Disclaimer: The usual. I don't own them; though I do dream about them. Everything except my original characters belong to someone else. I'm only grateful I have opportunity to bring them to life once more so they will not be forgotten.
Thank you to Santa Crux for all of her hard work and thoughtful comment on this story.
RED SKY AT MORNING
By Susan Zell
The air was so thick with humidity that Isabelle felt as if she were swimming underwater rather than standing on the deck of the Rattler. It had been hot and humid for days now and even the bit of wind that was slowly pushing the ship through the near glassy surface of the sea did little to cool her.
It had been a long, plodding voyage back to Matavai due to the low winds. What should have been only a three day sail turned into six. The stop because of the need for additional supplies for the longer journey home caused even more frustration among the bored crew.
But Isabelle took the time to learn more about sailing. Under such serene conditions, David and Mauriri let her pretty much take on whatever duties she wanted, including standing at the helm or manipulating the sails. For now though, she observed the brilliant sunrise with its splash of crimson. The glare from the red sun seemed almost lost in the haze. While it was a beautiful sight, it also made her skin crawl a bit. There was something about the way it just hung in the air, so thick and practically pliable.
David suddenly came up on her leeward side and his gaze was also fixed on the extraordinary image behind them.
"It's a beautiful sight," mused Isabelle. "What a vivid red sky this morning."
"Sailors take warning," murmured David.
She turned to him. "What?"
"It's an old saying. A sailor's saying."
"Not a very comforting one. Warning about what?"
"That a storm is brewing. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning."
Isabelle exhaled with relief. "Oh, is that all? I thought it was the end of the world or something. You sailors, you make everything sound so dire."
David cocked his head at her, letting a slight smile play about his lips. "You haven't been out on the sea during a real storm yet. Wait till you are riding on waves fifteen feet high and come racing down the other side with a wall of water behind you, ready to crush you beneath its weight. Suddenly the saying takes on a whole new meaning."
Isabelle rubbed her arms against the goosepimples that arose at David's words. He seemed to have forgotten that she had been on the Malahini with Jim Lodge when the ship was swamped in a storm. All hands were lost that horrible night except for her and Lodge . She cast her gaze back to the rising red sun. "Will we make Matavai before the storm hits?"
"I believe so. Even with this puny breeze, we aren't that far from home. Besides, it could mean nothing to us. The storm, if it develops, could be far away from here. There's no way to tell. The sun tends to take up a lot of sky." He allowed his smirk to develop into a grin. "I wouldn't worry just yet."
"I'm not worried. Just concerned about my investment. I'd hate to lose the Rattler." Her eyes traveled up his chest to rest at his sea green orbs. His close proximity had a tendency to do that to her. Sometimes it infuriated her because she seemed to have no power against it. Something just hovered there in his eyes that spoke of things neither of them had the courage to address. Things she knew were echoed in her own eyes. There were times she hated the games they played. One of these days she was going to have to make David pay up or shut up. It had almost happened at Christmas and then again at the picnic that marked the beginning of Lent a couple of weeks ago. She'd told herself that she was just taking charge of the situation; that just because David was the man he shouldn't always get to decide when they could kiss. But if she was honest with herself she would have to admit that those moments of connection made her nervous. She chastised herself often at how she had shied away. It was a bad habit she was developing. After all she wanted to be with David. And it was becoming more and more obvious that David was feeling the same way towards her. The question was should they or shouldn't they? What would be so wrong about giving in? A question she had never bothered to ask herself in the past.
"Worried about the Rattler?" he repeated to her suspiciously. "Right," he said slowly drawing out the last word with an air of skepticism.
She grinned back at him and then tucked her tongue into her cheek as she contemplated saying exactly what was on her mind. Instead she laughed and pulled her damp shirt away from her skin. "Well, I'd welcome a storm if it would cool the air down a bit. I feel like I'm sitting in a bath house constantly."
David tried to avoid looking down Isabelle's shirt as it drew away from her skin and allowed him a peek into what David could only call Temptation's Valley. She was already barefoot against the smooth deck; her heavy leather boots long since abandoned due to the heat. He drew in a deep breath and looked away. "You could go down below. It's a bit cooler there."
"But the air is more stifling. If it's the choice between breathing and sweating, I'll take the latter."
"I always do."
He ducked his head and hid his wolfish grin as he turned back to the wheel. Her brashness and confidence were addictive and arousing. Don't start something you're not going to finish, Grief, he told himself. It does neither of you any good. Already ahead of them rose the first peaks of Matavai against the horizon. They were almost home and David felt better because of it. Being on the boat with Isabelle made his thoughts always go a little wild. On shore he seemed more in control, like last Christmas. He prided himself on that and in the same breath cursed his cowardice. To be honest he knew what he wanted but he wasn't sure if it was a good thing. He had just gotten his life back into some order. What would a relationship with Isabelle do to that? He had a lot to think about. Sadly he had been thinking about it these past couple of months and still he didn't know the answers. He probably never would.
Within the hour they slowly slid into the small harbor of Matavai. Isabelle stood at the bow of the Rattler and relished how sleekly the vessel cut through the calm water. As soon as she heard the anchor rattle its way down to the bottom of the cove, she climbed the rail.
Casting a grin back to David who watched her intently with wide eyes, she dived smoothly into the turquoise water. It was warm but it still felt good against her overheated flesh. She swam through the field of bubbles and salty buoyancy and stroked to the surface.
Just as her head broke through there was a large splash and a wave washed over her. Again bubbles tickled her skin and through the wavering image beneath the water she saw David's sleek, bare-chested form knife past her.
He grabbed her by the waist as he surfaced and lifted her out of the water. Isabelle's body went flying as he used his momentum to throw her to the side. His laughter rang after her as she fell beneath the water again. When she opened her eyes, she could see his legs dangling above her. With a quick dart of her hand she had his ankle and yanked. She doubted she had the strength to draw him down if he fought, but he didn't and suddenly he was eye level with her. His grin was infectious and he reached out to grab her waist again. With a sudden exhale of mock fear she twisted away and pulled furiously for the surface leaving a streak of bubbles. The remains of an excited laugh burst from her lips as her head rose above the water. David surfaced right beside her, laughing as well.
"Cooled off any?"
"What with all the effort I'm expending. I don't think so." But she was still grinning at him as she shoved a wall of water at his face. Suddenly the sea boiled furiously as the two of them struggled for dominance over their small speck of sea.
Mauriri Lepau leaned against the rail and watched his two friends splash each other energetically. He could barely see either of them in the fury of the water as the two of them played. It always amazed him how they behaved in the heat of the day. Any intelligent islander would be laying quietly in the shade till the sun disappeared. But here were Isabelle and David playing right under the full strength of the sun.
