Australia Day weekend … eight months later … somewhere in the Whitsundays …
The three long, sleek yachts were moored together, side by side, pontoon-style in the middle of the lagoon. On the portside was the Beowulf, in the middle was Cheswick Marine’s flagship, the Seawolf, and on the starboard side, resplendent in a fresh coat of paint, was the newly-christened Lobo, the latest addition to the fleet.
The sea was calm, and the sun had just dipped below the mountains on the mainland away to the west. The clear blue sky of a summer’s day was giving way to a glorious speckling of starlight and the scene was a picture of paradise. If it hadn’t been for the raucous music booming from the Seawolf’s sound system, and the tantalizing smell of barbecuing meat, not to mention the sights and sounds of a party in full swing, it could have been mistaken for a scene from a painting.
It was Saturday night, the first evening of the traditional Australia Day long weekend, and a party was indeed in progress. Revelers were spread across the decks of the three yachts, while others walked on the nearby coral reef, its wonders almost exposed by the low tide. The air was muggy, though as the sun descended, a gentle sea breeze came off the breaking waves to the east of the atoll, where the open ocean lapped up against the edge of the Great Barrier Reef.
Away from the yachts, but tethered to the Seawolf by a 100 feet or so of floating rope, bobbed an aluminum dinghy. Its two occupants lay along its towel-covered bottom in a contented tangle of suntanned arms and legs. Both women were scantily clad; Jo in a lightning blue one-piece swimsuit that emphasized the length of her lean, but muscular legs; Cadie wore a sea-green bikini that brought out the color of her eyes.
Not that either woman was particularly concerned with clothing just at that moment. In fact they were more engaged in removing it, or at least, getting inside it.
Jo’s hand slid under Cadie’s bikini top, cupping her breast gently. The move elicited a low moan from the blonde as she kissed Jo deeply, their tongues teasing. She arched up against her lover and her own hand found purchase under the high-cut leg of Jo’s swimsuit.
“God, you feel fantastic,” Jo murmured huskily, her alto deepened further by desire. The sound, and feel of her breath, brushing against Cadie’s ear, sent tremors down the smaller woman’s spine and she buried her face against the soft skin of Jo’s neck, trembling slightly. “Are you cold, sweetheart?” Jo asked, wrapping her arm more tightly around Cadie.
“Not even slightly,” Cadie replied softly, brushing her lips against Jo’s pulse-point, loving the fluttering response she felt there. “You’re just doing very wicked things to my nervous system, darling.”
Jo smiled and ducked her face, pressing her nose into the silky, blonde locks tucked up against her. She let her lover’s unique scent – Cadie’s apricot shampoo, mingled with sunscreen and ocean – wash through her senses. Happiness smells like this, she thought.
“I want to make love to you,” she whispered, adoring the little gasp her suggestion drew from Cadie.
“I can tell,” Cadie responded, brushing the palm of her hand across Jo’s lycra-covered and attentive breasts. “Can we be seen from the boats?” she asked. Not that I really care at this point. The way she makes me feel, Steve Irwin and his film crew could be turning us into a documentary and I wouldn’t care enough to say ‘crikey’.
Jo pushed herself up on one elbow and lifted her head so she could see over the gunwale of the dinghy.
“No, we’ve drifted quite a way away,” she said. She turned back and looked down at Cadie. The setting sun was turning the American’s hair red-gold, and her now deeply-tanned skin almost glowed in the low light. “You are so beautiful,” she whispered, a look of wonder on her face.
Cadie felt the heat of a blush rising up her neck and across her cheeks, on top of the flush of desire Jo had already provoked. Even now, almost a year into their relationship, it never failed to floor her when Jo said something romantic out of the blue like that. She reached up and drew a gentle finger across the high plane of the Jo’s cheekbone. Sparkling blue eyes, darkened by the fading light, blinked at her.
“Back at you, Aussie,” she murmured.
Jo’s left hand, already wrapped around Cadie’s back, deftly unhooked the blonde’s bikini top, releasing her breasts to the warm, tropical air. Jo groaned softly at the sight and ducked her head, gently enfolding a waiting nipple in a warm, wet mouth.
“Oh, Jo.” Cadie’s hand slipped into the dark hair splayed across her chest and pulled Jo closer still. There was something nurturing in the action, quite apart from how completely turned on she felt. She just wanted to hold Jo in her arms, like this, forever.
Jo didn’t give her much time to savor the moment, however, as her lips continued to tease and tug at her breasts relentlessly. Cadie didn’t mind in the least. She sighed happily and arched against Jo’s solid frame as her lover’s hand strayed down the length of Cadie’s torso. “Yes, angel,” she whispered, urging.
Jo needed little in the way of encouragement. Her fingers found the waistband of Cadie’s bikini bottom and dipped beneath it, finding soft curls already damp with anticipation.
Somehow Cadie had the presence of mind to reach up and slide the straps of Jo’s swimsuit down, off her shoulders, leaving her breasts exposed and ripe for Cadie to do some teasing of her own.
They knew each other well enough now for their sense of timing and rhythm to be almost automatic and Cadie’s fingers found the sensitive nubs of Jo’s nipples just as her lover’s honed unerringly in on Cadie’s center. The effect was a simultaneous meltdown as both women gave in to their instincts, letting their bodies take over. The rest of the world faded out as they lost themselves and found each other in the gently rocking motions of love on the ocean.
Maggie Madison smiled as she watched the dinghy ducking and bobbing suspiciously, away in the distance. A few minutes earlier she had noticed her daughter’s distinctive head pop up for a couple of seconds, and it didn’t take much imagination to draw an accurate conclusion about just what was going on in that little boat. Maggie turned away and tapped Helena Jones lightly on the shoulder.
“Don’t look now, but I think I’ve found Jo and Cadie,” she said, grinning at Cadie’s mother. The Jones’ had arrived for their first Australian holiday two weeks earlier and had been staying with Maggie and David in their new home just inland from Shute Harbor. The two couples had gotten on like a house on fire from the word go, and Maggie and Helen were already the best of friends.
“Oh, good. Where are they? I want to ask Cadie about the arrangements for tomorrow,” Helena said, swinging around to look at Maggie. The older woman cocked her head over her shoulder in the general direction of the dinghy.
