Getting Along ...
Disclaimer: See title page.
Jo jogged along the dirt track steadily, letting the rhythm soothe her jangled nerves and tired mind. It was about 8am and she was crossing Hayman Island at its narrowest point, the well-used route from Blue Pearl Bay to the resort on the south-east side of the island. It was already stiflingly hot despite the early hour, and sweat caused Jo's grey t-shirt to cling to her back as she ran.|
The tall skipper didn't mind. It was just a relief to be off the Seawolf and doing something physical. She had felt like death warmed over before she started and at least the run was getting her blood flowing.
Sleep had eluded Jo after Cadie had returned below decks. She had been a basketcase by the time the tendrils of dawn were curling their way around the mound of Hayman Island. Any small scraps of sleep she had caught were haunted by disjointed nightmare visions of that damned back alley in King's Cross and a certain pair of green eyes at the end of her gun barrel. Eventually she'd given up the quest and had just sat thinking, with her feet dangling over the side.
What the hell happened here, she had thought to herself. Twenty-four hours ago this was just another boatload of tourists, and I was happy being alone and unattached and ... untouchable.
And now? Now what, Madison??? Jo was irritated with herself. How did she let this happen? It was ridiculous, wasn't it? There was no way she could feel what she thought she was feeling for the blonde American, was there? Less than a day, for God's sake. And now the senator was on high alert and was going to make it difficult no matter how far away from each other they stayed ... shit. Jo felt ambushed by the whole experience, a sensation she was not in the least bit comfortable with.
She had lain back on the deck, her arms folded across her eyes, growling softly to herself. I've got to get out of here. She had glanced at her watch. Jesus, it's only just 6am. Ron is going to love this. She sighed and reached for her cellphone, pulling up the Cheswick Marine boss' home number, and pushing dial.
Three rings later a bleary voice had answered.
"Ron, it's Jo."
"Jesus, Madison, have you looked at the time?" came the grumpy response. "Ohhh fuck, what did you hit?"
"Nothing, nothing, Ron, relax," said Jo hurriedly. "But ... uhh, there is a problem."
"Well which is it Jo-Jo, for chrissakes. What's wrong?"
Jo took a deep breath.
"Ronny, I need you to get a replacement skipper out here," she said.
"Wh-what?? What's going on, Jo? Are you sick, or something?"
For a moment she contemplated telling him exactly that, but then thought better of it.
"No. It's ... it's just a personality clash, okay?"
Ron sighed. This wasn't the first time he'd bailed Jo out of a situation with a client because she'd been a little unwilling to believe in the 'customer is always right' philosophy. But the last time had been three years ago, and he'd hoped those days were over.
"What happened? Some American just get a bit too pushy? I mean, jesus, it's only been a day."
"No, nothing like that. I know this isn't what you want to hear, but can you just take my word for it that it would be best for the clients and for the business if you just got another skipper to take over?"
Ron heard the worry and stress ... and something else he couldn't quite put his finger on yet ... in his favourite employee's voice. But he also knew he couldn't get her out of this one.
"Jo, I can take your word for it. I trust you, you know that. But there's nothing I can do. There isn't anybody who can take over. Frank's out with a bunch of Japanese who need babysitting every step of the way, and Jim's gone in for surgery on his knee. He's going to be out for a month. You're it baby."
Awwww shit, Jo had thought.
"What about you? Come on, mate, you're ticketed, and God knows you could use some time out on the water."
He laughed quietly.
"No argument there, but it's not possible right now. I've got meetings down in Mackay over the next week for a start."
"Can't Frank and I swap over?" she asked desperately, grasping at one last straw.
"No, mate. You don't speak Japanese for one thing, and for another, you know how they feel about women. They asked specifically for a male skipper."
Well, thought Jo, that's me buggered.
"Jo-Jo, you still there?" asked Ron.
"Yeah, boss, m'here," she muttered.
"Look I'm sorry mate," he said. "I'd like nothing more than to help you out of whatever situation you've gotten yourself into, believe me. But I also trust that you can handle this, whatever it is."
Jo fought the urge to burst into tears and tell her boss everything.
"Okay, Ron. Thanks anyway," she had said quietly instead.
"Jo ... " Ron wanted badly to take away the sadness he could hear in her voice. "Just try and take care of yourself, okay? I'm sorry, kiddo, I just can't think of anything else."
"It's okay. I'll talk to you in a few days. See ya." Jo hung up and tucked the cellphone back into its leather case, clipped to her belt.
Just at that moment Jenny had emerged from the hatch over the small cabin in the forepeak, ready to start preparing breakfast for the passengers.
"Hey skipper," she said quietly. "Jeez you look like hell. Rough night on-deck?" She sat down next to the taller woman.
"Yeah, pretty much Jen," muttered Jo, worrying away at her bottom lip. "You got that list of provisions you need? I'm going to take a run over to the resort and pick them up, maybe make some bookings for this mob for dinner tonight."
