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Ever since a dive ended in bloodshed, Ari’s been terrified to go in the water. But the chance to spend a semester at sea is too good to pass up. So is Tristan. Sexy as hell and with demons of his own, he heals her with every stolen moment together
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“The best sexual tension I’ve read in a long time—combined with the wonderfully fresh plot and memorable characters, I didn’t put this book down once!”
— Lauren Layne, New York Times bestselling author
One trip will change everything...
I’m scarred. Broken. I’ll never be the same.
But I will take this journey.
Ever since my last dive ended in bloodshed, I’ve been terrified to go back into the water. But the opportunity to spend a semester at sea is too good to pass up. I need to get my life back.
I never expected to love it this much. And I never expected Tristan MacDougall.
Rugged, strong, and with demons of his own, Tristan helps me find the courage I thought I had lost and heals me with every stolen moment we share. But the rules of the ship mean we can't be together.
When a dive excursion goes terribly wrong, our only hope for survival is each other.
"The best sexual tension I've read in a long time--combined with the wonderfully fresh plot and memorable characters, I didn't put this book down once!" - New York Times bestselling author Lauren Layne
"...[A] terrific New Adult debut...I read the book straight through and wanted to find a schooner when I was done!"- New York Times bestselling author Mary Jo Putney
5 Stars: "It's gripping. Compelling. Fascinating. And tucked in the middle of all this adventure was a romance that was forbidden, sexy, and intensely satisfying... I'm so glad I stumbled upon this unexpected gem and so happy for the time I got to spend with Ari & Tristan and the rest of the sailing crew. If you're in the mood for a scintillating and swoony romance wrapped up in a whole heap of thrilling adventure -- don't hesitate to pick this one up." - Shelly, Bookgasm Book Blog
5 Stars: "If you're looking for an adventurous, sweet romance, then this is the book for you! I definitely recommend this book!!!" - Jamie C., Goodreads.com review
4 Stars: "A Star to Steer Her is a beautiful story about growth, forgiveness and love. I thought this story was well written and I really loved the plot. I thought the characters were a lot of fun and very easy to connect with. I loved the build of Ari and Tristan's relationship... They are the kind of couple that you can't help but fall in love with and hope that they get a happy ending." - Amy, Once Upon a Book Blog
5 Stars: "I really loved this book! Ari is a great heroine and Tristan helps her with her fears and wants to be there for her. Great NA." - Janet, Bookgyrl J, Goodreads.com review
5 Stars: "This was a great read! Not only was it a wonderful story, but it really made me want to go sailing and scuba diving." - Martina, NetGalley review
5 Stars: "Sometimes you will get a hold of an amazing book that takes you places. This book will do just that as you travel with Ari and the reason of the crew around the Caribbean Islands and learn to sail." - Laura, Mommy Reads Books
My love for the sea began when I became a scuba diver at age 14. That led me to a college semester at sea. I returned with fond memories of being on a schooner under full sail, less fond memories of hurling over the leeward rail on a daily basis, and a sailing bug I couldn’t quite shake. I also have a fascination for all things Scottish (including, but not limited to, men in kilts), which I explored with my first novel, INTO THE SCOTTISH MIST, and carried into my new novel, A STAR TO STEER HER BY (Entangled Embrace, March 2017). I'm a native New Yorker, and am always looking ahead to my next voyage, whether a short one on a dive boat or whale watch, or, with luck, a longer one on a tall ship.
The boat loomed before me in the cerulean water of San Juan Bay, Puerto Rico.
No, not a boat—a ship. “Boat” was too small and insignificant a word. “Boat” described Speedy, the little putt-putt dinghy I sat in, along with five other wide-eyed college kids and a blond deckhand named Nick.
The ship completely dwarfed Speedy. Her white hull shined brightly against the blue water. Two towering, polished wooden masts stretched far up into the sky. Canvas sails were neatly furled and bound to horizontal booms.
It was easy to see why ships were always referred to as “she,” because this ship looked like an elegant, classy lady. She was a throwback to a time when it took weeks for people to cross the ocean instead of hours in an airplane, when ships were powered by muscle, sweat, and blood instead of powerful engines, when the sun and stars—not a GPS—were used to determine one’s location.
