Terrors of the High Seas
After a brief instant of utter, complete shock, Dar reacted. The muzzle of the rifle had just pointed it’s evil hollow at her when she moved, grabbing Kerry out of pure instinct and throwing her down to safety.
The sound of the shot deafened her. She felt a hot scorching feeling across her cheek, then she was diving for the deck herself as she scrambled for something, anything to put between her and the gun.
Her hands hit the legs of a chair and she rolled over, pulling the chair up and over her head. Another explosion nearly ripped it out of her hands, and splinters of wood flew everywhere. She felt a sting along her neck and she turned, then arced her body up and whipped the remainder of the chair in the direction of the gunfire.
She heard the sound of it hit, then another shot blew through the roof of the cabin. Dar took the chance and got up, focusing her vision on the rest of the room. She spotted the guard pulling the chair parts off his arms, and searching for her, and knew she only had seconds to take advantage of it.
The table was between them. Dar leaped forward and jumped onto the table, launching herself off it as the guard yanked his gun around in her direction. She let out a yell as his finger curled around the trigger, and he jumped slightly, just enough to give her time to crash full into him.
Kerry hit the carpet and rolled, the breath knocked out of her. She heard the gun go off and her guts clenched, until she caught a flash of motion coming from where she’d last seen Dar. She’d fallen close to the side door and her eyes suddenly captured an image of DeSalliers face as he watched in puerile fascination, one hand on the door and the other readying his escape.
Anger inside her erupted. She scrambled up and headed for the doorway. He spotted her and turned to escape, but Kerry leaped at him and caught his leg as he almost vanished out the door. She got a grip on his calf despite his struggles and whipped her body around, getting her feet against the doorway and pulling him back with all her strength. “Get back here you bastard!!!”
He screamed something at her, and kicked hard, but Kerry had her arm wrapped around his leg and she reached up with her other hand and grabbed his belt. She braced her legs and yanked, using her thigh muscles to push with.
With a curse, he stumbled over her and crashed back into the cabin. Kerry rolled over and pounced on him, her temper getting the better of her as she went wild, hitting at whatever bit of flesh she could get a hand on. All the anger that had been building up the last few days came out, and she ignored his attempts at grabbing her as she struck at him again and again with both fists.
The guard was a big man. Dar had her arms around his throat, and she hooked a leg around the arm he was holding the gun with. Arching her back, she pulled the gun around and released one hand to grab it, twisting sideways as he screamed and cursed at her.
Panic drove her. She ripped the gun from his hand and slammed the butt of it against his head, evading the grip he was trying to get on her. He hit her hard in the stomach, and she doubled over, but the gun came with her and she slammed it into his legs.
They were too close, and it was too chaotic to even consider using the weapon for it’s original purpose. Dar staggered back and caught her balance, then saw him coming at her and pure instinct gave her the means to keep him away. She lashed out in a roundhouse kick and boxed him right on the side of the head. The jolt traveled all the way down her leg, but her momentum let her drive through the kick. He rocked and staggered back, and then he shoved off the wall and came back at her. Already balanced, Dar drew her knee up then slammed her leg out straight, and got him in the nose with all her weight behind the kick.
Blood went everywhere. The guard went down, his hands clutching his face. Dar whirled and her eyes scanned the cabin frantically, her ears already picking up more guards headed their way. She heard a commotion near the door and bolted for it, rounding the edge of the couch to find DeSalliers being beaten to within an inch of his life by an enraged Kerry sitting on his chest.
Kerry’s shirt was half ripped off, exposing most of her chest. She was pinning DeSalliers down with her weight, her knees resting on his biceps as she slugged at him with both fists.
“Kerry!” Dar yelled at the top of her lungs after a second of pure shock.
“Bastard!” Kerry smacked the man across the chops with her conjoined hands. “You’re an asshole!”
Dar got behind Kerry and slipped her hands under her lover’s arms, physically lifting her up off DeSalliers. “C’mon! Let’s get the hell out of here!!”
Kerry was breathing hard, her green eyes almost gray with anger. DeSalliers rolled frantically away from her and started crawling towards the center of the room, and Kerry’s entire body twitched as though she wanted to go after him. A growl erupted from her throat, surprising both of them.
“C’mon.” Dar urged. “I hope to hell Dad’s gotten to Bud. We can’t stay here – hear them coming?” She dragged Kerry towards the small door DeSalliers had been attempting to use. A gunshot echoed through the boat again, and she could hear screaming. Her jaw tensed, knowing at a gut level it wasn’t her father doing the screaming, but who might be causing it.
“Ker?” She murmured in a gentle tone. “C’mon, sweetheart. Come back to me here.” She urged the still angry woman, whose hands were still clenched in balled fists. “It’s over.” Kerry’s furious eyes tracked to her, and their gazes locked.
“Oh.” Kerry drew in a shaky breath and found herself abruptly, her entire body shaking in reaction. She clutched Dar’s arms and shivered, her heart beating so fast in her chest she couldn’t count the flutters. “D…” She had to stop and pant. “Shit.”
Dar half led, half carried her to the door and shouldered it open. The boat pitched wildly, and she paused as she figured out what to do next. She felt Kerry slump against her, and she rubbed her lover’s back. “You okay?”
Kerry sucked in a deep breath, and expelled it. “Yeah.” She whispered. “He just really pissed me off, I guess.” She took a moment to collect herself, then peered anxiously past Dar. Where’s Dad?”
“There.” Dar edged out the door and held onto the railing as the rain pelted them. She spotted her father on the bow, with Bud slung across his shoulders. “Dad!” She yelled, hoping he’d hear her above the storm.
His head turned her way, and she saw the relief in his eyes. “Go!” She hollered at him. “Get the hell out of here!”
Two guards were headed towards the bow, struggling against the rain just as they were. Andrew took a step towards them, then shook his head and ran for the edge of the bow, gathering himself up and leaping over the railing to plunge feet first into the water.
He disappeared immediately into the surging waves.
Dar spotted the men dashing for them. “Can you swim?” She yelled at Kerry. “Kerry!”
Kerry hesitated, judging the shakiness of her muscles. Her body seemed to have recovered in the brief rest and she took a cautious breath. “Yes!” She answered, knowing she had little choice at any rate. She grabbed the railing and held on as the boat rolled, judging the distance to the water. “I’m okay!”
Dar held onto her. “Go on! I’ll jump after you when you’re clear!” She grabbed the back of Kerry’s shirt to keep her steady as the boat dipped towards the water, then gently shoved her just as she leaped, pushing her well clear of the boat.
Anxiously, she watched the waves, her heart in her throat until she saw a faint, pale blur break the surface.
A hand grabbed her roughly from behind just as she readied herself to follow. Dar whirled, and found a pistol barrel in her face. Her reflexes saved her life as she twisted and her hand snapped up, smacking the gun to the side just as it went off. The space was too close for fighting, but Dar managed to draw her arm back and punch the guard in the face, somehow evading his grabbing hands. It didn’t really stun him, but he blinked and paused long enough for Dar to push free and slam the door behind her.
She grabbed a fending pole clamped next to the door and jammed it sideways, blocking the door shut as the guard inside threw his body against it trying to get out. Shaken, Dar glanced at the water, the ocean’s savage waves looking more and more friendly to her every single second.
Faintly, she heard the sound of Andrew’s watercraft engine roar to life, a sweet sound over the thunder and slap of the waves. She grabbed the railing and prepared to leap overboard, when a motion caught her eye on the bow.
Two guards were there, shining a blazing, handheld spotlight into the water. The light pinned Andy’s small boat, and the other guard raised his rifle and aimed.
Dar heard the Dixie’s horn sound a warning. She released the rail and bolted forward instead, heading straight for the two guards. With a growl, she dove headlong at the first, hitting him at the knees and taking him down. They crashed into the second, and he stumbled backwards, falling down and rolling across the pitch of the deck. He slid under the railing and hung there, his light falling down into the water with an unheard splash.
Dar found the rifle clattering by her and she kicked it, sending it spinning over the side. The guard who had held it jumped on top of her, though, pinning her to the deck and slapping her hard across the side of the head.
“You’re dead, bitch.”
Dar felt the truth of that. She gathered her flagging strength and fought him, ripping one hand loose of his grip. Her fingers brushed against something hard, and she clutched at it, pulling hard when she recognized the outline of a diver’s knife strapped to his thigh.
He lifted a fist and aimed for her head.
Dar pulled the knife free and drew her arm out sideways, swinging it in a hair’s breadth before his fist arced for her face. She buried the blade in his side, feeling the harsh, ethereal sensation as the knife penetrated his clothing and entered flesh.
Dar arched her body, rolling to one side with all the effort she could muster. She managed to throw him off, and as he rolled one way, she rolled the other. She slid under the railing and kicked off against the bow as the boat bucked in the waves, sailing through space for a brief period until she hit the shockingly cold surface of the water.
For a moment, she just let herself sink below the waves, finding a curious peace there. Then she kicked her sneakers off and swam for the surface, stripping off the short sleeved shirt now hampering her as well.
Her head broke above the waves, and she shook it to clear the hair out of her eyes, her view filling with the sight of cold, dark rubber a scant arms length in front of her. She reached up and her arm was caught as she tried to pull herself forward, then a hand gripped her by the seat of the pants and yanked her unceremoniously up and over the pontoon and into the boat.
A wave crested over the bow, and they were drenched by it. Dar felt the cool air, and the strong smell of salt fill her lungs. Then she felt a warmth envelop her legs, and she turned over, to find Kerry crawling over her to drape herself over Dar’s chest with a tiny, weary grunt.
Dar exhaled. Nothing else mattered. They were both here, and safe. Her world was complete.
“Dar, you all right?”
Dar looked up into her father’s eyes and nodded. “Just fine.” She rasped. “You?”
Andrew gazed at her with a gentle, unfathomable expression. “Yeap.” He was steering the boat as he spoke, aiming it for the stern of the Dixie now pitching in front of them. “I do believe we need to get the hell out of here, howsomeever.”
“You got my vote.” Dar let her head rest against the hard plastic bottom.
“Me too.” Kerry mumbled. “They comin after us?”
Andrew looked up, past the Dixie’s stern. DeSallier’s boat seemed to be at the mercy of the sea, it’s angle pitching wildly. Men were now running back and forth, not searching for them but instead worried about their own fates. “Nope.” He said, as he slid the craft sideways and reached up for the line Charlie was frantically tossing to him. “I do believe this here chase is done and over.”
“Good.” Dar closed her eyes. “Very, very damn good.”
Dar was content to stay in the bottom of the boat, regardless of it’s pitching, until Andy had gotten Bud’s still unconscious form up onto the Dixie’s deck. She was so tired, it was an effort just to breathe and even the rain pelting her furiously didn’t much bother her.
Kerry was cuddled up next to her, eyes closed, one arm thrown over her eyes. In the dim light, Dar could see how pale she was and despite her own fatigue, she rolled over and wrapped an arm around her. “Ker?”
“Um.” Kerry uttered a soft response.
“How are you doing?”
“I have a migraine, and I’m seasick on top of it.” Kerry elaborated. “I have to wonder how much worse death could possibly feel.”
Dar leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “How about we stay on land for a few days.”
“How about we stay in bed for a few days?” Kerry made a wan attempt at humor.
“Sure.” Dar pulled her a little closer, shielding her from the worst of the rain until she felt her father’s weight rock the boat behind her. She turned her head. “We clear?”
“Let’s go.” Andrew stepped over her and knelt next to Kerry, taking hold of her shoulder gently. “Kumquat, you need a hand up there?”
Kerry pried one eye open and gazed at him. She quickly closed it. “There are three of you.” She groaned.