"Sure. Uh, I was going to do that after breakfast but I don't mind staying here. It'll give me a chance to get a jump on lunch." She paused, looking at her boss. "You okay, Jo-Jo?" she asked, puzzled by the faraway distracted look in her skipper's eyes.
"Yeah, Jen, I'm fine. Thanks for asking." Jo had smiled wanly and patted her crewmember on the thigh. "Just tired I think. Is Paul up yet?"
"He was in the head when I came up," said Jen.
"M'here now," said the man in question. "What's up skip?"
"Hey Paulie. Run me over to the beach? I'm going to head for the resort and pick up some supplies."
"Sure. You want me to call ahead, get them to meet you?"
Jo shook her head.
"Nah, I'm going to jog over. I could use the exercise," she said, standing up. "You two going to be right with this lot for the morning?"
"No worries, skip," said Jenny. "The day looks clear, so we'll do the snorkelling thing."
"Okay. Let's go Paul."
So here she was, pounding along the sandy track, her calves burning and the sweat pouring off her, trying to figure out just how she was going to survive three weeks in close proximity to Cadie Jones without either imploding, or turning the whole expedition into a floating disaster.|
I've just got to avoid looking at those eyes, she thought. And those legs. And ... ohhhhhhhhhhh shit ...
Cadie was running, running hard down a dark, cold, damp street. She couldn't make out details, just blurred impressions - streetlights reflected on wet sidewalks, the sound of her boots on the concrete, her breath ragged and hot in her lungs.
She tossed and turned in her bed, the dream shifting with her. She felt trapped, hemmed in by walls on three sides and by .... something ... a presence ... in front of her.
Cadie moaned in her sleep, unnoticed by her unconscious partner. The dreamscape shifted again and she was huddled down, terrified, a hard metallic pressure against her cheek and a swirling, formless face in front of her, pressing close. She couldn't make out any features ... except ... except ... the bluest of blue eyes. And they were filled with tears.
The images faded and she drifted again, back into deep, dreamless sleep.
It was long past dawn when Cadie finally awakened. Surprisingly, for once Naomi had beaten her out of bed, which considering the almost certain state of the senator's hangover, was amazing. Cadie took the opportunity to just lie on her back, listening to the sounds around her, savouring the gentle rocking motion of the yacht. She could hear people moving around the main cabin. Her watch told her it was well after 9am, so she guessed Jenny was serving breakfast to those who had emerged. She could hear Paul up on deck, talking with Toby and Jason about the prospects for the day's activities. Therese and Sarah were giggling in the cabin next door.
She couldn't hear Jo, she realised. I guess she's gone then. End of story. Cadie rolled onto her stomach, resting her cheek on the backs of her hands. Unexpectedly she felt tears welling in her eyes and she rubbed at them irritatedly. Like you don't have enough on your plate, for God's sake, Cadie, she thought. She went over the previous night's conversation in her head again.
It's not possible to fall in love in 12 hours. There, I said it. Love. Twelve hours. Not possible. All in one sentence. Now get over it, Jones. You sound like a bad romance novel.
She rolled out of bed, grabbed a towel and headed for the small shower tucked in the corner of the berth. The cool water cascaded over her as she tried to clear the fuzziness out of her head. Instead she felt a hollowness, an absence. And then the sting of tears again.
"Goddammit!" she said aloud. "She's gone. Deal with it. Deal with Naomi. You're on a luxury yacht in the middle of a gorgeous chain of islands. Enjoy yourself, dammit."
Jo slowed to a walk with her hands on her hips as she came to the outskirts of the Hayman resort. The dirt track gave way to a paved pathway wending between carefully landscaped gardens, surrounded by luxury low-set hotel buildings blending into the environment.
Hayman Island was the top resort in the Whitsundays, rated a five-star hotel with good reason. Gold-plated bathroom fittings, top-ranked restaurants and entertainment facilities, black swans gliding around the pools - it all added up to a quietly elegant ambience that catered to the rich and famous. It also meant the resort was rarely crowded and Jo didn't see another human until she veered away from the hotel proper and headed for the shops and stores down along the marina's waterfront.
Down here there was more activity, shop owners already up and about filling the needs of the various boats and restaurants. Jo walked down to the end of the row and stepped into the small, well-stocked ships store.
She loved this place. It served double duty as an outlet for luxury fittings for boats and yachts, as well as a retailer of the best in fine foods. Jo took a deep breath and savoured the richly scented atmosphere. She could distinguish spices, rope, and fresh seafood.
"Bella! Bella Jossandra!" A large Italian woman sailed out of the back room of the store, wiping her hands on her apron and approaching the tall skipper enthusiastically. She cupped Jo's face in her hands and squeezed. "Where have you been, dolce bambina? It has been so long."
Jo laughed and accepted the woman's tight hug.
