For complete disclaimers see part 1.
If you’d like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
Come visit me at: www.coloradobardsplace.com or my publisher at: www.pdpublishing.com
Michael could feel the sweat dripping down his temples, and used the back of his arm to wipe it away before it stung his eyes. He looked over what he had achieved already. Five logs or major branches had already been drug from the jungle, laid out upon the beach for examination by the Texan. He had a visual in his head of what he thought would make the raft stay together this time, and was bound and determined to make it work.
“You gonna actually use a second tie this time?” Dean asked, strolling into the beach, doing one of his twice daily teeth picks with the bone from their dinner.
“Fuck off, fairy boy, unless y’all plan to help.”
The attorney chuckled, continuing on his way to the waterfall. “Whatever, red.” Feeling something warm and grainy seep into his shoe, Dean stopped, bending down to examine his shoe. “Ah, damn.” He could see his pinky toe wiggling through the small hole in the loafer. Grumbling to himself, he marched off to take his daily bath, passing Mia and Rachel on the way.
“Wonder who started his tighty whiteys on fire,” the author muttered, making the girl giggle as she led her off to the far side of the beach so they could talk. In the three days since Denny had told the blonde about Gloria being a fan of her work, she had thought a lot about Mia, and if it would make things better or worse to tell the teen. Ultimately, she decided she should tell her. “Want to sit?”
“Sure.” Mia sat, crossing her legs in front of her and resting her arms on her knees. She didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Rachel by herself, so was surprised when the blonde asked her to take a walk with her. She liked Rachel, as like Denny, she was young enough to be somewhat close to the teen’s age, but was old enough to gain her respect and admiration. Plus the two women were really cool!
“It’s hot today,” Rachel commented on, watching a sea bird diving for its lunch.
“Yeah. I can only imagine how hot it is back home.” The girl rolled her eyes at the thought of the hot, humid nights. At least here they had the breezes rolling off the ocean to cool things down.
“Are you a reader, Mia?” Rachel asked, not sure how to bring the subject up. She felt like she was trying to throw her name around, and felt slightly embarrassed doing so.
“Yeah. I used to read from time to time. Not half the reader my mom was, though.”
The perfect opening Rachel needed. She swallowed before asking the next question. “Did she have a favorite author?” She couldn’t look at the girl, feeling like she was manipulating her.
“Oh, yeah! Rachel Holt. Hands down.”
The author couldn’t help the slight shiver of pride, but it passed quickly as she realized it had to come at the price of a dead woman. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah.” Mia smiled, remembering the hours and hours her mom had spent reading all those books, many more than once. She looked at the blonde sitting next to her, only to find herself staring into intense green eyes. “Why?”
Rachel looked away, wishing she didn’t have to do this. “I like to know people enjoy my books, Mia.”
The girl sat there, confused. What? She stared at her friend’s profile, dark brows drawn as she tried to understand what Rachel was saying. Wait. Rachel. Blonde hair. Young. No way. Mia shook her head, not sure whether to laugh or be angry at the audacity of Rachel to make such a claim. The blonde met her gaze once more, never more serious. “You’re trying to tell me,” Again, Mia shook her head. “No way, Rachel.” Despite the girl’s protests, she once again looked into the green eyes, suddenly seeing them in black and white, as well as short hair, which Rachel had when they first landed on the island. “No way,” she breathed.
Rachel nodded. “Yeah.”
A hand flew to Mia’s mouth, eyes open wide as she studied the author, not sure what to say or think. Instead of doing either, she pushed up from the sand and ran off into the privacy of the jungle.
“Shit.” Rachel popped up, turning to run after her. “Mia!” She could hear the girl’s muted sobs as she followed the well-worn path through to The Rock. “Mia, stop, please!”
Mia stopped at the water’s edge, her tears nearly blinding her as she thought of her mother’s admiration for the author, and the way she went on and on about her work, and wondering what kind of person Rachel Holt was, and what she was like.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she yelled, hearing the blonde break through the trees behind her.
“I didn’t tell anyone who I was, Mia. Denny recognized me. I had no idea about Gloria, I swear.” She walked over to the girl, dark brows knitted in troubled thought. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you, honey. I just wanted you to know that your mom’s loyalty to my work means a great deal to me, and I’m very grateful for it. That was all.”
Mia, still crying nodded, understanding. She allowed herself to be pulled into a warm embrace, her head resting upon Rachel’s shoulder. “I can’t get over the irony,” she said at last, followed by a sniffle. “My mom would crapped her pants if she realized her beloved Rachel Holt was on the plane with us.”
Rachel smiled, gently caressing the back of the girl’s head.
“When did Denny know? Why didn’t she tell me?”
“She spotted me when she got on the plane. I don’t know. I guess she was trying to respect my privacy, which I’m grateful for. I don’t need all that crap, Mia. I’m just me, just Rachel, and I happen to love to write stories. We had enough to deal with here, without buzzing about who I was.”
Rachel’s voice was so soft, so calming, Mia found herself burrowing even further into the blonde woman’s arms. She loved to listen to Rachel talk, always had. The author had such an aura of peace and calmness about her that you couldn’t help but be affected by it.
“If we ever get back home, can I have you autograph one of my mom’s books for me?”
“Of course, honey.”
Mia grinned, pulling back just enough to look into caring green eyes. “I can’t believe one of the people I care about most is a famous author.”
Rachel smiled warmly, brushing strands of dark hair off tear-streaked cheeks. “I’m just me, Mia. No better, no less.”
“I’ll have to tell my mom about this, tonight when I pray to her.”
“Tell her I said hello.”
Mia laughed, taking the author into another hug.
“Hey, Monk,” Tony Smith called out, seeing his boss walk into the hangar. Crew and mechanics at Davies’ Hangar used the pilots childhood nickname: Monk, short for grease monkey.