“I wouldn’t look too closely, though,” Maggie chuckled.
“Oh dear.” Helena looked a little nonplussed as Maggie’s meaning became perfectly clear, the dinghy rocking more emphatically than the calm surface of the surrounding ocean could possibly cause. “Don’t tell the men,” she said, smiling back at Maggie. “I believe it would be too much for Stephen’s blood pressure.”
Maggie laughed heartily, knowing that David would have a similar reaction if he thought about it too much.
“Don’t think there’s too much danger of that,” she said, nodding in the direction of the two elders of the family, who were standing on either side of a portable barbeque set up in the main cockpit of the Seawolf. The men were obviously engaged in an animated discussion about something. “They look like they’re talking about politics.”
“Or football,” Helena agreed. A distant yelp from the direction of the dinghy silenced them and the mothers stared at each other for a moment, eyes wide.
“Cadie,” they said simultaneously, and then dissolved into gales of laughter.
“Maybe I’d better go and turn the music up before Jo …” Maggie was interrupted by a lower-pitched moan that drifted across the still water.
“Too late.” Helena chuckled. She was far more conservative than her laidback Australian counterpart, she knew, but there was just something about the atmosphere here, and about the way Jo and Cadie were together that made her comfortable. They’re so right together, she conceded. I could never say that about Cadie and Naomi. I would never have been able to think about them doing … she glanced out at the dinghy, which seemed to have stilled now. They’re perfect together.
“Well, that seems to have come to a satisfactory conclusion,” Maggie said, practically. “Um … so to speak.” She grinned again at Helena. Taking it pretty well, considering, she thought. “Why do I get the feeling that you never had to deal with this kind of thing when Naomi was around?”
Helena took a sip of her champagne and turned to lean back against the Beowulf’s rail, shoulder to shoulder with Maggie. She shook her head.
“The more distance we all have from that woman, the more I can see that Cadie was really kept in her shell by that relationship,” she said. “I like the way Jo brings out Cadie’s …” She paused, looking for the right words.
“Sexier side?” Maggie prompted, mischievously.
“That too,” Helena agreed, smiling.
“Whatever happened to the senator?”
Helena sighed. It really had been rather sad in the end. However much she had come to dislike Naomi, she had been rather fond of her once.
“Well, it turns out the nervous breakdown was the best thing that could have happened to her,” she said. “The way she was behaving, from what I can gather, she probably was heading for censure, which would have been the end of any political career for her. As it was she just resigned from the Senate on medical grounds.”
“What’s she doing now?” Maggie asked.
“Not much of anything, I think,” Helena replied. “Hard to believe she’s not planning something, though.”
“Ah well. From what Jo was telling me, it’s not likely she’ll ever bother Cadie again.”
Helena smiled, thinking of the spent shell that was safely locked in her husband’s safety deposit box back in Madison.
“No, I don’t think we’ll be hearing from her,” she said quietly. “Those daughters of ours are pretty smart.”
“They certainly make a good team,” Maggie agreed. “They’ve both come a long way.”
Helena looked quizzically at her companion. There’s definitely more to the Jo Madison story than I know about yet, she decided. “One day will you tell me just how far?” she asked quietly.
Maggie looked at her with a coolly assessing gaze, before she nodded slightly. “One day,” she promised.
“Oh my,” Jo breathed as she sagged down, resting her weight, as gently as she could, on Cadie. “You are something else, you know that, right?”
Cadie’s breath came in ragged gasps. “I … I didn’t do anything.” She wrapped her arms around Jo, pulling her close until the dark head was tucked securely under her chin. Their hearts tripped along rapidly, strongly enough that she could feel them both pounding as Jo and Cadie lay, chest to chest.
“You did plenty,” Jo replied between kisses against Cadie’s collarbone.
It was completely dark now, but for the half-moon which was climbing its way above the horizon and the myriad of bright stars sprinkled across the wide, black sky. Cadie felt more alive than she could ever remember. The sounds of the party drifted across the water and she sighed deeply.
“I wish we could stay out here all night,” she sighed.
Jo chuckled. “Honey, this party was our idea, remember?” she said softly. “We like these people.”
Cadie laughed. “I know. I just love being out here with you.” She felt the warm breeze against her sweat-dampened skin and trailed her fingers down Jo’s naked back. “I especially love being out here naked with you.” Jo grinned against her neck, tickling slightly.
“You love being naked with me wherever we are.”
Hard to argue with that. “True.”
Jo licked up a drop of sweat from between Cadie’s breasts with the tip of her tongue. “I suppose we do have to get back to the party,” she murmured.
How does she do that, Cadie wondered, appreciating the ripple of tingles Jo’s tiniest touch produced. “I suppose we must,” she replied.
Jo’s mouth traveled further south, following an imaginary trail down the center of Cadie’s belly. “I mean, we are the hosts, after all.”
Cadie groaned and shifted her position slightly, giving Jo more room to do … whatever it is she’s going … to … do … ohhhhhh … “Mhmm.”
Jo kissed the inside of Cadie’s thigh, her lips trailing across the tanned, soft skin. “Not that another half an hour or so would matter, I guess,” she whispered.
“N-no … ohhhhhhhhhh …”
“Let’s swim back,” Jo whispered, 29 minutes later.
Cadie chuckled. “Swim? Honey I can barely lift my head off the bottom of the boat, let alone swim. You’ve worn me out.” She grinned up at her lover, whose eyes glittered like the stars she was now silhouetted against.
“Well, okay,” Jo said casually. “But as soon as everyone sees me dragging us back in, they’re gonna know what we’ve been up to.”
“What’s the matter? Can’t handle a little teasing from a boatload of people who would love to catch us in the act?”
Jo snorted. “Okay, okay, you got me.” She nibbled Cadie’s chin delicately. “Swim back with me?” she persisted. “It’ll cool us off and maybe we can sneak back onboard, take ‘em all by surprise. It might be fun.”
Cadie patted Jo’s upper arm affectionately. “Okay, love.” She pushed herself up into a sitting position, surprised to see how far away from the yachts they had drifted. One look over the side of the dinghy and she had second thoughts.
