Please welcome Shira Anthony with
The First Step
Coastal Carolina #1
Thank you Sandra and My Fiction Nook for hosting the release day blog stop for The First Step, the first book in my new Coastal Carolina series from Dreamspinner Press! Please be sure to read to the bottom for an exclusive excerpt from the book.
While series books take place in coast North and South Carolina, this first book takes place in one of my favorite coastal cities: Wilmington, North Carolina. All of the books feature men you might find working at the coast, and it’s safe to say that the Atlantic Ocean is a bit like a main character. The First Step features an ocean pilot—Justin Vance—one of the men and women who jump from a small pilot boat onto a huge cargo ship in the middle of the ocean, then navigate those vessels in and out of ports all over the world. It’s a dangerous job, and one that requires a lot of training and a long apprenticeship.
Some of you may know that I’ll be quitting my day job in December to sail full-time aboard our amazing catamaran sailboat, Prelude. I get a lot of questions about boating and what life aboard a boat is like and much of that is similar to life aboard a cargo ship like the ones Justin Vance pilots into harbor, so I figured I share some tidbits about boating. Today, I’d like to talk about one of my least favorite parts of boating: docking and undocking.
You know that feeling of control you have when you put your foot on the brake of your car or truck to slow down or stop? Brakes don’t exist on boats. You can use your engines in reverse to slow the boat down, but for control freaks like me, “stopping” means lots of chewed fingernails when we pull into a new marina or when there’s heavy traffic on a river or near a port.
Aboard Prelude, my husband is the captain (in fact, he holds a professional captains license) and I’m the deckhand. That means it’s my job to get the boat ready to dock. I’m the one who hangs the fenders (a plastic tube inflated with air to keep your boat away from the wooden dock or another boat) and set the ropes. Ropes are the closest thing you get to a brake on a boat. You tie them onto metal pieces called “cleats” and how you tie them depends on whether there’s someone on the docks to catch the rope, or if you have to “catch” another cleat on the docks yourself.
Catching a cleat sounds simple, but it’s actually pretty hard. In fact, I’ve nearly fallen into the water a few times while trying to catch a cleat. Catching a cleat on the docks means creating what looks like a lasso (loop) on a rope attached to your boat, then using a telescoping pole to loop the cleat and pull the rope tight (“cleat the rope off”). And all of this needs to be done so your boat doesn’t slam into the docks. Of course that’s never happened to us (*coughs*). I’ve gotten used to not worrying about the scrapes and dents on the sides of our boat. They’re a fact of life. To be fair, my husband is really really good at the wheel and does an amazing job using the two inboard (built-in) engines to keep the boat steadying while I’m trying not to pirouette head-first into the water. Did I mention that we back into the slip almost all the time? Yeah.
Undocking is a lot easier, unless you’re wedged into a slip (boat parking space), there’s another boat only a few feet in front of you. We had one slip we used for about a year where we have to make 4-5 maneuvers to undock. Think of a really tight parking spot with only an inch or two on either side and you’ll get the picture.
We’re getting better as a team, my husband and I. Prelude is our 4th sailboat. But she’s also the largest at 38 feet long and a whopping 24 feet wide. I can’t even imagine how we’d have been able to handle her, let alone dock her, when we were first starting out. For Channukah last year, I bought him a T-shirt that says, “Sorry for what I said when we were docking the boat.” That shirt says it all, I think.
In The First Step, Justin has his own very beautiful sailboat. He and Reed Barfield, the other MC, take her out for a pleasure sail part way through the book. So what better to leave you all with than an exclusive excerpt from that sail.
Happy reading! –Shira
The first step is the hardest. After a scandal, New York political reporter Reed Barfield is lying low at the North Carolina coast, writing a story about the seafood industry. But it’s the harbor pilots on the Cape Fear River who capture his interest—men who jump across ten feet of open ocean to grab a rope ladder and guide huge container ships into port. Men like sexy but prickly Justin Vance.