“C’mere.” Andrew gathered her up in his arms and got his balance, then stood as Dar struggled to her feet. “You want to stay there, let me give you a ride too, Dardar?”
“No, thanks.” Dar held the boat as steady as she could while Andrew carefully transferred himself and Kerry onto the Dixie. She followed them, very glad to feel the deck under her feet as she turned and closed the hatch and dogged it.
For the first time, now – she looked over at DeSalliers boat. It was still dead in the water, listing to one side slightly and drifting away from them. Two men were on the stern arguing. A third was on the bow, climbing up to an open hatch. Lightning flashed, and she spotted DeSalliers’ distinctive form near the cabin, apparently screaming at someone.
The Dixie’s engines came out of idle and moved them away from the other craft. Dar watched until the storm made them indistinguishable, then turned as she felt her father’s hand on her shoulder.
They regarded each other. “Ahm gonna go run this here boat, let Charlie get a look at his mate.” Andrew told her. “He got smacked around, but he’s gonna be okay.”
Dar nodded. “Thanks.” She searched his face. “I’m glad you found him so fast.”
Andrew snorted. “Ain’t hardly no places you can hide a body on one of them things, Dar.”
“Mm. Yeah, I guess.” Dar felt a wave of exhaustion come over her, making her knees shake a little. “Just glad it’s over.”
“You get cut?” Andrew looked down at her body.
Dar stared at the bloodstains. “No.” She replied. “It was that last guy. I had to…um… “ She stopped speaking and just looked at her father, the memory of the knife going in vividly in her mind’s eye.
“Had to do what you had to do.” Andy said. “And you done that, Dar.”
The rain pelted her in a steady rhythm as she absorbed the knowledge. “Yes, I did.” Dar murmured.
He watched her for a few heartbeats, then fished in his pocket for something and pulled it out. Without speaking, he pinned something to her swimsuit strap, then pulled her head closer and gave her a kiss on the top of it. “That’s my girl.” He patted her cheek, then turned and walked to the ladder, climbing up it without a further backward glance.
Startled, Dar looked down at her shoulder. Pinned to her strap, immediately recognizable to her, was her father’s SEAL insignia. Dar blinked, and reached a shaking hand up to touch it, tracing it’s shape with a sense of stunned disbelief.
For half her life, she’d dreamed of wearing it.
Thunder rumbled over head. Lightning cracked, and Dar forced herself to move, going to the door to the cabin and slipping inside.
It felt very good to be out of the rain. Dar collected herself and ran the fingers of one hand through her hair, sniffling a little and wiping the drops out of her eyes with an impatient swipe of her arm. Bob was sitting on the couch, watching her with wide, scared eyes.
Dar caught sight of her reflection, and hardly recognized the drenched, weather battered and bloodstained figure looking back at her. She started to walk past Bob.
“Listen, I’m really sorry.” He blurted. “This shit was way over my head and I dragged you all into it and almost got you killed.”
Dar looked at him.
“I hope… I hope everyone’s all right.” Bob finished, in a small voice. “I’m sorry I was such a jerk.”
“Whatever.” Dar simply didn’t have the time or energy to deal with him. She had something more important to do. She trudged past the living area and headed for the bedroom, wanting nothing more than to be quiet, dry, and with Kerry.
She pushed the door open, finding Kerry leaning against the counter, just putting down a cup of water after taking a mouthful. She was in a T-shirt, and looked like she’d been run over by a bus. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Kerry seemed pathetically glad to see her, and oblivious to what she looked like. She turned and braced herself against the dresser, giving Dar a woebegone look. “Who’s driving?”
“Dad.” Dar walked over to her and gently cupped her cheek, tipping her head up a little. “Did you take something for your headache?” Kerry’s face was pale and drawn, but a distinct warmth entered her eyes at Dar’s touch, and the muscles in her cheek moved, producing a slight smile.
Kerry nodded. “And my stomach. The key is… will it stay down long enough to do something or not.” Her eyes dropped to Dar’s chest, and she lifted a hand to touch the insignia. “Wow.” Now the smile really emerged, and though tired, it lit Kerry’s face up.
Dar looked down. “Yeah.” She unbuckled her shorts and slipped out of them, draping them over the dresser. “I’m not really sure why he did that.” Her voice was exhausted in her own ears.
Kerry pushed off from her spot and carefully unpinned the insignia, holding it cupped in her hand while Dar eased out of her suit. “I know why.” She looked up, wincing as Dar turned and she saw the bruises on her lover’s body. “You saved his life.”
Dar stopped in the middle of pulling on a dry T-shirt. Her eyes stared at Kerry from the over the edge of the fabric. “W.. what?” She blurted. “When?”
Kerry set the pin down on the dresser and reached up, pulling the shirt over Dar’s head and settling it around her body. “C’mere.” She sat down on the bed and patted the spot next to her. Below decks, with the engines running full out, the sea’s rocking was much less evident and she welcomed the comfort of the bed, and Dar’s warm body nestling against hers.
“Talk to me.” Dar put her arms around Kerry and leaned back against the headboard. “What did I miss in all this?”
“When you were on the boat. After I jumped off.” Kerry told her. “Dad was in the rubber boat, holding Bud. I was hanging on the side, trying to get in. The light hit us.”
“Mm.” Her partner nodded slowly. “Yeah.”
“The guys on the boat were going to shoot Dad. He was what was in the light.”
“Oh.” Dar blinked. “I guess I knew that, somehow.”
Kerry looked at her. “Do you remember what you did then?” She asked curiously. “Do you remember going after those men, Dar?”
Go after them? Dar’s brow creased. “Well, I remember wanting to knock them down, sure.” She answered slowly. “I ran over there, I guess.”
Dar’s profile was dim in the lamplight, the look of thoughtful puzzlement very evident. “Yes, you did.” Kerry said, softly. She eased off the bed and retrieved the insignia, admiring it for a moment before she snuggled back up to Dar and pinned it onto her T-shirt. “A lot happened to us today.” She flexed her hand slightly, thinking about the reason for it’s soreness.
“Yeah.” Dar answered, with a sigh. “A lot.”
“Want to wait till we’ve had some rest to talk about it?”
“Me too.” Kerry whispered. “Because I went to a place I didn’t like at all today, Dar.”
Dar was silent for several breaths. “Me too.” She stared thoughtfully at her hands, resting palm upward on her thighs. “I’m really tired.” Her eyes turned to Kerry, who was leaning against her. “How are you doing?”
Kerry spent some time thinking about that question. “I could use a snuggle.” She admitted.
Me, too.” Dar gently pulled Kerry over, settling her between her legs and wrapping both arms around her stomach. Kerry leaned back against her and she gave her a hug, long and solid, feeling the tension in Kerry’s body relax as her head dropped back against Dar’s collarbone.
After a moment, Kerry squirmed around and slid her arms around Dar, resting her cheek against her partner’s shoulder and gazing up into her eyes.
Dar’s eyelashes fluttered. “I saved his life?” She whispered, watching Kerry’s face intently.
Kerry smiled. “Yes, you did.”
“Huh.” The dark haired woman grunted. “I think you saved ours.”
Dar nodded faintly. “You kept the jackass from calling for help.” She said. “Any more guards and...” She stroked Kerry’s drying hair. “We got so lucky in there.”
“Mm.” Kerry reflected somberly. Lucky. She remembered the feeling of utter rage that had torn through her, and how good it had felt to release it on DeSalliers.
It scared her. Kerry exhaled in silence. But it was over, and they’d both survived. That really was the important part of everything. Her family and friends were okay. She was okay. Dar was okay.
Her eyes closed. They had been lucky. Very lucky. She whispered a prayer of thanks as she felt the sea cradle them in its rocking hands.
The marina at St. Thomas was in total chaos. Boats from all over were coming in to shelter there from the storm, and the tossing whitecaps made the danger of collision very real.
Dar put her rain slicker on and climbed up to the flying bridge to join Andrew as they rumbled at just over idle in a holding pattern. “What a mess.” She murmured to her father.
“Yeap.” Andrew agreed. “Told them dockmasters we had a body needing to go up to the hospital on board. They’re getting us a path in.” He informed her. “How’s Kerry doing?”
“She’s all right.” Dar said.
Andrew studied her. “You doing all right?”
Dar nodded. “I feel like I was hit by a bus, but other than that, Mr. Lincoln, I enjoyed the play.”
Her father chuckled.
“Thanks for coming out here after us.” Dar leaned her elbows on the console. “I was pretty out of my depth here.”
“Seems like you done all right to me.” Andy replied. “I figured you two had things covered till Kerry done sent that last note, about Bud and all.” He shook his head. “Took me one of them there seaplanes over.” A pause. “Ah do not like them things.”
Dar had to smile. “Me either.” She watched through the rain as the lights seemed to diminish ahead of them. The radio crackled.
“Dixieland Yankee, dockmaster. Come on in.”
Dar picked up the mic. “Dockmaster, this is Dixieland. We copy.” She set the device down and straightened. “Want me to take her in?”
Andrew eyed her. “You speculating on mah driving, young lady?” He asked. “Ah am not the one who…”
“I’ve gotten better since then.” Dar interrupted him.
“So Kerry was saying.” Andy slid over and offered her the pilot’s seat. “G’wan.”
Dar took the controls and settled into the chair, still warm from her father’s body. She curled her fingers around the throttles and adjusted them, focusing her attention on the dark sea before her. On ether side of them the channel markers bobbled wildly, barely visible in the high surf.
Slowly the engines overcame the chop, and they were moving forward through the cluster of boats on either side. “Kerry’s got coffee downstairs if you’re interested.” Dar remarked, keeping her eyes flicking over the patch of water just in front of them.
Andrew grunted. “Ah’d rather not.” He answered, surprising Dar. “Them boys below got some issues with me.”
Dar spared a quick glance at him. “Ah.” She murmured. “Yeah, we kinda figured that out.”
Her father snorted, and shook his head. “Done thought we’d cleared that all up way back when.” He half stood, peering out through the plexiglass. “Ain’t this a mess.”
It was. Dar concentrated on navigating the obstacles, guiding the big craft through the channel littered with smaller boats. Some were trying to get or stay out of their way, but others were being tossed by the weather to a point of losing control.
Dar half stood as well, her weight coming up onto her thighs as she gave the engines a little more diesel. “Damn.” The rain came down harder, almost obscuring her view and making the surface near indistinguishable. She could feel the wind rising at her back, and a gust fluttered her slicker hard against her body.
And yet, she felt no fear. “You ever been scared out in weather like this, dad?” Dar asked , in sudden curiosity.
“Naw.” Andrew replied absently. “Part of bein a seaman is knowing you’re a part of all that.” He said. “Can’t control it, no sense in being scared of it.”
Mm. Dar felt the rhythm of the sea under her and understood what he meant. She followed the riffle of the waves, carving a careful path through them.
A sailboat heeled with sickening suddenness – it arced into their path not a length in front of the bow. Dar reacted, swinging to her right and gunning the engines. The wind shoved the sailboat just shy of their hull, the spar scraping lightly against them before falling free.
In the rain, she could just barely see it’s crew frantically working to regain control of their sheets, and was more than glad to have the secure power of her engines under her. The seawall loomed ahead, and Dar was glad to see most of the boats keeping well clear of it.
“Careful there, Dar.” Andrew murmured. “Got a strong rip tide coming in.”
“I feel it.” Dar answered, and did, through her legs. “Hold on.” She turned the boat into the wind and increased the engines, hearing their rumble above the weather now. The boat surged against the waves, cresting them and fighting against the strong current.
