Disclaimer: See title page.
Jo sat quietly in her chair up on the slightly raised stage of the Shute Harbor chapel. She looked out over the steadily-filling pews, nodding occasionally in greeting to the people walking in. Ron had been a popular character around the twin towns of Shute and Airlie Beach and both were pretty much shut down for the day. The skipper's eyes scanned the room. Paul and Jenny were already here, sitting quietly on either side of Doris in the front row. Every other Cheswick Marine employee was here too, including Frank and his crew from the Beowulf, whose passengers had kindly offered to cut short their trip by a day.|
Again Jo swept the room, her eyes faltering only when they fell on the beechwood casket placed just in front of the stage. Ron's weather-beaten sailing cap was placed on top, resting on the white Australian naval ensign he was entitled to as an ex-Navy man.
Jo sighed. The last three days had been a blur. Funeral arrangements had been largely left to her, and Doris had needed all the help she could get to keep the Cheswick Marine office up and running. Ron had left specific instructions for his farewell, something for which Jo had been incredibly grateful.
Planning this from scratch would have been just too tough, she thought sadly. The service here in the chapel would be followed by a private cremation and then the Seawolf, and any other boats that cared to, would sail out to the far side of Whitsunday Island and scatter Ron's ashes over the stretch of water he adored most.
Why can't I cry? Jo wondered. So much that has happened over this past week has hurt. And I miss Cadie like · She swallowed. That hurts like nothing I've ever known. And I've known some hurt. She closed her eyes and conjured up the blonde's sweet face in her mind. Where are you now, my love? I would give anything to have you close. She tried to imagine Cadie back in the snowy winter landscape of Chicago. I hope you're okay, angel.
Jo was brought back to reality by the gentle coughing of the presiding priest. The chapel was now full. In fact there was standing room only at the back and Jo felt a quiet sense of pride in the number of people who had come to pay their respects. She refocused, trying to concentrate on the priest's words as he began the service.
You may not have had much in the way of blood family, Ron, she thought. But take a look around, mate. You were loved.
Cadie was jolted awake by the sudden cessation of the bus' swaying motion. She came close to rolling off the three seats she was sprawled across, but just managed to brace herself with an outflung elbow into the back of the seat in front of her.
"Goddamn it," she muttered to herself. It was only about the trillionth time that had happened during the 29 interminable hours she had been on this bus since it left Sydney. Oh yeah, she thought. This was a good idea.
The blonde sat up to ascertain where exactly they were. The few remaining passengers were gathering together their belongings and making their way off the bus. Cadie stood and caught the eye of the driver.
"Airlie Beach, Miss," he said in answer to her unasked question. "End of the road."
"Thank God," she muttered. Two days ago the bus had seemed like the best option, given the relatively restricted nature of her finances. As predicted, her credit card had ceased to function within hours of Naomi's estimated time of arrival in Chicago and Cadie had been trying not to spend money ever since. Twenty-nine hours and a rumbling stomach later, she was beginning to question her own wisdom.
"I wouldn't expect to find too much open in town, though Miss," the bus driver volunteered helpfully.
"Why's that?" Cadie asked, wondering how long it would take her to track down Jo. She gathered her bags together and shuffled towards the door. God, I hope they have cabs in this town, she thought, only half-listening to the man.
"Everyone's gone to Big Ron's funeral," the driver replied. "I'm heading there myself now."
"He must have been a popular guy," Cadie murmured wearily. She dropped her bag out the door and turned back to pick up the rest.
"Oh, that he was," he said. "Nobody better than Big Ron Cheswick."
"Well, thanks for getting me here," she said, biting back the sentiment that she was amazed she was sane and in one piece.
"No worries, Miss," he said cheerily as he prepared to pull the door shut behind her. He restarted the big coach just as Cadie stepped onto the tarmac of Main Street, Airlie Beach. Moments later, the bus chugged off south towards Shute Harbour and she was enveloped in a cloud of choking exhaust fumes.
"Perfect," she muttered, coughing the garbage out of her lungs. When the air cleared she looked around at her surroundings. Main Street was essentially one long street lined by souvenir shops, restaurants, trendy boutiques and coconut palms. The bus had dropped her outside JC's, a bar and steakhouse. She vaguely remembered Jo telling a funny story about a night she and her boss had tied one on here.
Cadie wandered a little closer to the restaurant, happy to see that it was open. Her stomach growled again.
If Jo and her boss think this is a decent place to eat, then who am I to argue, the blonde thought. Something was nagging away at the back of her brain. Jo and her boss ... Jo and ... ohhhhhhhhhh shiiiiiiiiiiit.
Cadie sprinted back out onto the road, looking in the direction the bus had headed, but it was already long gone around the corner of the bay.
Her heart was hammering in her chest and a wave of longing for Jo welled up inside her.
Dammit, I've got to get there, she thought desperately. Of course, it would help if I knew where there was. She stepped back onto the footpath in time to see someone coming out of JC's. As good a place to start as any.
"Excuse me?" she asked as the man turned back to lock the door of the restaurant.
"Yes, miss?" he replied, smiling as he tucked his keys into his pocket and walked out towards her.
"I'm trying to get to Ron Cheswick's funeral, but I don't have a clue where it's being held, or how to get there from here. I was wondering if you could help me out?"
The man smiled, revealing a sparkling gold tooth.
"As a matter of fact, that's where I'm headed myself," he said. "Would you like a lift?"
Relief washed over the American like a cold shower.
"You know, that's the best offer I've had in days," she said, smiling back at him tentatively. "Thank you, yes."
The swarthy man bent down and picked up her biggest bag.
"Come on then. I'm parked over there." He gestured to the other side of the road. "You look like you've had a long trip. Are you a friend of Ron's?"
Cadie swung her slouchbag over her shoulder and trotted after him.
"Not exactly," she replied. "Actually I've never met him." He looked at her quizzically. "But I am a friend of Jo Madison's. My name's Cadie by the way." She offered a hand.
He took it.
"They call me Slick," he said, smiling at her curious look. "Don't ask," he laughed, opening the trunk of his car, and tossing her bag inside. "It all goes back to a very long night in the 70's." Cadie nodded in understanding. "A friend of Jo-Jo's eh? She's a diamond in the rough that one." The blonde smiled at the description.
"Do you know if she's okay?" she asked once they were in the car and under way. "I've been trying to call her cell phone for three days but she's had it switched off."
"Not very surprising," he said, negotiating around a slow-moving caravan going up the hill above Shute Harbor. "She's had to organize the funeral and it's been a bit hectic, I think. She came in for a drink a couple of nights ago, and she looked like hell, to be honest."
Cadie's stomach was tied in knots. Ohhhhh baby, I'm sorry I haven't been here. Dammit, I should never have left. Why do I always come to the right conclusion just that day or two too late?
"Are you all right?" Slick asked, watching the blonde's fists ball up as they rested on her thighs.
She nodded, making a conscious effort to loosen up.
"Yeah," she breathed. "I just really need to get there."
"You got it," Slick replied, flooring the pedal.
