Prologue

April 27, 1942

 

My beloved Steven,

Yesterday I stood at the bow of the ship and saluted with a trembling hand as your body, wrapped in our American flag, was given over to the sea. How I kept my feet, I do not know. My promise to catch you if you ever stumbled will forever haunt me. Oh, how miserably I failed.

The crew looked to me for guidance. They were mine to command, and yet I no longer had the will or the heart to lead them.

Just days after your death, we struck a mine on the port side, just forward of the engine-room bulkhead. I gave the order to close the watertight hatches, but it was all in vain. The flooding washed through the ship quickly. We are now listing to port and dead in the water, all auxiliary power gone.

It matters not.

All is lost without you. Just know until the darkness descends upon me, I will rely on my memories of our life together to keep me sane. Looking into your beautiful eyes as we made love. Spending long hours lured into bliss as I listened to the rhythmic beating of your heart. Holding you tightly as we slept. Those times are behind us now, at least in this lifetime, but I will treasure them for eternity.

I have given the order to abandon ship, and the crew has boarded the lifeboats and are at a safe distance from their sinking ship. Only God knows who, if any of them, will come out of this alive. The seas have kicked up, and a north wind has turned against them. May God in his mercy look over them and bless them well. I, on the other hand, have remained and will fulfill my duty to go down with my ship.

I fear not, my love.

I am in God’s hands. When he comes for me, I shall go to him freely, with your dear face etched into my memory and your name upon my lips. My heart and soul will weep with joy when we meet again, and there will be no more struggles for either of us. I make it my dying promise that as many times as we are parted, I will find you again and again. Someday. Someway. Always. I will always find you.

I haven’t much time, my love. The ship has pitched. I am so ready to hold you once again and see your smiling face. Remember our song. How long will I search to hold you again? Only forever… if it takes until then!

Forever yours,

Edward

 

USS Dickerson

Captain: E. H. Bryant

First Officer: Steven Rudolph

 


 

Chapter One

 

FIRST OFFICER G. Heath Rawlins sat at his desk and stared at the screen of his laptop. For the third time, he read the e-mail he’d crafted. Comfortable everything was in order, he clicked the Send button, sighed, and closed his laptop. Heath folded his arms over his chest, looked around his dimly lit officer’s cabin, and leaned back in his chair. Now all there is to do is wait.

He’d spent the last couple of hours tailoring a handful of e-mails for specific jobs and attaching his résumé and recommendation letters to the megayacht captains who were actively searching for an experienced first officer—or chief mate, as they were often called. Now it was up to the universe to decide what happened next.

The merchant ship Urania Dee had been Heath’s home for the last six years. But the last year had been a restless one. Although he’d struggled with the decision, Heath had resigned his position as first officer thirty days prior, much to the chagrin of the captain. By first light tomorrow morning, the Urania Dee would be docked at the Port of Savannah, Georgia, and Heath’s life aboard a merchant ship would be over. And to say he had mixed emotions about it was certainly an understatement.

Heath kept telling himself he just needed a change. But the problem was he didn’t know what that change should be. In the end he’d decided that maybe the private sector would be a good place to start. Traveling to tropical islands and pleasure ports aboard a megayacht instead of commercial seaports on a merchant ship might do the trick. Experiencing sea life from another perspective—that was always good. Right?

Checking out the suitcases and the cardboard boxes neatly lining the walls of his cabin, Heath realized that pretty much everything he owned was staring back at him. He’d lost his mother, father, and younger sister to carbon monoxide poisoning in his family home two months after he’d left for Texas A&M Maritime Academy in Galveston, and he’d been on his own ever since.

Over the years the captain and crew of the Urania Dee had become his family of sorts, and it was going to be extremely hard to say good-bye. But if he were being totally honest, he was also looking forward to the change. A new adventure. Something to reignite his passion for the sea.

Heath turned his gaze to a small porthole above his desk and stared out into the dark skies over the Atlantic Ocean. Tomorrow morning you start a new life.

Through the round glass, Heath saw the reflection of a frame hanging on the opposite wall. He stood, walked across the cabin, and gazed at his diploma from the maritime academy. He thought back to the sunny day of his graduation ceremony. A lump formed in his throat, and he quickly swallowed it down. How bittersweet it had been without his family there to share in his joy.

In an attempt to escape the loneliness that had followed his family’s demise, the day after graduation, Heath joined the crew of a commercial freighter for a three-year contract, and then another when that ended, before finally joining the Urania. He’d been at sea for twelve years straight, which had given him plenty of time to climb up in the ranks and advance his career, but hadn’t afforded him the luxury of putting down roots anywhere.

At the time of his parents’ death, Heath had inherited everything, but he’d never spent a single dime of their hard-earned money. After working twelve years with no real expenses, he had his own money. And quite a lot of it. In fact, his savings were quite impressive.

At one time he’d thought about buying a home, but there was just never the need. The sea had always been his home. But now with no job and no place to live, the need might finally be presenting itself.

Even if I want to put down roots—where? He was never in one place longer than the time required to unload and reload his ship. But at thirty-three years old, he was starting to feel a little differently. He couldn’t imagine not being at sea. Some unknown force had drawn him to it even as a child, and the sea had been his solace. It was where he was most comfortable, where he turned as he grieved the loss of his family. But at the same time, the sea had represented a longing of sorts. It was always as if he were searching for something there. Something just beyond his reach.

