It was silent in the darkened office. The figure slumped in the mahogany leather chair gazed through the large window at the cityscape outside. Bustling traffic around Union Station was evidence of rush hour, the imposing building glistening against the night sky as cars and people swirled around it. The shadowed form looked down on the organized chaos of a Washington DC late winterís evening. Her mind was a long way from the city though, and her mood was dark and uncertain.
Senator Naomi Silverberg, the junior Republican senator for Illinois, was deeply depressed, and that was always a dangerous state for her. But she felt she had good cause to be in a foul temper. Thanks to a drunken, ill thought out evening on the tiles at the Australian island resort she had been visiting, Silverbergís face had been plastered all over the Australian media. It hadnít taken long for the good news to filter across the Pacific and she had been recalled by the party to Washington. She had arrived home to be greeted by a hostile press, and an even less friendly meeting with the GOPís higher echelons.
Sheíd also returned without her partner, and that too had set tongues wagging. Her long-term relationship with Arcadia had been one of the cornerstones on which her successful political career had been built. So far the cover story theyíd concocted to explain Cadieís absence had held with the press, but the time was rapidly approaching for her partner to stop this nonsense and come home.
The party leadership was not happy with her, Naomi knew. Most were slightly to the right of Genghis Khan to begin with, and had grudgingly supported her career only when the power of the pink dollar had been pointed out to them. It was no secret that many Republicans had been waiting for any opportunity to take her down a few notches. And they had. Resoundingly. She had been carpeted, keelhauled and hung out to dry. It would be a long climb back.
Bells began ringing through the office building. Up on the wall of the office, just below the clock, a series of lights blinked into life. Behind her a door opened, admitting a member of her staff. In his early 30s, neat, bespectacled and earnest, Jason Samuels was one half of the senatorís public relations team. He and his partner, Toby McIntyre, had been with the politician in Australia. They had watched Silverbergís relationship with her partner unravel in the face of the unquestionable chemistry between Cadie and the yacht skipper they had met there. And since their return to the US they had witnessed the steady breakdown of the senatorís personality.
Silverberg had always been an abrasive character, but despite her flaws she had never failed to do her job as a politician. Jason wasnít sure that was the truth any more. She was even more emotionally erratic, had skipped important meetings and brushed off lobbyists she wouldnít have dreamed of ignoring a few months ago. And lately ¶ well, lately sheíd had a gleam in her eye that just didnít look quite sane.
He shook that last thought away as nonsensical. Sheís just tired and angry and defensive, he decided.
Jason approached cautiously, casting a glance up at the lights which indicated a vote in the Senate Chamber, and the time left for Naomi to make the quick trip over to the Capitol to cast her vote. The silhouette in the chair hadnít moved, however.
'Voteís on, senator,' Jason said quietly. 'Youíve got about 10 minutes.'
There was no movement from over by the window and he waited. Lately she had been hard to predict and he no longer knew when he could push her and when it was best to leave her be. After almost 10 years working for her, that was unnerving.
Sheís never been the most affable of people, he acknowledged. But since we came back from Australia ¶ He let that thought go unfinished as he stepped forward and placed a file of documents on the large oak desk the senator sat behind.
'Get me the phone number of Cheswick Marine,' came a husky voice from behind the high back of the leather chair.
Ahhh. Now at least I know where her mind is, he thought.
'Iíll have it for you when you come back from the Chamber,' he answered carefully.
'Get it now,' she growled.
Jason sighed. Donít get on a jag now, Nay, please, he thought.
'You donít have time to call now, senator,' he said patiently.
'Get it NOW!' The senator spun the chair around to him and he was faced with sparking brown eyes that brooked no further argument.
'Yes maíam,' he muttered, turning on his heel and walking back out to the aidesí room. He closed the door behind him and caught the eye of his partner, who was tucked behind a plain wooden desk in the far corner of the crowded room.
'Problem?' Toby asked, noting Jasonís harried expression as he weaved his way through the other desks towards him. The two men looked disconcertingly alike, though Toby was the slightly taller of the two.
'She wants the phone number of the yacht charter company,' Jason answered, dropping his voice so they couldnít be overheard by the receptionist and the other three aides in the room.
'Shit. Now?' Toby asked, glancing down at his watch. 'Sheís never gonna make that goddamn vote, and then weíll have the Sergeant-at-Arms on our ass.'
'I know,' he said, quickly flicking through the Rolodex on Tobyís desk. 'Here it is.' He yanked the card from the file just as the office door behind them slammed open and the stocky politician stalked out. As she drew level with the two men she reached out a hand and Jason wordlessly placed the card against her palm.
'What am I voting on?' she asked gruffly, tucking the card in her pocket.
'Child Protection Bill,' Toby replied.
'Yea or nay?' She straightened her jacket, and then twisted her skirt slightly, realigning it.
The two men looked at each other.
'Youíre in favor of it,' Jason said dryly.
'Fine,' she muttered. Without another word she stepped out into the hallway, joining the steady stream of politicians and aides making for the Capitol.
Toby and Jason looked at each other, mutual concern in their eyes.
'Is it time to go home yet?' Jason asked plaintively.
Jo broke the surface and spat the snorkelís mouthpiece out as she trod water between the Seawolf and the small coral reef to her left. Cadie was in front of her, about 20 feet away, face down as she took in the colorful vista below. Jo wasnít sure just what had made her stick her head up, but she reached up and flipped the mask off her face as she looked around. There it was again · a distant rumbling that had her blinking up at the unblemished blue sky.
Thunder? She swiveled around to the southwest, where the mainland was just over the horizon. Sure enough a line of thick, black thunderheads was gathering, and if the weather patterns followed their usual course, the storm would be rolling towards them. Oh yeah.
'Seawolf, Seawolf, this is Shute Harbor Coastguard. Come in.'
The radio crackled and spat in reaction to a distant bolt of lightning, before the voice returned.
'Seawolf, Seawolf, this is Shute Harbor. Please respond.'
Jo cursed softly and struck out for the short metal ladder hanging over the port side of the yacht. She tossed the snorkel and mask on board before she climbed up, ignoring the large puddles of water she splattered over the deck. Quickly she ducked down the companionway, flipping the radio handset off its clip.
'Shute Harbor, Shute Harbor, this is Seawolf. Come in.'
'That you, Jo-Jo? You had me worried there for a bit.' She smiled as she recognized the manís voice.
'Yeah, Mike, itís me. Sorry, mate, I was in the water. I bet youíre about to tell me thereís a storm coming.'
