Outcast (SEAL Team_ Disavowed Book 2)By: Laura Marie Altom
“THEY’RE ALL DEAD . . .” English lit professor, Eden Marabella, dropped the satellite phone she’d been speaking into. It shattered against the rocks at her feet, but shock at the sight before her made the loss of their team’s primary outside communication tool a non-issue.
Her throat closed with emotion. Her eyes stung.
The more of the grisly scene she digested, the more her stomach roiled.
She retched at the sheer amount of blood spilled across the ice. It had frozen in pools beneath the majestic creatures, standing in stark contrast to the Orcas’ beautiful black and white markings.
Her father’s work partner and long-time family friend, Dane Northrup, a marine biologist from Stony Brook University in New York, slipped his arm around her shoulders, comforting her through her latest round of nausea. “Deep breaths,” he coached. “Ride it out.”
“W-what happened?” she asked, her voice shallow and dazed. “It looks like an entire pod.” Dozens of killer whales had washed up upon the snow and ice-crusted shore of their stretch of Antarctica’s Ross Sea. Her father, a marine biology professor from the University of Tampa had been coming here for years. He and his students had raised millions for conservation and research and now had a private station manned year-round with students and scientists pursuing independent studies.
Her poor father silently moved among the beached creatures as if under a dark spell. His shoulders slumped. Silent tears glistened on his ruddy cheeks in the bright November sun.
The day was a rare jewel with the temperature almost above freezing and the horizon clear. Tragedy didn’t happen on perfect afternoons like this, so why were they facing so much death now?
Earlier that morning, Eden and her dad had caught a ride from friends stationed at McMurdo. Dane followed with her father’s other business partner, Leo Adler, and two students who’d opted to stay in their rooms to get settled.
The walk to the beach had become an annual tradition for Eden, Dane, and her father. One typically highlighted by visiting an Adélie penguin colony on the rocky point. In her shock over the orcas, she’d forgotten them. She was now afraid to glance in that direction.
“Dane,” she turned to him, selfishly wishing he were Jasper, the sweetheart she’d been dating back in Denver. She’d been on the sat phone leaving a heartfelt message for him, trying to explain why she’d broken things off, when she’d crested the last rise on the shore trail to witness the carnage below. “Could you please check the penguins? I can’t . . .”
“Eden, I’m sorry, but—”
“How did this happen?” Her sob cut off his words. The instant she’d heard his apology, she’d made the mistake of looking for herself.
The penguins were dead, too.
Dane grasped her upper arms to keep her from collapsing onto her knees. “I promise we’ll get to the bottom of this. I won’t rest till we have an answer.”
When he wrapped his arms around her for a hug, it only reminded her how much she missed Jasper. Until now, she hadn’t realized how great a role he’d played in her life—not that it mattered.
She’d never see him again.
She wasn’t even sure why she’d called, other than that she loved this place more than any other in the world. On what would no doubt be her last visit, she’d wanted to share it with him.
That said, at the moment the man who needed her most was her grief-stricken father who wept over the lifeless penguin chick he cradled in his palms.
Eden had only taken two steps in his direction when the ground began to shake.
Four days later . . .
WHAT HAD HE been thinking?
Disavowed Navy SEAL Jasper King jumped down from the snowcat he’d spent the past four hours riding on from McMurdo Station, then raised his gloved hand to his forehead, shielding his eyes from the glare of sun on snow. For as far as he could see—which, granted, wasn’t all that far with frigid wind swirling patches of white stuff into an otherworldly haze—was a whole lot of nothing. If not for the fact that he was currently jacked up on bad coffee and concern for his friend, the vast sea of white stretching in front of him would have sent him packing for that little slice of Bahamian heaven he was all the time dreaming about.