It was Jo's turn to speak, and she suddenly wished she'd had some more time to think about what she was going to say. The preacher finished his introduction and there was an anticipatory silence as Jo felt eyes all round the chapel settle on her. With a slightly shaking hand she brushed a piece of lint from the knee of her pantsuit and cleared her throat. She pushed herself up and walked slowly to the podium.
A couple of hundred faces turned her way and her mouth went dry. Public speaking was not Jo's cup of tea. Oh, a boatload of tourists was one thing but putting together coherent thoughts - paying respects to someone they all cared about - that was something else altogether. She reached for the glass of water balanced on the podium and quickly took a couple of mouthfuls.
Cadie, I need you, she thought miserably. I'm tired and I'm sad and I don't want to deal with this on my own anymore. She could hear people coughing and shuffling their feet. Not that I have much choice about that. She took a deep breath and began.
"When I first met Ron Cheswick he was interviewing me for a job as a deckhand. He had no reason at all to employ me. I'd never sailed before, I was new in town, and I'm sure I had that 'lean and hungry look' that made me appear a little desperate." A low ripple of laughter rumbled around the room as others recognized themselves in the description. Encouraged, Jo pressed on. "He saw something in me that I still, to this day, don't understand. That was one of the gifts Ron had ... "
Cadie hesitated outside the door to the chapel.
I am so not dressed for a funeral, she thought self-consciously, glancing down at her jeans and rumpled, slept-in shirt. Bit late to be worrying about that now, Cadie.
She reached for the doorknob but was transfixed by a familiar and very welcome sound - Jo's rich alto being projected through the chapel's speaker system. She closed her eyes as a thrill of anticipation ran through her, provoking a tugging ache low in her guts that surprised her with its intensity.
Ohhhh Jossandra, what you do to me. She shook her head and opened her eyes again, almost laughing at her visceral reaction to the woman she loved. I'm at a funeral for crying out loud, she chastised herself. Melting into a big, horny puddle is not an option right now.
She pulled open the door and stepped in to the cool of the air-conditioned chapel. Her first glance told her the place was packed. There was nowhere to sit that she could easily see, and the standing room was crowded enough to leave her out in the aisle. Her second glance was to the tall woman occupying the stage.
Jo was dressed in an elegant black pantsuit over a pale blue silk shirt that brought out the color of her eyes. Cadie's breath caught in her throat at the sight of her. The skipper was as easy on the eye as always but it was the dark circles under those blue eyes and the lines of tension that most caught her attention.
God I wish I could just go up there and hold her, thought Cadie wistfully. She looks like she could use all the support she can get. Instead she held her ground in the middle of the aisle, mentally projecting as much love as she could in her friend's direction.
Jo was working the room as best she could, trying to pull everyone into the story of Ron's life. Somewhere in her mind she was vaguely aware of some latecomers entering the chapel, but as her eyes scanned the chapel the last person in the world she expected to see was ·
Cadie? Whatever she was saying at that moment stalled in her throat and Jo was left speechless. Oh my god · Cadie. The blonde's sparkling green eyes beamed love and joy towards her and the skipper felt her heart stall in her chest, then rush to catch up to its rhythm. Damn, Jo-Jo, don't faint now. She was hard-pressed to keep the grin from her face, before she remembered why she was there and continued her eulogy.
That's more like it, my love, thought Cadie triumphantly, relieved to see the beginnings of a grin flicker across the tall woman's face. Hang in there.
A few minutes later Jo finished her tribute to the big Cheswick Marine boss and the formalities of the ceremony were completed. Paul joined her and four others of Ron's closest friends as pall-bearers, carrying the casket to the hearse. As they passed her, Cadie felt a warm, long-fingered hand slide into hers and squeeze briefly before moving on. Then she was caught up in the large crowd that filtered out into the brilliant sunshine.
Cadie leaned against the outside wall of the church, watching quietly as Ron's casket was loaded into the hearse and people dispersed to their cars for the next phase of the funeral. She had no trouble keeping Jo in her sights, the dark-haired skipper's height making her easy to follow above the heads of most of the congregation.
Finally Jo was done with the arrangements and was free to come looking for her favorite American. The two women approached each other slowly, grins adorning both their faces. Cadie couldn't wait any longer and broke into a run, jumping into the taller woman's arms.
"Ooommph." Jo rocked back on her heels as Cadie's compact body thumped into her but she quickly regained her balance, throwing her arms around the American and steadying them both. Cadie squeezed her hard, legs wrapped round the skipper's hips.
"Oh my god, I am so glad to see you," Jo said breathlessly, close by Cadie's left ear.
"I'm so sorry about Ron, sweetheart," the blonde replied.
Jo closed her eyes and just savored the feel of Cadie in her arms.
Wasn't expecting to feel her again for a long time, she thought. If ever, she admitted to herself. Gently she lowered the blonde to the ground and stepped back a little, reveling in the warm wash of love between them. Soft green eyes gazed up at her.
"What on earth are you doing here?" she asked, her voice cracking with emotion. She reached out with a hand and gently stroked the blonde's cheek. "You're supposed to be in Chicago by now."
Cadie took a second to lean into Jo's touch, hungry for continued contact with the tall woman. Then she shrugged and looked up into deep blue eyes that brimmed with unshed tears.
"Things got pretty ugly at the airport in Sydney," she said simply. "I suddenly realized that I have the right to happiness as much as Naomi does. She was trying to dictate my life and it hit me that I didn't have to put up with that." She smiled up at Jo, feeling calm and right about her decision for the first time since she'd driven away from Naomi.
Jo smiled softly at her. The relief she felt wasn't just for herself. Knowing Cadie had the strength to see what was right for her, and had the courage to go after it, was gratifying.
"We have a lot to talk about," she said quietly.
Cadie nodded, still smiling.
"Yes we do," she agreed. "But at least now we have some time. I have another two months left on my visa."
Jo beamed at her.
"I don't think I've ever been so happy to see someone in my life," she said, shaking her head in wonder. "It's been a tough week." Cadie heard the tears close to the surface in the taller woman's voice and she stepped forward again, wrapping the skipper in the warmest hug she could muster.
"I know, baby," she whispered. Jo buried her face against the shorter woman's shoulder and neck, letting the tears come for the first time in days. "It's okay, sweetheart," Cadie soothed. "Let's just get through today and then we relax a little, yes?"
Jo sniffled and nodded before standing up straight again, her equilibrium restored. A tantalizing thought occurred to her as Cadie wiped away her tears with the soft pad of her thumb. Jo ducked her head again, this time kissing the blonde lightly.
"And I think there's a big, safe bed waiting for us somewhere," she whispered when their mouths parted.
"Ohhhhhh," Cadie gasped, surprised by the intensity of the bolt of desire which shot through her at the taller woman's words. "God, Jo. That's not going to make the day go any faster." She smiled shyly.
"I know," the skipper said with a lopsided grin. "But I couldn't resist teasing you." She sighed. "Still got a lot to do here, though," she said, looking around at the still-dispersing congregation, some of whom were looking curiously at them. "You want to tag along for the rest?" she asked hesitantly, unsure of just how much Cadie was up for.
