Excerpt from The Mighty Hunter by Michelle M. Pillow
Scientist Bridget Dutton has no time for traditional love. Her heart belongs to her work. Even though taking chemical readings of ocean water isn’t her thing, she’s willing to put in her time for her chance at exploring the Abyss. When her boat is attacked from below, Bridget’s dream just might come true sooner than planned.
Caderyn the Hunter, the sexiest–and perhaps craziest–man she’s ever laid eyes on may have rescued her from death, but who’s going to rescue her from him? With a deliciously hot body and all the right moves, the man is a walking seduction that’s too hard to resist. There’s only one problem. Caderyn claims they’re in the Abyss, living on a cursed island along the deep ocean floor. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, he says he’s a merman.
Sparks fly. Desires heat. But can Caderyn convince the logical Bridget there’s room for more than one love in her heart?
Rating: Contains graphic sexual content, adult language, and violence.
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Lords of the Abyss Book One
THE MIGHTY HUNTER
Michelle M Pillow
Bridget Dutton watched the waves lapping along the bow of the ship as it chopped through the water. No matter how many times she went out to sea, she could never stop staring at the beauty of it–the brilliant blue of the water stretching out like a moving field into the horizon. She loved everything about it–the sound, the smell, the feel of being rocked to sleep on the waves. But, there was also the excitement of it, the unknown.
Now, as the bright moonlight shimmered over the glassy surface, the water was exceptionally beautiful to behold. There was nothing around the boat but the sea and the night sky. They were miles away from any coast, surrounded by sparkling blue.
“Your mother must’ve thought she gave birth to a dolphin,” Ned Devenpeck teased, joining her at the rail. He was the head of their expedition. His accent still held traces of his Dutch birth, but after nearly thirty years working off the Florida coast, primarily studying fish ecology, his English was perfect. Dev was an older man, nearing sixty, though he hardly looked it. Years spent out on the waves had kept him fit and he hardly looked a day over thirty-five, except for the short crop of dark gray hair on his head. Like all the scientists, he was dressed for the field in khaki shorts and a fleece sweater. He handed her a cup of coffee. “You never come inside the cabin until it’s time to sleep or work.”
“Thanks, Dev,” Bridget answered, nodding as she lifted the cup. She had known him for some time as a scientist, but she was beginning to think of him as a friend. This was their first expedition together and he had chosen her as his second in command. There had been some light flirting, and she definitely respected his work, but it hadn’t gone anywhere. She was only twenty-six and that was quite an age difference, especially career wise. He was winding down while she was just getting started. “Actually, she accused me of being a pirate in my past life because I always came home with treasures from the ocean.”
“Oh yeah? Where did you grow up?”
“The Oregon coast. Most of the treasures were just sea shells or sand dollars, polished glass, bits of driftwood. But once, I did find this.” Bridget reached into her shirt and pulled out her necklace. It was a flat disc with a hole in the middle inscribed with strange symbols. “No one has been able to tell me what it is or what it means. I’ve basically come to the conclusion that someone was toying with ancient languages and carved it. It’s too new to be an antique.”
Dev laughed softly. “I’ve never seen anything like it. And the Oregon coast? It’s the wrong region for this sort of thing. Though, I suppose with currents… Well, never mind. It’s probably like you said. So, is this the reason you love the ocean so much?”
“I don’t know. It did make me think about it more, about what could be out there buried deep beneath the waves. I can’t seem to help it. I love the sea. It’s the last unknown left to explore on Earth. There are so many things we don’t know about it. For each new species we classify, there are fifty more waiting around the next seamount.”
“What are you doing in Florida, then?” Dev asked. “You should be going with a team to study the Mid-Atlantic Ridge or the effects of the Puerto Rico Trench on tsunamis. Why stay here helping me with boring chemical readings?”
“I tried to get on an expedition to explore shipwrecks, but Thurmond told me I lacked sufficient Deep Ocean and thermocline experience to be on his team. He did say if I filled this position and worked for a full year, he would reconsider my application. Since he’s the boss, here I am.”
“Thurmond’s a politician first and a glory hound second,” Dev said, shaking his head. “We’re scientists. Politics have no place in science. Well, except to fund my pet projects, of course.”
