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Wrecked by J. B. Salsbury (1)

Seven years later . . .

SAWYER

It’s funny how a place can bring back a feeling.

How the whip of wind through my hair and the smell of diesel fuel and dead fish can bring me instant joy. There’s a calmness that comes with the splash of a boat’s wake through the bay. The seagulls squawking for a scavenged meal combined with the low murmur of fishermen as they commune before or after a day at sea make for a peaceful symphony.

It’s why we chose this house, just a half mile from the marina right on the bay. From the front yard I watch Aden’s fleet of fishing boats leave before dawn and return at sunset.

Calvin Jenkins Commercial Fishing.

It was a name he settled on immediately after Cal sold the Sunset Cliffs property and invested in Aden’s idea.

All Aden needed was a job and someone to believe in him.

The first he had.

The second he had in two, but that number was growing rapidly.

“Listen, Pop! If yur goin’ to be a deckhand on my boat I got two rules.”

My dad salutes the pint-sized boat captain slash drill sergeant. “Ready for my orders, Captain!”

“Deckhands bait hook and drink beer. You don’t fish!”

I mouth an apology to my dad. “C.J., your grandpa can fish if he wants.”

Aden flashes me a proud smile and digs into the ice chest, pulling out three bottles of root beer before crossing to his daughter. “Nope, she’s right.” He hands her two bottles. “Those are the rules.” His eyes slide to me. “They were good enough for you.” He winks and butterflies tumble through my belly and not for the first time I wonder if his effect on me will ever die down.

“Yes, sir!” My dad salutes C.J. again.

She hands him the cold root beer. “It’s ma’am, Pop! I’m a girl!”

He laughs and pulls her to him for a big hug. “I know you are, pumpkin. But you’re a strong, tough little girl.”

“Celia Jane, are you ordering around your pop?” My mom sidles up next to Aden and he pulls her in for a side hug.

“Granny!” C.J. rushes to my mom in a flurry of deep auburn hair. I don’t know how she did it but she managed to get the darkness of Aden’s hair with the red from mine.

Her skin isn’t pale either, she tans like a sailor and hero worships her dad, swearing she’ll become the best fishing captain when she grows up.

“We better get going if we’re gonna make it out there before sunset.” Aden crosses to me and holds out his hand to pull me up from my seat and to his chest. He runs his nose along my jaw, breathing in deep. “Have I told you lately that you’re the hottest mom in Southern California?”

I cup his strong jaw and purse my lips. “Only Southern California?”

“I was going to say the world but thought it sounded too cliché.”

I smile. “How was your appointment?”

Since I moved to San Diego shortly after I found Aden at my sister’s grave, he’s been attending a group for soldiers with PTSD. What started out as therapy turned into something so much greater as now he takes those who’re willing and teaches them how to fish. The majority of his staff of fishermen are ex-military who suffer from the long-term effects of war. He says helping others makes him feel less guilty for the ones who paid the ultimate price for his life.

“It was good, just got a new guy who’s starting next week after your folks leave.”

I push up on my toes and kiss his soft lips. “Have I told you lately that I think you’re the most wonderful human being I’ve ever met?”

His face grows serious. “Yeah. You tell me all the time.”

“Well . . .” I push his shaggy hair behind his ear. “I mean it.”

“I know you do.” He kisses me again, this time deeper than before.

“Break it up, guys.” C.J. wiggles between us, pushing us apart. “We gotta get to sea.”

“Later,” Aden whispers in my ear before scooping our daughter up and onto his shoulders and then heads for the dock.

ADEN

“Which one’s gonna be mine, Daddy?”

With C.J.’s tiny legs draped over my shoulders and her hands gripping tight to my hair, all is right in the world. The sound of my wife’s voice, light and carefree as she laughs with her parents, sends a warmth through my body that is indescribable.

It’s better than any high.

“You’re five, baby. Let’s revisit this conversation in twenty years, ’kay?”

“But . . . you said I could be a fishing captain too and we need to have a plan!”

A plan. It’s safe to say that little Celia Jane ended up the perfect combination of me and her gorgeous mother.

“I tell you what.” I punch the code into the keypad to buzz us into the marina that now holds eight boats that I own. Six strictly for fishing, and two for personal use. We pass by Jenks’s old boat, the Amelia Lynn, now updated with new hardware, sails, and paint and I look up, hoping he can see me now, praying he knows how much I cared for him and how his memory was a huge influence when it came time for me to get my shit together. “I’ll get you a little sailboat and we’ll start there. Deal?”

“Deal!”

“Colt, you got a second?” Ryan, an ex-marine I hired three years ago, jogs to me with a clipboard in his hand.

“Sure, man.”

“Ryan! I’m gonna have a sailboat and sail around Messico like Jenks did!”

He looks up at her, making sure to overexaggerate his surprise. “Oh yeah? You leaving now?”

She giggles. “No, maybe tomorrow.”

I take the clipboard from him, making sure to keep one hand wrapped tightly around the leg of the other half of my life.

“Just need you to give those numbers a skim and sign the bottom.”

“I can do it.” Sawyer scoots up next to me and I hand her the clipboard. “He’s got his hands full.”

I lean down and kiss my wife on her jaw, some of her long silky hair blowing into my face. “Thank you, freckles.”

With a chin lift to Ryan I climb aboard my boat, the Second Chance.

When the company had its highest grossing year I decided it was time for an upgrade and bought the latest and greatest in yachts. It’s not huge, only two bedrooms, but it has all the bells and whistles, including a full-functioning gourmet kitchen and full-sized bathroom with tub.

It’s become our home away from home and Sawyer doesn’t know I’ve arranged for her parents to take C.J. back to the house later so I can have my wife to myself tonight.