“Hey, Smitty. How’s it hangin’ today?” The blonde mouthed the words the mechanic said every time she used that greeting: straight and slightly to the left. “Walk into that every damn time.” She made her way to her office to use the phone. Keller had called her over the radio while the blonde pilot had been up in her Cessna, so she promised to call her when she got in. “Hey, baby. What’s up?” Garrison plugged her other ear to try and hear around the ruckus of a drill across the hall in the hangar. “What?” She nodded as she took in the words, broken up from a bad connection on Keller’s cell phone. A quick good bye, and Garrison flopped down into the chair behind her desk, whipping off the doo-rag she’d been wearing to cover her blonde hair, fluffing it with her hand.
So Keller had found them a seaplane. A G21-A Goose, to be exact. A vintage plane made in the last year of World War II. It seated six, plus seats for pilot and co-pilot. If they needed the room at all, Garrison hoped it would be enough. They’d been working on their plan for a month, using what time they had between jobs. Summer was the most busiest time for the pilots and their cargo business, but Keller was determined, so Garrison supported her on it. After all, the blonde started the whole thing a year ago.
Grabbing a pencil out of the coffee cup on her desk that held a small army of them, she twisted it in her fingers as her mind began to wander. Only one of them would be flying to Florida, where they’d pick up the Goose. Many years ago they promised that they’d never fly together, unless Parker were with them. If something happened, and a plane went down, Parker would not be orphaned again. After Parker and Keller’s mother was murdered years ago, and their father, an evil beast, was put behind bars for the crime, the Mitchum sisters, who had taken Garrison’s name of Davies, had no one but each other and Garrison. The three of them had formed a bond stronger than anything the blonde had ever known, especially after losing both of her own parents.
That great love for Keller and Parker, whom they both saw as their daughter, had driven Garrison to help Dean in the first place, and then continue when their searches had proven fruitless. She also knew that same love was what kept Keller determined to finish, no matter what the outcome.
They planned their final search mission for the last weekend of July, Garrison flying it as Keller would be out of town on her own flight, and the blonde was free. The spots on the map where they had yet to peruse were too far away for the Bell to safely search and return to land, and Keller would be using the Cessna. They had decided to call in a favor from Duke Wingom, a long-time friend and flying peer of Garrison’s. He had agreed to fly with her, as she was shaky on seaplanes, having only flown one a few times.
Sighing, she returned to work.
“Everyone move together!” Denny grunted, the weight of her end of Michael’s raft nearly unbearable. She could see from everyone else’s face that they were struggling, too. “Jesus, Michael! Did you use an entire forest?”
The Texan grinned, then glanced over his shoulder to make sure he wouldn’t trip as he stepped back into the water. He felt a small wave break on the backs of his legs, and knew they’d start getting bigger and stronger. “Set it down,” he instructed, feeling they were in deep enough water that the raft should float on its own. A round of relieved groans sounded with the splash of the heavy raft hitting the surface of the water. They all watched with baited breath, the raft bobbing on the oncoming waves. Michael climbed on top, the oar he’d carved from branches in hand. Soon Dean and Mia followed suit.
“I think they’re going to kill themselves,” Rachel muttered, stepping up beside Denny, their arms touching. The brunette nodded absently, amused as she watched the three try and get their paddling in sync. “I talked to Mia yesterday, about her mom and I.”
Denny looked over at the blonde, catching her profile before the wind whipped long, blonde strands around her head. “And?”
Rachel tucked the strands behind her ears, meeting the blue gaze. “She was upset, but then we talked, I mean really talked, about Gloria, Mia’s fears of going home. She doesn’t have a father, Denny. The only people she has are her great grandparents in Italy, and she doesn’t want to live in Italy.”
The brunette sighed, brushing her own hair out of her mouth. “I’ve thought about that. Hell, I’d be willing to take her in.”
“Yeah. I’ve got the room at my place, and I could even give her a job at the shop.” She shrugged. “It’s not much, but it would keep her somewhat close to home, I guess.”
“Poor kid. She’s such a sweet thing. I’m actually impressed with how well she’s handled all this. She seems like a sheltered girl, somewhat naïve.”
Denny nodded in agreement. “I know.” Before she realized what she was doing, an arm had snaked around Rachel’s waist, pulling the author against her as they continued to watch the three drift further out, Michael’s deep voice barely able to be heard barking out orders to the other two. Rachel stepped into her personal space, moving to stand in front of the brunette, arms wrapping around her neck. She rested her head on Denny’s shoulder, sighing heavily at the feel of the brunette against her, the warmth, the softness.
Denny lowered her nose to Rachel’s neck, inhaling her scent, forgetting herself, and where they were. The warmth of the blonde’s bare stomach pressed against her own, only two thin cotton layers separated their breasts. She closed her eyes as she felt warm breath against her sensitive neck, causing a shiver to travel up her spine. Soon the breath was replaced by soft lips. The brunette sighed at the sensation, one of her hands coming dangerously close to the top of Rachel’s sarong, her fingers itching to slide underneath.
Rachel started when she heard cat calls, her head whipping around to see Dean making less than gentlemanly gestures, and Michael whistling around two fingers.
“Oh, god,” the blonde buried her face in the chuckling brunette’s neck. “I’m sorry.” Denny hugged her close, placing a soft kiss on the top of her head.
“Come on. Before we get knocked over by a wave.”
“You okay?” Rachel asked, her voice soft, as she climbed up onto the ledge. Denny, who lay on her back, an arm over her eyes, nodded. “Another of your headaches?”
“Yeah.” When the brunette had lost her contacts in the plane crash, the eye strain of the past year and some change had played havoc on her head. She suffered almost weakly headaches, sometimes bad enough to make her physically sick.
“I’m sorry, Denny. Want me to leave you alone?”
“No.” One blue eyes peeked out from under her arm.
“Okay.” The author settled next to her, brushing some hair from her face and studying her with concerned eyes. “Can I do anything for you, honey?”
“A cool rag?”
