Found at Sea - By Anne Marie Duquette


San Diego, California

June 24, 11:45 p.m.

JORDAN CASTILLO STRUGGLED frantically on the moonlit beach, his movements alerting the woman who paced some distance off, waiting for him. She immediately stopped, her lithe swimmer’s body hidden beneath the shadowy pier, her sandal-clad feet just above the watermark.

Bad enough that another human being was in grave danger. But this was the man she’d waited weeks to meet—the one man who could help her save the tortured lives of her sister, Dorian, and Dorian’s husband and child. Castillo now battled for his life, and Aurora Collins knew she had to do something.

She’d planned to meet him at his downtown hotel, a meeting that hadn’t occurred. The three silent men she watched now had kidnapped him—that was the only thing she could call it. Somehow they’d lured him from the hotel lobby, then forced him into a car. She’d seen it all from the parking lot and followed them.

She stood uncertainly by the pier, staring at the desperate tableau taking place, wishing she’d recharged the battery in her dead cell phone, which lay uselessly in her car.

Her night vision—vision developed through years spent at sea—registered the identity of the man she sought. His once-handsome face was covered in blood. His clothing was torn, his arms covered with welts as he tried to protect his head from swinging bats. She watched in horror as three other men clubbed him again and again.

Aurora gasped as the outnumbered man fought back against his opponents’ crushing blows with silent fury. Not a single plea for mercy escaped his lips. He battled hard, but it wasn’t enough. One of the men delivered a final, smashing strike to Jordan’s head. Their victim sprawled on the sand like limp kelp.

I have to save him.

Aurora took an involuntary step toward him, away from the protection of the pier. Immediately she rethought her action, moved back into the shadows. She was strong in the Pacific waters, with or without scuba gear. She’d been born on the ocean’s edge. Had run away from home at sixteen to return to the Pacific. Now she captained her own ship and made her living from the ocean, but she dared not race to his side, leaving the safety offered by the pier. A lone woman, unarmed, had no chance against three armed men.

Before her horrified gaze, the attackers carelessly dragged the unresisting body over the sand and toward the entrance to the pier.

Oh, no! They’re going to throw him off like a piece of rotten bait.

Fury swept through her, and she quietly waded through the frothing surf line and headed out to deeper waters, staying beneath the overhead pier for cover while she swam.

The current tore at her long, sun-bleached hair, just as it would tear at the man and drag him down to the dangerous black waters below. The rocky bottom would dash him to pieces—if he didn’t drown first. Aurora shuddered, wishing she had her swim fins; they made it easier to fight back against the rip.

But she was already committed to the rescue and couldn’t second-guess herself now. Her strokes had carried her almost to the end of the pier when she saw Jordan’s body fall, heard the heavy splash, felt the slight displacement in the water surface and watched the unconscious man begin to sink.

I must save him.

Aurora kicked with all her strength to reach him. She sucked in a breath of air and dived deeply. The current grabbed her body and pulled her even deeper. Aurora didn’t resist. She let it lead her toward him.

Her eyes stinging from the salt water, she scanned the ocean depths. Luminous creatures much brighter than her watch eerily lit the scene. Nothing. Blood pounded in her ears as she was dragged deeper yet. If she didn’t find him soon, she would need to surface for air.

Just a few more seconds. I can last a little longer. If I surface now, I’ll never find him.

Suddenly the current pulled her into a collision with him. Jordan spiraled limply down the current’s path toward the bone-crushing concrete at the base of the pilings. Pulse racing, lungs burning, she thrust out her arms to encircle his chest from behind.

She kicked hard for the surface, Jordan’s limbs trailing between hers. Fear spread icy tendrils through her veins. Her own lungs needed air—and the injured man had been under far longer than she had.

We’re not surfacing fast enough. She kicked harder, moving both legs together repeatedly in a dolphin kick to clear the