Skylar Beaumont never wanted to return to Alaska. Still, when duty calls, she can’t refuse. And, as a third-generation “Coastie” and the only female captain in the local coast guard, she has too much to prove. Being stationed in her hometown of Port Serenity isn’t ideal—but she’ll tough it out until her transfer goes through and she can move on to warmer waters. That’s the plan, at least, until she crashes into Dex Wakefield. Again.
Shocked to see his secret high school sweetheart after all this time, Dex can’t help but wonder if he should finally come clean. Skylar deserves to know the real reason why he abandoned the dream they’d shared—and broke her heart. But this small tourist town is home to one big grudge where their families are concerned… And leaving the past behind might be the only way Dex and Skylar will finally realize that their first love deserves a sweet second chance.
They say you can’t go home again. If only that were true.
As Skylar Beaumont drove past the town limit sign with its featured serpent queen, Sealena, welcoming visitors to Port Serenity, the weight of expectation immediately settled on her shoulders.
Could she really do this?
Her heart had been pounding since she’d deboarded the plane in Alaska, her insecurities barely contained during the two-hundred-mile drive to her hometown. Her reflection in her coast guard uniform in the rearview was one she’d never doubted she’d achieve. A third generation coastie, Skylar had been around the sea her entire life, fascinated by its mysteries, astonished by its paradoxical sense of danger and calm. She’d always known she’d follow in her father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. She just hadn’t exactly wanted to follow those legendary footsteps back to the jagged shores along her hometown.
Being stationed here meant that everyone would naturally assume she’d gotten this far this fast because of her family name…that her father or grandfather had had some influence over her unusually speedy career advancement. Nothing could be further from the truth. She’d busted her ass at the academy for four years, working harder than everyone else, putting in extra time and excelling in her courses. Then she’d worked alongside the experienced crew of the North Star cutter on the East Coast for two years, gaining her on-sea requirements to write the captain’s exam. And she’d aced it.
But maybe her last name had helped a little in securing the competitive spot at the academy in the first place…
Nope. She squared her shoulders and gripped the steering wheel tighter as she fought against the self-doubt. She’d been accepted into the highly competitive program based on her transcripts, her letters of recommendation (not from anyone with her last name) and her own application letter. She’d earned her spot.
Still, expectations were high and she had a lot to prove.
She was there now and until she could request a transfer or apply for a new position, she’d have to make the best of it.
Pulling off the highway, she drove along Main Street, which cut through the center of town. It was just after nine, and the shops were flipping their Closed signs to Open. Tourist season hadn’t officially launched yet, but in the coming weeks, as the late spring weather turned milder, the town’s population would explode, nearly tripling with visitors. By summer, all the local inns would be full and the outdoor restaurant patios would be a constant flutter of laughter and loud music. The marina and beach would be hotspots for families, fishermen and water sport enthusiasts.
Skylar scanned the familiar surroundings as she drove. She’d lived in Port Serenity her entire life. She’d loved it there as a child, especially during tourist season. She craved the bustle and all the strange, exciting faces of visitors flocking there for the chance to see Sealena for themselves.
A glimpse of the serpent sea witch was a rare occurrence indeed, but not an impossibility according to the old fishermen who were happy to recount their tall tales to anyone willing to listen, encouraging tourists to pay an outrageous price to get out on the water for the search themselves. It had been fun to see the renewed excitement on people’s faces as tourists arrived in Port Serenity for the first time. Unfortunately, that excitement seemed to dull over the years as Skylar had learned what this popularity had cost the town. As she’d realized that Port Serenity really only belonged to one family: the Wakefields. Their name adorned almost every awning on the main street. Wakefields’ Pharmacy, Wakefields’ Convenience and Grocery,
Wakefields’ Outpost and Fishing Supply… The wealthy Wakefields had reinvented the town and in doing so, they basically owned it. It was no secret that the mayor consulted the family patriarch, Brian Wakefield, on every major decision. And no one opposed. Everyone appreciated the security the Wakefields’ businesses had provided when the fishing industry had struggled to support families. The influx of tourists meant every local had a way to make a living. Like her cousin Carly, who ran the bookstore and local museum. Restaurants, inns, cafes and gift shops capitalized on the sea witch’s popularity and likeness, making enough during tourist season to keep afloat all year. It was hard to fault the Wakefields. Unless of course you were a Beaumont.
Skylar’s own family had been generations of civil servants, protecting the community they loved. Her great-great-grandfather, Castor Beaumont, had been a state trooper. It was rumored that he’d been responsible for arresting Earl Wakefield, his former childhood friend, on smuggling charges. The man had done time for bringing contraband into Alaska through Port Serenity; the town had been divided and the family feud between the Wakefields and Beaumonts had begun.
Small towns held long grudges.