Denny closed her eyes again as she heard her friend scamper away. She hadn’t realized just how much Tylenol meant to her until she had none. They were all lucky, as no one had been sick or hurt badly enough to require serious medicines, but the brunette was plagued by these horrendous headaches, and she was so tired of it. There was very little she could do, save try and sleep or lie in utter blackness and quiet. She’d left dinner early that night, bidding everyone a good night, then slipping away to the ledge to suffer in peace. Truth was, she was glad Rachel had sought her out.
“Here we go,” the blonde said, as though bursting forth from Denny’s thoughts. Denny gasped at the coolness that was laid across her forehead, gentle fingers cool against her pain-heated skin. “How’s that?”
“Better. Thank you.” Denny closed her eyes, the sudden cold causing the pounding to become worse for a moment before the blood vessels began to relax slightly, calming to a marching band inside her skull, rather than an atomic bomb exploding again and again.
“Do you want me to go, Denny?” Rachel asked, gently caressing the brunette’s arm.
“No. What were you writing? Before you ran out of paper,” Denny smiled weakly.
“A novel. I finished it in my head. Actually, still writing it.”
Denny listened to Rachel’s voice, the soft, soothing tones affecting her like it did Mia, the sound having an instant calming affect, making Denny want to relax and listen. She did, listening to a novel about strangers, trapped on an island. She smiled, listening to the characterizations of the six of them, including the antics that Dean had pulled over the endless days. Denny tried to stop herself from laughing outright at the mention of the fictional character’s own private pleasure device struggles.
Rachel spoke, enjoying talking about her tale, her fingers running over the soft skin of Denny’s arms. Her voice never broke as she smiled, noting how the brunette turned her arm over, silently encouraging the blonde to caress the sensitive, pale underside of the limb. The skin was unbelievably soft.
Denny sighed, the exquisite touch filling her with such pleasant sensations, once in awhile sending a shiver down her spine. Between the touching and soft voice and story, and was almost able to forget about the pain in her head.
Rachel paused for a moment, her fingers touching the cloth covering the brunette’s head. “How are you feeling?”
“Better. Just don’t stop. I love listening to you talk. Have you ever considered reading books on tape?”
Rachel smiled. “No.” She leaned down and placed a soft kiss on Denny’s damp hair. “Shall I continue?”
“Please.” Denny leaned into the touch as fingers left her arm, only to resume their stroking in her hair. She loved to be touched by this woman. As Rachel continued her tale, weaving her story, as well as discussing details of it, almost as though she’d forgotten Denny was there altogether, though her fingers continued to play in the thick, dark hair. Denny knew the questions posed weren’t for answering, but just simply the blonde’s mind at work. She was enthralled to hear the thoughts and questions slowly mutate themselves into ideas, then visions, then scenes, and finally they were smoothed over to fit into the story, molded and gently squeezed around the edges until they were seamless.
Rachel was lost in the world she knew so well, and felt most comfortable in. A world of her own making, a work in her own head. The world of creation. She had no worries of what people thought of her, or how they may complain or try and pick apart her story. In the world of creation, she was the boss, she made the decisions, and she could make things beautiful. Denny was entranced.
The blonde grunted slightly as she pushed herself down to her side next to Denny, her thigh brushing the side of the brunette’s. She held her head up as she continued. “I’m thinking of calling this ‘Lost In Paradise’.”
“I like that,” Denny smiled, eyes still closed. The pounding in her head had lessened substantially, making her want to kiss Rachel in gratitude. “Will you take it to your publisher?”
“I don’t know.” Rachel shrugged a shoulder, her hand moving from Denny’s hair to rest on her naked stomach. A larger hand covered it, entwining their fingers. “This may just be for me. Not sure yet.” Finished with her tale, she grew silent, studying Denny’s features. “You know, you are truly the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.” The blonde’s voice was soft, almost in awe. “Truly,” she said at the blue eye that studied her. “It’s just amazing.” Rachel shook her head slowly in wonder. “I think someone sculpted you.”
“Stop!” Denny protested as loud as she dare. “You’re making me blush.” Her eye closed and she heard a light chuckle.
“Not trying to. I thought that from the moment I laid eyes on you on the plane.” Soft fingers brushed over softer skin on a forehead, trailing down prominent cheekbones to a proud jaw. “I have an artist friend who I bet would love to paint you.” Her whispered words flew straight into Denny’s heart, warming her from the outside in.
“You are a silver tongued devil,” Denny whispered, the slightest up curve of her lips showing her pleasure at Rachel’s words.
“That I am. But this devil speaks the truth.” Rachel leaned down, placing the softest of kisses to the brunette’s lips, just a brush for emphasis, then she was gone. She was silent for a few moments, pushing herself up to a sitting position again, nudging Denny to lay her head in her lap. The brunette grimaced slightly, the movement unsettling her easing headache. “Relax,” Rachel whispered, fingers finding her temples, and gently massaging, which initially hurt, but eventually began to ease the pressure in Denny’s head.
“That feels good,” Denny whispered, sighing in relief at the magic of Rachel’s cool fingers.
“I’m sorry you hurt,” the blonde whispered back. “I wish I could take it all away.”
“You are,” Denny sighed. She brought an arm up, snaking it around one of Rachel’s thighs, fingers lazily playing with the prickly skin she found there. It made Rachel slightly self-conscious.
“I can’t wait to shave,” she said, her fingers changing their position just slightly, still massaging the delicate bones of Denny’s face.
“Your rag is getting warm. Want me to refresh it?”
“Yes,” Denny said as she shook her head no, making the blonde grin, bemused. “Don’t want you to move. I’m comfy. Yet my head feels like it’s boiling.”
“I’ll be right back. Then you can have the best of both worlds, ‘kay?”
“’Kay.” Denny moaned in discontent as Rachel slowly slid out from underneath her, almost purring at the blonde’s return. Again, she gasped as the cold rag was placed across her forehead, Rachel inching it down so it covered her eyes, too. “Ohhh, that’s nice.” She turned her head, lips almost touching the blonde’s naked stomach.
“How are you doing? Need anything else?”
“Just keep talking,” Denny murmured. “Your voice is so calming.”
