"So I guess it's my turn, huh?" Jo said quietly as they continued to snuggle, the cell phone lying between them.
"Well, it's still pretty early," Cadie replied, patting Jo's chest comfortingly. "Maybe you should wait a little while yet."
Jo chuckled softly.
"Honey, for one thing they're an hour ahead of us, so it's after 8am down there. And Dad will have been out in the paddock for about three hours already." She glanced down at the blonde and kissed her softly. "They'll be up and about, don't worry."
"Okay," Cadie replied. She let her eyes drift closed and just floated in the warm nest created by Jo's arms. Then a thought occurred to her and she was very much awake again. "Jo-Jo?"
"They do know you're gay, right?"
What a good question, the skipper thought glumly.
"We've only ever talked about it once," she replied. "And that wasn't so much a talk as a shouting match." She felt Cadie's arms tighten around her. "I told them after Phil died," she said. Cadie remembered Jo telling her about the childhood friend who had killed himself when his father found out he was gay. "Mum fell apart and Dad yelled an awful lot. And a month later I left home." Jo swallowed around the lump in her throat. "So, to answer your question ... they know that I thought I was gay when I was 17. Whether they think it was just something I grew out of or not, is a very good question."
Cadie felt the tension in the long body next to her and she slid her hand under Jo's t-shirt. With gentle fingertips she began a soothing pattern of caresses across the firm stomach. The effect was almost immediate as her lover's eyes closed and the tautness began to bleed away.
"So I'm going to come as a bit of a shock, then," she said, smiling as Jo's eyes flew open and then focused intently on her.
"They take us together or not at all, love," Jo answered, setting her jaw stubbornly.
"Thank you. But sweetheart it might not come to that. My guess is they're going to be so glad to hear from you that they're not gonna care too much who you show up with."
A fierce blue gaze held her and Cadie felt the tension returning to the muscles under her fingertips.
"I want them to care, Cadie. You're my partner. They're going to accept you and treat you with respect or we're going to be out of there." Growing anxiety and belligerence washed off Jo in waves and Cadie knew she had to do something about it.
Can't let her call them when she's feeling this uptight, she thought. Quickly she straddled her lover's hips, placing her hands on the taller woman's shoulders and leaning forward till they were just inches apart.
"Jo, breathe," she said gently. "Think about this from their perspective for a moment. How many times have they heard from you in the last 15 years?"
Jo swallowed and tried to concentrate on the calm green eyes in front of her.
"Five ... maybe six times," she muttered.
"Okay ... so basically, they don't really know you at all, right?" Jo cate_swannell_nodded slowly. "All they remember is the 17-year-old you were. So you're starting with a clean slate in many ways. They haven't got a clue what to expect."
"They have tendency to talk to me like I'm still 17," Jo said. "And that's the last thing I want."
Cadie cupped Jo's cheek with her hand, soothing away the anxiety with a slow caress of her thumb.
"So take things gently with them," she said. "If you call them anticipating a confrontation, chances are you'll get one."
That brought a wry smile from her lover.
"Honey and vinegar, huh?"
"Exactly." She kissed the corner of Jo's mouth teasingly. "And the bottom line is, sweetheart, you don't know them any better than they know you. You could be in for a pleasant surprise."
"I doubt that, but I guess you're right," she replied. She sighed and picked the cell phone up, nibbling at her bottom lip nervously.
"Want me to leave you alone for a bit?" Cadie asked.
"No way," Jo insisted quickly, drawing a grin from her lover. "I'm going to need cuddling, one way or another."
"I can do that," Cadie said confidently. She slid back a little, then leaned forward till her cheek rested on Jo's breast. "Go ahead, sweetheart, I'll be right here."
Jo took a deep breath as she keyed through the cell phone's directory listing until she came to her the entry for her parent's home number.
"Okay, here goes," she muttered, pushing dial.
Several rings later, Cadie stirred, lifting her head to look up at Jo.
"They're not home?" she whispered.
"It's a big place sweetheart ... ah, here we go."
A breathless voice came on the other end of the line.
Jo swallowed at the familiar, yet barely remembered tones.
"Um, hi Mum," she said.
There was a pause while Maggie digested those three words.
"J-Jossandra? Oh, Josie, is that really you?"
"Yeah, Mum, it's me," Jo replied, unaware of the tiny smile that touched the corners of her mouth. "Did I catch you away from the house?" she asked, desperate for any kind of small talk.
"I was just down at the cottage changing the bed linen," Maggie said, trying to catch her breath. "Your father put up one of those bells on the outside of the house though, so I can hear the phone."
Cadie watched, fascinated at the play of emotions across her lover's face as Jo and her mother felt their way through the first stages of the long overdue phone call. Suddenly Cadie could see the teenager in Jo's angular features.
If she was standing up, she'd be shuffling her feet, Cadie thought with a smile. I'm glad she got up the courage to do this. She needs more family around her. The blonde snuggled close again, resting her cheek on Jo's breast as she listened to the conversation.
"So how are things down on the farm, Mum?" Jo asked.
"Oh not so bad, love. Not so bad." Jo could hear her mother dragging one of the wooden kitchen chairs across the floor and her exhalation as she sat down.
I can see that kitchen, she thought wistfully. I bet it hasn't changed a bit.
"The drought's been pretty bad and money's a bit of worry, but there's nothing new in that," her mother said.
Jo frowned. Maybe now I can start helping them with that, she thought.
"How's Dad?" she asked.
"He's all right," her mother said softly. "We're all getting older, though, Josie," she laughed, trying to make light of things. "He hired a new jackaroo a few months ago, and that's taken some of the load off him a bit."
"That's good," Jo replied.
"Tell me about you," Maggie said. "It's been forever since we talked. Are you still up in the islands?"
"Yeah," Jo answered. "Quite a lot's happened lately, actually." She looked down into sparkling green eyes and grinned.
"Oh really? Good things, I hope."
"Some of them very good, yes," Jo said quietly. "Do you remember Ron Cheswick, the guy who owned the charter company?"
"Oh yes," Maggie replied.
"Well, he died about a month ago."
"That doesn't sound like a good thing, love. I'm sorry to hear that."
Cadie slid further up until she was tucked just under Jo's chin.
"Yeah, he was a good bloke," Jo murmured, grateful to have the solid warmth of Cadie in her arms. "Um, the good news from that was that he left me the company."
There was a gasp and another lengthy silence as her mother absorbed that news.
"Josie, that's fantastic," Maggie finally responded. "What a great opportunity for you. That must be a dream come true."
"So far, so good," Jo said. "Um, there's something else too," she ventured. "I've ... um ... met someone."
Maggie was having trouble taking in the last few minutes. Hearing from her wandering daughter hard on the heels of her conversation with David the night before had been shock enough. But then to get more momentous news out of Jossandra in five minutes than she'd heard in five years was making her head reel.