'You got it,' came the static-distorted response. 'And itís supposed to be a beauty, too. Theyíre predicting hail with high winds.'
Shit. 'Okay, thanks Mike. Is it moving northeast?'
'Yeah. Let us know what you decide to do, eh?'
Jo held down the transmitter button again.
'Will do, Shute Harbor. Seawolf out.' She replaced the handset and stood, hands on hips for a few seconds, contemplating her options. 'Bugger,' she muttered as she climbed the steps up to the cockpit. A glance over her shoulder told her the line of storms had already advanced noticeably. Jo walked to the side, looking for her partner. The American had moved closer to the reef, oblivious to the approaching weather. The skipper cupped her hands around her mouth and called out.
Immediately the blonde head lifted, turning towards the sound.
'Hey!' Cadie answered. 'What are you doing up there?' She grinned.
Jo smiled back and pointed towards the storm front. Cadie followed the line of her hand, her eyes widening at the sight of the threatening sky. Straight away she began swimming back to the yacht. The skipper walked over to the ladder and reached down to help her lover up.
'I guess weíve got to get moving, huh?' Cadie asked as Jo handed her a towel, picking up one for herself at the same time.
They stood together, drying off in the last of the sunlight.
'Well, weíve got a few options,' Jo replied. 'We could stay put and just ride it out. Or we can head out to sea and try to outflank it on the open water. Or we could head for the nearest port.'
'Which would be?'
'Hayman,' Jo said, naming the northernmost island resort in the Whitsunday chain.
'Can we get there in time?' Cadie asked, pulling a pair of cutoff denim shorts up over her swimsuit.
'Probably not, no,' Jo said bluntly. 'Itís still our best plan, though, I think.' Truth be told, the Seawolf was a little too big for just two crew members, especially when one of them was as inexperienced as Cadie. Not that Jo doubted the younger womanís abilities. She had learned a lot in the short weeks since she had first come onboard, plus she was fit and strong for her size. But taking on the open ocean in the middle of a storm in a large, under-crewed yacht was something even Jo thought twice about. 'If weíre going to get caught in a storm Iíd rather do it in the Passage than out at sea,' she said aloud, watching Cadieís face for her reaction.
'Sounds good to me, skipper,' the blonde answered confidently, utterly sure of her partnerís judgment. 'Hayman it is. And maybe,' her green eyes sparkled, 'maybe we could even coax dinner out of Mama Rosa.'
Jo grinned. Rosa Palmieri was an old friend. She and her family lived and worked at the Hayman Island resort and they had happily adopted Cadie as one of their own. Mama Rosa was a traditional Italian cook, prone to producing gargantuan meals that were truly legendary.
'Now that does sound like a plan,' Jo said. 'God, my mouth is already watering.' Cadie stepped closer, using her towel to brush the last of the water from the taller womanís shoulders. 'Hello, Miss Jones,' Jo burred, amazed as always by her bodyís visceral response to her partnerís proximity.
'Hello,' Cadie answered with a quiet smile. She stood up on tiptoe and softly kissed the corner of Joís mouth. 'Oh captain, my captain,' she whispered.
'Oh shut up,' Jo murmured back before she pulled the blonde closer and renewed the contact. Storm? What storm?
For long, leisurely seconds Jo put the thought of the oncoming thunderstorm firmly in the back of her mind, preferring to concentrate on the luscious feel of the soft lips on hers. Cadie had wrapped her arms around her neck and the tall skipper gladly lifted her closer as the kiss deepened.
When they broke apart it was with a mutual sigh.
'Ready to do some sailing?' Jo murmured.
'You bet. What do you need me to do?' Cadie answered softly, feeling Jo kissing her forehead gently.
'Find the boycat and shut him below decks,' the skipper replied. 'Last thing we need is him wet and miserable.' Cadie felt the grin against her skin and chuckled.
'Okay,' she agreed, pulling back and looking up into blue eyes.
'Then give Shute Harbor a call? Let them know weíre heading to Hayman.'
Cadie cate_swannell_nodded and moved away.
'Iíll dig out the wet weather gear as well,' she said. 'I have a feeling weíre going to need it.'
'Oh yeah,' Jo muttered.
Twenty minutes later they were under sail, tacking into a hefty breeze coming off the front of the stormís wall cloud. They had picked their way through the maze of small reefs using the yachtís motor, but once in deep water Jo had hoisted the large mainsail and the smaller foresail and they had pointed towards Hayman Island, due west from them.
Cadie was at the helm, the wind whipping her blonde hair back from her face as they raced towards the oncoming storm front. Jo finished trimming the mainsail, winding hard on the geared winch until she had the rigging taut. There was no rain yet, but she grabbed one of the yellow slickers Cadie had brought up from below and pulled it on, grimacing at the clammy feel of the plastic against her sweaty skin. She picked her way aft to the helm and handed Cadie the other waterproof jacket.
'Thanks,' said the blonde, stepping back so Jo could take the wheel while she put it on. 'How long do you think itís going to take us?' she asked.
Jo glanced down at the gauge that clocked the boatís speed. They were nudging 10 knots, about as fast as they could go without risking the rigging. They listed to starboard by about 20 degrees and so far the yacht was cutting nicely through the moderate chop.
'Probably about another hour,' she calculated. 'Weíre lucky we werenít further north or weíd be beating right into the wind. At least weíve got a bit of a favorable angle this way.' She handed the helm back to the blonde, sliding in behind Cadie and wrapping her arms around her waist.
'I know this isnít the best weather in the world,' Cadie said. 'But Iím really enjoying this.' She looked over her shoulder and caught the feral grin on her loverís face. 'You are too, arenít you, skipper?'
'Oh yeah,' Jo answered happily, squeezing Cadie gently. 'Iím glad you love doing this. I find it pretty hard to imagine not being able to get out here every now and then.'
'Mmmmmm well, you donít need to worry about that,' Cadie replied. She adjusted their heading a little, pointing them more directly at Hayman, which was now visible on the horizon. They were almost under the lip of the dark wall cloud and the atmosphere was rich with ozone. Both women looked up.
'Wow,' said Cadie. The clouds were low enough that she felt she could almost reach out and touch them. Behind the leading edge lightning crackled sporadically, illuminating an impenetrable blanket of rain that was fast approaching. But it was the cloud formation immediately overhead that gave Cadie goose-bumps. Ragged tendrils hung down and she could see that there was a slow rotation to their movements. Unconsciously she gripped the wheel even tighter, grateful for the long arms around her waist and the solid frame behind her.