“You want to hear something crazy?” Rachel paused, looking out over the darkened night. “I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this out loud.” She paused again, running resuming her gentle combing of Denny’s hair. “There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to go home. I mean, sure, I miss all the comforts of home, I miss Reenie, and even Matt. But,” sighing heavily, she looked down at the woman who lay in her lap. The brunette’s breathing was even and slow, her body relaxed in sleep. Rachel smiled, leaning down and placing a soft kiss on slightly parted lips. “I don’t want to leave you guys.”
Going, going, almost gone… gone. Will sipped from his wine, one leg crossed over the other as he sat on the Italian leather sofa he and Dean had bought together three months before his partner boarded the doomed flight. Reaching to the table across from the couch, he grabbed the bottle, pouring what was left of the expensive red into his glass.
Had he done the right thing? Too late now, for certain, but it plagued him. Coming home from Reenie’s loft almost two months ago, he had stared at Dean’s picture for a long time, memorizing every single little detail of the man’s face, remembering the sound of his laugh, his voice, the way he smelled. He had to smile, even now, remembering the attorney’s aversion to anything dirty, or what he felt to be unsanitary. Even at the club, when they’d go play racquetball, Dean refused to talk barefoot in the locker room, his ever-present slippers there to cradle his feet.
The sun was going down, not only on the day, but also on the summer, a summer Will had prayed would bring joyous news, or at least some sort of closure. The other day he saw ads on television for school supplies; always the first indication that fall was, indeed, on the way. Another holiday season without Dean, the second of many to come. Truthfully, Will wasn’t so sure he could handle it again. Sure, he’d put on a happy, smiling face, even his Christmas bow-tie, but those closest to him knew better. Will never was a good liar. After all, Dean was the attorney, not him.
The wine had ceased to taste like anything anymore, the strong drink frosting Will’s brain, dulling his senses, but making his thoughts sharper, pain more acute. Alcohol was funny that way. Perhaps he should switch to something stronger.
Mind trailing back to Reenie’s loft, Will remembered the look on Keller’s face when he told them they were finished, would not be continuing the search. Hell, she’d looked almost more crestfallen than the architect had felt. He really needed to do something spectacular for the pilots. They’d put so much heart into the searching, not taking money for anything more than fuel and maintenance of their flying machines. Real troopers. He often wondered what Dean would think of the ladies, grease monkeys, both of them. More than once Will had seen a smudge of the black goo on Garrison’s cheek, and definitely the girls’ hands were more calloused than all the men in Will’s entire architectural firm put together. Though Dean would have turned his nose up at their rough and sometimes unkempt appearance, Will thought his partner would like those two.
Sighing heavily, Will continued to drink his wine.
Lizbeth Vinzetti hummed an old Italian lullaby her mother used to sing to her almost eighty years ago. She could recall her mother’s lilting voice singing to her nine kids, all hiding during the bombings in World War II. At twelve, Lizbeth had been second to the oldest, and she and her older sister, Rose, had been expected to help care for the other seven. Those had been hard times.
She had already vacuumed her granddaughter’s small apartment, trying to help as she knew Gloria worked so hard all day, working at the courthouse all day, then at night time she worked part-time at the diner. The young woman was even considering taking on a third job. Though she tried to say it was because they could use the money, Lizbeth knew better. Her Gloria was trying to not think, work herself to an early grave. The elder Vinzetti knew the trick all too well. When she and Paolo had lost Gloria’s mother thirty years ago, Lizbeth thought she would die right along with her. Somehow she needed to convince her granddaughter that life does march on, no matter how hard it’s fought. Gloria would not win.
Part humming and part singing the words, Lizbeth held the picture in her hands that she had found in the drawer. Smiling at the beautiful face of her great-granddaughter, Lizbeth placed the picture in its place of honor among the other family photos, arranging them so Mia would have a prime spot.
Lizbeth smiled, knowing they’d go through the same routine tomorrow. When Gloria got home at an ungodly hour, she’d put Mia’s photo away, and the next day Lizbeth would bring it out. She wasn’t going to let Gloria forget. She couldn’t let her forget.
Tiffany looked out the window as she sipped her morning coffee. She was trying to hard not to be angry, but her emotions were starting to get the best of her, starting to take over her rational, ultra logical side. It had been almost eight months, eight months! She promised Hannah she’d be patient, that she understood the researcher had to deal with all the radical changes in her life. She promised her she’d be there for her, support her, and be her friend first, girlfriend second.
Eight months ago. Valentine’s Day had been their first kiss, and Tiffany was fine with that. She’d kept the holiday a low-key event, not pushing anything onto Hannah that she wasn’t ready for. It had been nice, flowers, a nice dinner, a moonlit stroll. They had done a lot of talking that night, their dreams and hopes, what Hannah planned to do with her life now that she was suddenly a me instead of an us. When Tiffany had dropped the enigmatic brunette off at her house, she’d been surprised when Hannah had leaned over across the car, giving her a soft, yet wonderful kiss. Tiffany had responded, but all too soon it had been over.
Time had marched on, as it does, and Hannah was still somewhat remote, keeping Tiffany at a chosen distance. Understanding could only go so far, and the accountant was starting to plain run out. If Hannah wasn’t over Denny’s death, fine! Then don’t drag the redhead into the mess.
Last night Hannah had opted to spend the night, a first time event. Tiffany had been surprised but elated. She hoped it would be when she would finally be able to show Hannah how she felt about her, that she was serious about her and wanted to give them a chance. They’d kissed, Hannah had even placed the accountant’s hand on her breast, outside her tee shirt, but it was something. The accountant had started to get into it, her body on fire when suddenly Hannah had stopped her, apologized, then quickly tugged her jeans on and left.
Another sleepless night. Tiffany had tossed and turned, weary and emotionally exhausted. She’d been a fool. The thing is, as angry at Hannah as she wanted to be, she couldn’t quite muster up the energy to get past the anger at herself. She should have known better. It was time for her to really evaluate this, decide if it was worth it anymore. She didn’t think Hannah was trying to play with her emotions, not at all. But she did think Hannah had bitten off more than she logically thought she could chew. She should have given herself more time, more time to grieve and truly put Denny’s memory to rest.
