A Revelation ...
Disclaimer: See title page.
The quartet made it to the top of Hayman Island without further encounters with the wildlife. The last 50 metres had been hard work, as it was much steeper than the rest, but they were well-rewarded for their efforts. The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service had built a small platform and benches with a spectacular view looking south down the length of Whitsunday Passage.|
"Wow," said Cadie, reaching for her camera. She took a long series of pictures panning from east to west before finally swinging her pack off her back and sitting down on one of the benches. "Do you ever pinch yourself, Jo? Living in such a gorgeous part of the world, I mean?" She looked at the tall skipper who was standing with one foot propped on a rock, gazing out at the panorama.
She looks like a goddess, Cadie thought.
"Oh yeah," replied Jo softly, knowing Cadie could have no clue just how much like a dream this was in comparison to the world she once inhabited.
Toby and Jason had settled on the other bench and were happily munching the sandwiches Jenny had prepared for them.
"Is this home for you, Jo?" Toby asked. "I mean, were you born here?"
Jo turned back to face them all, dropping her pack at her feet and sitting down on the rock.
"No. My parents are sheep station owners, out in the west of New South Wales," she said.
"Station?" asked Cadie. "You don't mean trains?"
"No - station, as in, ummmmm, ranch? A farm, I guess." Cadie nodded in understanding. "I pretty soon figured out that farming was not for me, and as soon as I was old enough to drive myself, I moved to Sydney. Then just over five years ago I came up here." She took a large bite out of a sandwich, using the mouthful as a reason to shut up. She felt Cadie's eyes on her, and for the first time in two days, couldn't meet them.
"Did you sail boats in Sydney?" asked Jason.
"No," she replied, taking another bite and chewing slowly.
A goddess who doesn't like talking about herself, apparently, thought Cadie. Interesting. She needs some help here before the boys give her the third degree.
"Toby and Jason are the new whizkids of the political world, back home," she said quickly before either of the men could delve deeper into Jo's past.
"Is that so?" asked Jo, grateful to have the focus off herself. "I know you're the senator's public relations team. But what does that mean, really?"
"They make her look good," said Cadie dryly. Everyone laughed. "It's true."
"Well, kind of, I guess, Cades, but I'd like to think our job is a bit more -" Jason looked to his partner for inspiration. "Principled," said Toby for him.
"Yes, that's it," Jason agreed. He turned back to Jo. "Naomi can't be everywhere at once. She can't always have the answers at her fingertips. We just make sure her message gets to the right people at the right time."
Jo raised one eyebrow quizzically and looked at Cadie. This time it was the blonde who couldnžt meet her eyes.
"And what's the message?" she asked.
"Strong, stable government. Equal rights for all," chorused the twosome in unison.
Cadie stirred the dirt with her toe, silently.
Jo watched her sympathetically and then turned back to the men, smiling quietly.
"Sounds very - reasonable," she said. She glanced back at the blonde, wondering if she had any right to ask her questions, given her own reluctance to answer questions about herself. The decision was made for her when Cadie's sea-green eyes lifted and met her own.
"I'm a literary agent," said Cadie.
"Cool," she said with a grin. "You find publishers for writers, yeah?"
"Exactly," said Cadie, smiling back. "And occasionally I find writers for publishers - if they have a specialist book they want written for example."
Jo nodded. She cocked her head a little and studied the smaller woman.
"It suits you," she said.
"Mhmmmm. You're in the right job. It ... fits."
"I like to think so," she said.
They held each other's gaze for a few beats before Toby cleared his throat pointedly.
"Time we got back, don't you think, skipper?" he said quietly, exchanging a quick look with Jason.
Jo looked down at her watch, aware that both she and Cadie were blushing.
"Yep," she said. "If we go back down now, there'll be time for a swim before we head around to the resort."
"God that sounds wonderful," said Cadie with a groan. "I'm sweating buckets."
They made it back to the beach in good time after sticking together on the return journey. Partly that was Toby and Jason's reluctance to come face-to-face with any more wildlife on their own, and partly it was a silent but mutual agreement between Jo and Cadie that being alone together was probably not a good idea.
Paul drove the tinny up onto the beach and the two men headed for him, throwing their backpacks into the boat. Cadie took the opportunity for a quick conversation with Jo.
"Is there any reason why I shouldn't swim back, Jo-Jo?" she asked.
Jo smiled at the familiar diminutive, loving how it sounded coming from the blonde.
"No, but it's further than you think." She paused. "You're worried about Naomi, aren't you?"
"I just think any chance to keep us separated is a good idea at this point."
"Mhmmm. I'll go back with Paul. If you get too tired, yell out, though, okay? The distance really is deceptive."
"Okay. I'll be fine." Cadie grinned up at her. "Thanks for a lovely walk."
"My pleasure." She watched the American walk down to the dinghy and drop her backpack and camera into the boat, before Cadie stripped off her shirt, shorts and hiking boots. Jo tried not to stare as her compact, bikini-clad form came into view.
Goddess, she thought. What I wouldn't give to be within arm's reach of her right now. She sighed.