As she turned the corner at the end of Main Street and the ocean came into view, her chest tightened. It felt as though things had frozen in time the day she left. The scene unfolding was eerily familiar. A father and his daughter stood on the water’s edge skipping rocks along the surface. An older woman sat on a graffiti-tagged concrete bench wearing a pensive expression as she stared at the waves and the sun rising over the horizon. A young couple strolled along the wooden pier, hand in hand, a young puppy excitedly walking ahead with a stick in its mouth. Farther down, a seniors’ group did sunrise yoga on the sandy area of the small beach and several fishermen enjoyed a morning beer on the docks with their fishing poles doing the work along the shore.
On the other side of Marina Way, there were boarded-up beach huts that would open in the hotter summer months, selling ice cream, refreshments, swim gear and overpriced Sealena-themed souvenirs. Among them was a small hut that advertised adventure whale watching tours, bird island excursions and trips to the ice fields in winter.
In the distance, there was a small research cabin that housed the Marine Life Sanctuary and beyond that, a lighthouse stood high on the hill above. Sailboats and power boats lined the coastline below.
Everything looked exactly the same as the day she’d left.
Though her pulse raced as she approached the marina and the nondescript coast guard station, her heart swelled with pride at the sight of the Starlight docked there. With its deep V, double chine hull and all-aluminum construction, the forty-five-foot response boat was designed for speed and stability in various weather conditions. Twin diesel engines with waterjet propulsion eliminated the need for propellers under the boat, making it safer in missions where they needed to rescue a person overboard. Combined with its self-righting capability to help with capsizing in rough seas, it had greater speed and maneuverability than the older vessels. The boat was the one thing she had total confidence in. And she would be in charge of it and a crew of five.
The crew was the tougher part. She was determined to gain their trust and respect. She was eager to show that she was one of them but also maintain a professional distance. Her father and grandfather made it look so easy, but she knew this would be her hardest challenge, to command a crew of familiar faces. People she’d grown up with, people who remembered her as the little girl who’d wear her father’s too-big captain hat as she sat in the captain’s chair in the pilothouse. Did that hat finally fit now?
Weaving the rental car along the winding road, and seeing the familiar Wakefield family yacht docked in the marina, her heart pounded. The fifty-footer had always been the most impressive boat in the marina, even now that it was over thirty years old. Its owner, Kurt Wakefield, had lived on the yacht for twenty-five years. Kurt had died the year before. Skylar peered through the windshield to look at it. Had someone else bought the boat? Large bumpers had been added to the exterior, and pull lines could be seen on deck. She frowned. Had it been turned into some sort of rescue boat?
It wasn’t unusual for civilians to aid in searches along the coast when requested, but the yacht was definitely an odd addition. There had never been a Wakefield who had shown interest in civil service to the community…except one.
The man standing on the upper deck now, pulling the lines. Wearing a pair of faded jeans and just a T-shirt, the muscles in his shoulders and back strained as he worked and Skylar’s mouth went dry. She slowed the vehicle, unable to look away. Almost as if in slow motion, the man turned and their eyes met. Her breath caught as familiarity registered in his expression.
And unfortunately, the untimely unexpected sight of her ex-boyfriend—Dex Wakefield—had Skylar forgetting to hit the brakes as she reached the edge of the gravel lot next to the dock. Too late, her rental car drove straight off the edge and into the frigid North Pacific Ocean.
Dex Wakefield dropped the lines he was securing and hopped over the side of his boat onto the pier, risking a sprained ankle at the ten-foot drop. He hurried at a breakneck pace toward where the small Fiat bobbed among several small ice pans, the hood sinking below the water.
Skylar Beaumont had made quite the unexpected entrance.
Ignoring the chill in the late April air, Dex kicked off his shoes and jumped into the water.
Goose bumps covered his exposed flesh and his breath came in small pants as he tried to adapt to the shock. Ice bobbed next to him as he took a deep breath and dove below the surface in time to see Skylar open the driver’s side door and escape from the sinking vehicle.
Swimming toward her, he reached for her and wrapped an arm around her waist as they moved toward the dock. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Saving your life.” She removed his arm from around her waist before gripping the wooden planks of the pier overhead. Her breath came in quick gasps and her teeth chattered. “I’m fine. I don’t need your help.”
His ex hadn’t changed, not one little bit. Still as independent and stubborn as ever. He moved back an inch and treaded water as she climbed out onto the wooden dock. Her coast guard uniform dripped with water, and her tight blond bun was slicked to her head.
The sight might stir a reaction from him, if his limbs weren’t about to freeze off. He was actually grateful for the chilled water. It numbed the myriad of emotions he knew he’d be struggling with soon enough.
Skylar was back. She was standing right there. On the dock. In Port Serenity.
Excerpted from Sweet Home Alaska by Jennifer Snow. Copyright © 2022 by Jennifer Snow. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
Author Website: https://jennifersnowauthor.com/contact