“Yeeeeeeeeeessss?” came the low rumble from the bottom of the boat.
“The water’s pitch black. I’m not sure I’ve got the nerve to swim back.”
Jo sat up.
“You know this water, Cades,” she said calmly. “We’ve swum here a thousand times. It’s only about 30 feet deep, clear and safe. No bities, other than the hermit crabs running along the bottom. And they’re not gonna come out tonight, even at the sight of your loveliness swimming above them.” She grinned.
Cadie bit her lip uncertainly. “It’s just … I don’t like not being able to see what’s coming at me.”
“Tell you what. You hold on to the rope with one hand and my hand with the other and we’ll be back on the Seawolf before you know it.” She took Cadie’s smaller hand in her own and squeezed reassuringly.
Cadie hesitated a second longer but then nodded. “Okay.”
Jo grinned and slipped over the side of the dinghy, almost silently. Cadie took a deep breath and followed her, surprised to feel how warm the water still was.
“Come on,” Jo whispered, pulling her around to the tethering rope. Once she could feel its roughness against her palm, Cadie felt better and was able to think rather than panic about the dark water around her. She felt Jo’s arm snake around her waist, her partner’s solid frame, warm and safe against her.
“See, it’s not so scary,” Jo burred, close to Cadie’s ear. “Take a look down below, it might surprise you.”
Cadie looked at her and Jo nodded, urging her to give it a try. “Okay, what the hell.” She sucked in a breath and ducked her head under the water. They hadn’t brought any masks with them, so when she opened her eyes she had to blink several times against the stinging saltwater. All around her phosphorescence shimmered and danced, catching the moving edges of silver fish, the tethering rope and coral outcrops.
Cadie popped up, gasping for air, a grin from ear to ear.
“It’s beautiful,” she exclaimed. “Why haven’t we done this before?”
Jo laughed, a low, sexy growl that Cadie adored. “We just never got around to it before. Come on, let’s follow the rope.”
Together they made their way hand-over-hand along the line, back to three boatloads of their friends and families.
“How much longer do you think you can stay out there, Jo Madison?” Maggie muttered.
“Out where, Mum?” Maggie jumped six inches in the air and clutched a hand to her heart.
“Damn you, girl, you scared me out of 10 years’ growth,” she yelped, spinning around and facing Jo. Two pairs of blue eyes glared at each other, Jo’s holding a touch of innocent inquiry that was irritating in the extreme to her mother. “Oh, don’t give me that look. I know exactly what you’ve been up to,” Maggie said with mock severity, planting her hands on her hips.
“Why, Mother, whatever do you mean?” Jo said archly, raising an eyebrow as she handed her parental unit a fresh glass of champagne. “I’ve been down below, helping Jenny with the food and drinks."
“Riiiiiight,” said Maggie. “And taking a shower and changing clothes as well.” She pointed at Jo’s wet hair and freshly pressed shorts and polo shirt.
“S’been a long day. I felt like putting something clean on,” Jo shrugged. The women eyed each other for a few more seconds then both burst out laughing.
“You are so busted,” Maggie said, wiping away a tear.
“I am so happy,” Jo murmured, surprising even herself with the comment.
“Oh, Josie.” Her mother stepped forward and took her daughter’s face in her hands. “I can see that you are,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes again. “And I am so happy for you, darling.”
Jo rested her hands on her mother’s forearms, and grinned through her own tears. “Thanks,” she husked. A familiar warm presence made itself known just behind her and Jo felt, rather than heard, Cadie’s approach.
“Hello, you two,” the American said softly. Maggie removed her left hand from Jo’s cheek long enough to place it against the side of Cadie’s face instead.
“Hello, sweetheart,” Maggie said, smiling tearily at the woman she’d come to think of as her other daughter. She patted both warm cheeks one last time and moved back a little.
“I … um … thought we might get this show on the road,” Cadie said, looking from Jo to her mother and back again. I missed something here, but I don’t think it was a bad thing, she decided.
Jo cleared her throat and looked up at Cadie through lowered eyelashes. “Good idea,” she agreed. “Want to do the honors?”
“Your boats, skipper. Your show.”
Jo shook her head and wrapped an arm around Cadie’s shoulders. “Nope. Our show,” she said, planting a kiss on the blonde’s temple. “Come on.”
Together they climbed up onto the roof of the Seawolf’s cockpit. Jo bent down and banged on the fiberglass with the flat of her hand, trying to attract the attention of whoever was below decks.
“Hey! Turn it down, will ya?” she shouted. Almost immediately the pounding rhythms of the rock music ceased. It also had the effect of drawing the attention of everyone spread across the decks of the three yachts. All faces turned towards Jo and Cadie. Jo straightened up and looked at all her friends.
Paul and Jenny were here, of course. They were still living with Jo and Cadie, the two couples finding that they enjoyed each other’s company. Paul had gained his master’s ticket, so now he was skipper of the Lobo. The four of them were often at sea at different times, an ideal way not to get sick of the sight of each other.
The Palmieri clan was also here. Rosa and Roberto had their hands full keeping track of the, now, not so little Sophie, who was growing into a quite gorgeous young lady. Even Tony had managed to find time off from his duty’s on Hayman Island to come party.
All of the Cheswick employees were onboard, of course, including the newest members of the team, who would be Paul’s crew on board the Lobo. Doris was sitting in the stern of the Seawolf, and she raised her glass to Jo, even as her boss waited for the conversations to still around her.
Jo searched the happy crowd for one face in particular, and finally found it. Ken Harding, dressed in an outrageously loud Hawaiian-style shirt and, of all things, purple board shorts, stood, beer in hand, with her father and the Joneses. Jo grinned at the big cop, delighted that he had been able to get the time off, and had made the trip north for the weekend’s celebrations.
Cadie tucked herself up under Jo’s arm and watched her lover’s face avidly. There was such happiness there, and the sight of it made Cadie feel wonderful. Look at her, she thought. Surrounded by everyone she loves. And letting them love her. I’m so proud of her. Cadie stood on tiptoes and kissed her Jo’s cheek softly. It caught the taller woman by surprise and Jo looked at her enquiringly.
“Just felt like doing that,” Cadie answered the unasked question.
