As soon as Casey had learned Brand had been given his special assignment at Naval Station Puget Sound at Sand Point in Seattle, the old Irishman had contacted him, concerned about his eldest daughter.

She’s working too hard, not taking care of herself. Give an old man some peace of mind and check up on her. Only, for the love of heaven, don’t let her know I sent you.

Personally, Brand wasn’t much into this detective business. But, as a favor to his friend, he’d reluctantly agreed to look up Erin MacNamera.

He’d been ready to enter her office building when she’d stepped outside. Brand had never met Casey’s daughter, but one look at that thick thatch of auburn hair and he’d immediately known that this woman was a close relative of his friend. So he’d followed her into the Blue Lagoon.

He studied her for several minutes, noticing little things about her. She was delicate. Not dainty or fragile, as the word implied. Erin MacNamera was exquisite. That wasn’t a word he used often. Her gaze had met his once, and he’d managed to hold her look for just a second. She’d stared back at him, surprise darkening her eyes, before she’d jerked her gaze away. When he’d stepped up to her table, she d been flustered, and she d striven hard not to show it.

The more time he spent with her, the more he learned about her that amazed him. Brand wasn’t entirely sure what he’d expected from Casey’s daughter, but certainly not the enchanting red-haired beauty who sat across from him. Erin was as different from her old man as silk was from leather. Casey was a potbellied, boisterous MCPO, while his daughter was a graceful creature with eyes as shiny and dark as the sea at midnight.

Another thing, Casey had warned. Remember, this is my daughter, not one of your cupcakes.

Brand couldn’t help grinning at that. He didn’t have cupcakes. At thirty-two, he couldn’t say he’d never been in love. He’d fallen in love a handful of times over the years, but there had never been one woman who’d captured his heart for more than a few months. None that he’d ever seriously considered spending the rest of his life with.

Be careful what you say, Casey had advised. My Erin’s got her mother’s temper.

Brand didn’t feel good about this minor deception. The sensation intensified as they sat and talked over their drinks. An hour after he’d sat down with her, Erin glanced at her watch and flatly announced she had to be leaving.

As far as Brand was concerned, his duty was done. He’d looked up his friend’s daughter, talked to her long enough to assure her father, when he wrote next, that Erin was in good health. But when she stood to leave, Brand discovered he didn’t want her to go. He’d thoroughly enjoyed her company.

"How about dinner?" he found himself asking.

Twin spots of color appeared in her cheeks, and her eyes darkened slightly as though she’d been caught off guard. "Ah… not tonight. Thanks anyway."


Her silence didn’t fool him. She appeared outwardly calm, as if she were considering his invitation, but Brand could feel the resistance radiating from her. That in itself was unusual. Women generally were eager to date him.

"No thanks." Her soft smile took any sting out of her rejection – or at least it was meant to. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.

She stood, smiled sweetly and tucked her purse under her arm. "Thanks for the drink."

Before Brand had time to respond, she was out the door. He couldn’t remember a woman turning him down in fifteen years of dating. Not once. Most members of the opposite sex treated him as if he were Prince Charming. He’d certainly gone out of his way to be captivating to MacNamera’s daughter.

Who the hell did she think she was?

Standing, Brand started out the cocktail lounge after her. She was halfway down the block on the sidewalk, her pace clipped. Brand ran a few steps, then slowed to a walk. Soon his stride matched hers.


She paused and looked up at him, revealing no surprise that he’d joined her.

"You’re navy."

Brand was shocked, and he did a poor job of disguising it. "How’d you know?"

"I was raised in the military. I know the lingo, the jargon."

"I didn’t use any."

"Not consciously. It was more than that…the way you held your beer bottle should have told me, but it was when we started talking about the ferries crossing Puget Sound that I knew for sure."

"So I’m navy. Is that so bad?"

"No. Actually, with most women it’s a plus. From what I understand, a lot of females go for guys in uniform. You won’t have any problems meeting someone. Bremerton? Sand Point? Or Whidbey Island?"

Brand ignored the question of where he was stationed and instead asked one of his own. "Most women are attracted to a man in uniform, but not you?"

Her eyes flickered, and she laughed curtly. "Sorry. It lost its appeal when I was around six."

She was walking so fast that he was losing his breath just keeping up with her. "Do you hate the navy so much?"

His question apparently caught her by surprise, because she stopped abruptly, turned to him and raised wide brown eyes to study him. "I don’t hate it at all."

"But you won’t even have dinner with someone in the service?"

