§ § § -- September 13, 1997: Fantasy Island
Kieran O'Keefe, Melanie decided, was indeed a rake—but a friendly, charming, cheerful and very attentive one. He'd barely left her side the entire afternoon, treating her to a sumptuous lunch at the hotel restaurant, then escorting her to the casino where they'd played a little blackjack and then tried their luck at the roulette wheel. After that they had spent some time at the pool at Julie MacNabb's B&B where Kieran had somehow managed to wangle a room for the weekend, and there had begun learning quite a bit about each other. She'd heard several anecdotes about Kieran's experiences working with Toni Karlsen and John Angus Walsh on the set of Highlander Fair ten years before, and had told him some stories about consulting her brothers and their friends for assorted ideas that she'd used in her books. Now they were strolling along a path that would eventually take them to the pond restaurant where they planned to have dinner, still talking.
"An' by the way," Kieran was saying, "did ye e'er see a little film called Turncoat? 'Twas me first film role. That's how John Angus Walsh came to hear o'me, y'see."
"I don't think I ever saw that one," Melanie said. "What was it about?"
"Ye'd recognize it, me sweet. He had a thing for the Benedict Arnold story and decided that every tale has two sides…so he retold the whole thing from the Brits' side. It turned out rather daft but very funny. Me own role was a bit part, an' I had a total of about fifteen lines throughout, but I'd ne'er enjoyed work so much. That's how I knew I wanted to be in films. Intoxicatin', it is."
"That sounds typical of John Angus Walsh," Melanie said, laughing. "He's the most eclectic and eccentric director in the business, but somehow he makes a roaring success out of almost everything he does. Oof!" This last burst involuntarily from her when she collided with another person on the path.
"Sweet heaven, man, d'ye not watch where ye're goin'?" Kieran demanded. Melanie stepped back and realized to her surprise that she'd run headlong into Julian Noble.
"Well, look what the cat dragged in," she drawled. "Have you connected with every woman on the island yet, or are you still trying?"
Julian narrowed his eyes at her and then at Kieran. "I see it didn't take you long to find a replacement for me," he said.
Melanie tipped her head at him with surprise, then began to grin. "Jealous, are we?"
"Oh, please," Julian grunted. "Matter of fact, I was on my way to meet some folks at the theater."
"You're a little late," Melanie told him, her voice chilling abruptly. "The auditions are over. They've chosen the cast for the main roles, and most of the film crew have already left the island. Pity you didn't show up earlier."
Julian shrugged and smiled carelessly. "Not really my concern, now is it? Well, it's nice to see you've gotten over me. See ya around." He sauntered off down the path.
"Ye know him?" Kieran asked suspiciously.
"Just someone I met on the island yesterday," Melanie said, trying for an offhanded manner, and began to stroll along again.
Kieran shot a glance over his shoulder and grumbled, "Seemed ta me he was more'n a bit familiar wi' ye. An' ye know, it's odd ta be sure, but that bloke coulda been Julian Noble. Me sister always said that's exactly what he woulda looked like. An' what a rake he must be as well, eh? Ye said he's been lookin' to hit on every colleen here."
"Well, he's giving it the old college try," Melanie said breezily. "Don't worry, he's a nobody. And funny you should say he's a rake, since you have a pretty sizable reputation for being a rake yourself."
Kieran's face went ruddy and he gave her a grin that was so sheepish it made her burst out laughing. "Aye, I've been known ta be a rake in me time. Ye shoulda heard Toni Karlsen when I worked wi' her on Highlander Fair…ah, that lassie was royally turned off. But I'm thinkin' it's high time I changed me ways." His voice softened and he took her hands in his. "Me darlin' Melanie, I'm after fallin' in love wi' ye, an' a lucky day it was for me when I decided ta come ta Fantasy Island for the auditions. It's many a bloke an' me mum who'll be glad ta see me off the market."
Melanie giggled and lifted onto her toes to kiss his cheek. "You're good for my ego, Kieran O'Keefe, because after Ju…after that other guy rejected me, I was feeling pretty low. You're not the only one whose lucky day it is. I think I'm well on the way to falling in love with you too."
"Then I'll be gettin' a proper kiss from ye, me sweet," Kieran murmured and followed words with actions. All thought of Julian Noble fled from Melanie's mind from then on.
§ § § -- September 14, 1997
The following morning, Kieran O'Keefe and Melanie Downs stepped out of a car arm in arm to say their goodbyes to Roarke, who stood alone near the plane dock. "Well, Mr. Roarke, it's been one heck of a weekend," Melanie said. "And I thank you for putting up with me and with…well, everything."
Roarke smiled, noting Kieran's faintly bemused look. "You're quite welcome, Ms. Downs. So if I may ask, what are your plans, you and Mr. O'Keefe?"
"First of all, we're goin' back to me little place in Hollywood an' flesh out Julian Noble a wee bit more," Kieran said, "an' then I'm thinkin' it's high time Melanie met me mum an' we started makin' some plans." He grinned. "Ta tell ye the truth, Mr. Roarke, I feel a bit as if I got somethin' for free. I got me fantasy lass, an' didn't even have ta pay ye for it."
"Think of it as a bonus," Roarke suggested, and Kieran nodded cheery agreement and shook hands before loping away toward the plane. Melanie hesitated.
"Mr. Roarke…what happened to Julian, anyway? The last time I saw him was when Kieran and I were on our way to dinner and I literally bumped into him on the path. After that…well, who knows where he got off to?"
"I'm sure he simply reverted back to being part of your imagination, just as I told you yesterday," Roarke said. "Rest assured that you need not deal with him any longer, except as your own character on the written page."
