Authors: Rc Bonitz,Harris Channing,Judy Roth
This book is a work of fiction. All characters and locations are strictly products of the author's imagination. All rights reserved.
I want to honor my preview readers Nancy Bowley, Linda Avellar and Joy Smith who offered many wonderful comments on this book. Also, many thanks to my long time editor, Judy Roth, who always makes my writing better. And my cover designer, Harris Channing, who I just met on the Net and will be working with again. Many thanks to all.
The enticing aroma of fresh baked muffins and roti filled the shop as Lissey pulled the last of the mango cakes from the oven. As always, she'd started baking before dawn's light appeared, but wouldn't officially open the sun faded green doors of the shop until seven thirty when her mom came in to help. A handful of local fishing captains awaited her wee hour presence long before seven and that was fine. Their day began as early as hers and she felt a certain kinship with them. Except for Peter.
Today she just had to take a walk to burn off her frustration. The third bloody time last night, would Peter never give up? How many ways did she have to say no before he got the message? Her father too, ever helpful matchmaker Daddy trying to serve as a go between.
She plopped her apron on the counter, left the door open so Lavinia could get in, then set off toward the docks. It was a beautiful morning, the Caribbean sun low in a golden summer sky and the sea a glistening gem with very little swell. Tourists would flock aboard the ferry today so they'd be busy at the shop.
Passing Mumford's Book and Souvenir shop, (owned by Patti, another expatriate) and Caesar's Marine Store (he was at least sixty and married or her father would be pushing her at him for sure), she was quickly on the docks. Most of the regular fishing boats went out at dawn, but Peter's sport-fisherman hadn't budged. He couldn't be waiting for her answer? After two rejections he thought he had a chance? He was nowhere to be seen though, thank goodness. She dreaded facing the big oaf this morning when he put in an appearance.
A curtain of sadness swept through her heart. Saying no to Peter meant the end of his dreams and her own as well. Interesting men were not plentiful on Little Casque Island. Great Casque as well, she had met just about everyone there at one time or another. Body, mind, and spirit were infected with fatigue; twelve years of thirteen-hour days, seven-day weeks were quite enough. A move back to the States had to be better than the life she had on Little Casque, but that would mean abandoning her mom and dad, leaving them to survive on their own. Which would not be bad if her father would stop playing at being a fisherman and put a little effort into making a real living.
She'd probably end up working in a fast food restaurant if she moved back to the States. That was all her experience and education qualified her for. She sighed. There'd be no guarantees either, not when it came to finding her Prince Charming. On the other hand, she'd had the sex life of an amoeba since Ramon departed in the wee hours so long ago. She shook herself. Enough with the self-pity, she would not let her feelings run amok. She just needed a vacation. A couple of weeks in the States with her sister would do just fine. Yeah right.
A sailboat bobbed quietly at the gas dock. An unusual looking boat it was with complicated cruising rigging, bags and equipment lashed to the deck, and a sleek modern hull more likely to be used in round the buoys racing. A solar panel and a wind generator were mounted on the stern rail and the boat had that kind of rumpled tired look of a well-traveled live-aboard.
The hatch slid back a tiny bit as she was about to hail the boat, then slid back a little more. There was life aboard the live-aboard. The hatch-board disappeared below and a child stuck his head out, caught her eye, and smiled. About six years old, he put a finger to his lips and climbed out on the deck.
"Hi," he said softly. "Daddy's sleeping."
She assumed that meant she shouldn't wake the man but that wouldn't do. She was the harbormaster as well as a shop owner and his daddy had to move that boat. People needed access to the gas pumps, especially early in the morning. The man also had to supervise the child or else the mother did.
"Your daddy needs to wake up. He has to move your boat," she told the child and then noticed he wore no life jacket. Some parents were so lax with their kids. What if he fell overboard? "You need to find a life jacket."
He stuck his lower lip out in a pout. "I can swim."