That ship would be my home for the next two and a half months, as I sailed throughout the Caribbean and up the Atlantic Seaboard of the United States during the spring semester of my sophomore year of college at the University of Miami. But it was no cruise. In addition to taking classes, we’d be part of the crew, standing watch and learning how to steer, sail, navigate, and everything else that went with operating a tall ship.
The Semester at Sea was a special program offered by an independent organization called Marine Classroom. It was small, nationally accredited, and super competitive, and the course credits were transferable. It would count as a full semester at the University of Miami. The tuition was even covered by my scholarship. Participation in this program would sweeten my resume, which in turn would help me get a great internship and hopefully a job after college. In a highly competitive field like marine biology, I needed any edge I could get.
I’d wanted to be a marine biologist ever since I got my Junior Open Water scuba certification at age ten. I’d been on countless dives and seen so many amazing creatures—no two dives on the same patch of reef were ever the same—and I wanted to make a career of studying those creatures and that world. I’d worked my ass off to get into this program.
Which was what I’d told myself every day in the three months since I’d received my acceptance letter to Semester at Sea, each time I’d opened the email I’d drafted to withdraw myself from the program, stared at it for a long moment, then closed it, unsent. I’d wanted this so badly, for so long. If I quit now, it would ruin everything I’d worked so hard for.
“Hey, you all right?”
I looked up into the friendly brown eyes of the guy sitting next to me, then followed his gaze down to where I’d been unconsciously bouncing my knee. “I’m okay, thanks. Just nervous.” Understatement.
“Nervous? Are you kidding? This is going to be awesome!”
His eyes sparkled with enthusiasm, and I couldn’t help smiling. I hoped he was right.
Nick guided Speedy alongside the ship, just under a ladder comprised of wooden slats and braided rope. He cut the engine and stood, grabbing the side of the ladder to hold the small boat as steady as possible.
He slid his sunglasses down his nose and grinned. “Okay, ladies and gentlemen, this is the last stop. Please check your immediate seating area for anything you might have brought on board with you. The crew will get your duffels.”
Everyone jumped up, eager to board the ship. I staggered slightly as the small boat shifted under my feet, mentally cursing my unsteady legs, and stuck my arms through the straps of my backpack. I slowly climbed up the wobbly ladder, focusing on each step and clutching the ropes tightly as the ship rocked with the movement of the water.
“Need a hand?”
I looked up into eyes the color of the sky in late September: sharp, clear blue. His hair had probably been average brown at one time, but it had been caressed by the sun and had streaks of blond, gold, and copper that people would pay anything for in a salon. The sides were pulled back, and the rest of it fell in tousled waves nearly to his shoulders. Not many men could pull off that look, but this guy definitely could. Sunglasses dangled on a cord around his neck. He was just a little older than me—maybe twenty-one or twenty-two.
He was still holding out his hand. When a hot guy offers you his hand, you take it. I let go of the ladder with my right hand and he helped me up the last step onto the deck. His fingers were long and tanned, with a smattering of scars across the knuckles and the crease of his thumb. The calluses on his palm scratched lightly against my skin. He’d clearly been sailing for years, hauling on lines and getting nicked here and there.
I glanced back up at his face. He grinned slowly, the kind of grin that caused otherwise sensible girls to do stupid things, and said something like, “I need ma hand back noo.”
He was Scottish? That just bumped him up to I’m doomed.
Then it clicked what he’d said. I dropped his hand as casually as I could. Making a stellar first impression. “Thanks for the help.”
“No worries. Welcome aboard, Red,” he said, with a delightful roll of his Rs.
Red. A nickname I’d been stuck with forever, given my long, wavy red hair, which currently hung over my shoulder in a braid as wide as my wrist. But it was a lot less annoying when spoken with a Scottish accent.
He turned back to the rail, and I took the opportunity to check out the rest of him. He was tall and barefoot, and wore faded, frayed cargo shorts. A worn-looking belt around his waist held a tooled leather sheath with a knife handle sticking up from it. Nick had a similar one—it was obviously a deckhand’s tool. He wore a navy “Crew” T-shirt like Nick, but his had the sleeves torn off. Obviously.