"Hello Rosa, how are you?" she said once she could breathe again.
"I am well, I am well. Come, come and sit down." Rosa pulled Jo over to the counter and sat her down on a stool. "Now you tell me everything that has happened since we last saw you. What are you doing here? You have a boatload of the tourists, yes?"
"Yep, sure do. We're over in Blue Pearl. We needed some supplies, so I thought I'd come on over and see my favourite Hayman Island resident." She grinned.
"Aaaah you should have called, cara, I would have had Antonio drive across and meet you. Never mind, never mind, you will need him to help you take things back, yes?"
"Yes, definitely, thanks Rosa."
"For you, it is no trouble. Give me the list." Jo handed over Jenny's list of requirements and watched as Rosa disappeared out the back, bellowing at the top of her lungs for her son. "Antonio! Antonio!" There was much hurried chatter in Italian and then Rosa was back.
"He will load up the truck and come and get you when he is done, Jossandra," she said. "Now." She planted herself on another stool on the other side of the counter from Jo. "Tell me please, little one, why am I seeing such a lost look in those precious blue eyes of yours, eh?"
Jo looked up, startled. Rosa had always mothered her, from the moment they had met on her first trip to Hayman over five years ago. She wasn't sure why, but the gregarious Italian mama had taken a shine to Jo, and was constantly seeing to her wellbeing. She had always been pretty perceptive, but Jo hadn't been aware she was showing any outward signs of her past 24 hours.
"I dont know mamabear. Maybe you're just seeing the fact I slept on the deck last night. Only I didn't get much in the way of sleep."
Rosa squinted at Jo knowingly.
"Mmmm maybe. You do have the little black baggies under here," she said as she scuffed gently under Jo's left eye with her thumb. "But no. I am thinking there is something else going on. Maybe around this region, yes?" She tapped above Jo's left breast.
The tall skipper felt herself blushing.
"Sometimes you think too much, mamabear," she muttered, lowering her eyes.
"Ahhhah! You see, I can always tell," laughed Rosa, tapping the side of her nose with her index finger. "Now, please tell me everything. And do not step over the good parts, cara."
"There are no good parts, Rosa."
The Italian woman frowned and took Jo's hand between her own two.
"Jo-Jo. What is it with you and the women, eh? I see you looking, and I know you are lonely, but always you are backing away from them. What is it this time? Is she ugly?"
"No, Rosa, she's definitely not ugly. Quite the opposite," she said somewhat wistfully.
"Ahhhhh you see, I was right, there is someone making your heart go pitty-pat." Rosa wagged her finger at Jo. "You cannot hide things from your mamabear, Jo-Jo."
"I know. I don't know why I try really."
Rosa took Jo's face in her hands again and pulled her closer.
"This face is so sweet Jo-Jo. Why is it not happy? What is this beautiful mystery woman doing to make you look so sad?"
Jo sighed again.
"She's belonging to somebody else, Rosa," she said quietly. "And she's sitting back on that yacht, paying me a lot of money to be her professional sail guide."
"Ahhhh cara. I am sorry. That is difficult." Rosa sighed. "And how does she feel about you, this woman?"
"It doesn't matter Rosa. Nothing's going to happen."
"Tch, Jo-Jo, you know better than to be so black and white, always about the world." She slapped gently at Jo's forearm. "I have lived a lot longer than you, and one thing I know, nothing is so black and white. If you and this woman are meant to be together, you will be together. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but some time. That is how the universe works."
"No." Jo dropped her eyes as she felt Rosa's scrutiny intensify.
"Always with you, you are hiding something, mia cara. Keeping something close and deep." Rosa tilted Jo's head back to meet her gaze. "This woman is different I think. She will find out your secrets." She smiled softly.
"You're thinking too much again, Rosa," smiled Jo in reply. Just then she was saved from further discomfort by the appearance of Antonio at the door.
"G'day Jo!" She was swept off her feet by an all-encompassing hug from the brawny, good-looking young man. "How are you digger?"
"I'm good Tony," Jo laughed as he spun her around. "How are you? Still terrorising all the female guests?" She grinned.
"Jo-Jo, I'm hurt," he said in mock pain. "You know you're the only woman for me."
"Boy, are you barking up the wrong tree," she retorted.
"A bloke can dream, can't he?" She laughed and sat back down on the stool. "The truck's all loaded, so just let me know when you want to head back, okay?"
"I've just got to make a phone call, mate. Then we can go."
"No worries." He headed out the back again, as Jo turned back to a beaming Rosa.
"He's a handful Rosa," Jo said with a smile. Tony's mother nodded.
"Yes, but he is a good person. Like you, Jo-Jo. It will take quite a woman to keep you, I'm thinking."
Oh, let's get her off this subject, thought Jo. She's already freaked me out enough for one day.
"Have you got La Fontaine's phone number, Rosa?" she asked, changing subjects quickly. "I need to make a booking for this boatload of tourists for tonight."
