A Decision ...
Disclaimer: See title page.
One hectic hour later everyone finally had a chance to relax. Luggage had been stowed, some had been sent back to the hotel for storage, much to the crew's amusement, and everyone had been assigned a berth. The senator and Miss Jones had taken one of the two aft double berths, the two attorneys, Therese and Sarah, had grabbed the other. Toby and Jason, and Larissa and Kelli had been left with the two smaller doubles forward, leaving the two single berths in the forepeak for the three crew members to negotiate between them.|
Jo watched quietly as the passengers made themselves comfortable around the guest cockpit and aft deck. Jenny handed around a tray loaded with glasses of ice-cold champagne and nibble-sized hors d'oevres of prawns and caviar.
It's been an interesting hour, Jo reflected as she sat herself down on the roof of the companionway, her legs dangling down. She could already tell who was going to have fun and who was going to be the wet blanket.
Miss Jones - she kept finding herself being drawn back to those wonderful green eyes - was clearly determined to have a great time, and Jo was sure she would be up for anything. She couldn't shake the feeling of familiarity she had about the cute American. I must have met her before, she thought. But wouldn't I remember someone so unforgettable?
The two men, earnest, bespectacled types who looked disconcertingly alike, were also going to be fine. They were already bouncing with excitement and enthusiasm.
The jury was still out on the two attorneys, Jo thought. But the senator and the two other women were definitely the downers of the group. So far nothing had been big enough, luxurious enough or interesting enough for that trio. And the senator was still sticking to her partner like glue, casting Jo more than one suspicious glance since she'd picked them up from the hotel.
Jo sighed inwardly. It's a good thing I have rules about getting involved with clients, especially the married ones, she thought. Because if she's going to be like this just over one little hello handshake then ...
Just 'cos you could have fried an egg on that handshake ... Jo decided not to let her thoughts wander too far down that path.
She watched as everyone settled into their places.
"Okay, well, officially, welcome everyone to the Seawolf. You've all met me, but this," she indicated Paul who was standing just behind her left shoulder, leaning on the boom. "Is Paul Burton, intrepid crewman, and this," she nodded at Jenny who was standing next to her feet. "Is Jenny Gulliver, our hostess and chef."
She waited as the hellos and introductions made the rounds of the cockpit.
"I thought I'd tell you about the Seawolf - what she can and can't do - and then we can talk about the kinds of things you'd like to get up to over the next three weeks." She smiled.
General nods and murmurs of agreement greeted that.
"The Seawolf is a Beneteau 50. Beneteau 'cos that's who makes 'em and 50 because she's just over 50 feet long. She was designed as an all-conditions yacht and she's quite capable of sailing around the world, though she'd be a bit leaner inside for that kind of trip," she said with a smile. "For our purposes though, she's more than adequate." She caught Cadie's eye again and grinned back at the blonde's infectiously encouraging smile.
"We've got enough provisions on board to last us a few days at a time, but reloading is just a matter of calling our office and having them deliver stores by motorboat, or stocking up at one of the resorts.
"There isn't anywhere in this region of the Whitsundays that we can't get to within a day's sail, depending on the conditions. So there's no reason why we can't touch base with all the islands and reefs if you wish to. Or we can anchor off Whitehaven Beach for three weeks, if that's what you'd rather do."
"What about diving and snorkelling?" asked Cadie.
"We have snorkelling gear onboard for everyone," Jo replied. "As for diving, are any of you certified?"
Shaking heads all round.
"Okay then. If you want to learn the basics and get your certification it's as easy as a phone call from me to one of the local divemasters who will come and spend the day, or longer, with us. He'll bring all the necessary equipment with him.
"If fishing is your thing we have a few sets of tackle on board, though if game-fishing is more to your taste, we can arrange with one of the resorts to take you out to the outside of the reef where the big fish are."
The two boys liked that idea, she could tell, making a mental note to contact the Hayman Island charter company.
"Excuse me?" It was Sarah, the quieter one of the two attorneys. "I heard that it's hurricane season here. What happens in that case, or any bad weather?"
"You heard right, it is cyclone season - that's what we call hurricanes, by the way," replied Jo. "But the long-range forecast for the next few weeks is very good, so I'm not anticipating any problems, though we might get the odd tropical storm in the evenings. Nothing that should worry us, however. As I said, we're never going to be so far away from a good anchorage for us to run into trouble."
"Is it safe to swim here?" asked Cadie.
"If it's safe to snorkel and scuba dive, Cadie, it's a good bet it's safe to swim," said the senator, somewhat derisively.