"Of course," the blonde answered immediately. "Jo, I'm not letting go of you again. You're stuck with me."
Jo looked at her wide-eyed, recognizing the commitment and fierce determination on Cadie's face. The blonde hesitated at Jo's expression, suddenly unsure.
"Is · I mean · that is okay, isn't it?" she asked nervously, rattled by the surprised look on the skipper's face.
In answer, Jo scooped her up in another enthusiastic hug.
"Oh god, yes," she whispered fiercely in Cadie's ear. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to throw you. You just caught me by surprise." They pulled apart again. "Come on," said Jo, offering Cadie her hand. "Let's go get this done." Grinning, Cadie slid her hand into Jo's larger one, happily falling into step beside the tall woman.
"Bye, Doris. See you in a few days." Jo took the office manager's hand and steadied her as she made her way back across the Seawolf's gangway and onto the Cheswick Marine pontoon. Doris was the last of the passengers to leave. All the Cheswick employees had decided that as the next load of tourists wouldn't arrive till early the following week, a few days off were in order. Doris had agreed to switch the office phone over to her home number and they were all looking forward to some time away from the water.
And time with each other, Jo thought with a smile as she watched Cadie chatting amiably with Paul and Jenny. The couple had decided they would get married on the weekend and the threesome were happily discussing plans while Jo pottered about stowing away pieces of equipment and battening down.
The two crewmembers had welcomed the blonde back enthusiastically, and in true Whitsunday tradition, hadn't asked questions about why, but had just accepted the American's presence happily.
Got a few questions about that myself, Jo thought. But it can wait. For right now I just want to hold her.
Jenny and Paul had decided they would get married on the weekend and the threesome were happily discussing plans while Jo pottered about stowing away pieces of equipment and battening down.
The afternoon had been a fitting farewell for Ron. Jo had sailed the Seawolf out beyond Whitsunday Island with a boatload of his closest friends, and there they had scattered his ashes. The journey back to port was a truely Irish wake, with much food, drink, laughter and singing. For the first time in days, Jo felt herself start to relax.
Cadie looked over at the lanky skipper and smiled. Time to take her home, she decided. She looks like she could use a distraction or two.
"Jo-Jo?" she called out.
"Mmmmmm?" Jo answered, looking up from where she was winding a sheet into a neat coil.
"Take me home?" Cadie said quietly, feeling a surge of anticipation at the look her question provoked.
The skipper felt a slow, burning ache deep in her guts just looking at the easy smile on her friend's face. Soon to be more than a friend, I'm guessing, she acknowledged to herself. I want her so badly, I could ·
"I think I can do that," she said aloud instead.
"I'll lock her down skipper," Paul said obligingly.
"He means the boat, Cadie," Jenny reassured, noting the suddenly startled look on the blonde's face.
They all laughed.
"Thanks, Jen, I was beginning to worry," Cadie giggled.
"Hey, Jo-Jo. Who's the suit?" Paul asked, gesturing with his head to the man standing on the pontoon looking at them.
Awwwwwww geez, now what, wondered Jo, recognizing him. "It's Ron's lawyer," she said. "Come aboard, John," she called out.
He waved back and stepped out along the gangway as Jo jumped down into the cockpit to join the others. She reached out to shake his hand.
"John Jacobs, meet Paul Burton, Jenny Gulliver and Cadie Jones," she said quickly, hoping the man would get through his business in good time. "What can we do for you?"
The lawyer remained standing, holding his briefcase nervously in front of him.
"Well, I was rather hoping I could have a private chat with you Miss Madison," he said diffidently.
Jo looked at him in puzzlement.
"No need," she replied shortly. "We're all friends here."
"Very well, then," the thin little man said. "May I, uh ·" He indicated the cockpit bench.
"Yes, yes, please," she invited him quickly. "Have a seat."
He did so, placing his briefcase beside him and flipping it open. He took out a sheaf of papers.
"Basically I need to talk to you about certain aspects of Mr Cheswick's will, of which I am the executor," he said quickly. "As you know, he died without any children and he specifically did not wish his ex-wife to receive anything."
"No surprise there," Jo murmured. She looked over at Cadie who was listening quietly. "It wasn't a friendly divorce," she explained. The blonde nodded in understanding, wondering just how ugly her own was going to become.
"Yes, well," the lawyer continued. "Mr Cheswick specified that all his assets, other than those attached to Cheswick Marine ö the house, his car, furniture etc ö be sold and the proceeds poured into the business' coffers."
Makes sense, thought Jo. Then whoever buys the business will have a fair shot at a new start. She looked at Jacobs expectantly.
"So when will the business get sold off?" she asked, hoping whoever took it on would keep things running for a while at least.
The lawyer looked at her strangely.
"Well, that rather depends on the new owner," he said, handing her the sheaf of papers.
"Obviously," she said impatiently. "What are these?"
"The deeds to the business," he replied matter of factly. "Including the registration and ownership papers to the Seawolf and the Beowulf." He leaned forward towards her at her baffled expression. "In other words, you are the new owner of Cheswick Marine, Miss Madison."
A stunned silence settled over them. Jo's eyes widened as the words started to sink in.
"You have got to be kidding me," she finally blurted out. She looked over at Cadie to find the blonde's hands covering her mouth and her eyes twinkling with delight. "He's kidding me, right?" Jo asked desperately.
"Er, no, Miss Madison. I am most certainly not, er, kidding you," the lawyer reassured, tucking some errant papers back into his briefcase and closing it again. He stood and looked down at the woman who held the documents close to her chest in astonishment. "Please take a couple of days to look through those," he said. "And give me a call if you have any questions. Then we can talk about a business plan."
With that he headed back across the gangway and along the pontoon.
"He's kidding me, right?" Jo said eventually, triggering an explosion of merriment from the other three.
Paul whooped and Jen squealed, while Cadie just applauded, her eyes brimming with tears as she watched sudden understanding, and then slow delight creep into Jo's wide blue eyes.
"Congratulations, darling," Cadie said, beaming as the two others went below decks to find some champagne. The blonde stood and moved to Jo's side, sliding a hand into the crook of the skipper's arm and kissing her cheek softly. "You're a boat owner."
"Holy shit," Jo said, slightly dazed. "I'm a two-boat owner."
Several hours later, Cadie finally managed to persuade Jo to relax. As the realities of Ron's generosity began to sink in, the tall skipper had become increasingly excited by the prospect of running her own yacht charter business. Talk of the possibilities had carried them through the short drive up to Jo's house and a light supper. Now, halfway down a bottle of very good red wine, Cadie could feel Jo's energy levels returning to somewhere near normal.
They were snuggling in the soft leather of the couch. The blonde leaned back against Jo's left shoulder, the taller woman's arm wrapped around her shoulders. They both rested their feet on the coffee table, where the papers Ron's lawyer had given Jo were strewn.