Cadie waded into the water and dove under, kicking out towards the underwater forest of bommies and the Seawolf in the distance. Jo climbed into the tinny and settled in with the three men.
"Let's go, Paulie."
As it turned out their arrival back on the boat was barely noticed by the senator and her entourage, who had spent more of the afternoon exploring the bottom of various bottles of alcohol than the sandy bottom of Blue Pearl Bay. Naomi was asleep, on her back, snoring in the afternoon sun, oblivious.
By the time Cadie climbed back on deck, Jo was hunkered down with Paul in the engine compartment, piecing the motor back together. They were both sporting smears of grease on their faces and were bantering back and forth.
"You do this to me every trip, Paulie," Jo said with mock weariness as she cranked away on a stubborn bolt.
"I'm telling you I heard something," came the muffled reply from the blond crewman who was head down, backside up in the confined access panel under the central table of the cockpit.
"Yeah, yeah, you heard something. The Abominable Snowman is still out there too somewhere. And the Loch Ness monster, and the Yowie and ..."
"Alright, alright, alright," he grumbled, just as exasperated as she was. He sat upright again.
Jo grinned at him fondly.
"Face it Paul. You just love pulling this thing apart and putting it back together again, don't you?"
Jo looked up as Cadie stepped past them, making her way down to the main cabin.
"Good swim?" she asked, trying desperately not to notice the American's toned and dripping body. There's only one thing sexier than Cadie Jones in a bikini, she thought. And that's Cadie Jones in a soaking wet bikini, on the deck of my boat.
"Great thanks," grinned Cadie, her skin tingling as the skipper's eyes swept over her and then flicked away. Like she's trying not to look, she chuckled to herself. Goddess, I wish - She shook that thought away. "You were right, though, it was further than it looks. I'm beat."
"Well, if Paul the Intrepid Mechanic here has done fart-arsing about with the engine, we can fairly shortly be on our way to the resort," said Jo, slapping the crewman across the shoulder with her workglove.
"I don't mind if you never get it going," said Cadie, disappearing down the companionway.
By 7pm the Seawolf was safely tucked into her assigned berth and locked down for the night. Jo, Paul and Jenny were sprawled around the main cabin, talking quietly as the guests readied themselves for their evening ashore. Jenny had set up a tray of champagne flutes filled with ice-cold bubbles on the cockpit's central table for the passengers to sample on their way out.
The lack of sleep from the night before was beginning to catch up with Jo and she rested her head on the back of the couch, listening to Jen and Paul speculate on their own evening ahead.
"God I hope Rosa makes those little dumplings with the red stuff inside. I love those," said Paul.
"She makes that every time we go to her place for dinner, Paul. It's a fair bet she'll make it again," she said.
"Great. I'm drooling already," he replied.
Jo smiled and closed her eyes, letting the two deckies' conversation drift over her as her thoughts wandered. I'm gonna sleep tonight, that's for damn sure. She listened with half an ear as some of the passengers started to emerge. Jenny whistled at Toby and Jason in their tuxedos, and the two men began a running fashion commentary as the women came out of their cabins.
"Therese and Sarah are resplendent this evening in matching Dolce and Gabbana power suits, one in burgundy and the other in teal," said Toby.
Jenny and Paul applauded as the two attorneys got into the spirit, parading down the length of the cabin. Jo watched sleepily from where she sprawled, laughing at the antics.
"Senator Silverburg of Illinois is all style and class in a classic tailored dinner suit by Armani," announced Jason as Naomi hooked her jacket collar with her forefinger and flicked it over her shoulder. She then followed the attorneys up on deck as Larissa and Kelli flounced out of their berth in full supermodel style.
She could actually be a supermodel, thought Jo as the stick-thin Kelli sauntered by, spinning once before climbing the companionway to the cockpit. Larissa, sporting a red sequined sheath, shimmied after her.
"Come on Paul, grab a bottle," said Jenny, picking up a freshly opened bottle of champagne. "At the rate these guys drink, they'll be yelling for a second glass any minute now."
Paul followed Jen up onto the deck, leaving Jo to her own thoughts. She stayed as she was, head back, eyes closed, letting the sounds of the boat flow over her. The passengers laughed and clinked their glasses against each other and then started moving above her, making their way ashore and to the restaurant.
I wonder if they even realise Cadie isn't with them, Jo wondered. How can they not miss her? I miss her whenever I can't see her. She laughed quietly to herself. When did that start happening?
Cadie was flustered. Naomi had taken forever in the tiny bathroom and there just hadn't been enough room to work around each other, so she had sat quietly on the bed, reading her manuscript. Finally the senator had been ready, walking out to meet the others, barely grunting when Cadie had complimented her on her outfit.
And now Cadie was stuck. She'd hurried into her dress and had managed to get the zip two-thirds of the way up her back, but no matter how she contorted herself, she couldnžt reach the rest of the way. Up until a couple of minutes earlier she could hear the others either in the main cabin or up on deck but now everything seemed silent.
They left without me, thought Cadie. Well if that doesnžt just sum it all up. She sighed. God, I'm tempted to just stay here. Screw them. It's not like they're gonna miss me.