When everything had been final, the sell of DiRisio’s complete, and the shop emptied, Hannah had cried in Tiffany’s arms for hours, questioning herself, and wishing she hadn’t acted to rashly. She had explained that for her, it was the only way to move on with her life, she needed to not see Denny at every turn. Perhaps seeing Denny at every turn was what the brunette needed.
“Hell, I don’t know,” Tiffany whispered, sipping from her coffee, watching as the paperboy rode by on his bicycle, tossing a large bundle at her front lawn.
Jennifer Dupree sat in the idling car, waiting. Her grandmother had sent her to pick up Conrad from his weekly counseling session. Her little brother had always been a handful, but one word or look from their dad, and the kid had straightened right up. Grandpa was a lot like their dad was, but it seemed to make Conrad rebel that much more. Maybe he felt Grandpa was trying to take their father’s place.
The sixteen, almost seventeen, year old’s fingers tightened around the steering wheel. She’d been so nervous to take Meredith Adam’s car, but the teenager’s mom’s car, which would be hers, was still in the shop. Her grandparents were having it painted for her for her seventeenth birthday, coming up in September. She was glad, and couldn’t wait to have her own car, though every time she got in she wanted to cry. She and her mom had been so close, and Jennifer could still see her mother’s sparkling eyes and hear her boisterous laugh.
Resting her head back against the seat, she began to daydream about her parents. It had been one year, one month and nineteen days. The only daughter of Michael and Melissa Dupree had been keeping a calendar since that day, only used for that, marking off the days with a red x. She missed them terribly. Her mother had started to teach her how to wear make-up, Jennifer finally allowed at fifteen. Her dad, the big ol’ dork that he was, had been pacing out in the hallway outside the bathroom, glancing in from time to time. The girl had asked her mother what his problem was, and Melissa had explained that he didn’t like the fact his baby girl was growing up.
Jennifer looked into the rearview mirror, studying the face that looked more and more like her mom’s. She had her hair color, her eye color, but her dad’s height. He had been a big man, strong and sturdy. A hug from him had been like nothing else in the whole wide world. Jennifer smiled at the memory, how warm and comforted he could make her feel. Yet, oh boy! If you made him angry… wow. Her father always made her think of that country song by Holly Dunn:
Were soft and kind when I was crying
Were hard as steel when I’d done wrong
Weren’t always gentle but I’d come to understand
There was always love in Daddy’s hands.
That was her father to a tee. She could see his big smile, so handsome with his Stetson on.
“Hey, dork. Why are you crying?”
Jennifer was startled out of her daydreams by the voice of her brother and slam of the car door. Quickly wiping at her tears, she sniffled and got the car started.
“How was your appointment?” she asked, carefully looking in all her mirrors and over her shoulder before merging into traffic. She’d only had her license for nine months, and was still slightly nervous. Especially with a passenger in the car.
Conrad shrugged. “It was okay, I guess.”
Jennifer could tell her brother didn’t want to talk about it, so dropped it. “Grandma is making a big dinner for Alan’s visit,” she said conversationally.
“Don’t be such a jerk, Con. They’re just trying to do right by mom and dad.” She glanced over at the boy, who refused to look at her, growing body slumped against the door.
“Yeah, well, they’re not mom and dad, and never will be.”
“Good luck, baby,” Keller said against Garrison’s lips.
“Thank you. I love you.” Turning to the back of the Cessna, Garrison reached around and squeezed Parker’s knee. “Love you, honey. Have fun today.”
“Thanks!” the teen gushed, happy to be flying with Keller. That was one great thing about summer vacation. Ignoring the other two women again, she turned back to her laptop, writing frantically on her newest story, this one a whole fifty pages!
“I love you, too.” The brunette watched as her partner climbed out of the Cessna, Duke Wingom waiting for her. “Call me and let me know what happens!” she called out. “I should be home by nine tonight.” She smiled at the blonde’s salute, then returned the blown kiss.
“Hello, Monk,” Duke said, slapping his fellow pilot on the back. “Good to see you.” He led her toward the hangar, where the G21-A Goose was already fueled and ready to go. They stepped into an office in the large hangar, Garrison shrugging out of her backpack and unzipping it to pull out the map.
“This is where we’ve been so far,” she explained, pointing to all the red marked areas I’m thinking here,” she ran her finger around in a circle on the smooth paper. This is our last shot, so we’ve got to make it count.” She met the grizzled man’s gaze, watching as he stroked his salt and pepper beard, brows drawn in deep thought.
“What’s your plan to get there?” Duke listened as Garrison explained her strategy to him, as well as the figures she’d made for fuel and time, the older pilot nodding his head in understanding and agreement. His mind began to wander back to a flight he’d taken with his uncle years ago, just the outline of a memory, so faded over time that he wasn’t even sure if it hadn’t been a dream. He shoved it into the back of his brain, focusing instead on what the blonde was saying.
Denny groaned slightly as she tried to move. Her headache may be gone, but now she had a whole new ache to keep her company throughout the day. Her back was screaming at her from sleeping on the hard stone all night.
“I thought those grass mats were bad,” she muttered, eyes blinking open. It didn’t help with the extra added weight, either. Rachel was lying practically on top of her, head tucked under the brunette’s chin, one hand tucked under Denny’s shoulder, the other resting on her upper chest. Dark brows drawing, Denny noticed something else, too.