"Actually it's a fair question," said Jo, earning a grateful smile from Cadie. "These are tropical waters. That means there's a lot of wildlife, and not all of it is friendly. But if you stick to a few simple rules then you're going to have no problems at all, and you're going to see some gorgeous things down there."
"So what are the rules?" That was Larissa.
"At this time of year, the main thing to look out for is a jellyfish called the Portugese man'o'war. It's got a big bubble on top and very long, trailing tentacles. If you see one, stay right out of its way. It's nasty. But the best rule is, when in doubt, don't touch. Everything around here is a national park, by the way, so by law we're not allowed to remove anything from its natural habitat anyway."
"What about sharks?" Therese this time.
"I've never seen one here." She waited a beat. "At least not one that was hungry." Paul and Jenny laughed, and she could see Cadie grinning, but the rest of the passengers were still looking apprehensive. "Seriously, people, there is nothing to worry about if you act sensibly, don't touch and never swim, dive or snorkel alone."
"What if we hit something and start sinking?" This was from Kelli, a long tall redhead with a strangely distracted look which Jo was all too familiar with. She'd be keeping an eye on that one.
"It's not going to happen. But we have a dinghy, and lifevests for everyone, plus we have the radio, and three cellphones between us. We file our position and course plan with both our office and the Coastguard twice a day. Rescue is not far away, even if we're out on the reefs."
Finally everyone looked reassured.
"So where we do we go now?" asked Cadie.
Jo tapped Jenny on the shoulder.
"Jen, can you get the map from the charts drawer, please?"
Jo waited till Jenny had unrolled the big map of the Whitsundays on the cockpit's central table.
"We're here." Jo pointed at Hamilton's marina. "It's," she glanced at her watch, "about 2pm. We could leave now and go anywhere amongst the islands and be there by dinnertime." She smiled. "My personal recommendation is, as it's a full moon and a clear night is forecast, it might be a nice way to start your vacation by making it right up to Blue Pearl Bay, here." She pointed. "On the opposite side of Hayman Island from the resort."
"Sounds like a plan to me," he said. "Can we help, you know, drive?"
"Sure," she laughed. "The only other rule onboard is that when it comes to anything to do with this boat and its wellbeing, my word is absolute law." She smiled toothily. "That goes for Paul and Jenny too. So, yes, please do pitch in, but my advice is that these two know how to make this boat run, so it's a good plan to listen to them."
Toby nodded enthusiastically.
"Hang on a minute."
Jo smiled quietly to herself. She had been waiting for the dissenting voice to pipe up.
"What if we want to go somewhere you don't want to go?"
Jo tilted her head quizzically.
"You're the paying customers, Senator, so we always want to go where you want to go. The limits to that are that I won't put this boat anywhere it's not designed to go, nor will I put it, or you, anywhere that is dangerous."
"What if we insist?"
Then you're an idiot, thought Jo. And Paul. And Jenny.
"Naomi ..." Cadie tried to soothe her pugnacious partner.
There's always one, thought Jo. Always one who wants to play the power game.
"Senator, we are here to make sure you have the vacation of a lifetime. We're experts in our field, just like you're an expert in your field. You wouldn't trust us to run the country, and with all due respect, we're the best qualified to make decisions about the boat and where to put it. And the bottom line is, when you signed your booking form and sent us the check, you effectively signed a contract agreeing to those conditions."
Jo held her breath. Some people accepted that part of her spiel, and some people didn't. To her eye the cantankerous senator looked like one who wouldn't. But she was saved from further negotiations, by of all things, an attorney.
Therese laughed and patted the politician on the thigh.
"She's right y'know, Nay. You're just gonna have to lie back and enjoy it."
Jo had to give the senator credit. She recovered well.
"Pass me that bottle of champagne and I'll think about it," she replied grudgingly.
Jo grinned, winking at Cadie who had flashed her an apologetic look for her partner's stubborn streak.
"Look's like it's Blue Pearl Bay then?" She waited as affirmatives came from around the cockpit. "Okay, let's go."
Paul and Jenny swung into action, asking for volunteers and giving quick tutorials to those willing to get involved in the action. Jo dropped down into the cockpit and made her way to the helm.
It didn't take long for them to be on the move, using the engine to manouever the yacht out of the marina towards the harbour mouth and then through into open water. The breeze had picked up since the morning and Jo was sure she could coax the Seawolf up to nine or 10 knots for the fast run downwind to Hayman Island. Her passengers were in for a treat.
