Home > First Kiss before Frost (Lost Harbor, Alaska, #11)

First Kiss before Frost (Lost Harbor, Alaska, #11)
Author: Jennifer Bernard





Usually, Tristan Del Rey slept better on his boat than anywhere on land, including his own bed. Something about the way the waves gently cradled the Desperado made him drop off to sleep like a thirty-pound anchor. He and his boat had been through so much together—storms, accidents, breakdowns. He trusted his steel-hulled, thirty-five-foot Hansen more than he trusted most people.

By the same token, the slightest shift in the wind or the currents could bring him wide awake in no time. That was his part of the bargain. His boat kept him safe and he kept his boat safe. It was a perfect relationship. Nothing and no one could come between him and the Desperado.

But tonight, something was off. He kept tossing and turning on the narrow bunk where he usually slept so soundly. The familiar harbor night sounds—the lap of water against the floats, the sleepy cries of the occasional seagull, the clank of rigging—weren’t lulling him to sleep. It was too still, maybe that was the problem. Not a single breath of wind stirred in the harbor. Flat calm, it was. The Desperado might as well have been in dry dock.

Or maybe the problem was the damn cruise ship docking overnight in Lost Harbor. Especially this one. The Northern Princess always brought trouble, at least according to local superstition. Last time it had stopped in Lost Harbor, a 6.2 earthquake had struck. The time before that, a summer storm had blown the roof off the Eagle’s Nest Resort.

Generally, the cruise ships didn’t even stay overnight. They used the nighttime hours to make their way to their next stop, like illuminated cities gliding across the dark ocean. He’d crossed paths with them occasionally, catching the sounds of music and parties drifting across the water as the Desperado chugged to the deepwater fishing grounds.

But tonight, the Northern Princess was waiting out a storm in the Gulf, which meant Lost Harbor was a sitting duck for whatever cursed trouble it might cause. The ship temporarily increased the population of Lost Harbor by almost one third. What if a bunch of the passengers decided to leave their own parties and descend on Lost Harbor’s tiny collection of restaurants and bars? Under normal circumstances, that would be great, but with the Northern Princess, who knew?

Giving up on sleep, he rolled out of his bunk and dragged his ass into the immaculate galley of his boat. He prided himself on how orderly he kept the Desperado. Most fishermen were like that; while you were busy hauling in a net in thirty-foot seas, you needed to know exactly where everything was. If the weather got nasty and you had to batten down the hatches, same thing. One improperly stowed line could trip you up and send you sliding off the icy decks into the lethally cold water.

Not that any of that was going to happen on a peaceful September night in the harbor.

He put on the kettle to make himself a cup of tea. His last girlfriend had left a selection of loose herbal teas onboard, stowed in double Ziploc bags. One of them was supposed to help her sleep. He rummaged through the selection of plastic bags until he found the one with all the Zzzz’s written on it.

Thank you, Mandy.

And then, as he scooped tea leaves into the tea ball, Sorry it didn’t work out. I warned you I was a bad bet.

As he waited for the water to boil, he tuned into the other noises. He was so connected to his boat that a kind of sixth sense usually alerted him to any problems. But everything sounded normal. Was something going on outside, in the harbor? Or was he fucking losing it?

He touched the side of his head, under his bandana, where the hair was still growing out. What if his surgery had changed something about his brain? Made him hear things that weren’t there? Worry about things that didn’t exist?

Dr. Ian Finnegan had assured him that it wasn’t possible. Actually, he’d said “highly unlikely,” and Tristan had noted the distinction.

“In medicine, we can never say anything as an absolute,” Ian had said. “Especially in neurology. The human brain, and humans in general, are too complex.”

“I’m not. I’m a simple fisherman.”

“Chrissie disagrees.”

Yeah, he didn’t love the fact that his brain surgeon was engaged to his high school girlfriend. But he’d gotten used to it.

“At any rate, it’s not the point,” Ian had continued. “All brains are complex, and of course there’s an emotional and psychological component too. Have you been going to the support group meetings?”

At that point, Tristan had quickly ended the appointment. He had gone to a few meetings, but when he tried to talk, everything got jumbled up in his mind. The accident. The surgery. Divorce. So on and so forth. Why should he dump all that onto a bunch of other Lost Harbor residents who’d known him all his life? He was Tristan Del Rey, son of Victor Gammelgaard, the most respected fisherman in Misty Bay. He didn’t want to reflect badly on his father. Best to keep everyone out of his business.

The whistle of the teakettle startled him out of his reverie. He poured boiling water into his favorite onboard mug—the one with the wide felted base and handle shaped like a whale tail—and headed for the deck. Three stair steps separated the belowdecks from the working deck, but he was able to take them in one long stride.

On deck, mug in hand, he surveyed the quiet harbor, seeking out the source of the strange off-kilter something that was keeping him awake at three in the morning. This late in the season, the harbor was only half full. The summer crowd had hauled their boats out of the water. Some of the fishermen had already ended their seasons. Their boats were either at the boatyard where they could work on them over the winter, or tucked under protective tarps in their yards.

Some hardcore sailors lived on their boats year-round. Tristan spotted a puff of smoke from Pedro Davila’s boat. Two ramps away, a few night owls were having a beer and a smoke on the deck of the Maggie Mae. He inhaled the light scent of tobacco, which he loved smelling on the water, but despised in close quarters.

So far, he noticed nothing out of the ordinary. The nearly full moon gave the boats and the water a silvery glow. Up on the boardwalk, tall lampposts marched the length of the harbor. They shed light on a smooching couple behind the Olde Salt and a dog sniffing at something next to a garbage can.

Was that Fidget, Lucas’ dog? Yup.

Tristan gave a soft whistle. The Irish setter lifted its head, recognizing his call. The harbormaster’s dog was getting old; it wouldn’t do for him to wander loose in the harbor all night. He’d take him onboard the Desperado and bring him to Lucas in the morning.

After setting down his mug inside the wheelhouse, he climbed over the railing and jumped onto the float where the Desperado was tied up. No need to bother with the boarding ladder that hung over the side. He could climb on and off this boat with his eyes closed.

He loped up the long ramp that led to the boardwalk. The aluminum squeaked with each of his steps. The tide was nearly high, meaning the ramp was almost level with the boardwalk.

“Here boy,” he called as he reached the boardwalk. But the dog had decided to be cagey, and dodged behind a dumpster.

Tristan grumbled as he followed after him. “Don’t be a pill. You know me, Fidget. You know I have treats for you. Have I ever let you down?”

He quieted his steps, hoping to surprise the dog.

In the silence, he thought he heard the sound of footsteps. He whirled around, but the boardwalk was deserted. He couldn’t see anything on the float other than shadows. Touching the side of his head, he shook it off. He’d probably just heard a mouse scurry across the boardwalk. Not everything was a sign of impending doom inside his brain.

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