Glancing down, she saw the side of Rachel’s breast, where it was pressed against her stomach. The other side produced the same result. Why the hell is Rachel half-naked? This thought led to another: it felt wonderful. Her hands, which had rested on the slight waist, began to move, wanting to feel the smooth skin of the entire expanse of the author’s back. The skin was warm, unbelievably soft. Rachel sighed in her sleep, her upper body adjusting slightly atop Denny’s as the fingers ran up her spine, making her body tingle. The brunette closed her eyes again, allowing her fingers to do the walking, a textile journey. Her fingers tips grazed up and over slightly pronounced shoulder blades, gently pushing blonde hair aside as they danced across the back of a neck, the smaller body beneath them shivering slightly as they passed. Soft smile graced Denny’s lips at that. Her fingers continued on, over smooth, strong shoulders, down the warm skin of Rachel’s sides, ribs, barely brushing the sides of soft roundness before returning to the spine.
Rachel slowly rose to the surface of wakefulness, sighing at the sensation of being touched. She kept her eyes closed, just allowing the feelings to stream through all of her nerve endings, making her shiver. The hand that had been wrapped around Denny’s shoulder began to move, fingers squeezing and massaging the skin, letting the brunette know she was awake, and very okay with the exploring fingers. For a brief moment the blonde panicked, remembering she was topless, having used the material for Denny’s cool rag. She quickly shoved embarrassment aside as the magic fingers spread out into warm palms, running all over her back, gliding down to her hips before returning up towards her neck and shoulders, then coming dangerously close to the sides of her breasts.
Denny sighed at the feel of soft lips against her upper chest, where Rachel’s head lie. Her hands grew bolder, her mind filled with only sensation, nothing else mattered at that moment. She felt the soft material of the cotton sarong wrapped around Rachel’s hips, her finger daring to brush slightly underneath, making the author gasp slightly in surprise, which was quickly followed by a soft, almost sighed moan. Large hands cupped the blonde’s behind, feeling the muscles underneath tense in response.
Rachel lifted her head and upper body, resting on her elbows as she pulled herself up so her face was level with the brunette’s. Without thought, without a single stream of conscience, she leaned in, taking Denny’s mouth in a kiss that deepened quickly, her nipples hardening as they brushed against the material that still covered the brunette’s.
“Oh, Rachel,” Denny whispered into her mouth, hands sliding up Rachel’s back and curving around until she reached between their bodies, cupping the blonde’s breasts.
“Oh, Jesus,” Rachel gasped, arching her back as her head raised, eyes closing as Denny’s palms pressed against her nipples. Her entire body burst to life, every fiber of her being alive and buzzing. She exhaled shakily as lips and tongue were applied to the column of her exposed throat, her arms trembling as she tried to hold herself up against the onslaught of sensation.
Denny had never wanted anyone so badly as she wanted Rachel Holt in that moment. The taste of the blonde’s skin was exquisite, the texture and weight of her breasts, the feel of her wet heat through the thin sarong she wore. She wanted to make love to her, needed to make love to her. She knew now there was no way she could resist this, what was happening between them. She’d been blessed with a second chance in a situation that otherwise could have been seen as a tragic curse. She’d be a fool to let it pass, when chances were good she’d never step foot home again. This was her life now, so why deny her body and heart?
Gently pushing Rachel to her back, she leaned over the blonde, looking into her face, such a beautiful, beautiful face. She ran the backs of her fingers down the side of the author’s cheek, over her jaw, and finally down the side of her neck. Her gaze drifted down over the blonde’s face, following the path her fingers had just made until finally she took in Rachel’s breasts. Not the first time she’d seen them, but they were more beautiful at that moment than ever before.
“You call me beautiful, but I don’t think you look at yourself,” she whispered, looking into Rachel’s hooded gaze as her fingers inched toward the round underside of a breast. “Your so amazingly gorgeous, Rachel, inside and out. So wonderful. So soft.” She leaned down, placing a soft kiss on waiting lips. “Thank you for last night,” she murmured.
“Any time. I hated seeing you in pain.”
“For now,” Rachel smiled, hand weaving its way into thick, dark hair, gently pulling the brunette closer.
“And I’m telling you I think you’re out of your mind,” Mia said, glancing over her shoulder at Dean who scowled behind her.
“You don’t think I have ears of an eagle?”
“No, I don’t.”
“And why not?” he stopped mid-step, hands on hips.
“Well,” the girl laughed, “mainly because I’m not quite sure eagles even have ears.” She laughed harder as Dean stomped past her, grumbling to himself about what he heard. “Come on, Dean,” Mia jogged to catch up with his longer stride. “Don’t do this to yourself again. I think you heard what you want to hear.” Her voice had softened, not wanting to hurt him, but trying to be honest.
Dean stopped, feeling that in his heart, though he knew the girl hadn’t meant it that way. Stopping again, he turned to look at her. “Do you really think that’s what I’m doing? Playing tricks with myself, hearing things?”
“I don’t know, Dean, but I just don’t want to see you get so upset again.” She placed a hand on his shoulder, leaning up to place a soft kiss on his cheek. “Come on. Pam ordered us to get her some water, so let’s get her some water.”
Garrison looked out the side window, headset firmly in place as she watched their tiny shadow move along the waves, then turned to her co-pilot.
“I can’t believe how differently she handles than my Cessna.”
Duke grinned, nodding, his response tinny in her headphones. “Different animal, entirely. I’m actually surprised Davies’ doesn’t have a seaplane.”
“Dad wanted to get one years ago, but it just didn’t work out. We do pretty well with the Bell, Cessna and Herc, though I’m wanting to possibly expand and bring in a few sea-faring vessels.”
“Well, aren’t you just the little entrepreneur?”
Garrison chuckled. “Hey, I’ve got college to pay for, soon!”
“Om on, eice o it!” Michael muttered around the ‘knife’ held between his teeth. Polished wood with razor sharp reef tied on. He squeezed powerful thighs around the tree to free both hands, reaching up and grunting as he tried to dislodge the stubborn group of cocoanuts. Finally he gave it a good whack with his fist, watching in satisfaction as they fell to the ground below. Grinning with the tool between his teeth, he looked like some sort of psychotic serial killer.
Turning to the other side of the tree, and the goodies it had to bear, the Texan stopped, cocking his head to the side as he listened. What was that? Like … like …, a swarm, bees? Locusts?