Cadie was exhilerated. She had volunteered immediately for crewing duties and had helped Jenny hoist the mainsail while Toby and Jason manned the big winch known as the coffee-grinder. Paul and Jo had shouted encouragement to the new recruits as the yacht had slipped through the narrow entrance into open water just as the mainsail was lifting and filling with wind.
It had been harder work physically than she was expecting but she certainly didn't mind that. She felt satisfied and intrigued by the feeling of the moving boat under her feet. It's a bit like riding a horse, she thought as she made her way forward, fighting to keep her balance, without looking like too much of a landlubber.
Landlubber ... was that really a word? Cadie found herself giggling as she reached the prow of the yacht. She was pleased to find a waist-high rail around the point - she made a note to ask Jo what that was called - and she carefully wedged herself in.
She looked down and had to laugh at the sheer sense of freedom she felt. Clear blue-green ocean disappeared under her feet as the yacht cut through the water. Cadie felt like she was hanging in space above the waves. It was a smooth ride and she revelled in the feeling of the sun, wind and occasional light spray of saltwater on her skin. She resisted the urge to have a Titanic moment for about five seconds.
Oh what the hell, she thought, and threw her arms out wide, laughing at herself and generally feeling like she'd discovered the secret of life.
Back at the helm, Jo couldn't help grinning at the blonde woman's exuberance. It wasn't the first time the tall skipper had seen a passenger make exactly that gesture, but it was the first time she'd felt that joy right along with her client. For about the 50th time since meeting Cadie that morning, Jo wondered at the unreal sense of connection she felt with the attractive American.
The rest of the passengers were finding places to sit around the deck. A couple who were settling on the leeward side were in for a bit of a shock when they turned north and the boat really picked up speed, but Jo figured that was all part of the fun of learning how to sail.
Suddenly she became aware of the senator just behind her right shoulder as she stood at the helm and Jo's hackles rose in an eerie echo from a darker time. She felt herself moving onto the balls of her feet reflexively. She hadn't felt that automatic response since ... since Marco.
The senator leaned forward so she she didn't have to shout.
"Don't think I didn't notice how you and my partner were looking at each other back at the hotel, Miss Madison. Not to mention that charming little handshake."
Jo tingled, itched to strike back, any way she could. Instead she gripped the wheel until her knuckles turned white. Her better instincts, the ones that had re-emerged in a back alley of King's Cross, the ones that owed Ron Cheswick more than a few favours, kept her silent.
"Stay away from her. Or I will make sure you never set foot on a commercial vessel again," rasped the senator.
The stocky woman took that moment to walk away, moving to sit next to the two attorneys up near the mast on the starboard side.
Jo took a long, shuddering, deep breath, fighting hard to still her nerves. She focused on the point on the horizon she was aiming the yacht for and tried not to lose her cool completely.
An hour later the Seawolf was in top gear, nudging 10 knots and listing over at 45 degrees to port as she ploughed her way north through the heart of Whitsunday Passage. Those passengers on the downward side of the deck had learned pretty quickly about how to stay dry, and had scrambled up onto the high side. The two men had their legs hanging over the side.
Cadie was soaked to the skin, and loving every minute of it. She'd stayed at her spot at the prow and had been caught a couple of times as the nose had dipped down one of the larger waves.
She looked down and was stunned to see a group of dolphins racing along in front of the yacht's bow. She glanced back over her shoulder and yelled to Toby and Jason.
"Guys! Check this out!"
The two men scrambled forward and Cadie frantically started clicking off photographs with her digital camera. Soon all the passengers were forward of the mast, leaning out to see the pod of dolphins in action. Paul went to join them.
"Paul, how can they do that?" asked Cadie. "How can they go that fast?"
"Oh they can go much faster than this," said Paul. "We're doing about 9-10 knots right now, but they can intercept boats doing up to 30 knots. And then they just surf."
"Surf? You mean on the bow wave?" asked Toby.
"Yeh, but not just that. See, as the boat moves forward it pushes water in front of it and that sets up a pressure wave. That's what they're riding. The bow wave is just the bit of that above the surface that we can see."
"They're playing with us," laughed Cadie as the dolphins leapt over each other, gamboling through the water.
"They sure are," agreed Paul with a smile. "But they're also being pretty smart. They're hitching a ride, and saving themselves some energy."
"How cool is that?" said Jason.
Meanwhile back at the helm, Jenny took the opportunity to talk to her boss.
"How are we doing skipper?" she asked.
"Pretty good I think, mate," Jo replied. "We ought to be at Blue Pearl by 5.30, 6 o'clock."
"We're going to need some more liquid supplies in the morning Jo-Jo if they keep drinking like they have done this afternoon," said Jenny.
"Yeh? How many cases have we got?"