After surviving an abusive childhood and a tour in the Navy, Justin isn’t fazed by his dangerous job—it’s certainly easier to face than Reed’s annoying questions. Justin isn’t out at work, and he doesn’t need Reed digging into his personal life or his past.
But Reed’s no stranger to using his considerable charm to get what he wants, and as he wears Justin down, they realize they have a lot in common—and that they like spending time together. Moving beyond that, though, will mean Justin confessing his sexuality and learning to trust Reed with his secrets—if Reed even decides to stay. Both men want a future together, but can they find the courage to take the first step?
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“All clear,” Reed shouted from the foredeck as he pulled the running line aboard. Justin steered the boat out of the slip, and a few minutes later they were sailing down the Intracoastal Waterway toward Wrightsville Beach. Reed took a moment to inhale the salty air and let the sun dance over his face before joining Justin in the cockpit.
“Here.” Justin handed Reed a tube of sunscreen.
“Thanks.” Reed slathered his face, neck, and arms.
“Hats are in the lazarette.”
“The storage compartment under your very fine ass.” Justin glanced sideways and Reed rolled his eyes.
“At least you recognize my inherent greatness.” He stood and opened the compartment to find a plastic bin labeled “hats/gloves,” making sure Justin got the best possible view before rooting around and pulling out a Carolina Panthers cap.
“The John Deere hat was a close second.” Reed put the hat on.
“I do not have a John Deere hat.”
“I had one as a kid,” Reed admitted. “I used to ride shotgun on my dad’s ride-on mower.”
“That’s the difference between mountain folk and coastal folk.” Justin waved at a powerboat headed the opposite direction.
“Mountain folk have more class.”
“How about getting your classy self downstairs and pulling a few sodas out of the fridge?” Justin leaned back against the railing and pushed his sunglasses up. He looked good enough to eat, the way his white polo made his tan skin look even darker in the sunlight.
“No beer?” Reed asked.
“Not while I’m driving.” About this, Justin was absolutely serious. “But help yourself if you’d like.”
“Nah.” If something was going to happen between them today, Reed wanted it to be on his own terms, without the alcohol running the show.
Inside the boat, Leila was sound asleep on one of the benches. The boat really was beautiful, with its soft leather benches and beautiful wood accents. Justin kept her immaculate, down to the shine on the wood and the neatly stacked dishes and perfectly lined-up glasses above the stove, held in place by rails on the edges of the shelves to keep things from tumbling out in rough seas. The door to the master cabin was latched open, and Reed found himself daydreaming about what it might be like to sleep—or not—on the V-shaped bed. He hadn’t had this much fun on a date in years.
Date? This really was a date, wasn’t it? They were both single. Justin was hot as hell. Reed really liked the guy. He was sure the feeling was mutual. So why had he slowed things down the night before?
Whatever this is, it’s going to end in three days. That was a good thing, wasn’t it? A finite end made things easier.
Fuck. I’m being an idiot.
“Reed?” Justin called down the steps. “You okay down there?”
“No worries. I was just drooling over the setup again.” He grabbed a few sodas out of the fridge and joined Justin on the bench behind the wheel.
“Thanks.” Justin popped the top of his drink and took a good swallow. “You ready for the float plan?”
“We have a float plan?”
Justin tapped his temple. “When I’m off duty, I usually play it by ear. I mean, I check the tide charts so I don’t end up fighting it through the inlet, but a lot of it just depends on the wind and the waves.”
“So what you got planned for us?”
“I thought we’d sail out the Cape Fear Inlet and north to Mason Island. We’ve got twelve knots out of the southwest, so it should be a good ride.” Justin steered the boat through channel, and they raised the sails as soon as they passed the final buoy. He shut the engine off, and the ocean lapped against the hull as the boat cut through the waves.
Reed sighed. “This is really nice. Definitely better than floating out to sea.”
“Yep.” Justin’s gentle chuckle reminded Reed of the warmth of the sun on his shoulders.
“You come out here often?”
“Any chance I get.” Justin glanced up at the sails and adjusted the wheel to the right.