“Cut it out, you two,” came a raucous voice from somewhere on the Beowulf. “You’ve already been at it all afternoon!”
Laughter rippled around the yachts and Cadie buried her blushing face against Jo’s shoulder.
“Wouldn’t you, if you had the chance?” Jo quipped, regaining control of the situation.
“Too right!” That from several voices.
Jo laughed. “All right, all right. Settle down, you lot. We’ve got some announcements to make.”
“Well, hurry up, can’t you? It’s a pretty dry argument down this end.” That voice floated up from the bow of the Lobo. More laughter.
“Hang on,” piped up Jen. “I can solve that problem.” The brunette ducked down below but quickly reappeared hefting a carton of what Jo guessed was ice-cold beer. “Here you go.” The carton was soon being passed overhead to the poor, parched souls who had gone almost an hour without a fresh drink.
“Is everybody happy now?” Jo called out wryly.
“Thanks mate,” came the reply.
“Right then. Finally.” Jo felt Cadie shaking with laughter and she took another moment to look down at the blonde, whose sparkling green eyes were gorgeous to behold. Everyone’s going to know just exactly how you feel about her in a few minutes, Jo-Jo, she thought. As if they can’t already tell. Cadie looked up at her and Jo kissed her softly on the lips, just for good measure. I’m so damn proud she chose me.
“Okay,” Jo murmured, taking one last look into those sea-green eyes and getting all the confirmation she needed before she turned back to the crowd. “Welcome to the annual Cheswick Marine Australia Day Party Weekend.” She grinned as the cheers answered her. “We do this every year, as you know, but this year, we’ve got a few bonus celebrations for you.”
“Great, another excuse for a party,” yelled one reveler.
“Exactly right,” Jo replied. “I want to welcome all the new crew members. As you can see, the Lobo’s had a new coat of paint and she’ll be ferrying her first boatload of tourists around next week. That’s one extra reason to celebrate.” Applause.
“The second reason to celebrate is a little more personal to Cadie and me.” Jo looked at the blonde and reached out a hand, which Cadie took. “As of 11am yesterday, when the mail arrived, Cadie is now a permanent resident of Australia.” No matter how hard they tried neither woman could keep the grins off their faces as a resounding cheer went up from the assembled masses. Somewhere, someone started a chorus of Waltzing Matilda, and soon everyone was singing along.
“Welcome to the country, Cades!” Paul yelled once the song was done, raising his half-empty stubby of beer in her direction.
“Thanks, mate,” Cadie replied, trying on her best Aussie accent for the first time in public. Jo winced.
“Ah, let’s work on that one later, shall we sweetheart?” she said, softening the sting with a 1000-watt grin.
“Ooooo, personal tutoring,” Cadie replied cheekily, eliciting another roar of approval from the crowd.
“While we’re on the subject, I want to introduce you all to someone.” Jo pointed in Harding’s direction. “The big fella over there in the incredibly ugly shirt.” She waited until Ken waved a reluctant hand at all the partygoers. “That’s Ken. He’s the one who pulled a few strings so we could get all the paperwork done in just eight months. Thanks, mate.”
Harding lifted his beer and acknowledged the cheers around him.
“One more announcement, folks, and then you can get back to some serious partying,” Jo called out. Her stomach did a double back-flip and she caught her mother’s eye for a moment, receiving a nod of encouragement. Cadie squeezed her hand gently. “You all have until 3pm tomorrow to sober up,” she said, grinning at the puzzled looks on the faces of her friends. “Because at 3pm tomorrow, Cadie and I are going to get married.”
Jo smoothed her hands across her belly and thighs, settling the cool white linen pants into some sort of order. She looked at herself in the cabin’s mirror and frowned critically. Tucked into the pants was a white tank top. A linen Asian-style jacket lay across the bed, waiting for her to put it on. Jo’s long, black hair was loose and she pulled it back with one hand, debating whether or not to put it into a ponytail.
“What do you think, Mephy?” she asked of the big black cat, who was curled contentedly on a corner of the bed, his tail flicking from side to side.
“Leave it down. It looks beautiful.”
Jo turned to see Helena Jones leaning on the doorjamb. Cadie’s mother was looking elegant as always, in neatly pressed khaki shorts and polo shirt. Jo smiled and let her hair down.
“Hello,” she said.
“Can I come in?” Helena asked.
Helena crossed the floor of the cabin and sat down on the bed as she watched Jo continue to get ready. Jo picked up the jacket and slipped it on, pulling her hair up and out so it spilled across the white material.
“See what I mean? Gorgeous.”
Jo smiled shyly at Helena’s reflection, and felt the blush color her skin. She turned as she fiddled with the buttons on the jacket. “Should I leave this open or do it up?” she asked.
“Oh, open, definitely.” Helena stood up and walked over the Jo. She reached up and adjusted the collar of the jacket, which had caught and folded over when Jo pulled it on. “There you go.”
Jo waited patiently as Helena continued to fuss with her clothes. She has something she wants to say, she reasoned. I hope it’s not ‘keep your hands off my daughter’. Nah.
Helena looked up into patient, blue eyes that held more than a touch of tolerant laughter in their twinkle. She laughed at herself and patted Jo’s shoulder before backing off a little.
“What am I fussing about?” she said wryly. “You look great and you don’t need me to tell you so.”
“It’s okay,” Jo said quietly.
Helena looked up at her and Jo recognized the look, not the least because Cadie had very much inherited her mother’s eyes.
“We haven’t had a chance to really get to know each other, Jo,” Helena said. “You were only in Madison a few days before you left and, even though we’ve talked a lot on the phone, nothing beats getting to know someone in person.”
Oh boy, where’s she going with this, Jo wondered, her stomach tightening suddenly.
Helena saw the slightly panicked look on Jo’s face and rushed to reassure her. “Oh, Jo, don’t worry.” She chuckled. “I was about to tell you that even though we haven’t had a lot of time together, I knew the minute I met you that you and Cadie were perfectly matched.”
Jo grinned. “Really?”
“Oh yes. I’ve never seen Cadie so … relaxed … and contented. She doesn’t have to be anything other than herself when she’s with you, Jo. And that’s more than Naomi could ever do for her.”
