Thanks, Kim, for letting me stop by and talk about The First Step, the first book in my new Coastal Carolina series! Please be sure to read to the bottom for an exclusive excerpt from the book.
While series books take place in coast North and South Carolina, this first book takes place in one of my favorite coastal cities: Wilmington, North Carolina. All of the books feature men you might find working at the coast, and it’s safe to say that the Atlantic Ocean is a bit like a main character. The First Step features an ocean pilot—Justin Vance—one of the men and women who jump from a small pilot boat onto a huge cargo ship in the middle of the ocean, then navigate those vessels in and out of ports all over the world. It’s a dangerous job, and one that requires a lot of training and a long apprenticeship.
Bob and I have watched these huge ships pull into port and I’d often wondered about the men and women who steer them safely into the harbor. I had a blast talking to some real-life pilots about their work, and I had so much fun writing Justin and Reed’s story. I hope you enjoy it too. Happy reading! –Shira
A Coastal Carolina Novel
The first step is the hardest. After a scandal, New York political reporter Reed Barfield is lying low at the North Carolina coast, writing a story about the seafood industry. But it’s the harbor pilots on the Cape Fear River who capture his interest—men who jump across ten feet of open ocean to grab a rope ladder and guide huge container ships into port. Men like sexy but prickly Justin Vance.
After surviving an abusive childhood and a tour in the Navy, Justin isn’t fazed by his dangerous job—it’s certainly easier to face than Reed’s annoying questions. Justin isn’t out at work, and he doesn’t need Reed digging into his personal life or his past.
But Reed’s no stranger to using his considerable charm to get what he wants, and as he wears Justin down, they realize they have a lot in common—and that they like spending time together. Moving beyond that, though, will mean Justin confessing his sexuality and learning to trust Reed with his secrets—if Reed even decides to stay. Both men want a future together, but can they find the courage to take the first step?
Dreamspinner Press: https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/the-first-step-by-shira-anthony-10777-b
A huge wave slammed into the side of the tiny boat, sending Reed Barfield to his knees on the bow. In front of him, the shrimp boat he’d been photographing pulled away at full speed, and her captain waved his hands wildly. Reed grabbed the anchor rope as the dinghy rocked dangerously, giving him alternating views of blue sky and dark water. He brushed damp hair from his eyes and turned as he struggled to keep from falling overboard.
Once sure he wasn’t going to end up in the water, Reed followed the wake back to its origin.
Holy shit! An immense black wall the size of a thirty-story building and as wide as several city blocks obstructed his view of the rest of the Cape Fear River. As he clambered back inside the boat, Reed realized it wasn’t a wall at all but the side of an enormous container ship. It was almost close enough to reach out and touch and getting closer by the minute.
“Hang on!” Eddie, the captain who’d agreed to take Reed out on the water, pulled the cord on the engine.
“Damn!” Eddie kept pulling on the cord. The motor would rumble, then putter and stop.
The container ship’s horn had Reed covering his ears and wondering if his luck could get any worse. “Eddie, that thing’s going to be here in a minute,” he shouted over the roar of the larger ship’s engines. “We need to get out of here!”
“I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’! Sweet mother of—”
The motor finally turned over. Eddie revved the engine and the next second their boat careened to the right and out of the larger vessel’s path, avoiding it by only a few feet.
Reed’s heart pounded against his ribs as they headed up river back toward Wilmington. “What the hell was that all about?”
“I tried to warn ya.” Eddie’s face was pale. “Ya didn’t seem to hear me.”
“I didn’t? Wait a minute. You tried to warn me? When was that?”
Eddie glanced briefly away. “A few seconds before,” he said under his breath.
“A few seconds? You mean you didn’t see that thing coming either?”
“Well, I… I might’ve fell asleep,” Eddie replied sheepishly.
“Don’t you have a radio for that sort of thing?” Reed didn’t know a lot about power boats, but he was pretty sure you didn’t go anywhere on a river like this without a radio.
“I do. But I must’a forgot to charge it.”
Your fault for trying to cut corners and hiring someone off the docks. Reed sighed and eyed the container ship, which now appeared to be turning slowly—very slowly—with the help of a couple of tugboats.
“What’s he doing?” Reed asked.
“Him? Oh, you mean the ship?”
“They turn her around before they dock. That way she’s all set for leavin’ when they’re done unloadin’ and loadin’ it up again.”