She pushed her grey hair off her face and tried to focus on what her daughter was saying.
"You met someone?" Someone? What does that mean? Memories of arguments with the rebellious teenager Jo had been resurfaced and Maggie's heart started pounding. She's not that kid anymore. So don't let those memories influence your response to her now. She's an adult. Treat her like one, and accept what's coming. "Someone special, love?"
There was a pause and it occurred to Maggie that the 'someone special' might be in fairly close proximity. She smiled, suddenly delighted that her independent offspring had found love.
"Yes, someone very special." Another pause. "She's right here, actually."
Ahhh. Maggie closed her eyes and tried to still the doubts and fears that welled up. So it wasn't just a phase. She spent half a second wrestling a generation's worth of prejudice. I don't care, she decided. Once she recognized the phone call for what it was a real chance to get to know her daughter again acceptance came easily. She's my daughter and she's talking to me, at last. And she's happy, by the sound of it.
"That's wonderful, Josie," she answered, fighting back the tears. "I'm so happy for you."
"W-would you like to say hello?"
Oh my goodness.
"Um ... of course, yes, all right," Maggie stammered, wondering if her brain was going to explode from the influx of new information.
"Go ahead, she wants to say hello," Jo whispered as she covered the mouthpiece of the cell phone with her hand.
Cadie's eyes widened and she backed away a little.
"You don't think it's a little soon, Jo-Jo?" she hesitated. "She didn't know I existed until a minute ago."
Jo grinned at her mischievously.
"Come on, you'll be fine. She doesn't bite."
Cadie raised a skeptical eyebrow.
"And you know this, how?" she muttered, taking the phone from her lover and settling back against her chuckling form. "You are so going to make this up to me." She took a deep breath and summoned up her best campaign manner. "Hello, Mrs. Madison, this is Cadie," she said cheerily.
"Oh you're American. I wasn't expecting that," she said, wondering at the gentle, cultured accent of her daughter's ... goodness, what do I call her ... friend? - so different from Jo's rich, low tones. "Heavens, that wasn't very polite of me, was it?"
Cadie laughed gently.
"That's all right, I don't think any of us were expecting this conversation to go quite the way it has," she replied, already liking the older woman's open approach.
"Well, that's certainly true," Maggie agreed readily. "It's amazing, really. Jo's father and I were just saying last night that we were going to call her on her birthday." She paused. "You do know it's her birthday on Wednesday?"
She heard another chuckle down the line.
"I sure do, though she keeps insisting it's no big deal and we should just forget about it."
"Don't you believe that for a minute. Why, when she was a girl ..." Her voice trailed away as she remembered just how long ago that was, and just how little she knew her own daughter these days. "Well ..." She cleared her throat. "Anyway. It's good to know that Josie has found someone nice. You sound lovely."
This time it was Cadie's turn to be embarrassed.
"Uh, thank you. Please finish what you were going to say. I'd love to hear about Josie's childhood." She yelped and Maggie suspected the American had just been poked.
The older woman chuckled.
"She's giving you a hard time, isn't she?" she asked, charmed by the easy laughter she could hear from both women. "Is it because you want to hear baby stories, or because you called her Josie?"
"Both, I think," Cadie giggled.
"Well, suffice to say, she very much anticipated her birthdays when she was little. I'm sure there's a bit of that still inside her. Give her a hug for me on the day, won't you?"
She could almost hear the grin.
"Oh, I will certainly do that," Cadie answered. "It was so nice to finally say hello to someone I've heard so much about. I'm going to hand you back to Josie yow! To Jo, now. Bye, Mrs. Madison."
"Bye, dear," Maggie said. She felt somewhat dazed and rubbed her hand over her face. She could hear rustling and subdued whispers on the other end of the line.
"Hi Mum," said Jo a few seconds later.
"Hello, love," her mother replied quietly. "It sounds like you've found yourself someone very special."
"Oh yes," Jo breathed. "Very." There was another pause. "Look, Mum, we were kind of thinking of coming for a visit. Cadie wants to meet you, and I .." Maggie waited, hearing the catch in her daughter's voice. "I'd like to come home, Mum."
Oh my. She's not sure if she's welcome, Maggie suddenly realized. As if there was any question of that.
"Yes Josie. You come home any time you want, love, and stay as long as you want. And bring whoever you want." She was crying now, tears streaming unnoticed down her tanned and lined cheek. "You're always welcome here, love. If we haven't made that clear before, let me make it clear now. Come home. Please."
Cadie watched as the emotion of the moment swamped Jo. They had been giggling and teasing their way through the conversation with her lover's mother so far, but suddenly things had become very serious.
In a good way I think, Cadie decided as Jo struggled to regain her composure. The dark-haired woman's throat was working hard but no sound was coming out. Jo rubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand before Cadie took pity on her and took the phone back again.
"Hold on, sweetheart," she whispered as Jo buried her face against the blonde's neck. With one arm Cadie held her close as she juggled the phone in the other.
"Mrs. Madison? It's me again," she said calmly.
"Did Josie hear what I said?" Maggie replied anxiously.
"Yes ma'am, she sure did. I think it's just overwhelmed her a little bit right now." Cadie gently kissed the dark head.
"Oh dear, I hope I haven't scared her off."
The American laughed softly.
"No, I don't think so. Quite the reverse I suspect." Jo didn't show any signs of emerging from the safe nest of Cadie's embrace and was taking deep, hitching breaths. "Um, we were thinking of coming to see you this weekend," Cadie continued. "Would that be okay?"
"More than okay," came the quick response. "Wonderful. Josie's father is going to be so pleased."
Finally, Jo got herself back together, wiping her eyes as she gestured for the phone. She had been totally disconcerted by her emotional reaction to her mother's invitation, but it wasn't fair to leave the details to Cadie. She took a deep breath as the blonde handed the phone back to her.
"Mum? If we can get ourselves to the air strip at Pemble, can someone pick us up?" she asked, aware that her voice sounded raw.
"Of course. Just let us know when, exactly, and one or other of us will be there." There was a pause as her mother registered the emotions she was hearing. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, Mum, I'll be right. Is Dad going to be okay with all this?" Jo closed her eyes when Cadie pressed a tender kiss against her temple.
"Don't you worry about your father, Jossandra," Maggie replied firmly. "I'll sort him out right enough. And to be honest, I think he's going to be really chuffed to see you."
"Okay Mum," Jo said, deciding now was not the time to challenge that opinion. She knows him a lot better than I do, after all. "I'll give you a call when we have more idea about when we'll get there."
"Rightio, love. Talk to you then." Jo heard her mother clear her throat. "It's been so good to hear your voice, Josie. Thank you for calling."
"I figured it was about time," Jo answered quietly. "Look, Mum, I ..."
"Shhhhhh, love, don't worry about it now. We're going to have plenty of time to talk, I'm sure. And I can't wait to meet your girl."