'You okay?' Jo asked, her breath a welcome warmth against her ear.
'Yeah, sheís just bucking a little,' Cadie grunted, wrestling the helm as the yacht labored through a bigger than average wave. 'Jo, you know I was raised in the Midwest, right?' Cadie said as she flicked her eyes to their course and then back up to the swirling cloud.
'Yeah,' the skipper replied, her own eyes also fixated on the menacing formation above them.
'You ever heard of Tornado Alley?'
Jo tore her eyes away and looked down at her partnerís anxious face.
'Sure,' she answered.
'Well, in my part of the world, if you see clouds doing that,' she pointed at a rotating mass hanging from the bottom of the advancing front, 'you move the hell away in the opposite direction.'
Jo cate_swannell_nodded, understanding her partnerís anxiety.
'Tornados are a pretty rare thing in this part of the world, love,' she reassured, fascinated by the activity above them. 'Besides which, weíre so far under it now, any direction we go is away from it.' She grinned.
'Oh thanks,' Cadie snorted. 'Thatís reassuring.'
Large drops of rain began to splosh onto the deck and both women flipped up the hoods on their wet weather gear.
"Keep your fingers crossed that we don't get hit by hail," Jo muttered close to Cadie's ear.
Jo spotted a bullet of faster-moving air rippling across the water and she scooted past Cadie.
'Bear away!' she yelled as she dove for the winches, trying to bleed some air out of the taut sails. Cadie didnít ask questions, just swung the yacht starboard until the wind was coming from directly behind her. She held the Seawolf steady while Jo reefed the mainsail, reducing the big boatís sail area and lessening the risk of damage to the rigging in the blustery winds. 'Okay!' the skipper shouted, waving. The blonde leaned her weight against the wheel, fighting the inertia. Slowly the nose turned to port again and the sails refilled. Now the yacht felt more manageable, less inclined to fight Cadieís control.
'Howís that?' Jo asked as she came back to the helm, wiping the water from her face.
'Better,' Cadie acknowledged even as she kept her focus firmly on their final destination, the safe haven of Hayman Islandís sheltered marina. She shook the rain out of her eyes.
'Weíre gonna make it, love,' Jo said, blinking happily at her through the downpour. Cadie couldnít help grinning back.
'Youíre loving every minute of this arenít you?' she yelled.
'Oh yeah! Woooohooooooooooooooooooo!'
Naomi slammed the phone down, the sound reverberating around the empty office. It was late and she was alone, the rest of her staff having left for the night. She had just tried calling Cheswick Marine but had gotten nothing but a busy tone, a frustrating beginning to her quest to contact her ex-partner.
No. Not my ex-anything, she thought grimly, feeling the burning anger gnawing at her gut. My partner. My goddamn, lying, cheating, slut of a partner. For the first few weeks after she'd returned without Cadie, it had been easy for the senator to carry on as usual. But as the time approached for the blonde to come home and the press started to ask difficult questions, Naomi had found it harder and harder to contain her anger.
She placed her forehead on the back of her hands as they rested on the heavy oak desktop.
Sheís not going to get away with humiliating me like this, Naomi thought. Nobody jeopardizes my career and my happiness this way. All I need to do is get her back here, then I can make her see that this is where she belongs. There isnít anything she needs that I canít give her.
She lifted her head again and reached for the phone.
'And there isnít going to be anything that tall bitch can do about it,' she muttered. But first we try the easy way, she thought.
The senator flipped over the card with Cheswick Marineís number on it and redialed. This time she heard the double ring tones of the Australian phone system and then someone picked up.
'Cheswick Marine,' said a cheery female voice with a broad accent.
'This is Senator Naomi Silberberg,' the American answered. 'Please give me a phone number for Arcadia Jones.'
There was a pause as the woman on the other end of the phone processed the abrupt request.
'Iím sorry, Senator,' she finally replied. 'Cadie is out on the water at the moment and out of contact.'
'Donít give me that,' Naomi growled. 'Iíve been on that boat. I know that theyíre never out of contact. They have a cell phone. They have a radio. Now give me the goddamned number.'
But Doris Simmons, faithful office manager of Cheswick Marine was not going to budge · not when it came to company policy, and certainly not when it came to the well-being and happiness of her boss and her bossí partner.
'Thereís nothing I can do, Senator,' Doris insisted, her voice firm and unyielding. 'Itís not company policy to give out cell phone numbers of our employees. The best I can do is take your number and pass the message on.'
Naomi closed her eyes against the rising frustration and fury building in her head.
'Fine,' she grunted through clenched teeth. 'You tell Arcadia to contact me, urgently, in Washington DC. Iím sure if she thinks hard enough, she will remember the numbers.' She crashed the receiver into the cradle, jamming her finger in the process.
'Fuck.' She sucked the offended digit. 'Fuck, fuck, FUCK!!' Finally she let the anger out, sweeping her arm across the desktop, knocking phone, rolodex, diary and pens flying onto the floor.
Cadie peeled off the rain slicker and slumped onto the sofa in the main cabin. Jo took the wet weather gear from her as she passed into their berth, where she hung the damp garments in the head to dry out. When she walked back out Cadieís eyes were closed, her head resting against the back of the sofa.
'You okay, sweetheart?' Jo asked quietly, settling into the seat opposite.
Cadie grinned and lifted her head, looking at her damp and wind-tossed lover affectionately.
'Iím great,' she said. 'Just pooped. My arms are killing me.'
Jo cate_swannell_nodded and reached out with a long leg, bumping Cadieís knee with her bare foot.
'Iím not surprised. You just did a whole lot of hard, physical work, my love. This is a big yacht, and youíre ¶'
'Iím what?' Cadie asked sharply, raising a challenging eyebrow. 'So small?' Her mouth quirked into a wry smile.
'Noooo,' Jo retorted. She dropped onto the floor and slid between Cadieís legs, wrapping her arms around the blondeís waist. 'If youíd let me finish, brat, you wouldíve heard me say that youíre not used to manhandling something as big as 50-foot yacht in a thunderstorm.' She kissed the tip of Cadieís nose. 'The first time I had to do it I strained my rib cartilage. Couldnít lift my arms above my shoulders for a month.'
'Wow, really?' Cadie smirked. 'Iím impressed with myself.' She leaned down and kissed Jo softly. 'That was fun. Can we do it again?'
'Seawolf, Seawolf, this is Cheswick Marine,' crackled the radio.
Jo pushed herself up.
