Author's Note: Hey, Fanfiction put up a TOTSS page! Wow, great! I am going to post my story then, as well as on Carolyn's fanfic page. And I am going to update it very soon, I promise! Enjoy the story, and please read and review! It will be a David/Isabelle eventually, they're just so great together!
The day was warm, but a refreshing breeze danced its way along the harbor as the ship from Sydney pulled up to Matavai Bay. The regular dockworkers watched it with interest. This was not a ship from one of the normal runs they saw. They watched with even more interest as only one passenger departed, carrying one carpetbag and directing the placement of one single trunk. As she straightened up and started walking towards them, they stopped and stared. She was of medium height, and modestly covered by a deep blue skirt and pale blue blouse, but the ever-present breezes wrapped the cloth tightly around her slender, yet sweetly curved, figure. She plucked her hat off her head and stood for a moment, closing her eyes and breathing deeply of the island air. Her loosened hair, cut short at just below her shoulders, blew around her face in a shining chestnut cloud. As she continued her walk, passing each of the men, their heads turned to take in the delicate features and admire her graceful yet determined steps.
She paused at the edge of the dock to confer with the captain of the ship. He spoke a few low words to her, then pointed in the direction of Lavinia's bar. She nodded and gave him a sweet smile, and he tipped his hat to her and turned to go back to his ship. The young woman took one more look around her, then, clutching the carpetbag more securely and placing her hat back on her head, started towards the town.
David Grief was occupied in a card game, but his head often turned towards the corner where Mauriri Lepau, his former partner, was nursing his drink and steadfastly refusing to look in David's direction. David sighed. It had been two months since Jenny had been shot, and in spite of every overture he could think of, Mauriri still hadn't forgiven him for risking the Rattler and taking their money to give to the duplicitous woman. David was supremely grateful that Isabelle Reed had stepped in and offered to bail David out by paying for repairs to the ship, thereby making her his partner. Not only had Isabelle saved the ship, but insisted that she be a part of the running of the business. David had been annoyed at first, but he was discovering that Isabelle had as shrewd a head for shipping as she had for horse breeding, and she was turning out to be a very good sailor. He found himself enjoying her company and her sharp tongue more than he expected.
Lavinia sighed as she watched the two men who were her best friends in the world. She couldn't think of anything she hadn't tried that would break the ice between them, and it hurt her heart to see the rift between two formerly close friends and partners. She was distracted from her ruminations by the entrance of a stranger. The young woman was looking around her with interest, one hand holding a sturdy carpetbag. She spoke to one of Lavinia's girls, who turned and pointed to Lavinia. The girl thanked her and approached the bar.
"Are you Lavinia?" she asked. Her voice was low but steady, and Lavinia could hear from the accent that the girl was American. She nodded, and the girl's face broke into a dazzling smile. It transformed her face from stunning into outright beautiful, aided by the fact that the intensely sapphire blue eyes were now bright and shining. "Oh, good!" she exclaimed. "I am in desperate need of a room to stay, and the captain of the ship I arrived on said that you might have something. Do you have a room? I am prepared to pay whatever price you ask."
Lavinia was taken aback by the directness of the girl's words, but she recovered quickly and replied that she did. The girl then sighed.
"Thank you. I was afraid that I would have to spend the night sitting on the beach and watching the water. Not that it isn't a nice thought, but perhaps it would be safer to stay inside." Her smile was infectious, and Lavinia found herself grinning back. "Oh, I'm sorry. My name is Kathryn Leighton, by the way."
Lavinia frowned a bit. Leighton…the name was familiar. Before she could think of where she had heard it, David came up to the bar and set down his glass. "Another, if you please, Lavinia," he said. "I'm doing quite well at the table, and need to not be thirsty."
Lavinia rolled her eyes and reached for his glass, but before she could even pour, Kathryn turned and stared at David. He glanced at her and blinked at her intense scrutiny.
"David? David Grief? Is that you?"