Jo caught herself grinning. My girl. Yeah.
"Okay, Mum. Bye for now."
Jo hung up the call and dropped her head back against the wall of the cabin in sheer relief.
"Wow," she murmured.
Cadie sat back on her heels, still straddling Jo's thighs. She smiled.
"You weren't expecting that, were you?"
One blue peeked out from under its lid.
"No, I wasn't," Jo replied. She lifted her head up and looked directly at Cadie. "Sorry I lost it there for a bit. It's just a bit ... um ..."
"Sshhh, I know," Cadie soothed. "I think I like your mother already. She's got your voice." She paused, remembering. "Only with about 20 more years' hard work in it."
Jo thought about that.
"She and Dad do the hardest work there is, I reckon," she said quietly. "Trying to make a living on the land has never been easy, but this drought makes it a million times harder." She frowned and Cadie knew there were all kinds of plans and schemes swirling in the dark head.
She gets the cutest little furrow on her brow when she's trying to work out how to get something done, the blonde recognized.
"You want to help them out, don't you?" she asked, smiling as Jo raised an eyebrow at her.
"Yeah, I do. We can afford to, I think. Is that okay with you?" Jo reached out and slid her hands around Cadie's hips, pulling the shorter woman down till she was resting on her chest again.
Cadie felt a warm glow spreading through her.
She said 'we', she thought giddily. I don't care about the money there could be a buck-50 in that account and I could care less. But in 12 years with Naomi, she never once even considered asking me what I thought about decisions like this. Cadie wrapped her arms around her lover's waist and squeezed possessively.
"I'm more than okay with that," she replied happily. "Thank you for asking."
Cadie felt the kiss against the top of her head.
"Did you think I wouldn't ask?" Jo rumbled, soft and low.
Cadie lifted her head and kissed the full, coral lips so close.
"I'm just not used to being included in those sorts of decisions, sweetheart," she replied huskily when they broke apart. "I wanted to make sure you know I appreciate it."
"Cadie." Jo tilted the blonde's head up with a gentle fingertip under her chin. "I'm not Naomi."
"Thank god," Cadie murmured, provoking a broad grin from her lover.
"Agreed. My point was just that you and I are nothing like you and her. I don't ever want us to get to that place where you and Naomi were. Not talking, not sharing, not trying anymore. If I ever look like neglecting you neglecting us the way she did, I want you to hit me with something large and blunt."
Cadie considered that.
"Hmmmmm, like a small tree?"
"Exactly like a small tree."
Cadie looked at her solemnly.
"I can do that."
Cadie nuzzled Jo's neck, loving the feel of the taller woman's pulse against her lips. She nibbled a teasing line up to her jaw then trailed the tip of her tongue across the soft skin to Jo's ear.
"God, I love the feel of you," Jo whispered hoarsely. Their faces were barely touching, cheeks brushing together in the finest of contacts. She could feel the rising heat between them, and her hands moved restlessly across the soft skin of Cadie's back. The blonde licked at her earlobe with the delicate tip of her tongue, drawing the sensitive flesh into her mouth. Jo groaned as Cadie bit down gently. "You're making me ache, Arcadia."
"Mmmmmm," Cadie growled. "I like the sound of that."
"I like the sound of you." Jo knew they were in danger of spending yet another morning lazing around in bed, indulging themselves in each other's bodies. And loving it, she thought, happily letting the sensations wash through her. It never failed to amaze her when her body reacted so powerfully to Cadie's touch and closeness. "I don't ever want to stop touching you," she murmured. "Or stop being touched by you."
Cadie responded by moving even closer. They were belly to belly, breast to breast, soul to soul.
"Josie, huh?" the blonde teased, her mouth against Jo's ear. "Does that make me your pussycat?"
Jo smiled, burying her face in the soft, fair hair.
"You're certainly purring loudly enough," she answered. She felt rather than heard Cadie's laughter. Jo took the chance and found a way to slide her right hand between them. Her fingertips found the soft, wet spot they were searching for and Cadie gasped, shuddering against her.
"Ohhh god, Jo," the blonde groaned. "If I wasn't purring before, I certainly ... a-am ... n-now." Any ability Cadie had to form coherent sentences drifted away on a current of pure sensuality as Jo's fingers teased and circled, flicked and stroked. She pressed down with her hips, undulating against Jo's hand and wrist. The passion had risen fast, the speed and strength of it leaving her speechless.
Jo avidly watched the look of utter skin-hunger on her lover's flushed face. Cadie was almost in her own world, moving as her body demanded, using Jo.
In the best possible meaning of the word, Jo thought. She felt liquidly lustful herself, desire sitting low in her belly. The combination of Cadie's heat and wetness, the pressure of her own hand wedged between them both, and her lover's movements and sounds was delicious. Not enough to push her over the edge but ... she was surprised to hear a groan that wasn't Cadie's, recognizing her own voice, ragged with craving.
She wrapped her free arm around Cadie's hips, pulling the blonde closer as she arched up, counter-pointing the smaller woman's movements.
"J-Jo," Cadie crooned.
"Tell me what you want, darling," Jo urged.
Cadie responded by pressing herself upright, back arched, hands splayed across Jo's chest.
"Y-you know w-what I want," she groaned.
"Mmmmmm, yes I do," she murmured. She waited, watching Cadie's rhythms, feeling her desire's ebb and flow. And then, just as anticipation hovered on the brink of frustration, she gave Cadie what she needed, pressing deep, filling and stroking.
Cadie threw her head back, Jo's name spilling from her lips, over and over. Movements once smooth and purposeful were suddenly mindless and reactive. Jo thrust and coaxed, nuzzled and soothed, continuing to touch and tease Cadie's trigger points.
So beautiful, so sexy, Jo thought as the younger woman slumped forward, fair hair spilling across Jo's breasts as the energy drained out of her.
"Oh. My. God."
Jo chuckled. She left her right hand where it was, relishing the aftershocks and quivers that surrounded her fingers. She brought her left hand to Cadie's head, tenderly pushing perspiration-dampened locks away from her face.
"You okay, angel?" Jo whispered.
"Oh. My. God." Cadie felt like butter. Soft, pliable, melted butter. She couldn't have moved if her life depended on it. "I wonder if anyone will notice if we spend the rest of our lives in this position," she muttered, kissing the damp skin above Jo's heart.
"You're going to make a hell of a lump under my shirt," Jo mused. "Sailing's going to be interesting. I'll have to remember which hand to grind with, and which hand to ... um ..." She wiggled the fingers of her right hand playfully, grinning when Cadie twitched spasmodically. "Wouldn't want to get them the wrong way round."
Cadie laughed weakly, her fingers scratching lightly across Jo's sides.
"You are the most awesome lover, Jossandra," Cadie murmured. I feel like I've been turned inside out.
"You are the most awesome inspiration," Jo replied, kissing the top of the fair head.