"Still got two, but they've almost finished one and it's not 4pm yet. We've still got dinner to get through, and you know how the first evening is always a long one."
Bloody hell, thought Jo.
"Okay. Give the office a buzz, Jen. Order up whatever you think we're gonna need. I don't think we'll be going too far from Blue Pearl for at least the next day."
As promised, the Seawolf slipped into Blue Pearl Bay just on moonrise that evening. It was still light enough for Paul to be able to direct them through the forest of bommies below the surface to a safe anchorage.
Jo dropped the anchor and started helping him tie the boat down for the night. Her guts were still roiling from her encounter with the senator but she wasn't about to let that show, especially as she could feel Cadie's eyes following her.
Jenny had been below preparing dinner and she started to bring platters of food up for an al fresco meal out on deck. Plates full of fresh seafood - prawns, Moreton Bay bugs, crabs, lobsters, oysters and mussels, and bowls for salad, were passed around.
Jo wandered down into the main cabin and sat down on the small sofa.
Long day, she thought. Long, weird day. She'd stayed right away from both the senator and Cadie - something she felt a pang of regret over. The young blonde was clearly in seventh heaven and there was something about that kind of enthusiasm that Jo craved to be near.
But this wasn't her vacation. It was her job. She sighed and moved across to the yacht's sound system. Running her finger down the stack of CDs, she settled on an old favourite and pulled it out. That should soothe any nerves, she thought, including mine. She flicked the stereo on, settled the disk into its slot and adjusted the volume.
Back on deck it was a perfect night. The full moon ascended above the rise of Hayman Island like a huge silver dinner plate, bouncing incandescent rays off the glass-smooth water.
Cadie was sitting with her legs dangling over the side, gazing down in to deep dark depths that were so clear she was sure she could see occasional flashes of phospherescence as fishes darted past. She couldn't wait to see this in the daylight, though the night view was certainly enchanting. And romantic. She looked around and noticed that the three other couples were sitting with each other, talking and eating. Naomi was talking with Jenny, coaxing another bottle of champagne out of the hostess.
She sighed. It had been such a strange, wonderful day.
The highlights had been very high - being out here on the ocean, being actively involved in sailing the yacht, surrounded by such beauty. It was a whole new world.
And then there was Jo.
All day long Cadie had felt the tall skipper, like she was a presence in the back of her mind, constantly. From the moment their eyes had met as the Seawolf had pulled into her berth at Hamilton Island, to right now. It was like there was a connection between them. Something so familiar. So Ö safe. Known. All day they had caught each other's eye, and exchanged smiles. She had noticed with some disappointment that the dark-haired woman was keeping her distance physically though. She was beginning to have a suspicion about why.
The lowlights had been not unexpected, but disappointing, and somewhat hurtful, nonetheless. As soon as she had seen the group of friends at O'Hare, Cadie had known that Naomi was either completely oblivious about the state of their relationship, or just unwilling to put herself in a position to have to discuss it. That said a lot. She suspected that her relationship with the senator had slipped so far down Naomi's list of priorities that it just hadn't occurred to the older woman that some work was needed.
And then there was that bizarre burst of possessiveness back at the hotel. Over a handshake.
We weren't that obvious, were we? Cadie smiled to herself. Well, maybe we were. But it was a handshake, for god's sake. It's not like we dropped to the floor and went at it like animals.
She found that thought oddly distracting.
Just at that moment, hauntingly beautiful music began emanating from below decks.
Ohhh that's perfect, thought Cadie, as she leaned back, elbows on the deck, staring out across the bay at the full moon. I'm beginning not to care about Naomi's moods. This place is too sublime to spoil with pettiness like that. She closed her eyes and let her mind drift, with the yacht, on the tide.
Jo stepped back out onto the deck, grabbing herself a plate of food and settling into an unoccupied corner of the cockpit.
It seems to be a pretty happy boatload so far, she thought. The passengers were chatting and laughing as they ate. She noticed Cadie was sprawled on her back on the deck, seemingly asleep, with a large tiger prawn, half-eaten, lying on her belly. Jo grinned at the picture, but her brain resisted the temptation to go where her baser instincts were leading.
Across from Cadie, Paul was balancing a fully loaded plate on one knee while he did some running repairs to a sail with an industrial-sized needle and thread. Jenny was still below decks, keeping the food and drink coming.
The dark-haired skipper raised her eyes and found a pair of sea-green ones gazing back at her. Jo lifted an eyebrow in response.
"What's the music?"
"It's Kitaro. He's Japanese. The album's called Silver Cloud," she replied, holding the blonde's gaze.