David was surprised to hear this stranger refer to him by name, but he returned her gaze, and after a few moments his brow cleared.
"Katie? Oh my God, is that you? You've grown up, little girl!"
Her face broke into a brilliant smile, and she laughed. "It's to be expected, David, it's been almost six years!" She then flung herself at David, catching him around the neck, and he hugged her back, laughing as he spun her in a circle. He then set her down, grabbing her shoulders and looking her over from head to toe as she held onto his arms and smiled.
He shook his head in astonishment. "When I last saw you, you were barely beginning to wear dresses instead of trousers and refused to put your hair up, and you were still a girl! Look at you now! You're absolutely lovely."
"I've grown up, David. I'm an adult now."
"You are that," he agreed. He then turned to Lavinia and said, "Lavinia, may I present Miss Kathryn Leighton, formerly known as Katie, who, if I am up on current events, is the head of Leighton Shipping Enterprises."
Lavinia's eyes widened. So that was why the name was so familiar! Leighton Shipping was one of the foremost companies in America, and was making quite a name for itself in the South Seas. And this girl was the head of it? And wanted a room at her place? Why, she had enough to rent herself the best house in town, not a little room attached to the back of a bar!
Kathryn seemed to sense the source of Lavinia's surprise, because she said, "I like your place, Lavinia. I would like to room here; there's so much going on! I've never been one to isolate myself when interesting things were happening around me. And please, call me Katie. Kathryn always seemed to me to be so stuffy."
"Well, Katie it is then. Welcome to Matavai. I can take you up to your room now, if you like."
"Thank you, Lavinia, I would appreciate it. I only have one trunk back at the dock, but I don't need it right away. Can I pay you in advance for two week's rental on the room?"
Lavinia nodded and quoted a price. Katie raised her eyebrows, then counted off several bills, adding extra to what Lavinia had asked for. Katie waved her off, saying that she knew the price was much too low, and the money she offered was only fair. With a smile, Lavinia took it and began to lead Katie up the stairs. Katie turned and admonished David to be sure to be waiting when she got back down, then continued following Lavinia up.
David turned and leaned back against the bar, shaking his head in astonishment. Katie Leighton, after all those years! His mind remembered the whirlwind of energy that had been 17-year old Katie, and compared it to the young woman he had just spoken to. He could sense that the fire was still there, but now much more managed, and in an even lovelier form. He looked around him suddenly, noting that several men had turned their heads to watch Katie walk up the stairs. He sighed. Dear Lord, it had been trying enough when she had been seventeen; he was sure that his protective instincts towards the girl he considered a little sister were going to be sorely tried now that she was fully grown. In spite of that, he was really delighted that she had shown up. He had missed her; the few letters they had exchanged over the past six years had been nice, but nothing like face-to-face conversation. He knew that she had endured tragedies over the years, and he had wished he could have helped her somehow. Well, now was his chance to catch up and see if his friend needed anything from him, which he would be happy to do for her.
He spotted Isabelle entering the bar and pausing to speak to one of her feed suppliers, and took a moment to admire her. She was dressed in her working "uniform" of trousers and a green shirt, and her thick dark curls were softly pulled back from her face, a few wayward tendrils dancing in the gentle breeze. He watched her animated face, smiling as she shared a laugh with the other man. She was an intriguing mixture of tough business sense and vulnerable woman who was still learning about keeping deep friendships. And he found himself wanting more and more to be the one to teach her.
Isabelle finished her conversation with the man and headed over to David. He smiled at her as she leaned up against the bar next to him, and she returned his smile with a grin of her own.
"The horse business going well, Isabelle?"
"It's doing wonderfully, as you're well aware of, David. After all, you ask me about it every time I see you. How's your game going?"
"Then why aren't you playing?" She cocked one eyebrow and glanced at him.
"I met up with an old friend. Kind of distracted me. She should be coming down any minute; she's rented a room from Lavinia."