Jo felt the last vestiges of insecurity over Cadie’s ex-partner falling away. “I think I’ve always known that we had something she and Naomi never did,” she said softly. “And of course, Cadie has said so. But thank you for confirming it.”
Helena moved forward again and touched her palm gently to Jo’s cheek.
“Don’t you ever worry about that, Jo,” she said, equally quietly. “She adores you. And, truth be told, so do Stephen and I.” She smiled at Jo’s renewed blush. “We have no doubts at all that the two of you will make each other very happy.”
Jo exhaled slowly. She had been strangely calm about meeting Cadie’s parents, she remembered. Mainly, she suspected, because that day had been so bizarre, meeting her future in-laws had seemed like a doddle in comparison.
They hadn’t warned Cadie’s parents that Jo was coming home with her. In the end, it had just been easier to pile everything in the car and drive up to Madison as quickly as they could. Cadie found she had loved showing Jo all the sights – not that that particular stretch of I90 provided much in the way of picturesque scenery – but Jo had seemed interested and plied her with questions. By the time they were pulling in to the driveway of Cadie’s childhood home, both of them were happy and relaxed despite the events of the day.
Helena’s voice brought Jo back to the present.
“We know you haven’t planned a honeymoon,” the older woman was saying. “So, Stephen and I thought we’d … well, hopefully we haven’t been too presumptuous.” Helena held out an envelope. “We checked with your office manager … Doris, right?” Jo nodded and took the envelope. “To make sure you had enough time to take a week off. Go on, open it up.”
Jo started to, lifting the flap and peering inside. It looked like an accommodation voucher and when she saw the name on the letterhead her eyebrows lifted. “Wow, Helena, that’s very generous. Thank you.”
Helena patted her hand gently. “Don’t mention it. Now, we spoke to your friend Bill, and he’s going to fly you both up there in his helicopter tonight.” She grinned at her soon to be daughter-in-law. “After some celebrations, of course.”
Jo laughed. “That’ll kill Bill. Having to stay sober till he gets back here.” She clutched the envelope to her chest and smiled at Helena. “Thank you. This means a lot.”
Helena nodded. “It means a lot to us to be able to do it for you, Jo. Naomi never really let us do this kind of thing. I feel more involved in Cadie’s life now, even though she’s on the other side of the world, than I ever did when she was with the senator.”
Jo didn’t say anything, just pulled the older woman into a hug, a move which surprised Helena, but pleased her more than she could say.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
Across the companionway, in the other double berth, Cadie was also dressing. Her outfit matched Jo’s except, instead of pants and a tank top, she wore a long sundress under her jacket. She was putting the finishing touches on her makeup when the knock came at the door.
“Come in,” she said, not looking away from the mirror as she applied her mascara. Cadie heard someone enter. “I won’t be a minute,” she called out.
“No worries,” came the surprisingly deep response. Cadie smiled at herself as she screwed the lid back on the mascara tube. She had half-expected a visit from one of the four parental units on board, but David Madison was probably the one she had least expected to come through the door.
Cadie rounded the corner and found the elder Madison standing uncomfortably in front of the bed, his hands buried deep in the pockets of his shorts. Cadie grinned. He’s so cute when he’s flustered. “Hello.”
David looked up at the blonde’s approach and he found himself even more tongue-tied than usual. “G’day,” he said, finally. “Gosh, Cadie you look terrific … just … you just look terrific.”
Cadie beamed at him. “Thank you.” She waited while David obviously tried to gather his thoughts together into cogent sentences. Finally he just sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed.
“I had a whole bunch of stuff I wanted to say to you,” he said. “But, you know me. I’m not too good when it gets down to talking.”
Cadie smiled and sat down next to him, taking his calloused right hand between her own and chafing it gently. “You do just fine,” she said. “Besides there’s some stuff I wanted to say to you too.”
“Mhmm. Like, I wanted to say thank you for making me part of your family. For making me feel like I had a second set of parents. It’s made leaving home a lot easier, knowing that I had another family here to welcome me.”
In the five months since he and Maggie had sold Coonyabby and moved up here, David had had the chance to get to know his daughter’s partner a lot better. But she never failed to surprise him with her open and warm personality. He cleared his throat.
“You’re always welcome, Cadie,” he said gruffly, placing his other hand on top of hers. “That’s one of the things I wanted to say.” He looked down and then felt Cadie bumping him with her shoulder, encouraging him to continue. Sea-green eyes met his when he looked back up again. “You gave me my daughter back.”
Cadie felt tears stinging her eyes and she saw just a hint of the same in David’s. She shook her head slowly. “I think she would have come back to you anyway,” she said. “She wanted to so badly.”
“You made her feel like she could do it, though,” David insisted.
Cadie conceded the point, shrugging slightly and smiling. “I love her,” she said softly. “That makes everything possible. For both of us.”
David nodded. After a few seconds silence, he dug into his pocket and pulled out a small jewelry case. “We, uh … we wanted to give you both something to mark the day,” he said. “We know you picked out your wedding rings, but these …” He opened the case carefully, exposing two rings. One was a woman’s engagement ring, an emerald slightly darker than Cadie’s eyes, set on a simple rose-gold band. The other was a man’s signet ring, though it was slender enough to look good on a woman. “These we thought you could wear as well as the wedding rings,” David continued. “My father gave them to us when we were married,” he explained.
“If they don’t fit, we can always get them resized,” he said hastily, aware he was just filling air in an effort not to be embarrassed.
“They’re beautiful.” Cadie picked out the signet ring and looked more closely at it. Inscribed on the gold shield was one word – Madison. She glanced up at David, who was watching her closely. “Do you mind if I choose this one?” she asked.
David was surprised, but he could suddenly see the symmetry of her choice. “Of course not,” he replied. Part of the family. Nice.
Cadie put the ring back in its case, next to its partner and closed the lid carefully. “Please thank Maggie for me,” she said, and she reached up and kissed her father-in-law on the cheek.
“No worries,” David said hoarsely.
Jo felt about 50 pairs of eyes boring into her. Which wasn’t surprising, considering she was currently the center of attention. All the partygoers had crowded around the cockpit of the Seawolf, though some, by necessity, had spilled onto the other boats. Jo stood with Paul, and the marriage celebrant, Marilyn, as they waited for Cadie.