Melanie grinned. "That'll be a lot easier to handle than a flesh-and-blood Julian. I'm so grateful, Mr. Roarke. Thanks again." She shook his hand and hurried off to join Kieran.
Several minutes later Roarke, having watched the plane taxi across the lagoon toward the ocean, thanked the natives who helped see the guests off each Monday and started for the car that had pulled up to take him back to the main house. The girls who lined the plane dock streamed along past him, chattering and laughing as always; but the last two, lagging behind, caught his attention with their conversation. "I just don't understand what happened," one complained. "I mean…one minute he was there, the next, he wasn't. It was like he just popped completely out of existence. I had to spend the night alone after all."
"That's a bachelor for you," the other girl proclaimed, as if she were an authority on the subject. "Especially the tall, dark and brooding kind. They'll never settle on just one woman. Believe me, you're much better off without him."
"But it wasn't fair," the first girl said plaintively. "I mean…he looked exactly like Julian Noble, and it was a dream come true."
"And then it wasn't," the second girl said. "Don't forget, this is Fantasy Island. Quit trying to figure out how or why it happened, give up on it, and move on."
"I'll try," the first girl murmured mournfully before they moved out of earshot. Roarke managed to school his expression for the driver, but once he'd settled into the car he laughed and laughed. The driver looked bewildered but, probably drawing on long experience, didn't bother asking.
That afternoon Roarke was back at the plane dock once more to welcome Leslie back from Tokyo. She carried her suitcase and an overnight bag, and greeted Roarke with a long hug that he found a little surprising. "Welcome home, Leslie," he said. "What brings on this, uh…shall I call it 'clinginess'?"
"Giving you a hug hello is being clingy?" Leslie asked, tipping her head at him in confusion and then teasingly quirking her mouth to one side. "I might have to reconsider giving you the present I bought you."
Roarke took her suitcase and escorted her to the station wagon he had driven over. "You have been gone approximately fifty hours in all, Leslie," he said, "and you carry on as though it were several weeks. Something is bothering you, and I want you to tell me what it is. Unless I miss my guess, it's the same something that was bothering you on Saturday morning. It's not like you to hold back."
Leslie made a face. "Can't I just be glad to come home? You know I always thoroughly enjoy returning here from any trip I take."
"Leslie Susan…" Roarke said in warning.
She made another face, this one disgruntled, and settled into the front seat while her father got behind the wheel. "If you're so sure something's bothering me, then I wouldn't put it past you to know what it is, without having to ask me."
Roarke gave her a mildly surprised glance and then chuckled. "You do indeed know me well," he observed, sounding not at all displeased about it. "As a matter of fact, I learned late Saturday afternoon that Prince Christian and Princess Marina, having just spent nearly a week in England for Princess Diana's funeral, had embarked on a vacation trip around Asia, beginning in Tokyo this very weekend. It was then that I realized you must be going there primarily, if not solely, to see him. If you had been taking an actual vacation, you would have spent more time there."
"Myeko and her entertainment-slash-gossip column," Leslie deduced with a weary sigh. "Maybe the only thing I should be surprised at is the fact that it took you till Saturday afternoon to discover it."
"Perhaps so," Roarke concurred through a hearty chuckle. "So you spent time with Christian, then, did you not? Did you actually go and purchase souvenirs?"
"I certainly did," Leslie informed him with exaggerated affrontery that made him grin, "and Marina went with me. Apparently she's intimately familiar with Tokyo and helped me get some real bargains on several very good-quality items. And if Christian and I did spend time together, it was usually with Marina—or otherwise with her blessing."
Roarke cast her a sidewise look. "I see."
Somehow the mere two words made Leslie go on the defensive. "Really, Father, we spent quite a bit of time talking," she insisted. "We all ate dinner in Christian and Marina's suite on Saturday evening, and then when I asked about Marina's father, she told me that he's dying of the same disease she has. Not only that, she said that if her father dies before she does, she'll promptly annul hers and Christian's marriage so he can come here and he and I can get married. There's a man she's in love with, too, and I won't even pretend that she's doing this just for me and Christian. It'll benefit her too."
"Perfectly understandable," Roarke said, bringing the car to a halt in front of the main house. He paused a moment and then turned to face her. "Tell me, child, did you fear my disapproval if I knew the true reason you went to Japan?"
Leslie's eyes went wide and she bit her lip, caught out. "I was sure you'd…well, yes, to put it bluntly, I was. I knew you'd never sanction any violation of Christian and Marina's marriage, no matter how loveless and purely political it is. And you instilled your sense of ethics into me as I was growing up, so my conscience kept us on our best behavior."
Roarke smiled, looking a little contemplative. "Very commendable, Leslie, but there's no shame in going to see the man. After all, you and he are in love, and it was the first opportunity you had had to see each other in more than a year." He focused on her. "If another such chance should arise, there's no need for you to hide behind altruistic motives. Why would I begrudge you a visit with Christian? Just be up-front, Leslie, that's all I ask of you. Do we have a deal?" His smile became a gentle, teasing grin.
She grinned back. "Okay, Father, it's a deal. How about we go in and I give you my present, and show you the kimono Marina helped me buy?"
Roarke released a surprised laugh as he stepped out of the car. "You bought a kimono? Tell me, where on earth would you find occasion to wear it?"
"Oh, you never know," Leslie bantered. "I grant you, it'll probably look pretty silly on me, since I'm not even close to being Japanese, and less than graceful to boot. But someday it might just come in handy. And if nothing else, it'll give Katsumi and Myeko and Camille a good laugh." She joined in Roarke's escalating laughter as they carried her luggage into the house, reflecting all the while that maybe her father didn't mind her having a few secrets from him, just as he had from her. She could only hope that the day would come soon when she no longer needed to keep those secrets.