She gave the engines full power, and they surged past the jetty, heading full on into the cluster of boats beyond it. Dar heard her father inhale, and she grinned privately as she cut the throttles and swung the bow around. The current picked them up and turned them very neatly into the center of the marina channel. Dar edged the throttles forward again slightly, and headed for the concrete docks.
“Son of a biscuit.” Andrew chuckled.
Dar approached the docks and swung around to the larger ones. She could see a cluster of people waiting at the empty slip they’d been assigned and she thought she saw medical personnel. The waves were rushing up against the docks, breaking over them and dousing the watchers, though.
Usually, she would let the boat drift gently in, but the tide was running the wrong way. Dar swung the boat into line, then set the engines into reverse, allowing the water to pull them very grudgingly into the slip. The dockmasters had already thrown bumpers over the side, and she skillfully maneuvered into place until her hull just touched them.
Two of the men on the dock hopped on board and grabbed their lines. Dar cut the engines and sat back, cocking her head and giving her father a questioning look. “Better than when I was ten?”
Andy ruffled her damp hair affectionately. “Good job.” He complimented her seriously. “You made a damn good sailor, Dar.”
Dar crossed her arms and smiled. “Thanks.” She glanced behind her. “Guess we’d better get moving. Kerry and I have a room up at one of the hotels, if it’s still open in this mess. We can probably get you in there.” She stood up, and eased around the console chair.
“Ah do think I can scrabble up my own bunk.” Andrew remarked. “Let’s get Bud and Charlie settled down first off, and then find us some shelter.”
Sounded very good to Dar. Someplace dry, and quiet, and ideally supplied with lots of ice cream.
Kerry had finally dozed off, nestled into the bed in the Dixie’s bedroom. She hadn’t thought she’d be able to, owing to the boat’s motion and the stress of the day, but her body had simply taken over and demanded she close her eyes and shut the world out for a while.
Her dreams were formless. She kept seeing fireworks, as though replaying the Fourth of July in her mind over and over again. Finally, the last cracker went off, and the faceless crowd around her faded away, their noise slowly altering to a sound of clinking that brought her up into reality.
She opened her eyes, gazing at her surroundings in momentary confusion before memory kicked in. “Urmf.” Kerry rubbed her face with one hand and rolled over, missing Dar’s presence. She spent a moment wondering where her partner was, then realized the boat was relatively still and the engines were off.
“Jesus. We must be in dock.” Kerry rolled out of the bed and straightened, holding on to the chest of drawers for balance as they rolled with the waves. “Why the hell didn’t she come get me?” She flipped the lamp on and stretched, feeling aches along the entire length of her body.
Her arms hurt. Kerry leaned against the drawers and flexed her hands. They were stiff and felt slightly swollen and there were bruises across the heels and knuckles of them. For a brief moment her stomach churned, and then she remembered Dar’s hands after Dar had saved her from a pack of scrungy carjackers.
Painfully bruised. But in a good cause.
Her cause. Kerry lifted her head and gazed into the dimness of the stateroom. “You know what, Stuart?” She addressed herself. “You don’t have a damn thing to be sorry about. That guy was a scum sucking whore pig, and he deserved to have his clock cleaned.”
She let the echo of the words die. It made her feel a little better. She twitched her shirt straight and ran her fingers through her hair, then left the bedroom and slipped into the head. It was quiet on the boat. She listened for sounds of Dar’s presence as she splashed water on her face.
The cabin door opened and she stuck her head out, a smile appearing as she spotted her lover entering. “Hey.”
Dar pushed her slicker hood back and walked over to her. “Hey.”
“What did I sleep through?” Kerry asked.
“Some brilliant maneuvering on my part, and a lot of men taking Bud out to the hospital.” Dar told her. “How are you feeling? I didn’t want to wake you up.”
“Better.” Kerry announced briskly. “What’s our plan now? Stay here?”
“We can’t.” Dar told her. “That damn storm’s due here in two hours, and they’re evacuating the marina. Winds are up to seventy miles per hour, and I’m damn glad we’re tied up.” She rubbed Kerry’s back. “Dad went with them up to the hospital.”
“Mm.” Kerry drew in a breath, and released it. “So… are we going up to the hotel?”
“Would you like that?” Dar asked. “Is that what you want to do?”
It seemed to Kerry to be a strange question. She finished brushing her teeth and rinsed her mouth out, then she turned and faced her partner. “You know what I want to do?” She asked Dar, who had been standing and patiently waiting for her.
“Be with you.” Kerry replied, simply.
Dar smiled, and nodded. “Right back at you.” She said.
“You look really tired.” The blond woman moved a bit of Dar’s hair out of her visibly bloodshot eyes. “Let’s go find us a nice bed on dry land.”
“I am really tired.” Dar admitted. “And, um…” She shifted slightly. “Sore I think I twisted a couple things in the fight.”
Kerry could see the drawn lines in her face. “You sure you don’t want to get yourself checked out?” She asked fruitlessly, already knowing the answer.
“Nah.” Dar dismissed the idea. “I just need some rest, and maybe some aspirin.” She said. “And you.”
“And that Jacuzzi.” Kerry reminded her. “C’mon. Let’s go.”
Dar put her arm around Kerry’s shoulders and they headed out into the storm.
They entered the hotel lobby, to be greeted with the sight of a mass of humanity, jostling for space. “Jesus, I hope they kept our room.” Kerry whispered.
Dar shouldered their overnight bag. “Me, too.” She nudged Kerry towards the stairs. “Let’s go find out. I have a feeling Dad might be sleeping on the couch in there if they did.”
Kerry followed Dar as they walked up the stairs and made the turn towards their assigned room. The upstairs hallway was busy also, and they had to edge past several groups of arguing people to get to the end of it. Dar removed the key from her jeans pocket and tried it, opening the door cautiously and sticking her head inside.
Silence. Dar flipped the light on and entered, waiting for Kerry to follow her before she closed the door after them and leaned against it. “This room isn’t moving, is it?”
Kerry explored the room briefly, then returned to take the bag from Dar’s hands. “Thank god, no.” She unbuckled her rain jacket and removed it. “Those windows look kind of scar…oh.” She’d drawn aside the drapes to reveal wood planking protecting the plate glass. “Nifty. They work fast.”
“You get used to it after a while.” Dar remarked, removing her rain gear and trudging over to the bed. She collapsed onto it and lay there looking up at the ceiling. “Getting ready for storms, I mean. Especially out here.”
“Yeah, I guess you would.” Kerry let the drapes close. “Will the boat be all right out in the marina?”
Dar’s eyes had closed. “As it would be anywhere.” She said. “They’ve got it tied down and bolstered pretty good. I feel bad for those little guys they don’t have space for.”
Kerry set the bag down and opened it, pulling out their pajamas. She set them on the table and walked over to the bed, sitting down and picking up one of Dar’s feet. “What will they do?” She rested the foot on her knee and started to unlace the sneaker on it.
“You don’t want to do that. They’re wet.” Dar warned her.
“And?” Kerry shot her an amused look.
“You know what wet sneakers and socks smell like.”
“Like our dog when she gets wet. Yes, honey, I do.” Kerry pulled off the sneaker, and the damp sock under it. “What’s your point?” She tickled the bottom of Dar’s foot and felt the leg under her hands twitch.
Dar just smiled.
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to get room service right now.” Kerry went on, putting Dar’s foot down and picking up the other one. “I’m going to see what they left us here in our palatial abode, other than rum.”
‘That works too.” Dar murmured. “But it’s better over ice cream.”
Kerry rubbed Dar’s ankle, feeling the joint flex under her touch. “Isn’t everything?” She tossed the footgear towards the door, and kicked off her own to join it. Then she eased down on her side next to Dar, and started working on the top button of her lover’s jeans. “You know, something really profound just occurred to me.”
Dar rolled her head to one side and opened an eye. “What’s that?”
“Button fly jeans are much sexier than zippered ones.” Kerry told her seriously.
A tired snicker shook Dar’s belly.
“No, really.” Kerry examined Dar’s waist as she undid the second button. “Think about it. With zippers, you undo one, then boop! It’s done. This way, you have to take your time.”
“Kerry, I think you’re overtired.” Her partner advised her.
“Hey, I got a nap. You didn’t.” Kerry smiled, continuing her task. “It’s like gloves.”
“Yeah. Back in the days when women wore gloves. Like the ones that went all the way up your arm?” Kerry glanced over, seeing an extremely puzzled expression on Dar’s face. “C’mon, Dar. You watch the History Channel. Don’t give me that ‘what the heck is the WASP talking about now?’ look.”
Dar’s brows scrunched together. “Oh.” She rubbed her temple. “You mean the evening dress things.”
“Right.” Kerry agreed. “They had buttons all the way up, and they even had little hook things they used to button them. It was considered very sexy back then to watch a woman take off her kid leather glove. Some of them had a hundred buttons.”
There was a bit of silence, as Dar contemplated that. “Really?”
“Uh huh.” Kerry undid the last button and plucked at the waistband of Dar’s underwear. “You know something else?”
“You’re glad you were born in the latter half of the twentieth century after gloves went out of style?” Dar suggested. “Because if I had to wait for you to unbutton a hundred buttons, I’d come after you with a pair of leather cutters.”
Kerry chortled, and leaned her head against Dar’s hip.
“Well, I would.” Dar said.
“I bet you never sucked your Tootsie pop down to the candy, did you?” Kerry continued the silliness. “You chewed it.”
“No.” Dar replied with a dignified sniff. “I just bought Tootsie Rolls to begin with.”
Kerry squirmed up a little and started working on Dar’s shirt. “I knew that.” She watched the gentle rise and fall of Dar’s chest under her hand. The wind outside rattled the wooden shutters against the building, and they could hear a rumble through the walls. “Are we safe here?”
Dar glanced around the room. “This place has been here for a hundred years.” She stated. “I think we’re fine.”
“Okay.” Kerry laid Dar’s shirt open and put gentle fingers on the bruises dotting her chest. “Are you hurting, sweetheart?” Her tone went from playful to serious. “You’re kinda scraped up here.”
“I’m too tired to hurt right now.” Dar admitted. “Maybe later I will be.” She sat up slowly and stripped her shirt off, then stood up to remove her jeans. “You joining me in this strip show, or are you snoozing in your clothes?”
“You think we’re going to get a chance to sleep?” Kerry remained where she was, watching Dar cross the room in her underwear to put her now folded clothing near their bag. The soft lamp light erased the marks of the fight from her body and rendered it in golden shadows for Kerry’s appreciative eyes.
She loved the strength of her. The grace and solid power evident in every move. Nothing about Dar was for show – it was all real, and all functional.
And all hers. Kerry smiled to herself at the thought. She spared a moment to revel in the knowledge of what it felt like to love someone like this – and to be loved – to the very core. It was a true gift, and she knew it, and in that one moment, it humbled her.
“God, I hope so.” Dar sighed, as she pulled on her pajamas. She turned and looked at Kerry, sprawled on the bed in casual disarray. “I’ve had enough adventures for today.” She peered closer at the woman watching her. “Ker?”
It was like wading through the mists of time. Kerry suddenly sensed the depth of what was between them, sensed the ancientness of it and heard the faint echoes from lives beyond their own. It was weird, and scary and her eyes widened as she stared into Dar’s.
Curious, Dar came over to her and sat on the bed. “Ker?” She asked again, her brow furrowing with concern. “You okay?”
Kerry took a breath. “Yeah.” She murmured. “Just had some weird déjà vu thing happen.” She said. “I think it’s been too long a day for both of us.”
Dar patted her cheek. “Get undressed, and let’s hope the storm doesn’t…”
The lights flickered, then went out.
A sigh. “Knock the power out.” Dar turned and peered around the now completely pitch black room. “Shoulda gotten candles out. What a bonehead move that was.”
