TEN MINUTES later Reed watched as Eddie zoomed off toward Wilmington. He pulled on the damp fabric of his shirt and shook it a little to stop it from sticking to his skin. In the bright sunlight, with the temperature in the midnineties, his shorts were nearly dry. His leather boat shoes would take a little longer, but at least they didn’t squish when he walked.

Reed fished his press ID out of his pocket and clipped it on his shirt. He rarely used it, but it would come in handy in a place where everyone seemed to be wearing a hangtag. In his experience, no one actually checked IDs so long as you were wearing something that looked like one. He walked down the docks to where they were tying up the Vanguard Asiatic.

The entire docking process seemed painstakingly slow. From the time the tugs pulled alongside to when the crew finally tossed ropes to the dockworkers, hours seemed to pass. Reed watched in fascination as port workers in small forklifts picked up the huge balls at the ends of the guide ropes and pulled the massive lines that would hold the ship in place taut over wide iron posts resembling enormous black mushrooms.

Reed snapped some photos, then sat on a stack of pallets to scribble a few notes. He’d just put his notebook away when a man stepped onto the docks and waved to several of the workers. Dressed in khakis with a button-down shirt and tie, he slung a small backpack over one shoulder and headed away from the ship. Reed jogged over to intercept him.

“Excuse me,” Reed said as he caught up with the man. This close, it was difficult not to notice his warm blue eyes, dirty blond hair, and muscular body.

“Yes?”

“Reed Barfield.” Reed offered his hand, and the man shook it.

“Justin Vance.” Justin raised a questioning eyebrow. He looked to be in a hurry. “Can I help you with something?”

“I hope so.” Reed smiled, and Justin’s expression softened just a bit. “Did you just come in on that ship?” He gestured to the Vanguard Asiatic.

“Yes. Why?”

Man of few words. “I’m working on a story about the port,” Reed offered. This wasn’t true, of course—the story he was supposed to be working on was about the seafood industry and the effects of years of dumping of toxic chemicals into the river—but it could be true, right?

“Oh?”

Reed smiled again. “I don’t know much about boats, so I figured I’d go to the source.” In his experience, playing dumb and asking for help usually resulted in people opening up and telling him everything they knew. It was human nature to feel good about knowing more than someone else, not to mention people enjoyed being helpful.

Not Justin. “Okay. And?”

Reed’s cheeks were starting to hurt from smiling, and it clearly had no effect on the guy. “And I was hoping to find someone who could tell me about the Vanguard.” As attractive as Justin was, he wasn’t a conversationalist. Reed needed to find someone else to speak with.

“What about her?” Justin asked.

“She’s pretty big, right?” Oh, that was just brilliant!

Justin didn’t seem to mind the lame question. “She’s one of the larger ships around.”

“Really?”

Justin nodded.

Pulling teeth would be easier. “Hey, do you know the pilot who brought her in?”

“Why?”

“I figured I’d talk to them. Find out a little about what it’s like to sail her into port. Maybe get a few sailing pointers?” Reed meant this last bit as a stupid, icebreaker kind of joke, but Justin wasn’t thawing. Instead, he seemed to consider Reed for a moment as though trying to decide whether to walk away. Then finally he said, “I’m the pilot.”

“What?” That was the last thing Reed expected. Pilots were super experienced mariners, right? This guy looked to be in his midthirties. With broad shoulders and a lean, muscular body, Justin looked more like what Reed imagined might be typical for a longshoreman.

“Were you expecting Blackbeard? Or maybe Captain Kirk?”

Reed laughed. So there is a personality hiding beneath the cone of silence. “Do you get that a lot?”

Justin shrugged.

“So what’s it like, sailing a boat like that into port?” Reed pressed.

“Why are you here again?” Justin frowned as he took in Reed’s hangtag and camera. “Did you get permission from someone in the operations office to be on the docks?”

“No.” Reed decided on a little honestly. “Really, I was on the water shooting some photos for a story when I looked up and there she was. Pretty damn impressive fifty feet way. And I had this idea—”

“Wait a minute.” Justin’s expression morphed from mild irritation to open hostility. “Are you the idiot we nearly rammed coming into port?”

“I wasn’t exactly driving—I mean, captaining the—”

Justin grabbed him by the collar and shook him, his face red with fury. “Do you know how lucky you are you weren’t killed? If I hadn’t figured you were too stupid to respond to my hail and get the hell out of the way, you and your boat would have been toast.”

Reed tried to pull Justin’s hands away, without much luck. The guy was as strong as he looked. “Whoa. Justin. Calm down.”

Justin seemed to realize he’d lost control, because he released Reed and stepped back. His cheeks were still red, but the murderous expression was gone.

“Look,” Reed said as he smoothed the fabric of his shirt. “I’m really sorry about what happened. When I get into the zone—you know, working on a story—I can get a little distracted.”

A muscle in Justin’s cheek jumped as he waved to someone over Reed’s shoulder and gestured for them to come over.

“Fred, meet Reed Barfield. Mr. Barfield is trespassing.” Justin smiled and turned back to Reed. “Reed, this is Fred Fuller. He’s the man who’s going to escort you off the premises.”

“Seriously, Justin. Just let me ask you a few questions. After that, I promise I’ll leave.” Justin was good-looking—he would make this pilot story easier to sell to Reed’s editor. One more reason for the higher-ups to give him back his job on the political beat.

“Now, Mr. Barfield,” Fred put in, “it’s my job to make sure nobody’s here that ain’t supposed to be here. If ya don’t come with me, I’ll have to call the police.”

Reed sighed. “Okay, okay. I’m leaving.” The last thing he needed was a run-in with the local cops, especially since he’d looked a New York judge in the eye not two weeks before and promised to stay out of trouble. He’d figure out some other way to get what he needed for the pilot story. “See you again soon,” he shouted over his shoulder as Fred escorted him through the locked gate to the parking area.