"S'beautiful," said Cadie, noticing how the moonlight had turned Jo's blue eyes silvery.
There was a long pause. At least it felt that way to both of them. Other conversations went on around them, but Jo felt like she and Cadie were anchored together in an eddy, the fast-moving conversations swirling unnoticed around them.
The moment was broken by Jenny who came up from below carrying a large tray of chocolate mousses and Paul's guitar.
"Here skip, make yourself useful," said the hostess, thrusting the tray in Jo's direction.
She accepted it and pulled herself upright. She wandered around the deck passing out the rich desserts, coming to the still-prone Cadie last of all.
"Can I relieve you of that prawn, madam?" she asked playfully.
One green eye came open.
Jo pointed silently at the large half-eaten crustacean on Cadie's stomach.
"Ohhhhh. No fear. It's too good to waste." Cadie sat up quickly and popped the morsel in her mouth. "Mmmnevegy wasde fommmvvd."
"I can see that," said Jo, handing her the bowl of mousse and a spoon. "Here you go, that'll top it off nicely."
"Ooooooooo chocolate. Excellent. Thanks."
Cadie reached out to take the bowl, her fingers brushing Jo's accidentally. Both women gasped at the contact, letting it linger just a little before withdrawing. Blue met green again in the moonlight.
"Sorry," Jo muttered. "Must have picked up some static."
"No problem," said Cadie quietly. "Must be all the, ummmmmm, electricity, around here."
Jo grinned and moved away. Whatever else, the next three weeks were not going to be boring.
The next few hours were filled with laughter and music as the passengers and crew started to relax and get to know each other. Kitaro gave way to Paul and his guitar as the moon climbed higher in the sky. The champagne flowed and inhibitions dropped, leading to a round-robin karaoke session loud enough to scare away the fishes.
Jo chuckled. She had seen it a thousand times, but the sudden relaxation of a bunch of townies out on the sea for the first time never failed to make her smile. She tried to remember her life in the big city, but as was always the case when she was out here on the water, she found the details of those dark days hard to grasp.
She looked up and found Cadie's eyes on her, a raised eyebrow asking her a question.
I must have just had the weirdest look on my face, Jo thought. She smiled back at the blonde, who grinned, reassured.
She just had the strangest look on her face, thought Cadie. Like she was trying hard to remember something very sad and far away. A realisation hit her suddenly. I want to get to know her. I want to find out what makes her look so alone sometimes, when she thinks nobody is watching.
"C'mon, skip. Your turn," said Paul, nudging Jo from her reverie.
"Aw, give me a break, mate. It's been a long day," said Jo reluctantly.
"And what better way to round it off than with a song or two from the Pied Piper of the Passage ... "
"... the Siren of the Seas," chimed in Jenny.
"... the Mariner of Melody," said Paul.
"... Miss Jossandra Christine Madison," they both chorused.
"Oh, shut up," said Jo good-naturedly. "All right, fire it up."
"Which one?" asked Paul.
Jo thought for a moment.
"That Chris Rea thing."
He played the introduction and Jo began singing, her rich alto floating out across the bay. Cadie felt the notes tingling up and down her spine.
Ohhhh myyyy ...
Let your fighting scars heal in the sun
Of a bright windy day
Let your cold blade sleep in the sand
Till it's rusted away
Washed each night in the waves
Away from the dark
She kicks off them shoes
Out of sight
Whatever I was
So kick off them shoes
The last notes faded away into the night air and Jo turned back to a boatload of wide-eyed tourists, one sea-green pair in particular. Applause broke out.|
"What the hell are you doing here?" asked Therese bluntly. "You could be making real money."
"Nah," said Jo. "I only sing when I'm inspired. And money doesn't do it for me anymore." She smiled.
"So what inspired you tonight?" asked Cadie quietly. She tried to ignore the dark look she was getting from her partner.
Jo hesitated before answering.
"Well I make an exception when Paul and Jen gang up on me like that," she said, wishing she could say what she was really thinking.
"She knows we'll toss her overboard if she doesn't," said Paul, laughing.
"It wouldn't be the first time." She nudged him with her shoulder.
"Well, I'm ready to call it a night," said Naomi, abruptly. "Coming, sweetheart?" She reached out a hand to help Cadie up off the deck.
"Um, sure." Cadie stood and began following the senator down to their cabin. She turned back just before the companionway. "Goodnight everyone. Thanks for a lovely first day, guys." She beamed at the crew members.
"No worries, mate," said Paul.
Jo just nodded and smiled as each of the passengers made their way below decks.