“I’ve got a flashlight in the bag.” Kerry chuckled wearily, rolling off the bed and getting to her feet. She felt her way over to the table and fished for it, removing the slim item and turning it on. “Are there candles in here?”
Dar joined her and took the light, making her way over to the cabinet that held the television. She poked inside, and discovered a few hurricane candles – some already started. “Here.”
Kerry took the candles from her, and they lit them, putting them around the room in strategic places.
Under candlelight, the interior took on a new look, the tiny flickering flames bouncing shadows off the ceiling and lending a quaintness to the old fashioned bed. Kerry found the courtesy bar by accident, and raided it after she changed into her pajamas.
Dar listened to her rummaging for a moment, then brought a last candle over to the bed, setting it on the side table. She pulled down the top sheet and got into bed, fluffing up the pillows and settling back against them.
Kerry appeared shortly thereafter from the shadows, her pale hair now dry and collecting glints of the candlelight as she joined her partner. She handed Dar a mug and set a basket of goodies between them. Then she crawled into bed and relaxed, letting out a heartfelt sigh.
The storm raged outside. They could hear things slamming against the windows, and far off the sound of siren. “Dar?” Kerry asked suddenly. “What do you think happened to DeSalliers?”
Dar sipped from her mug, finding an agreeable mixture of rum and pineapple juice in it. “You mean, out there?”
Kerry broke a cookie in half and put a portion in Dar’s mouth. “Yeah. Could he… I mean, it’s a pretty bad storm even if that is a big boat. What if it goes down?”
Let it. Dar found herself shocked to hear that thought echo coolly in her subconscious, but after a moments review she continued chewing her cookie and swallowed it. “The bastards kidnapped Bud, made our lives miserable, and almost killed both of us not to mention my father. I don’t give a rats ass what happens to them.”
Kerry nibbled on her cookie thoughtfully. “Really?”
Dar considered pretending otherwise. She decided she was just too damn tired. “Really.”
“Mm.” The blond woman leaned her head against Dar’s shoulder. “I hope they don’t sink.”
Dar looked at her.
“Dying’s too easy. Having him live with the knowledge he got beaten is a lot more fitting.” Kerry wiggled her toes contentedly and split another cookie.
“Except that he did get what he wanted.” Dar reminded her wryly.
“No he didn’t.” Kerry lifted her hand and tossed something onto Dar’s chest. “Damned if I was going to let him get away with this.”
Dar stared at the plastic covered sheet sitting in the center of her chest. “Son of a bitch.”
“Daughter of a bastard, actually.” Kerry corrected her. “One of the things you and I don’t have in common.” She took a sip of her own rum and swallowed it, then leaned against Dar again. “So.”
“So.” Dar repeated, turning the sheet over in her fingers.
“Death is a high price to pay for stupidity.” Kerry said. “And I... don’t want that on my conscience. Is there any way we can help them if they’re in trouble?” She asked in a serious tone.
Dar’s lips twitched. “I called the Coast Guard for them on the way in.” She admitted. “So yeah, I don’t give a damn if they sink, but I wasn’t about to abandon a maritime law I had drummed into me from the age of four.”
Kerry pulled herself up and gave Dar a kiss. She licked her lips as they parted and gazed into her lover’s eyes. “I feel… really strange about what we did tonight, Dar.” She said. “Part of me is freaking out, but part of me…”
“Liked fighting for the greater good?” Dar replied in a casual tone.
A little silence fell. Kerry dropped back against the pillows without taking her eyes off Dar. She inhaled audibly . “Greater good.” The words felt interesting in her mouth and she played with them a little, tasting their meaning. “Is that what we did?”
Dar shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s something my father used to talk about all the time. Doing things for other people or acting when it’s not in your best interests just because it’s the right thing to do.” She reached over and combed through Kerry’s disheveled hair with her fingers. “It’s what the folks in the military do, if you think about it.”
“Depending on who’s defining ‘right’ this year.” Kerry replied, with a touch of wry skepticism. “But I know what you mean.” She put her arms around Dar. “Did you like doing that?”
Dar returned the embrace as they listened to the wind howl. “I’m not very good at it.” She said. “I’d much rather take care of my own best interests than anyone else’s.”
Kerry raised up on her elbow and looked at her with both eyebrows raised. “Dar, that is such a lie.” She stated flatly. “You put yourself on the line for me before we’d barely even met!”
“That’s because you *are* my best interest.” Dar put a fingertip on Kerry’s nose.
Wasn’t really much she could say to that. Kerry curled back up next to Dar and shook her head. The wind was getting stronger outside, and she heard a loud bang as something hit the building. She put thoughts of the greater good out of her mind for the moment. “Are you scared?”
“No.” Dar told her. “Just tired.”
Kerry took the hint and pulled the covers up over Dar’s long frame, tucking them in around the two of them. She put her arms back around Dar and laid her head on her partner’s shoulder. She felt Dar’s muscles relax almost immediately, despite the raging noise outside. The heartbeat under her ear evened out and slowed and she concentrated to count its rhythm.
They would weather the storm.
They always had, a muzzy internal voice reminded her.
Kerry thought about that, losing herself in the flicker of the nearby candle as the winds blew over them.
The hotel was warm, and clammy inside as Kerry ventured into the lobby. The power was still out, but the staff had stepped up to the challenge and put out a table full of relatively tasty looking foods for the guests to pick through.
Her eyes roamed the room, and she stopped as she spotted Andrew seated on the porch, his hand curled around a cup. “Ah.” Kerry grabbed a muffin and walked out to join him. “Hi, dad.”
Andrew looked up at her. “Morning, there, kumquat.” He greeted her, as his eyes drifted past her shoulder. “Where’s mah kid?”
“Sleeping.” Kerry sat down and nibbled her muffin. “She was so tired last night. I thought it would be better if I let her get some rest while I scrounged breakfast for us.”
Andy nodded in agreement. “She done things to be tired from.” He said. “She okay?”
“I think so.”
“Took them fellers up to the hospital, then came back down here and bunked out with some of the marina folk.” Andrew volunteered. “Looks like they put a few cracks in Bud’s head. Be there a few days.”
“You could have come up to our room.” Kerry scolded him. “We had plenty of room up there.”
“Nah.” Andrew took a swallow of whatever was in his mug. “You two young ladies deserve your privacy.”
Kerry propped her chin up on her fist. “Dad, we were just sleeping.” She grinned at him. “I’m glad Bud’s going to be okay. Did he wake up?”
“Does he know it was you who pulled him out of the boat?”
Kerry studied his profile. “Not really happy about that, was he?”
“No ma’am, he was not.” Andrew turned, and looked at her. “But how would you be knowing about that?” He set his cup down and studied his tablemate. “They say something to you?”
Kerry nodded. “Yes, and Dar told me a little.” She said. “I almost kicked Bud in the nuts a few times until he finally calmed down and stopped saying mean things.” Her fingers played with the edge of the table. “What was up with that?”
A server with a pitcher came up to them, and offered them a drink. Andrew held out his mug and they refilled it, then the server handed Kerry a cup as well.
“Thanks.” Kerry took a cautious sip, relieved to find somewhat luke-cold fruit juice. She sensed Andrew wasn’t comfortable discussing Bud with her, and decided not to push the subject. “I thought I saw cereal in there – did you eat yet?”
“Ah did.” He told her. “Went down and checked out the boat. Hull got banged up a bit, but nothing big. Should be fine to head back with.”
“Thank you.” Kerry said. “Did anyone say if DeSalliers’ boat was brought in?”
Kerry gazed quietly at him. After a moment, Andrew met her eyes. “Sorry if I butted in where I didn’t belong.” She told him.
Andrew’s expression softened, and he blinked a few times. “Wasn’t that, Kerry.” He answered. “Just somethin that burns my shorts, and ah don’t like chatting about it.”
“Okay.” Kerry nodded. “Are you flying back home?”
“Yeap.” Andy said. “I figure you two got things all squared off now. Got a flight back out tonight. They ain’t reopened the airport yet.” He told her. “Still cleaning up. Storm racked up some fuss, but not a whole lot outside the marina.”
Kerry studied the horizon, which was clear and cloud free. “It’s funny. I almost feel like last night was a dream.” She admitted. “But I know it wasn’t.”
Andrew cocked his head in a listening attitude.
“I’m glad you came out here after us.” Kerry told him. “Thanks.”
A smile tugged at the scarred face across from her. “S’what a father’s for, ain’t it?”
Kerry stared off past him, her eyes distant. “Only if you’re very lucky.” She exhaled, dusting her fingers off from the muffin. “I’m going to grab something for me and Dar.” Pushing against the table, she stood up, suddenly wanting to be out of the sun and back with her partner. “Maybe we can find you for lunch?”
Andy got up and patted her on the shoulder. “Lemme give you a hand with your grub, kumquat.” He said. “We maybe need a chit chat, and I want to see my kid.”
Kerry smiled, feeling the tension between them relax a little. “Okay, Dad. It’s a deal.”
They went inside to the table, which didn’t have much in the way of plates. Andrew improvised by stealing a basket of flowers, dumping the flowers, and standing helpfully behind Kerry as she filled it. They were halfway down the table when Kerry’s progress was intercepted, and she looked up to see the police captain politely blocking her. “Oh. Good morning.” She greeted him with wary cordiality. “Guess you had a busy night.”
“Most certainly, yes, Ms. Stuart. That we did.” He replied with courtesy. “I am glad to see that you are safe. Is Ms. Roberts safe as well?”
“Very much so, yes.” Kerry told him, then noticed his eyes flicking over her shoulder. “Oh, I’m sorry. This is my father in law, Andrew Roberts. Dad, this is Captain Alalau, of the St. Thomas police.”
“Lo.” Andrew issued a moderately cordial greeting.
Alalau gave him a brief nod. “Sir.” He turned his attention back to Kerry. “Might I ask, Ms. Stuart, if you and your friend Ms. Roberts could find a moment to chat with me later on today? Perhaps over lunch?”
Uh oh. Kerry didn’t think they were in trouble, even in the Virgin Islands she figured criminals weren’t invited to lunch, but given all that had happened so far, you never knew. “Um.. sure.” She agreed cautiously. “I’m sure that would be no problem at all.”
“Excellent.” The captain smiled, and ducked his head slightly at her. “Please, enjoy your breakfast. Unfortuntely, the power will most likely be out for the rest of the day, but we are working on restoring it.”
“Thanks.” Kerry watched him walk off. “Hm.”
“Nice feller.” Andrew drawled.
“Very nice.” Kerry sighed, dumping a last few items into their basket, and snagging a thermos of juice. “C’mon. Let’s go wake Dar up and tell her the social agenda’s changed.”
They left the lobby, leaving the increasingly crowded space behind.
The cell phone buzzed near her head, and Dar jerked herself out of a deep sleep, reaching for it blindly in the darkened room. “Buh.” She captured the instrument and opened it, her head pounding as her body tried to wake itself. “Yeah?”
Alastair’s voice was so normal, it almost hurt. “Morning, Alastair.”
“Are you okay?”
Dar opened an eye and rolled it around, taking in her surroundings. “Yeah, I’m fine. It was just a damn storm.”
“Storm? What the hell are you talking about? I got a call last night saying you got held up or something!” Alastair said, his voice audibly upset. “What the hell is going on out there, Dar?”
Where do I start? Dar cleared her throat. “Hang on and let my brain boot.” She told him. “I was sleeping.”
A momentary silence. “At ten am? Good heavens. Let me get my diary.”
“I am supposed to be on vacation.” Dar told her boss, in a peeved tone. “In case that slipped your mind.” She rubbed her eyes and tried to shake some sense into herself. “First off, I didn’t get held up.”