"Listen, I don’t mean to be rude. You seem like a perfectly nice – "

"You’re not being rude. I’m just curious, is all." He glanced around them. They’d stopped in the middle of the sidewalk on a busy street in downtown Seattle. Several people were forced to walk around them. "I really would be interested in hearing your views. How about if we find a coffee shop and sit down and talk?"

She looked at her watch pointedly.

"This isn’t dinner. Just coffee." Unwilling to be put off quite so easily a second time, Brand gifted her with one of his most dazzling smiles. For the majority of his adult life, women had claimed he had a smile potent enough to melt the polar ice cap. He issued it now, full strength, and waited for the usual results.


This woman was downright dangerous to his ego. He tried another tactic. "In case you didn’t notice, we’re causing something of a traffic jam here."

"I’ll pay for my own coffee," she insisted in a tone that implied she was going against her better judgment to agree to talk to him at all.

"If you insist."

The lunch counter at Woolworth’s was still open, and they shared a tiny booth designed for two. While the waitress delivered their coffee, Brand reached for a menu, reading over the list of sandwiches. The picture of the turkey, piled high with lettuce and tomato slices between thick slices of bread, looked appetizing, and he reluctantly set it aside.

"Officer?" Erin asked, studying him while he stirred cream into his coffee.

"Adding cream to my coffee told you that?" Casey’s daughter ought to be in intelligence. He’d never met anyone quite like her.

"No. The way you talk. The way you act. Lieutenant j.g. would be my guess?"

He was impressed again. "How’d you know that?"

"Your age. What are you, thirty? Thirty-one?"

"Thirty-two." This was getting to be downright embarrassing. He’d climbed through the ranks at the normal rate of speed and received a number of special assignments over the years. Since the navy was considering closing down its station at Sand Point, Brand had been sent by the admiral to conduct a feasibility survey.

His duties in the area would last only a few weeks. Most of that time had already been spent.

"I take it you weren’t raised in the navy?" Erin questioned.


"I might have guessed."

She sure as hell was batting a thousand with those guesses of hers. Her eyes briefly met his, and Brand was struck once more by how hauntingly dark they were. A spark, a hint of pain – something he couldn’t quite name – touched an emotional chord deep within him.

"Listen," she said softly, regretfully, "it’s been interesting talking to you, but I should have been home an hour ago." She was ready to stand when Brand reached across the table and gripped her hand.

The action was as much a shock to Brand as it was to her. She raised her head a fraction of an inch so that their eyes could meet. Hers were wide and questioning, his…he didn’t know. Unrelenting, stubborn, he guessed. Brand wasn’t thinking clearly, and hadn’t been from the moment he’d followed her into the Blue Lagoon.

"We haven’t talked."

"There isn’t any need to. You weren’t raised in the military. I was. You couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like unless you were carted from one corner of the world to another."

"I’d love it."

Her smile was sardonic. "Most men do."

"I want to see you again."

She didn’t hesitate, didn’t think about it. Nor did she delay answering. "No."

"I apologize if I’m bruising your ego," she added, "but frankly, I promised myself a long time ago to stay away from men in the military. It’s a hard-and-fast rule I live by. Trust me, it’s nothing personal."

Brand sure as hell was taking it personally. "I don’t even tempt you?"

She hesitated and smiled gently before tugging her hand free from his grasp. "A little," she admitted.

Brand had the feeling she was saying that to cater to his pride, which she’d managed to bruise every time she’d opened her mouth.

"As far as looks go, you’ve got an interesting face."

An interesting face. Didn’t she know handsome when she saw it? Women had made pests of themselves in an effort to attract his attention for years. Some of his best friends had even admitted they hesitated before introducing him to their girlfriends.

"I’ll walk you to your car," he said stiffly.

"It isn’t necessary, I – "

"I said I’d walk you to your car." He stood and slapped two dollar bills on the table. Brand liked to think of himself as a tolerant man, but this woman was getting under his skin, and he didn’t like it. Not one damn bit. There were plenty of fish in the sea, and he was far more interested in lobster than he was in Irish stew.

Erin MacNamera wasn’t even that attractive. Hell, he wouldn’t even be seeing her if he wasn’t doing a favor for her father. If she didn’t want to see him again, fine. Great. Wonderful. He could live with that. What Erin had said earlier was true enough. Women went for guys in uniform.

He was attractive. He wore a uniform.

He didn’t need Erin MacNamera.

Satisfied with that, he held open the glass door that led outside.

"This really isn’t necessary," she whispered.

"Probably not, but as an officer and a gentleman I insist."

"My father’s an enlisted man."

She announced the fact as if she were looking for some response.

"So?" he demanded.

"So… I just wanted you to know that." Copyright 2016 - 2023