Author's Note: Thanks to everyone who read this. After all this time it's finally done! Thanks for sticking by and reading and reviewing. And don't worry, I do have a sequel in mind. So please, please, PLEASE, read and review one last time!! So ends this chapter in the lives of our friends in the South Seas.
Her words sent a ripple of curiosity through the group, and they all exchanged glances before turning their attention back to Katie. She smiled back at all of them and took another deep breath. David's face became concerned. A breath like that usually did not mean good news.
"I've been over all of the inventory reports and loss and recovery sheets that my office here had on file for me," she began. "The damage done has been extensive. Even with the recovered cargo, Leighton Shipping took quite a loss with these pirate attacks. The stipulation in my father's will concerning the South Seas venture was that after the first six months, the shipping route show a five percent profit from starting costs. The starting costs were rather low; my people were able to get good ships and good supplies at very reasonable prices. Our reputation allowed us to sign with several merchants before we even launched.
"We expected that the even though it was a new venture, the profit margin would be able to match that small amount set. The figures from the past five months show that we were going to reach that goal. But the attacks set us back enough that, as of now, we've barely broken even."
She paused and tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear. David could see that there was more to come that was difficult for her to say. The group waited for her to begin again.
"There is no profit. My father's will clearly states that the company will not support this venture without profit to show for it. As much as my father wanted to develop it, the route was always a very chancy thing. Therefore, as of tomorrow, Leighton Shipping will not spend its money on the South Seas shipping route."
There was a murmur among the group at her words. Leighton Shipping would have been good for Matavai and the surrounding islands. It would have brought jobs and revenue for many of the people of the islands and the sailors that passed through them.
David tensed, and Isabelle felt the change in the hand that gripped her own. She looked at him and saw the sadness beginning to creep into his eyes. She knew, as he must, that without the shipping route, Katie would have to go back to America immediately to oversee her other affairs. She knew that he would miss Katie terribly. He had been relishing this chance to get to know her again. Isabelle knew that she would miss Katie as well. She was a bright, spunky, intuitive girl who was delightful to be around, and Isabelle knew full well that Katie had played a part in her new understanding with David, as well as the reconciliation beginning between David and Mauriri. She squeezed David's hand warmly, silently offering him her support.
Katie watched them, and caught the look in David's eyes. She noticed the same look in Isabelle, as well as Lavinia and Mauriri. She felt a rush of warmth at the knowledge that they would miss her. She allowed a tiny smile to creep onto her face.
David noticed it first, and a puzzled frown grew on his face. Why was she smiling? Katie looked at him and the smile widened further.
"However, just because Leighton Shipping itself will not spend its money on the further development of a South Seas shipping route, doesn't mean that the heir to the Leighton holdings can't spend her own money as she pleases." She saw understanding start to dawn on Isabelle's face first. Isabelle was a businesswoman, after all.
"I've instructed my business manager to liquidate several of my smaller assets, and to put that money towards the South Seas route. This was my father's dream and mine; I will not let it just die. I have more than enough money, and if this venture can show the same margin of profit in the next six months, then Leighton Shipping will take over again. So, the Leighton Shipping route will continue in the South Seas!"
She smiled broadly at the small cheer that came from the group at her words. David was grinning, as were Isabelle and Lavinia. He would have a little bit more time with Katie while she set things in order, and the shipping route would no doubt do well for both Isabelle's horse business and Lavinia's bar. Katie held up her hand for quiet. She was not quite done.
"There's more," she said. The group calmed down and again turned their attention to the slim girl. "I've decided that I want to personally oversee the South Seas route development until we reach the necessary profit of margin and my company takes over the funding. To that end, I've made arrangements to rent out a small house not too far from Isabelle's stables. Not that I don't love my room here, Lavinia," she added, nodding to the older woman, "but I need more space for an office, and some space for me. Besides," and her smile turned a bit shy, "I've found some wonderful new friends that I can talk to, and I don't want to leave them quite yet."
She directed her smile at Colin when she said "talk to," making sure he understood that she would still need his ear from time to time. He smiled back reassuringly.