She growled quietly to herself and made another attempt at the zipper. Goddammit. I'm gonna have to enlist some help.
She padded over to the door and cracked it open. She was surprised to see Jo, half-reclined on the galley sofa, her feet on the seat opposite, head tilted back, dark hair flowing over her shoulders.
One brilliant blue eye opened and focused on her. A stunning wide smile followed.
"Hi Jo -ummmmmmm, I donžt suppose you know if Naomi is around?" asked Cadie, suddenly shy under the tall skipper's intense gaze.
"Errrr, no. Actually, they already left," said Jo, sitting up straighter, and bringing her feet down to the ground. "Is something wrong? ... Apart from the fact they left you behind?"
"No big surprises there," muttered Cadie. She decided to bite the bullet. "Well, yeah, kind of. I, ummmm, need a little assistance getting into this thing." She opened the door completely to reveal the simple, elegant, black lace dress.
Jo was stunned into silence. She knew her jaw dropped but there was nothing she could do to prevent it. Cadie was utterly gorgeous to behold. The dress was just the right length to show off the athletic blonde's toned legs to best effect. The neckline plunged perfectly.
Cadie's sea-green eyes sparkled at the look on Jo's face, and she felt a warm glow beginning somewhere south of her waistline, spreading up and through her like a shot of brandy on a winter's night.
She cleared her throat softly.
"Now look who's staring," she said quietly, remembering the previous night's moonlight encounter.
She's breathtaking, thought Jo. Just ... breathtaking. Come on, Madison, connect your brain to your motor centres. Move.
"I'm sorry," she said hastily, stumbling to her feet like a some kind of clumsy newborn colt. "Um, it's just I wasn't expecting ... you look so ..." She took a deep breath. "You are beautiful, Arcadia."
I've never liked my name. Until now, thought Cadie, thrilling at the sound of Jo's warm contralto rolling around her full moniker.
"Thank you," she said, feeling the blush rise as Jo walked slowly towards her. Cadie turned her back on the tall skipper. "Could you ... ?"
Jo swallowed and walked closer to the petite American. Awkwardly she wiped suddenly sweaty palms on her shorts then reached for the jammed zipper. She was close enough to smell Cadie's apricot-scented shampoo and ... She inhaled deeply.
"You smell wonderful," she said softly, her fingers fumbling slightly with the zip. "Is that Obsession?"
Cadie nodded slowly. If she comes any closer I'm going to faint, I just know it, she thought. Every now and then she could feel Jo's fingertips brushing against her skin and each fleeting touch sent rivulets of warmth through her.
I want to touch her so badly, thought Jo. She tried to absorb every tiny sensation of Cadie's skin that she could. So soft. The temptation to run her hands over the blonde's back and shoulders was almost too much for her and she hesitated as she finally unsnagged the zip and gently pulled it closed.
"Can I ask you something, Cadie?" she asked, staying close behind her.
Where is she going, thought Cadie. God, Jo, please don't ask me for something I can't give right now. I don't want to say no to you. Don't make me, please. She found herself holding her breath as she nodded again.
"These people ... they're not really your friends, are they?"
Cadie turned to face Jo, surprised by the question.
"No they're not. Not at all. They're all Naomi's friends," she replied quietly, looking up into hooded blue eyes. "I didn't even know they were coming with us until we met them at the airport in Chicago."
Jo cocked her head to one side, listening. It's so cute the way she does that, thought Cadie.
"That really sucks. I'm sorry. Doesn't make for much of a vacation for you."
"To be honest, I've gotten kind of used to it," she said sadly.
"That doesn't make it right," Jo said softly, looking deep into the blonde's eyes.
Her eyes are so hypnotic, thought Cadie. I could spend hours ... days ... long, endless days ... lost in them.
Instead she reached up and gently cupped Jo's cheek, smiling at her softly. So warm, thought Jo, leaning into the touch slightly.
"Thank you for the good thoughts, Jo. I really appreciate them. And thanks for the ..." She flicked her thumb over her shoulder, indicating the troublesome zip.
"No worries." Oh no, no worries at all.
"If I don't get going, they're going to be halfway through their appetisers before I even sit down," Cadie said. She slipped on a pair of black heels and picked her purse up from its resting place on the bed.
Jo backed out of the cabin, letting Cadie past. As the blonde headed for the companionway, the skipper had an idea.
"Cadie hang on a second," she said. She reached around and unhooked her cellphone from its place on her belt. "Do me a favour, take this with you. Paul and Jen's numbers are programmed into the speed dial." She keyed the relevant menu buttons to show her where. "They're going to be with me all evening. If you need anything, or if you just want picking up at some point, call. Okay?"
Cadie gazed up at the tall skipper gratefully.
"Thank you," she said softly.
Two hours later Jo, Paul and Jenny were up to their armpits in good food, friendly company, and several very drinkable bottles of lambrusco.
Jo drained another cold glass of the sweet red wine, only to have it refilled by Roberto, Rosa's gregarious husband.