“Well, that’s wonderful.”
“My hotel room got broken into.”
“But they didn’t take anything, so they just moved us to a bigger room.”
“Well, that’s not so bad.” Alastair said. “Jesus, Dar. You had me worried for a minute. I’ve got a lot of company resources sitting out there in the islands at the moment.”
Should she tell him about the rest? “We had a couple snags out here, matter of fact.”
“Uh oh.” Her boss said. “Maybe that’s what Mark was talking about. He sounded half nuts.”
“Mark? What the hell is he calling you for? Does he think he’s my mother all of a sudden?” Dar snapped.
“No, she called me last time.” Alastair answered benignly. “Apparently he picked up something on a police record, and wasn’t happy about it.”
Mother hens. Dar scowled, gazing up at the ceiling. “Well, we ran into a couple of old buddies of my father, and had to help them out of a jam. That, and the storm is making my life currently miserable.” She said. “Everything okay there?”
“Here?” Alastair’s voice dripped with surprised innocence. “Oh, sure. Right as rain, Dar. No problems here.”
Uh oh. Dar stared at her phone, then sighed. “Great. Guess I’ll talk to you next week when I get back in the office then, huh?”
“Sure… sure. You two having a good time otherwise?” Alastair asked. “Getting some rest and relaxation in?”
“Well.” Dar’s ears picked up the sound of footsteps approaching. “Right now I’m flat on my back, and you woke me at ten. What does that tell you?”
“Good to hear, Dar. Good to hear. You take it easy, and try to keep out of trouble for the rest of your trip, hmm?”
“I’ll try.” Dar told him. “Talk to you later.” She folded the phone and set it aside as the door opened, admitting Kerry and the unmistakable bulk of her father. “Ah.. hi.” She felt mildly embarrassed at being caught in bed.
“Morning, sleepyhead.” Kerry teased her as she closed the door and set the basket down. “I figured you might be up by now.”
“Only by the graces of Alastair.” Dar admitted. “Mark told him we were having problems.”
Kerry stopped and stared at her. “What?”
“Yeah. Hundred bazillion dollar corporation run by two nanny worrywarts.” Dar laid her arm across her eyes, wincing at the dull headache. “Hi, Dad.”
“Hey there, Dardar.” Andrew crouched down by the bed and patted her arm. “You doin all right?”
“Mmpfh.” Dar grunted. “Any chance of getting some fresh air in here?”
Kerry walked to the windows and opened the blinds. Part of the wooden slats had been removed, and light flooded in. She unlatched the windows and pulled them open, rewarded when a gust of air puffed her hair back. “How’s that?”
“Better.” Dar still had her eyes closed. “What’s going on outside?”
“No power, grumpy tourists, muggy weather, and the police want to have lunch with us.”
Dar’s eyes popped open, and she hitched herself up onto her elbows. “Us?”
“Us.” Kerry confirmed.
“Bck.” Dar laid down, and pulled the covers up over her head.
“Yeah.” Kerry agreed ruefully. “That about covers it.”
The boat rocked gently under her as Kerry jumped on board. Dar was still on the dock, examining the mild damage the hull had taken, and Kerry dropped into one of the chairs on the stern to wait for her. The sun was out, and the air was clearing of it’s moisture, the light breeze lifting strands of her hair idly. She leaned back and looked around the marina, wincing a little at the small boats tossed up onto the seawall and the debris floating in the water.
The marina itself had taken little damage – it’s concrete docks had weathered the storm quite nicely, and provided protection to most of the boats sheltered inside it. Many of the boat owners were around, checking things out, and around the shore crews were removing downed limbs and other debris.
Kerry felt oddly itchy. She’d realized on the walk down to the boat that she wanted, more than anything, to be gone from the island and away from the chaos their vacation had become. A corner of her brain wondered what had happened to DeSalliers, but that corner wasn’t making much headway against the rest of her who wanted to put the last few days far behind the two of them.
Dar appeared on the dock, and circled the stern, hopping on board and stepping down onto the deck. “Not too bad.” She confirmed. “Just a few scrapes.”
“Good.” Kerry held a hand out to her. Dar stepped closer and took it, walking around behind the chair Kerry was sitting in and letting her other hand rest on Kerry’s shoulder. “Do we have a plan?”
“A plan.” Dar yawned, her jaw cracking softly. “I’m still too wiped to have a plan.” She eased into the chair next to Kerry and slung one long leg over it’s arm. “I guess we’ll go talk to the cops first.” She rested her head on one hand. “What do you want to do after that?”
Leave. Kerry bit back the answer, knowing her sense of responsibility would kill her for it. “Well, if that all turns out okay…”
“You think it won’t?” Dar interrupted mildly. “It’s a lunch date.”
“I know.” Kerry agreed. “But I’d rather not take anything for granted. Now, if that turns out okay, we could go see Bud and make sure he and Charlie are okay.”
“Uh.” Dar grunted.
“We could take Dad out for dinner before his flight.”
“Hm.” That got a much more interested response. “Okay, that sounds good.” Dar agreed. “Where did he run off to, anyway?”
Kerry shook her head. “He didn’t say. Just that he’d be back.” She glanced at the deck pensively. “I think I pissed him off before.”
The chair creaked as Dar leaned towards her. “You?” Her voice expressed disbelief. “How?”
“I asked him about him and Bud and Charlie.” Kerry admitted. “I don’t think he likes people knowing about all that. I guess it’s embarrassing for him.” She paused thoughtfully. “Or something.” She turned her head and gazed at Dar. “I’m sorry I mentioned anything.”
Dar reached over and gave Kerry a scratch on the back of the neck. “Sweetheart, it’s not what you think.” She said. “Yeah, the whole damn thing embarrasses the hell out of him, that’s true.”
“Having them think he was gay, you mean?” Kerry asked. “In that world, it’s kinda understandable.”
Dar chuckled. “No.” She replied. “He didn’t really care about that… but let me start at the beginning.” She cleared her throat. “It was all really my fault.”
“Your fault?” Kerry asked in much the same tone Dar had used moments earlier. “How?”
“I’d just come out to them.” Dar related. “It was tough for my folks, being part of the military world and seeing as I was such a pain in the ass child anyway.”
Kerry smiled, but kept quiet.
“So, my dad went out and read a whole boatload of stuff about homosexuality at the library.” Dar went on. “He even checked a few books out, and took one of them with him on a maneuver with a couple of squads off the base.”
“Yeah.” Dar nodded. “So then he got assigned to sea duty for four months. The captain of the boat he was on was a real tight assed conservative, and one day he went off about gays in front of the guys.” She paused to reflect, then sighed. “So my dad, being my dad, took him into a torpedo room and nearly removed a couple teeth from his mouth.”
“Word got around about it, and everyone put two and two together and got six.” The dark haired woman stretched her legs out. “So after that, Charlie figured he was fair game.”
“Oh.” Kerry frowned. “But… I mean, Dar – he was married, and had a child. Didn’t they get a clue?”
Dar looked at her, one eyebrow lifting in wry sarcasm.
“Yes, I know that’s not necessarily an indication of heterosexuality, but Jesus! Your father drips it.” Kerry protested.
“True. But that’s really what he’s pissed off about.” Dar explained. “It wasn’t that they thought he was gay. Since I am, that wasn’t something he found offensive.”
Kerry cocked her head. “O…kay…” Her brows contracted. “But…”
“He was furious that they thought he was the kind of man who would cheat on his wife.” Dar said, simply. “He never forgave them for that.” She pushed herself out of the chair. “Want a drink?”
“Sure.” Kerry nodded, absorbing the previous information. “Wow. That makes sense.” She shook her head slightly. “It was hard for me to think Dad would have been that embarrassed about something thinking he was what we are.” She admitted. “But I can understand, now.”
“Mm.” Dar agreed. “He told me about it when he came back that time. He said he couldn’t tell mom, but he wanted to share that with me so I knew, in case I heard anything on the base, what really happened.”
“Did you?” Kerry asked, in a soft voice. “Hear anything?”
A half smile twitched at Dar’s lips. “Not directly.” She said. “By that time, I.. um.. had quite the reputation for a temper, and most of the other kids on the base knew if they ribbed me about my father, it meant a fight.”
Kerry tipped her head back and regarded Dar with a slight grin. “Two of a kind.” She reached up and touched the insignia now threaded through the silver chain around Dar’s neck. It nestled together with Dar’s joining ring and collected just the faintest hint of reflection off its dully burnished surface.
Dar stuck her hands in her pockets and looked down at the item, unable to hide the unabashedly proud grin. “Yeah.” Her eyes twinkled. “That we are.” Her attention returned to Kerry’s face. “Don’t worry, Ker. Dad would never be mad at anyone just for asking a question. Especially you.” She stroked Kerry’s hair. “He loves you.”
The green eyes looking up at her filled with unshed tears, as Kerry remained silent, just watching Dar’s expression.
“We’ve got a while before lunch.” Dar said, in a gentle tone. “Let’s go inside, and relax. Okay?” She held a hand out to Kerry. It was taken, and she guided both of them through the cabin door and out of the sun.
Inside, Kerry tugged her to a halt. She moved in and put her arms around Dar and hugged her fiercely.
Dar returned the hug, rubbing Kerry’s back as she did so.
“Urgh.” Kerry exhaled. “Can we just go out and get lost somewhere tomorrow, Dar?” She asked. “Find another of those blue holes, and just leave our minds out to dry?”
“Hmm. That’s an appealing thought.” Dar inclined her head and nipped Kerry on the jawbone. “I could see spending a couple days out lost with you, as a matter of fact.” She felt Kerry’s body press against hers. “I think I know some nice, deserted islands out there where it’ll just be you, me, and if they’re very lucky, a couple of dancing lobsters.”
“Dancing into my nice big pot?” Kerry burrowed into Dar’s chest, breathing in her scent greedily. “I have a bottle of champagne in here that would love to meet them.”
“Oh yeah.” Dar assured her. “We’ll spend the whole day just being sea bums.” She squeezed her partner, feeling her shoulders shift and relax. “Hey, I’ve got an idea.”
“M’sure it’s a good one.” Kerry mumbled into the skin of her neck.
“I know we were going to go up to the condo for New Years… how about we spend it down at the cabin?”
“Kind of get our couple days of vacation back?”
“Mmmmmm” Kerry made a low, pleased humming noise. “Even if we don’t have furniture, I think I’d really, really like that.”
Dar rested her cheek against Kerry’s hair, content with the reaction to her plan. While she knew the interruption was really none of either of their faults, she still felt bad about the net effect of it’s robbing them of their needed time out.
It was funny, but already she found the preceding day’s events fading into memory despite their fantastic nature. She’d always had a philosophy of setting aside things once they were over and done with, but she found it strange that she could look back on what she’d done last night and not have it seem terrifying to her.
It had been a bad situation. She had dealt with it as best as she’d been able to, and in the end things had turned out all right. What more, really, could she have asked?
It was over. Most often, when traumatic things happened, she examined them for lessons to hopefully avoid the problem the next time round, but usually that was in a business sense. Dar sincerely hoped she would not have to put her experience in escaping wacko pseudo pirates to use any time soon in the ILS boardroom.
Her blue eyes twinkled suddenly. Well…..
“What are you doing?” Kerry asked.
“Just thinking.” Dar replied. “Why?”
“I can feel you smiling.”
Dar chuckled. “I was just imagining Alastair dressed as Captain Blood.”
Kerry’s body convulsed into abrupt laughter. “I can barely imagine Alastair dressed as Captain Kangaroo.”
The blond woman sighed, and circled Dar’s neck with her arms, swaying against her as the boat rocked. “Well, one thing for all the stuff that’s happened.”