"Ah," was Isabelle's only comment. She felt a little stab of hurt. She wasn't sure exactly why the thought that another woman had entered David's life was painful, and she didn't really want to examine it. It was bad enough that she felt almost compelled to seek out his company more often than their partnership, or even friendship, demanded; the idea that she could have much deeper feelings frightened her. She had never really been in a serious relationship, and one with David Grief was a chancy thing. She and David were silent for a moment, then David's head turned towards the stairs as a lovely young woman descended them. His wide smile as he hurried over to her irritated Isabelle.
David took the young woman's hand and led her over to Isabelle. Isabelle noted, with some dismay, that this woman's beauty put Veronica Gray, Jenny Duval, and even Lavinia and herself, to shame. The girl's features looked as though a master sculptor had worked on her, and added a touch of exoticness in the shape of her eyes and cheekbones. Her gleaming waves of chestnut hair just brushed her shoulders, and her slender figure was still evident through the full skirt and blouse. Her large eyes, though, were what amazed Isabelle the most. They were the bright, direct blue of a fine sapphire, or a perfect summer sky, and they were fringed around by thick black lashes. She mustered a weak smile as the young woman stopped in front of her.
"Katie, I want you to meet my friend and business partner, Isabelle Reed. Isabelle, this is Kathryn Leighton, from America."
"Call me Katie, please," the girl said as she extended her hand and shook Isabelle's. "David calls me that, and I like it. It's just what I would want my big brother to call me."
Isabelle was confused. "David's your brother?"
Katie laughed. "Oh, no, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply that he was. No, David met me a few years ago when he traveled to America. He did a little business for my father, but while he stayed with us, I got to love him like a brother. I'm sure he didn't mind," she remarked, glancing at David with sarcasm in her voice. "I think he liked having a little sister to hero-worship him."
David shook his head even as he tried not to laugh. "As if you ever did more than heap abuse on me as though I really was your brother!"
Katie grinned at him, not denying his words. Isabelle smiled too, feeling an irrational surge of relief that this girl was not someone who had been romantically involved with David. She then frowned. Leighton? She knew that name. Suddenly it came to her, and her eyes widened as she looked at Katie.
"Leighton? As in 'Leighton Shipping Enterprises?' One of the fastest-growing businesses in the South Seas?"
Katie nodded. "That's me. I run Leighton Shipping. I became the head after my parents' death."
Isabelle's mouth dropped open a little. That being true meant that this young woman was not only disgustingly rich, but ran a very powerful and influential company. This would be very interesting. Isabelle intended to be a very good friend to this girl. It never hurt to cover your back in the shipping business.
"Wait. Isabelle Reed? David, is this the Isabelle that you write about in your letters?" Katie asked. Isabelle blinked in surprise that David had mentioned her, and she turned her head to stare inquiringly at him. She was even more surprised to see that David was blushing slightly as he acknowledged Katie's question in the affirmative. She felt a blush coming into her own cheeks, and quickly turned her gaze back to Katie.
Katie's eyes darted between the two of them, and a small smile flitted over her lips before she schooled her features into pleasantness. Isabelle herself darted a glance over at David, and felt relieved that he wasn't looking at her, and hadn't witnessed her moment of weakness.
David took Katie's arm and said, "Why don't we sit down at that table over there? We can catch up in more comfort than standing around."
She nodded, then looked around and said, "Isabelle, why don't you and Lavinia join us? I'd hate to have to repeat myself on details of my life, and if we're going to be friends, I'd like to start out on even footing with you all. But, David, where's Mauriri? I thought he was your partner."
David's jaw clenched for a moment, then he replied shortly, "Mauriri and I had a falling out. We're no longer partners."
"Oh, David, I'm sorry. Was it that woman you wrote me about?" At David's nod, she dropped her eyes, and then said thoughtfully, "Come to think of it, the last letter I got from you was that she had disappeared and you wanted to find her to learn the truth, and that you had spent all of your money trying to help her."