He too looked up at the huge orb that was just now loosing its reddish color. Already it was practically back to its normal yellow self. But Mauriri hadn't failed to notice what it was trying to tell them. The air had a strange feel to it this day.
Then he felt the boat rock as David helped Isabelle back on board. Soon, they both stood dripping on the deck.
"You two finished?" Mauriri asked them.
David shrugged. "For now." He was still chuckling breathlessly.
"I won, you know," commented Isabelle looking at David, while wringing out her hair. The excess water fell to the deck with some rather loud splashing.
"You did not." David shook himself like a bear and flung water everywhere. His tanned flesh shone in the brightening sun as beads of salt water clung to his body and made him glisten.
"Typical of you not to know when you're defeated."
Mauriri sighed and muttered, "Worse than children." He went aft and started tying down the folded sails with Tah-mey and Sparrow.
David moved toward the front of the boat and took a moment to stretch, observing the dock and the quiet town to see if anything had changed while they were gone. The beauty of the islands was that so little changed, even when months went by. To David that was one of the things that had kept him sane after returning to Matavai following his incarceration by the Devil, he was able to come to come home and it was as if nothing had changed. Life had waited for him.
David breathed deep of the heavy air and it still felt refreshing. Life couldn't get any better than it was right now. Isabelle sat down beside him on the other side as she toweled her hair.
"Even after all this time, it always feels good to be home," he confessed to her.
She paused and looked out toward the bay. "I know what you mean. I would have never thought I could call a place home, but this is as close as I've come."
"What was the longest time you ever stayed in one place?" he asked suddenly curious about her past. She occasionally had hinted at it and David had the distinct feeling her childhood hadn't been the kindest of periods. There was a deep sorrow when she spoke of it sometimes. It was no different than himself at times, he supposed, but still there were a few things about growing up that he did love to remember. She had to have them as well.
Regarding him now, Isabelle lowered the towel, contemplating her answer. "Here. Now."
"You mean that you've never stayed longer in any one place until Matavai?" This stunned and saddened David.
Isabelle had always lived a vagabond's life. Even as a child her family had always been on the move. Once her brother had gone to sea and her parents had died she bounced from one inadequate surrogate parent to the next until she struck out on her own. By then being on the move was an ingrained habit and a matter of survival. Isabelle shrugged, not acknowledging the significance of the topic. "I suppose."
"No wonder you have such few friends."
This annoyed Isabelle. "So you think that strong friendships can only grow over long periods? What about Claire? We'd known each other barely a month and I knew she would be the best friend I'd ever have. I cherish her friendship above everyone's."
"Even mine?" asked David. His greenish eyes held her gaze steadily as if it were a very serious question.
She hesitated, sensing a trap. Then her ire was smoothed over with a smile. "Absolutely. You cause me nothing but trouble. Day in and day out." She stood and tossed her damp hair across her back again.
David gave a cynical snort and shrugged back into his shirt. "Well the reverse is true on that too."
It was three hours later, after the Rattler had been scrubbed clean and glistened in the hazy sunshine that the crew pulled for shore in the rowboat. Mauriri easily operated the oars, his muscles bunching and flexing with practiced ease and precision and soon they slid onto the sand. Sparrow helped him haul the boat ashore after everyone disembarked.
"You be needing me for anything else?" the old man asked.
Mauriri shook his head. "You've got a few days leave. I'll have your pay by midweek. Stop by at the house or Lavinia's tavern to pick it up."
Sparrow grunted and disappeared into the wharf traffic. He was an odd man, Mauriri thought. He rarely said anything and complained about nothing, which was fine in a crewman, but beyond that Maruriri knew nothing about him. The old man spent much of his time in his shack in the mountain or playing poker at Lavinia's. He always gambled big, but never complained when he lost big. Cards were merely thrown to the table, his mug was drained of the remainder of his beer, and he walked away.
Tah-mey on the other hand was a good friend as well as a good crewman. Mauriri spent a great deal of time with him even before he was hired on the Rattler. The islander had an easy way about him and always possessed a sense of calm. Mauriri was glad Tah-mey had remained on the boat even while Mauriri had not. Isabelle had told Mauriri of how she had appreciated Tah-mey's willingness to impart wisdom to her while she had been helping David, and also that Tah-mey's loyalty had given David more strength than he was willing to admit. For that Mauriri was forever indebted to him.
Soon only David, Isabelle and he remained on the beach. They all looked at each other and then without a word all headed for Lavinia's and a cool refreshing beer in the shade.
Lavinia's bar was dark inside. The doors were closed and it took a minute before their eyes adjusted to the dim light. Windows were open however, and the angled shutters let in the small breeze rather than the hot rays of the sun.
David maneuvered toward their favorite table and all but collapsed into a chair with a contented sigh. Mauriri swung his chair around before straddling it and leaning over the back, his chin resting on his brawny forearms. Two men just sat there soaking up the cooler air. Isabelle scowled but went ahead searching for Lavinia to get the drinks.
The Malahini was creeping through the water. Jackson McGonnigal had sincere doubts they would make port today, even though they could see their homeport off in the distance as a speck of green on the horizon. But the sparse wind was giving them no help. It was a challenge to position the sails so that they could catch every miniscule breath that was there.
Even the best of crews grew bored and lax under such conditions. Jack knew that was the case and so redoubled his effort to stay alert. But the weather distracted him as well.
His gaze drifted toward the red sun rising out of the sea, his mind, just for a second, wandered elsewhere. He was on another deck, long ago. He could smell the storm in the air. Ever since that day he could always predict a storm. It was a bad one, reminiscent of the one that bore a lightening bolt to the deck of the freighter and shattered it.
Storms are part of the lives of sailors. This time of year they were prevalent, all the way from October to July. Jack was always on the alert, never more so than during storm season. He hated storms.
There was a shout and Jack looked up, sensing more than seeing the shadow fall toward him. He threw himself back but it wasn't far enough. The falling rigging struck him a glancing blow but it plunged him into darkness regardless.
He awoke below deck with a worried Lani watching over him.
"You are awake," the islander noted.
Jack's head buzzed like a swarm of angry bees and a sharp stabbing pain radiated down his neck. "Something fell," he muttered, trying to piece it all together. He was grateful for the dim light in the cabin. He could barely open his eyes to bear the limited luminosity as it was.
"Be lucky it weren't your head that fell." Lani came close and roughly grasped Jack's head in his broad hands. His thick fingers pressed against the knot on the back of his skull. Jack tried not to jerk away despite the agony. "The line slipped and I could not stop the momentum of the sail as it fell. My fault."
"Anyone else hurt?" Jack pushed the big man away as his head spun.