"Yes, yes. Here it is," replied Rosa, handing over a business card for the island's top restaurant. "Do you have Jenny and Paul with you this time, Jo?"
"Sure do," Jo replied, digging out her cellphone.
"You are in port tonight, si?" Jo nodded. "Then the three of you are coming to dinner, no arguments."
Jo grinned. Rosa's cooking was legendary.
"No arguments here Rosa, thanks." She then paid attention to the phone as the restaurant answered.
Cadie was in the water, experiencing the full technicolour explosion that was the undersea world of Blue Pearl Bay. Jenny had suggested she take a swim before breakfast, as swimming for a while afterwards wasn't a good plan. Paul had given her a quick lesson in snorkelling and now here she was, drifting across the top of a beautiful seascape. She had quickly mastered the knack of only breathing through her mouth after a couple of spluttery first attempts. The surface of the water was smooth and glassy and with the sun blazing out of a cloudless sky, the visibility underwater was crystal clear and out to infinity.
She let herself float over the forest of bommies, watching as a school of tiny fish flashed around the top of a coral outcrop, the sunlight bouncing off their scales like a mirror. There was so much movement and colour, she hardly knew where to look first.
She could sense Toby and Jason off to her left, doing pretty much as she was. Therese and Sarah were closer to shore, while Naomi, Larissa and Kelli were still on the boat, eating their breakfast. She knew the chances of getting Naomi in the water were remote, but she'd tried anyway. The senator had avoided eye contact with her, and grumpily said no.
Cadie tried to let the gentle rippling of the ocean soothe away her stress. It wasn't difficult to get carried away into another world when a myriad of strange and fabulous creatures cavorted almost within arm's reach. At least that's how it felt. She found it hard to judge distance in this strange environment.
She took a deep breath and dove down as far as she could, surprised by how far away the white, sandy bottom really was. She couldn't get anywhere near it before her ears protested and her lungs screamed for another shot of oxygen. Cadie took a second to gaze with wonder at the wildlife swirling around her, including a beautiful blue, green and yellow fish gawking right at her, before she pushed back towards the surface.
She came up laughing, delighted by the discoveries of the morning, just in time for a ringing bell to draw her attention back to the Seawolf. Jenny was standing on-deck, waving and shouting.
"Last chance for breakfast, guys! Come and get it," she yelled.
Cadie waved back as she trod water, pulling off the mask and snorkel.
"On my way," she shouted back, kicking out and heading back for the swimming ladder hanging from the port side of the yacht. She clambored up onto the deck and looked back over her shoulder, grinning as Toby and Jason raced each other, splashing and wrestling as they did so. Therese and Sarah were making their way back as well, but were a little more leisurely, faces down, watching the wildlife below.
Cadie grabbed her towel and quickly dried off, pulling on a pair of shorts over her damp swimsuit. She noticed Naomi, Larissa and Kelli were in pretty much the same positions as they'd been an hour ago, sprawled on the deck. The senator was watching her.
The blonde followed Jenny below decks, her rumbling stomach reminding her that dinner had been a long time ago.
"Smells good, Jenny," she commented, reaching for an empty plate and surveying the array of food. She selected some strips of bacon and a fried egg, mushrooms and two tiny sausages.
Oooooooooo I love those, she thought, curling up in a corner of the sofa. I wish Jo was here, she realised, nibbling on a strip of bacon. She shook her head wonderingly. Where the hell did that come from? She watched as the boys and then Therese and Sarah loaded up their plates and headed back out on deck.
Jenny was moving around in the galley, beginning to clear away the breakfast dishes. The young hostess took the last of the bacon and tipped it onto Cadie's plate as she passed.
"Finish that off for me, will you?" she said with a smile. "Otherwise it's just food for fishes."
Cadie grinned back.
"Sure thing," she said, scooping a forkful of egg and mushrooms into her mouth and chewing enthusiastically. "Will we stay here all day, Jenny? Or are we just waiting for the new skipper to get here before we move on?"
Jenny turned from the sink and looked at Cadie curiously.
"What new skipper?" she asked, puzzled by the out-of-the-blue question from the blonde American. She wiped her hands on a tea-towel and leaned on the central counter.
Cadie stopped chewing for a hesitant second and then swallowed with a gulp.
Oops, she thought.
"Ummm … aren't we getting a new skipper? Isn't that where Jo's gone?"
"Nope. She just headed over to the resort to get a few supplies and to make a booking for you guys for dinner tonight." She paused, curious. "What made you think she was leaving?"
"Errr, I don't know really," Cadie, trying to think around the surge of joy and confusion suddenly welling up inside her. "I think I just misinterpreted something she, ummmm, said last night … maybe …"
Jenny shrugged and got on with the task of cleaning up breakfast and preparing for lunch. If she thought there was anything odd about Cadie's question, she gave no indication.