Jo sighed deeply, closing her eyes as she felt Cadie gently kiss the palm of her left hand, triggering a delicious tingling.
"Mmmmmmmmmmmm," she purred in pure reaction. "I'm sorry, darling. We've done nothing but talk about the business." She leaned forward a little and buried her face in the blonde's hair, planting her own tender kiss there.
"It's okay, love," Cadie replied, patting the taller woman's thigh. "It's been quite a week for us both. I was just glad to see you looking happier."
"Tell me what happened with Naomi," Jo said quietly. Cadie leaned forward, placing her wineglass back on the coffee table before turning and snuggling back into the skipper's arms. This time she buried her face into Jo's neck, throwing her left leg over the other woman's long limbs.
"Basically, she told the world's press that not only was I going to give up my business, but that we were going to have a baby just as soon as I could arrange to get myself pregnant," she said simply.
There was a short silence as the impact of her words sunk in.
"I'll say this for her," Jo said eventually. "The woman's got elephant balls." Cadie laughed against her neck and Jo wrapped her arms protectively around the smaller woman, squeezing her gently. "What happened then?"
"You know, I'm not really sure," Cadie replied pensively. "Everyone was kind of stunned for a few seconds, including me. And then it was like a switch flicked over in my head and I decided I wasn't going to let her win this round." She felt Jo's arms tighten around her. "So I took a deep breath and told them all that if I was going to have a big year making babies then I was going to stay in beautiful, restful Australia for another couple of weeks." She grinned as Jo chuckled under her ear.
"Just like that, huh?"
"Yup." Cadie laughed out loud. "It suddenly occurred to me that I could use the media just as well as Naomi could. And there wasn't a thing she could say that wouldn't make her look like a fool."
"So you just waved goodbye and walked away?"
"I kissed her on the cheek first," Cadie said.
That provoked a loud guffaw from the skipper.
"Oh that's perfect," Jo said happily once she'd recovered. "How did you get out of there?"
"Jason helped me," Cadie replied. "He got me on to one of those people-mover things and told the guy to get me the hell out."
"Good for him," Jo said. She'd always had the feeling Toby and Jason weren't the yes-men Naomi seemed to think they were. "I bet Naomi was unimpressed."
"I almost feel sorry for them all being stuck on that plane with her. I thought she was going to stroke out."
Jo smiled quietly.
Couldn't happen to a bigger bitch, she thought to herself.
"I know what you're thinking," Cadie said softly. "And you're right. But I still feel bad about it."
"Don't," Jo said firmly. "Cadie, I'm incredibly proud of you. Even if you had decided not to come back here, I would still be proud of you."
"Why?" came a small, suddenly uncertain voice. Jo cuddled her even closer.
"Because you were brave enough to take responsibility for your own happiness, and to let Naomi worry about her own stuff, for once."
"I guess so."
"Honey, I know so. You did the right thing for you, and that's a big part of the battle." There was a comfortable silence while they both just enjoyed the other's presence. Then Jo spoke up again. "So what did you do after you left her?"
"Went to a hotel and waited for my luggage to catch up with me. I tried calling you but you must have had your cell phone switched off," Cadie replied. She lifted her head and looked at Jo. "Actually I tried to call you for three days with the same result."
"M'sorry, angel," Jo replied. "I assumed you were in transit or in Chicago, and I didn't much feel like talking with anybody. The whole world and his dog were trying to contact me once the news about Ron filtered through. And then I was kept all kinds of busy trying to arrange things."
Cadie reached up and kissed her softly, nibbling gently along Jo's bottom lip.
"It's okay," she said finally, trying to think through the haze of low-burning desire. "I was just worried about you."
A lazy, sexy smile was her answer and Cadie felt a subtle shift in the mood of the tall woman wrapped around her. Jo moved carefully, sliding herself around and cradling the blonde, lowering them both back onto the sofa.
"No need to worry about me sweetheart," Jo burred in her ear, sending chills down Cadie's spine. The blonde slid one hand around Jo's waist, using the other to brush dark bangs away from the skipper's face, stroking her cheek slowly with a thumb.
"It was a good kind of worry," Cadie whispered, her mouth just millimeters from Jo's. "It was a Îknowing I'd soon be in your arms' kind of worry."
"Oh, really?" Jo rumbled, kissing her way slowly along the line of Cadie's jaw, forcing a low groan from the smaller woman. Her right hand slid down the blonde's left thigh, teasing and tantalizing the soft skin she found along the way. "You're very sure of yourself, aren't you Miss Jones?"
Cadie gasped, arching under Jo's touch. She found herself moving, her hips undulating of their own accord against the taller woman's. She finally found her voice.
"The one thing I've been sure of over the last few days," she said huskily. "Is that with you, I was safe." She kissed the corner of Jo's mouth softly, moaning as the dark woman deepened the contact quickly with the tip of a warm, insistent tongue.
Soon they were lost in the kiss, their bodies moving together in an unconscious, slow rhythm. Legs tangled and thighs pressed against heated centers. Jo felt sensation building low in her belly and forced herself to pull away from the kiss.
"God, Cadie," she growled. "Let's go to bed and get comfortable."
"Yes," the blonde replied breathlessly. "I want you so much, Jo."
Quickly they disentangled themselves and Jo stood, offering Cadie a hand up.
"Want to grab the wine?" she suggested. "I'll go kick Mephy out of the bed."
Cadie grinned and nodded her agreement. She watched as Jo quickly walked into her bedroom.
If I ever get back use of my legs, I'll follow her, she thought.. Wow. She giggled nervously to herself as she bent down to pick up the wine bottle and two glasses. Did Naomi ever make me feel this way? A shiver of anticipation wriggled down her spine as she made her way to the bedroom.
Jo was working her way around the edges of the room, lighting candles as she went. She had always loved candlelight and now, more than ever, she wanted the atmosphere to be just right. As she lit the last few Cadie wandered in and they smiled quietly at each other.
"You're nervous," Cadie stated softly. Jo nodded, biting her bottom lip uncertainly. "Don't be," the blonde whispered. "I've never felt so right about anything in my entire life." She placed the bottle and glasses down on the bedside table and watched as Jo walked around the bed to join her.
The tall woman slid her arms around Cadie's waist, pulling her close.
"I just want this to be perfect," Jo whispered, ducking her head for another tender kiss.
"It already is," Cadie replied when they broke off. She slid her hands up Jo's front, curling her fingers around the smooth fabric of the skipper's silk shirt, and tugging it out of the waistband of her pants. Starting with the bottom button, she began undoing the fastenings, working her way up until she could slide her hands across the velvet skin of Jo's stomach. Cadie slipped the shirt off Jo's shoulders, then leaned forward till she could kiss gently along the lacy edge of the taller woman's bra.
Jo groaned, the sight and feel of the gorgeous blonde's face in her cleavage making her weak at the knees. She reached around and tugged at Cadie's tee-shirt, determined to have the American against her skin. Cadie stopped kissing the swell of Jo's breast long enough to allow her to drag the shirt over her head, but then resumed. Her hands caressed up Jo's back until they encountered the bra's clip, which she deftly released.