“I agree,” Bridget said, raising her coffee mug. “But, don’t you worry. I signed on this boat for the next year and I won’t complain.”
“I’m not worried,” Dev said, winking. “We throw complainers to the sharks. There’s no one for miles to aid in a rescue. How do you think we got rid of Grant?”
“Exactly.” Dev winked again. He pushed up from the rail. “I’m tired. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Bridget laughed. “Good night.”
“Don’t stay up too late, kid. That’s an order.” Dev opened the door and went below deck into the main cabin.
Bridget smiled to herself as she turned back to the water. Hugging her sweater around her arms, she knew she shouldn’t be out too much longer or she would catch cold. The air was particularly chilly at night, as the breeze swept over her from the water.
Just as she was about to turn, Bridget saw movement on the surface. She frowned, squinting to see better. It was probably just a dolphin pod or something swimming past. She leaned over the rail. As the boat moved ahead, she saw that it was actually something floating on the water. She stiffened.
“Man overboard,” she whispered. Where had he come from? Springing into action, she ran to the cabin door and yelled, “Man overboard! Man overboard!”
Someone was playing a guitar and the music came to a sudden halt, punctuated by a rise of voices. Nearly a dozen scientists rushed out from the cabin, some carrying life vests and first aid kits. Dev jumped up to man a searchlight as Bridget pointed at the water. It didn’t take him long before he found the man clinging to driftwood. The big spot light outlined the dark figure. Her stomach was tight with worry. Who was this man and what was he doing floating out in the middle of nowhere?
Bridget grabbed a rope ladder still tied to the rail from earlier when they’d taken surface samples. She threw it over the side. Adrenaline pumped through her veins and she fearlessly climbed over the rail to the ladder. She didn’t stop to think, just did what had to be done.
“Bridget, hold on!” she heard Cassandra scream. “Let us hand you a line so you can tie yourself off.”
“We’re close,” Bridget yelled back. “I can almost reach him!”
The boat slowed. Freezing cold water splashed over her, soaking her sweater. She climbed down. Her feet dipped below the icy surface. Hooking her arm on a rung, she leaned over.
“Almost!” she called, beginning to shiver violently. “Just a foot more. Ease it in. I can almost… reach… him!”
The boat pulled closer. Her heart pounded so loud in her ears that she couldn’t hear anything. The man didn’t move as she called out to him. His fingers gripped the driftwood for dear life. She reached out, touching his shirt sleeve. The man jerked and she gasped in loud surprise at the sudden movement.
“What’s going on?” she heard someone ask. The spot light shifted, shining brightly into her eyes. She closed them, turning her back on the light as she gripped tighter to the man’s sleeve.
“Easy, we’re here to help. You’re safe now,” Bridget soothed. “No one’s going to hurt you. Come on. Come with me. Easy does it. There you go.”
The man started moving, grasping at her as he tried to pull himself out of the water. His heavier weight strained her arm on the rung. Bridget grunted in pain, trying to hold onto the man and the ladder as his weight caused her to strain. Calling up, she said, “I got him, but I need help lifting him up.”
Hands instantly came over the side to help her. Together they managed to get him up over the rail. Bridget stayed on the ladder, looking around. She climbed up a few rungs, getting her lower legs out of the freezing water.
“Are there any others?” she asked, coughing lightly. “Find out if there are any others.”
“Bridget, come up!” Dev yelled. “We’re going to circle around the area.”
Bridget, not seeing anyone in her immediate area, climbed up. Dev grabbed her under her arm and helped support her weight as she came over the top. Someone wrapped her shoulders in a wool blanket. The man she rescued was lying on the deck, covered in a blanket. She fell to her knees beside him. He was shivering, but his eyes were open.
Bridget tensed. His dark gaze stared up at her and his black hair was matted to his head. The man was wearing an old fashioned linen ruff around his neck, an embroidered, padded epaulette, short stockings and puffed shorts much like what was worn on the old Armada Galleons of the mid-fifteen hundreds. His skin was dark, though it was cast with a sick pallor. When he opened his mouth, a torrent of broken, foreign words passed his lips.