"Drink, drink, drink," he bellowed, making the rounds of the table, splashing more wine into everyone's glasses, regardless of whether they needed refilling or not.
Jo grinned. It was hard to have a bad time at Rosa's dinner table, and as she looked around she was unsurprised to discover that she wasn't the only one letting her hair down.
Paul and Jenny were enjoying each other's company, ribbing and poking fun under the maternal wings of their hostess at one end of the table. Jo was beginning to have her suspicions about her younger crewmates and she could tell by the twinkle in her eye that Rosa was also making note of the chemistry between the two.
Jo smiled at the thought. They certainly look good. I hope they are getting together. They make a terrific team.
Down her end of the table, Jo was sitting opposite the youngest of Rosa's children, 12-year-old Sophie, the baby of the family. The dark-haired, brown-eyed girl had a bad case of hero worship when it came to the tall skipper, something Jo found flattering but uncomfortable at the same time. Sophie had spent most of the evening gazing adoringly at her.
Roberto plonked down in the end seat next to her and placed a large, rough hand on her shoulder.
"You don't eat enough, Jo-Jo," he exhorted. "None of you do. Look at you three, you are skin and bone, all of you. Come, come eat more of Rosa's ravioli or she will make my life a misery. Come, come." He spooned another enormous helping of the creamy concoction onto Jo's plate, then tore off a hunk of garlic bread and popped it into her mouth when she opened it to object. "Do not tell me you do not have room, Jossandra, I know better," he said.
Jo didn't need her arm twisting. Rosa had outdone herself. The spinach ravioli, stuffed with ricotta cheese, were covered in a creamy herb sauce and sitting on a bed of fragrant pumpkin mash. She scooped another forkful up and happily munched away. The table was piled high with wonderful food. Paul had his dumplings, but there was also veal parmigiana, and a huge dish of spaghetti bolognaise.
God, I may never eat again, thought Jo, glad she'd opted for a pair of sweatpants rather than tighter-fitting jeans. She'd gained a second wind since feeling so sleepy earlier in the evening. She sighed happily and wondered how Cadie was doing. I wish she was here, she thought. She could use some real fun.
"Yes, Sophie?" Jo leaned over the table to grin at the young girl. "What can I do for you?"
"Can I have some of your wine, pleeeeeeeeease?" The cherubic smile and batting eyelids were all innocence, but Jo had long ago learned to recognise a flirt when she saw one.
She's going to be a heartbreaker, that's for sure, she thought with a smile.
"Now, Sophie, you know your mother would have my guts for garters if she knew I was giving you this stuff," she admonished. "Besides you've got some right there in your glass." She nodded her head in the direction of the small amount of watered down lambrusco the girl had beside her plate.
"Pleeeeeeeeeeease Jo-Jo? I promise I won't bug you anymore?" Big brown eyes pleaded.
"Tell you what," said Jo. "Instead of lambrusco, how about you come sailing with me next time I have a free day. How does that sound?"
Sophie's squeal of delight and enthusiastic hand-clapping drew the attention of the whole table.
"What promises are you making my daughter, bella Jossandra," laughed Rosa as Sophie sprinted around the table and smothered Jo in an all-embracing hug that nearly knocked her off the chair.
"Ooooof ... just a little sailing, mamabear," replied Jo, happily returning the youngster's hug.
"Can I mama?" begged Sophie.
"Maybe. If you are good and stop squashing Jo-Jo, I will consider it," said Rosa with a mock fierce look at her baby. "Now sit back down and finish your meal like a civilised human being."
The child happily complied, planting a big wet kiss on Jo's cheek before she climbed down.
"God, Rosa, I swear your cooking just gets better and better," said Paul around yet another mouthful of dumplings. "I have no idea how you make these but they're the best thing I've ever eaten."
Rosa reached out and patted the big crewman's face gently.
"Paulo, for you only I make them, so they are made with love," she said cheerily.
"You are so full of shit, mamabear," he grinned back at her. "But thank you anyway. They are delicious."
"It's all delicious, Rosa," interjected Jo, grabbing the passing salad bowl from Jenny. "Thanks for inviting us."
"Aaaah Jo-Jo. You three are my ... how do you say it ... i miei bambini quando non ho di bambini ... ummmm, my children when I don't have children, you know? I worry about you when you are not here. And when you are here, I want to feed you and keep you safe and make sure you have love in your life, lei capisce?"
"Aaaaw, Rosa that is so sweet," said Jenny, reaching over to hug the larger woman impulsively.
Jo smiled quietly to herself. Sometimes she had to pinch herself when she found herself surrounded by these friends of hers. Friends who never asked about her former life, trusting only what she was now. It wasn't that they didn't care where she had come from, it was more that it bore no relevance to their opinion of her now. And they loved her, she knew that. And more often than not, she marvelled at it.
One day I will feel safe enough to tell them who I am, she thought to herself. Who I was ... But right now I need these people too much to risk losing them. I want to believe they will still love me when they know the truth, but ...
For long moments, she found herself looking at her hands as if they didn't belong to her. Hands that were holding a knife and fork, pushing food around the plate. Hands that had, on more than one occasion, wrung the life from another human being.