She's probably had weirder passengers than me, Cadie thought ruefully. That must've been some trip. She went back to eating, her thoughts racing as she munched on her bacon.
Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow … she hasn't left. Cadie grinned to herself. I wonder what happened. I wonder … gosh, how is this going to work? Reality hit as she realised the next three weeks were going to be fraught with danger. She walked over to the sink in the galley and washed up her dishes, putting them away where Jenny indicated.
Naomi's going to go nuts unless I can figure out a way to stay away from Jo, she mused. It's a big boat, but it's not that big. I just have to try. I have to give Nay and I a chance to work things out somehow. She remembered the events of the night before and a dark cloud came over her thoughts. Mind you, part of me wonders why I want to, if she's going to make a habit of swinging at me every time she gets jealous and drunk at the same time.
Cadie walked aft, into her cabin, and dug out the manuscript of the book she was supposed to be evaluating while she was on this vacation. It was an historical novel written by a new writer who was trying to find a literary agent. No doubt she was one of many agents the manuscript had been sent to, judging by the dog-eared quality of the pages. Never a good sign.
But Cadie prided herself on being able to see talent where others had missed it, and she had become one of the Midwest's best literary agents on the strength of that ability. Perhaps this would turn out to be another hidden gem she could proudly add to her stable of authors.
She tucked the manuscript under her arm, grabbed her sunglasses and sunscreen, and headed back out on deck.
She made her way forward, approaching Naomi and the other two women. The senator was looking distinctly pink after a couple of hours in the blazing sun. Cadie offered the sunscreen.
"Nay, you should put on some more cream, hon, or you're going to burn badly," she said quietly.
The senator looked at her over the top of her sunglasses for a second and then took the sunscreen.
"Thanks," she replied grudgingly.
Cadie almost did a double-take. Don't tell me, she thought. Is it possible? Was the great Senator Silverberg looking just a tad sheepish? She smiled quietly as she waited for Naomi to finish with the cream. She took it back and continued forward, finding a spot in the shadow of the mast. She spread out her towel and sat down, ready for some serious reading.
It wasn't long before Naomi came and joined her, sliding down onto the deck beside Cadie and gazing off into the distance silently.
Cadie slowly put down her manuscript and turned to her partner.
"Hi," she said quietly.
The senator looked a little uncomfortable, Cadie reflected. Can't say I mind that, she thought with a smile.
"What's up?" she asked.
"Does anything have to be up for me to sit next to my partner while we're on vacation," grumped the senator.
Cadie raised her hands.
"No, no. It's just you looked a little pensive."
Naomi looked down at her hands self-consciously, then cleared her throat.
"Look, Cadie. I'm sorry about last night. I was out of line." For the first time she looked Cadie in the eye.
"You mean about being jealous of Jo? Or about taking a swing at me?" Cadie asked a little more sarcastically than she'd intended.
"I apologised didn't I? And as a matter of fact I do think you've been acting like an idiot around that woman. You've been making a fool of yourself - and of me - over a woman you've known barely a day, and know nothing about." She quieted her tone a little. "But I had no right to raise a hand to you."
Cadie tried not to be insulted by the backhanded apology. She was frankly surprised to get anything out of her famously intransigent partner, let alone an apology, however meagre.
"You're right you didn't. Apology accepted," she said shortly. "But Naomi, know this. However much you don't want to acknowledge it, you and I have some problems we really need to talk through. Because the bottom line is, I'm not happy about the state of our relationship, and I think, deep down, neither are you."
"Jesus, Cadie, what's not to be happy about? We've made it. We're where we always said we wanted to be. I'm a US senator, for God's sake. I bought you a great house, clothes, we get to take long vacations in exotic places." She swept her arm around, taking in Blue Pearl Bay and the Seawolf. "I got you started in a career that seems to suit you. What more do you want?"
It was Cadie's turn to bristle.
"You got me - " she spluttered. "Excuse me, Naomi, but my career is 100% my own blood, sweat and tears. Don't even try to start taking credit for that," she objected.
"Oh come on, Arcadia. You don't think being married to a senator has something to do with the number of high-profile authors wanting you as their agent? Please."
Cadie was almost speechless.
"Every single one of those high-profile writers was an unknown until I found them a publisher, Naomi. How can you have the nerve to try and claim credit for that?"
"I know what I know," said the senator smugly.
Aaaaaargh. She's not listening to a word I say, thought Cadie in frustration. Gotta get this back on track.
"Naomi, forget that for a minute. Do you really think I care about the house and the clothes and the money? If you think those are what make me happy, then we've got a serious problem."
Naomi lay back on the deck, with her hands behind her head.
"Would you relax? We're on vacation, let's make the most of it. You worry too much."
"The whole point was that this would be a good opportunity to do a lot of talking, reacquaint ourselves with each other, Nay."
The senator snorted.