Cadie backed off a little, watching the bra drop away slowly, revealing Jo's full, exquisite breasts. She couldn't help but groan at the sight, and she stepped forward again, gently cupping one before kissing the proud nipple, sucking it tenderly into her mouth.
Jo's knees buckled as the warm, wet softness curled around her breast, and she cried out even as Cadie's arms quickly wrapped around her in support. The blonde moved them so the bed was against the back of Jo's knees and they dropped together, Cadie suckling still as Jo pulled her down on top of her.
"Oh, god, Arcadia, what are you doing to me," Jo murmured, overwhelmed by the aching tug as Cadie alternated between one breast and the other, kissing and nibbling, teasing.
"Loving you," the blonde mumbled.
Jo reached down and took the younger woman's face in her hands, gently pulling her up.
"Come here, so I can kiss you," she urged and Cadie quickly complied, sliding herself up the long, supple body beneath her. They kissed deeply, Jo taking the opportunity to undo the front-fastening of the blonde's bra, slipping her hand quickly under the fabric till she found a hard nub pressing against her palm. She caught it between her thumb and forefinger, squeezing gently, but relentlessly.
Cadie tore her mouth away, crying out as she arched, pushing herself up on her hands. Jo smiled at the intensity of the blonde's reaction, adoring the expression on the American's face as she teased and tweaked and rolled her nipple. Soon they were kissing again, Cadie's hand frantically working on Jo's belt buckle, flicking it aside and sliding the zipper down. Urgently, almost roughly, she wiggled her hand under the layers of fabric, marveling at the strong bands of muscle twitching under her fingers. Soon she was stroking through soft curls, then cupping Jo's heat strongly.
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh." Jo arched upward into the pressure from Cadie's fingers. She wanted more, so much more, but the blonde withdrew. Jo's eyes flickered open. "Noo, don't stop," she beseeched, but Cadie was standing next to the bed, fumbling with the fastening of her own jeans.
"I can't stand it anymore, Jo," Cadie muttered. "I have to be naked with you." She pushed down her jeans and panties, stepping out of them as Jo hurried to remove the rest of her own clothes.
Soon, finally, nothing separated them and both women reveled in the feel of skin on skin. Urgency, tempered by weeks of curiosity and desire, made them explore, tease and tantalize each other until there was nowhere to go but forward. They traveled the contours and folds of each other's bodies with hands and mouths.
"Jossandra," Cadie murmured.
"Yes, my love," Jo replied, her mouth close to Cadie's ear, her low growl pulling an invisible chain attached to the blonde's center.
"Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm," she responded. "Touch me, please, Jo-Jo. I need you to touch me."
Jo pulled back a little, looking deep into green eyes darkened by desire. She smiled slowly, trying to contain the nervous butterflies jangling in her stomach. She slid her bottom hand under Cadie's shoulders, cradling the blonde close. Her right hand began a meandering journey down Cadie's midline, teasing her belly button, circling the points of her hipbones. Finally her fingertips came to rest at the edge of the blonde's curls.
By now Cadie's hips were moving of their own accord, and it was all Jo could do to stop herself plunging ahead. Instead she ducked her head and captured the blonde's nipple between her teeth, biting down gently. Cadie keened her response, arching again under her. Jo felt the blonde's hand on her wrist, pushing, urging her further. This time the dark-haired woman didn't resist, sliding her fingers through damp curls until she felt herself dipping into warm, moist folds, an exquisite sensation that threatened to tip her over the edge.
"Mmmm you are so wet, sweetheart," she whispered against Cadie's mouth. Her fingers continued to tease and circle the blonde's swollen nub, each flicker causing her hips to jerk.
"God, Jo, don't stop, please, don't stop," Cadie panted, riding the growing tide of sensation welling up between her legs. She slid an arm around Jo's waist and pulled her closer.
"Oh, I'm not going to stop, baby," Jo promised. She let her fingers dance over Cadie's clitoris, then teased her entrance and back again, knowing instinctively what would drive the blonde to the brink. Cadie was rocking against her now, eyes closed, her breath coming fast and shallow between moans. Jo's own desire was raging and she fought to keep control, wanting instead to concentrate on giving her partner pleasure. I want this to be perfect for you, my angel.
"Yes, Jo, please," Cadie almost yelped as she felt Jo's fingertips dip a little further inside her. "Please baby, I want you inside me."
Jo groaned, and slid her thigh between Cadie's, pressing her hand tighter against the blonde's wetness. She waited, reading Cadie's movements and then took her chance, plunging deep inside her with two long, strong fingers, her thumb resuming its teasing motions against her clitoris.
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Jooooooooooooooooo," Cadie sighed, pressing herself hard against the dark-haired woman's fingers.
"Yes darling," Jo crooned, her own orgasm threatening as Cadie's frantic movements under her pushed her wetness rhythmically against the blonde's thigh. "Yes, sweetheart, come for me, Cadie."
Cadie's consciousness was focused solely on the feel of the woman above her, around her and inside her. She suckled and nuzzled Jo's neck, no longer aware of her own body's movements, instead entranced by the building ache that seemed to flow like fire from Jo's fingertips. Just · got · to · let · it · go, her mind insisted.
She realized with a jolt that Jo was just as close as she was, the taller woman sliding wetly against her thigh even as her fingers continued to thrust inside Cadie. Jo voiced her passion in low moans close to Cadie's ear and suddenly the blonde was right on the brink.
"Jo-Jo, baby, come with me. Come with me, darling."
Jo answered with a groan that coursed through Cadie, tripping her over the edge. The dam broke and she was awash with pure sensation that blossomed deep in her guts and spread in waves that opened her wide.
Jo waited until she felt Cadie's orgasm rip through her and then, a half-second later, she plummeted over the edge after her. They rocked and slid and convulsed together, their cries mingling and spurring each other on until, finally, inexorably, their movements slowed. They were nose to nose, breathless and sweaty, wide-eyed at their mutual experience.
"Wow," Jo whispered, searching the sea-green eyes below her. "Have you ever ·?"
Cadie shook her head weakly, bathing in the glow of the dazed blue eyes gazing into hers.
"Never," she said, trying to catch her breath, still feeling the throbbing deep inside her. "Have you ·?"
"No." Jo collapsed onto her and the blonde carefully wrapped her arms around the skipper, pulling her close and cuddling her softly against her.
"Wow," she whispered.
Jo felt a week's worth of tension rush to the surface on the heels of her physical release. Safe in Cadie's arms, she was powerless to stop the sudden, silent sobs which wracked her. She buried her face against Cadie's neck and held on for dear life.
"It's okay, sweetheart," Cadie soothed, stroking the older woman's silky hair as she held her close. "Let it out, baby, just let it out." She felt Jo take a long, ragged breath and then, finally, she let loose, giving voice to her tears. "That's it, angel," Cadie crooned.
After a few minutes, Jo's breath came more smoothly, and she slid to one side. Cadie reached out and brushed away the last of the tears.