Lately he was struggling with a new and unfamiliar restlessness. It had started slowly, as impatience, but over the last year, it had turned into a desperation of sorts. An odd feeling like something else was out there for him, just beyond the horizon. Searching for him. Waiting for him. A yearning for something. But for what? Roots? A relationship? Or maybe even a family?

For some reason he’d never allowed himself to get too close to any one person, so he’d been sort of a loner all his adult life. It could have been the experience of losing his family and the fear of history repeating itself that kept him from ever allowing himself to love. Or it could have been something else. Heath had never been sure. Either way, he’d never had any real interest. A one-night stand here and there was all he ever allowed himself. So these feelings, these emotions, were perplexing at the very least.

Heath lifted the diploma from the wall, carefully wrapped it in Bubble Wrap, and placed it in the only remaining open box. He’d have time to decide what to do or where to go while he waited out the job search. In the meantime, the extended-stay hotel in downtown Savannah would be his new home. If no position presented itself within a couple of weeks, he would decide how to proceed with the rest of his life.

Taping the box shut, Heath added it to the stack, stepped back, and glanced around. That’s the last of it, I guess!

The ding of his computer signaled a new e-mail. He walked over to his desk and opened his laptop. The e-mail was from Master Captain Theodore Gourdin. Could it be? He pulled up his chair, took a seat, and opened the e-mail.

 

Dear First Officer Rawlins,

My name is Theo Gourdin, and I am the newly appointed master captain of the megayacht Eternity, which was launched a little over a week ago at the Amels yacht yard in the Netherlands. I’ve put together a small crew and am in need of an experienced first officer.

As I’m sure you know, the relationship between a captain and his first officer is a delicate and sometimes complicated one. A certain ease and genuine mutual respect must exist if the relationship is to prove beneficial.

I know this may seem a little backward to you, as typically a first officer is hired ahead of the other crewmembers and participates in the hiring of his crew, but I seem to find myself in a bit of a predicament. I did hire a first officer, who was quite qualified for the position, but in the planning and hiring of the crew, I found that our personalities did not mesh as well as I had hoped. It was nothing I could put my finger on, but I just didn’t feel the camaraderie I would have liked, and regretfully had to relieve him of his position.

With that said, your credentials are impeccable, and I’m reaching out to see if you would be interested in meeting with me to explore the opportunity further.

I am currently in Ft. Lauderdale, setting up slippage arrangements, and will remain here until I secure my first officer. At which time we will join the rest of the crew in the Netherlands and begin to ready the ship for her maiden voyage back to Ft. Lauderdale’s Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six resort and marina, which will be her home base until further notice.

I’ve attached Eternity’s spec sheet and a little information about myself so you can make an educated decision whether to proceed or not.

Sincerely,

Master Captain Theodore “Theo” G. Gourdin

 

Heath nervously moved his mouse over the attached file named Eternity, opened it, and gasped when the yacht’s picture appeared on his screen. Stunning! was the first thing that came to mind. Eternity was sleek and modern but had strong, traditional lines. He studied her for a few long moments and smiled at the way her platinum-colored hull shimmered in the reflection of the sunlight. He read the opening paragraph:

 

The megayacht Eternity is a Dutch built, 130-foot steel boat constructed in 2015 by Amels. Her design plans were devised by Southampton Yacht Services and her interior by Nicholson Interiors. She accommodates twelve passengers and six crewmembers. The motor vessel Eternity….

 

The spec sheet went on greatly detailing the ship’s engineering, range and speed, propulsion, electronics, navigation, and fuel capacity. Man! She is state-of-the-art! Hell yeah, I’m interested.

He clicked on the second file, named Gourdin, and read the captain’s résumé, learning that Gourdin had graduated top of his class at the United States Merchant Marine Academy. He’d spent his first three years as a third mate, two years as a second mate, and five years as a chief or first mate. After passing the battery of exams that accompanied each level, he became a master captain fourteen years ago. He spent ten of those years as captain of several different commercial freighters operating under the same shipping line. In 2014 he left the commercial industry, joined the private sector, and commanded Setting Sun, which belonged to a record mogul named David Hempstead, until accepting his new position as master captain of Eternity.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Heath closed the file and clicked the Reply button. He wanted to simply type “When and where?” But he didn’t want to seem too anxious. Instead he wrote:

 

Dear Master Captain Gourdin,

Thank you very much for reaching out, and I am flattered that you would consider me for the position. Eternity appears to be quite an impressive vessel, and I am definitely interested in meeting with you. I am currently aboard the commercial freighter Urania Dee and will be in the Port of Savannah, Georgia, by first light tomorrow. Barring any mishaps, I can be in Ft. Lauderdale by tomorrow evening. Please send instructions on what time and where you would like to meet, and I will make the necessary arrangements.

Sincerely,

First Officer G. Heath Rawlins

Merchant Ship Urania Dee

 

Heath reread his e-mail one last time and clicked Send. He sat back. This was certainly a turn of events he hadn’t been expecting so soon. He immediately got online, canceled his reservations at the extended-stay in Savannah, and started researching one Master Captain Theodore G. Gourdin.