"Not much chance of that if you keep flirting with Captain Courageous all day long, is there?"
"Don't use that as an excuse to avoid working on our relationship, Nay," she said pointedly. "I'm certainly not going to."
Naomi sat up straight again.
"What's that supposed to mean?" she barked.
"It means I started this vacation hoping it would give us a chance to salvage something we both used to care a lot about. That's still what I want to do, regardless of whatever paranoia you might have about Jo."
Careful, Cadie, she chided herself. Jo was right, she was only reacting to what she saw.
"Enough," said the senator brusquely. She stood up quickly and towered over Cadie. "There's nothing wrong with our relationship that a little more care and attention from you wouldn't fix, Cadie. As far as I'm concerned, we're just fine."
Cadie was stunned into silence by the senator's arrogance. Naomi took that as a victory and stalked away to rejoin Larissa and Kelli.
Yeah, and don't think I don't know you two weren't listening to every word, thought Cadie with a grimace. Why the hell am I worrying so much about this relationship? She doesn't give a damn. Either that or she's just not taking me seriously. Why the hell am I tearing myself up over this?
Because I care about her. Because it's 12 years of history I can't just throw away. Because giving up on it without a fight … disrespects it somehow. Life is so complicated sometimes.
And almost as if to prove her point, she heard Paul firing up the dinghy. She stood and watched him heading towards the beach, where a tall, dark-haired woman stood with a man, and a truck.
Cadie's heart leapt at the sight of Jo, leaning casually against the vehicle, and she wondered what was going through the skipper's mind.
For the second time in as many days Jo felt faraway eyes lock onto hers.
How does she do that, she thought. How do we do that?
She watched Cadie lean against the mast as Paul roared away from the Seawolf in the dinghy.
God, she looks wonderful, thought Jo. She looks … golden. She tried to picture Cadie in the snow and cold of Chicago and failed totally. She belongs in brilliant sunlight.
Paul approached the beach and Jo pushed herself off the hood of Tony's truck and walked down to the water's edge to meet him.
She moves like a cat, thought Cadie. Smooth and graceful, like everything is so easy for her. I bet she can move fast if she has to though.
The blonde watched as Jo and the other man helped Paul load three boxes of supplies from the truck into the dinghy. The crewman climbed back in and waited while Jo turned back to the other man to say her goodbyes.
"Thanks Tony." Jo smiled at the dark-haired man. "Are you going to be at your mother's place for dinner tonight?"
"'Fraid not, Jo-Jo. I'm waiting tables at La Fontaine," he replied. "I'll be able to keep an eye on your loopies for you." He grinned.
Jo gave a couple of seconds' thought to asking her friend to keep an especially close eye on the senator and Cadie, but bit back the idea. Cadie's a big girl, she thought. And I'm already in enough trouble without actively looking for it.
She leaned up and kissed Tony on the cheek.
"See ya, big guy," she said.
He reached down and enfolded her in another big hug.
"Don't stay away so long next time, okay, Jo-Jo?" he said softly in her ear. "We miss you."
She smiled and patted his cheek gently.
"I promise Antonio."
"'Bye Jo." He waved as she pushed the dinghy back off the beach and jumped into the front. Paul fired up the motor and pointed them back in the direction of the Seawolf.
Hmmmmmmmm, thought Cadie as she watched the goodbyes on the beach. I wonder who tall, dark and handsome is. I know who tall, dark and beautiful is, she chuckled. Gods, how are we going to survive this vacation?
Jo looked up as the dinghy drew closer to the Seawolf. She found herself raising her right hand and waving at Cadie, who quickly waved back. She grinned. Oh, we are in so much trouble here.
Half an hour later the new provisions were loaded and everyone was back on deck, luxuriating in the late morning sun. It was just over 100 degrees, but the sanity of all concerned was saved by the seabreeze and the proximity of the water.
Jo took the opportunity to gather all the passengers together to talk about their plans for the next day or so.
"I've taken the liberty of booking you all in to Hayman Island's top restaurant, La Fontaine, for dinner tonight," she said, folding her arms as she rested her foot on the bottom of the port wheel. "If that doesn't suit all of you, it's not a problem to change the reservation, but I should do that fairly soon as the place is in pretty high demand."
Toby piped up.
"What kind of a place is it, Jo?" he asked.
"Top of the range, mate," she replied. "The Michelin Guide gave it three stars, and there's only four restaurants in the whole country with that. There's a pretty strict dress code. Suit and tie compulsory for the guys."
"No problem," he grinned. "We brought our tuxes."
"If you're all agreeable, we can motor around to the resort late this afternoon. It's only about a half-hour trip, so there'll be plenty of time for you to freshen up."
There were general murmurs of agreement to the plan from around the cockpit.
"Okay then. Anybody have any thoughts about what you want to do this afternoon?" she asked.