Katie sighed, her mood just a little more somber. "And this place...it's a place I can heal. There's so much that has gone on in the last few years of my life, not to mention what happened here. I want a place where I can think it all over, where I can have some time to sort through it all. Back home there would be too much to do, too many distractions. Here...here, I think I might find some peace."
She looked over at David, and he nodded in understanding. They would do their healing together, he from Jenny's betrayal, and she from her rude awakening into some of the horrors life had to offer.
"So...I'll be staying for at least the next six months. Would that...be all right with you?" Her voice and face were uncertain. In spite of the fact that she knew these were her friends, she was still a little unsure as to what kind of support they might offer.
David dispelled Katie's doubts in an instant as he charged out of his seat and picked her up, whirling her. He laughed in delight, and she giggled in response. His happiness was balm to her bruised soul.
"Oh, Katie, I'm so glad you're going to stay!" David exclaimed, setting her back on the floor and smiling down at her. "I would have missed you terribly if you'd gone right back."
The rest of the group chose that moment to show their support by gathering around Katie and enveloping her in a warm group hug. Her laughter rang out in the bar. They all spent a time talking and planning for Katie's extended stay in Matavai. Colin offered her an open door to his office at any time. Lavinia persuaded Katie to take a tour of the island with her the next day. Isabelle arranged a time for Katie to ride with her, and Mauriri capped the day off by extending an invitation for all of them to join him at his house for dinner the following evening. David simply stood. He knew that Katie understood that he would be there for her in any capacity, and there was no need to make plans. Whatever she needed from him, he would be happy to provide.
They talked for a long time before they realized just how much time had passed. They went their separate ways, but each one paused to hug Katie before they departed. David held her for a long time.
"Are you sure about this?" he whispered into her ear. He was happy that she was going to stay, but he didn't want her to stay just to hide. He pulled back and looked at her.
She nodded. "I am. I'm not running from everything, David. In fact, for the first time, I'm not running. I want to face everything I have to, and here I can. I'll be fine, David, really I will. I love that you care, but it will all work out. I know it."
He smiled and bent down to kiss her cheek, then reached for Isabelle's hand and walked with her out of the bar. Just as they left, he looked back to see Katie waving at him, a sweet smile on her face.
Katie watched David and Isabelle walk out of sight, then turned with a sigh and plopped down into a chair. Lavinia settled herself next to Katie and looked critically at the girl. Katie was still too pale and thin for her liking, but Lavinia could clearly see that she was on the mend. She sat quietly and waited while Katie took a deep breath of the fresh island air.
"Lavinia, I hope that I didn't offend you by finding a place without letting you know. I love it here, I do, I just needed-"
Lavinia cut her off with a raised hand.
"Katie, it's fine. I know that you need more space than a tiny room above a bar. I want you to have a place all your own for now. Besides," she added, grinning, "you paid for two weeks, so I'm ahead a couple of days."
Katie chuckled. "Thank you. The house should be ready the day after tomorrow, and I would love it if you were the first to come see."
Lavinia raised her eyebrows. "Not David?"
Katie rolled her eyes. "I love David dearly, but he just doesn't have a woman's eye for presence and grace in a home. Your bar is arranged so nicely that I want you to see if my house has the same welcoming feel to it."
Lavinia smiled. "I would love to go see your house. Thank you for inviting me. Now how about a little toast to celebrate the news today?" At Katie's nod Lavinia poured a small amount of brandy in two glasses and handed one to Katie.
"To your new venture," Lavinia offered.
"No," Katie corrected gently. "To new friends, and the hope they offer."
The musical clink of the glasses echoed softly in the quiet bar.
The next night was warm and clear as the friends gathered at Mauriri's home and ate dinner together. They brought the food and lanterns out and had a picnic on the sand. Jack and Clare had been added at Lavinia's request. Katie sat among them, laughing as Tevaki and Tahnee chased each other through and around the adults. She nearly choked on her juice with laughter as the little boy tripped over a corner of the blanket and upended a bowl of sliced fruit into Jack's lap. Even Clare had to giggle at the expression on Jack's face.