'Did we switch off the cell phone?' she asked, surprised to hear Dorisí voice on the two-way.
'Yeah, the storm knocked out the network anyway,' Cadie replied, reaching for the phone, which sheíd left in the recess on the cabin table.
'Cheswick, this is Seawolf,' Jo said into the handset. 'Whatís up Doris?'
'Hi Jo-Jo,' came the office managerís voice. 'Trouble, I think, skipper.' Cadie walked over and leaned against the taller woman, listening to the conversation. 'Senator Silverberg called in, wanting to talk to Cadie.'
Ah shit, thought Jo, feeling the blonde stiffen against her. She wrapped an arm protectively around her partnerís shoulders. Cadie reached up and took the handset from her.
'Did she say what she wanted Doris?' she asked her voice quiet and uncertain.
'Hi Cadie. No, not really. She said it was urgent and that you should call her in Washington.'
Cadie didnít seem to know what to say to that, so Jo gently took the handset back and keyed the transmitter.
'Thanks Doris. You did the right thing. How did you guys survive the storm?' Cadie burrowed deeper into her embrace and Jo held her close.
'Oh, no problems. Bit of wind and water, that was about it. How about you?'
'Weíre fine. Do me a favor and call Mike at the Coastguard? Let him know we made it to Hayman okay.'
'Will do. Youíll be back here tomorrow, yes?'
'Yeah, sometime in the afternoon. Thanks for letting us know, Doris. Seawolf out.'
The contact broke and Jo freed up her other hand, wrapping it around Cadie.
'This sucks, Jo-Jo,' came a muffled voice.
'I know love, but it was bound to happen sometime. She was never just going to let you go.'
Cadie cate_swannell_nodded against her chest.
'I know, but why did it have to be this weekend?'
'Do you want to call her back?' Jo asked. She slid her hand up and scratched the back of Cadieís neck comfortingly.
'Unnnnnnnnghhhh that feels good,' the blonde muttered against her shirt. 'No, I donít want to call her back, but I guess I donít really have much choice. She said it was urgent.'
Jo felt supremely skeptical about that. Her brief experience with the obnoxious politician had taught her that Naomi did nothing that wasnít guaranteed to benefit herself. But she also knew Cadie had a lot of loose ends left in the US.
'What time is it in Washington, right now?' she asked quietly.
Cadie glanced at her watch. It was almost 5pm.
'Um.' She did a quick calculation of time differences in her head. 'Coming up to 2am.'
'So let it go for now,' Jo said, looking down into a pair of anxious green eyes and smiling. 'Letís go enjoy an evening with Rosa and the family and then maybe tomorrow morning we can kill two birds with one stone. You can call the senator and Iíll call my parents.' She blew out a ragged breath at the thought.
'Oh boy,' Cadie murmured. 'Sounds like the morning from hell.' She managed a weak smile.
'All the more reason to keep our strength up with Rosaís cooking,' Jo answered, mustering a grin from somewhere.
'God, that sounds wonderful,' the blonde groaned. 'Letís go.'
Maggie Madison straightened up and pushed her hands into the small of her back, wincing as she stretched out muscles that had been hunched over the flower bed for the past hour. She adored to work in the garden but her beloved plot was a shadow of its former self thanks to the drought. The truth was they couldn't spare the water for the flowers, not when there were cattle and sheep dying out on the property. She sighed and brushed a strand of her long, grey hair away from her face with a gloved hand.
These days she only really had time to spend an hour or so in the garden at the end of the day and even that wasn't enough to save a lot of her favorites from withering in the dust. Maggie poked at one forlorn specimen with her trowel, loosening up the crumbling soil before adding a handful of fertilizer and a cup of precious water.
It was late in the day and thankfully the sting of the heat was less now as the sun dipped lower over the modest homestead. She had dinner on the go and was just waiting for her husband and the two jackaroos they employed to come home from whatever far-flung paddock they had worked today.
She put the finishing touches on the last of the struggling plants, then pushed herself up off her knees with a groan.
"I'm getting too old for this," she murmured, wincing as the arthritis in her left knee made its presence known. Away to the west she could see a dust cloud trailing up from a gap in the trees she knew to be the main track up to the house.
"That'll be them," she decided, pulling her gardening gloves off and stuffing them in the back pocket of her jeans. She walked through the homesteadís back door and on into the large, airy kitchen. Before too long she was assembling the evening meal, laying the food out on the wide wooden table in the centre of the room. The sound of the truck pulling up out front, followed by boots on the floorboards told her the men were home.
'Wash up before you come in my kitchen,' she called out, hearing the footsteps immediately divert to the two bathrooms in the house. A couple of minutes later her husband walked into the kitchen.
'Gíday darl,' said the familiar voice.
Maggie smiled as she turned from the stovetop and accepted his light kiss on the cheek.
'Hílo love,' she replied as she spooned vegetables onto a plate. 'How was your day?'
'Pretty bloody grim,' he said wearily. He tossed his wide-brimmed felt hat onto the hook on the door and sat down on the nearest chair. 'We went out to the No.2 bore up in the back paddock. Had to pull three carcasses out of the trough.'
Maggie walked over and slid a plateful of food in front of him.
'Ewes?' she asked quietly, noting the dark circles under her husbandís grey eyes.
'Two lambs orphaned,' he replied. 'Damn near dead themselves. But we brought them back. Hughieís gonna hand rear them till theyíre weaned.'
As he spoke two other men walked into the room. The first was Hughie, a young aboriginal man in his early 20s. Heíd been working for the Madisons since heíd left school at 15 and Maggie was very fond of him. Maybe it was because he was quiet and reliable, or maybe it was just that he worked hard and had stuck by her and David even when the drought had bitten deep and theyíd had to pay him less. She smiled at the young man and got a shy grin back.
Maggie hadnít made her mind up about the other man yet. Jack Collingwood was lean, tall and carried a constant scowl. Heíd only been with them a few months and her husband seemed to think he was a good worker, but there was something about him that made Maggieís skin crawl. And she suspected that away from the big house, Jack was less than gentle with his younger coworker.
And if I ever catch him at that, heíll hear about it, she thought to herself as she prepared plates of food for the two men.
'Evening, missus,' Jack muttered as he followed Hughie into the room.
'Jack,' she acknowledged. 'Are you two going to eat with us tonight?'
'No thanks,' he replied. 'We want to get those two lambs settled and fed, donít we Hughie, mate?' He roughly clipped the younger manís shoulder in a playful gesture but Maggie didnít miss the slight wince on Hughieís face.