"You need to wear one. It's the law," she insisted.
The hatch slid open all the way and a sleepy-eyed male head appeared, flaming red hair askew. "What's going on Emma?" he mumbled.
Emma? The child looked like a boy, with a boy's haircut and clothing. Emma, definitely a girl's name. Oh well, to each his own. "Your daughter has no life jacket. You need to put one on her."
He yawned and rubbed his eyes. "Emma's a good swimmer. She doesn't need one."
"It's the law. You need to move this boat too." Anybody who spent much time on the water knew gas docks were sacrosanct. They had to be kept clear. Docking there was like parking beside a gas pump on shore.
"After breakfast," he muttered and turned to go below again.
This man was so lackadaisical, arrogant, something. Inconsiderate, that was the word. "You can't cook at the gas dock."
"I know that," he shot back and came up to stare at her again, this time quite alert.
"Life jacket, no cooking, move the boat," she said, her temper rising. She got this attitude all the time, men who tried to slough her off because she was a woman.
"You got any other demands you want to dump on us this morning?" he growled, his brow creasing in a frown.
She thought for one brief second he was angry, but then he seemed more exasperated than anything else. Then she noticed something else, a look she'd seen many times before. She'd been right. He intended to ignore her; it was in his eyes, in the set of his jaw. Raging male chauvinism once again. She groaned. He thought he was so superior. Well, he picked the wrong woman to try that attitude on.
She drew herself up to her very imposing five-foot-six inch stature and gave the man her fiercest imitation of a scowl. "I'm the harbormaster. You better pay attention."
He blinked and broke out in a genuine smile, then emerged from the hatch and stepped on deck. A tattered pair of cargo shorts was all he wore, revealing a barrel chest and lots of sculpted muscles. Took her breath away, he did. He was still a jerk though.
"Sorry, Cap'n," he said. "We'll move right away. If you'd like to tell us where to move to?"
She almost said, "Call me Master, not Captain," but didn't want to push her luck. As long as he did what he was told. "Dock C. There are two empty slips. Take your pick. Then come up to Lissey's to register and pay up." Official pronouncement completed, she brushed a wandering tendril of dark auburn hair out of her eye and turned on her heel.
"Lissey's? Where's that?" he called after her.
She wheeled back around to face him. "At the end of the dock, just past the bookstore. The coffee shop."
"They serve breakfast?"
"Breakfast and lunch."
He nodded, still smiling. "No dinner?"
"You want the Sea Horse Grill for that." She started to leave, then remembered one more thing. "Your daughter needs a life jacket too."
"She can swim half a mile without breathing hard," he insisted.
"That doesn't matter. It's the law."
"How far can you swim?"
The nerve. He wouldn't be such a smart-ass to a man. She drew a deep breath before she trusted herself to speak. "That has nothing to do with this."
"I think you should wear a life jacket when you're on these docks. You might fall in," he said with a self-satisfied smirk.
Blast the man. "These docks are my front yard. I'm on them all the time."
"This deck is Emma's yard. She's on it every day," he said, eyes boring into hers.
What did he not understand about what she'd said? He was probably right about his daughter but the law was the law. His attitude was for the birds. Drawing another deep breath to give her temper time to settle, she measured out her words. "Every time I see her without a life jacket it'll cost you twenty-five dollars. Consider this time a freebie and a warning."
He raised an eyebrow. "Are you the welcoming committee on this island? Chamber of Commerce rep?"
Lissey frowned. What kind of a question was that? Sarcasm she did not need. The bloody man was getting to her and she was letting him. How childish was that? She swallowed the bile that rose in her throat. It was time to calm down, get control. "No. I told you, I'm the harbormaster."
"Oh yeah, that's right. You had me confused there for a minute," he muttered. "Emma, start the engine. I'll tend the lines."
"I'll free up your lines," she offered. He wanted the child to operate the boat? The man was a danger to society. And to his child as well.