“Made me totally forget my family.” Kerry murmured.
Dar lifted her head and looked down at Kerry’s profile. “Is that a good thing?”
Kerry nodded. “Maybe seeing other people with crummier relatives than me helped.” She stated. “I was thinking about that this morning after I talked to dad. My parents were pedantic and clueless, Dar – but you know something?”
“I think you were right. I think… at some level, somewhere, they both did love all of us.” Kerry blinked. “Even my father. Even me. Because as bad as he was, somewhere in all that twistedness he thought he was doing the right thing.”
Dar blinked, surprised at the speech.
“I think I’ve seen enough true hatred the past few days to tell the difference.”
“He hated what I was doing. He hated us. He hated my being gay, he hated me squealing on him.” Kerry went on. “But I don’t think he ever hated me.”
Dar nodded silently.
“I can live with that.” The blond woman said. “Because it gives us something in common.”
And then, Dar considered, she’d always lived by the theory that things happened for a reason. She cupped Kerry’s face in her hands and smiled at her. Their eyes met, and she could see a note of tired peace in Kerry’s expression for the first time since they’d gotten back from Michigan. She leaned forward and rubbed noses with her.
Kerry pulled Dar towards her and traded a nose rub for a kiss. Then they hugged each other again.
“Okay.” Kerry released a long, heartfelt sigh. “Let’s get back to the serious business of having fun.”
Dar kissed the back of Kerry’s neck, moving the pale hair aside as she was rewarded with a sudden intake of breath at the action. “I’ve had about enough… “ She growled into the blond woman’s ear. “Of real life intruding on my hedonistic vacation. How about you?”
“You bet.” Kerry felt a nudge. “Hey… “
Dar nudged her again.
“I think I’m being bumped.”
“You are.” Another gentle shove.
“Looks like it’s towards the bedroom.”
“Good sense of direction.”
Kerry lay on her back, her body half tangled in sheets and Dar’s head pillowed on her stomach. She stroked the dark hair laying across her belly idly with one hand, twirling a few strands of it around her fingers. After a moment, she lifted her arm and examined her palm, flexing it a little and turning it into the light.
The bruises were already fading. It felt a little stiff, both her hands did, but more like she’d had a tough workout on the bag at the gym than anything else.
With a brief, pensive sigh, she went back to playing with Dar’s hair, her eyes tracing her lover’s face and watching the faint twitches of a dream flicker under her closed eyelids. Dar had gotten a little bruise herself, Kerry noticed, as she smoothed a fingertip over a discolored patch of tan skin across one high cheekbone.
She leaned closer. More of a burn, really, than a bruise. Kerry frowned, thinking back over the fight and wondering where it could have come from. She remembered hearing Dar curse as she’d been tossed head over tail to safety, and then the sound of a gun going off and…
Kerry’s eyes widened.
Had it come that close? Horrified, she stared at the mark, imagining if it had been just a fraction of a hair different in it’s path.
It had come that close. She had come that close to losing Dar.
Kerry tipped her head back and looked up at the ceiling. Her eyes closed and she whispered a few words of heartfelt thanks to the god that surely, surely had been watching over both of them. She had no doubt now that she was blessed – that Dar was blessed, and that the love between them was as sanctified as any that had ever been.
It would have been so easy to punish her otherwise. Kerry looked back down at Dar’s face. Just a fraction of a inch, and like a wisp of smoke, it all would have been gone.
She felt Dar’s breath warm the skin on her bare belly. She’d still been tired, even after their night’s rest and lying here sleeping she looked as peaceful as a child. Kerry absorbed the sight of her, newly made aware of just how fragile, and how precious life was.
With a soft murmur, Dar stirred, stretching her body out and curling it up again. Her eyes drifted open, and she regarded Kerry with sleepy affection. “Mm.. w’time is it?”
Kerry stroked her cheek. “Near one.” She said.
Dar sighed, a reluctant expression appearing on her face. “I guess we should go find out what our lunch date’s all about, hm?” She drawled. “Didn’t mean to fall asleep on you.”
“Literally.” Kerry smiled. “You were tired.”
Dar nodded. “I tossed around a while last night. Too much noise, I think.”
“Too much excitement.” Kerry agreed. Her index finger traced the mark on Dar’s face. “I didn’t notice this until now.”
“Hm?” Dar’s brows contracted in puzzlement. “Didn’t notice what?”
“The burn on your face.”
“Burn?” Dar lifted a hand and touched the spot, then her expression cleared. “Oh.” She nodded. “Yeah, stupid bastard nearly blew my damn head off.”
Kerry rubbed the spot with a trembling hand. “Yeah, so I see.”
Dar’s expression gentled. “No chance I was going to let him get away with that, though.” She settled back down atop Kerry. “I’m not nearly done living this life with you yet.” Her fingers clasped Kerry’s, and she pulled her hand close and kissed it, nibbling the skin with frank sensuality.
Kerry could only smile at that. “Dar, did you ever get the weird feeling the place we knew each other from before we met wasn’t in this particular lifetime?”
Both of Dar’s dark, finely shaped brows hiked upward. She gazed at Kerry in silence for a few moments, muscles in her face moving slightly as she thought. “I never really considered the question.” She finally answered, with a barely visible shrug.
“Hm.” Kerry felt slightly silly for mentioning the idea. “Well, nevermind. Just something that crossed my mind, I guess.”
“Interesting idea.” Dar mused. “I think I’d accept the notion of reincarnation if I knew it’d be with you.” Her face creased into a pleased grin. “That’d be very cool.”
Kerry grinned back. “Yes, it would, wouldn’t it?” She released her residually morbid thoughts and gave Dar a light scratch on her bare back, rubbing in little circles with her fingertips. Dar responded by purring, and arching her body at the touch. “You’re very playful today.”
Dar rolled over and changed position, sliding her arms and legs over Kerry’s and blowing a gentle puff of air into her ear. “Just glad it’s today. Not yesterday.” She rested her chin on Kerry’s shoulder and gazed at her. “Cmon. The sooner we get this all over with, the sooner I can steal you and take you off to my deserted island.”
“Oo.” Kerry found it very hard to resist the mischevious grin being visited on her. She tilted her head and kissed Dar gently. Then they both rolled out of bed still tangled together, giggling as they attempted to prevent themselves from crashing headlong into the bulkhead.
They separated and Kerry handed Dar her clothing, which was draped haphazardly across the dresser. She watched Dar slide into her swimsuit, reaching out and touching the soft, silken fabric. “I like this.”
“It’s like wearing tissue paper.” Dar remarked dryly. “Or nothing.”
“Mmhm. That’s why I like it.” Kerry agreed, with an impish grin. “It only leaves a tiny bit to the imagination.”
Dar looked down at herself, then up at Kerry, as a faintly surprised chuckle escaped from her chest. She reached out and tickled Kerry’s still bare navel. “I think you’re outgrowing your upbringing.”
Kerry chuckled a little herself, and donned her underwear. She looked up to find Dar holding her bra, and obligingly put her arms through and turned to allow her partner to hook it. She felt Dar’s knuckles warm against the skin of her back, then a much more intense warmth sent goosebumps over her as Dar nibbled at her neck. “Mm.”
Dar released her, and picked up Kerry’s cotton shirt, holding it for her to don. She adjusted the collar and returned to her nibbling as Kerry attempted buttoning it, reaching around to help her when the holes seemed to elude her fingers.
“If you keep that up, this is a pointless exercise.”
Dar relented, and just finished her buttoning, giving Kerry a pat on the behind as she released her again. She put on her shorts and buckled the belt, then pulled a polo shirt over her head and tucked it in.
Kerry regarded her. “Black and blue. Are you sending a message, honey?” She plucked at the rich, royal blue polo.
Dar ran her fingers through her hair and settled her wraparound sunglasses on her nose. “Do I look mysterious and intimidating?”
“Until I look down at your Dilbert socks, sure.” Kerry snickered.
Dar stuck her tongue out and went in search of her sneakers. Kerry finished buttoning her denim shorts and followed, shaking her head.
They found the captain waiting for them at the hotel’s front entrance. He smiled as he spotted them, and inclined his head, then indicated the outside garden area. “Our power is still off, and the inside is quite stuffy.”
“I can imagine.” Kerry glanced up at the sun, out in it’s full glory. Despite the breeze, she could feel a little sweat gathering under her clothes, and she was unapologetically looking forward to taking them off again. She followed the captain into the garden, and they took a seat at a one of the only two open tables, the wooden chairs warm from the sun.
Dar settled next to her, watching the captain warily from behind her sunglasses. “So.” She said. “What can we do for you?”
The policeman motioned a harried looking waiter over. “Some ice tea, if you please.”
“We have no ice, sir.” The man gave him an apologetic look.
“How about some lukewarm tea?” Kerry suggested. “And a couple of whatever sandwiches you probably have available.”
The waiter glanced at the policeman.
“As the lady says.” The captain smiled. “Since we have little choice, I gather.”
“Yes, sir.” The waiter scribbled, then ducked away.
The captain sat back and clasped his hands around one khaki covered knee. He regarded them both for a moment in silence, then spoke. “Many things have occurred over the past several days.”
Now, that was a true mouthful. Kerry propped her chin up on her fist. “Sure have.”
“We were not able to locate the intruder into your rooms.” He stated. “And it appears the reputed employer of that person also has left the islands.” His eyes studied them intently. “We found that quite curious, since the marina tells us he had prepaid his engagement for some time”
Dar evaluated her options. Then she pulled her glasses down and met his eyes very squarely. “If we knew why he wasn’t here, would you want us to tell you?”
The captain’s face twitched a bit, and his head cocked to one side. “I have heard some interesting things bout about this man, and about yourself, Ms. Roberts.” He commented. “If I investigate your statement, perhaps I will learn more interesting things.”
“You might.” Dar agreed.
“However, I might also learn some things that will require me to work very, very hard.” The captain gave her a charming smile. “And it is too beautiful a day to be working so hard. So, Ms. Roberts, I will regretfully decline your so generous offer of information.”
Dar gave him a mental point, and removed a moral one. “Good choice.” She said. “Because, frankly captain, nice as your island is, we’re looking forward to seeing it behind us.”
“That is excellent to hear, Ms. Roberts.” The man turned, as the waiter put down a plate of sandwiches, and a flask of tea. “May I assume then, that you have no interest in pursuing your complaint?” He asked. “Or the disagreeable encounter you had at sea?”
Dar leaned forward. “I’ve settled with DeSalliers, and no, your friends the pirates are safe.” She enunciated the words carefully, but lowered her voice. “I’ve had enough trouble the last few days to last me the entire next year, thanks.”
“My friends?” The policeman replied. “Ah, but you have such friends as well, do you not?”
Dar inclined her head in agreement. She picked up a half sandwich and inspected it, then grinned. “Oh, I bet this is popular with the rest of the tourists.” She showed Kerry the contents. “Peanut butter.”
“It does not spoil so quickly.” The policeman graciously accepted the change of subject and selected his own square of white bread. “Otherwise, you have enjoyed our hospitality, I hope?”
Kerry paused in the act of pouring some tea. “The islands are beautiful.” She said. “I can guarantee we won’t forget our visit any time soon.”
The captain took a bite of his peanut butter sandwich and smiled.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Kerry whispered, as they relieved the grateful grocers of some of their perishables. “I don’t think those guys get along, Dar.”
Dar reviewed the choices in the rapidly melting ice. “They’ll be fine.” She pointed at a fish. “Get that one. Dad likes them.”
Kerry motioned to the man behind the counter. A trip to the hospital had revealed that Bud was refusing to remain in it’s care, and he and Charlie were more than ready to leave the place behind. Dar had immediately offered them a ride back to their island, and casually invited them to join her, Kerry and Andrew for dinner on board their boat.