"Thank you," Jo whispered.
"For what?" Cadie kissed the end of her nose softly.
"I'm not sure," Jo replied uncertainly, caressing the blonde's stomach as they lay side by side.
"You've never felt safe enough to cry in another woman's arms before, have you, Jo-Jo?"
She shook her head mutely, emotion closing her throat suddenly. Cadie saw the helpless look cross Jo's face and she pulled her close again.
"You're always safe with me, darling," she said.
"Goddess, you are beautiful," Jo murmured as she leaned on an elbow, gazing down at Cadie, whose blonde locks spilled across the pillow. She noted the flush which rose on the American's skin and traced it with a fingertip, watching the goosebumps rising behind it.
Cadie's own fingers were busy, tracing lazy circles around Jo's breast, closing in on her nipple and then moving out again. Slowly they began moving against each other again, legs entwined, Jo half-pinning the smaller woman under her.
"So are you, my love," Cadie replied, entranced by the soft blush that adorned Jo's angular cheeks. She wrapped her arms around the taller woman and pushed up, rolling them both over until she leaned over Jo. Then she began leaving a fiery trail of kisses between her breasts, teasing soft skin with her tongue as she slid down the long body under her.
"Where do you think you're going," growled Jo softly.
Cadie lifted her head long enough to gaze frankly at her lover.
"I want to taste you, darling," she whispered honestly.
"Ohhhhh myyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy," Jo responded as a shot of pure lust ripped through her at the blonde's words. Cadie slid lower, trailing her tongue over skin suddenly covered in goosebumps. "Ohhhhhhh, it's going to be a long night," Jo murmured happily.
An evil chuckle was the blonde's only verbal response.
"Paul, relax will you? You're making me nervous just looking at you." Jo watched the tall crewman pacing the confined space of the Seawolf's cockpit like a caged lion. "I don't know what you're so tense about, anyway. We're in the middle of the ocean, and the bride's already on board. She's not gonna stand you up, mate."
"That's not the point, skipper," Paul growled as he passed her for the millionth time in the last 10 minutes. "This is a big deal. This is for life, you know?? Life." He paused and looked her in the eye for emphasis on the last word.
Jo couldn't help giggling.
"Oh come on, Paulie. You can't tell me you're having doubts about this? You adore Jen. We all know. Hell, some of us have known it for months. Come to think of it, you were probably the last to know. But I know you, mate. And I've never seen you happier than since you proposed to her." She watched as he resumed his pacing. "Snap out of it."
He stopped in his tracks and turned on his heel to face her.
"I know, I know. I'm sorry, skipper. I'm just nervous, is all."
Jo beamed at him and shrugged.
"What's to be nervous about, mate?" she reassured him. "Take a look around." She gestured at their surroundings. "It's a gorgeous day. The boat is packed full of your best friends. We're in the middle of Heart Reef. And any minute now, Jen is going to come up that companionway looking stunning. What more could you ask for?"
"You're right, I know you're right," he said. "Thanks skip."
"Hey, that's what a best man is for, right?" She grinned at the big man. "Go talk to Marilyn." She pushed him in the direction of Airlie Beach's resident eccentric and marriage celebrant, who was communing with nature near the stern. "Make sure she hasn't lost the vows."
"Jesus, you don't think she's ·" He caught sight of Jo's face and realized he was being teased. "I'll get you for that, skipper."
Below decks Cadie was putting the final touches on Jenny's bridal bouquet. Much to her surprise the Seawolf hostess had asked her to be her only attendant for the ceremony, a gesture Cadie very much appreciated.
I feel very at home here already, she thought with a smile as she handed the finished bouquet to Jenny. And these two good people have been a big part of that. A quick trip to the dress shops of Airlie had turned up a simple but gorgeous summer dress in just the right shade to complement Jenny's bridal outfit. It also happened to set off the green of Cadie's eyes and all in all she was pleased with the effect.
Living in this kind of weather all year round is going to suit me just fine, she thought as she gave herself a quick appraisal in the main cabin's mirror, noting her healthy tan. Beat's the hell out of winter in the Midwest, that's for sure.
She turned as Jenny came out of the tiny bathroom.
"Ready?" Cadie grinned at the brunette.
"As I'll ever be," Jenny replied, smiling. "Come on, let's go get me hitched, before the big dope changes his mind. He's been fretting for days."
"I think he was hoping you wouldn't notice."
"The man's been going to the bathroom every three hours for the past four days. It's been kind of hard not to notice." They both giggled. "Let's go put him out of his misery, shall we?"
Cadie walked out ahead of the bride, keying the stereo with the quiet background music Jenny and Paul had selected for the ceremony.
Jo hurriedly moved the nervous groom into position as she heard the music begin. The small crowd of friends and family who had been milling about the Seawolf's deck gathered around and she took up her position to Paul's right. The marriage celebrant stood at the stern facing forward.
Cadie came up on deck and Jo, who hadn't yet seen in her new outfit, took a deep breath and drank in the sight of the lovely blonde. The American caught the skipper's eye as she walked to Paul's left and smiled shyly, reading Jo's rapt expression accurately.
With all due respect to Jenny, Jo thought, I know who the most beautiful woman here today is - and she's mine. She slowly became aware that she had the silliest of grins on her face. And I'm sure that everyone here knows that I think so.
Cadie laughed quietly at the dumbstruck expression on her lover's face as she stood waiting for Jenny to take her place beside Paul.
Damn, she looks wonderful, Cadie mused as she took in Jo's stylish grey silk pantsuit that nicely complemented Paul's suit. She certainly knows how to dress. She tried hard to refocus as Marilyn started proceedings.
"We are gathered here today to celebrate the love of Jenny and Paul," the celebrant began.
I wish we could do this, Jo thought, keeping her eyes firmly locked on Cadie's. She let the celebrant's words flow over her, concentrating instead on feeling the connection between herself and the beautiful blonde across the way. I know we can do the commitment ceremony thing any time we want to, but · Green eyes smiled back at her. Twelve years with Naomi is a long time. She wouldn't want to tie herself down to someone else so soon after that. Jo recognized her cue and handed Paul the tiny box containing the wedding rings. Would she?
Cadie watched as Jo waited for Paul to take both rings out of the box and then tucked the small velvet container back into her pocket.
Would she ever want go through a ceremony like this with me, she wondered. We haven't talked much about her past girlfriends. She blinked a couple of times at the thought. We haven't talked about it at all, she admitted to herself. I don't really know how she feels about this sort of commitment. She listened as Jenny and Paul exchanged their vows. I know there isn't anyone else I want to spend my life with. But I'm not sure she wants that. Jenny slid the ring on Paul's finger and Cadie smiled. Does she?
"And now Jenny and Paul have a rather unusual request to make of you all," the marriage celebrant said. The bride and groom turned to face the the guests and Jo and Cadie did the same, exchanging smiling glances. "You are all here today because you are cherished friends and family of these two. Are you willing to offer them both friendship, love, care and support as they make their way through life together?"
There was barely a pause before the resounding response came from all on board.