"No. No one else." He waved some fingers in front of Jack. "How many you see?"
Jack's vision swam and he swore he saw six, but he knew that was wrong. No one had six fingers on their hands. So he guessed. "Four."
Lani laughed hard and loud. "You took a hard knock all right. There is only two."
Jack groaned at the sound and was glad that he fibbed. He made to rise, but Lani would not permit it. "Best lie there. Though the sea is calm today, it won't take much to put you on the ground."
"Who's got the helm?"
Lani grinned and then mocked shock and dread. "Oh no! It's supposed to be me! Best I go up and take care of that."
Jack shook his head at the silly man and then regretted it.
"Just rest, Capt'n. We got a glass sea for the moment. It will take a while but we'll make port."
Then Jack remembered what it was that had distracted him in the first place and his stomach knotted: the coming storm. He would have to see Henri Seraut the minute they made port. The Malahini shouldn't stay in the bay, if what Jack feared would come to pass. And he was sure. Ever since that night he could predict a bad storm and the way his gut ached meant it was truly the mother of all bad storms.
The rattan chair creaked as Mauriri sat back and stretched his long legs out in front of him. "There's talk about foul weather coming."
"I know." David thought of his conversation with Isabelle while they watched the red eastern sky that morning. He'd been glib about storms then. He didn't feel so confident now. He squinted through the bar's window slats at the sky. It was filling with clouds, obscuring the sun and casting shadows across the islands. "How bad do you think?"
Mauriri swirled the last of his beer in his mug as he said, "We're waiting for the Grace to come in. She's coming from the east and should be outrunning it. Hopefully they'll have word on the severity."
"Should we move the Rattler?"
"Not yet. Let's wait until the Grace arrives. We'll know more than."
"Figures that every time we get the ship in top condition something happens."
"I'm sure we'll weather this like we weather every thing else." Mauriri regarded his friend wondering where this concern was suddenly stemming from. Was he still battling his fears? Ever since the Devil, David had become skittish even of normal things that the Devil had no control over.
"I'm not worried," argued David, seeing the look on his friend's face. "I'm just annoyed."
"Of course." Mauriri nodded sagely and drank the rest of his beer.
David's generous mouth twisted into a grimace. "Let's head over to the garrison. Perhaps Morlais has more up-to-date information."
Mauriri raised both dark eye brows and stared at David. Recently going to Morlais had not been something David would willingly do. Not since that afternoon in his office just after they got back from Tikai.
Morlais was sitting at his desk with his elbows on it and his fingers tented. His gaze traveled slowly over David, Mauriri and Colin who were all standing just on the other side of the desk. Jack was leaning against the wall by the door with his arms crossed.
"You want me to believe that you were attacked by a dozen or more men for no reason in the middle of the night?"
"Well of course we want you to believe it," sputtered Colin resentfully. "We're telling you what happened to us."
"And you think I should post an official warning to other boats to avoid van Gulik's island?"
"Absolutely," said David, glaring down at the Frenchman.
"Twelve men?" repeated Morlais. "And yet there is not a black eye, a broken bone between you. You appeared to have had your usual good luck in this fight, Captain."
"They were drunk."
"Ah, they were drunk. Well, that I believe. I might also be convinced that there was a fight. However years of your company leads me to doubt it was an unprovoked attack. I suggest, gentlemen, that you chalk it all up to experience. Otherwise I will have to go and hear van Gulik's side of the story. It could all get very complicated. Good afternoon, gentlemen." He picked up an official looking piece of paper.
They left in varying degrees of indignation. All except Jack, who having expected Morlais to behave just as he had, was in a very good mood.
Later Colin asked David why he hadn't brought up their suspicions about what was being hidden on the island. David replied sourly that he didn't want to hear Morlais asked him for proof since they had none.
David stood and looked down at his partner. He knew what he was thinking about. He pulled a face and said grudgingly, "He ought to be good for information if nothing else.
Cannibal Jack watched the last man heave the last of his load off his shoulders onto the warehouse platform. Despite the massive headache, Jack still insisted on overseeing the unloading. He sat in the shade near the wharf with a large group of others who sought the same cooler air. Jack was grateful to be back in Matavai, and it was rare that he could say that. But he could feel the electricity in the air. It didn't bode well. A storm was coming, a bad one. He suppressed a shiver.
He stood gingerly in order to seek out Gilles Bradford or Henri Seraut to see what they would wanted to do with the Malahini. Jack preferred to be far away. He hated storms, hated the rolling seas, the darkness and the cold, clammy nature of …flesh.
Not for the first time it occurred to him that a sensible man would have found another line of work, far away from storms at sea.
Jack jerked away from the memories, and swayed a bit as more waves of dizziness pressed against him. He stood there for several seconds, determined that it would pass. It took far longer than it should have and that annoyed him. It was worse than hangover, even the one he had that night he got drunk at Christmas. He pushed his way back through the line of seaman bearing their loads. Fresh air was what he craved. As soon as he was out of the press of people, he drew in a deep breath and wiped the sheen of sweat from his face. He knew he would have to wait until the storm broke before he could get a breath of really fresh air.
Cursing under his breath, he searched the crowd for Gilles. The man was easy to spot in his crisp white linen pants and shirt. The straw hat perched atop his head at a jaunty angle was more suited for a gaming table than on a wharf full of grizzled seaman. Gilles was normally a man that took the path of least resistance. Jack knew that Tom Bradford had insisted his oldest son find something productive to do. So Gilles had gone into the trading business with his cousin Henri Seraut. Seraut was the perfect business partner; he loved to be in control and so he did all the work. This meant that little was expected of Gilles; he loved working on the ship though he rarely volunteered to scrub the decks. For Gilles Bradford, who had never once in his life had to wonder where his next meal was coming from, life in general was a bit of a lark.
Which disappointed Jack for he liked Gilles. He had hoped that Gilles would have developed a love for the sea; a deep sense of responsibility for the ship. But it was obvious Gilles would never find the sea an intriguing companion. No, the man had far better companionship than the temperamental sea. Jack fought the scowl that stretched on his face in a painful way. He bit hard on the inside of his cheek in hopes that the pain would overwhelm his resentment over that fact.
Jack was glad that Claire was not on the docks today. Unbidden came thoughts of one visit she had made to the docks that had nearly been her last. Again, resentment welled up inside his chest as he approached Gilles. The man was a fool sometimes, regardless whether Jack called him boss or not. As much good heart as Gilles had, for in truth he was not a bad man, he was distracted easily. Only one or two things could hold his attention at a time, and where as a suitor, he should be holding one thing in high regard at all times, he sometimes didn't consider Claire at all. Not in the way he should anyway.