There was, everyone had realized, no real way for them to refuse given the circumstances, and now Kerry was gathering enough food to feed them while hoping the evening didn’t turn out to be a disaster. “I don’t know, sweetie.” She sighed. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
Dar added several loaves of local bread to Kerry’s basket, and sent the grocer into raptures by taking some endangered ice cream off his hands. “Dad agreed to it, so don’t worry.” She tossed a jar of hot fudge in. “Time to put all that crap behind them anyhow, and besides, whatever you make’s gonna be a lot better than anything we’d find out here tonight.”
Kerry accepted the compliment with a grin. “Only because we’ve got power.” She reminded Dar. “We’re going to have to run the engines to charge the batteries, remember., if you want anything more than half cooked.”
“No problem.” Dar murmured. “They’ve got hand pressured pumps. I was able to get them to fill the tanks this morning.” She eyed the rather sad looking vegetables. “Those look nasty.”
Kerry snorted. “Dar, if they were perfect examples of their species, presented in the best refrigerated case Publix could offer, you’d still think they were nasty.”
“However, I need some of them so close your eyes or go look at the cupcakes.”
Dar chuckled. “I’ll go get something for us to drink.” She said. “Meet you at the register.”
Kerry was just finishing the folds on the aluminum foil she’d wrapped around the filets when she felt the boat rock and looked up to see Andrew poking his head inside the cabin. “Hi dad.”
“Lo there, kumquat.” Andrew entered and wandered over to where she was working, observing her creation curiously. “Making us some fancy dinner?”
“It’s not fancy.” Kerry dusted the fish with some finely chopped herbs then poured a capful of cider over it before she sealed the packets. “It just a different way of cooking it.”
Andy leaned on the counter. “Seems a lot of trouble for bunch of old sea dogs.”
Kerry turned her head and smiled at him. “Nah.” She put the packet with the others on top of the steamer grill insert in the big pot on the stove, and set a layer of vegetables on top of it. Another pot held water for pasta and she put a lid on it before she wiped her hands on a towel and leaned back. “Okay, we’re ready.” She said. “Coffee just finished – want some?”
“Surely.” Andrew replied, taking hold of her sleeve. “Go sit yourself down and relax. I’ll grab it.” He tugged. “G’wan.”
Kerry decided to humor him. She eased out from behind the galley and walked over to one of the chairs, dropping into it and leaning back. She watched her father in law setting the cups on the counter and fixing the coffee, his motions measured and precise as always.
She saw Dar in that. Her partner had the same, unconsciously methodical way of doing things. “Hey, dad?”
Andrew glanced at her and raised one grizzled eyebrow.
“Are you okay with our dinner plans, or are you just humoring your daughter?”
A twinkle appeared in his blue eyes. “Wall.” He picked up the coffee cups and walked over, setting hers down and folding his big hands around his own as he took a seat next to her. “One thing I done learned about my kid. She does something, it’s got a reason.” He said. “She ain’t the frivolous type.”
That force a chuckle out of Kerry. “Uh, no. That’s very true.”
“So, if she wants us to mix up, I figure we’ll all survive it.” Andrew said. “Don’t you worry, Kerry. I know you had a tough time the past few days – nobody’s gonna make this a bad night for you if I can help it.”
“Thanks.” Kerry smiled at him with quiet affection. “But I think it’s been tough for all of us. Bud didn’t have any picnic in there.”
“No.” Andrew said. “That’s true enough. He done all right though. Coulda been a lot worse. Them fellas on that there boat were mean folks.”
Kerry sipped her coffee. “Mean people really suck.”
“Yeap.” Andrew put his cup on the small table and leaned forward, letting his elbows rest on his knees. “Hell of a thing to go on during your R and R.” He said. “You two should go find some quiet spot for bit now.”
“We are.” Kerry said. “We’re going to spend a few days at the cabin. We figure we can’t get into too much trouble there.”
Andy snorted softly.
“Yeah, I know. I suggested Niagra Falls, and Dar said it’d probably stop while we were there and we’d get blamed.” Kerry sighed. “I think we’re fated for that sort of thing.”
“Well.” He reached out and patted her knee. “Least you know if you get into trouble, you got family to call on to help you out.”
Kerry blinked at him, then exhaled. “That’s true.” She nodded. “That’s kind of new for me.”
Andrew nodded back, his expression serious. “Ah know that, Kerry, cause it’s the same thing I had with my own folks.” He said. “When Ceci and I ran off, they scratched me off the front page of the bible, so I know what it feels like to have your own kin turn their backs on you.”
“Yeap.” Andy agreed. “It does that. Took me a long time to get past it.”
“But you did.”
“Yeap.” He said again. “I come to realize you can’t figure nobody else’s attitudes. All you got control over is your own, so I got mine, and just put them all out there.” His eyes met hers. “I ain’t talked to my folks in thirty some years.”
Kerry leaned forward until they were almost knee to knee. “Do you ever feel guilty about that?”
“Some.” Andy admitted. “I was close with my mother.” He said. “But I knew the hating wasn’t on my side, and living mah life with Ceci made all that worth the trouble.”
Kerry took his hand and squeezed it. “Thanks.”
He winked at her. She grinned, then found herself pulled to her feet as Andrew stood and offered her a hug.
She accepted willingly. “You rock.”
“You’re not so bad yourself, kumquat.” Andy patted her on the back and released her. “Don’t you worry about me and the boys. Bout time we flushed that old mess down the bilge anyhow.”
“Okay.” Kerry smiled. “Now all I have to worry about is whether or not everyone likes fish.”
“Kerry.” Andrew put a hand on her shoulder. “You spend the time putting down the hatch what we did, you damn near like anything that ain’t crawling or made of sandpaper.”
“Wanna hear about what live crickets taste like?”
“How bout worms?”
Dar walked down the towards the docks, having settled their bill with the hotel and picked up a last few things for their outbound trip. The hotel, she was sure, was more than glad to be rid of them, especially since they’d comped their room and only charged them a few incidentals. Dar had graciously left a decent tip in the room, and found herself just as glad to be vacating it.
The sound of loud engines made her pause as she turned the corner that lead to the waterfront, and she stopped as she saw the big red and white Coast Guard cutter idling into a slip.
Dar leaned a hand on the wall and looked thoughtfully at it. She could just walk past it and get on the Dixie, but her sense of curiousity was getting the better of her and instead she angled her steps towards the boarding ramp the crew were muscling into place.
A tall, blond officer trotted down it, his steps slowing as he got to the bottom and spotted Dar coming straight for him, making eye contact just to take away any doubt that he was the object of her interest.
He stopped at the base of the ramp and waited, twitching his shoulders straighter as Dar closed in. “Ma’am?”
“Captain.” Dar inclined her head. “Mind if I ask you a question?”
“No, ma’am, go ahead.” The officer responded. “What can I do for you?”
Dar collected her thoughts a moment. “We were out in the storm last night.” She began.
“And it was a rough one.” The captain agreed. “We were out there ourselves. I trust you got in safely?”
“Yes.” Dar nodded. “But we radioed in a distress call for a boat we saw out there. I was wondering if you were the ones we talked to, and what happened.”
The man cocked his head to one side. “We had quite a few calls.” He said, with a apologetic grin. “What time was it?”
“Late. Eleven maybe? Out to the southeast of here.” Dar’s eyes flicked to the man’s name tag, then back to his face.
“Ah.” The captain murmured. “Yes, I remember the call. Tell you what, let’s go check the logs.” He turned and lead the way back up the ramp with Dar at his heels. “I don’t want to give you the wrong information.”
Dar gave the scattering of coasties busy working a friendly nod as she followed the captain on board. They entered the bridge, and the captain ducked inside the communications room and picked up a book. He brought it out and thumbed through it as she stood there watching.
“Ah.” He leaned on the book. “Yeah, here it is. 11:32 local. Are you the Dixieland Yankee?”
Dar chucked. “Well, I own it.” She drawled. “She’s a little bigger than I am.”
The captain glanced at her, and grinned. “Sorry.” He glanced back down. “SOS reported in with latitude and longitude. We went to those coordinates, Ms…?”
“Roberts, but unfortunately I have to tell you we didn’t find any boat there to rescue.” Captain Culver told her, with an apologetic look.
Dar was momentarily stunned. “Ah.” She murmured. “You didn’t find anything?”
“Well..” The captain lifted his hand. “We didn’t spend a lot of time looking, to be honest with you. The storm was about on us, and we were pitching like nobody’s business. We didn’t see any boat, and our spotlight didn’t pick up any debris, if that’s what you mean.”
“Mm.” Dar inhaled. “Well, I understand, since we were being tossed around last night too. We were glad to see the marina.”
“Good job to get in safely.” The captain said. “Were they friends of yours?”
“No.” Dar shook her head. “Just a fellow boater, in trouble.”
“We’ll take a run out there after we finish here, and see if we see anything.” The coast guardsman told her. “And if you’re in the area I’ll… ah…”
Dar glanced at him as he hesitated. “Yes?”
He blinked. “Oh, sorry.” He rubbed the back of his crew cut in mild embarrassment. “Your necklace caught my eye. I’ve never seen a woman with one of those before.”
With what? Dar’s brows contracted, then she looked down at herself. “Oh.” She murmured. “It’s my fathers.” She told him, with a faint smile. “No, they haven’t let women into the program.”
The captain grinned. “Gotcha. We’ll let you know if we find anything. Will you be in port here for long?” He closed the book and folded his arms across his chest, watching her.
“We’re leaving tonight.” Dar replied. “But we’ll be around. Give us a holler.”
“Absolutely.” Captain Culver held a hand out. “Nice to meet you, Ms. Roberts. Have a safe trip.”
Dar clasped his hand, then allowed him to guide her out of the bridge and down the ramp. She left the cutter behind and walked on down the dockside, deep in thought.
“Hey, Kerry?” Charlie spoke up, as Kerry was pouring another round of wine. “You interested in changing professions? I got a job for you if you are. This is some first rate chow.”
Kerry seated herself, giving Charlie a smile as she acknowledged the compliment. “Thanks, but no – I’m happy with the job I have.”
“You sure? Hospitality business’s got great benefits.” Charlie countered.
Kerry sucked on her fork. “Well.” She mulled the idea over. “Let’s see. In my current position, I can walk into my bosses office, shut the door, and get a kiss that sends my stockings flying out the window. Can you beat that?” She enquired, with a completely serious expression.
A tiny squawking noise made her look right, to see Dar caught in mid chew, her blue eyes widening in startlement as everyone turned to stare at her.
“Oo.” Kerry murmured. “I’ve never seen you blush like *that* before.”
Dar swallowed and shook her spoon at her partner. “I’m gonna make you blush in a minute, Kerrison.” She warned. “I’ll tell them what you like to do with i..fmpf.”
“Dar!” Kerry covered her partner’s mouth. “Bad girl! Not in front of your father!”
Andrew started laughing, his low rumbling breaking the moment.
Dar nipped her fingers, making her yelp and remove her hand.
“Lord.” Andrew chuckled. “If you two ain’t something.”
“Yeah?” Dar turned her head. “Remind me to tell you sometime about Kerry’s views on parental sex.”
Kerry covered her eyes. “Jesus, Dar. I’m going to kill you.” She uttered in a hoarse squeak.
Bud, who had been silently eating his dinner since his arrival, chortled softly at that. He was still obviously stiff and sore, but he’d remained peaceful during the meal, his usual acerbic comments missing
Cautiously, Kerry peeked out from behind her hand, trying to ignore the twin pair of twinkling blue eyes. Dar poked the very tip of her tongue out at her, and Kerry made a grab for it, snatching her partner’s nose instead and tweaking it. “Troublemaker.”