Cadie mustered the strength to lift her head and she gazed up into hooded, blue eyes.
"Are you okay?" she asked, reading barely held back arousal in her lover's expression.
Jo exhaled slowly.
"I'm about seven steps beyond okay and one step short of nuclear fission," she explained, just failing to stop the broad, sensual grin. "I think if you touched me right now, I'd probably explode."
"Oooo, I think I'm intrigued," Cadie drawled. "I guess this means I have to let you go, huh?" She squeezed Jo's fingers.
"Mmmmmm." The movement sent tingles through Jo she couldn't even begin to describe. "Keep doing that, woman, and neither of us will have to move a muscle," she growled.
"Well, maybe one or two, sweetheart."
Jo walked the length of Seawolf's huge boom, pulling the sail cover tight around the furled mainsail and clipping it shut buckle by buckle. They were anchored at one of Cheswick Marine's buoys in Shute Harbor, having just arrived from Hayman Island about 20 minutes earlier. Cadie was below decks cleaning out the main cabin and galley while Jo made sure everything was shipshape up here. Seawolf was due out again the next morning with a boatload of tourists and it wouldn't do to have the big boat looking less than pristine.
It was mid-afternoon. Jo had meant to be back here a little earlier than this but somehow the morning had just drifted away on a tide of love-making and pillow talk. She grinned to herself. Can't think of a better reason to be late.
Jo looked around at the arresting scenery of the deep-water harbor and sighed contentedly. Shute was surrounded by high, lush green hills that came right down to the water, which was a dark, rich blue. Yachts and motor cruisers were dotted across the expanse of the port, leaving only the main channel out to the islands free of anchorages. Summer was coming to a close and the place was just starting to wind up for the main thrust of the tourist season, when the numbers of boats in the harbor would close to double.
It had been a good off-season for Cheswick Marine. Both boats, the Seawolf and the Beowulf, had operated almost constantly with just a few quiet weeks across the summer. And they'd come at convenient moments, Jo thought. The company was in relatively good shape, for which she silently thanked Ron Cheswick. But in another month or so things would start to get interesting. If we're going to get away for a break, now's the time. She neatly coiled a rope around itself as she contemplated the next couple of months. It's going to get busy here just at the time when Cadie has to go back to the States, she realized with a frown. Damn it.
She was shaken out of her reverie by sounds of movement from below. She glanced aft in time to see Cadie emerge up the companionway with a large plastic bag in tow.
"How did we manage to collect so much garbage in three days?" the American griped as she tugged at the bag. Jo wandered back to give her a hand, dropping casually down into the cockpit.
"Beats me sweetheart," she said with a shrug. "I didn't think we'd done anything except swim, eat and f-." She was silenced by Cadie's hand across her mouth and a pair of sparkling green eyes that widened in mock outrage. Jo grinned against the warm skin pressed to her lips. But the hand soon withdrew when she flicked her tongue out and licked it.
"Ewwwwwwwww, gross Jo-Jo," Cadie yelped. She wiped the hand on her shorts and then leaned in for a kiss. "You gonna give me a hand with this?"
"You bet." Together they hefted the bag into the dinghy, ready for the short trip to the Cheswick Marine jetty and office. "Any more down there?" Jo asked.
"Nope," Cadie replied. "Just our bags and the boycat."
Jo raised an eyebrow.
"How'd you go getting him in the cage?"
Cadie put her hands on her hips and grinned up at Jo.
"Funnily enough he just let me pick him up and put him in. Purring like a fool." She laughed at the look of astonishment on the tall skipper's face. Jo had suffered many a wound trying to get the boycat to do what he didn't want to do. "Face it, Jo-Jo, he prefers blondes."
Her dark-haired lover snorted.
"Can't blame him for that. God knows, I can't say no to you either."
They smiled happily at each other for long seconds, knowing exactly what the other was thinking. Their self-absorption was broken by a shout from the jetty.
They turned towards the sound and the sight of a familiar tall man waving at them from just outside the Cheswick office.
"They're back!" Cadie said with delight, recognizing the man as Seawolf's regular crewman, Paul. A moment later Paul's new wife, Jenny stepped out of the office and waved at them.
Jo grinned and waved back.
"Come on, let's go say hello," she said. They both scooted down the companionway into the main cabin, making a beeline for the double berth where their bags were waiting for them.
"Does Paul know yet?" Cadie asked, as she stuffed clothes into her bag. Paul had taken the exam for his Master's ticket a couple of days after the wedding and before he and Jenny had disappeared on their honeymoon. He'd passed with flying colors and Jo had the official piece of paper sitting on her desk just waiting to give him the good news.
"Nope," the skipper smirked. "I can't wait to tell him. It's gonna make it much easier for us to get away too, knowing I can leave him with the Seawolf."
"Little does he know he's gonna be skippering that bunch of Japanese around from tomorrow morning." She chuckled. "Are you going to go out with them for a couple of days?"
"Probably," Jo answered. She double-checked the cabin, making sure they'd picked up all their personal belongings. "Just until Josh is settled in and Paul's ready to go it alone." Josh was Jo's young next-door neighbor who had just come on board as an employee of Cheswick Marine. She was hoping the teenager would bond with Paul and Jenny to form a good, working crew.
"I'm glad he's part of the family now," Cadie said. Josh had been caught up in the drama last month when Jo's criminal past had come back to haunt them all. He had been held hostage by an old acquaintance of the skipper's and had needed rescuing by the former assassin. It had been scary for them all, but the young man seemed to have recovered well.
"Me too," Jo muttered. "We ready to go?"
Cadie zipped up the sports bag and patted it.
Jo picked up the cat cage, trying to ignore the plaintive meowing from the big black cat inside. She was stopped by a hand on her elbow and turned to face her smiling partner.
"Thank you for a lovely few days, Jo-Jo," Cadie said quietly, letting her eyes convey the depth of her feeling for the tall skipper.
Jo felt herself melting from the inside.
"We needed it, huh?" she answered, brushing Cadie's cheek with tender fingertips. Cadie cate_swannell_nodded. "Thank you, sweetheart."
They both laughed.
"Come on, gorgeous," Jo chuckled. "Let's get the monster home."
Half an hour later the four reunited friends were sprawled on the deck of Jo's house, high above Shute Harbor. Mephisto was roaming about rediscovering his home territory. Cadie and Jen were engrossed in a discussion about the merits of Fiji as a honeymoon destination while Jo and Paul were going over the plans for the tourist group they would take out on Seawolf the next day. Every now and then the tall blond man would stare dazedly at the Master's ticket Jo had presented him with down at the Cheswick Marine office.
"Feels pretty good, hey mate?" Jo said as she swigged another mouthful of cold beer. The dazed and happy look on her friend's face had been worth the wait. He deserves this, she thought. They both do.