"Break out some straws Jen," said Paul. "Time to find out who gets the short one for the night on the deck."
"No, don't worry about it Jen. You two take the cabin, I'll take the deck tonight," Jo said.
"You don't have to tell me twice, skipper," he grinned. "Come on Jen, you know how you love being in a confined space with me." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Jenny rolled her eyes.
"One snore from you, bucko, and you're out on your bum."
Jo waited till all seemed settled below, then she took a last stroll around the deck. It was a hot night, with the barest whisper of a cooling breeze. She made her way forward and double-checked the anchor line, then found a relatively flat piece of deck under the genoa's boom and stretched out. Most people found sleeping on deck glamorous and romantic for about 10 minutes, until they discovered that not much of a boat's deck is flat or clear of fittings, but Jo had never minded it. Sleeping anywhere was a knack she'd picked up a long time ago. She leaned against the mast, crossing her long legs at the ankles with a sigh.
An hour later she gave up any attempt at sleep. Her brain was running circles around itself and she was hot. The breeze had died down to nothing. All she could hear was the gentle lapping of the water against the boat's sides, and the soft hum of the generator pumping out just enough power to run the fridge, freezer and air-conditioning units below deck.
Jo decided to break one of the rules she'd spelled out for the passengers. She quickly stripped down to her underwear and padded over to the swimming ladder. Quietly she descended into the water which was, only now, hours after sundown, starting to cool below body temperature. The dark water enveloped her and she felt blessed relief from the humidity. Slowly she made her way to the anchor chain and with a deep breath she duck-dived, following it down.
The moonlight gave everything a surreal glow, and the water was so clear she had no trouble finding her way. The creatures of the night were out in force, including a moray eel she could spy, head sticking out of its cave, at the base of the bommie the Seawolf was anchored next to.
Jo's lungs started to burn and her ears ached from the pressure as she cruised deeper, until finally, about 30 feet down, and still another 10 or so from the sandy bottom, she turned and headed back up. She broke the surface with a quiet exhalation, stroking slowly back to the ladder.
She froze when she heard movement up on deck, a tingling at the back of her neck making her suspect who it was. It was the same tingling she'd been feeling since a certain green-eyed blonde had gazed out from a hotel balcony at her about 12 hours earlier. Jo shook the water out of her ears and hung on the bottom rung of the ladder, listening.
Cadie was furious to the point of frustrated tears. After she and Naomi had shut themselves in the privacy of their cabin, the solidly drunk senator had been bitchy to the point of nastiness with her younger partner.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, Arcadia?" she'd demanded.
"What are you talking about, Naomi?" Cadie had replied as she moved around the cabin, stowing some of their gear. She knew damn well where this was going, and wanted to stay as calm as possible. If she could let it play out with minimum fuss, she knew the senator would be out cold as soon as her head hit the pillow.
"We haven't even been here a day and you're hanging on that woman's every word. Could you get any more desperate?"
"I'm not doing anything except being pleasant to a pleasant woman, Nay. she also happens to be trying to give us the best possible vacation."
"You're flirting with her."
"She's attractive. And don't tell me you haven't noticed. Being married to me has never stopped you noticing attractive women."
"If she touches you, I'll kill her," threatened the senator.
"Yeh and I'll just bet you made that perfectly clear to her, didn't you," snapped Cadie. "I'll bet my last dollar that's why she's been keeping her distance most of the day."
"Oh I'm sorry, did i spoil your little flirt-fest?" Naomi sneered.
"Jesus, Nay, listen to yourself."
The senator leaned in and gripped the smaller woman's shoulders, shaking her slightly.
"You stay away from her."
"Get your hands off me," Cadie said quietly, with all the restraint she could muster. The senator backed off uncertainly. "Naomi, I donít know if you've noticed but we're living in a fairly confined space here for the next three weeks. We're gonna bump into each other."
"Damn you Cadie."
"What is your problem?"
"You. You're my problem. You donít think I'm giving you enough attention so you've latched onto the nearest pair of long legs with pretty eyes."
"And you're a slut."
Cadie snorted in derision.
"That's very funny, Naomi. Do you think I didnít hear the way YOU greeted Jo this afternoon? 'I can certainly think of some things you can do for me, Miss Madison'," she retorted. "Verrrrry classy, Senator. And do you think I'm blind about the look you gave her before you thought I could see you? You hypocrite!"
Naomi struck out with her right arm, but she was already off-balance and sluggish. Cadie easily ducked the swing, even though it was the last thing she'd been expecting. Naomi had never raised a hand to her before, not even when she was a lot more out of it than she was now. Cadie was stunned.