By this time, the four of them had reached the table and sat down. David sighed and said, "Well, the truth was that I spent all of our money. I pretty much emptied our business account and didn't tell Mauriri. That betrayal of trust he still can't forgive. And even worse, Jenny turned out to be a thief, a liar, and a murderer. She was…shot. We never found the body. Isabelle gave the money to repair and make payments on the Rattler, and that's why she's my partner now."
Katie nodded, and then said, "I'm sorry you had such a trying time, David. Though I am glad you have friends here who are willing to help you out, even when you make an idiot of yourself." She threw a grin at Isabelle, then raised her eyebrows and smirked at David, who merely shook his head. Lavinia smiled to herself. She was starting to like this girl very much.
"So, Katie, tell us what's been happening in your life? And maybe you could give a little background for Isabelle and Lavinia, so they don't pester me about details."
For old time's sake, Katie gave David a small punch on the arm, then settled down to her story.
"I'm actually connected to this island. David knows, but you don't, so I'll tell you. My grandmother was born on Matavai. She met my grandfather when he came here on a trading mission, and they fell in love and were married before he took her back with him to America."
Lavinia was surprised, but as she looked closer at Katie, she could see where her Polynesian blood had added that hint of exoticness to her face. Katie continued with her story.
"My grandparents settled in Massachusetts. Grandmother liked it there; she could see the ocean. When Grandfather started his shipping company, there were many people who weren't comfortable with his Polynesian wife. So Grandfather simply didn't do business with them, and built it up with others who didn't care where Grandmother was from.
"My mother met my father soon after Grandfather had moved her and Grandmother to California, where the business really took off. When Grandfather passed away, Father took over the business. He started to teach me about it when I was nine, and by the time I met David, I'd been running a small subsidiary of the company for a year."
They all found themselves very deeply interested in Katie's tale, even David, who knew the facts. They all leaned forward a little as Katie paused to sip at the water that Lavinia had brought her, and then she continued.
"David arrived in San Francisco just when my father was looking to expand the business. David told Father about the South Seas, and Father invited David to stay with us while they discussed the possibility of opening a shipping line to Australia and Tahiti. David was interesting to talk to, but such a wild thing," she remarked, throwing a glance at David, who merely shook his head and took a sip of his drink. Katie grinned, and continued. As she spoke of David's adventures while living in San Francisco, Lavinia and Isabelle eagerly drank in all she offered of David's antics. Lavinia wanted to know for the pleasure of something to tease her friend about later, and Isabelle listened to hear of David without really knowing why she was so interested.
"David became like a brother to me," Katie said, now smiling genuinely at him. "He never treated me like I was inferior simply because I was young and female, though he did his share of teasing! I made him promise to write me constantly when he left, and I moped about for nearly two weeks after he left us. But I have gotten about two letters a year from him, which I suppose is good for David."
She took a deep breath, and her face became a little more somber. "Now, to the less pleasant parts. Four years ago, I met a man named Michael Southton. We fell in love, and became engaged. Three weeks before our wedding, Father, Mother and Michael took a short trip a little way north. Their train derailed going around a mountain curve. So, in one night, I lost my parents, my fiancée, my whole world; all of it was torn away in an instant. I had been so happy, and then…"
She paused, clenching her jaw, but all could see the sheen of tears in her eyes. They were all silent; Lavinia and Isabelle found themselves with tears in their eyes as well, and even David, who knew the story, could not help but be moved by the raw emotion in Katie's voice. They sat that way for several moments, before Katie took a deep breath and swiped at her eyes. She lifted her head and gave them a tremulous smile.
"Sorry, it's just that-" Her sentence was unfinished as the other two women waved it off. She smiled again, and kept going. "Father left the entire company, and all of his estate, to me. So there I was, suddenly the owner of a very large and prestigious company, with a huge piece of property. I was overwhelmed at first, but I relied on the foremen of the company to teach me what I needed to know. All I have of Michael is this." She put a hand to her collar and slipped out a delicate filigreed rose on a gold chain. Isabelle and Lavinia admired the delicate workmanship, then Katie slipped it back under her blouse.