"It feel sensational, skipper," Paul said, grinning at her. "Can't believe I nailed it on the first attempt." He shook his head. "How good am I?" They both laughed.
"Oh you're good. They'll be calling you skipper tomorrow."
"Holy shit," he murmured, all the implications of his promotion starting to hit home.
Jo laughed again.
"Drink your beer mate," she said. "You're going to be too busy to worry."
He drained his stubby.
"So what's the plan, Jo-Jo? Three skippers, two boats. You just going to rotate us for a while?"
Jen and Cadie looked up at the turn in the conversation and Jo caught the blonde's eye.
"Maybe for a while, sure," she replied. "Cadie and I are going to go visit my parents for a couple of weeks, maybe three. So until we get back from there things will run pretty much as normal. After that ..." She shrugged. "If things are going well I'm thinking of getting a third boat."
"Wow, skip," said Jen. "That's a lot of outlay." The brunette kicked off her shoes and placed her feet up on the top rail of the balcony.
"Yeah, it is, but ABC Charters are looking to lease out a couple of their yachts. So that might be a cheaper option."
Paul looked puzzled.
"Okay, so they're biggest company around and they're trying to get rid of some boats. But we're flat out booked for the winter, aren't we?" Jo cate_swannell_nodded, smiling slightly behind her beer. "So what are they doing wrong?"
"I think it's more what you guys are doing right," Cadie said as she got up to refresh her and Jen's drinks. She still hesitated to talk as if she was a part of the company, even though everyone connected with Cheswick had accepted her presence wholeheartedly. She casually brushed Jo's shoulder as she passed, and the dark-haired woman snagged her hand. Cadie bent down and placed a kiss on the top of Jo's head before moving on into the house.
"She's right," Jo said. "The big ones are being too impersonal, I think. They're booking big groups, sending them out after a few hours instruction and leaving the loopies to their own devices. And I'm not convinced that's the way to give them the most fun for their dollars. We've been much more hands-on lately. Like we were with Cadie's group."
"Boy that was fun," Paul muttered, remembering the antics of Senator Silverberg and her cronies. "No offence, Cades," he said apologetically as the blonde came back out with fresh drinks for everyone.
"None taken, Paulie," Cadie laughed. "You don't need to apologize for being honest. We were pains in the ass."
"Well, some of you were," Jenny said, patting Cadie's thigh sympathetically. "Anyway, it seems to be working, Jo-Jo," Jenny said. "Now all Paul and I need is somewhere to live, and all will be right with my world."
"I take it Paul's bachelor pad is just not cutting it," Cadie laughed.
"Not even close," the brunette replied.
"Hey," objected her husband. "It's not that bad." The three women looked at him like he'd suddenly grown an extra head. "Okay, okay so it is that bad." They all grinned at him. "And anyway, the lease runs out this weekend."
Jo and Cadie exchanged another look and the skipper cate_swannell_nodded, giving her partner the go-ahead.
"Stay here," Cadie said simply. Paul and Jenny looked at her and she shrugged. "You'd be doing us a favor. We need someone to feed the boycat while we're away and you guys need somewhere to live till you find your own place."
The newlyweds beamed from ear to ear.
"Thanks guys," said Paul, slapping Jo's knee with the back of his hand lightly.
"No worries, mate," she replied. "Like my friend here said, you'll be doing us a good turn."
"Sounds like a plan, skip," said Jenny.
They fell into a companionable silence as they gazed out over the islands. The sun began to set behind them and the gathering dusk turned the greens to purples.
Pretty damn good ending to a fine day, Jo thought to herself, watching the gold-tinged light touch Cadie's face. As she watched, the blonde turned towards her and broke into the most beautiful smile Jo had ever seen. I take it back, the skipper thought. It's the perfect ending.
Cadie was beginning to think this was the longest week in history. Though perhaps it's running a close second to the week after Naomi got arrested on Hamilton Island, she thought grimly as she tossed a sheaf of papers on to the desk. It was Friday afternoon, and she and Jo were supposed to be leaving for Jo's parents' place the next morning. But so far the week had been one crisis after another and they were struggling to get through them.
One of Cadie's stable of authors was having problems with her publisher. Normally Cadie would be acting as a buffer zone for the writer, but being half a world away was proving to be a little problematic. Not that she would have been doing face-to-face meetings anyway, but the time difference was proving to be a little mind-boggling for all concerned. Especially for the author, who had been sending plaintive emails all week.
The blonde sighed and pulled her reading glasses off, rubbing the bridge of her nose tiredly. She had a headache she wouldn't wish on her worst enemy and her neck and shoulders were stiff from a day spent hunched over her laptop. She kept meaning to transfer all her stuff over to Jo's desktop, but so far she just hadn't had a chance.
Cadie's week had started out just fine after three peaceful days off with Jo, but it had been all downhill since then. Jo had gone out with Paul and Jenny on the Seawolf as planned. But she'd ended up skippering the Beowulf for the last few days of its tour when Frank, Cheswick's third skipper, had gone down with appendicitis. Cadie hadn't seen her partner since Tuesday morning, though they had talked every night by phone. They were both beyond grumpy thanks to the enforced separation.
How the hell are we gonna survive when I have to go back to Madison, Cadie wondered glumly. It's not just that, though. It feels like everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.
She tossed her glasses onto the contact book she had open on the desk and uncurled herself, twisting and stretching in her chair. From where she sat she had a panoramic view of Whitsunday Passage.
She's out there somewhere. Probably having a bunch more fun than me.
Cadie started when Mephisto leapt up onto the desk in front of her. The big black cat settled his haunches between her and the laptop's keyboard, his head at eye level. Looking like a sleepy-eyed sphinx, he gazed at her implacably, purring gently. She smiled at him wanly.
"Hello boycat," she murmured, reaching up to scratch under his chin. He stretched his neck, giving her more access, and closed his eyes blissfully, the purr intensifying. Cadie chuckled. "You like that don't you, huh? When do you think your mom is gonna be home?" She leaned in to the cat and he reciprocated, bumping her nose with his forehead gently.
Jo had thought she'd be home about lunch time, but obviously something had slowed the Beowulf down. Cadie glanced down at her watch. Just after five.
"You want some food, Mephy?" she asked. In reply, the cat meeped at her, stood up then stepped forward, placing his front paws on the blonde's chest. "Oh I see. You want a cuddle and then some food, huh?" She pulled him forward and he settled on her shoulder, curling and uncurling his claws into the fabric of her shirt. For a few minutes Cadie just enjoyed the contact, burying her face in the soft fur at his neck while the feline purred on.
God, what is up with me? she wondered. "What do you think Mephy, am I going nuts?" she said aloud. The boycat nudged her with his nose. "Maybe it's just because this is the longest we've been apart since I came back here." She shuffled the papers on the desk with her left hand. "Or maybe it's just that everything I've touched this week has turned to horse poop." She frowned, turning her mind back to the logistical nightmare the agency was in danger of becoming.