Jo couldn't take her eyes off Cadie as the ceremony ended and her heart melted as she realized the blonde was having the same problem. Jenny and Paul wandered off to be congratulated by the rest of the guests and the two lovers clasped hands as they met behind them.
"You look stunning," Cadie whispered as Jo leaned down to kiss her on the cheek.
"And you take my breath away," Jo replied softly, wishing they could be alone. Both took a few seconds to absorb the warmth between them.
"So what's the plan?" Cadie asked.
"Well, we party on here while we sail to Hayman Island, where we drop Paul and Jen off at the resort." She grinned. "And then Rosa and Roberto have invited us to dinner at their place." She indicated the gregarious Italian couple who were laughing with Paul and Jenny further forward. She leaned in and whispered conspiratorially. "I think they want to meet my new girlfriend."
"Oh Lord," Cadie sighed. "Rosa's already met me, remember?" She winced, recalling that ugly night.
"Mhmmm, but this time she wants to meet you as la parte della famiglia ö part of the family," Jo replied with a reassuring smile.
Cadie couldn't believe how much food there was on the table. She and Jo were the Palmieri's only guests but · There has to be enough here to feed 20 people, the blonde wondered, awestruck. I didn't even know there were this many kinds of pasta.
"Honey," came a sexy, low whisper close to her ear. "Don't look so scared. It's only spaghetti."
The blonde giggled, but whispered back.
"Tell me that when I've exploded and they're scraping me off the walls."
Jo laughed and slid her hand to Cadie's knee and squeezed reassuringly.
"S'all right, sweetheart," she said. "I'll make sure Rosa doesn't stuff you beyond your limits." She grinned.
"Gee, thanks, darling," Cadie sighed. Just then Rosa and Roberto came back into the room, each carrying another enormous platter of food. "Good grief," Cadie whispered, eyes widening. Jo sniggered.
"Here we are, here we are," exclaimed Rosa, putting the dish down on one of the few remaining clear spots on the overloaded table. "Come, come Arcadia, help yourself, please." She began spooning indiscriminate tablespoons of pasta and sauce onto Cadie's plate.
"Wow, Mrs Palmieri, this is an amazing spread," Cadie said, smiling at the woman.
"Ah, ah, ah, mia piccola principessa," said Rosa, wagging a finger at the American admonishingly. "I have already told you, you must call me Rosa. Everybody, they call me Rosa." She walked behind Jo's chair, ruffling the tall skipper's hair as she went. "Even this one."
"I'll try to remember, Rosa, thank you," Cadie said graciously.
Further conversation was made impossible by the tumultuous arrival of Rosa's youngest, 12-year-old Sophie, dragging her older brother Tony by the hand.
"See, I told you they were here Tony," the youngster squealed in delight, letting the young man's hand go and leaping onto Jo's lap. The skipper happily absorbed the impact.
"Hello, possum, how are you?" she asked as she tickled the squirming girl.
"I'm good." Big brown eyes took in Cadie's presence. "Aren't ya gonna introduce me, Jo-Jo?" she asked cheekily, grinning.
"Yes, brat, I am, if you give me half a chance. Sophie, this is Cadie Jones. Cadie, this little monster is Sophie Palmieri."
"Nice to meet you, Sophie," Cadie said, extending a hand which the girl shook enthusiastically.
"So you must be Jo's new girlfriend, huh?" she asked bluntly.
Jo rolled her eyes and slapped her forehead at the youngster's precociousness.
"Yes, yes I am," Cadie said, grinning back at the pre-teen.
"That's cool," Sophie replied calmly. "You must be pretty special though. She's never brought anybody here for dinner before."
"Is that right?" Cadie looked at her lover, who was blushing deeply, and smiled softly.
"Go, troublemaker," Jo said gruffly as she slapped Sophie on the backside and sent her giggling on her way.
The rest of Family Palmieri settled into their places around the table but before they could begin eating Rosa had them all hold hands for grace. Cadie slid her right hand into Jo's and felt Roberto's larger, rougher hand take her left. The surprised look on Jo's face told her that it wasn't usual for Rosa to say a formal blessing before meals.
"We must thank Il Padre before we eat," Rosa insisted, smiling at her guests. Everyone bowed their head and the matriarch led the prayers. "We thank you Father, for the food on our table and the love of our family, both of our blood and of our choosing." Cadie felt Jo squeeze her hand and she smiled. "We thank you also for the life of Ron Cheswick, for the many blessings he brought to us while he was here." She paused as they all reflected on the week's events. "And finally, Father, we thank you for the new joy we see in bella Jossandra's eyes." This time it was Jo's turn to feel Cadie's reassuring squeeze. "You have seen fit to find a way to bring Arcadia into her life and we know it means only good things for them both. Amen." An echo came around the table.
Cadie opened her eyes to a circle of wide smiles which she readily returned. Jo was speechless and more than a little tearful at Rosa's gesture. Fortunately, the Italian didn't expect too much of her in response.
"Don't look so stunned, little one," she pronounced, reaching up with both hands and patting the tall woman's cheeks. "You know we have always wanted the best for you Jo-Jo. Why would you be so surprised that we give thanks when our prayers are answered?" She beamed at the dark-haired woman.
"Thank you, Rosa," said Cadie quietly. "Thank you, all of you." Roberto squeezed her hand.
"You are familia now," he said. "Come on, everybody, we eat now. Enough talk."
Jo laughed and turned to look at Cadie, who brushed away a tear from her lover's cheek with a soft fingertip.
"I'm just a big mushball, aren't I?" Jo said huskily.
"It's all right sweetheart, your secret is safe with us," Cadie said solemnly, resisting the urge to tweak the embarassed woman any further. But her twinkling green eyes gave her away.
"Oh shut up," Jo replied softly as she leaned in to steal a kiss.
"Ewwwwwwwwwwwww, mushy stuff. Make them stop, mama," came a disgusted voice from the other side of the table.
"Hush, Sophia," her mother admonished. "One day very soon you will realize that ö how do you say it in English, Jo-Jo? L'amore fa il mondo va rotondo."
Jo laughed and leaned towards Sophie.
"Love makes the world go round, kiddo."
Cadie didn't have to do much convincing to persuade Jo to take a midnight stroll along the beach with her before they went back to the Seawolf. The evening had been full of fun and laughter and for the first time in weeks she felt fully relaxed and happy. She tucked herself into the crook of Jo's arm as they wandered barefoot along the Hayman Island beach. Away to their left the lights of the resort twinkled and above them the moon, approaching full once again, bathed everything in liquid silver.
Jo was silent but Cadie sensed the tall woman was content just to be together.
"You do realize we're going to save an incredible amount of money over the next few weeks," Cadie said finally.
There was a pause while her lover thought about the incongruousness of that statement.
"Okay, I'll bite," Jo said finally. "Why is that?"
"Because I for one won't need to eat for about a month," Cadie said with a grin. She patted her stomach. "God, I feel like a tubby little Buddha."
Jo kissed the top of her head and laughed at the thought.