Jo swallowed hard, fighting back an aching tug in her throat. And Cadie ... sometimes I feel as if she already knows all my secrets, she thought. Especially when she looks into my eyes like she does. But she doesn't know them. So it's not true and it never will be true. Because even if I ever get that brave, in two and a half weeks' time she'll be gone ...
"Hey, Jo-Jo!" Paul yelled at her, breaking her reverie.
Jo looked up quickly, seeing five pairs of eyes watching her quizzically.
Jesus, where the hell was I? she thought.
"Sorry," she said shortly. "I was away with the fairies there for a minute. S'been a long day ... night ... day." She laughed.
"Bloody hell, skipper, what planet were you on?" teased Paul.
"Planet Sleeping-On-Deck, Paulie. A planet you're going to be visiting tonight, by the way."
"Oooo goodie," said the crewman unenthusiastically.
Rosa caught Jo's eye as other conversations resumed around the table, and the rotund woman smiled knowingly at the tall skipper. She leaned around behind Jenny to speak to Jo.
"I was hoping your mystery woman would come with you tonight, little one," she said softly.
A sad smile passed across Jo's lips.
"No chance, mamabear. She needs to be doing what she's doing and I need to let her. There's nothing I can do about any of that."
"But you remember what I told you this morning, Jo-Jo. Che sarų, sarų."
"It would be so nice to believe that Rosa," she said quietly. "It really would. But I can't let myself do that, because I'll only be disappointed."
Cadie slowly twirled the scotch glass with her fingertips as it rested on the table in front of her. She leaned her elbows on her right knee, which was crossed over her left, and watched the room full of people in front of her.
Dinner at La Fontaine had come and gone, and half the group had moved on to Hernando's, one of the resort's nightclubs. Toby and Jason had opted instead for a moonlit walk around the resort, while Therese and Sarah had headed for the theatre where a world-class jazz band was playing.
Hernando's was smoky and dark, save for the swirling, flashing patterns flicking across the dance floor, which was packed with writhing, sweaty bodies pulsating to the deafening blasts of house music.
Cadie was alone at the table, the others somewhere in the maelstrom of dancers. Naomi, it seemed, was taking the rare freedom of her anonymity outside the US to acquaint herself with every woman in the room.
The only thing louder than the music was the pounding headache making Cadie's temples throb. She knew the Chivas Regal probably wasn't helping in the long term, but for now it made her feel better.
She hadn't missed much by being late to the restaurant. Naomi and the others were still sitting at the bar when she arrived. Conversation had rather ominously stopped as she had approached the group, and all night long Cadie had had the rather paranoid suspicion that there was another whole layer of conversation going on around her that she just wasn't a part of, an undercurrent.
La Fontaine had been everything Jo had promised. The food was divine, the service was immaculate and at one point Cadie had recognised one of the waiters as being the man on the beach with Jo this morning. He wasn't assigned to their table, however, though he had nodded and smiled at her a couple of times when she caught his eye.
One thing was concerning Cadie greatly. Several times during the meal, Larissa and Kelli had whispered conversations with their waiter. And now, here he was again, out of uniform and dancing his way towards the couple who were entwined around each other in a corner of the dance floor.
Jesus Christ, could they be any more obvious, thought Cadie disgustedly as she watched the furtive exchange of small packages from hand to hand. What the hell am I going to do about that? she wondered as the waiter melted back into the crowd. Larissa and Kelli shimmied their way through the crush, seeking out the senator.
Cadie felt her heart sink as all her worst fears looked close to being proven. She watched as Larissa and Kelli found Naomi and after a few seconds' conversation she saw the senator glance her way.
Shortly Naomi was back at the table, sitting down next to Cadie and leaning in for a shouted conversation. Oh, I know what this is going to be about, thought the blonde.
"Why don't you head back to the boat?" yelled the senator over the music.
"Why Naomi? So you and the girls can get high without worrying about whether I'll see anything?" shouted Cadie back.
Naomi's face darkened in anger.
"You're imagining things Cadie," she warned. "All I meant was you're looking tired."
The blonde snorted in derision.
"You must think I'm blind as well as stupid, senator. I'm not going anywhere. You're going to have to do whatever it is you want to do with me sitting right here." She took another mouthful of scotch and swallowed it quickly.
"Suit yourself," growled Naomi, standing quickly and slamming the chair back under the table.
Oh boy, thought Cadie. I think we just reached what might be called a turning point. God, I wish Jo was here. She reconsidered. Actually, I wish I were wherever Jo is.
Jo was flat on her back on the floor of Rosa's living room, belly bulging slightly from an evening of good food.
She was laughing like a loon at the antics of Paul who was trying to come up with a charade. She had no idea what movie he was miming but he was leaping around like a demented orangatang, much to the amusement of everyone.
"Jurassic Park," yelled Sophie.
He shook his head, then leapt up the stairs to the second floor, hanging off the bannister.
"King Kong," said Jo.