Troublesome authors weren't the only problem Cadie was having as she tried to operate her business from a distance. Cash flow was a huge obstacle.
Basically there isn't any, she mused. She had managed to let all her contacts both publishers and authors know that from now on they should send their payments to her parents' address in Madison. Her mother was doing a good job of getting that money into the business' account, but getting it out again in Australia was proving to be a little more difficult. For the time being Jo was supporting them both, and although the skipper had absolutely no problem with that, Cadie most certainly did.
"That's it, Mephy," she muttered. "That's what's been bugging me." She sighed, glad in one way to have identified the nagging grumpiness that had been gnawing away at her.
Starting her own business hadn't been about financial independence in the beginning. It had been a way to establish and maintain her own identity separate from the public persona of her ex-partner. But as the business had grown and become successful, Cadie had come to appreciate being able to have complete control of her own money. It gave her the chance to crawl out from under Naomi's imposing shadow once in a while. And now ...
Now, I don't like the feeling of being dependent on anyone. Even Jo. She scratched Mephisto's back absentmindedly. I know she can more than afford to support me, and she keeps saying what's hers is mine but ... But that's easy to say from her position. She sighed again. On the other hand there isn't a damn thing I can do about it right now. It's just one of the many things I need to sort out when I go back to the States.
"I hate not being able to pay my share, and it's as simple as that," she told the cat. She felt a twinge of cramp low in her belly and grimaced. "Yeah and that's not helping either," she griped. Mephisto stuck a wet nose in her ear and snuffled, almost provoking a smile from the blonde. "Thank you. Come on, let's get you fed."
The cat picked up on the magic word and pushed himself up and off Cadie's shoulder, making her wince as his back claws dug in a little. She stood and followed him into the kitchen where she found him circling his empty dish, meowing.
"Okay, okay." She plucked the bag of kibble from the top of the fridge and poured a good-sized handful into the bowl, watching as the feline began eating with relish. "Go slow, boycat. You're gonna give yourself indigestion."
Cadie lifted the bag back into its spot and wandered back to the desk. She knew there was no point trying to contact her clients by phone at this hour, with most of the continental US well into its night time. Instead she sat down and started composing an email to the publisher. "Time to get nasty," she murmured, focusing on her task.
Anyone looking for Jo Madison at that moment would have been greeted by a pair of long legs, a toned backside and a string of curse words that would have done a submariner proud. The Cheswick Marine boss was head down in the engine compartment of the Beowulf, trying to fix the knocking that had been grinding on her last nerve as the big yacht had plowed its way towards Shute Harbor. Jo had wanted to be home hours ago, but the weather had let her down, becalming them halfway home from Hayman Island.
It had been a long, irritating journey back to port. The boatload of German tourists hadn't shown much enthusiasm during the whole trip as far as Jo could see and had been grudging in their thanks at journey's end.
Of course their seasickness probably didn't help, Jo realized as she grappled with a stubborn bolt. You can't help bad luck. She'd found the source of the rattling and was pleased it would be a relatively easy thing to fix. If I can just get this wrench to grip onto this goddamn bolt. No such luck though, as the tool slipped yet again.
"Goddamn it," she fumed. Hanging upside down in the cramped compartment wasn't doing much for her headache either. With a grimy hand she flicked her loose ponytail out of the way for the millionth time. She squirmed around to get a better angle and finally succeeded in slotting the wrench into place. "Okay," she muttered. "Now as long as it grips, we might actually get somewhere."
Jo gritted her teeth and applied pressure. The wrench bit into the worn facets of the bolt head and she twisted harder, straining against the stubborn metal. When it finally gave it was sudden and violent, catapulting Jo's hand against the surrounding engine components. Her knuckles barked on a sharp edge, gouging out hunks of skin and drawing blood.
"Fuck!" she yelped, only just managing to hang on to the wrench. "Fuck, fuck, bollocks and fuck!" Quickly she replaced the offending bolt and tightened the new component. She continued to curse under her breath as sweat and grease combined to add even further sting to the wounds on the backs of her knuckles.
Finally she was done. Jo didn't waste any time squirming back into an upright position and she slammed the lid of the engine compartment down angrily.
"Fucking goddamn piece of crap," she growled, trying to ignore the fact that she was bleeding on the deck.
"You right, boss?" said Roy, one of the crewmen on Beowulf.
She sighed as she reached to her back pocket and pulled out the piece of rag she'd been using to try and keep her hands clean.
"I'll live," she muttered. "Do me a favor and tie this for me will ya?" The man approached and grabbed the corners of the rag, tying it around her injured hand.
"You need to get something clean on that soon, skipper," he said as he tightened the knot. Jo winced.
"I know," she answered. "I'm heading home now anyway, so it can wait till then. Thanks, Roy."
"No worries. I'll run you over to the marina."
Five minutes later Jo was walking back along the Cheswick Marine pier, heading for her car. She had deliberately avoided going in to the company's office, knowing Doris, the office manager, would have a million little things for her to do before she disappeared for a few weeks.
Not the most responsible attitude, Jo-Jo, she admitted. But her mood was foul enough to make her willing to be a little irresponsible.
"Jo!" The tall skipper came to a halt, growling under her breath. "Jo, I need your signature on a few things before you go," said Doris, leaning out of the small demountable that was Cheswick's office. "Don't you dare leave yet."
Jo's head dropped.
"All I want is shower, a beer and a cuddle. And not necessarily in that order," she muttered, as she spun on her heel and headed back. "Is that too much to ask?"
Cadie slammed the phone down. It had been Naomi, she knew. Not that her ex-partner ever said anything, but the cold, heavy silence on the other end of the line was very, very familiar. Several times a day since Monday's conversation with the senator Cadie had answered the phone only to find a chilling presence and not much else.
How the hell did she get the number here, Cadie thought, not for the first time. So far, the blonde hadn't told Jo about the calls, preferring to have that conversation face to face. And changing the number isn't going to help. She found this one, she'll find the new one. Damn her.
Cadie's head lifted at the sound of car tires on gravel. Finally, she thought, a faint smile crossing her lips. Even the impending arrival of her lover wasn't doing much to penetrate the headache now bordering on titanic, however. As the front door opened, revealing a tall, dark and very welcome figure, the phone rang again. Damn it, Naomi, not now.
Cadie snatched the phone of the cradle, her temper finally snapping.
"What the hell is it you want, Naomi?" she yelled into the mouthpiece.
"Uh, Miss Jones, it's John Jacobs," came the hesitant reply.
Cadie slapped her hand over her mouth in consternation.
"God, I'm sorry John," she said quickly. "I thought you were someone else." She felt herself flush with embarrassment as she looked up at and caught stormy blue eyes looking at her. "Jo's just walked in. Hang on; I'll get her for you."