Jack's hands were clenched into fists as he stepped up to Gilles Bradford on the wharf. Gilles turned toward him with a bright youthful greeting and then stopped abruptly and exclaimed, "Good heavens, man, what happened to you? Surely on a beautiful day such as this you didn't have problems with the boat?"
Jack shifted uncomfortably, knowing his face was an unnatural shade as well as sporting a knot the size of some of the ship's rigging. "A little. The rigging slipped. My fault though. I should have been watching." Jack knew that his words sounded as if his own hands caused the accident, but Jack didn't care. He'd rather have any anger directed his way than toward any one of the crew; not that Gilles was likely to pursue the matter.
"Well, you best take care of that. Come up to the house and I'm sure one of the ladies will look after you."
One of the ladies. Meaning possibly Claire. Immediately Jack balked. "No, it's all right. Lavinia does a good job of patching up wayward sailors." He deflected further argument by asking another question quickly. "I'm looking for Mr. Seraut."
"He could be anywhere. We might even find him having lunch with Mrs. Russell. She makes the most delicious pasties. Come along, Jack." He took the sailor by the elbow. "Mrs. Russell won't turn away a wounded soul, no matter what. And while she does her wonderful healing, perhaps you can speak with my cousin if he's there. It all works out beautifully you see."
Inside Jack was fuming. He did not want to have anyone at the Russell house fuss with him. He needed only to speak with Seraut about the approaching storm. He jerked his elbow free a tad more forcefully than he intended, but his head was spinning and aching fiercely. It was a wonder how Gilles' inane talking could make his head hurt worse. "No need. If Mr. Seraut has cause to come down to the wharf please have him seek me out. I am concerned about the weather."
"The weather?" Gilles exclaimed, frowning. "Was it a red sky sunrise? It's beautiful out now."
Jack nodded. "A storm is coming. Mark my words."
"Well, the island has weathered storms before," said Gilles with a smile. "Much to my father's exasperation I loved storms when I was boy. All he could see was the destruction and all I saw was the excitement. There may be no reason for alarm. It could just past us by."
"There you'd be wrong, sir. Foul weather is approaching and plans best be laid out before it comes." Gilles regarded him as if his head had just rolled from his shoulders, as it felt it was about to do.
The young man truly could not comprehend why Jack was heralding such doom as was plastered on his face. How could Jack know how bad a storm was likely to be? Why get all bothered about it before one even knew it was headed one's way? Still while he was a bit grim Jack was a useful fellow to have around.
With a shrug of his slight shoulders, Gilles said, "I'll pass your concern on when I see my cousin."
"That'll do. Thank you, sir." With that Jack headed for Lavinia's. The bright sun and the hot still air was making his head hurt abominably. It felt as if he were still on the boat and rocking back and forth, even though it had been a calm sail. The sensation of spinning was as if the storm had come early and the very island itself was shaking.
"Do take care of that head of yours, McGonnigal," shouted Gilles after him. For a moment Gilles watched him with a deepening frown. The man did look dreadful. Perhaps he should have been more insistent that Jack come along with him to have his head looked at.
Jack merely waved a hand in the air without bothering to turn around. If he had he might had fallen to the sand with his lack of equilibrium. He just hoped his innate sense of direction would bring him to the door of the tap house
Just as Gilles was about to go after Jack, two young women passed in front of him and said, "Good day, Mr. Bradford."
Gilles turned to them with a smile. Jack was forgotten.
"Can I get you something to drink, sir?" Colin asked the tall, white haired man standing at the bar.
The man turned sharp blue eyes on him and said severely, "Early in the day to be drinking. I would like a cup of coffee but I don't suppose you can make decent coffee. From the sound of you, you are English."
This was more accusation than a statement of the obvious.
"I am indeed, sir," said Colin pleasantly. "However, my wife is Polynesian. She makes excellent coffee. I'll bring you a cup from the kitchen."
When Colin returned with the coffee he set it on the bar in front of the gentleman. He picked it up, took a healthy gulp and smiled. "You're right. Your wife makes excellent coffee."
It was early in the day. The bar had few customers. Colin liked mornings like this when he had time to visit with the patrons. The man had a gruff manner but Colin was encouraged by his smile. Being sure not to make it sound like an accusation, he said, "You are an American."
"In a manner of speaking," said the man with a nod. He smiled again as if what he was about to say was a private joke. "I'm from Virginia. I've spent the last twenty years in California. I'm a geologist."
You're a lonely man, thought Colin kindly. "That must be very interesting work."
During the next ten minutes Colin learned a great deal about mines all over the western United States. He also learned that the man's name was John Howard. He had never married; he blamed his job which kept him moving from place to place.
"What brings you to Tahiti?" asked Colin as he dried a glass and set it on a tray.
"I'm on my way to Australia. I have a friend who owes an opal mine. Sounds interesting. I thought I'd go have a look now that the company thinks I'm too old to be of any use to them," said Howard bitterly. "Tahiti was on the way and these Pacific Islands are interesting from a geological point of view. Not the only thing interesting."
The old man's gaze had drifted to Lavinia who was moving gracefully among the tables. She wore a tightly wrapped sarong that left her shoulders bare. "It is rather shocking to see women wandering around half dressed."
"My wife would say that it is rather shocking to see men or women wandering around fully dressed in such heat," said Colin mildly.
Lavinia spotted Jack in the doorway clutching the door jam for his very life. His grey skin under his normal sailor's tan was alarming. She put down her tray and swiftly came over to him.
"Jack! What happened to you?" He sagged against her.
"Nothing. I'm fine. A bit dizzy is all." He took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. He'd thought when he left the dock that he would stop by the bar a get something to eat. Now eating was the furthest thing from his mind.
She called out for Colin to help her who immediately excused himself to Mr. Howard and came over. "Good Lord, you look like a ghost, man."
"Not quite yet," quipped Jack. He was beginning to regret that he hadn't just gone on to his hut on the beach on the far side of town. "Took a knock to the head today. It must be the heat that's makin' me head spin."
"Let's bring him to the house," Colin suggested. Jack sagging between the two of them was attracting quite a bit of attention. It was right behind the taphouse and Jack perhaps would feel more comfortable there while they examined him.
"Good idea," agreed Lavinia. "I'll follow in a few moments."
"Don't go to any trouble. I'm fine," the bedraggled sailor insisted.
"That's why you're holding up my wall." Lavinia knew false bravado when she saw it. "I'm sure one the girls can watch the place for a bit while till we take care of you."
Colin was already maneuvering him out the door and around the deck. "I'll see to him till you get there."