'All right,' she said quietly. She placed covers over the two plates sheíd made up for them and handed them over along with two sets of cutlery. 'There you go, fellas. Have a good evening.'
'Thanks missus,' Jack said gruffly, taking his plate and walking out the back door towards the workerís cottage 50 yards away from the main house.
'Thanks Miz Maggie,' Hughie said quietly, smiling at her as he took the plate from her hands.
'Hang on, Hugh,' she said, touching his arm to stop him leaving. She reached over to the fruit bowl on the table and took out an apple and an orange, placing them in his other hand. 'For afters,' she said.
A big grin creased his face, and she brushed his cheek gently with her knuckles.
'Go on,' she said. 'Make sure those lambs get enough milk, okay.'
'Yes, missus. No worries.' He beamed at her and then followed Jack out the back door and into the rapidly descending darkness.
'You spoil that boy,' growled her husband from his seat at the dining table. She put together her own dinner and then sat down opposite him.
'He works hard, David, and weíre his only family. He deserves to be spoiled every now and then. I just wish we could do more for him.'
David grunted his response, concentrating instead on his food. Maggie watched him, noting his stooped posture, and the bone weariness that colored every movement and gesture.
Heís aged so much over the last couple of years, she realized. His large, weather-beaten hands still fascinated her, as they always had, and she smiled as an incongruous memory of his hands touching her floated through her consciousness. Where did that come from, she wondered.
'David,' she said tentatively.
'Mmmm?' he responded, not looking up from his dinner plate.
'Next week is Jossandraís birthday.' His hands stilled for a couple of seconds and then resumed cutting up his steak. 'I was thinking maybe we could send her a card this year.'
He swallowed a mouthful of food and glanced up at her.
'You do what you want,' he muttered, stabbing a baby potato with his fork and shoving it in his mouth.
Maggie sighed. It was always the same with him when it came to their daughter. Heíd never gotten over her abrupt departure, never forgiven her for leaving them in the dark for so long. And after the heart attack debilitated him to the point of not being able to run the farm the way he wanted to, she had found it hard to forgive Jossandra as well.
But she had found a way. Mothers always do, she thought. Sheís my daughter and whatever sheís become · and god knows, I have no real idea what that is · I love her, and always will.
She watched her husband for a while longer.
He loves her too. If he didnít it wouldnít still bother him like it does, 15 years on. I just wish there was a way of getting them both to see that thereís love there. She chewed on a mouthful, wondering just what her wayward daughter was up to these days. I haven't spoken to her since the Christmas before last, she realized sadly.
"We could even call her for her birthday," she said wistfully, pushing her food around on the plate.
David dropped his knife and fork noisily onto the now-empty plate and stood slowly. He took the dishes over to the sink and silently began washing them. Maggie watched the hunched shoulders of the man she had loved all her life, aching for him.
"Why would she want to hear from us?" he said so quietly she almost didnít hear it.
Slowly Maggie stood up and carried her plate over to the sink, dropping it into the warm, soapy water and wrapping her arms around her husband's slim waist. She rested her cheek on his shoulder blade, breathing in the dusty, familiar scent of him.
"I think we should do it for us, Dave," she replied softly. "She's an adult." He snorted. "All right, she's always been an adult, even when she was a kid." She smiled against his shirt. "My point is, if we want to talk to her, we should call her. I'm tired of treading on eggshells around her, wondering if she wants to hear from us or not. I want her to hear from us."
The man continued washing the dishes, letting the soap suds drain off a plate before carefully slotting it into the holder next to the sink.
"I need to run into town tomorrow morning," he said gruffly. "Best give me a list of things you want. Won't get a chance to get back in there for a few weeks. Too much to do around here."
Maggie closed her eyes. She knew him well enough to know that he was talking around the conversation because it just hurt too much to do anything else.
"All right, love," she said, giving him one last squeeze before she moved away. A soapy hand stopped her and she turned back to a pair of grey eyes that gentled as she met them.
"Call her for her birthday," he said. "If I'm here, I'll say g'day too."
She kissed him, loving him all over again.
"Jo-Jo!! Let me have it, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease!!" The young girl reached up on tip-toes, straining to take the piece of paper out of the tall skipper's outstretched hand. "Give it back, you rat-fink, or I'm never speaking to you again!"
Cadie watched, amused, from the dining table, where the remains of a sumptuous meal were scattered about. The blonde was stuffed to the gills with good food and wine, leaving her with a contented feeling and a rather pleasant light buzz.
Her lover was teasing the youngest member of the Palmieri household, 12-year-old Sophie, a precocious moppet with long lashes and brown puppy-dog eyes. She usually managed to have Jo completely at her mercy, but tonight the skipper had caught the youngster with, of all things, a clumsily-written love letter from a boy at school.
"Joooooooooo, don't be mean, you big horrid lump," squealed Sophie, bouncing up and down on the spot in an effort to reach the errant love note.
"Darling, don't tease," Cadie chided, giggling as Sophie attempted to climb up Jo's sturdy frame. "Try to remember what it was like to be young and in love."
Twelve-year-old eyes widened in horror.
"I am NOT in love with him," Sophie protested, releasing Jo and approaching Cadie instead. "I donít even LIKE him. He's the one who wrote me the stupid letter. I couldn't care less if he fell off the face of the earth." She flounced into the closest chair, folding her arms and sticking out her bottom lip in an impossibly adorable pout.
Jo chuckled and caught Cadie's sparkling green eyes, reading their expression as a plea to give the kid a break. She wandered over to the youngster and knelt down in front of her, holding out the crumpled piece of paper.
"Sorry Soph," Jo said contritely.
"I am, you're quite right," the skipper agreed solemnly.
"I hate you."
"You have every reason to."
The girl looked up into smiling blue eyes and immediately melted.
Nice to know it's not just me, Cadie thought, watching the scene with amusement.
"Forgive me?" Jo begged, for once out-flirting the girl.
"Okay," Sophie cate_swannell_nodded. "But only if you promise to take me sailing."
"You got it, sweetie."
The girl jumped forward, wrapping her arms around the dark-haired woman and hugging her enthusiastically.
"I don't really hate you," she declared.
"Well, that's good to know," Jo said with a grin.
At that moment, Sophieís mother, Rosa, came in bearing three large bowls of lemon gelato and a wide smile.
'Ah, i miei bimbi,' she said as she distributed the sweet dessert. 'Enjoy, enjoy. This will be the perfect finish to the meal, I think. It will clean your palette.'