The slight movement of the mainsail ceased and the fabric smoothed. Reed knew enough about sailing to appreciate just how well Justin controlled the boat, correcting in tiny increments to keep the sails full. Justin must have noticed him watching, because he asked, “Would you like to steer?”
Reed swallowed hard. “Are you sure?”
Justin scooted over. “Absolutely sure. It’s not like you can hit anything out here. You know the basics, right?”
Reed nodded and put his hands on the wheel. “Keep her pointing so that the sails don’t luff?”
“Yep. We can keep sailing on this tack until we’re ready to head back through the inlet, so that’s really all there is.” He put his hand reassuringly over Reed’s, causing Reed to momentarily lose his focus.
“Shit.” Reed adjusted the helm but overcompensated.
“Patience,” Justin said. “It takes the boat a couple of seconds to finish making the correction.”
“Got it.” Reed eased the wheel back a little and felt the boat pull against the wind, a familiar sensation he remembered from sailing as a kid. He laughed and glanced over at Justin, who beamed back at him.
“How many summers did you sail?”
“Two,” Reed replied. “Of course, the boats were a lot smaller than this one. So was my dad’s.”
“Once you understand the basics, the feel’s the same, big or small.” Justin watched him for a few minutes, then added, “You’re doing great.”
“Thanks.” He hadn’t expected Justin’s praise to feel so good. I didn’t expect any of this. He knew he needed to get back to interviewing Justin at some point, but he was having way too much fun to dampen the mood with lots of questions.
A comfortable silence settled between them as they sailed. The day was perfect, and the feel of the sleek boat under Reed’s hands made him remember what he’d felt like when he was a kid sailing with his dad. Good memories. Things had been simpler then, before he’d gone to middle school and stopped fitting in. The little kid in him wished his father could see him now. The adult in him wished his father was sitting in the cockpit with them, enjoying the ocean and the bright blue sky above.
“Thanks for inviting me,” Reed said after a while. “I’d forgotten how great it feels to sail. Last time I was on the water other than taking photos this past week was taking the Staten Island Ferry to some political rally.”
“Not exactly the same, is it?”
“Not exactly. Don’t get me wrong, I love New York Harbor on a sunny day.” He just didn’t have the time to enjoy it.
“One of these days I’m going to sail up to New York Harbor,” Justin said. “Take a few months off and head north.”
“Sounds amazing.” Reed imagined what it might be like to live aboard a boat for months at a time. The First Step wasn’t that much smaller than his high-rise studio apartment in Midtown.
Justin stretched his arms over his head and yawned.
Justin shrugged. “I had a tough time getting to sleep last night.”
“At least I wasn’t the only one.” If you only knew. Justin had featured prominently in his dreams, and it made for a very long night of tossing and turning.
About the author:
Shira Anthony was a professional opera singer in her last incarnation, performing roles in such operas as Tosca, i Pagliacci, and La Traviata, among others. She’s given up TV for evenings spent with her laptop, and she never goes anywhere without a pile of unread M/M romance on her Kindle. You can hear Shira singing "Vissi d'arte" from Puccini's Tosca by clicking here: Shira's Singing
Shira loves a great happily-ever-after and never writes a story without one. She's happy to write what her muse tells her, whether it's fantasy, sci fi, paranormal, or contemporary romance. She particularly loves writing series, because she thinks of her characters as old friends and she wants to visit them even after their stories are told.
In real life, Shira sang professionally for 14 years, and she currently works as a public sector attorney advocating for children. She's happy to have made writing her second full-time job, even if it means she rarely has time to watch TV or go to the movies. Shira writes about the things she knows and loves, whether it's music and musicians, the ocean, or the places she's lived or traveled to. She spent her middle school years living in France, and tries to visit as often as she can.
Shira and her husband spend as many weekends as they can aboard their 38' catamaran sailboat, Prelude, at the Carolina Coast. Not only has sailing inspired her to write about pirates and mermen, her sailboat is her favorite place to write. And although the only mermen she's found to date are in her own imagination, she keeps a sharp lookout for them when she's on the water.Find out more on her website or follow her on Twitter.
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