Within minutes Colin had Jack settled down on their settee and was already in the process of examining the large lump on Jack's skull. Lavinia entered in with a tray holding bandages and some of her local remedies. Drunk sailors were often complaining of dizziness, not that she thought Jack was drunk, though a part of her mind cast back to Christmas Eve when a distraught Cannibal Jack purchased a bottle of rotgut and disappeared into the night.
"I believe he has a beauty of a concussion, Lavinia. It appears that some falling rigging clipped him. He has a knot of his head near the size of your fist."
Lavinia winced in sympathy at her husband's description. "Well it's no wonder you're dizzy."
"Can you stop the spinnin' before I get sick?" asked Jack with his eyes closed, though that did little to ease the sensation.
Lavinia laid a gentle hand on the sailor's shoulder, noting the thinness of it beneath the cloth of his shirt. "I think I can come up with something. But you're going to have to take it easy for a while, Jack. Something like this is not easily shrugged aside."
"Yes, complete rest is the ticket," noted Colin. He had seen many people take a blow like Jack. Only the smart ones who had rested and not risked further injury were the ones still walking around and not speaking gibberish.
"The Malahini--" Jack began.
"Will need to fend for itself. It has more than enough owners or renters or whatever Gilles and his cousin are to take care of it while you're laid up. You know as well as I do that Gilles ought to take more responsibility for her than he does. He is perfectly capable of sailing the ship particularly with a mate like Lani." Lavinia's voice was firm on the matter.
"There's a storm coming. The ship will need to be moved."
"Not by you." Lavinia picked up a cloth and soaked it in a green slushy mixture before pressing it the bump on Jack's head. The man hissed at the pain it caused. Lavinia did not apologize but kept it right where it would do the most good.
"I can't imagine you could stand on a boat on a rough sea," said Colin, looking down at his friend with concern clouding his blue eyes. "Not if you're dizzy now.
Jack wanted to argue, but he knew what they both said was the truth. He was not going to be of any use to Seraut or the crew in this condition. To his dismay, he was relieved he would not have to take out the vessel into the storm. Hell of a captain he made. He had an almost superstitious feeling about this storm.
A few hours later there was a knock at the door at Lavinia's. Henri Seraut was there, looking for Jack. Lavinia invited him in and escorted him to the back bedroom, explaining the sailor's condition. She sincerely hoped that Seraut would not insist on Jack manning the Malahini. Immediately, she vowed to voice her concern.
"Bad timing," was all Seraut muttered as he entered the room. "Bad timing."
Jack was sitting up in the bed but resting against the headboard. He straightened as Lavinia showed his boss into the room and then left. Seraut sat in the chair next to the bed.
"It was my fault, of course," Jack immediately tried to explain.
But Seraut waved a hand, dismissing the matter. "Doesn't matter. Gilles has told me you are concerned about a storm."
"Aye. It will be a bad one. We must move the Malahini, The bay with be too crowded with small boats. If the blow is really bad they will be tossed all over, and bashed against the docks and the point of rocks. It is hard to know with a storm."
Colin came in and leaned against the door jam. "There's word of a storm about the docks. Everyone is ill at ease."
Seraut grunted and eyed Jack. "You're sure about this?"
"Would it matter if I wasn't? Best to be safe than sorry."
"But you're not wrong, are you Jack?" spoke Colin. He had known the sailor long enough to know the man's quirks. If there was one person on this island that knew about storms, it was Jack.
Seraut leaned back into the chair. His dark face was impossible to read. Finally he spoke. "I'd hoped for a quick turn around this time. If we take her out of the harbor for the storm we will have to bring her back in to load her up. That's time lost. Money lost."
Jack did not reply. He had made his case. It was up to Seraut to make the final decision on the matter.
Seraut stood and put his straw boater on. "You best be right about this, McGonnigal. Gilles claims the best place for the ship is the lagoon in front of the Bradford Plantation. For one thing she would be the only ship there. What do you think?"
"Well," said Jack slowly, picturing the cove in his mind. It was a pretty spot but small for a boat the size of the Malahini. It had a nice wide sandy beach so if she did come aground it might lessen the damage. "She's empty right now so she won't draw much. You take her in now before the wind gets up you should be alright. Make sure they anchor her in the center."
"That sounds like the best we can do in the circumstances," said Seraut, sounding as if nature had brewed this storm just to interfere with his business.
Jack visibly eased for the first time. "Good. Good."
Seraut took several steps towards the door and looked back at Jack asking, "Do you need anything?"
Jack shook his head ever so slightly. "No. Thank you."
"I'll have the mate, what's his name, Lani, and Gilles see to the ship. You get some rest. The sooner you are back on your feet the sooner we can get back to business."
. Seraut stopped at the door and nodded at Colin. "My thanks for taking care of my man, he would be hard to replace."
"Of course," said Colin, returning the man's formal acknowledgment. He couldn't help but be aware that although Seraut had shown genuine interest in Jack's condition it appeared to be because of Jack's usefulness to him more than any concern for Jack as a person. "Besides being the Christian thing to do, Jack is my friend. We'll take good care of him."
Seraut took his leave and Jack lay back down. The sailor's arm crossed over his eyes.
Colin stood in the doorway and watched Jack for several minutes. He made no pretense to having medical knowledge but he did know that blows to the head could be tricky. Jack looked ghastly; pale under his tanned skin and rough beard. He lay on the bed as if he had been tossed there; one leg on, one leg bent at the knee his foot on the floor.
"Are you all right, Jack?"
"Yes," responded Jack without opening his eyes.
"You did the right thing, storm or no. You could be saving lives and the man's investment," said Colin seriously.
"I know." Jack just wished he were wrong; that the horrible sense of dread was just the result of the knock to his head.
Colin turned back. Jack was staring at him with intensity.
"Keep," began Jack hesitantly. "Keep Lavinia close to you. Remember that she is all that matters in the end."
"Matters most, yes, but not all," said Colin re-crossing the room to stand by the bed. "Our friends matters. What is it?"
"Its," Jack started to shake his head and thought better of it. He frowned, groaned and then tried again. "It is like-By the pricking--"
"By the pricking of my thumbs, something evil this way comes." Colin finished the quotation for him. "What would we do without the Bard to put our thoughts into words for us?"
A faint, fleeting smile passed over Jack's face. How was it possible that a man as different from himself as Colin Trent so often understood him so completely?
"Is it the storm?" asked Colin.
"Yes. I know it sounds daft," said Jack defensively. He looked up at Colin and saw nothing in his eyes but concerned interest. "I hate storms. I've got bad memories. Lots of sailors do. But storms are part of being a sailor so I live with them. Hell, the wind isn't even up yet but I know that sky at dawn was a warning. I know it is going to be a bad one."
"And you have done what you could for your ship. And you have given me a warning that I will heed. Please try to rest."