'Mmmmmm Rosa, dinner was fantastic. Thank you,' said Cadie, dipping her spoon into the gelato.
'Yeah, thanks Rosa,' Jo added as she scoffed down the treat.
'I love to feed you, you know that, mia cara, so of course, you are very welcome.' She sat down next to Cadie at the dinner table, while Jo flopped down on the floor in front of Sophie.
'Cadie?' the girl piped up between mouthfuls. 'When are you and Jo going to get married like Paul and Jenny?'
Jo spluttered and coughed on a half-inhaled mouthful and Sophie leaned forward to pat her on the back.
'Sophia!' Rosa chastised. 'You should not be asking such personal questions, like that. It is very rude.' She wagged a finger at her youngest child.
'Sorry, mama,' the girl said.
'It is not me you should be apologizing to,' Rose replied.
'Sorry, Cadie. Sorry, Jo-Jo.'
'Itís okay, Sophie,' said Cadie. Jo was still speechlessly trying to catch her breath and coughing. 'And I think weíve decided on a long engagement.' She looked at her red-faced lover who cate_swannell_nodded in confirmation and waved a hand helplessly.
'Why?' said the incorrigible child.
Cadie laughed and patted the outraged parent on the hand.
'Itís okay Rosa, honestly,' she said. Cadie had come to adore the Palmieri family, and Sophie in particular, in the short time sheíd known them. They had not just accepted her and her quick-firing relationship with Jo, but they had actively welcomed and adopted her. It wasnít hard to see how they had become her loverís foster family. Cadie had no problem answering personal questions from the inquisitive girl. 'Sophie, itís going to take a while before Iím eligible to live here permanently. So we decided weíd wait until then before we have a commitment ceremony.'
Sophie seemed to consider that thoughtfully.
'I guess you donít want to get married and then have to leave again, huh?'
Jo, by now recovered and able to breathe normally again, smiled up at the girl from her seat on the floor.
'Exactly,' she cate_swannell_nodded.
Sophie sighed dramatically.
'Itís so romaaaaaaaaaaantic,' she said, flouncing back in the chair, the back of her hand against her forehead.
'This from the girl who almost vomited the first time she saw us kiss,' teased Jo as she slapped the 12-year-old lightly on the knee.
'Oh, Iíve matured since then,' Sophie replied haughtily.
The three adults in the room exchanged amused and tolerant looks, before Mama Rosa stood and wandered over to her progeny.
'I am thinking you are not mature enough yet to stay up any longer, Miss Sophia,' her mother said. 'Bed for you, la mia piccola ragazza.'
'No way!' the youngster protested. 'I want to stay up until Jo-Jo and Cadie leave.' The pout reappeared.
The lovers looked at each other, silently acknowledging their mutual decision.
'Weíre leaving now, sweetie,' said Jo. She pushed herself to her feet and looked down at the grumpy pre-teen. 'Weíve got a busy morning tomorrow and then we have to get the Seawolf back to Shute. So we need to get our beauty sleep.'
Sophie looked knowingly at her hero.
'Yeah suuuuuuuuuuuuuure,' she said, cheekiness written all over her face. 'We know why youíre reaaaaaaaaaaaaally going to bed so early.'
'Sophia! Abbastanza!' The girlís mother exploded, while Jo and Cadie laughed heartily. Rosa grabbed the back of Sophieís shirt and bodily lifted the girl to her feet. 'Bed! Now!'
'Okay, okay,' Sophie grumbled. 'Iím so tired of everybody else having all the fun.' She turned to walk away from the adults, but was stopped by Joís hand on her shoulder, spinning her back around. The skipper tipped the girlís chin up and leaned down till they were almost nose to nose.
'Just think how much fun youíve got ahead of you, munchkin,' she said. 'Now whereís that smile?'
Big, brown eyes with gorgeous long eyelashes gazed up at her adoringly. Slowly a smile spread across Sophieís face before she flung her arms around Joís neck and hugged her.
'Gínight, Jo-Jo,' she said, her mood once more sunny.
Sophie let the tall woman go and moved to Cadie. Relatively new acquaintances, they had not yet been overly demonstrative with each other, but the 12-year-old wasnít in the mood to be inhibited, and she threw herself enthusiastically at the American. Cadie chuckled and wrapped her up in a close, warm hug.
'See ya next time, Cadie,' Sophie whispered.
'You bet, kiddo.'
And then Sophie was gone in a tangle of arms and legs.
'La mia dea!' exclaimed her exasperated mother. 'I am sorry for her bad manners. I am thinking that · how do you say · all heck is about to break loose with that one.' She rolled her eyes.
'Ah, puberty, I remember it well,' Jo said dryly. She slid an arm around her partnerís shoulders and smiled at their hostess. 'Thanks again for a lovely evening Rosa.'
The older woman reached out, cupping Joís cheek with one hand and Cadieís with the other.
'Look at you two. You are so beautiful, how can I not love you and feed you till you burst.' She smiled beatifically. 'I am just sorry Roberto and Antonio were not here to see you.' She patted their cheeks and let them go. 'Fishing. I do not understand the attraction.'
They laughed as the walked down the hall together, then Jo and Cadie each took a cheek, planting goodnight kisses on Rosa, before waving and setting off down the hill towards the marina.
'Nice night,' Jo murmured as they wandered along, arms wrapped round each other.
'Mhmmmm. Theyíre good people. Rosa gave me her recipe for those cannelloni you love so much.' Cadie smiled up at the taller woman. 'I guess now I have to learn to cook.'
'Wow.' Jo looked surprised and pleased. 'Those recipes are like state secrets. She must really like you, sweetheart.'
'I really like her,' said the blonde. 'You know that I donít have a problem being on the other side of the planet from my parents, because Iím with you, but having Rosa and the family be so welcoming has made it a lot easier.' She felt Joís grip tighten slightly.
'Iím asking a lot of you, arenít I?' the skipper asked quietly, as they walked through the resort grounds.
'Itís nothing that I donít want to give, Jo-Jo,' Cadie replied. 'There isnít anywhere Iíd rather be.'
Wow, thought Jo. How did I get this lucky? 'You know, thereís only one thing that could make this evening even better than it already is,' she said.
'Hmmm, letís see,' Cadie pondered. 'Would it be chocolate?'
'Noooooooooo,' Jo teased.
'Would it be ¶ a long, cold glass of beer?'
'No it would not.'
Cadie laughed low and knowing, sure of where her loverís mind was going, but enjoying the long and meandering road they were taking to get there.