"God, fiiiiinally," said Paul, jumping down. "I thought i was going to have to kidnap a beautiful young maiden and climb up onto the roof before you got it."
Just then Jenny's cellphone rang, barely heard under the laughter. The deckie flicked it open and stuck one finger in her other ear, trying to hear whoever was calling.
Jo watched as Jenny answered, then caught her eye.
"Hang on, I'll get her," she said into the phone, then passed it to the tall skipper. "American. I think it's Cadie."
Jo nodded and took the phone, turning away from the rest of the room to try and block out most of the noise.
"Yes. I need some help, skipper," came a tired reply.
She sounds wrung out, thought Jo.
"What isn't? Larissa and Kelli are high as kites and making no sense at all, and I'm afraid Naomi might be too. I can't tell though because she's basically unconscious. I can't get anywhere with them. And if it wasn't for the fact I don't know where the hell I am, I'd leave them all to it."
Jo could hear the ragged sound of tears very close to the surface in the American's normally gentle voice. Need to calm her down a little, so I can get a clue where they are, she thought.
"Okay, hon, we'll come and get you. Do you have any ideas about where you are at all?" she asked, trying to keep her own voice as calm as possible.
As far as Cadie was concerned, it worked. She took a few deep breaths and tried to stay focused on the soothing sound of Jo's voice on the other end of the phone. She looked over to where Naomi was lying flat on her back in the middle of a patch of lawn. Larissa was giggling mindlessly at nothing in particular and Kelli ... oh fabulous, she thought ... Kelli was throwing up in a perfectly manicured flower bed.
"We were in a nightclub," she said shakily. "I'm pretty sure Kelli made a connection through one of the waiters at the restaurant and they got their hands on something - I don't know what - and now Naomi's out cold, Larissa's seeing pink elephants, I think, and Kelli's adding protein to the local flora. Help, Jo."
Jo suddenly found a knot of tension forming deep in her guts. That's all I need, a boatload of junkies, she thought. Christ.
"Okay Cadie. Was the nightclub called Hernando's?" she asked. By now Paul, Jenny and Rosa were standing around Jo, trying to figure out what was going on.
"Y-yes, I think so."
"Right. How far away from it do you think you are?"
"Well, I lost track of them while we were still in the nightclub. After about half an hour I decided to go back to the yacht, so when I left I just pointed in the general direction of the water and started walking. That's when I ran into them again. We're in kind of a little garden."
"Is there a pool over to your left?"
"Yes. Do you know where we are, Jo-Jo?"
"I've got a pretty good idea," she replied. "Listen, you just sit tight right where you are, okay? I'll be there with reinforcements in about 10 minutes."
"Okay. Thank you," said Cadie quietly.
"It's okay. We'll see you soon." There was a soft click as Jo hung up, and Cadie tucked the cellphone back into her purse. She glanced at her watch. Close to midnight. I'll be glad when this day is over, she thought. She watched as her partner rolled onto her side and curled up into a fetal position in the grass. And maybe ... just maybe, I'll be glad when this relationship is over.
It was a grim thought, and for the first time she wondered if it really was worth the effort to resurrect her marriage.
Where did she go, that woman I married?
Cadie sank down on to the ground, wrapping her arms around her knees and rocking herself gently, oblivious to the damp grass, or to the silent tears that were coursing down her cheeks.
That's where Jo found her quarter of an hour later.
The three Seawolf crew members and Rosa, plus Tony, who had pulled up to the house just as they were about to leave, were piled into Tony's truck. Jo had seen Larissa first, the tall brunette stumbling around just off one of the resort's more dimly lit paths. They pulled over and while Jenny and Rosa went to reel in her and the retching Kelli, Paul and Tony put their heads together to figure out how to move the comatose senator.
Jo walked slowly around the small patch of grass until she spotted Cadie, a small and silent ball of misery sitting on the edge of the path. She crouched down in front of the crying blonde and gently placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Hey there," she said softly.
Cadie lifted her head off her hands and looked up into smiling azure eyes.
"Hi," she said weakly, sniffling slightly.
"You look like you could use a lift back to a cup of coffee and a good night's sleep," said Jo.
"God that sounds wonderful," Cadie replied, managing the smallest of smiles.
Jo stood and reached down with a hand to help the blonde up. Cadie grabbed it and pulled herself up, keeping a firm grip on the skipper's fingers. She found herself hard-pressed to look the taller woman in the eye.
"I'm sorry Jo," she said awkwardly.
"Hey," Jo lifted the American's chin with a gentle finger, meeting and holding her gaze. "You have nothing to apologise for, okay? I don't see you out cold or puking in the petunias. And somehow I don't think you're the type to be doing whichever brand of dope they were doing tonight."
Cadie shook her head slowly.
"No. The really sad thing is," she nodded her head in the general direction of Naomi, by now slung over Tony's shoulder, "she used to be as against drugs as I am." She felt her resolve slipping again and her chin started to wobble. "I ... I don't really know when that changed."
Suddenly Jo had her arms full of sobbing woman as the tension of the last couple of days caught up with Cadie. She threw her arms around Jo's neck and burrowed her face into her shoulder. Gently Jo wrapped her arms around her, the feel of the compact body against hers a revelation.