The muscles in his tanned arms flexed as he swung a huge, floral-patterned duffel bag over the rail and set it on the deck with a thud.
“What the hell is in here, a box o’ rocks?”
“I dunno, man,” said Nick. He swung his leg over the rail and dropped lightly to the deck. “I’m surprised it didn’t sink Speedy.”
“Be careful with that!” A pretty girl with unnaturally straight blond hair stretched out her French-manicured hand and snatched the handles of the duffel and the matching oversize—and overstuffed—shoulder bag that sat next to it. She hefted the smaller bag on top of the duffel, popped up the handle, and rolled them away.
Clearly, she hadn’t gotten the memo about storage space being limited. I rolled my eyes and turned back toward the hot deckhand, just in time to catch him rolling his eyes as well.
Smiling to myself, I fetched my bag and lugged it over to the middle of the deck. A young woman with a clipboard approached. “What’s your last name?” she asked in a Southern accent.
She scanned the clipboard, made a note, and looked up with a smile on her freckled face. “Hi, Ariana, I’m Kristy, the deckhand for B Watch. You’re assigned to bunk number seven,” she continued, pointing to a nearby hatch with a stairway leading down. “Go ahead and stow your gear, and I’ll be there in a minute to explain some things to y’all. I’ll hand you your bag when you get to the bottom.”
“Thanks. Oh, and just call me Ari,” I said as I headed for the stairs.
“Careful on the steps—treat them like a ladder.”
Indeed, the stairway really was more like a ladder with wide steps. It was almost vertical, and descending facing forward would most likely result in a tumble. “Thanks for the warning.”
I got to the bottom and reached up for my bag. It was stuffy in the cabin, and it smelled musty and damp. I wrinkled my nose and turned around.
I’d known when I applied to the program that I wouldn’t have a Titanic-style stateroom, or even a cabin like the ones on a cruise ship. Which was good, since the “cabin” was neither of those things.
It was one long room with recessed bunks along the sides. Number Seven was an upper bunk. There was no ladder—I had to stand on the bench alongside the lower bunk and scoot up. I pulled aside the privacy curtain. There was a reading lamp and a small mirror tacked to the wall, and a storage cubby ran along the back wall and around the foot of the bunk, which was narrower than a twin bed. There was just enough room for me to sit upright between the crossbeams.
Good thing I wasn’t claustrophobic.
I heaved up my duffel bag and backpack, catching sight of my reflection in the mirror. I had a halo of short, wispy pieces of hair sprouting around my face, escapees from my braid. My wide greenish-hazel eyes had dark smudges underneath from lack of sleep, and my skin was ghostly pale. Lovely.
Before I could do anything about my hair, Kristy appeared at the bottom of the ladder. “Let me show you guys the head real fast.” There were two bathrooms, or heads, one on each side of the ladder. The blonde with the matching luggage and a stunning African-American girl with green eyes and purple streaks in her hair stared into the one on the right with identical expressions of dismay.
What was the problem? I peered over their shoulders. Oh. The room was tiny. There was a small sink and some shelves with supplies. As for the toilet, instead of an attached tank with a handle to flush, there was a flexible pipe with a lever attached to it mounted on the wall. It was similar to the head on the various dive boats I’d been on (and had managed to avoid), but somehow, I’d expected more from a ship we’d be living on for months.
“Hey, ladies, let me get in there.”
I stepped aside to let Kristy into the small room. She showed us how to pump water into the toilet before using it and how to pump it out when we were done.
“It’s pretty simple, once you get the hang of it.” Kristy started for the ladder as we stood there gaping. “’Kay, guys, the captain wants you all on deck. Give your snorkel gear to Nick in the fo’c’sle and then muster at midships.”
I grabbed the bag with my mask, fins, snorkel, and wetsuit out of my duffel and went up on deck. I followed everyone to the bow of the ship, where Nick stood in a miniscule cabin, which was known formally as the forecastle, but shortened to fo’c’sle. He barely fit in the doorway. I handed him the mesh bag.