David and Isabelle sat close together, and David leaned over every once in a while to whisper something to Isabelle. Katie's blue eyes danced in merriment when one of David's comments earned him an exasperated roll of the eyes from Isabelle. David caught her look, and reached out to tickle her. Katie squirmed away from him and threw the bread crust she'd been holding at his head. This little bit of encouragement soon led to a full- fledged food war. Fruit and bread flew furiously as the men and women separated and became two ragged teams. Finally the men conceded defeat after a ripe papaya caught Mauriri in the face.
Katie crouched down near the edge of the water and rinsed her face, watching her friends with a smile. Everyone was at the waterline washing off the remains of the food fight, and she stifled a laugh when David and Colin collided, causing Colin to come up sputtering from his unexpected dunking, his glasses askew. David helped him up with a sheepish expression. She looked up to see Isabelle standing next to her.
"Did you have a nice evening?" Isabelle asked, reaching out to help pull Katie upright. The girl dusted the sand off her skirt and pushed her tumbled hair off her face. She nodded, wrapping her arms around herself and lifting her face to the starry sky.
"It was a wonderful night. I can't remember the last time I had a picnic, much less a picnic dinner. I needed that."
Isabelle gave her a quick hug. "You deserve it. You're looking much better, you know. I'm glad you had a good time tonight."
Katie started to reply, and was interrupted by a yawn that she couldn't help. She clapped her hand over her mouth, and Isabelle chuckled.
"Looks like the evening needs to come to an end," she said, and led Katie back to the group. There they surprised Katie as each person stepped forward to give her a house warming present. Lianni gave her a small basket of jams, which would go beautifully with the bread Clare presented to her. Jack gave her a lovely conch shell he had picked up on one of his voyages, and Colin offered her a small, elegant mirror that a parishioner had donated to him. Mauriri placed a tiny schooner had had carved into her hand, and Lavinia gave her a fragrant bottle of hair rinse. David made her laugh when he presented her with a certificate entitling her to one hour of his time spent putting her things in order, and her eyes sparkled in delight when Isabelle told her that the new two-year-old gelding named Magic, recently purchased for the Reed stables, would be set aside as Katie's horse for as long as she stayed on Matavai.
Finally, after many hugs and exclamations of thanks, the others bid farewell to Mauriri and Lianni. When they reached Lavinia's place, David hugged Katie and sternly told her to get some much-needed rest. She laughed and kissed his cheek before giving a good-bye hug to Isabelle.
Colin offered to escort Clare home, and Jack gallantly kissed her hand before bidding her goodnight. David smiled in amusement as Clare's cheeks colored slightly, and he watched Colin lead Clare off. He turned to Isabelle and reached out to draw her next to him as they walked to her home.
The moonlight gilded Isabelle's face with silver light, and David was entranced. He stopped just before the stairs up to her room to kiss her passionately, twining the fingers of one hand in her thick curls. She responded in kind, pressing herself against him and letting her fingers play with the soft hair at the nape of his neck.
He broke off the kiss and pulled her up the stairs behind him. When they reached her room, and walked in and shut the door, turning back to see Isabelle looking at him with an expression in her eyes that took his breath away. The love he saw shining at him through her silvery-green eyes humbled him with its intensity. He pulled her into his arms and rested his cheek against her head.
"God, I love you," he mumbled into the chestnut strands of her hair. Isabelle smiled and pulled back to look into his eyes. She had always hoped, but never dared dream, to see David looking at her that way. She reached up to caress his cheek, thrilling to the feel of his soft lips as they pressed a kiss to her fingers.
"So, my brave David Grief, what do you think of the changes that have come to Matavai? Good possibilities there, you think?"
"Oh, love," he answered, breathing deeply of the lavender and jasmine fragrance that surrounded the woman who owned his heart, "the possibilities offered here are endless. These changes have been very good indeed."
With that, he kissed her again, and there was nothing more to say.