"You look like you are working awfully hard," said Isabelle as she perched herself on the edge of Claire's desk.
Claire was leaning over a tray of printing dyes. She looked up at Isabelle and smiled. "I have a job that has to be done today. A merchant in Papeete will be here first thing tomorrow morning for it. Then I need to start setting the type for this week's edition of the paper."
"Are you getting much work from Papeete?" asked Isabelle thoughtfully.
"Some. Not as much as I'd like although what I need is bigger jobs. It takes so long to set the type it is hardly worth my time for a small run. How was your trip?"
"Tedious," answered Isabelle with a sigh. "There was so little wind it took us forever to get home. What is that smile for?"
"I think that complaining about the wind makes you an official sailor."
Isabelle laughed with pure delight. "You be sure to tell David that."
"Is everything all right between you and David?"
"Yeah," said Isabelle, staring down at the pointed toe of her boot. "Everything's fine. Good."
Claire had been concentrating on pulling the correct letters and only half paying attention to her friend. She stopped her work and fixed her gaze on the dark haired woman. "Isabelle?"
"Seriously, everything is good between David and me."
Isabelle squirmed slightly under Claire's steady gaze. "Well, things could be even better."
Claire grinned. "You know they will be. You and David belong together."
"Claire, you are such a romantic," said Isabelle, smiling fondly at her friend.
A shadow passed over Claire's pretty young face before she spoke again. "Are you sure there is nothing wrong? You seem edgy."
Would anyone besides Claire have noticed she wasn't quite as relaxed as normal? Isabelle didn't think so. For one thing she was very good at hiding what she was really thinking and feeling. It wasn't so much that Claire was extra perceptive as that Isabelle didn't feel the need to hide her feelings from her.
"I am a little edgy," she responded honestly. "David said something this morning about a big storm headed this way."
"Gilles was talking about expecting a storm. He was in here a little while ago and said he wanted me to come out to the plantation house for the night."
"Will you go?"
"Probably," answered Claire her attention turned back to her work. "I would for sure if Mrs. Russell were going out there."
"Isn't she?" Isabelle asked in surprise.
Claire shook her head. "She heard people talking about the possibility of a bad storm in the market this morning and was in here before Gilles." Her office, thought Claire, was getting busier than a railroad station. She liked visiting with her friends but how was she suppose to get her work done? "Mrs. Russell was muttering about there being no rector at the church and worrying over who would take charge there. Not just the things that need to protected from the storm but also that many may shelter there as it is a very solid building. So I suppose I should really go and help her."
"You'll be a lot more comfortable at the plantation house."
"I know but it seems cowardly."
Isabelle frowned. How typical of Claire to worried about doing the right thing. "Not really. If people shelter in the church they will be able to take care of themselves. The islanders all have a lot more experience with storms than we do."
"You're right, of course. But she does mean well and it can't hurt to have someone who wants to be helpful there," said Claire as she picked up a rag and wiped her inky fingers. "Do you think they're right about a bad storm? It was such a pretty morning."
"Yeah," said Isabelle as she slid off the desk and walked to the window. Her view of the bay was partially blocked by the other buildings. "But the clouds are thickening on the horizon. I think we better take it seriously. I'm going to have Paiku take the horses inland."
Claire joined her at the window. "Aren't you going with them?"
"No. David will want to move the Rattler out of the bay. Mauriri should stay here with his family so I'll go with David."
:"On the boat? In the storm?" Claire thought immediately of Isabelle's dreadful experience the night the Malahini wrecked. She admired her courage in being so willing to go back to sea in a storm. It said much about her confidence in David.
"We'll be all right," said Isabelle easily. "David knows what he is doing. You should get these windows boarded up just in case."
"I will." Claire reached out and took hold of Isabelle's hand. "Promise you will be careful on the boat."
"I promise." Isabelle gave Claire a quick hug and started for the door. She stopped and looked back, frowning. "Claire, go with Gilles to the plantation house. It is the safest place I can think of to ride out a storm."
Claire nodded and said, "Safe home."
Once Isabelle left, almost running towards her stables, Claire turned around and called to her assistant, a young Polynesian man. She told him he would find the remains of packing crates in the cellar and she hoped enough nails to put the boards across the windows of the office. Then she bent her head again over her work.
The bar was filled to the brim with sailors and locals alike. This was where information was stored and exchanged. There was only one thing on the minds of every islander and seaman.
The Grace had come into port. The captain was a tall thin man with a long face and a narrow chin. Creases marked the corner of his eyes and his lips were drawn tight in a pinch as if he had tasted something strong and bitter, though he had not taken a sip of his whiskey that lay in his hand.
"It's a bad one alright," he announced. "It's swinging straight towards this little island of paradise."
The voices within rose into a roar of discussion. Anxiety and panic swelled to a crescendo. All day long paradise had fallen into shadow as long overcast clouds continued to drift overhead. All day long the wind was rising and the clouds grew thicker.
It was an ominous sight to see after so many months of clear blue sky.
Henri Seraut gained the top of a chair and stood tall over the congregation. His voice bellowed deep and loud over the roar of conversation.
"Everyone! Everyone! Listen to me!"
The crowd immediately stilled, hoping that a voice of reason would be able to quiet their fears and offer a rational course of action. In David's mind it was a poor choice but beggars couldn't be choosers.
"We need to work together," Seraut shouted. "We need to secure all buildings, board up windows. All boats need to be sent to sheltered waters."
Mauriri, standing beside David, noted, "He's making sense."
"I hate that," his partner retorted, causing the other man to smile.
"We'll need to move the Rattler."
"But where? Most of the coves are about to get real crowded."
"And the more crowded the cove, the greater the danger of boats colliding in the high winds."
"We'll have to go further out. How about Matia?"
"That's over an hour away. Can we out run the storm?
"The wind will pick up soon enough."
Mauriri ran an anxious hand over his short hair. "I can't leave Lianni and the kids at a time like this. If he's right that would leave them right in the path."
David turned to him sympathetically. "I would never ask you to choose the Rattler before your family, you know that. Tah-mey can take her out with me."
"And don't forget about me." Isabelle's voice came from behind them. The two men turned. "I'm all about protecting my investment."
David regarded her, judging the resolve of her statement. "It won't be easy. We'll have to ride out the storm where we berth her."
"The horses are being moved to the interior of the island. That stable will either stand or it won't. We've reinforced it as best as we could."
David was both proud of her and surprised at her decision. She was choosing the Rattler over Dante for the first time since officially becoming a partner in the enterprise. He assumed she had considered these things, so he didn't bother bringing up her pride and joy. "Then I'll be glad to have you on board."
