Book 1 of The Alaska Force Series
“Megan Crane’s mix of tortured ex-special ops heroes, their dangerous missions, and the rugged Alaskan wilderness is a sexy, breathtaking ride!”—New York Times bestselling author Karen Rose
The first in a new romantic suspense series featuring a rugged unit of former special ops in Alaska’s Grizzly Harbor from USA Today bestselling author Megan Crane.
Out of the dark…
Everly Campbell is desperate. When her roommate is murdered and the body vanishes, Everly fears she might be next. With no one to trust, Everly runs to a remote Alaskan town to find the one man she knows she can count on. His crew of ex-military brothers could be her only hope. Blue wants to keep things all business, but Everly isn’t a little girl anymore and the commanding former SEAL offers more temptation than she can resist.
…Into the Blue
The last thing Blue Hendricks needs six months into his uneasy reentry into civilian life is trouble in the form of his old friend’s kid sister, all grown up and smack in the middle of a dangerous murder investigation. But he didn’t become a SEAL to turn his back on the hard stuff, and he can’t bring himself to ignore Everly’s call for help – no matter how much he knows he’s not fit to be around the soft, vibrant woman she’s become. Not after the things he’s done.
As the men on Everly’s trail draw closer, Blue will do anything to protect the woman he’s starting to think of as his…
You go to the edge of nowhere in a little fishing town in Alaska called Grizzly Harbor. Then you sit in a dive bar called the Fairweather until they find you.
Blue Hendricks must have heard it a hundred times from his brothers in special operations during the usual discussions about what they’d do with their lives if they survived whatever hell they’d found themselves in that day. It was everybody’s favorite legend during a long night in a foxhole.
He threw some cash on the scarred, chipped bar counter that hadn’t seen a polish in a lifetime or three, and faced the fact that he shouldn’t have listened to all those stories. He certainly shouldn’t have believed them. The Fairweather was just another dive bar, if farther away from everything than others, and no one was coming to save him from facing his uncertain future without the navy.
He really should have known better.
Blue didn’t understand what had driven him to come all the way to this nowhere town next door to a frigid glacier or two. It was barely on a map and sat practically crushed beneath a snowcapped mountain.
Not that he was in a place to judge, as he was barely a man.
Now that he was no longer a SEAL, a reality he hadn’t had enough time to digest yet, he wasn’t even the well-tuned machine he’d prided himself on being all these years.
But he wasn’t nearly drunk enough to engage with the mess he carried around and had been pretending wasn’t there for years now. Not drunk enough and definitely not dumb enough to start that game of internal sudden death when he’d been a civilian for less than seventy-two hours, and most of that time he’d spent hauling his ass to the middle of nowhere in search of a stupid legend.
The trouble with that was obvious on numerous levels. The first and foremost being that he was now stuck in the middle of nowhere like a complete dumbass, because the ferry from Juneau stopped here only twice a week in the endless winter months, and that was weather dependent.
The shady, ramshackle Fairweather called itself a bar and grill and seemed to lean more to the bar side of that equation, propped up on stilts above the dark water of the sound that brooded out there in the late February gloom. Blue had seen a decent-looking burger or two and some fries that looked like a heart attack on a plate—his favorite—but he’d decided to drink his dinner instead. It looked like most of the people in here had done the same. The bar itself wasn’t much more than a collection of ratty pool tables, woebegone locals in varying shades of camo-colored clothes, as if a moose hunt might break out at any moment, and what had to be the most extensive collection of off-color bumper stickers ever assembled. As wallpaper.
There wasn’t a single legendary thing about this place.
Which meant Blue was going to have to figure out his life all on his own.
He ran through his options as if he was prepping for a mission. His hometown, outside Chicago, was out. Blue had left that place in a hurry when he was seventeen and had never looked back. Or gone back. At all. He had a Harley stashed in storage in another part of what the folks here in Alaska called the Lower 48, but he would never call himself a biker. And he didn’t want to change that, unlike some of the men he knew who had left the service and gone deep into that life. The same way he didn’t see something like the CrossFit Games in his future. Much as he enjoyed keeping his body in what passed for top physical condition, he didn’t want to make it his whole life. He liked riding his motorcycle and he liked working out, but not enough to lose himself in either one of those things like it was a new religion.