I want to hold you like this forever, Cadie Jones, she thought as a wave of protectiveness washed through her. She held the blonde tightly, looking over her shoulder at the sympathetic glances from her crewmates.
Cadie let the tears flow, feeling overwhelmed by all that had happened since they'd arrived in the Whitsundays, but also aware of the comforting presence of the tall woman wrapped around her. I feel safe, she realised. Safe and so familiar. Like she's held me all our lives. And she smells so ...
... She smells so good, thought Jo, closing her eyes for a brief moment, savouring the feel of Cadie in her arms one last time. She felt the blonde pull away finally and she reluctantly let her go, smiling down at her.
"Ready to go?"
They walked back to the truck where Naomi, Larissa and Kelli, all three now blissfully unaware, were safely installed in the tray. Tony, Paul and Jenny had climbed in with them to keep them company. Tony tossed the keys to Jo with a smile. She patted him on the arm as she passed him and opened the passenger side door for Cadie to clambor in.
Rosa followed the blonde as Jo walked around and climbed into the driver's seat.
Well, this isn't quite how I pictured these two meeting, she thought to herself. But it will have to do.
"Cadie, I'd like you to meet Rosa Palmieri. Rosa this is Cadie Jones." She watched as the two women smiled and shook hands with each other. "Rosa is kind of the Seawolf's figurehead. Whenever we're close enough she feeds us and mothers us and tucks us into bed."
"Tch, Jossandra, such lies you are telling. You should be ashamed," said Rosa with a smile. She looked at the small blonde sitting between them and nodded her head slowly. "I am very glad to meet you Miss Cadie. Already I have heard much about you from this ... how do you say ... la bevanda lunga di acqua -long drink of water, here."
Cadie laughed, albeit a little shakily.
"My god, that's a scary thought Rosa, given we've only known each other two days."
"It's been a helluva two days though, hasn't it?" said Jo softly, keeping her eyes on the road ahead.
"Oh yeah," said Cadie equally softly. She was very aware of Jo's thigh pressed against hers, the warmth of the skipper's long limb seeping through both their clothes. It was both comforting and deeply sexy. God, she makes me feel so much, so often, all at once, thought the blonde.
Jo groaned inwardly. Cadie's mostly bare thigh was leaving a hot brand on her own leg and she never wanted it to end. Jesus, Madison, the things you get yourself into, she admonished herself. A gorgeous woman I find myself so drawn to I can't believe it, her drugged-up partner unconscious in the back of the truck and Rosa with that match-making glint in her eye. Can this get any more complicated?
Rosa smiled quietly to herself. It didn't take any special second sight or magic to see the chemistry between the two women sitting to her right. Part of her was very happy, seeing two people who were obviously soulmates finding each other. And another part of her was sad, knowing both women had difficult journeys to take before they could be together.
She patted Cadie gently on the knee.
"Everything, it is going to be all right, Miss Cadie," said Rosa. "You ask Jo-Jo here, she will tell you, I do not lie. And I am telling you that everything will work out exactly as it should."
"Right now, I'd settle for a cup of coffee and a good night's sleep."
Jo chuckled and pointed the truck towards the marina.
They managed to get the groggy trio on board the Seawolf and into their respective berths without too much difficulty. Toby, Jason, Sarah and Therese were already back and in their cabins, thankfully.
Jo and Cadie lowered Naomi onto the bed where the senator rolled over of her own accord into a curled up position in the middle of the bed. Cadie stood looking down at her, slowly rubbing her temple with a weary hand.
Jo gently took her elbow and gestured toward the main cabin.
"C'mon, we need to talk," she said softly.
The American nodded and followed slowly, slumping into a corner of the sofa. She looked up as Jo took a seat opposite. Rosa and Jenny moved around the galley quietly, making coffee for everyone.
"Do you have to report them to the police, Jo?" Cadie asked anxiously.
Jo shook her head and smiled reassuringly.
"No. Bottom line is, unless Paul and Jenny found any drugs on them," she looked enquiringly over her shoulder at the Seawolf's hostess, who shook her head. "Then we don't have any proof that they weren't anything but drunk. It would be good if you could give Tony a description of the waiter, though. At least we can get his arse kicked off the island."
"Okay, I can do that. Jo, I'm really sorry."
"Cadie like I said before, you don't have anything to apologise for." Jo squirmed a little, making herself more comfortable. "But we do have a bit of a problem," she said. Cadie looked at her steadily and Jo felt warmed by her gaze. "Every now and then the Australian Customs Service makes random inspections of tourist boats. For example, we've been checked three times since August." She decided not to mention that she suspected her own supposedly expunged record had something to do with the frequency of the ACS' visits to the Seawolf. "If they find any illegal substances on board, it's big trouble for whoever owns the dope, for me, and for Cheswick Marine."
Rosa handed them both a cup of hot, steaming coffee and Cadie took a sip gratefully.
"I'm pretty sure they don't have anything on board, Jo," she said. "We had to go through customs in Sydney and we were all searched."