'Well, perhaps youíd rather show me, than tell me about it,' she said as they stepped onto the wooden jetty that included the Seawolfís berth.
'I could do that,' Jo mused. 'Of course, there would need to be some audience participation, or itís just not going to be the same.'
Jo let her go long enough to allow Cadie to walk out onto the yachtís gangplank first, then followed close behind.
'Audience participation, huh?' Cadie said as she stepped down into the cockpit. 'Does this mean I get to watch, and then join in?' She backed down the companionway, her eyes naturally sliding down the long length of Joís body as the taller woman followed her below decks. Cadie took her loverís hand and pulled her into the cabin.
'Looks to me like youíd rather start first,' Jo said, grinning as a look of lusty determination settled on Cadieís face as the blonde began undoing the skipperís shirt buttons.
'Are you complaining?' Cadie slid her hands inside the now open shirt and leaned forward, kissing the soft skin she found between Joís breasts. Jo gasped and caught her breath at the explosion of sensation from such a small gesture.
'Uhhhhh no, no, Iím not complaining,' she murmured. She reached for Cadie, cupping her cheek and tilting the blondeís head back. Ducking down, Jo parted her loverís lips with her own, probing gently with the tip of her tongue. The response was immediate and they deepened the kiss, opening each other with tender ease.
Mid-kiss, Jo bent her knees, wrapped her arms around Cadie and lifted her, walking them to the bed and lowering the blonde down into the soft sheets.
'Mmmmmm, is this the audience participation bit?' Cadie sighed as she pulled Jo closer.
'I think it just might be,' Jo whispered. She pushed Cadieís t-shirt up and, with her mouth, began a sensual assault upon the velvety skin of the blondeís stomach, drawing a low, growling response. Cadie raised her hips and Jo took the hint, hooking her fingers under the waistband of her partnerís shorts and pulling them down.
Cadie felt a sense of urgency, sudden and overwhelming. She wanted · no, needed - nothing more than to feel Jo against her skin, intimately, deeply. She groaned again as Joís tongue trailed lower. And quickly. Quickly would be good, too.
It was the end of conscious thought. Joís touch was unendingly relentless, in the best possible way. The teasing and the wash of sensations became Cadieís total focus and she gave herself up to it.
I want to spend the rest of my life doing this, Jo thought, letting her own body get caught up in the rhythms of the connection between them. There is nothing better than this.
'Letís get this over with,' Jo muttered. She and Cadie were snuggled together in bed and they had just woken after ¶ After a wonderful night, the skipper thought as they lay tangled in their warm nest. But now we have to face our respective demons.
Cadie reached over to the small table on her side of the double bunk and picked up Joís cell phone. They both looked at the small handset glumly while Cadie turned it over and over in her hand.
'You want to go first?' the blonde murmured.
'Hell, no,' Jo snorted. 'Do you?'
More turning. More staring.
'We could wait until we get home,' said Jo hopefully. 'Weíd save money using the land line.'
Cadie looked at her skeptically.
'Eh, I gave it a shot.' She quirked an eyebrow at her lover. 'Your turn.'
More turning. More staring.
'We could make love instead.'
'Oh, youíre good. And as tempting as that sounds ¶' She kissed the blonde softly. Then did it again because it felt so good. 'Mmmmmm,' she whispered. 'As tempting as that most definitely is, my love, I donít think itís going to do either of us any good to keep putting this off.'
Cadie nibbled at the dark-haired womanís neck teasingly.
'Damn. I thought I had you there for a minute,' she murmured against the soft skin.
'Youíve always got me,' she replied, tickling fingertips lightly against Cadieís ribcage, chuckling as the smaller woman squirmed. 'Ah-hah, a sensitive spot, huh?' She reached out again to continue the torture but Cadie was too quick for her.
'Oh, no you donít.' The blonde wriggled away and then flipped Jo over, straddling her hips and effectively pinning her to the bed. She grabbed the older womanís wrists and pressed them into the pillows. 'Tickle me, will ya?' She grinned down at her lover, rubbing noses with Jo.
'Mmmm, I think I like this,' Jo said teasingly, arching her back and pressing her hips up to meet Cadieís warmth. The sensation tore a gasp from the blondeís lips and Jo laughed wickedly. 'Just when you think youíre in control,' she murmured, then bucked, throwing Cadie off and quickly reversing their position. 'Youíre not.'
'Oooooooo,' purred the blonde who suddenly found herself in a very vulnerable position. Jo leaned over her and she liked what she saw in the sparkling blue eyes that were now at very close quarters. There was just one problem. Cadie winced at the sharp pain in her lower back. 'Jo-Jo.'
'Mmmmmm?' Gentle teeth nibbled at her collarbone.
'Iím lying on the phone.'
Jo sighed. She had the distinct feeling this particular bout of distraction wasnít going to get them anywhere other than right back looking at that damn phone. She fished around under Cadieís backside until she came up with the offending gadget.
'No getting away from it, is there?' Cadie said quietly.
'I donít think so, love, no.' Jo rolled away from her and sat up, resting back against the wall of the cabin. Cadie turned onto her side and supported her head on her hand.
'Rock, paper, scissors,' the blonde said.
'You know,' Cadie replied. 'The kidís game? Rock, paper, scissors.' She made the hand gestures that went with each word.
'Ah yes.' Jo tossed the cell phone up in the air and caught it again. 'Play you for it,' she said. 'Loser calls first.'
'Okay.' Cadie pushed herself up and swung around until she was sitting cross-legged in front of Jo. Both women extended a clenched fist. 'Ready?' Jo cate_swannell_nodded. 'One, two, three.'
A rock and a piece of paper. Jo reached out and wrapped her open hand around Cadieís fist.
'Damn,' Cadie muttered. 'Two out of three?' she asked hopefully.
'Sorry, love.' Jo pulled her close and wrapped her up with long strong arms, then handed her the phone. 'Iíll be right here with you.'
Cadie crawled between the taller womanís legs and nestled against Joís bulk. She sighed and took a deep breath.
'Here goes,' she muttered, as she punched in the number for Naomiís Washington apartment.
It was 4 oíclock on Sunday afternoon in DC, and the Wizards were taking their usual beating. This time, though, it was at the hands of the Chicago Bulls, a situation that, for once, gave the senator from Illinois a modicum of pleasure. The Bulls were 11 points up with a quarter to play and Naomi was lounging in her recliner, a bowl of peanuts balanced on one arm, and a lukewarm beer in her other hand.
