“Happy ever after. Ha. It’s a myth, Lily. A legend. A shell game meant to sell more expensive wedding packages.” Lacey Cameron gave a snort, glancing away from the awesome view of crystal-blue water, fluffy white clouds and careening shore birds to stare her monozygotic twin right in the eye. Her carbon copy made that face—the one that suggested Lacey was being a pain in the butt. Again.
“Just because our parents couldn’t make a go of it—”
“Make a go of it!” Lacey could hear the shrillness in her voice and took a deep breath to quiet the tinnitus that immediately pounced, dulling and annoying at the same time. The day loomed too beautiful and too shiny, a virtual Christmas package floating in cyberspace, to have this conversation. Besides, they were just about to the correct location to weigh anchor—the coordinates she was certain would bear fruit. Of the golden variety, of course. This was her number one bucket list item—diving for sunken treasure off the Florida Keys—and nothing was going to spoil it, especially memories best left in the past.
“It was far worse than just not making a go of it, as you darn well know,” she growled, refusing to go there, to relive the pain of her childhood. How Lily could was beyond Lacey’s comprehension. Best to outrun it and keep running. That had worked for her until now, so why change what worked?
She swung the thirty-six-foot Nautitech catamaran around. She stood in the cockpit, feet planted, savoring the most amazing panoramic view provided by any of the boats offered for charter. She preferred the stability of the twin-hulled dive boat and was pleased with herself for coming down a day early to get her safety competency card and boating license. A rarity for her, that much planning. But the freedom of being her own captain far outweighed any inconvenience.
“Well, I think Casey and Truman will make a go of it,” Lily huffed. “They’re good friends, like to do the same things, both love adventure and they have a ton of other stuff in common. Frankly, I think they’re a good bet.”
“Yada, yada, yada. Careful. You’ll jinx them.” Lacey smirked. No way was she ever going to latch on to one man, no matter how good a friend he was. No, not a chance that was ever going to be part of her life plan. She had decided on a different approach, brought on by her recent karate training at the dojo. It was based on the warrior mindset and had brought her some clarity, some purpose. Learning all the five hundred-plus techniques was going to take far longer than embracing the philosophy, but it was a beginning.
All she got for her trouble was the expected disgusted glare when she glanced Lily’s way for a split second. But it was the twinge of deep hurt that also crossed her twin’s face that flung the worst arrow. She’d just been reminded of her warrior creed, her sworn duty to protect the innocent, and if anyone was innocent it was Lily, incapable of seeing the world through anything but rose-colored glasses. How that had happened was beyond Lacey’s understanding. They had both been raised in the same dismal household.
“Hey, maybe it will work out for them,” Lacey reasoned in a more level tone of voice, swallowing hard. “Lord knows, it has to for some, right? Otherwise, why have the institution?” She pushed back a strand of bright red hair broken loose in the wind created by the boat flying across the water at an exhilarating speed. She tucked the hair under her ballcap and breathed in the fresh fragrance of the salty foam churned up from the propellers. Ah, the smell of adventure. Bring it on, world.
Damn it. This wasn’t on the agenda for this gorgeous summer morning. Why was the past visiting now, when it was her turn? The much discussed, much anticipated week of treasure hunting?
“Honestly, I don’t know. But I find it best to just forget about it and keep moving forward.” She shrugged, not trusting herself to look at her sister. “What else can you do?”
She powered down the twin engines of the catamaran. They had arrived. The perfect time to end this verbal wrestling match that could never resolve things, anyway.
“Come on, let’s do this thing. Leave the past where it belongs.” She pushed the button that would drop anchor and stabilize the boat. This was the moment she loved best. The anticipation of things to come. The only thing that would beat it was holding some amazing treasure in her hot little hands.
Lacey grabbed her dive suit and hurried to step into it, tugging it up her body and zipping it in place under her chin. Hefting her air tank, she took a moment to check the equipment was working properly before setting it in place on her back. She watched Lily finish suiting up, then gave her twin two thumbs-up.
Seconds later, they were in the water.
She vanquished all thoughts of the upcoming nuptials of fellow Brass Ringer Casey and her fiancé Truman, because nothing was going to be allowed to interfere with the clear level-mindedness that diving in the waters off Little Conch Reef promised. The blue jewel of Plantation Key, especially when surrounded by a mosaic of rainbow-colored fish that immediately began to dance with her, made everything seem possible. It was the sea version of that Hollywood blockbuster, like her sister was blabbing on about with all the false promises to love and to cherish until death do us part. What was it called again? Oh yeah, living in La-La Land. She was too smart and too burned for that trap.
The exhaled bubbles rose steam-engine-style around her while she used her flippers to propel herself through the clear water. Absolute pure magic. A poet with a great deal more talent than her would have some struggle capturing this moment of sublime freedom. The tinny sounds vanished from her mind, leaving only anticipation for the immediate future in their wake. She thrust her body back and forth on a downward trajectory, moving away from her twin like a mermaid-in-training, her long hair streaming behind her.
Finally. It was really true. She wanted to pinch herself just to make sure, but it was past time to get to searching and find what the depths would reveal to her that day. What King Midas had in store for one Lacey Anne Cameron. Excitement glowed from an ember to a raging wildfire within her body in a split-second.
She swam parallel to the ocean floor, checking every nook and cranny of the Spanish galleon El Infante for a glimpse of something, anything, manmade. That brigantine lay battered and almost unrecognizable on the white sand ocean floor, a victim of the 1733 hurricane. She really didn’t expect to find anything at the actual wreck site—its bones had been picked over years ago—but farther out… Now, that held distinct possibilities.
The morning passed in the sweet sense of being on point, of something just over the horizon waiting for her to discover. Yes, the best of times for her was just before something occurred, the quiet of the hush. But still, this was taking longer than she’d imagined. She’d been certain that she’d bag important treasure before her sister. It had always been a contest to see who could beat the other to the prize. The only other person whose competition gene rivaled her own was Will, her best male friend and hang-out buddy. And today, this was going to be her day. She felt it deep in her bones.
She checked the tank monitoring system occasionally, making sure she had sufficient air to continue. She swam in and out of an underground cave, caught up in the mystical flow. Then a glint under the shifting sands at the cave mouth drew her eye and she was on it in an instant. Fanning the sand away, she worked to uncover the find.
It was deeply planted, the ocean reluctantly giving over its hoarded treasure only after a major tug-of-war. A large golden cross nearly eighteen inches across with a number of encrusted gems. A find worthy of King Midas himself. Ahhhh.
Then everything changed in a split second.
The reef hushed, gone silent.
The brilliantly hued school of fish abandoned her, skipping town like an old western’s inhabitants during a showdown at high noon, racing for the security of the reef and the bleached bones of El Infante. Even the sea anemones shut their flower-like structures, closed to business, paled to gray to match the death-like scene.
Lacey’s heart nearly stopped, skipping a full beat and making her chest bone shudder.
A lidless black eye. Unblinking and cold as sin. And with the audacity to materialize right smack dab in front of her face.
Sneaky freakin’ bull shark.
He’d blindsided her, swimming up silently in the warm waters off the Florida coastline while her attention was diverted elsewhere, digging for treasure. She sucked in a lungful of air, almost biting her mouthpiece in two.
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