"Okay, good enough." She smiled softly at Cadie, who looked totally worn out. "You think Naomi's involved, don't you?"
Cadie nodded forlornly.
"I don't see how she can't be. Kelli and Larissa get a handful of dope, she disappears with them, and an hour later she's unconscious. What else can I think? And," she hesitated, lifting her eyes to meet Jo's again. "I've had my suspicions for a while."
"I'm sorry," Jo said softly.
Jo clamboured out of the forepeak hatch around 8am the next morning. She felt rested for the first time in days after taking Paul's berth for the night. Fresh from a cool shower, she bent over, letting her long hair fall down, then she flicked it back, sending a shower of water over the deck. As she pulled it back into a ponytail, she glanced aft, where Paul was talking with Toby and Jason.
"You guys ready to go fishing?" she said with a smile.
"You bet," said Toby.
"Okay. The Sun Aura leaves at 9am. Paul can you run them over?"
"Sure thing, skipper."
"Have fun, guys."
She watched as the three men piled into the golf cart assigned to the Seawolf's berth. Ah well, she thought. At least I know those two are going to have a good day.
Sarah and Therese were also on deck, sitting in the cockpit eating a light breakfast of fruit and cereal. They were dressed for golf so it wasn't brain surgery to figure out where they planned on spending their day. Jo sat down opposite them and smiled.
"Did you have a good night, ladies?"
"Oh yeah. You weren't kidding about La Fontaine, Jo. The food was amazing," said Therese. "Thanks for organising it for us."
"No problem." Jo smiled. "What time's tee-off?"
"Not till 9.15am," said Sarah.
"Cool. That'll give Paul a chance to get back. He can run you over to the clubhouse."
"No need," said Therese, taking another juicy bite of mango. "We're going to walk over, do a little exploring, a little shopping, on the way." She took Sarah's hand and pulled her up. "Come on, babe. Let's go."
Jo looked up to see Cadie walking across the gangplank from the marina. I thought she'd still be sleeping, thought Jo. She still looks exhausted. Gorgeous, she pondered, taking in Cadie's figure-hugging mid-thigh shorts and tank top. But exhausted.
"Good morning," she drawled.
"Hi," replied Cadie as she sat down next to the skipper.
"How'd you sleep?"
"I ended up on the sofa in the galley," she said. "Naomi was an immovable object." She ached in places she didnžt realise she had muscles.
"Did you pull out the sofa bed?" asked Jo.
"There's a sofa bed? Are you telling me I spent the night squashed onto that narrow sofa when I could've been stretched out?" Cadie slapped her gently across the shoulder.
"Show me." Cadie stood and started down the companionway.
Jo grabbed a grape from the platter on the table before she followed, running straight into Cadie's back halfway down the steps.
"What's wrong?" she said, falling silent at the look on Cadie's face. The blonde had her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide. "Cadie, what is it?"
Cadie backed into Jo, shhhing her with a finger against her own lips.
Jo listened and finally heard what had brought the American to a standstill. Naomi, Larissa and Kelli were in Cadie's cabin and they were talking, rather loudly.
"I told you back in December that it was time to do something about her, Nay." Jo was pretty sure that was Larissa. "She's been a fucking liability to you for years."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. To be honest I almost kicked her out after that New Year's Eve debacle," came the deeper tones of the senator. "She just walked out, in the middle of a goddamn cocktail party we were supposed to be hosting together."
"You've got to do something about her."
Jo felt Cadie cringing back against her, and for the second time in 12 hours Jo wrapped her arms protectively around the smaller woman.
"C'mon." She tried to pull her back up on deck. "You don't need to be hearing this."
"Yes. Yes I do, Jo," she whispered.
"Okay, hon." Jo stopped pulling her and just held tight. Cadie pressed back against her, making the most of the feeling of safety as the awful conversation continued inside the cabin.
"So why didn't you kick her out then?" came the whiney tones of Kelli.
"I don't know really," replied Naomi. "It's not like she's good for anything anymore. Not even in bed." She laughed derisively. "Goddamn frigid bitch."
Cadie buried her face in her hands, shrinking back even further into the warm embrace of the skipper pressed against her back. God, I can't believe this is happening, her mind said. This is a nightmare.
Jo felt an overwhelming rage building inside her. I don't care if these bitches are paying customers, I'm going to kick their arses any second now, she thought.
"Well, regardless, she's out when we get back home," the senator was saying. "This vacation is it. Payment for services rendered, and then she's gone."
Jo growled softly and made to move past Cadie. The blonde turned quickly in her arms and restrained the angry woman by holding her face in her hands.
"Stop, Jo," she whispered. "You'll only make it worse - for me and for you. Just let it go. Please." She pleaded with her eyes, holding the skipper's rage-darkened blue eyes for long seconds. "Please."
I'd do anything for you, Jo realised with a start. She nodded slowly, trying to relax the tension she felt through every muscle.
"Thank you," whispered Cadie, suddenly very aware of the arms wrapped tightly around her. "Come on. Let's go find somewhere else to be. I've got some decisions to make."