Needing a lifestyle change, Garner Holt, an uptight workaholic psychologist, buys a sailboat and trades in his prestigious job in New York City for a life on the water. After engine failure and six weeks in Savannah, Georgia for repair, he arrives in Key West, Florida early one morning and encounters a half-dressed hooligan walking along the docks of the marina. Garner immediately thinks this barefoot and shirtless man with a shaved head, multiple tattoos, and piercings in every orifice is going to rob him. He prepares for the worst. Instead, the stranger passes Garner by and climbs on a boat two slips down. With the threat of danger gone, Garner is surprisingly intrigued.
Hawken Bristol is used to being on the receiving end of stereotypes. He sees the fear on the stranger’s face, recognizes the rigidity in his stance, but is too tired from his wild night of partying to engage the frightened stranger. A few cat and mouse encounters around town lead to an uncanny attraction. However, after Garner helps Hawken dock his boat in a windstorm, sparks start to fly. But this new liaison brings up old baggage that threatens to derail everything they have going.BUY NOW
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Garner Holt stood behind the helm of his Beneteau Oceanis 55, a moderate wind blowing through his shoulder-length, sun-streaked brown hair. AquaTherapy, as he’d so aptly named her, was heading south toward Key West, cutting through the clear azure waters of the Hawk Channel, just off the south Florida coastline. AquaTherapy’s sails were tuned perfectly to the southwest winds, and she was cruising along at a brisk six and a half knots, heeling a comfortable eighteen degrees.
The closer Garner got to his destination, the lighter his heart felt and the better his mood became. He turned his head upward as the warm mid-December afternoon sun blanketed him with her glorious rays. He inhaled deeply, and his lungs filled with crisp, salty sea air. God, I love the feeling of freedom when I’m on the water.
The light heartedness temporarily waned when Garner’s mind drifted back to a time when things weren’t so simple. He couldn’t help but wonder why he’d spent so many years chasing his tail instead of chasing the horizon. He knew it was partly hereditary. Both of his parents had been over achievers, his mother was a world-renowned pediatrician, now retired and living on Long Island. His father, who’d died at age sixty-seven, had been a very successful commercial mortgage broker, who worked night and day. His only pleasure was a love for sailing, which he’d passed along to his only son. The rest of it, insecurities probably. And a need to make his parents proud.
As AquaTherapy made her way up the coast, the old familiar feelings of anxiety and inadequacy snuck back in. When he’d gone off to college, he’d been almost obsessed with his education. He’d put everything on the back burner, including his love for sailing and his family and friends. His only goal was to succeed. And as luck would have it, his sacrifice and dedication hadn’t gone unrecognized. He’d graduated at the top of his class and was immediately hired by Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. After only four years, his Ivy League education, strong work ethic, and unmatched dedication earned him the title Head of Psychiatry, the youngest doctor ever to hold that coveted position. But as with all positions of power, it wasn’t without its drawbacks and it’s costs.
Garner cringed when he thought back to the grueling schedule that had left him absolutely no time for a personal life, and combining that with his extremely independent personality meant any type of relationship was a disaster waiting to happen. He’d tried a few times, but after his last boyfriend told him where to shove his job, he’d given up and decided it wasn’t worth the headache or the heartache. By the end of his eighth year at Mount Sinai, his career had definitely on track, but the pressure and stress were finally starting to take their toll. He’d just barely survived that year and went into his ninth battling severe burnout and exhaustion.
Garner felt a stab of sadness when his mind drifted back to that February morning when he didn’t get out of bed. For two weeks. He was so overcome with neglected depression and exhaustion that he’d simply shut down. The minute he was on his feet again he’d started the process of early retirement. A smile quickly replaced the sadness when he remembered how free he’d felt when he‘d sold everything, bought AquaTherapy and set out to find new winds to fill his sails. Joy, freedom and a sense of finally being in control of his own destiny had overtaken him when he’d pulled out of New York harbor and rounded the point at Sandy Hook, New Jersey. He’d felt as free as he did right this very moment.
After spending an incredible couple of months on the water, taking his time meandering the eastern seaboard, exploring the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays and picking up the Intracoastal Waterway in Norfolk, VA, Garner had finally started to discover who he really was and not who he forced himself to be. “You and I are a good team,” he said out loud patting AquaTherapy’s hull. “Except for that little delay in Savannah, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, it’s been smooth sailing for the both of us.” Garner smiled when he pictured Hank and Thompson’s handsome faces. He’d been temporarily derailed when his engine failed in Savannah, Georgia, and he’d had to be rescued by a very handsome Boat US Captain named Hank Charming. He was towed to the Thundercloud Marina, where the marina mechanic uncovered a manufacturer’s error that couldn’t be repaired. His boat required a new engine, and that came with a six-week lag time.