“Nervous?” Paul asked, a grin splitting his face from side to side.
Jo was about to answer him when she spotted the look on his face. “Oh, you’re loving this aren’t you?” she said, slapping his shoulder affectionately.
“You bet,” the tall man agreed. “How often do we get to see Jo Madison, monarch of the seas, flustered?”
“I am not flustered,” Jo objected, pushing a lock of her hair back behind her ear. “I just want to get started, that’s all.”
“Well, here’s your chance, skipper,” Paul said, nodding in the direction of the companionway. Cadie emerged into the sunshine and Jo immediately forgot about every other person onboard.
Perfect. She looks just perfect, Jo thought, as she reached out and took Cadie’s offered hand. Gently she pulled the blonde closer and Cadie smiled up at Jo.
“Hello,” she said softly.
“Hello,” Jo replied. “You are beautiful.”
The low voice curled around Cadie’s senses and magically settled her nerves. She felt herself blushing under Jo’s frank appraisal. “Likewise, darling,” she whispered back. “Are you ready for this?”
“Oh yes,” came Jo’s reply, with no hesitation. “Marry me.”
“Happily,” Cadie answered.
They turned together to face Marilyn, who had watched the quiet exchange with a knowing smile. The murmuring around the central group settled into an expectant silence. Jo felt Cadie’s hand squeeze hers and she changed her grip, entwining their fingers as they waited for the celebrant to begin.
“Welcome everyone, to this very special celebration for our friends, Jo and Cadie,” Marilyn began. “They have chosen a variation on the traditional hand-fasting ceremony to express their love and commitment to each other. It is very much a ceremony of their own design, but incorporates symbols which have been passed down through centuries of similar rituals.”
Between Marilyn and Jo and Cadie was a small round table. On it were two candles, each one lit, and one larger, much taller candle, which was still unlit. In front of the candles was a long, wide, purple ribbon, on which sat the two wedding rings.
“Jo, Cadie, please take the wedding rings.” The women reached forward and took their own gold bands, holding them in the palms of their upturned hands. “We have come together here in celebration of the joining together of Jo and Cadie,” Marilyn continued, lifting her voice so all on board could hear. “There are many things to say about marriage. Much wisdom concerning the joining together of two souls has come our way through all paths of belief, and from many cultures. With each union, more knowledge is gained and more wisdom gathered. Though we are unable to give all of this knowledge to these two, who stand before us, we can hope to leave with them the knowledge love’s strengths and the anticipation of the wisdom that comes with time. The law of life is love unto all beings. Without love, life is nothing, without love, death has no redemption.”
The celebrant paused for breath and Jo felt the quiet peace around her. She glanced at Cadie and found an expression of utter contentment on her partner’s face. Like an angel, Jo thought, drinking in the love that shone from Cadie. At that moment the blonde looked her way and smiled.
Cadie let the happiness well up inside her. She and Jo had spent many hours searching for the right words for their marriage ceremony, and when they had finally found a combination they both loved, all their nerves had dropped away. Instead there was nothing but anticipation. And now, feeling their friends and family becoming absorbed in the words and the meanings behind them – it felt perfect to Cadie.
“Marriage is a bond to be entered into only after considerable thought and reflection,” Marilyn continued. She looked up and beyond the immediate circle of Jo, Cadie and their parents. “Jo tells me that she had known Cadie about three weeks when she asked her to marry her.” There were grins all around the yacht. “But after watching these two over the past 10 months or so, I think I can safely theorize that they have done most of their reflection over the course of many lifetimes together.”
There were agreeing murmurs and ‘hear, hears’ from the watching crowd and both Cadie and Jo blushed.
“As with any aspect of life, marriage has its cycles, its ups and its downs, its trials and its triumphs. With full understanding of this, Jo and Cadie have come here today to be joined as one.
“Others would ask, at this time, who gives the bride in marriage, but, as a woman is not property to be bought and sold, given and taken, I ask simply if they come of their own will and if they have their families’ blessing.”
Marilyn turned to Cadie.
“Cadie, is it true that you come of your own free will and accord?”
“Yes, it is true,” she replied, with a quick smile at Jo.
“With whom do you come and whose blessings accompany you?” the celebrant asked.
Stephen and Helena stepped forward slightly and stood behind Cadie’s left shoulder.
“She comes with us, her parents,” said Stephen. “And she is accompanied by all of her family's blessings,” said Helena.
Marilyn turned to Jo.
“And you, Jossandra, is it true that you come of your own free will and accord?”
Jo tried to speak but emotion clogged her voice, suddenly. She cleared her throat and then replied.
“Yes, it is true,” she husked.
“And with whom do you come and whose blessings accompany you?”
This time it was David and Maggie who stepped forward to stand behind their daughter’s right shoulder. Jo held her breath for a moment, realizing that this was the ultimate acceptance back into the family she had abandoned so long ago. Cadie squeezed her hand gently.
“She comes with us, her parents,” said David, in a clear, strong voice. “And she is accompanied by all of her family's blessings.” Maggie’s voice wavered with emotion, but there was no mistaking her happiness. Jo exhaled softly.
“Jo, Cadie, please face each other and join your left hands.” Marilyn waited as the two women did so, their eyes locked on each other. “Above you are the stars, below you is the water, and below that again, are the stones. As time passes, remember ... Like a stone should your love be firm. Like a star should your love be constant. Like water should your love be fluid and adaptable. Let the powers of the mind and of the intellect guide you in your marriage. Let the strength of your wills bind you together. Let the power of love and desire make you happy, and the strength of your dedication make you inseparable.
“Be close, but not too close. Possess one another, yet be understanding. Have patience with one another, for storms will come, but they will pass quickly. Be free in giving affection and warmth. Have no fear and let not the ways of the unenlightened give you unease, for your gods are with you always.”
Jo heard a small sniffle from somewhere behind her and a quick glance told her that Helena was dabbing at her eyes as Stephen wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
“We’re making your mother cry,” she whispered conspiratorially.
A twinkling green gaze smiled back at her. “Yours too,” came the answering whisper.
“Jo,” Marilyn continued. “I have not the right to bind you to Cadie. Only you have this right. If it is your wish, say so at this time and place your ring in her hand.”