“You cold?” he asked.
“I’m sorry?” Cold? It was probably eighty-five degrees.
“You shivered when you handed me your gear.”
Oh. “Um, no, just someone walked over my grave, I guess. I’m fine.” Get a hold of yourself, Goodman. You haven’t even been here ten minutes yet. Plenty of time to freak out later.
I rejoined my shipmates at “midships,” literally, the area at the middle of the ship. We stood in front of a large locker, above which rested one of the large, neatly furled sails. A tall, lanky man came through the crowd of students and hopped up onto the locker. He was barefoot and wearing khaki shorts like the other crew members, but he had on a white polo shirt instead of a navy T-shirt. His brown hair was liberally streaked with silver, and mirrored sunglasses hid his eyes.
“Welcome to the Megaptera Novaengliae. I’m Captain Brian MacDougall.” Another one from Scotland? He glanced around the deck. “Anyone know what Megaptera Novaengliae means?”
I tentatively raised my hand, relieved to see that others had their hands up, too. Good to know I wasn’t the only nerd on board.
The captain lowered his sunglasses, his piercing blue eyes meeting mine.
“The lass with the red hair. What’s your name?”
“Ari Goodman, Captain.”
“Go ahead, Ms. Goodman.”
“It’s the scientific name for the humpback whale. It means ‘Giant-winged New Englander,’” I added, hoping I didn’t sound like a know-it-all.
“Brilliant.” He smiled at me, and I felt my face flush at his praise. “The ship was built in Maine, so that makes her a New Englander, and when you see her under full sail, the rest of the name will make sense as well. The whole name’s a mouthful, though, so we just call her ‘the Meg.’
“The Meg is a two-masted, gaff-rigged schooner. Her length overall, including the bowsprit, is about 130 feet, and her length on deck is 95 feet. To give you some sense of scale, that’s about the equivalent of three city buses sitting end to end. Her beam, or width, is 25 feet.”
“Not very big, is she?”
I looked over at the guy I’d chatted with earlier on the ship’s tender. “No, she’s definitely a lot smaller than I expected.” I’d seen plenty of pictures of the Meg, and watched the promo video on YouTube. The ship had looked huge in those pictures, but it was all relative. When you add in hatches and lockers and barrels, less than a hundred feet by twenty-five feet just isn’t that big, especially with roughly twenty-five people on board.
“I wonder how we’re going to get through these two months without killing each other,” I mused.
“A lot of deodorant and a sense of humor,” he said with a grin. “It’s Ari, right? I’m Kevin Garcia.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said, shaking his outstretched hand.
He had messy brown hair, chocolate-colored eyes framed by long lashes, and a mischievous smile. That smile, and the accompanying glint in his eyes, reminded me of my twin brother Josh’s smile, so much so that the sight made my heart ache.
I hadn’t seen Josh’s smile or that glint in his eyes in months. Six months, to be precise. Since his actions had led to six months of pain for me. We used to do everything together, from boating to scuba diving to hanging out on and off campus with our group of friends, but I’d barely spoken to him since then.
Even so, we’d never really been apart—we even went to the same university, even though I hadn’t been there in a while—and being so far away from him felt…wrong. I had this weird, hollow feeling in my stomach that wasn’t hunger, wasn’t nausea. It was my twin not being there.
I managed a smile for Kevin, then turned away before he wondered what was wrong with me.
While the captain went into further detail about the ship, I scoped out the other students. There were more girls than guys, which surprised me. I thought for sure that more guys would want to be out here, grungy, barefoot, and bare chested, preferring outdoor physical activity to being in a classroom.
“Excuse me.” Everyone turned to look at the blonde with the perfect hair. “Where are the showers? I didn’t see any below deck.”
The captain smiled pleasantly. “What’s your name, lass?”
“Well, Ms. Bradford, you did bring your Lemon Joy, right?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“There aren’t any showers on board the Meg, Jenny,” I replied. When I’d read that on the message boards last year when I’d applied, I’d had a minor meltdown. But my brother had convinced me that it was all part of the experience. Jury was still out on that.