Climbing higher, Michael strained his neck to try and see above the tree tops. He cried out as he started to slip, fingers digging into the bark as his thighs tightened. Heart pounding, the mechanic resumed climbing, determined to get a look out to sea, or the sky.
“Any time now would be just peachy!” Pam hollered, the morning catch already beginning to sizzle. She sent Dean and Mia out on a simple errand of getting fresh water, and Michael was to supply cocoanut milk. How hard was it? Climbing to her feet, the veterinarian was prepared to launch an all out fit when she stopped, turning toward the ocean. “What is that?” bringing a hand up, she shielded her eyes from the intense overhead sun, still squinting against the shade. A buzzing, like an annoying mosquito…
Duke veered off to the left, following the flight pattern they’d registered before leaving that afternoon. They’d gotten a later start than he’d wanted, but such was the life of a pilot. He felt like he was entering the memory that had been so elusive when Garrison had arrived. Familiar, something niggling at him. What was it? What was he trying to remember? On instinct, he veered slightly off their decided path.
“What are you doing?” Garrison asked, noting that Duke was heading them west. She saw the drawn brow and deep lines of the pilot’s tanned face.
“I don’t know. Something, I feel like there’s something out this way. I think I remember, something…”
Trusting her old friend, Garrison turned back to the window, grabbing the radio to call in their new co ordinance.
Rachel’s head fell back as she felt fingers inching closer to her breast, her nipples straining with arousal, desperate to be touched by Denny. About to grab the brunette for another earth-shattering kiss, she paused, ears straining.
“Wait, Denny, wait,” she pushed up, holding herself up on her hands.
“What is it?” Surprised, the brunette also pushed herself up to her knees.
“Wait, listen.” If the blonde could have perked her ears, she would have, brows drawn, eyes looking absently around as she tried to concentrate fully on her sense of hearing. “Hear it?” she asked at length, gaze landing on Denny.
“I don’t-“ Denny stopped herself, suddenly … yes, yes, she …. Jumping to her feet, she looked around, turning in a circle on the ledge. She was joined by the blonde, who was quickly tying her top into place. Both their gazes settled out to sea.
“Oh my god.”
Michael nearly fell out of the tree in his haste to get down, forgetting about the prize he’d fought so hard for as he ran headlong toward the beach, powerful body pumping as fast as it could go. Once he broke through the trees, he saw Pam standing at the water’s edge, standing stock still, arm raised to shade her eyes. The Texan stopped mid-beach, eyes glued to the sky.
“Oh my god!” Duke cried out, startling his co-pilot, making what would normally be a dangerous turn, but he didn’t care. He was an experienced pilot and knew what he was doing. Garrison, so caught off guard by his unusual carelessness nearly started screaming her head off at him, but then she saw it, and then she saw them.
“They see us! They fucking see us!” Dean was nearly tripping over his loafers as he ran out of the jungle, throwing the cocoanut shell full of water to the ground, Mia right behind him. “Hey!” he yelled, waving his arms frantically, half yelling, half crying as the beautiful glint of steel and glass in the sky was heading straight for them. “They see us!”
Mia was crying as she ran to join Pam and Michael, throwing her arms around an equally sobbing Pam. They began to jump together, not sure what to do first.
“What’s happening? Oh my god,” Denny breathed, breaking through the trees, Rachel beside her. They watched as if in a daze as the seaplane made several spins high above the island, coming in closer each time, getting low enough to make a landing.
Garrison was beside herself, tears streaming down her face as she tried to telegraph what they were seeing through the radio wires. Her voice was shrill and almost couldn’t be deciphered.
“We found someone! Oh my god, we found someone! Lots of someones!”
The six islanders stood together in a huddle, mixed emotions flowing through each as they watched the white and blue plane make a graceful landing on the ocean surface, taxiing over to them.
Denny felt Rachel’s hand take her own, and she squeezed it back. “I can’t believe they found us,” the brunette whispered, her voice thick with emotion.
“I know.” Rachel couldn’t decide if she was happier than she’d ever been in her life, relief washing through her and threatening to erupt in a windfall of emotion, or if she was scared. She thought of the life she was going back to, as well as leaving the family she’d made. And she’d have to leave Denny.
Dean fell to his knees, his emotions taking him over, unable to control himself. He could no longer see, his vision a solid sheet of tears. He heard the propellers and engines winding down, then the squeak of doors opening, and a woman’s voice.
“Ahoy, there!” Garrison stood on the floater above the wheel, waving an arm at the stunned group that watched from the beach. She jumped into the water, which reached her waist, sloshing her way toward the beach. The closer she got, the more she could tell these people had been there for awhile, but obviously weren’t natives.
Mia was steadily crying, holding on to Pam for dear life. She couldn’t think, couldn’t feel anything but ultimate relief, and the belief that maybe her mother had been right all along, and there was a God.
“Hello!” Michael called out, hurrying into the surf to grab the small pilot in a massive, bone-crushing hug. “Jesus, god are we glad to see y’all,” he whispered into the sweetest smelling hair he could recall.
Garrison couldn’t keep her own emotions under wraps, looking up at the big man with tears in her eyes, which spilled down her cheeks at the look in his eyes.
“We thought y’all forgot all about us,” he whispered, voice choking on the last word.
“Why are you here?” the pilot asked, hope in her gut.
“We was all on that flight that went down,” his brow scrunched in thought. “What day is it?”
“It’s July 30, 2006.”
“We been here for more than a year?” he asked, eyes wide.
“You guys were on flight 1049?” Garrison asked, bursting into tears at his nod. “Oh, Will,” she cried, throwing her arms around his neck, feeling his arms wrap around her waist. “you were right.”
Denny wiped at her eyes again, though it didn’t seem to help, as immediately her vision was sliding all over the place again. She watched as Michael led the pilot to the beach. The blonde looked at them all, unable to believe what she was seeing.
“All of you?” she asked, meeting six pairs of eyes, and matching nods. “What are your names?”