I gently take my daughter from my shoulders, bringing her around to blow a raspberry on her stomach before placing her on her feet. “Go get your life vest on.”

“Daddy!”

“Don’t argue with your dad, honey,” Darlene says as she places a few items into the fridge. “Go get it on.”

“Fine.” She stomps off and I watch her until I’m sure she’s safe in her life jacket.

“She is so much like her, ya know.” Darlene shakes her head with a wistful look in her eye.

“So, my wife was this much of a pill when she was young.”

Her expression softens. “Not Sawyer. Celia.”

I look on as Sawyer scoops our daughter into her arms and holds her on her hip while pointing at something off on the horizon. “I love them so much. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose either of them.” I turn to her, seeing the loss of her daughter is still so fresh in her tearing eyes. “I can’t imagine what you must’ve gone through.”

She smiles sadly. “You’ll never have to.”

I pull her in for a quick hug. “Now . . . how ’bout a root beer. We are subject to Captain C.J. Colt’s orders.”

“I’d love one—” Music comes from her pocket followed by the words of Akon singing, “I Just Had Sex.” “What in the . . . .?” She scrambles for her cell, but it’s stuck in the fabric of her sweatshirt as the song goes on. “What is he saying about his penis?!” Her face is bright red as she finally gets the device released and pushes something to make it stop. “My gosh.” She shoots daggers at my wife, who is laughing hysterically on the deck outside. “Sawyer Colt, you’re gonna get it!” She presses the phone to her ear. “Kathy, I’m sorry, are you there, honey?”

I burst out laughing when I realize who’s on the other line, earning a scowl from Darlene.

“Your son and daughter-in-law are driving me batty.”

I lean in to the phone. “Hi, Mom!”

Darlene nods. “Your mom says hi and to stop tormenting me.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I pull out root beers and pop the tops, handing one to my mother-in-law.

“Of course, there’s plenty of room for you and Paul and the kids. Is Stephanie coming? Great! We’re so excited you could make it down while we’re here.”

I sip from my soda as Sawyer heads inside, looking like Morpheus does after he raids the bait tank when I’m not looking. She presses into my side.

“That was some funny shit, freckles.” I kiss the side of her head.

She smiles up at me. “When will she learn to stop leaving her cell-phone unattended.”

I motion to the woman responsible for the life of my gorgeous wife. “She’s talking to my mom about tomorrow. The whole crew is coming out, my sister, the kids, I was thinking maybe we should take everyone to the zoo?”

Pulling the root beer from my hand, she tosses back a gulp. “I think that’s a great idea.”

I scan my surroundings, C.J. on the deck with Sawyer’s dad, my mother-in-law laughing with my mom, and the most amazing woman on earth in my arms, and I can’t imagine life being any sweeter.

Long after sunset when all the boats are rocking softly in their docks, I’m sitting on a lounge chair with my fucking sexy as hell wife between my legs. It has to be close to midnight, and after a long and very heated sex-fest we had to come outside to cool off.

Silently we sit and stare at the stars with nothing to interrupt or deter from each other. This is my happy place. The one place where the screams don’t touch and the memories die.

It’s not that I never have those moments. Since having C.J. my life has become more valuable to me, and the lives of my girls are my top priority. Because of that the paranoia still hits in crowded places, and we make sure to spend the Fourth anchored out at sea to keep away from the fireworks. But the nightmares are few and far between, my sobriety and therapy have helped me to cope with the trauma that I continue to learn how to live with.

Sawyer and C.J. make it bearable.

“Aden, if Celia hadn’t been sick, if it was her who came back to the cottages, do you think you would’ve fallen in love with her?”

“Where’s this coming from, freckles?”

Almost seven years of marriage and she’s never once asked me this, though I’ve wondered the same thing and come to my own conclusions that I’ve yet to share with her.

She burrows in deeper to my chest, her silky robe the only barrier between me and her naked body. “She was so much fun, and, I don’t know, I guess I wonder if you two would’ve been a better match.”

“Hold up.” With a little maneuvering, I manage to sit her upright so we’re facing each other. “You and I are the perfect match.”

She tucks a long strand of her hair behind her ear and dips her chin. “I know, but—”

“You balance me like no one ever could. You are beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but what I fell in love with had so much more to do with who you are than who you look like.” I grab her hand and kiss the underside of her wrist. “You’re the most patient woman I’ve ever met. You’re smart, so fucking forgiving. God, Sawyer, don’t you see? You’re every single thing I’m not, which is why I find you so fascinating. Why I need you. Just because Celia was more like me doesn’t mean I would’ve fallen for her. Fuck, I can barely stand myself most days.”

She blinks up at me with shining eyes and a soft smile.

“I would’ve thought Celia was very pretty, but I don’t think we would’ve gotten along well.”

Her body falls back between my legs, but her arms wrap around my waist. “No, I guess you’re right.”

“I know I’m right.” I drop a kiss to the top of her head.

She sighs and a few seconds of silence pass between us. “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

My lips tip up on the ends at her Jaws quote. “What are you, some kind of half-assed astronaut?” I say in my best Quint voice.

Her shoulders shake with silent giggles. “That was good, but . . .” Her arms hug me tighter. “I was serious.”

My smile falls instantly as my insides dare to hope she’s saying what I think she’s saying.

“This boat only has two bedrooms.”

My pulse rockets through my veins, making me light-headed. “Um . . . are you?” It seems so unimaginable! We’ve been trying to get pregnant for the last couple years with no luck.

Pushing up my body she presses a kiss to my lips. “Congratulations, Captain Colt. You impregnated your wife . . .” She runs her lips up the side of my neck to my ear where she whispers, “With twins.”

In the span of a heartbeat my joy doubles and right there in the arms of the woman I love, I pray to thank the men who died protecting me so that I could live and experience just how sweet life can be.

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