Disclaim : I do not own the characters.

Note : This story takes place after 'the knot'.

Thank you, Michelle, always!

an honest woman

by mgld

She was as strong and patient as a mule. However he knew that unloading the cargo under strong sunshine for over two hours would hurt her.

Isabelle hadn't experienced both loading and unloading in one day -until today. They usually could have warehouse-workers or consignee's men load or unload. Even if they couldn't, David could have his crew do it.

Unfortunately this time was different. Both the consignor and the consignee were churches which didn't have money to employ those men or an extra crew. They asked the cheapest way. And David had accepted it without hesitation.

Unexpectedly for the captain, Isabelle never complained about only him and herself alone dealing with the cargo by twice in the same day; that day they had loaded for two hours before sun rise. It had been cooler then.

Concerning business, the young, annoying woman really could be serious.

During the three months David and Isabelle had to run the business together without Mauriri, the young captain had never had to deal with her temper or irresponsible ways -at least concerning their business. She was thorough and conscientious in her work always. It was one of the things David came to be impressed with about her.

Now, her tanned, tired face was glistening with sweat, some of her dark tresses had shipped out from her tight braid and stuck to her forehead and neck. But her silver eyes remained merry until the last cargo was unloaded.

"Done!"

"You've done well, Isabelle," he grinned at her.

Her large, sparkling eyes smiled back at his. David took his new red shirt which had been hanging on a fence at the barge and wiped the dirt off her nose with it.

He had constantly felt the loss of Muriri during the past months. Despite of it, times like this put him at ease and he felt like he would be able to enjoy his life again.

"You really are a strange woman."

Isabelle looked a bit confused trying to guess what he was implying. But soon, she gave up.

I don't know what you're implying, and I know I'm not good enough yet and I'll never be able to take the place of your Mo. But aren't you feeling a bit better now? Aren't we feeling good when we're together like this?

She had been aware of David's sense of loss with Mauriri's absence, and had been careful not to show her compassion for him for months.

"Whatever you think about me, David, you have to admit that I'm able to take care of this job." She arched her elegant eyebrow to mock the young captain.

"Of course, I do. That's why I've decided that I'll wash dishes after supper tonight instead of you."

"You should! Since I'm the one who always cooks."

"I like your meals," he raised his eyebrow at her with a smirk, "-besides who wants any meals I've made?"

"Ooh, very true! Now, I have to go to the market for some supplies before leaving."

She slapped his broad back and left him.

David continued to watch her figure; the slender shoulders, the tiny waist, until she disappeared at the corner.

On the way to the market Isabelle was thinking about how to reconcile Mauriri and David again like she had been thinking about for months without avail.

She had come to love being onboard the Rattler so much. And trading seemed so suitable for her.

But more important than that, she knew that David and the Rattler needed Mauriri. She let out a small sigh but didn't stop or slow her walk.

-----

It was so quiet. The only sounds he could hear were the waves breaking against the Rattler and the nocturnal birds on this desert island where they had anchored for the night. They were alone on the Rattler.

He remembered the other night. The night that Isabelle had come to him. The night that he had rejected her.

Won't she try to seduce me anymore?

Isabelle hadn't tried to lure him for a long time.

He thought about her laughter, her pale skin which remained without suntan beneath her thick braid, the softness of her curly hair.

He knew it was too dangerous to continue this train of thought.

If he allowed himself to be taken by his emotions, it wouldn't only be flirting this time. It would take him completely.

You better stop now. David sifted in his bunk.

But images of Isabelle couldn't be chased away.

When was the last time that she had touched his bare shoulders seductively at the helm? Would she never take the first step again? Did he have courage to take the step?

And how would she react if he went to her cabin now? He could say that she would enjoy his seductive manner, but wasn't sure she would give in at all. Would she play their old game again? Or would she dismiss him?

He suddenly wondered how she had felt when he had dismissed her back then.

As he wondered what she had felt, what she felt now, the night passed quickly.

At last he couldn't take the step.

-----

The crew of the Rattler unloaded the freight.

The plantation was large and new. They hadn't completed all the fences around the field yet. Two native workers and three Europeans gathered under the shade of a big tree for a rest.

They all wore tattered clothes for work. David glanced at them.

It felt like so long ago he had seen Isabelle the first time.

She had worn dirty clothes like other prisoners. Her smooth skin had been dirty, too, and her long curly hair had been uncombed. With that chain around her arms she had walked gracefully. And had been shockingly beautiful.

He often thought about her nowadays. –As often as he thought about Mo.

Especially those six days that Isabelle went to conduct horse-business by herself, and David hadn't been able to see her.

"You know, sometimes someone's misfortune becomes someone else's fortune. This time I'm the one who gets this fortune!" She was so excited and couldn't stop herself from chatting. Her big smile made his heartbeat skip; of course, he hadn't showed it then.

"Pinon's going to go back to France in hurry. He has to sell his horses cheaply. Thanks Paiku!" But David knew it was her instinct, not Paiku's tip.

She had taken notice when Pinon's good stable boy, who was a friend of her stable-boy Paiku, had been fired. Her reaction had been quick as usual.

She had dealt with Pinon, even before others knew his plan to leave.

David hadn't been able to say the words; "I want to go with you," and actually the Rattler had had its own work.

He was a bit disconsolate knowing there were still another four days he would have to go without a single sight of Isabelle.

Remembering the times all three had shared adventures, he felt his heart warm for her and agony for missing Mo at the same time.

Funny, I now realized that we're so good together, though she annoyed Mo and me always.

And the time she had helped him when nobody else would; how could they have so many experiences in such a short time?

-----

It was nearly noon and hot like every day. David saw the boat which Isabelle had planed to bring new horses with her at Matavai bay.

It was two days earlier than he had expected. He kept himself from running towards the bay, but couldn't help but quicken his pace.

She was there. Sitting on her fawn-colored horse taking two new horses' reins.

The new horses already looked calm. Perhaps it had taken some time after their head-covers and bits had been removed.

"Welcome home."

When she turned her newly tanned face over her shoulder towards the voice, David could see that her business had been successful from the twinkle in her large eyes.

"You're lucky, David. I feel like buying a drink and celebrating with someone. You coming?"

"Seems your business went quite good, Isabelle."

"Like I planed. Wait at Lavinia's. I'll be back soon after I bring these beauties to my stables," she merrily ordered.

"I don't think it'll work, Isabelle. I know when you arrived at your stables with your new horses, you'll want to take care of them by yourself. And I'm going to wait looong time, aren't I?" David laughed. He was happy to see her face again.

She paused for a second, then chuckled, "I think you're right, David. So the celebration can be delayed?" Isabelle tilted her head a little and stared down at him.

Was that his imagination that her look was challenging him? Meant to seduce him?

"I think I'm going to go with you to help. So we can come back sooner to celebrate. What do you think?"

"Sooner is better." She grinned and gave him one set of reins and started towards her stables.

-end-

mgld

Jul. 2005