All it takes is opening their eyes to see what's right in front of them.
For three years, Cap Kaufman has been trying to make amends to his war buddy's orphaned daughter. Building her a safe home. Finding her the best nanny. Now, he's kidnapped the man her doctor says is her best bet for fixing her blindness.
When Hector Gabourel wakes up on a boat in the middle of nowhere, he's confronted by a man determined to get his own way. He has no choice but to play along and wait for his chance to escape. What he doesn't count on is learning to respect the man who uprooted him from everything he knew, all for the love of a child.
For Hector, it's a challenge. For Cap, it's penance. For both of them...a chance for love. All it takes is opening their eyes to see what's right in front of them.
The shackles were an excellent idea.
For keeping anyone constrained who wasn’t Hector Gabourel, that is.
Dropping the bolt to the floor, Hector unfastened the remaining locks even faster than the first. The iron was thick, but the manacle old-fashioned, the gears inside simple to manipulate. When they finally fell free, he rubbed at the raw skin on his wrist and lurched to his feet.
The floor swayed beneath him. His hand shot out to steady himself, but the only things to grab onto in the windowless room were the hooks a foot from the ground where the shackles were still fixed, a tall urn in the corner that remained motionless, and the handle on the narrow door.
On a whim, he tested the latter. It turned freely in his grasp.
Hector snorted. Whoever had imprisoned him really was an idiot.
The door opened into a low-ceilinged corridor, gas lamps flickering from embedded sconces on the walls. At one end, stairs led upward. Hector waited for the floor to stop moving, but when it continued to rock, he gave up and headed for the exit. Clearly, he was on some sort of transport, getting taken to God knew where, but for what purpose, he had no clue. He didn’t even remember how he got here, which bothered him more than the fact that he probably wasn’t in LA anymore.
The next lock he encountered was simpler than the shackles. Hunkering down on the top riser to get an even view of the keyhole, he angled the long, metal rod he normally wore in the curve of his ear into the slit, tilting it upward to catch on the first tumbler. It released with a scant nudge. The second fell into place automatically, but before he twisted the handle, he pressed his ear to the door to try and discern more clues about what he might find on the other side.
A low rumble of an engine. Rhythmic slaps coming at him from both sides. The muted cry of a bird.
Aw, hell. He was on a boat. Could be the ocean, could be someplace inland. Until he knew how long he’d been unconscious before waking up in the cell, it could be anywhere.
Escape would be more difficult if he was waterbound, but Hector refused to think of it as impossible. Nothing was. All it took to overcome obstacles was determination and perseverance. Fearlessness didn’t hurt, either.
Palming his makeshift tool, Hector straightened as best he could and pushed the door open.
The muzzle of a .38 stared him right in the eye.
“You know, part of me’s kind of glad you managed to get free. Proves you’ve got the brain I was told you had.”
Though the night was dark, a lamp from somewhere on deck illuminated the man who held the gun well enough for Hector to recognize him. His current angle made the man loom large, but Hector had seen him on a more level field prior to this auspicious introduction. He stood five-nine at most, his tightly corded arms and legs notwithstanding, and his piercing gray eyes glowed gold from the gaslight. Instead of the black suit he’d worn before, his attire now included trim brown pants tucked into heavy, rubber-soled boots, an airman’s cap pulled down close over his brow that mostly hid his dirty blond hair, and a leather waistcoat buttoned tight over an open-collar white shirt. How he wasn’t chilled to the bone with that icy nip in the air, Hector had no idea.
The last time Hector had seen him, he’d stood at the edge of a crowd of tourists, listening to the studio honcho’s spiel. Though the movie industry was still young, the ways to gouge money from the public were as old as the hills. Tours of the lots had begun as soon as an industrious marketing person realized how exotic the behind-the-scenes magic was to the average layman. Now, in 1922, more strangers came through the gates than movie stars.
Not everyone got to see the camera workshops. People paid extra for that. Hector had learned a long time ago how to tune the people out and focus on his lenses, but this one had caught his eye. The stranger had never laughed at the planned jokes, never oohed or ahhed when the tour guide turned on the projector Hector had built ten times its normal size to puts its innards on better display. He’d shown no emotion whatsoever, and yet, he’d been the last to leave, loitering even when told to catch up.
Now, Hector knew why.
“Your informant wasn’t very good if he didn’t warn you, you wouldn’t be able to keep me locked up,” Hector said.
The stranger shrugged, though the gun never moved. Hector could tell at a glance it wasn’t a prop, either. The muzzle was close enough for him to see the scorch marks. “You’re not going anywhere.”
“Funny. Feels like I am.”
“Oh. That. Well, yeah, that’s a given. I have plans for you.”
“I don’t suppose those plans include dropping me off at the nearest port so I can catch a ride back to LA.”
“You’ll go back when you’re done.”
“A job. I’m hiring your services, Mr. Gabourel.”
He said it with such a straight face, Hector couldn’t help but burst out into laughter. “You’re hiring me? You kidnapped me. Check the dictionary. They don’t mean the same thing.”
“I needed to guarantee your full cooperation.”
“And pissing me off is such a grand way of getting it.” Hector shook his head. “I’m not doing jack for you.”
“We’ll see.” He gestured behind Hector with the gun. “Go back to your room. I won’t lock you back in, but if you try coming aboveboard again, I’ll shoot you in the knee. Understand?”
“And you don’t think that might put a crimp in me doing whatever it is you need me to?” Sarcasm dripped from his voice, but at this point, he didn’t care.
“You don’t need to walk for that,” came the cryptic response. “Now move.”
If the stranger hadn’t been armed, Hector would’ve made a go at taking him down. He was bigger than the other man by a solid six inches and sixty pounds. Growing up in the bowels of steam engines had done more than teach him about mechanics. But as nimble as his fingers were, the rest of Hector wasn’t. He couldn’t guarantee he’d hit the stranger before the man got a shot in, and he couldn’t escape if he was bleeding from a bullet wound.
Without taking his eyes off him, Hector backed down the stairs. The stranger matched him, step for step, unfazed by the disparity of their sizes when Hector filled the lower corridor and he didn’t. The gun still tipped the situation in his favor.
Hector paused when he reached his cell. “You obviously know who I am. Do I get the same courtesy?”
Without the wild night behind him, the stranger’s features took on a new cast, less stony, more haunted. “Captain Terrence Kaufman.”
The title explained the military bearing but not much of anything else. “You don’t look much like a Terry.”
“You don’t look much like a mechanical wizard.”
Hector let it slide. It wasn’t anything he hadn’t heard before. “And you just expect me to sit on my hands down here.”
“Only until we’re docked.”
“And that’ll be…?”
“ETA is four hours.” He sniffed once. “You’ll make it. You haven’t got seasick yet, and the worst is behind us.”
Considering he had no idea what this job he was expected to do entailed, Hector sincerely doubted that. “Remind me to tell your boss how great your hospitality was,” he said as he opened the door.
The reply didn’t come until he stood at the other end of the tiny room, as far from the gun as possible.
“You’re looking at the boss,” Kaufman said. Without a blink, he shut Hector in.