“Do you think he’s from Cuba?” asked Stevens, a tall, lanky scientist who spent more time by a microscope than anyone she had ever known.
“Look at how he’s dressed,” someone whispered. “What’s he doing out here?”
“Do you speak English?” Bridget asked him, when he continued in what sounded like a dialect of Spanish.
“Must go,” he said, trying to sit up. His voice was hoarse and it made it even harder to understand his accent. He was too weak from his ordeal in the water and fell back to the deck. “Monsters. They’re out there. In…”
“Monsters?” Dev asked, kneeling by Bridget. She shrugged, not understanding.
“It came from below,” the man said. “A monster. It came from below. It rammed our ship.”
“Military?” someone suggested.
“Monsters,” the man insisted, desperately grasping at Bridget’s sweater. He pulled her down, shaking violently as his hand gripped into her sweater. “They come from below. They kill everyone. They control the water. They make it move.”
Their ship bumped against something in the water. The man’s eyes got wide and he began to cry, closing his eyes in what looked like prayer. Dev stood and she heard him order, “You, man the spot light and see what’s out there. Everyone look for survivors. This man had to come from somewhere.”
“It’s too late,” the man cried, before rushing into a torrent of broken Spanish. The ship again hit alongside something in the water. Bridget pulled her shirt free from the man’s grip. “Too late. They kill us all.”
“It’s just driftwood!” Dev yelled.
Bridget relaxed. Pointing at Stevens, she said, “Get him below deck and dried off. He’s obviously in shock. See if you can’t get a coherent thought out of him about what happened. Someone should get on the radio and try to find out what’s going on. See if there are any missing ships.”
“I’ve got the radio,” Peterson answered. The bearded man turned to go below deck.
Bridget struggled to her feet, gripping the blanket tight as she worked it snug around her chest for warmth. Her bare legs and wet boots caused her muscles to ache with the extreme cold of the ocean breeze on damp skin. She joined Dev by the railing as he searched the sea. The others had spread out and were searching with spot lights in all directions.
“What do you think happened?” Bridget asked, seeing chucks of wood floating around them.
“Shipwreck of some sort. There’s too much debris in the water for this to just be a man lost at sea. I don’t get it though. There are no reefs in this area to run aground on, unless he had been drifting for some time.”
“But, if he’s been drifting, then we wouldn’t have this concentration of wood,” Bridget said thoughtfully. “A storm maybe? A freak hurricane?”
“No,” Dev denied easily. “The ocean’s been calm. There haven’t been any major storms for weeks. And if there was anything unusual, our satellite uplink would have warned us of it.”
“Do you think he meant sharks, not monsters?” Bridget searched the water. More debris floated by. Her stomach knotted. She couldn’t see any more survivors. “They wouldn’t have attacked a boat, but if there was blood in the water… I don’t know, maybe it’s possible?”
“Yes, possible,” Dev answered. He pointed into the distance. “There. What’s that?” Then glancing over his shoulders, he called, “I need a spot light over here.”
A light skimmed the dark ocean surface. The debris grew thicker, clanking along the boat. Bridget shivered. “It’s been torn up. What in the world could have caused this much damage? There’s nothing out here but water.”
“It’s wood,” Dev said, his tone strained, “All of it wood. And did you see what he was wearing? This doesn’t make sense.”
“Film crew? Maybe the pyrotechnics went awry.” Bridget frowned. So far it was the only idea she had that sounded reasonable given the facts.
“No, they would’ve had back-up ships for everyone.” Dev turned. “Tom, tell Jon to check our bearings. I want to make sure we haven’t drifted off course. Check the sensors and make sure there are no reefs around this area.” Dev visibly swallowed. “Everyone else, keep searching for survivors. With this much wood, the ship was way too big for just one man.”
For a long time everyone was quiet, as they looked through the floating debris, listening past the sound of wood bumping the sides of the fiberglass ship. A blast of the horn sounded over the water, much louder than any yell. They listened to the silence that followed the abrasive sound. Time crept by slowly and no one called out in answer.
“There,” Tom said to her left. Two divers were in full gear, ready to go into the water. “What is that? Do you see it?”
© copyright March 2006, Michelle M. Pillow
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author’s imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.