“I’m Denny DiRisio, this is Rachel Holt-“
Garrison’s eyes got huge, Reenie’s face popping before her. “Oh god,” her hands went to her mouth, fresh tears threatening to fall.
“Mia Vinzetti,” Denny continued, surprised when she saw the blonde hurry over to the girl, wrapping her in strong arms.
“Oh, honey,” Garrison cried, unable to control herself now. “Oh, honey,” she said again. “Someone is going to be so happy to see you.”
Mia clung to the stranger, crying even harder at the thought of going home, finally going home. “I’m excited to see my grandparents, too,” she managed. Garrison sniffled, shaking her head as she pulled back just enough to look into the girl’s dark eyes.
“No, honey. Oh, Mia, your mom is waiting for you.”
“What? No,” Mia shook her head, heart breaking all over again at having to say it out loud. “My mom was on the flight with me.”
“Gloria Vinzetti? No, Mia, she survived,” Garrison clutched the girl’s arms, shaking her slightly for emphasis. The blonde heard fresh sobs around her at the news.
“Oh, Sweets!” Dean took the girl from Garrison’s grip, holding her close to his chest as the girl sobbed, sliding in Dean’s grip. Garrison felt like Santa Clause, looking into the eyes all around her.
“Who else do I have here?” She looked at Michael, then at Dean and Pam. “Anyone here related to Milton Bryce?” she saw she had no takers, so began to list off a few other names she could think of, still no takers. “Will Ash?”
Dean’s head popped up from where it had been resting against Mia’s. “Will?” he said, the name like a balm on his tongue. The pilot looked at him, hope in her green eyes. “Will Ash? Have you seen him?” He pulled away from Mia, the girl taken into Pam’s arms. As though walking in a dream, the attorney walked over to Garrison, who looked up into his eyes, filled with profound hope returned.
Taking a gamble, and praying with everything in her that she was right, Garrison placed a hand on his arm. “Are you Dean Ratliff?” At the nod she got, Garrison’s face broke into the biggest smile Dean had ever seen. “Oh, Dean,” she whispered. “Because of you we’re here.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, tears slowly leaking out of red-rimmed eyes.
“Will never gave up hope of finding you. We’ve been searching for you since September.” She reached up, taking the slight man into a warm embrace, letting him cry on her shoulder.
“Are we going home?” he whispered. At the pilot’s nod, Dean finally was able to let go of the grief and fear, loss and isolation. Garrison held him, whispering to him, telling him all about how much Will loves and needs him.
Denny was sobbing, almost numb on sensation overload, her heart feeling like it was about to explode.
“Garrison?” Duke stepped up on shore, meeting the blonde’s gaze. He felt bad interrupting, but they had pressing business. “We’ve got storms moving in. We need to get moving.” The pilot looked at each of the survivors, tallying mentally in his head the fuel they had left and added weight of six adults. Making a decision, which he knew Garrison wasn’t going to like, but had no choice. “We can take half of you today, and come back for half in the morning.”
Garrison looked at him, surprised, but then her years of experience took over. She knew Duke was right, sighing sadly as she pulled away from the attorney, facing everyone. “He’s right. We can’t chance the weight in getting back safely.”
“I’ll stay,” Michael said, stepping back. “Let the girl and Dean go.” He motioned toward Mia and the attorney, who looked at him with ever grateful eyes.
Duke nodded his approval. “One more.”
“Go,” Denny said, turning to Rachel. The blonde shook her head.
“No. Not without you.”
“Please go,” Denny leaned her forehead against the blonde’s, eyes closed. “Please.” She needed to break this now, make it hurt less later. “Please just go with them.”
Rachel threw her arms around Denny’s neck, hugging her with everything in her. Eyes squeezed shut, she breathed in the brunette’s scent, memorizing everything about her. Finally she released Denny, looking to the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. She looked inside the brunette’s soul, and saw herself reflected back at her. Nodding at what they dare not speak, she placed a soft kiss on Denny’s lips, then let her go.
“I’m going to miss you,” Pam said, hugging Mia close. “I’m so happy for you, honey. So, so happy.” Holding the girl by the shoulders, she smiled, amazed at the light she saw shining for the first time in those dark eyes. “Goodbye.”
“Thank you, Pam. For everything.” Mia leaned in close. “Tell your daughter you love her,” she whispered in the older woman’s ear, then was gone.
Denny tried to keep everything in as she watched the goodbyes, seeing Mia walking over to her. “I will never forget you,” the girl said, taking the taller woman in her arms.
“You won’t have to,” Denny whispered, squeezing Mia tight. “I promise we’ll have that mocha breve someday, you and me.”
Mia nodded, giving the brunette one last squeeze before letting her go. She studied the sad blue eyes. “Denny?”
“Follow your heart.” The girl nodded over to where Rachel was saying her goodbyes. Denny smiled, sheepish. If only the girl understood how hard it really was.
“Go home and tell your mom hi for me, okay?”
“Oh, I will!” Mia was filled once more with the knowledge that her mother was alive! She no idea how, but she didn’t care. Nothing mattered except that she was alive.
“Alright, red, you’re finally free of me,” Dean said, grinning up at the large man. Michael chuckled.
“Yeah. Maybe we’ll find some peace on this damn island.”
Dean laughed, almost giddy with his unrivaled excitement. He extended a hand, watching as the Texan looked down at it, then before he could breathe, Dean was pulled into a bone-crushing hug.
“You take care of yourself,” Michael said, feeling Dean nod.
“You, too, big guy.” Dean stepped out of the hug, hand still on Michael’s shoulder. “Go take care of your kids. They need their dad.” Michael smiled with a nod, having no idea just how he was going to tell them their momma was dead.
Michael, Pam and Denny stood back, watching half their family board the small plane, Garrison giving them one last thumbs up before the powerful engine and propellers rocked the stillness of the day.
Denny could see Rachel sitting next to a window, the blonde’s face pressed to the glass, eyes on her. Denny raised a hand, which she saw the author do the same.
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