"Now, in his will, Father left me in charge of development of a South Seas shipping route. It was a dream he'd had ever since we first met David, and we'd often talked about what we would do with it. I finally launched it six months ago, and things were going quite well until about a month ago."
David was curious. "What happened?"
Katie stared back at him solemnly. "We think it's pirates."
David felt his gut clench. Jenny. He knew that she had to be dead; Isabelle had very good aim and that shot had not missed its mark. However, they never had found the body, and at the mention of pirates…
Katie glanced at him curiously, but Isabelle and Lavinia had an idea of what was going through his mind. Isabelle laid her hand on his arm and gave her head a slight shake. He let out a tiny breath and nodded briefly in return. Katie decided it was something between the two and spoke again.
"This part of the business has more meaning for me. It was the last thing Father had assigned to me, and besides, it was a connection to David and happier times. I wasn't about to let anyone else handle it, so I came myself. And David, I have to ask you something. I need your help to catch these people, or Leighton Shipping will cease to exist in the South Seas."
"Me? Are you sure you don't want to go to the officials about this?" he asked her.
"David, you know very well that the officials here will make me jump through hoops to present my case before they'd do anything, considering my company appears to be the only one being attacked right now. We think…it could be an insider. The attacks are too precise. Besides, David, I need someone who knows the islands around here, who can help me search them. I already sent a wire to your Lieutenant Morlais, and he said there was nothing he could do without evidence."
He pondered for a moment, then looked back at her. She was looking at him unwaveringly, and he knew he had to help. He nodded, and she grinned. He informed her that, as his partner, Isabelle would be coming along as well. Katie seemed fine with that.
Isabelle, for her part, was rather intrigued to be involved in what promised to be another adventure. David and adventure seemed to go hand in hand. She just hoped that this would turn out to be better than the last time she'd had an adventure with him. Though shooting Jenny had seemed to be the only thing to do at the time, she wasn't sure if David still blamed her, in some part of his heart, and she wanted to build on their friendship without anything between them.
The three agreed to meet at the Rattler early the next morning to start looking, and Katie kept them regaled with tales of her life for the rest of the afternoon. As evening approached, she watched David's attention drift more and more towards Mauriri. She noticed the furtive glances he sent towards his former partner, and she also noticed that Mauriri was casting a few of his own. When Mauriri finally left, David turned back to the conversation, but after a few moments, Katie took pity on him and said that as they were leaving early, he should walk Isabelle back. They exchanged pleasant good-byes, and when David had disappeared with Isabelle, Katie turned towards Lavinia.
"Lavinia, has it been that way between Mauriri and David since that Jenny person?"
Lavinia sighed. "Yes, it has. I don't know what to do. They were best friends; I think they still want to be, but Mauriri can't seem to let go his anger and David can't let go his pride. I sometimes wish that I could smack them both upside the head and make them see reason, or lock them up somewhere until they worked out their differences."
Katie nodded. "David's letters always talked about Mauriri, about their partnership, about the adventures they had. I was watching them today, and I think they really miss it, even more than they let on. I wish I could do something to help."
Lavinia smiled at her. "Well, it's good to know that David has such a caring friend. The three of you be careful tomorrow. If those pirates are around, I don't want to lose my newest friend. Oh, I forgot to ask David. Do you need me to come along? I know David barely speaks any of the dialects, and Isabelle's not much better, if you have to ask any of the tribes anything."
"Thank you, but I couldn't pull you away from your business. Besides, my grandmother and mother taught me their language. I'm pretty good at it." To demonstrate, she rattled off a greeting and asked Lavinia about her day and her general health, with quite a passable accent. Lavinia raised her eyebrows. She was impressed. She wished Katie a good night and promised to wake her in time for her to be ready to go with David in the morning, and watched the girl walk up the stairs to her room. She gave a little chuckle. If she was any judge of character, this young woman was going to stir some things up in the South Seas. It would be very interesting to watch.