"We're going to do some more snorkelling," said Therese, looking for agreement from her partner. Sarah nodded.
"Jo, is there a walk we can take up to the top of the island?" Jason gestured toward the hill rising up behind the bay.
"Sure is," she replied. "It's not a bad trip. A bit steep at the top, but otherwise not too taxing. About an hour each way."
"I'd like to do that too," said Cadie quietly, with a smile. "How about you Naomi?" She turned to her partner.
"Nope. I'm gonna stay here and soak up some more rays," said the senator.
Jo watched the quick flash of hurt and disappointment cross the blonde's expressive face. Boy, the senator sure doesn't act like someone who wants to spend time with her partner, she thought.
Jenny emerged from the cabin.
"I can fix up a pack lunch for the bushwalkers, if you like. That way you can start out now, and take your time there and back," she said, getting enthusiastic nods from the two men and Cadie. "Ok, done." She disappeared below decks again.
"Now, about tomorrow," started Jo again. "If anyone wants to experience the game-fishing thing, we're in about the best place to organise that. Hayman has a terrific charter boat that heads for the outer reef for the day. They pretty much guarantee you'll take some serious trophy fish."
"Yeah, we definitely want to do that!" said Toby excitedly.
"You two are up for anything aren't you?" she laughed.
"You bet," said Jason. "This is a once in a lifetime thing. Gotta make the most of it."
Jo nodded. She was starting to like the two men, even if they were in public relations.
"For everybody else, the full facilities of the resort are at your disposal tomorrow. Tennis courts, swimming pools, restaurants, gymnasium. There's even a cinema complex and their cabarets are legendary. They also have an art show going on through the main lobby at the moment."
Everyone seems pretty satisfied with the arrangements so far, she thought. Even the senator is nodding her head. Yeehah. She caught Cadie's eye and smiled at the attractive blonde. All I have to do now is figure out who's going to take them up the mountain, she mused. The senator will have a hissy-fit if I go. Jen's gotta do lunch. That leaves …
"Paulie." She beckoned the crewman over as the passengers dispersed to their various activities. "Can you lead the bushwalk?"
"Ah," he said. "Not if you want us to have a functional motor in time for tonight, skip."
"What's wrong with the motor?" she asked.
"Well, it was running a bit rough last night when we came in, so I stripped it down this morning. I was gonna put it back together again after lunch," he said sheepishly.
Jo sighed. It just wasn't going to be her day, she could feel it.
They managed to get ashore without the senator realising Jo would be leading the bushwalk, largely because the skipper had steered the dinghy to the beach and then swapped places with Paul who dropped them off and roared back to the Seawolf. Jenny had prepared little backpacks filled with water, sandwiches, fruit and chocolate for each of the quartet of walkers. They stood together for a few moments on the beach, settling the packs on their backs and getting their bearings.
"Where to, skipper?" asked Toby.
Jo pointed up the beach to a break in the undergrowth.
"That path loops up to the top and back again," she said. The two men quickly made for the track. "Fellas, hang on a second." She grinned at the impatient duo who were obviously keen to set a record for making the summit. "Do me a favour okay? When you get to a fork in the path, go left. At least that way we'll know exactly where each other is." The men nodded. "And let's stop for lunch at the top, yeah?"
Jo turned to Cadie, who had been standing quietly behind her left shoulder.
"Ready?" she asked. The blonde just nodded. Jo smiled at her. She looks a little blue, thought the skipper. Probably anticipating the response when we get back on board. She sighed.
The two men were already powering ahead as Jo and Cadie walked from the beach and under the cool, green canopy of trees.
"How did I know those two would be racing each other to the top," Cadie said, laughing. "They're terminally competitive."
"They sure are," Jo replied. "But at least they're enjoying themselves. Hard to argue with that."
Silence fell as the pair settled into a walking rhythm, Jo moderating her long strides to allow the shorter woman to keep up without discomfort.
Jo knew she owed Cadie an explanation.
"Look, um, I'm sorry I'm here," she said hesitatingly. "Well, that is, I'm NOT sorry I'm here ... I mean ..."
She felt a gentle hand on her forearm, halting her words.
"I know what you mean," said Cadie with a smile. "And I have to be honest, it's not going to be easy." She looked up into troubled blue eyes. "But I am glad you're here." She watched Jo's brow unfurrow at that. "What happened?"
"Ron doesn't have anyone else to replace me. We've got one guy out sick and another one out with another group. He couldn't see a way to make it work."
"Well, we're just going to have to make the best of it." She hesitated. "Jo ..."
"Yes?" asked the skipper quietly.
"Thank you for trying." She smiled and Jo held her breath as their eyes met again. "I don't want you to try again, okay? Um, this is going to sound kind of out there, but ..." She hesitated again. "... I missed you when you weren't here when I woke up. I mean, I really felt it."
Jo nodded, glad to know she hadn't been alone in feeling an emptiness at the prospect of leaving.