The momentum took the senator on to the bed and she stayed there, mumbling a few more curses and epithets in Cadie's direction before, finally, she was dead to the world.
Cadie stood motionless for a few moments more, not quite believing what had happened.
I've got to get some fresh air, she thought, stumbling out of the cabin and up the companionway.
The deck was empty, thankfully, and Cadie carefully negotiated her way forward, blinded slightly by a sudden blurring of tears in her eyes. She slumped down, sitting on the front of the hatch cover near the prow, and let the tears flow freely, her face in her hands.
Shit, thought Jo. She's crying. The sound tugged at her heartstrings unexpectedly and she fought the urge to leap onto the deck and go to the woman's aid.
Damn. And I bet I know why she's crying too. Good one, Madison. Spend less than a day with the woman and reduce her marriage to a puddle of tears. Just great.
Jo shivered in the steadily cooling water.
Well this was a great idea, she thought desperately. I'll scare the crap out of her if I come up out of the water like the creature from the Black Lagoon. Not to mention the fact I'm practically naked. Just what we need in this situation.
She sighed. She couldnít stay here that was for sure.
Slowly she started climbing up the swimming ladder, hoping she was making enough noise to give Cadie some warning and not scare her out of 10 years.
Cadie looked around at the splashing sound coming from her left. She was treated to the sight of six feet of wet, half-naked womanhood, sporting lacy black lingerie, emerging over the side of the yacht. Jo's hair was slicked back and silvery in the moonlight. Seawater cascaded off her well-muscled, sleek arms and legs. Cadie felt like time had slowed to a crawl, and she was glad.
Jo couldnít help but smile at the woman's expression.
"Miss Jones?" she said quietly. "You're staring."
Cadie shook herself out of her daze.
"God, I'm sorry," she said, more than a little flustered. "Jesus, no wonder Naomi is pissed. I really am losing it." She tore her eyes away from Jo, as the dark-haired woman picked up her pile of clothes and came and sat down next to her. "You're going to freeze. You've already got goosebumps," she said, reaching out her hand to touch Jo's damp forearm.
They both stopped still at the contact. Again. Cadie pulled her hand away quickly and reburied her face in her hands, groaning.
"Hang on, let me get a towel," Jo said. She remembered her gear bag was stowed below decks, close to the hatch just behind them that opened onto the small cabin Paul and Jenny were sharing. She ducked under the hatch cover and hooked her foot around a deck fitting as she dangled half in and half out of the hatch, reaching for her towel. Paul was snoring softly and Jen had her mouth open, oblivious. Jo smiled as she hooked the towel with a fingertip and scrambled to pull herself back up and out of the hatchway.
"Could you lend a hand, Cadie?" she whispered loudly, trying not to waken the two sleeping crew. She was struggling to get a purchase.
Cadie groaned again as she was confronted with a pair of long bare legs and a toned, damp backside.
"To be honest I donít think there's anywhere I could grab on to that I couldnít be arrested for," she objected.
Jo stifled a laugh as she finally extracted herself from the hatch. She quickly dried off and threw her shirt and shorts back on.
They both sat on the deck, their backs against the hatch cover, Jo facing slightly to port, Cadie to starboard, their shoulders just touching each other.
"Are we likely to wake them up?" Cadie asked softly, indicating back over her shoulder to the small cabin.
"They're both sleeping through Paul's snoring, so I donít think we'll penetrate the haze," smiled Jo. "They've had a long day. Longer than I have."
There was a surprisingly comfortable silence as they both took in their surroundings.
Cadie looked up and gave a little laugh of surprise.
"Your stars are all different," she said, leaning her head back against the hatch cover and gazing at the thousands of glittering points of light. "Now, why didnít that ever occur to me?" she asked wonderingly.
"It's a pretty big concept, stars," replied Jo. "Just trying to figure out what that whole skyfull means," she swept her arm around, "is big enough, without trying to deal with a whole other hemisphere's worth."
"Show me your constellations?"
"Sure." Jo tilted her head back and was slightly unnerved to realise how close together their heads were in this position. "Ummmm, see that kite-shaped one there, just above the horizon?"
"No," said Cadie. "Where?"
"Follow where I'm pointing." Cadie leaned closer still. "See that super bright one, and then those three others under it, making a kind of twisted square? And then there's another bright one between those bottom two?"
"Oh, yes," breathed Cadie, right next to Jo's ear, sending tingles down her spine.
Goddess, how does she do that. Jo cleared her throat.
"That's the Southern Cross. It's the one we have on our flag."
"Ahhhhhh yes, it's beautiful." Cadie pointed to another cluster of stars. "That one up there looks like a bicycle to me."