Naomi's been calling here? Why the hell didn't she tell me? Jo took the phone from Cadie, trying not to let her irritation show. "Hello, John," she said. "What can I do for you?"
Cadie covered her eyes with her palms, feeling the heat from her blush. Damn it. Damn you Naomi. She rubbed her face distractedly and moved into the kitchen, deciding to make a start on dinner while Jo talked with her attorney. The blonde started to put a salad together, forcefully dicing a couple of tomatoes, taking out some of her frustration.
It wasn't long before she heard Jo saying goodbye to John. The tall skipper walked towards her and placed her hands on top of the counter casually.
"Naomi's been calling, huh?" she asked gruffly.
"And hello to you too," Cadie said testily. She tossed the quartered tomatoes into the salad bowl and reached for the small lettuce she'd pulled out of the fridge. "I don't know for sure if it's her," she conceded. "A few times a day since Monday I've picked it up but there's just been silence."
"And you think it's been her?" Jo asked, her frayed temper just about worn through. "Why didn't you tell me before?"
"Well, who else would it be, Jo?" Cadie retorted, chopping the lettuce viciously, an action not lost on her partner.
"Given my history? I can think of about 20 people off-hand," said Jo sarcastically.
"And I didn't tell you because you were in the middle of the ocean and could do precisely nothing about it. Believe it or not, I thought you might appreciate not being bugged by something like that." Slice, dice, hack.
Jo watched the massacre of the salad continue. What's got her so fired up? she wondered. She looks like she's had as bad a week as I have.
"Um, I was thinking we might go out for dinner," she suggested tentatively.
Cadie groaned and dropped the knife onto the chopping board. More money she'd be spending on me. Part of her knew she was making more of it than she should, but her foul mood was in full swing now.
"I'd really rather not," she replied.
Jo rubbed her eyes tiredly.
"I just don't have the energy to cook tonight," she muttered, wishing Cadie would quit arguing so they could just get on with it.
"I'll cook, all right?" Cadie retorted, exasperated with the conversation. "Believe it or not I think I probably can throw together one meal."
Jo put her hands on her hips and glared at her partner.
"I never suggested you couldn't, Cadie," she said. "I just thought it might be easier for both of us if we went out."
"Well, it wouldn't be easier for me."
"Fine." I've had enough of this conversation, the skipper thought. She backed away, hands up palm outwards in a surrendering gesture. "You do what you like, okay? I'm going to get a shower."
For the first time Cadie noticed the grimy blue bandanna wrapped around Jo's knuckles.
"What did you do to your hand?" she asked.
"Nothing," Jo replied bluntly. She turned away and stalked into the main bathroom, slamming the door behind her.
Cadie picked the knife up again, jamming the point into the wooden chopping board and resting her hand on the hilt.
"Well, that's just great, Arcadia. Well done," she muttered to herself. "She's your one ally on this side of the planet, you love her to death, and you just treated her like a kicking post." She sighed.
Jo stood under the hot water. She leaned forward, forearm against the shower wall, forehead resting on her arm, eyes closed. She hadn't even bothered to strip off the makeshift bandage on her hand and now the deep graze was stinging like a son of a bitch.
What the hell are you doing? she berated herself. Don't you dare take out your bad mood on her, damn it. She doesn't deserve that. No matter how foul her mood may be. She pressed her fingers against the bridge of her nose. And you can just take that half-insecure, half-jealous thought about Naomi and shove it somewhere deep and dark, Jossandra. Clearly she doesn't want to hear from the senator. That's got to be part of her bad mood. So just can it, will ya?
The water felt so good against her skin. Jo let the heat begin to bleed away her tension, feeling the muscles in her back unwind. She started when she heard the bathroom door ease open. A glance over revealed a blonde head and a pair of sheepish green eyes.
"Can I come in?" Cadie asked quietly.
"Of course," she replied. "You don't have to ask."
"Well, you don't usually shut the door, so I figured you wanted some privacy. And I don't blame you frankly," Cadie said as she eased inside and sat down on the toilet lid.
For a while they were both silent. Cadie stared at her feet miserably and Jo started to soap herself up.
"I'm sorry Jo-Jo," Cadie said finally. She breathed in the steamy atmosphere of the bathroom. She wished she could rewind the last half hour or so and start again.
"I'm sorry too, sweetheart," Jo replied. She finished rinsing the shampoo from her long hair and stepped out of the glass cubicle. Without waiting for her to dry off, Cadie stepped forward and wrapped her arms around the tall, wet woman. Grinning, Jo reciprocated, pulling the blonde close. "You're gonna be soaked, darling."
"Don't care," Cadie muttered, relishing the solid, damp warmth she pressed against. "Can we start again please?" She lifted her head and looked up into watery blue eyes.
"That would be wonderful," Jo agreed, placing a kiss on her lover's forehead.
"Let me look at that hand?" Cadie asked, pulling Jo towards the sink. The taller woman sat down on the edge of the bathtub and held out the offended appendage. Cadie eased the wet bandana off and winced at the sight of the ugly gouges on the backs of Jo's knuckles. "You've been battling engine parts again, haven't you?"
"Yeah. Damn wrench slipped," Jo mumbled. She watched as Cadie opened the bathroom's medicine cabinet behind the mirror and extracted a bottle of mercurochrome and some cotton buds. "This is gonna hurt, huh?"
"It's probably gonna sting some, yeah. Sorry love," Cadie said quietly, dipping a cotton bud into the bottle. Carefully she began dabbing the yellow antiseptic onto each wound, making sure she got every piece of dirt and grease out. Typically Jo sat stoically still, not even the glimmer of a wince touching her face. Cadie glanced up at her. "You're being very brave."
"Weellllllllll," Jo drawled. "I wouldn't want to go against my image as a big, bad, tough girl, now would I?" At that moment Cadie hit a particularly raw spot and she flinched. "Ow."
"Tough girl, huh?" she teased. "Well, hold still just a bit longer, Tough Girl, and we'll have you all fixed up."
Jo looked at the blonde affectionately, knowing they still had some talking to do.
"Can I ask you something?" she asked quietly. A blonde eyebrow lifted in affirmation. "Are you really too tired to go out to dinner tonight, or is there some other reason you don't want to go."
Cadie's hands stilled momentarily before resuming their cleaning task. She sighed.
"I'm having a bit of trouble with the whole money situation," she said quietly, not meeting Jo's somewhat surprised gaze.
Cadie dropped the cotton bud into the small rubbish bin under the sink and sat back down on the toilet lid. She clasped her hands in front of her as she leaned her elbows on her thighs. Jo watched a range of emotions cross the face she loved. She reached for a towel and began drying herself while Cadie thought about her response.
"Before I started the agency I never thought about money and the power it has," the blonde mused. "I had a trust fund that I could access once I'd graduated college and Naomi was in much the same boat. Plus she was earning good money. While I was working as part of her campaign team, we just lived on what she was making. If there was anything else I wanted, I used the trust fund."