The truth was, he was still hung up on the old one.
Which was why he was here, staring down at a long pour of whiskey and wondering why the hell he hadn’t taken one of the security jobs he’d been offered. They were everywhere. Los Angeles. Chicago. New York. Slick, corporate outfits looking for men with Blue’s set of skills and experience. Some were even run by former SEALs, just like him. SEALs took care of their own, which meant Blue knew he could find a place if he needed one, but he wasn’t ready to be taken care of just yet. He might have retired, and Lord knew he had aches and pains and scars, inside and out, that his seventeen-year-old, newly enlisted self couldn’t possibly have imagined. And it made him feel a hell of a lot older than he was, because he knew what he’d been capable of at his peak—but none of that mattered.
He wasn’t done.
The kind of work he’d done as a SEAL required a pinpoint accuracy he didn’t quite have anymore. He’d accepted that. Part of training to be consistently excellent meant always knowing his limitations. And with young guys coming up all the time, there was no sense holding on when he knew he couldn’t deliver the way he wanted to. He refused to let his teammates and his country down, and Blue might have been carrying a mess or two around inside him, but he wasn’t that narcissistic. If he wasn’t giving two hundred percent at the highest level of peak physical performance, he was holding his teammates back. That was unacceptable.
He was done with his beloved SEALs. But he wasn’t ready to resign himself to a life of playing bodyguard for rich old men and their snot-nosed kids. And he’d believed in what he’d done for the last twenty years, so mercenary work held about as much appeal to him as rolling up to the bikers he’d seen at bars all over these United States and pretending he respected men who brayed about freedom while spitting on everything he’d put his life on the line to defend.
The good news was, Blue’s version of a scaled-back level of physical performance, not good enough for the kind of SEAL missions he’d been a part of, made him look like a god in comparison with a regular person. He could still meet all the BUD/S training standards at competitive levels, thank you. He could still kick just about any ass he encountered, for that matter, and could probably defuse the situation before it got there—even out here in an Alaskan bar that seemed chock-full of the kind of men who wrestled bears for fun on a slow winter’s night. He might have been walking among regular people again, but he wasn’t quite a civilian.
The truth was, Blue didn’t have the slightest idea how to be a civilian and didn’t really want to learn.
Which was why he was here, running down legends he should have known better than to imagine could be real.
When he was done with this wild-goose chase into the snowy Alaskan wilderness and had finished surrendering his dignity and self-respect to an urban legend, Blue thought now, he could always kick it up a notch and go deep into the X-Files thing. Head down to the misty forests in Washington and Oregon and look for a Sasquatch, maybe. Go look for UFOs in Roswell. Hunt down the goddamned tooth fairy, while he was at it. All sounded far more likely to be real than a mysterious special ops unit operating out of a fishing village stuck up on stilts in the Alaskan Panhandle, accessible only by boat or plane or summertime cruise ship.
Maybe he’d even chant names into a mirror at midnight with a candle like that old ghost story, to see if something appeared. At least that would provide him with some entertainment.
Blue knocked back what was left of his whiskey and turned to go, figuring he’d find a room in one of the handful of lodges and inns on this mountainous little island and maybe rethink those bodyguard offers after all. Why not trail around after doughy businessmen and self-obsessed celebrities? A lot of guys did it. He was sure he’d adapt eventually.
He’d been a SEAL for twenty years. He was good at adapting. It had been his job. His calling. His entire life.
But when he slid off the barstool and turned to go, automatically checking the exits and any potential problems with a single swift glance, a man walked in.
And Blue froze, because he recognized him.
Not the man himself. He was a total stranger. But Blue still knew him.
He was lethal. A harsh reckoning on two feet, and it was always funny to Blue that men like this—men like him—didn’t set off alarms when they walked into places where normal people went about their lives, never knowing how quick and easy it could all be taken away. And would have been about a hundred times already if it weren’t for all the men like the one who walked toward him.
Like the one Blue saw in the mirror when he could stand to look.