Jo’s voice was steadier this time.
“It is my wish.” She gave Cadie the ring they had selected for Jo.
“Cadie, if it is your wish for Jo to be bound to you, place the ring on her finger.”
Cadie changed her grip on Jo’s left hand and gently slid the gold band into place on her lover’s ring finger. She ducked her head and kissed it.
“Cadie, I have not the right to bind you to Jo. Only you have this right. If it is your wish, say so at this time and place your ring in her hand.”
“Oh, it’s my wish.”
A soft chuckle broke out among the crowd at Cadie’s tone and Jo grinned as she took the ring.
“Jo, if it is your wish for Cadie to be bound to you, place the ring on her finger.”
Jo did so, doing as Cadie had done and kissing the band softly once it was in place.
“Jo and Cadie have written their own vows, which they will now exchange,” Marilyn said, stepping back a little and letting the two women have the floor.
They had decided earlier that Jo would go first, but now that the moment had come, she was completely tongue-tied. Their left hands were still clasped and Cadie pulled them closer till she could kiss Jo’s knuckles.
“Want me to go first?” she whispered.
Jo cleared her throat and then shook her head. “No. I’m okay.”
“Time to ‘fess up, Jo-Jo,” came a playful call from the back of the crowd, breaking the tension.
“Quiet in the cheap seats,” Jo retorted, grinning at her friends.
“Aye, aye skipper.”
“Oh, shut up.” It was a welcome relief and reminded Jo that she was surrounded by people who loved her. She took a deep breath and turned back to Cadie, drawn in once more by the warmth shining from those sea-green eyes.
“There are an awful lot of things I’ve done in my life that I’m not proud of,” she said quietly. Immediately, the murmuring and laughter around them settled back into attentive silence. “I never felt like I deserved to be loved the way you love me. But when you arrived in my life it was like you laid me bare. I couldn’t resist you.” She smiled at the slowly rising blush that colored Cadie’s cheeks. “You have taught me so much about trusting again. About recognizing true love. About letting myself be loved.” A tear slipped from Cadie’s right eye and Jo reached up and gently caught it with the pad of her thumb. “I have some promises to make to you.
“You already know that I will love you forever.” They smiled at each other. “But there is more to this than that, isn’t there?” Cadie nodded. “I promise to listen to you closely, and speak to you honestly. I promise not to expect perfection from you, nor to demean you, or take you for granted. I will hold your welfare equal to or greater than my own, and I vow to put our relationship first, above all things. And I will thank you in my heart every day, for giving me back my life.”
Cadie couldn’t speak for several seconds after Jo finished. They hadn’t shared their vows with each other before the ceremony and Jo’s had come as a revelation. She knows exactly what’s important to me, Cadie thought. She reached up and touched Jo’s cheek, smiling tearily.
“You’re welcome, my love,” Cadie said softly. “My turn, I guess.” Jo nodded.
Cadie took a deep breath. “When I met you I was in a very bad place,” she began. “I had lost sight of so many things in my life – I didn’t really know who I was anymore, or where I was meant to be going. And then you appeared, like magic.” She smiled, the joy radiating out from her. “You are my beacon, Jo. You led me home.” Now it was Cadie’s turn to brush a tear from Jo’s cheek. “I have promises to make to you, too. I promise to treat you, always, with loving respect. I promise to mend my own mistakes, and forgive easily. I promise to defend and support you. I will walk beside you on our path, but I will not try to choose for you, nor ask you to make my decisions for me. And I will also thank you in my heart every day, for giving me back my freedom.” Her voice cracked on the last word, and her own tears spilled over once again.
There was hardly a dry eye on board the three yachts, and the sound of quiet sniffling came from every direction. Jo and Cadie leaned towards each other until their foreheads touched, and they basked in their connection.
Even Marilyn, a veteran of touching moments, was forced to wipe her eyes before continuing. She leaned forward and picked up the purple ribbon. Jo and Cadie turned back towards the celebrant and reached out with their clasped hands. Marilyn draped the ribbon over their hands.
“I bind Jo and Cadie to the vows that they each have made.” She wrapped the ribbon around their hands three times. “However, this binding is not tied, so that neither is restricted by the other, and the binding is only enforced by both their wills.”
With their free hands, Cadie and Jo picked up their respective lit candles.
"Your separate lives are symbolized by the separate candles you now bear,” Marilyn said. “As you join their flames to make one flame, know that at that moment you are willingly joining your lives forever. Is this what you wish?"
“It is,” Jo and Cadie said together.
“Then so be it.”
They tipped their individual candles together until the flames merged and then lowered it down to light the big candle in the middle of the table. As the wick flickered into life, they both spoke.
“Heart to thee, soul to thee, body to thee.” They replaced their individual candles and turned to each other. “Now and forever.”
As they kissed, finally, their hands still bound, applause and cheers broke out around them. But Jo and Cadie were largely oblivious, lost in the depths of their connection. Not even the meowing of a large black cat as he wove between their feet and bumped against their shins, could distract them from their own, private, celebration.
Jo closed her eyes and let her head fall back as the heat of the newly-risen sun began to sink into her bones. Behind her, at the top of wooden steps she was sprawled across, was a luxurious cabin. It was raised on stilts above the still, clear waters of a large lagoon, which lapped, tantalizingly, at the bottom step. In front of Jo there was nothing but empty sea and the shimmering sun.
Jo felt wickedly contented. Tired, but contented, she thought. She and Cadie had arrived at the resort late the night before and by mutual consent they had done little more than collapse into bed and fall asleep in each other’s arms. Plenty of time for exploring our little world here, Jo had decided as she drifted off.
She leaned back on her elbows, which rested on the deck. With one hand she pushed her sunglasses back up her nose, the sunlight glinting on the ring her parents had given her. Jo gazed at it. That was a pleasant surprise, she thought. I’ve always loved this ring. Cadie had produced the small jewelry box as they were climbing into bed and Jo had thought it absolutely fitting that Cadie had chosen the signet ring. She fingered the emerald setting of her mother’s ring absently. And now I have a constant reminder of Cadie’s eyes, even when she’s not with me. Jo smiled.