"Thanks, but we don't need you," he snapped.
Frustrated, she stood stock-still and watched as the child turned on the blower to ventilate the bilge, waited, properly, for any fumes to clear, then started the motor. Impressive. Young Emma could give lessons to some of the locals.
"You're not going to let her drive the boat," she said, not really believing her eyes as the little one put the boat in gear and the man freed the lines from the dock.
He didn't bother to respond.
In a few seconds they had cleared the gas dock without a fuss and the child relinquished the wheel to the man. Expecting the mother to appear on deck any second, Lissey watched them head for C dock.
Lissey ambled up the path back to her shop. This had started out to be a good day, at least when she'd rolled out of bed. Before she'd seen Peter's boat still on its mooring and Mr. Live-aboard opened his big mouth. She sighed. A vacation in the States seemed quite appealing at the moment. Then it dawned on her. Why didn't Emma say mommy and daddy were sleeping? Why did she only refer to her daddy?
Excitement seized Lissey as her curiosity came to life. Where was that child's mother? And why did that man dye his hair? The red was clearly artificial and did him no favors. He had strong features, a nice firm chin and lovely brown eyes, but that hair didn't go with his coloring or those dark eyebrows that stood out so prominently on his face. They'd look far more natural if his hair was dark too. She'd bet that was his natural color. There were secrets on that boat, there had to be. Why did Emma look like a boy? That was part of it too. Lissey giggled just a little bit. She would get to the bottom of this or she wasn't the harbormaster.
A light breeze whispered through the open shutters and the temperature showed signs of being comfortable. Elegant old ceiling fans rumbled into life when Lissey threw the switch on the wall, majestically rotating just enough to aid the gentle whiff of wind coming off the water. Wiping down the round glass topped tables in her shop a little later while her mother loaded her baking efforts into the display cases; Lissey abandoned her musings and glanced up as the bell over the door tinkled.
Arriving simultaneously, they almost collided, but Mr. Live-aboard backed off to let Peter enter first. Apparently the man had some manners, or perhaps Peter's massive bulk intimidated him. He and Emma headed for the menu board posted on the wall beside the door. Peter made his way to her. Oh Lord, was he going to do this in public?
"Morning Peter. You're late getting underway this morning I see," she said for want of something better to discourage him.
"That don't matter none."
She nodded, wanting more than anything to end this conversation before it went any further.
Smiling sheepishly, Peter shoved his hands into his jeans pockets with his thumbs protruding like a pair of horns. "This is a special day," he volunteered.
"It seems very ordinary to me."
Hint, hint, Peter, take it and leave so I don't have to embarrass you.
Mr. Live-aboard had cocked an ear in their direction, paying close attention to their little discourse.
Peter's face turned a bit more crimson than its normal sun bronzed tan. "Did your dada tell you what I said?"
"Yes." She wiped down another table.
"I uh…I'll take good care of you, I promise. I'm fixing up the cottage on the beach. It'll be real nice when it's done."
She turned to face him. There was no other way to deal with this, no way to protect his feelings. "Peter, I gave you my answer last time you proposed. Nothing's changed."
He frowned, then brightened. "You haven't got a new boyfriend or anything though, right?"
"No Peter, I don't. That makes no difference. I don't love you." She spoke more sharply than she'd intended, but Peter's stubborn refusal to accept reality just set her blood to steaming, and being mad at him made her mad at herself. And at the world in general, including Mr. Live-aboard unfortunately. Had she been nasty to that man this morning? Oh gosh. Well, she couldn't deal with that problem at the moment. One thing at a time. Peter had a good heart after all. If only he had a few smarts and a little romance to go along with it.
He nodded. "I'm a patient man. Someday you will." He jerked his head toward the breads and pastries in the display case beside the register. "I'll take three rum cakes, two liverwurst sandwiches, and a jug of coffee." He held up the battered thermos she filled for him each morning.