The stranger walked like a marine, and Blue pegged him as Force Recon in two steps. It was something about the grim, ready set to his shoulders and the way he commanded the space around him as he moved, as if he’d already plotted out contingency plans for every possible outcome. He threw an assessing glance around the room, and that confirmed it. More than Force Recon, Blue thought as the man drew closer, moving like a threat. He’d swear this guy was Delta Force, despite or possibly because of the battered jeans he wore, the snow-packed boots like all the locals, and the dark beard on his face that made him look like maybe he was trying to blend into this frontier town the way Delta Force did in all the worst places in the world.
But he blended about as much as Blue did with all these relatively soft, safe people, for all that they were Alaskan and hardier than the average American.
Meaning: not at all.
The man walked directly to Blue and stopped, then lifted his chin by way of a greeting. He didn’t check out Blue’s whiskey shot glass or the money on the bar, but Blue had no doubt that the man in front of him knew exactly how much he’d had to drink, what he’d tipped, and how long he’d been here. All in a single glance Blue hadn’t caught.
He stood straighter, squaring off his shoulders almost unconsciously.
“You look like a SEAL,” the man said, and he sounded like every arrogant SOB marine Blue had ever encountered. Which was to say, all of them.
“You sound like a marine,” he replied. The eye roll was implied.
The other man studied him a moment.
“You feeling a little antsy?” he asked gruffly. There was hint of a smile on the other man’s hard face, but it didn’t take. “I get it. You’re not underwater, which means there’s no place for a SEAL to hide while the serious shit goes down.”
Blue eyed him like he was thinking about taking offense, when instead the traditional obnoxious greeting between different branches of the military made him feel more relaxed than he had in a long time. As if he might just make it on the other side of active duty after all.
“Nice town.” He offered a bland grin. “Until you and your marine buddies roll in and start blowing it all up, that is.”
The other man didn’t grin in return, but his eyes crinkled slightly in the corners, which was as good as a belly laugh from an individual carved out of pure steel and trouble like this one. He nodded at the stool Blue had vacated, waited for him to slide back onto it, then claimed the one next to him. He lifted a couple of fingers in the bartender’s direction.
Blue knew three things then. That this was a man used to leading other men. That the places he led them were likely versions of hell, but he brought them back out again, one way or another. And that he led by example. Which was all Blue needed to know.
They sat there in comfortable silence. Chris Stapleton rasped his version of quiet Southern despair on the jukebox. It seemed fitting even this far north and west. There was the clink of pool balls and the rise and fall of various alcohol-infused conversations in the background, here in a place that hadn’t seen much sun in a while.
Blue studied the whiskey in front of him and used the mirror behind the bar to stay alert to the man who exuded so much menace and calm beside him.
“Just out?” the man asked after some time had passed.
“Less than seventy-two hours ago.”
“No wonder you have that new-car smell. Don’t worry. It wears off.”
Blue grinned at that, and raised his whiskey glass in a salute that was only half-mocking. He took a pull, then returned his attention to the bar mirror. There was a pack of four outdoorsy-looking men in the corner getting rowdy with a busty waitress who didn’t seem at all fazed—or impressed—by their attention. There were more men at the pool tables, telling one another fishing stories Blue didn’t have to hear any details of to know were exaggerated, if not outright lies.
And he figured it was the bartender who’d recognized what Blue was and called the man beside him. Unless this place was wired, but Blue had done his usual surveillance when he’d come in, and he hadn’t seen any cameras. His money was on the old man behind the bar with a mouth that looked as droopy as his mustache and a map of questionable decisions all over his face.
“It’s hard to find a way home,” the marine said quietly. Almost offhandedly, but nothing about the man sitting next to him was anything but ruthlessly deliberate. “Takes a while.”
Blue met his gaze in the mirror. The other man’s was hard like flint, gray and sure. Steady.
“I don’t know what home is,” Blue said. If his voice was rough, he blamed it on the whiskey. Not stray memories of his tense childhood in that house outside Chicago he never wanted to see again, because he’d never considered it his home. Not the friends he’d lost on too many missions to count, who would never make it home at all. “I stopped looking for one a long time ago. What I want is a mission.”
And that was when the man beside him smiled.
“You can call me Isaac, brother,” he told Blue, like everything was settled. Then he lifted his own glass. “Welcome to Alaska Force.”