'Pass the ball, you goddamn moron,' she growled, pinging a peanut at the large-screen television on the wall. 'Jesus Christ, pass it!'
Naomi was edgy. She had muttered and ranted to herself for most of her waking moments since she had tried to contact Cadie. Most of her day had been spent sitting near the phone, getting ready for her conversation with her wayward partner, going over and over what she would say in her mind. A casual observer would have taken in some very interesting facts about the politician. Her appearance, for one. She was disheveled, the casual clothes she wore werenít particularly clean, and there were dark circles under her eyes.
The luxurious apartment was a mess. Old newspapers, clothes and dirty dishes were dotted about and the senatorís chair was surrounded by little piles of more of the same. The maid usually came once a week, but after two weeks of trying to deal with Naomiís crap and bad temper, sheíd quit. Not that the senator had really noticed the chaos as her mind became more and more focused on just one thing.
Cadie's going to come back to me, she brooded as the Bulls turned the ball over and gave up an easy lay-up. She drained the last of the warm beer, crumpled the can and dropped it on the floor to the side of the chair. She's going to come back to me, or ... or ...
The truth was the senator didnít yet have a plan for what she would do if words couldn't persuade her partner to come back home.
But I will come up with something, she thought grimly. Because nobody walks out on me. And as for that goddamned Australian - nobody takes my property before I'm well and truly finished with it.
The phone rang.
Cadie bit her lip as she waited for the line to connect. Jo had her wrapped up safe and warm and she burrowed in closer, unwilling to brave this phone call alone. Electronic beeps echoed the numbers she had dialed and then there was one ring before the line was picked up.
Damn, she must have been sitting on the phone, Cadie thought, instinctively wincing at the ragged sound to the senator's deep voice.
"Hello Naomi," she answered quietly.
"Arcadia." There was an awkward silence while both women waited for the other to start the conversation.
"You asked me to call, urgently," Cadie eventually said, wanting to get this little chat over and done with. "Are you okay?"
The senator snorted.
"Of course I'm all right. I just want to know when you're coming home."
Well, straight to the point then, Cadie thought wryly. She knew Jo was close enough to hear Naomi's half of the conversation and she looked up into concerned blue eyes.
"I'll be flying back into Madison in about five weeks' time," she said cautiously. "There are a lot of loose ends I need to sort out with the agency and the bank accounts for the business. And I still have to go through all the stuff you sent from the Chicago house to Mom and Dadís place."
Stony silence from the other end of the connection.
"Don't let her freak you out," Jo whispered against her right ear, and Cadie snuggled even closer.
"When are you going to stop this nonsense?" came the low growl from Washington. "You can't honestly believe that you have a future with that Australian bitch."
Cadie decided to ignore the insult to her lover, instead opting to push to the heart of the matter.
"Leave Jo out of this, Naomi," she said quickly. "This has nothing to do with her and everything to do with you and me."
"Bullshit," was the quick-fire response. "We were just fine until she interfered."
Cadie sighed. This was a crucial point if Naomi was ever going to understand why she had left her. But she knew just how pig-headed the senator could be when it came to facing her responsibilities.
"Naomi, listen to me," she said quietly. "I would have left you anyway." She let the statement hang out there, giving it a chance to sink into her ex-partner's brain. "I was thinking about it before we came to Australia, and the fact is, it was only a matter of time."
More silence. Cadie felt Jo's arms tightening around her, followed by the soft touch of a reassuring kiss against her temple.
"That's not true," Naomi finally said.
"It is true. There was a lot wrong with our relationship before Jo came along, Naomi. And you need to understand that I am not your partner any more. I'm sorry if that hurts, and I'm sorry if it damages your career. But I can't squeeze myself back into that box you made for me. And I can't change how I feel about Jo, and how I don't feel about you anymore."
Jo felt her lover shaking. It was the first time Cadie had managed to articulate her exact feelings to Naomi and Jo knew it was taking a lot of effort to keep herself together. Hang in there, love, she projected, squeezing the blonde a little tighter.
Cadie waited for Naomi's response, wondering if any of this was sinking in. What she got was a complete surprise.
"Come home. Please. I need you." The voice was raw and tired and contained a touch of something that Cadie didnít think she'd ever heard before from the older woman.
Jo winced and held her breath. There's a moment of truth buried in here somewhere, she thought. Naomi's playing the pity card. Let's hope Cadie sees it for what it is. She closed her eyes and rested her cheek against the blonde head.
Cynthia Jones hadn't raised a fool for a daughter, but she had raised a tender heart and for several long seconds Cadie just absorbed the shock of hearing Naomi beg for anything.
But then her brain kicked back into gear and she took a deep breath.
"I'm sorry, Naomi, but I'm not buying it. You've never needed me for anything a maid or secretary couldnít do just as well." She paused, wondering at the anger that was welling up in her. "It just took me far too long to see that."
She could almost hear Naomiís teeth grinding.
'Is that your last word?'
Cadie exhaled a long, slow breath.
'Yes, it is.'
There was a click, and then a disconnected signal. Cadie dropped the phone from her ear and tilted her head back to look up at Jo.
'She hung up on me,' she murmured, not surprised by Naomiís abrupt response to the conversation. Jo kissed her softly, comfortingly.
'Blessing in disguise, sweetheart,' the taller woman said quietly. 'She didnít seem any saner than the last time I saw her.'
'Mmmmmm,' Cadie said noncommittally. She preferred not to speculate too much on the state of her ex-partnerís state of mind.
Naomi replaced the phoneís handset slowly and let her gaze wander back to the television, where the Bulls had surrendered their lead and were in the process of folding, like a cheap accordion, in the dying minutes of the game. For some reason it was that, rather than the last words of her partner which drove a wedge into the small crack in Naomiís temper.
She picked the phone up and hurled it at the screen, snarling as it bounced impotently off the glass.
'How could you lose it, you incompetent MORONS!' she yelled. 'How could you ¶' Frustration clenched and unclenched her fists, rage wanting to escape, but not knowing how. 'How could you ¶ how could SHE LEAVE ME!!' she screamed at the ceiling. Her throat hurt.
'Whereís the phone?' she muttered, the germ of an idea beginning to form in her mind. She slid out of the chair and scrabbled forwards on her knees, picking up the scattered pieces of the phone. Once they were reassembled, she dialed Toby and Jasonís number. It rang repeatedly. 'Come on, come on, goddamn it.'
'This is Toby,' came a breathless response eventually.
'Itís me,' Naomi said bluntly. 'Who do we know in Customs?'