Dar pointed at herself in mock innocence, then at Kerry. “You started it.”
“Kerry, I gotta give it to you. I can’t beat that benny pack.” Charlie shook his head, his bearded face crinkling into a grin. “And I wouldn’t wanna try.”
Kerry leaned her flushed cheek against her fist. “I know. I asked for that.” She poked Dar’s shoulder. “But thanks for the compliment. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, and I especially like doing it for people who appreciate the results.”
“Hey, I appreciate it.” Dar interjected.
“I know, honey – that’s why I always do it for you.” Kerry smiled.
Everyone chuckled. Kerry relaxed, relieved that the evening hadn’t been nearly as uncomfortable as she’d imagined it would be. They were all clustered around the small table, enjoying her fish and vegetables as the boat rocked gently, the windows open to catch the cool evening breeze.
She’d lit candles to save the drain on the batteries, and in the background Dar had a light, peaceful new age CD playing.
She had surprise for Dar. Something she’d held in the back of the small freezer and earlier had put in the refrigerator to thaw. “Ready for dessert?” Kerry inquired.
“Does it involve chocolate?” Dar asked immediately.
“Heh.” Kerry got up and went into the galley. She put an already completed pot of coffee on the counter, along with cream and sugar.
“So, Andy. Dar said you’re living out on a boat now?” Charlie asked, breaking the brief silence.
“Yeap.” Andrew agreed solemnly. “Bout pulled my shorts out. Ceci up and figgred she wanted to live on one, after all them years kicking me to get off em.”
“Hard to believe.” Bud contributed, in a low mutter.
“She still doing her painting?” Charlie said.
“Definitely.” Dar answered. “She’s got a workshop set up in the living space, right around there.” She indicated the similar area in their boat. “Only it’s bigger.”
Charlie put his fork down. “ You got one of these things?” He asked Andrew in a surprised voice. “What the hell’d they pension you off with, excess Sandinista funds?”
Andy chuckled, and refused to take offense. “Naw.” He reached over and tugged a bit of Dar’s hair. “My kid took care of it.”
Charlie and Bud both looked at Dar. Dar shrugged modestly. “Not really. My aunt May left me a trust fund after she died. I signed it over to them.” She glanced at her father. “It was their choice how to use it.” She said. “I never felt like that was owed me anyway, after her leaving me the condo, and this thing. “
Charlie whistled under his breath. He looked at Andrew. “Bet you’re glad she didn’t end up a swabbie, ain’t you?”
Andy snorted. “Hell, I’da been happy in a Quonset hut.” He leaned back. “But that there boat’s a hoot and a half, no question. Ceci’s having her a good old time with it.”
Bud eyed him. “You guys lucked out.” He remarked, but in a mild tone.
“Hell yes.” Andy hitched a knee up and circled it with both big hands. “Spent all them years in hell, now we got some good times. Life’s evened out for a change.” He glanced at both men. “I done paid my dues.”
“That’s for sure.” Charlie murmured. “Glad things came out all right for you, Andy.”
“Mm.” Bud grunted.
A little silence fell. Kerry picked up the tray and returned, setting it on the table. “This is a favorite of Dar’s.” She explained, pointing to the round, fudgy looking creation in the center. “So if you don’t like chocolate, blame her.”
Dar exhaled as the tension dissipated around her. She cast an appreciative glance at the tray, recognizing the chocolate on chocolate on chocolate mousse cake Kerry had created for her for her last birthday. “Mm.. where did that come from?” She asked. “Don’t’ tell me you made it while I was out this afternoon.”
Kerry passed plates around, and collected the used ones. Surprisingly, Bud got up and took the dinner plates from her, carrying to the galley and setting them in the sink. “Not quiet. I made it before we left home. It’s been in the freezer.”
“You didn’t tell me that.” Dar observed the carving of her portion with a jealous eye.
“Because I wanted it to last the trip.” Her partner dryly commented. “And I wanted to get at least a small piece.”
“Wow.” Charlie had tasted the cake. “Mind if I get this recipe from you, Kerry? I’d sell a million pieces of this in the shop.”
Kerry sat down and picked up her fork. “Not at all.” She put her free hand down on her knee and found it immediately captured and squeezed under the table. “I’m just really glad everything turned out okay.”
Everyone murmured agreement. Bud cleared his throat, and reluctantly met Andrew’s eyes. “Thanks.” He muttered.
“Welcome.” Andy replied.
“Any word on the jerk?” Charlie asked suddenly.
There was another awkward silence. “The Coast Guard didn’t find them.” Dar stated matter-of-factly. “There wasn’t anything at the coordinates we gave.”
Andrew snorted. “Serves them bastards right if they sank.”
“Damned if we don’t finally agree on something.” Bud said. “Assholes.”
Charlie nodded. “Yep. Hope the fish had a damn good dinner.”
“Hey.” Bud spoke up. “You and Ceci ever ride out this way?”
Andrew finished his cake. “Thinking about it.” He replied. “Ceci’s done into painting them ocean things again. Looking for new stuff.”
“Stop by and have dinner.”
Even Charlie looked surprised.
“Surely.” Andy drawled. “Thanks for the invite.”
Bud grunted and went back to eating, apparently having exhausted his sociability for the moment.
Dar and Kerry exchanged looks. Kerry felt the clasp on her hand tighten, and she squared her shoulders, digging her fork into her dessert and taking a bite with determined enjoyment. After all, they’d done what they could, more than most would have given the circumstances.
Dar had been right – at some point, you have to accept responsibility for the things you did. She had, and whatever fate DeSalliers had come to, he would have to do the same.
What you cast out onto the waters came back to you, in the end. Sometimes it took a while, and sometimes you had to go through hell before it did, like Andrew had. Sometimes you got off scott free for a lifetime and had it all your way, like her father had.
But eventually the circle would close.
Kerry smiled, and looked up to find Dar smiling back at her.
Sometimes, you didn’t even have to wait a lifetime.
Kerry swung gently in the hammock, doing nothing more strenuous than watching the seagulls. She lifted a hand and took a swig from the longneck bottle of beer, finding an interesting patch of clouds wandering its way across the clear blue sky. “Hey…. Dar?”
“Uh?” The other occupant on the hammock grunted in her ear incoherently.
“Y’think I should check my blood pressure right now?”
“Does that mean I gotta get up?” Dar mumbled. “I think your pressure’s fine. I can hear your heartbeat. It’s whistling Dixie.”
“Mmm.” Kerry agreed. “I feel very, very relaxed.” She lifted her other hand, linked with Dar’s, and kissed her partner’s fingers. “Coming back here was a really good idea.”
“I could stay here for weeks.”
“There’s a rabbit on your hip.”
Kerry turned her head and indulgently watched Dar’s mostly asleep profile. There was a dusting of beach sand on her cheek, and the dark hair, slightly overgrown, was hiding almost all of one eye. “Would you like to take the bike out and ride down US 1 naked with me?”
“I think the idea sounds better than it really is.” Kerry blew a lock of Dar’s hair back. “It’s gnat season.”
One blue eye opened. “Ew.”
“Mm.” Kerry pushed against the porch railing, swinging them both gently. “I was joking about the nude riding, but we could go down the road a bit and watch fireworks tonight.”
“We could do that.” Dar agreed sleepily. “How about we bring that bottle of champagne with us, and toast the new year out on the beach?”
“Oo.” Kerry rubbed the side of her nose, which itched. “Hey. We’re missing the company party.”
Dar just snorted. “Only thing I’m gonna miss is not getting to dance with you in front of all of them.” She grumbled. “And we can do that here without having to suffer through high heels.”
“Okay.” Kerry rolled onto her side and sprawled over Dar, drawing in a breath full of cocoa butter and apricot body scrub. “I’ll bring my MP3 player with us on the bike.”
“Does it have speakers?’
“I intend for us to share the ear buds.”
“That means Who Let the Dogs Out isn’t on the playlist, right?”
Kerry chuckled happily. “Ah, now this is a vacation, Dar.” She nuzzled her partner’s ear. “Just you and me, no pirates, no land sharks, no snooty but curiously ineffective private eyes…..”
“Uh huh… a vacation from our vacation.” Dar said. “From now on, we’ll just take em two weeks at a time. One week to get into trouble, one week to recover from it.” She turned her head slightly and kissed the lips that had been nibbling her ear. “Mm. You taste like hot peppers.”
Kerry licked her lips. “Those were very tasty mud bugs.” She held up her beer. “I’ve been trying to cool my mouth down since we had lunch.”
Dar tasted her lips again. “There’s a little redneck steak joint about three miles south of here. Wanna join me there for a very low class New Years Eve dinner?”
“Is this the kind of place where you get a side order of butter with your deep fried garlic bread?”
“And they serve brown gravy with the fries?”
“That and cheese sauce.”
“I’m there.” Kerry glanced over her shoulder at the sun. “Let’s go grab a shower and dress down.” She suggested. “We can laugh about poor Mark in his tuxedo.”
Dar took her time getting up, wrapping her hand around the back of Kerry’s neck and giving her a thorough, passionate kissing first. Then they eased out of the hammock and went inside, still attached to each other.
Showered and dressed, Kerry perched on the wicker stool next to the kitchen counter and studied the envelope in front of her. She picked up her black, permanent marker and wrote on the manilla face, carefully outlining a name and address.
When she was finished, she picked up the battered, much folded piece of laminated plastic and spread it flat, pressing it between two pieces of cardboard. She taped it in place, then slid the entire thing into the envelope.
“Bob, I’d like to believe you’re on the up and up, but you know, you’re pretty skunky.” Kerry said, as she sealed the envelope. “And as much as you praised your friend Tanya, I gotta wonder about anyone who would either hang out with you, or hire you to do something.”
She picked up the stamps she’d gotten at the local post office and affixed the proper number of them. “So, I figure the one person who actually should get this will probably know what the best thing to do with it is.”
Dar came out of the bedroom, tucking a pristine white heavyweight T-shirt into her worn jeans. “Ready?”
“Yep.” Kerry held up the envelope. “I need to call Richard and thank him for delivering this to the nursing home for me.”
“He’s a good guy.” Dar agreed, picking up her leather jacket and slinging it over her shoulder. “There’s a mailbox in town. We can drop it there.”
Kerry picked up her own jacket and followed Dar out the door. The bike was already waiting for them, and she shrugged into her jacket as they walked over to it “Hey. I wanna drive.”
Dar paused, and eyed her.
“Cmon, c’mon..” Kerry handed her the envelope. “It’s just a few miles, remember?”
“Uh huh.” Dar held the bike steady while Kerry climbed on, then she settled herself behind her partner, her longer legs able to hold the machine up despite her perch. “Y’know, Ker…”
“I know. I know.” Kerry hopped up onto the seat. “Humor me.”
“Watch it, Dixiecup.” Kerry warned. “Or I’ll have them put tiny tires on this so I can reach.”
Dar kissed the back of Kerry’s neck. “You’re so cute.” She handed her partner her helmet. “Here.”
Kerry started the engine, and waited for Dar to wind a long arm around her middle before she started off, heading for the road and turning carefully onto it. “Where’s the post box?” She asked, getting used to the difference in balance with both of them on the bike.
Dar’s hand pointed, and she aimed for it, pausing by it long enough for her partner to drop the envelope in. “That’s that.” She called back. “Let’s go have some fun!” She felt Dar’s other arm wrap firmly around her, and she gunned the throttle. “How fast does this go, anyway?”
“I don’t remember.” Dar answered. “Why?”
“Let’s find out!.” Kerry opened the bike up. With a roar, and a back blast of sand, they headed off towards the sunset.