
She couldn’t breathe if she wanted to.
The sound was still loud and the gun still recoiled. But it didn’t swing out of control.
“That is called hop and pop. Hop in, pop two. SEALs practice on three-by five cards. Both shots have to hit the target. Once you learn how to shoot, you won’t have to pay attention to your breathing. Holding your breath will come naturally.”
Kiss me. The sound tickled her ear. Lily wet her lips and smiled to herself, pretending not to hear him. Kiss me.
He made her repeat the exercise over and over again until the ammunition clip was empty and shell casings filled the bottom of the boat. Then he drilled her on the use of a handgun. Which she discovered, he’d been carrying concealed.
She really had been stupid to pull a weapon on him.
When both weapons were empty, he flipped open the bench seat and stowed them inside. Rummaging through the first aide kit, he squeezed a dab of Zinc on his finger to cover his nose and then offered her the tube.
Her nose was probably already red. Normally she was careful to use lots of sunscreen.
She took the tube from him but didn’t use it right away. He didn’t seem in any hurry to get back to the ship, even though they had been out here more than a couple of hours. As eager as she was to get back to the boat, she wasn’t in any hurry to end their outing either.
She sat down in the captain’s seat. “You’re very detail oriented.”
“Then you must have underestimated me because I’m a woman.” Her voice rang with the confidence of knowing she was right.
“How have I underestimated you?” He peeled back his aviator sunglasses and squatted down below her eye level.
“Girls can play games, too.”
“You don’t want to go there, Captain. Not with me.”
“How do you know where I want to go? Or that you’re not the one who can take me there?” She brushed her nose against his.
“Nice try, Chapel. But I can’t be seduced.”
“You will underestimate me again.” She pulled back his shades so she could look into his eyes. “You should leave my ship before you do.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“Who’s the big fish you’re after?”
“I think you know. “
“And if I help you?”
“Cooperate with me, or not. But this power struggle we’ve got going ends in one of two ways and in both of them I wind up on top.”
“You think so?”
“I know so,” he said with confidence. “And now that I’ve given you classified information, Captain, I either have to kiss you or kill you. It’s absolutely necessary to seal your lips.”
“I suppose that line goes over real well when picking up women at the Officer’s Club.”
“I’ve never had a woman choose death over a kiss yet.”
“I’m almost certain your kisses are lethal, Lieutenant.”
“Captain, that sounds like a compliment.”
Things were getting a little too hot out on the ocean. She was inches away from putting her theory to the test. “I think it’s time we get back to the ship. I’ll drive.” She snagged his shades and put them on.
He dangled the ignition key from its bobin. “Afraid I lost your locker key. Which I have a feeling you no longer need.”
His face showed little expression. The slight curl was there at the corner of his mouth threatening to become a real smile. If you looked for it, humor sparkled in his blue eyes like the sun reflecting off the water. The Lieutenant had a sense of humor. Very subtle and hard to define. It took some getting used to, but it definitely grew on you.
“Either way, it doesn’t matter.” Twisting in her seat, she loosened the ignition switch to hotwire the boat.
Large or small. Gasoline, diesel, or steam propulsion. She knew her way around an engine. She didn’t need the Lieutenant or the key to get her back to the Lily Pad.
Oh, baby, had he ever underestimated her.