"Come on," she said with a smile. "Or we're going to get too far behind the Wonderboys."
Cadie grinned and they picked up their pace a little. She gazed around and took in the lush surroundings.
"This is gorgeous Jo. Is this what they call rainforest?"
"Pretty much," the Australian replied. "Though the soil's a bit too sandy to be true rainforest. But it's still a pretty rich environment with a lot of wildlife around."
"Will we see any?" Cadie asked, looking down at her feet quickly.
"It's a pretty well-used path, so the animals probably know to stay away, but you never know your luck," Jo replied.
A wild and startled yell from further up the path caught their attention and Jo broke into a run, taking the steadily increasing incline in long, strong strides. She could hear Cadie running behind her and concentrated on listening for further sounds from in front of her.
She rounded a corner and came across the two men, standing stock still in the middle of the path.
"What's wrong?" she said breathlessly.
Toby pointed further up the track.
"S-snake," said Jason shakily. "I nearly walked on it. Scared me half to death."
Jo stepped between them to get a closer look at the reptile which was curled up in an angry, hissing pile in a patch of sunshine in the middle of the track.
"Bugger," she said quietly, recognising a nasty customer when she saw it. "It's a good thing you didn't step on it Jason. That's a taipan. See the rectangular head and red eyes?" She pointed at the distinctive characteristics.
"They're poisonous?" asked Jason.
"Oh yeah," she understated.
The two men took another step backwards. Cadie came up beside Jo to get a better view.
"Can we go around it?" she asked, looking sceptically at the relatively narrow track.
"I don't think he's going to appreciate us getting that close somehow," Jo muttered, thinking hard.
"I was afraid you were going to say that," said Cadie. "What's the plan?"
"I'm working on it," said Jo, keeping one eye on the alarmed reptile while searching for a likely tool. She spotted a handy looking long stick that had a fork in it and reached for it, trying not to startle the snake into any quick moves.
"Maybe we should just go back?" said Toby.
"Come on fellas, where's that sense of adventure we've come to expect from you?" Jo grinned as she trimmed the branch down to a long pole with a narrow fork at the top. "Okay," she said as she folded her Swiss army knife back up and put it in her pocket. "Here's what's going to happen. You three are going to stay right where you are, where he can see you. I'm going to try and sneak around and behind him, then pin his head still with this little gizmo." She waggled the stick and smiled. "Ready?"
"I notice you get to get out of range of his fangs while we get to stay his target," Cadie said with an uncertain smile.
"Well sure. You three are a bigger target than little old me, so he'll stay focused on you guys and won't notice me." She paused. "Hopefully." She grinned again. "Okay here we go. Oh, and if he comes for you, try and scatter three different ways."
"Jesus Christ," muttered Toby, still focused on the hissing, flattened snake.
Jo edged her way to the right-hand side of the track, stepping off the dirt and into the underbrush, moving slowly around the snake, giving him a wide berth. So far, so good, she thought. Hell of a moment to be trying this for the first time, Madison. She broke a twig suddenly and the snake rotated sharply around to seek her out.
"Whoa!! Here Mr Snake," yelled Cadie, flapping her arms, trying to attract the snake's attention away from Jo. It worked and he swung back towards the trio, standing up a little on his neck muscles.
"Fuck Cadie, whaddaya doing?" shouted Toby, stepping back again.
Brave girl, thought Jo, now beyond the snake and making her way back up onto the track behind him. I wonder if she'd've done that if she knew how mean taipans are. Don't think I'll mention that right now, though.
She readied her stick and began cautiously lining up the fork with the back of the snake's head. Christ I hope I get this right first time, or he's going to be incredibly pissed off, she thought. Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound.
With a long lunge, Jo thrust the stick forward and hit her mark, pinning the snake by his head to the ground. Quickly he uncoiled himself, thrashing his long body around in a vain attempt to get free from his trap.
"Come on you lot, get around him," urged Jo, trying to avoid the flailing tail.
Cadie led the way, the two men scurrying past.
"Okay now back off some up the track, 'cos when I let go of him, he's going to be pretty angry, and I have no clue what he'll do," said Jo. She hoped like hell he'd slink off into the scrub, given her feet were the nearest targets. "Here we go."
She pushed the stick away from her as she let it go, hoping it would force the snake further away from her. It worked. Once released the angry reptile took one look over its shoulder and with a powerful flick of its tail, was off into the scrub to the side of the track.
Jo turned around to three impressed Americans.
"Nice one skipper," grinned Toby.
Cadie's sea-green eyes met hers and held her gaze for what seemed like an age. The blonde smiled gently.
"Very impressive," she said softly.
Jo cleared her throat, and tried to ignore the blush she was sure was climbing up her neck.
"Well. Uh, yes, ummmmm, welcome to the Australian bush, folks. Shall we see if we can get to the top without endangering any other innocent creatures?"