Jenny gaped at me like I’d spoken Greek. “What do you mean, there aren’t any showers?”
“We just don’t have the space for them, or the capacity to store that much water,” said the captain.
“My father’s yacht is like half the size of this boat, and it has a shower. I don’t understand why this ship doesn’t. Are you saying we have to go for two and a half months with no shower?” Jenny shrieked like a four-year-old running through an icy sprinkler.
From the sudden outburst among my shipmates, it was clear that a few others hadn’t done their research, either. The crew seemed to be enjoying themselves—they obviously went through this at the beginning of every semester and never got tired of it. Finally, the captain called for our attention.
“Ms. Bradford, I’m sorry you were misinformed. Of course no one expects you to go for over two months without bathing. There will be a few ports along the way where showers will be available at the docks. But when we’re not at those ports, you’re going to have to make do with Lemon Joy, which lathers in salt water. Buckets if we’re at sea, and if we’re anchored, and I give the okay, then you can lather up and jump in.” He grinned. “Seriously, this isn’t the end of the world. No one has died from bathing in seawater…at least not in the last two years or so.”
His expression sobered. “The purpose of this semester is to give you guys an experience unlike anything you’ve had before. You will learn about the sea, about sailing, and most of all, you will learn about yourselves. I promise you that when you step onto the dock in New York City in ten weeks, you will be different people than you are now. Okay, I’d like the crew to come up and introduce themselves.”
A fit, middle-aged man with graying blond hair stepped up. “I’m Professor Arthur Sullivan, but you can call me Sully. I’ll be teaching maritime history, literature and writing, and marine biology and ecology. This program is so exciting because it offers a unique opportunity for an up-close-and-personal look at the marine life and ecosystems of coral reefs, mangroves, and the open sea. The experience is always different, and I can’t wait to see what you guys think.”
He was practically bouncing with enthusiasm. I had a feeling Professor Sully was going to be pretty awesome.
A man in his mid-twenties with a shaved head and ebony skin stood up next, introducing himself in a lilting Caribbean accent as Justin from Trinidad. Then Jenny started complaining about the “inhumane hygiene conditions” again, and I couldn’t make out anything else.
“Shh!” I hissed. “I can’t hear what he’s saying.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said insincerely. “Just because you’re okay with not showering for two months doesn’t mean the rest of us are.”
I shrugged. Primitive showers were the least of my concerns. “I just figure it’s all part of the experience, you know? Besides, we’ve had months to get used to the idea. Didn’t you read the brochures and stuff?”
She flushed slightly, then looked down her nose at me (even though I was taller, which made it an impressive feat). “I didn’t see anything about the lack of showers. I thought this was more like a cruise.”
Really? This was a really competitive program, requiring a ridiculously high grade point average, in addition to glowing recommendations and a kick-ass essay. She must have applied at least last spring, like I had. How was it that in all that time, she hadn’t bothered to read everything (or anything) she could about the program?
Before I could ask if she was joking, her eyes flicked to something behind me, and her face underwent a complete transformation, her lips curving in a slow smile.
I turned to see the hot deckhand from before coming up behind me. “Hey, Red.” He flashed that killer grin at me, displaying deep dimples in both cheeks that I hadn’t noticed earlier, and then hopped up onto the locker.
“I’m Tristan MacDougall, deckhand for A Watch.” MacDougall—that explained the accent. He was the captain’s son. I could see the resemblance now. They had similar features, though the captain was thinner, almost haggard-looking, as though he’d been ill in the recent past.
The name suited Tristan. With the wind tousling his long hair, his strong body outlined against the sky, it wasn’t hard to imagine him in a kilt, standing on some misty moor like the Arthurian hero with the same name.
There was a sharp poke in my side and, startled, I looked over to see Kevin smirking at me. “Put your tongue back in your mouth.”
“Zip it,” I said, jabbing him with my elbow. I looked back as Tristan hopped down from the locker and joined his fellow deckhands. I watched Jenny’s heavily mascaraed eyes track him before she turned back to me. The look in her eyes clearly said, Game On.