After the initial shock of being stranded for six weeks wore off, Garner tried to figure out what he was going to do to keep himself entertained. Luckily, he didn’t have to wonder too long. The day before he’d been towed in, the owner of the marina, Thompson Gray, had lost his dockhand and was in dire need of a replacement. Following a brief meeting, Thompson offered him the job and he gladly accepted. After working with Thompson during the day and dating Hank Charming at night, Garner realized the guys had a very strong emotional connection to one another. He soon learned they shared a very complicated past, an even shakier present, and little or no chance for a future. They interacted on a daily basis when needed, but their past was clouded with misconceptions and untruths that were slowly eating away at both of them. In the end, with Garner’s help, Hank and Thompson were able to find their way back to one another and were now happier and stronger than ever.
Garner suddenly realized he missed his new friends. While he was acting as their unofficial therapist, he had become very close to them both and that had surprised him. Much to his astonishment; he’d left Savannah with mixed emotions and a heavy heart. He’d never planned to stay—he had a horizon to chase—but that didn’t make leaving his new friends any easier. On the morning he’d pulled out of the marina, they’d all promised to stay in touch, but Garner knew all too well that life sometimes gets in the way of the best intentions. Garner sighed and looked up at the powder blue sky. “And here I am. Sailing along with no complications. Just the way I liked it.” With AquaTherapy now cruising along on autopilot, Garner put all these old feelings out of his mind and focused on what was ahead of him. He stretched out in the cockpit and basked in the Florida sunshine anticipating the future. He listened to the latest NOAA weather report on his VHF radio; the weather was going to be clear and picture perfect for his last couple of days of his journey. Suddenly very eager to get to Key West, he decided to sail straight through the night and make it to his destination by tomorrow morning. “Just one more day,” he said to the ever-present dolphins dancing alongside his boat. “We’re almost home free boys and girls.” “Where had the day gone?” Garner thought as he sipped a glass of Sancerre watching the spectacular sun hover above the western horizon. The yellows, oranges, and magentas were all blending into one magnificent blur that danced on the water, and then slowly sank into the abyss. After dusk, with his GPS and radar set to alert him to any imminent danger, Garner sailed through the night, the bright moonlight shimmering like diamonds as it reflected off the deep, sapphire-colored water. He dozed every now and then, tweaked his sails as needed, but mostly gazed at the billowy blue velvet sky against the distant lights of the Florida coastline. When the morning sun peeked above the horizon, Garner smiled and thought of his friends Hank and Thompson back in Georgia, probably watching the same sun rising over Savannah. He kissed his index finger, held it up in the air, and wished them a heartfelt good morning.
By seven thirty, Garner was almost giddy. He was only five miles away from Key West, so he radioed ahead and received his docking instructions from the harbormaster. With his sails furled and AquaTherapy motoring along at five knots, he pulled into the Conch Harbor Marina sporting a smile as broad as the dawn. Following instructions, he pulled along a T-head pier and, with the help of a dockhand, secured his boat and connected the water and electricity. By eight thirty, Garner had traded the fleece, blue jeans, and boat shoes he’d worn overnight for shorts, a T-shirt, and no shoes.
He was on the dock barefoot, rinsing the dried salt off his boat, when he saw someone walking down the dock in his direction. As the stranger got closer, Garner could see that the man’s head was shaved and he was wearing low-hanging black jeans, but no shirt or shoes. His skull, as well as every other part of his exposed body, including his feet, was covered in brightly colored tattoos. As the man continued toward him, Garner could see that he appeared to be pierced in every visible orifice, sporting a stainless-steel nose ring, a loop in his left eyebrow, studs up and down both of his ears, and a bar with balls on either end in his bottom lip. Garner did his best not to stare, but he couldn’t help it; the man reminded him of a pierced and tattooed Mr. Clean. Looking farther down, Garner saw that the stranger’s nipples were pierced, as was his bellybutton. A chill ran the length of Garner’s spine and he shuddered when he thought about what else might be pierced that he couldn’t see. And just to push the entire look over the edge, the man wore silver-dollar-sized solid black discs in his stretched earlobes. Garner started to feel uneasy, and his heart rate began to increase.
He quickly looked around for any other boaters milling around the dock who might offer a little support if he needed it, but there was no one to be seen. His next thought was of some sort of weapon. Garner doubted he could hose the guy to death—should the need present itself—but anything else he could possibly use for a weapon was aboard AquaTherapy. When the guy was about ten feet from him, Garner’s felt the adrenaline pumping through his veins at breakneck speed. He didn’t make eye contact but tightened his grip on the hose and held his breath. Shit! He’s coming right at me. Calm down, you sissy. You lived in New York City for how long? Garner spread his feet apart and moved the hose to his left hand, fisting his right. I might go down, but not without a fight. Just four feet away. Three Feet. Two feet. One foot. When Garner could finally see the figure in his peripheral vision, the scary dude lowered his head and walked right past him. Garner exhaled with relief and willed himself to calm down. He nonchalantly turned his head and followed the stranger with his eyes, but the guy kept on walking until he reached a fishing boat three slips down named ReelCrazy and hopped aboard. Appropriate name!