Jo listened as she finished toweling off. She walked to the door and unhooked the bathrobe hanging on the hook, sliding into its warm softness. Then she crouched down in front of Cadie and cupped her hands around the blonde's.
"I used the rest of the trust to start the agency," Cadie continued. "And then, when the business started to bring in money, I discovered something really neat." She looked up into inquisitive blue eyes. "I liked having my own financial independence." Jo cate_swannell_nodded and smiled. "And not just because of the extra cash either. For the first time I felt like I could look Naomi in the eye. As an equal." She focused on Jo's long fingers which were chafing against hers gently. "That sounds pretty pathetic doesn't it?" she whispered. "Needing money to feel like an equal."
Jo bent down and kissed Cadie's thumbs softly.
"We all have our crutches, sweetheart," she answered. "That certain something that gives us self-confidence, or at least the appearance of self-confidence, until we can find it in ourselves." She lowered her eyes. "With me it was a gun." She swallowed then found Cadie's eyes again. "Took me a long time to figure out I could be just who I wanted to be without that little friend strapped to my hip."
Cadie looked at her soberly.
"Talk about perspective," she said wryly. "Here am I worried about a few dollars."
Jo shook her head and squeezed the blonde's hands.
"No. Don't do that. Don't minimize what you're feeling, okay? You can't access your money and having me pay for everything is pushing your buttons, right?"
"I keep telling myself it's only temporary. I keep telling myself you can afford it and that you don't mind." She met Jo's grin with one of her own. "Okay, that you actually quite enjoy it," she conceded. "But even when I tell myself those things, somehow the whole concept just puts me back in a place I don't want to be. And it scares me."
Jo thought about that for a bit.
"Okay. I understand that. But the bottom line is there's not too much we can do about it now except do our best to get through the next few weeks."
"I know. I'll figure my way around it, honest." She smiled softly at her lover. "And talking about it has helped."
"Good." Jo patted her knee and pushed herself upright, pulling Cadie up with her. "So, apart from money, troublesome authors and Senator Stalker, is there anything else I can actually help with?"
Cadie stood on tiptoe and kissed Jo lightly.
"You helped sweetheart. You help just by being here. Now, tell me about your bad mood."
"Seasick Germans, noisy engine, sore knuckles," she said succinctly. "And I hate being away from you." Cadie burrowed against her, her face buried in the warmth of the robe.
"I do know that feeling," came the muffled reply from somewhere between her breasts. Then a pair of sparkling green eyes looked up at her. "I'm glad you're home, Jo-Jo."
"I'm glad to be home," Jo whispered. She dropped a gentle kiss into the blonde hair. "I've got an idea," she said a few moments later. "How about we cook dinner together?"
A brilliant grin greeted that suggestion.
"That's the best idea I've heard all week," Cadie said.
Jo leaned back against the soft leather of the sofa and sipped at her glass of red wine. The evening, thankfully, had been delightfully peaceful. They had talked a lot more, smoothing over the rough edges of what had essentially been their first argument. Dinner had segued into a warmly sensual session of cuddling and kissing interspersed with a lot of gentle laughter. Jo swept her long, black hair back from her face and lifted her feet up onto the coffee table. Cadie had disappeared into the bedroom momentarily, leaving the skipper to her own thoughts.
Mmmmmm. I'm so glad we worked our way through that. She took another sip, swirling the warm, fruity liquid around in her mouth before swallowing. I was worried. I don't like not being on the same wavelength with her.
Cadie walked back into the room, carrying something behind her back. Jo stifled a grin.
"Jo?" The blonde came to a halt on the other side of the coffee table.
"You know how Wednesday was your birthday, but because we were both having such busy, crappy weeks, you decided we'd just forget about it?"
"And you know how I agreed with you?"
Cadie stepped around the table and sat down next to her lover. Slowly she brought her hands around and handed Jo a long, thin package.
Jo's face was a picture. Cadie smiled at the childlike glee that shone out of the older woman as she gingerly took the package from her.
"Y'know, you weren't supposed to do this," Jo admonished.
"I know. And I know we've just had a whole argument based around money, but, um ..." She was disconcerted to find herself blushing. "Well, I still had a little of the prize money that we won during Hamilton Island Race Week, so I thought I would spend it on my favorite girl."
Jo raised an elegant brow at that, even as she started plucking at the corners of the wrapping paper. She could count the number of birthdays she had celebrated after she left home on the fingers of one hand. Most of her friends here in the islands didn't even know when it was. And apart from a few phone calls from her parents over the last five years, she really had never marked the day. Somehow, this is a lot different. Jo carefully lifted the corners of the paper, painstakingly peeling back the scotch tape.
"You haven't done a lot of this, have you?" Cadie asked quietly, suddenly putting together what she knew about Jo's past and the grin of delight on her partner's face.
Jo looked up as she slid a finger along the longest edge of the paper.
"No," she said quietly. "Not since I was pretty small." Finally, she slid the grey velvet jewelry case out of the paper and eased it open. "Oh, Cadie," she breathed. Delicately she picked up the fine gold chain. Hanging from it was a small filigreed locket. "Sweetheart, it's beautiful."
"I didn't put anything in it," she said, showing Jo how to open it. "I thought you could choose the photo you wanted."
Jo leaned across and placed a gentle kiss on the blonde's cheek.
"Thank you, darling," she whispered. "I know just which picture I'm going to put in there." She nuzzled Cadie's neck.
"Mmmmmm." Cadie tilted her head, giving her lover more access, totally unable to say no to the languid sensuality washing over her. "Which one?" she murmured.
"Which one what?" Jo replied as she nibbled the soft skin so close.
"Photograph, Jo-Jo, photograph." She grinned as Jo pulled back.
"The one Frank took of you at the wedding," the dark-haired woman said softly.
"Ah. You liked that one."
"Mhmmmm." For long seconds they gazed at each other, blue eyes and green sparking off each other. Jo held the locket up. "Help me put this on?"
Cadie took the chain and reached behind Jo's neck, manipulating the clasp until it closed securely. The locket hung perfectly, nestled at the base of Jo's throat. She nodded in satisfaction.
"It suits your coloring," she said.
"It's gorgeous, Arcadia. Just like you."
Cadie quirked an eyebrow at the singular expression on Jo's face. I think I like what's on her mind, she thought, tingling at the prospect.
"Happy birthday, sweetheart," she whispered as Jo wrapped arms around her waist and bore her gently backwards till they were lying full-length along the sofa. Very blue eyes twinkled at her at close proximity. "I'm in so much trouble, aren't I?"
"Oh yeah," Jo burred, silencing any further conversation by brushing her lips lightly over Cadie's.
"Oh yeah," Cadie breathed, slipping a hand into the dark locks and pulling her beloved closer.