A pleased smile broke over her face as if she thought she would have had to argue more. "Good. When do we leave?"
"We'll help Mo batten down the hatches at his place. Meanwhile, Tah-mey can supervise the stocking of the Rattler. We leave as soon as we can."
"I'll be able to take care of my place," said Mauriri, looking around the room of anxious sailors. "You need to get the Rattler out of the bay now."
They headed for the door. It took a moment for David to realize that none of them had paid any attention to what Seraut had been saying throughout, including Isabelle. For some reason that made David feel pretty damn good all of a sudden.
Isabelle moved through the crowd at the taphouse, trailing after David and Mauriri as they headed outside. Suddenly there was a wall in front of her. Henri Seraut stood before her.
"Isabelle, my dear, what are your plans?" he asked in French.
It was a demand more than a statement. A sensation of bristling came over her. She never understood how men could believe so succinctly that they alone could run the world. As if women didn't have a thought to their heads about how they wanted to live.
She took a breath. Yes, Henri was masterful, so was David. So were all of the men she had ever had an interest in. At least David and Henri both had learned that she was capable of taking care of herself. "Plans for what? The storm?"
"Of course, the storm. Why? Do you know of some other disaster bearing down upon us? The stable will need to be secured and the horses sheltered further inland."
She couldn't help the gentle smirk of accomplishment. "Already taken care of, Henri. Thank you, however, for thinking of me." Normally she would have already been moving past him in order to catch up to David and Mauriri, but she was enjoying the look of mild astonishment on Seraut's face too much. Her arms folded across her chest.
"I should have known you would be ahead of the game," he said with a slightly pleased smile. "Not like the rest of these fools."
"They are ready to elect you mayor. You did a good thing taking charge like that."
"Someone had to," responded Seraut grimly. "They would have wasted precious time talking about doing things they already knew they had to do. Most men would accomplish nothing without someone else's leadership. Ridiculous really when you think that I have never been through a tropical storm and most of these men have. I hope you don't intend to remain at the stable during the storm. It would be foolhardy."
"Of course, I won't be at the stable. I'm not daft, you know." She paused letting him take a bit more rope out like the headstrong stallion she knew he was. It wasn't very nice of her when he was trying to be considerate but she did rather enjoy anticipating his reaction to her plans.
"I believe my house is sturdy enough and in a sheltered enough place to be safe during the storm. I hope you will join me for the duration," he said, extending the invitation as if he were inviting her to dinner. "I have more of that vintage you enjoyed so much."
"Oh, you will be snug as a bug there," she said with a smile. "I appreciate the offer but I'm going with David. We're going to move the Rattler to some place safer."
She saw his jaw tighten at the mention of David's name. How he hated losing out to David, she thought choking down a chuckle. It was good for him to not always get his way.
"Are you sure, my dear," he said in measured beats, "it is quite wise to go to sea under the conditions?"
Isabelle was impressed not for the first time with his control. "I intend to protect my investment. I have a great deal of money sunk in to the Rattler. No pun intended. But I'll be damned if I'd let her ride out the storm here."
"Yes, all the sailors say the more space between the boats the better. I've had the Malahini moved to the cove in front of the Bradford estate." Seraut swallowed hard as if he had just tasted something foul. "You have my leave to bring the Rattler into the bay as well for protection."
Surprise enveloped Isabelle. This was a huge offer from the man. A testament as to how much he actually cared about her. She was touched. At least for a moment. Then it saddened her that he probably hadn't offered the use of the private bay to any of the other seaman, probably in an effort to keep the Malahini from harm. Boats had a way of shifting in a storm. A crowded bay offered far too many chances of accidental collision.
"You've already moved the Malahini?"
"Yes, McGonnigal said this morning that there was a bad storm coming. He was quite insistent about it. Whatever else the man is, he has proven to be a very good master for the ship so I find it wise to follow his advice."
Isabelle believed that Seraut's success owed much to his ability to use the expertise of others.
"It is a kind offer. But I don't think that cove is big enough to shelter two ships as big as ours safely. David, Mo and I have already formulated a plan of action. We think it is sound." She made to leave and catch up to her friends. A part of her almost hoped that David had noted her absence and would come back looking for her.
Seraut's firm hand gripped her forearm and pulled her back to him. "Sound? Are you sure it is sound to think they can outrun this storm and to believe they can find a safe port in time. You should not have blind trust in your partners, my dear."
Isabelle twisted around to look at him. It was so hard to read his face and his voice. Why couldn't his tone ease just a bit to allow for concern and affection to creep in, thought Isabelle? Why must it always be condescending and smack of arrogance? Perhaps he was truly worried about her, and she believed he was in his own way. But his way of expressing it, of stopping just short of giving her orders, brought out her fighting stance.
Isabelle took a steadying breath. She didn't want to fight with him. "It was as much my plan as theirs. And I have faith that they know what they are doing. They've been doing this for a long time and this is not the first storm they've weathered. They're sailors."
"I fear you're making a major mistake, Isabelle. One that could cost you your life," he said. He was agitated enough that a frown creased his forehead. "You're smarter than that."
"I am smart, Henri. And I'm not a fool. I know the risks. But I also trust David and Mauriri's judgment. That ship is everything to them, not just a business venture but their livelihood. They will protect it with every ounce of courage and soul. They won't watch it from a safe vantage point and just shrug it off as a loss if their gamble doesn't pay off."
Seraut's frown deepened from Isabelle's biting words. Her claws were out and he understood the implications of her words. It angered him not because she was being headstrong, but because there was a ring of truth in them.
"Material things are more easily replaced than a life, Isabelle." His words dripped with bitterness. "Too bad your man Grief does not value your life above his vessel."
Oh, touché, thought Isabelle. But she knew David better than that. She shook her head. "You're missing the point, Henri. I don't do this because David told me to do it. I'm doing it because I want to do it. I want to take the risk. If you really knew me at all, you'd know this about me. I'm a risk taker and headstrong, and I will face this storm as a challenge. I will not hide from it and hope that God watches out for my investments. I've learned long ago that I'm the one that needs to look out for me and mine." She jerked her arm out of his grasp and flashed a challenge at Seraut. Her chin lifted defiantly.
For a moment Seraut did not react. Then he looked her squarely in the eye and said very calmly, "I do really know you, my dear. This course of action does not surprise me. However you can hardly blame me for wanting to see you safe. There are risks worth taking and those which are, well. Let us not part quarreling." He reached out and touched her cheek gently.
The gesture stunned Isabelle. He was not a demonstrative man.
"Bonne chance, ma chere, he said softly and he walked away. His unspoken words of 'you will need it' followed after him. And the sad thing was that she knew he was right. But it wouldn't stop her from giving her all to save what mattered most to her and to her friends.