"S'funny, because to me you feel like a gorgeous, sexy woman," she said softly.
"Ohhh you are such a sweet talker," Cadie replied, standing on her toes to reach up and plant a kiss on Jo's cheek. "It was a lovely day, Jo-Jo. Thank you."
"For including me in everything. The wedding. Rosa and her family. It's been wonderful."
Jo was a little perplexed and she stopped walking, pulling Cadie around to face her. She tipped the blonde's chin up slightly with her fingertips.
"Arcadia," she said gently. "You are a part of me. Somehow I knew that from the moment we met. I couldn't not include you in everything if my life depended on it." She gazed down into silvered green eyes. "Is that what you want, my love?" She found herself holding her breath.
"It was a beautiful ceremony today, wasn't it?" Cadie asked after a brief pause. Jo nodded silently. "I kept wondering all through it, if that was the kind of commitment you would want to make to us, one day." She saw Jo eyes, almost black in the moonlight, widen. "Because I think it's what I want," the blonde whispered. "I just wasn't sure · I mean, we've never talked about · that kind of thing ·"
"When have we had the chance? Talk about your whirlwind romance." They both laughed softly.
Jo traced Cadie's lips delicately with the pad of her thumb.
"Angel, I have never in my life felt about anyone the way I feel about you." She wrapped her other arm around the blonde's waist, just wanting the feel of the compact body against her. "When I was in Sydney ·" She paused, reluctant to let her mind go back there. "Women were afraid of me. I was the Dark Avenger, y'know?" She shook her head ruefully and she felt Cadie's arms slide around her reassuringly. "And when I came up here I just kept everyone at arm's length. Emotionally, at least."
Cadie chuckled at the woman's blush, just discernable in the moonlight.
"It's okay, sweetheart," she said softly. "I'd pretty much figured out you were no virgin."
"But then you came along," she continued. "And I didn't want to keep you at arm's length. Not ever. Not in any way at all." Cadie grinned up at her. "During the wedding I was wondering if it was way too early to be asking you to marry me." Jo swallowed hard.
"Are you proposing, Jo-Jo?" the blonde whispered, wanting desperately to be sure she was understanding properly.
"I love you, Cadie. I know you were with Naomi for a long time, and that you've only been away from her for less than a week. But I can't think of any better way to tell you how I feel, than to ask you to spend the rest of your life with me."
Cadie's heart melted at the simplicity of the tall woman's words. She stretched up and captured Jo's soft lips in a deep, passion-filled kiss that escalated quickly until the skipper took them both down into the warm sand. Jo cradled her as they let the desire ebb a little into a gentle undercurrent.
"Jossandra," Cadie whispered close to her lover's ear. "It doesn't matter how long I was with Naomi. It doesn't matter how long I've been away from her. None of that mattered from the moment I saw you. It just took until Sydney Airport for me to realize it." She felt Jo smile at that. "Yes, my love, I will marry you."
Jo buried her face into the soft skin of Cadie's neck, suddenly speechless with happiness. Cadie smiled up at the moon over Jo's shoulder, feeling more contentment than she had a right to, she was sure.
"I adore you, Jo-Jo," she said quietly. She felt the skipper pull away just enough that they could look into each other's eyes.
"And I adore you, Arcadia," came the reply. "Now and forever."
"Now and forever," the blonde confirmed.
They were content to lie sleepily entangled in the sand for several minutes, just listening to the rush and retreat of the small waves against the beach.
"There are a lot of loose ends, baby," Jo murmured finally against Cadie's neck.
"Mhmmm, that there are," the blonde agreed. "Not the least of which is figuring out what we have to do so that I can stay here permanently."
"Are you sure that's what you want to do?" Jo asked, shifting so she was resting on one elbow. "We could go live back in the States."
Cadie smiled and shook her head.
"Sweetheart, you just inherited your dream business. Don't try and tell me you want to give that up, because I know better." Jo grinned down at her, recognizing it for the truth. "My business is the mobile one," Cadie continued. "All I need is a phone and a laptop and I've already got those."
"What about your family, and all your stuff back in Chicago?" Jo asked.
"Well, Mom and Dad will understand. They've already heard a lot about you," the blonde said, brushing a stray lock of ebony hair off Jo's face as she thought about the phone calls she'd had with her mother over the past several days. "By the way, Mom called this morning while you were getting Paul organized."
"Yeah?" Jo kissed the corner of her mouth softly.
"Mhmmmm," Cadie replied languidly, happily noting the wave of tingles spreading through her as Jo's hands explored. "A van full of my stuff arrived on her doorstep yesterday."
Jo paused and met the blonde's eyes steadily.
"Wow," she said grimly. "Fast work."
"Mhmmmm. The senator doesn't waste much time when she's pissed."
Jo sighed, a frown creasing her brow. Cadie reached up and smoothed it away with a gentle fingertip.
"Darling, don't worry about it. We have two months before my visa runs out. That's plenty of time to work out all these details." She slid a hand around the back of Jo's neck and tugged her down for another long kiss. "Right now, all I want is you."
Jo groaned softly.
"Your wish is my command, princess," she murmured.
Several heated minutes later, it was Cadie who came up for air first.
"Jo-Jo," she gasped.
"This beach is very romantic, but if you're going to continue to touch me there ·" She caressed the back of Jo's intrepid hand gently and felt her lover grin against her neck. "Then take me back to the Seawolf first. Sand in that particular spot doesn't really appeal."
A low rumbling chuckle close to her ear sent sexy chills down the American's spine but before she could make the most of it, Jo was on her feet and offering her a hand up.
They walked hand-in-hand back along the beach towards the Hayman Island marina.
"Would you like to go sailing tomorrow?" Jo asked.
"Mmmmmm yes please," Cadie replied. "I wish we could take Mephisto with us, Jo. He hasn't seen much of us this week."
"We can," Jo said matter-of-factly.
Cadie stopped in her tracks.
"Really? On the boat?"
Jo nodded, grinning at the blonde's surprised expression.
"Sure. I take him sailing with me a lot. He comes from a long line of ship's cats. The only reason he doesn't come on every cruise on the Seawolf is because there's always one guest who's allergic." She kissed Cadie quickly and pulled her along the beach again. "He's an old hand."
"Cool. So we could pick him up in the morning."
Silence reigned again for a few more seconds.
"Hey," Cadie said suddenly. "First one back to the boat gets to be on top." She raised a playful eyebrow.
"Ooooo, you're on," Jo purred, with a lopsided, sexy grin.
Cadie crouched into a starting position.
"On your mark," she said. "Get set ·" The blonde set off at a sprint, pounding along the damp, hard sand near the waterline. "Go," she yelled over her shoulder at the stationery skipper left in her wake.
"I don't know what the future's going to bring, Cadie Jones, but with you I know it's never going to be dull," she muttered, grinning as she pushed herself off, long legs chasing after the woman of her dreams.
My thanks to beta readers Luna and Auntie Beth for their invaluable assistance. King of the Beach will be published by Renaissance Alliance Publishing in the second half of 2003.
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