“Them river pilots can turn those babies on a dime,” Eddie agreed. “Takes ’em years to be able to do that.”
“Yep. They get paid a bundle too.”
“You mean captains get paid a lot?” Reed asked.
“No. The river pilots do.”
“What’s the difference between a river pilot and the captain of a ship?”
“Pilots take over for the captains. Meet ’em out at sea and guide ’em into port. They’re local guys. Most of ’em live over in Southport.” Eddie smiled. “I used to dream of bein’ one. You know, meetin’ the big ships out in the ocean and hoppin’ onto one of those?”
Reed shuddered to imagine a guy like Eddie, who fell asleep at the wheel, in charge of a container ship. But already the idea for a story was percolating in his brain. Pilots hopped from one boat to another in the middle of the ocean? “Sounds dangerous.”
Eddie nodded. “Really dangerous. One of ’em fell a few months back.”
“Yep. Got hurt real bad.” Eddie pressed his lips together. “Sounds like he’ll pull through, though.”
“That’s good.” Reed watched for a couple of minutes, then remembered he had his camera hanging around his neck and took some photos as the container ship docked. He zoomed in on the ship’s name: Vanguard Asiatic.
“You gonna need more photos of the shrimper?” Eddie asked.
Crap. Reed had completely forgotten the reason he was on the water in the first place—he was supposed to be taking photos of the shrimp boat. This was about getting his old job back, not about his appetite for a good story. He was so close to wrapping this up and hopping that plane back to New York City.
He turned off the camera, thankful he’d had the presence of mind to buy a waterproof case for it, and flipped through the pics he’d taken before the near miss with the Vanguard Asiatic. Fortunately they looked okay. Good thing too, since he’d had a hard enough time getting the shrimp boat’s captain to pose with her on the river.
“Nah. I’m good. I got enough for the story.”
“We good to head back to town?” Eddie asked.
“Yes…. No. On second thought—” Reed eyed the Port of Wilmington across the water. The voice at the back of his brain was now screaming that there was a story here. “Why don’t you drop me off over there?”
“At the port?” Eddie stared at him as though he’d lost his mind.
“Yes. At the port.” He’d ask a few questions, maybe take a few photos, and the voice might shut up for a change.
“I can’t tie up there,” Eddie said.
“It’s restricted.” He pointed to some signs on the docks.
“No need to tie up,” Reed said brightly. “All you need to do is drop me off.”
“I don’t know….”
“I’ll give you an extra fifty for your trouble.” Reed reached into his pocket and pulled out his slightly damp billfold, then handed Eddie a hundred-dollar bill. He’d pay the extra fifty out of his own money. If he played this right, he’d end up with another story out of it.
“If I get caught, they could fine me.”
Reed put another twenty in Eddie’s hand. “That help?”
Eddie nodded and pointed to a spot a few hundred feet behind the container ship. “Okay if I drop you off there?”
“That’ll be perfect.”
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.
“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.
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?
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.”
Pulling teeth would be easier. “Hey, do you know the pilot who brought her in?”
“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?”
“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.
Shira Anthony was a professional opera singer in her last incarnation, performing roles in such operas as Tosca, i Pagliacci, and La Traviata, among others. She’s given up TV for evenings spent with her laptop, and she never goes anywhere without a pile of unread M/M romance on her Kindle. You can hear Shira singing “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca by clicking here: Shira’s Singing
Shira loves a great happily-ever-after and never writes a story without one. She’s happy to write what her muse tells her, whether it’s fantasy, sci fi, paranormal, or contemporary romance. She particularly loves writing series, because she thinks of her characters as old friends and she wants to visit them even after their stories are told.
In real life, Shira sang professionally for 14 years, and she currently works as a public sector attorney advocating for children. She’s happy to have made writing her second full-time job, even if it means she rarely has time to watch TV or go to the movies. Shira writes about the things she knows and loves, whether it’s music and musicians, the ocean, or the places she’s lived or traveled to. She spent her middle school years living in France, and tries to visit as often as she can.
Shira and her husband spend as many weekends as they can aboard their 38′ catamaran sailboat, Prelude, at the Carolina Coast. Not only has sailing inspired her to write about pirates and mermen, her sailboat is her favorite place to write. And although the only mermen she’s found to date are in her own imagination, she keeps a sharp lookout for them when she’s on the water.
Shira Anthony: http://www.shiraanthony.com