"A bicycle?" Jo laughed softly. "How do you get a bicycle? It looks like a fish to me."
They both turned their heads towards each other simultaneously and the world contracted sharply around them, their faces so close they could feel each other's breath on their skin.
Slowly they backed away, holding gazes. Jo felt Cadie's hand slide into her own and she grasped it tightly.
So warm, she thought. Her eyes are so warm.
Cadie felt Jo take her hand firmly.
Goddess, this thing between us is so strong, she acknowledged to herself.
"It's like I've Ö"
"Ö known you forever," finished Jo.
"Yes," Cadie nodded, breathing deeply.
"Cadie Ö this is a really Ö really Ö bad idea," Jo whispered sadly.
"Apart from the fact you're married Ö and you're a client Ö and you live 15,000km away Ö well Ö even if those things didn't exist Ö"
"Don't tell me Ö you're an axe murderer, right?" Cadie joked weakly, her heart sinking at Jo's words, even though she knew them to be truth.
Jo closed her eyes, swamped by the irony of the blonde's joke, and an overwhelming loneliness that threatened her composure.
Get a grip, she told herself. She opened her eyes again.
"Let's just say you donít want to get to know me too well," she muttered, still held by the sea-green eyes just inches from her own.
"But see, that's just it," replied Cadie softly. "Twelve hours ago I didnít know you existed. Now all I want in the world is to know everything about you."
"Shhhhhhhhhh." Jo placed her fingers over Cadie's mouth, wondering at the softness of those lips.
"Cadie, it's not possible."
Tears welled up in those green eyes and Jo's heart broke at the sight.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I've caused you so much trouble already. Twelve hours in and you're already crying on deck."
"That wasnít your fault," Cadie objected. "It's not your fault I'm married to a paranoid, neurotic, jealous Ö" Again Jo's fingers silenced her.
"You can't deny that we've been bouncing sparks off each other from the moment we met, Cadie. She noticed, is all." She smiled quietly at the beautiful blonde. "If you were mine, I can't say I'd be happy about that either."
"You wouldnít threaten someone over it," muttered Cadie unhappily.
"I would have, once," replied Jo. Cadie looked at her quizzically, but Jo just shook her head slowly. "Donít be angry with her for feeling threatened. We both know she had every reason to be."
Jo nodded, trying to be resolute as she felt Cadie pull her hands closer, those tears returning.
"Tomorrow, I'll call my boss. Get him to send a replacement skipper."
Cadie's hand flew to Jo's face, cupping her cheek. Jo couldnít help but lean into the touch.
"Please donít make that call, Jossandra."
Oh, god, donít say my name like that, sweetheart, Jo thought. How can I leave you be, if you say it like that?
"I have to Cadie," she said out loud. "You and Naomi obviously have a lot of problems. But donít run from trying to fix them just because you think you've met your Ö"
This time it was Cadie's turn to silence Jo with gentle fingertips across her lips.
"Don't say it," murmured Cadie, looking deep into Jo's silvery-blue eyes. "It's not possible is it? We don't even know each other. How can ...?"
Jo nodded silently in acknowledgement of the strength of the bond she felt with this sweet American she'd known only a day. She reached forward and gently wiped the tear from Cadie's cheek.
"Don't cry Cadie," she whispered. "By the time you wake up tomorrow, you'll have a new skipper and it'll be like I was never here."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?" Cadie said plaintively. God, why can't I think of another solution before she disappears from my life completely?
"I'm sorry." Jo cocked her head to one side. "Is Cadie short for something?"
The blonde nodded.
"Arcadia." Jo raised an eyebrow in enquiry. "My mother had a thing for Greek antiquity."
"And what is Arcadia the god of?" Jo asked.
Cadie shook her head.
"It's not a who, it's a where. Arcady was a province in the middle of Greece. Pretty unromantic, huh?"
Smiling, Jo pulled Cadie's hand closer and softly kissed the back of it, taking in the blonde's clean, apricot-tinged essence that seemed so familiar to her. The aroma resonated somewhere in her memory.
"You are even more beautiful than your name, Arcadia Jones," she whispered, taking one last long swim in those sea-green pools.
Cadie's throat ached from trying not to cry.
"As are you Jossandra Madison."
A long tearful silence was broken only by the soft lapping of water, and the gentle stroking of Jo's thumb across the backs of Cadie's fingers.
"Goodnight," whispered Cadie.
And goodbye, sweetheart, thought Jo.
"Goodnight," she whispered back, feeling a pair of warm fingers sliding from her hand.