Cadie emerged from sleep slowly and rolled towards Jo’s expected warmth. The realization that there was an empty space in the bed brought her fully awake. It took a few seconds of blinking at the unfamiliar surroundings for her to remember just where she was. The thought brought a small smile to her face.
Cadie sat up in bed and looked around the small, but luxurious apartment. Everything was open plan, the large bed dominating this part of the space, the walls lined with bookshelves filled with classic literature. To her right was the living area, comfortable seats sitting on a glass panel in the floor that allowed the occupants to watch the wildlife swimming under the cabin. A large plasma screen television nestled against the far wall and beyond that again was a large, well-appointed bathroom that included a huge bath that overlooked the lagoon.
Mmmmmm, my parents rock, Cadie decided as she took in her surroundings. I’d heard about this place but I never thought we’d get the chance to come up here. It had taken over an hour in Bill’s chopper to reach the exclusive resort which was north of the Whitsundays and priced to exclude all but the world’s rich and famous.
Cadie stretched and caught sight of a familiar dark head and torso poking up above the level of the decking outside. The bedroom and its decking were shielded from the other cabins sprinkled around the lagoon by two large rattan dividers, affording this side of the hut complete privacy. Cadie therefore had no qualms about slipping out of bed and padding, naked, out onto the deck.
She slid in behind Jo, spreading her legs on either side of her partner’s long torso. Jo’s hair was up in a loose bun and Cadie took the opportunity to kiss the nape of her neck softly.
“Hello wife,” Jo purred, dropping her head back until it rested on Cadie’s shoulder.
“Mmmm, I like how that sounds,” Cadie whispered, dropping more kisses on any exposed skin she could find.
“Me too,” Jo agreed.
Cadie’s arms wrapped around Jo’s waist and her hands traveled north, cupping Jo’s breasts playfully. “Aren’t you rather overdressed, wife?” she murmured close to her partner’s ear, even as one hand slid under the strap of Jo’s swimsuit and slipped it off her shoulder.
Jo shivered involuntarily even as she laughed softly. “Probably,” she answered. “I didn’t really think about it to be honest. I just got up and put the suit on.” She reached up and kissed Cadie’s cheek. “I’m more than happy to take it off for you, though,” she burred.
Cadie chuckled, recognizing the tone of Jo’s voice for what it was, a blatant come-on. Grinning, she decided a little more teasing was in order.
“Oh, I don’t know, I could go for some breakfast,” she said playfully, as her fingers continued to tease Jo. “By the way, how do we get food?” she asked. “We don’t seem to have a kitchen.”
Jo was finding Cadie’s wandering fingers incredibly distracting and she groaned. “Um, we just call room service, and a little man comes out in a boat from the main island,” she finally said, trying to ignore the wide grin on Cadie’s face. “You are a wicked, wicked woman.”
“And you love it,” Cadie confirmed.
“No question.” Jo wriggled out of Cadie's grip and stood up. She turned to face her partner and Cadie was treated to a silhouetted vision as the rising sun formed a halo around Jo's lean and shapely figure. The blonde leaned back on her elbows.
“You are beautiful,” she said breathlessly, gazing up at Jo, whose features were in shadow, though her smile was evident.
“Mmmm, you're biased.”
“And you're still beautiful,” Cadie retorted, long used to Jo's strategies for deflecting compliments.
Jo continued to smile as she reached up and let her hair down, allowing it to spill across her shoulders. Cadie sucked in a long, slow breath, loving every minute of the show her lover was putting on. Jo slipped the other strap off her shoulder and wriggled seductively out of her swimsuit, letting it pool around her feet. Cadie groaned.
“You know,” Jo said casually as she dropped to her knees between Cadie's legs. “That privacy thing could come in very handy.” She leaned forward, sliding her body over the blonde's torso. “If we wanted to, we could make love, right here, on the deck.”
Cadie felt the tingles from the tips of her toes to the top of her head as Jo ducked down and began dropping slow, sensuous kisses across her neck and breasts.
“We could do that,” she murmured, wrapping her legs around Jo's hips and pulling her closer. “But I know for a fact that that big bed in there is a lot softer and easier on the bones than this.”
Jo's mouth claimed hers in a searing kiss that made Cadie forget everything but the heat they were generating, quite apart from the sunshine beating down on them both. Her hand slid up into Jo's hair, tangling in the long, silky locks. Jo moved against her and soon they were rocking and sliding together in a sweaty, sensual tangle of limbs.
“Then again,” Cadie gasped once Jo's lips found another target. “We do have a week. I guess ... oh ... uh, I guess we could make love on every square inch of this place if we w-wanted to.” She arched as Jo teased a particularly sensitive spot. “God, woman.”
A throaty chuckle came from somewhere south of Cadie's navel.
“Jo, darling, we're going to get sunburned in the most wicked ... p-places,” Cadie reasoned dreamily. Not that she was feeling in the least bit rational at that moment. Far from it. In fact ... a surge of passion claimed her and Cadie felt herself slipping into a blissful oblivion.
Jo made a decision and took a firmer grip on Cadie's body, using her powerful legs to push them both upright. She paused for a few seconds to regain her balance as they threatened to topple backwards into the ocean, but then she surged up and forward, walking them across the deck and through the open sliding glass door, into the cool shade of the bedroom.
Cadie kissed her deeply as Jo carried her inside. Her skin felt like it was on fire and all she wanted was to fall into bed and ravish this gloriously sexy woman until they had exhausted themselves. Jo turned so her back was to the bed and then dropped slowly. Cadie had a vague sense of just how strong her new wife was and then suddenly she was astride those slim hips and gazing down into impossibly blue eyes.
They were both breathing heavily and for a few seconds they gazed at each other.
“I don’t ever want to stop feeling like this,” Jo whispered.
“We don’t ever have to, Jo-Jo,” Cadie replied as she rested on her hands. Jo’s hair was splayed across the pillow and Cadie didn’t think she had ever seen anything as entrancing. “We can do this forever. I’m yours forever.”
Nothing will ever beat this feeling, Jo thought, mesmerized by the deep love shining out of Cadie’s eyes. Nothing. “And I’m yours, my love. Now and forever.”
“Now and forever.”