She hustled out of the bar looking for David and Mauriri.
The Rattler sailed out of Matavia Bay with a stream of other ships. They made a beautiful armada as they passed the point and made for the open sea. All the sails were full of the wind's breath and they spread out their wide and bulging wings. The wind had picked up dramatically the last hour and now coconut trees stood swaying to and fro while windows and shades shuttered in their frames.
Mauriri had said his farewells and was probably already at home working on preparing his own house to weather the encroaching storm. David knew he felt bad about leaving the safety of the Rattler to David, but for Mauriri family came first. David understood that even if it wasn't his experience with his own family.
Isabelle could work harder than any man and today she was giving her all. With only a skeleton crew on board to wrestle the ship through the heavy seas, duties were doubling and in some cases tripling up. But there was nary a complaint from anyone. They all knew what was at stake. There was no guarantee they would find safe harbor before the storm hit full force. Some ships had already departed for safer ground so there was a chance that one of their chosen was already taken.
David and Mauriri had consulted the charts and had concluded which areas they should consider and which might still be available. Matia was still their best bet. They had narrowed it down to two locales.
Now it was a race to see if the Rattler could get ahead of some of the other boats and make way for the best harbors. They no longer had the American sails but even without their added speed, the Rattler was a fast ship against most of the usual commerce vessels.
She leaped out in front of all but five of them, which had left an hour earlier. As they made their way past the closest and first choice, Tah-mey waved David off. Two ships were already in the cove and two more were trying to get in.
Isabelle cursed them, angry at having been beaten. Even once they made a cove, there was still much to do to batten down the vessel. Every minute lost searching meant time lost preparing.
To her surprise gunfire cracked in the distance. There were small puffs of smoke from small arms fire within the cove they were leaving.
"The more ships in a cove the higher the risk of collision," Tah-mey told her.
"So we head for Matia then."
Tah-mey nodded. It's another half hour away." He scanned the sky and out to the horizon where the air was black with thick clouds. He pointed to them. "That way."
"We're heading straight into that?" She couldn't keep the breathless sound of fear from resonating in her throat.
"It looks closer than it is."
She pulled her wildly dancing hair off her face. "Not with the amount of wind it's kicking up. I bet it's racing toward us."
"David will find us safe harbor."
She regarded the calm man before her and smiled. "We all put a great deal of faith in him."
"We must. That is his power, using our spirit to make good things happen." The islander turned back to his work with the rippling sails. As did Isabelle but not before she looked back at David at the wheel. The force of the wind was blowing his long hair about wildly as well and his shirt was pressed flat against his chest while behind him the excess material flew like a flag. She could hear the sound of its mad rippling even from where she stood in the bow. All his concentration was on the task at hand as he struggled to hold the wheel steady.
Tah-mey was right about David. He worked best with the faith of others at his side. He could work miracles so long as he had friends beside him.
A speck of land rose from the choppy seas, Matia, a little island with high cliffs in almost a crescent shape. The ship rose and fell in the huge long swells. Isabelle was proud of herself for not being ill with all the churning. In fact she found it a bit exhilarating. But every time she looked toward where her partner, David Grief, was sitting at the helm, his face was turned skyward and a grimace streaked his face.
The storm did not truly frighten Isabelle. Her time on Matavia had quickly introduced her to the passing of bad weather. It was looked on favorably since it refreshed the island's water supply. Drought and snow were two things the South Seas did not experience and neither of which did Isabelle miss.
But watching David's brow furrow more and more did disturb her. He was far more seasoned in the weather than she was. She crossed the deck carefully following the pitch of the boat as it plowed through the whitecaps. Her hand darted out to hold only to a mast or some rigging for balance as she went aft.
"How much farther?" she shouted against the wind.
David pointed ahead of them. "Another quarter hour! Stand ready!"
"Do you think anyone else might be there?"
"I hope not! We can't stay out here much longer without fear of capsizing! This storm is the worst I've ever seen!" His voice was being carried away with the gale as he screamed his answers at her. He was shouting against the wind. "Grab that line!"
She immediately saw the loosening rope and with all her strength pulled back until the line was taut again. Too much slack and the sail could rip. David nodded at her approvingly. She stayed there monitoring the lines, leaving David alone to battle the pull of the sea. She held her breath as they entered the cove, reciting a prayer over and over again that it would be empty and clear for them to hide from the storm. She didn't want to stay out here any longer. If this was just the prelude, she couldn't imagine how they would weather the full force of the storm. They rounded the bend, David spinning the wheel far over, fighting where the wind tried to force them straight onto the shore. It was a sandy cove with little shallow coral to fight but they needed to be farther in to be safe from the howling wind.
Isabelle couldn't help her shout of elation, as the cove was empty and pristine. They had found a safe harbor! She only hoped no one had followed them. It was a crass thought she knew, but she couldn't bear the thought that the Rattler could be stove in by another ship that didn't secure themselves well enough so the fickle storm would send crashing into them. Nor did she could she imagine defending the cove by shooting at crews with whom they normally socialized.
David brought the ship in and Tah-mey and Isabelle dropped anchor. All three of them struggled to bring down the sails and secure them so not a yard of material could be caught by the wind. It was a battle and all were exhausted and soaked to the skin by the exertions of wrestling the ship into order. Everything loose had to be stowed away below decks and secured there as well for the ship would be tossed about throughout the storm regardless of the precautions they had taken.
It took nearly another hour and the sky became so black that it looked as if day had turned to night in a dreaded apocalypse. Huge billows of clouds rolled past above them at a frightening speed, heading straight for Matavai. Isabelle couldn't help the dread she was feeling at the power of this storm. A sense of helplessness gripped her. There was no way to predict what was to come in the next few hours. She could only pray that all loved ones remained safe.
She turned and saw David waving her below decks. There was nothing more they could do. They were about to ride the back of wild beast and may heaven have mercy on them all.
Colin raced up to the house with more wood to board the windows. Lavinia watched him as she hammered in another nail. He put all his will into every effort, whether it be saving souls or being a carpenter for a few hours. She remembered that the son of the Christian god had also been a carpenter for a while. No wonder Colin so enjoyed working with his hands on various projects around their home.
Now though there was a sense of urgency. Together they had shored up Vivi's home as best they could. It had a solid foundation and had weathered many other storms before this one, though Lavinia couldn't help but wonder if any had been as fierce as this one. There were stories of course, passed down from one elder to the next, but once could never be certain which one was the worst. Still she had faith in the house, in the love that had built it and kept it standing for so many years..
"Grab the end of this rope!" shouted Colin to her.
She held her wildly flying hair from her face and looked up to see Colin on the roof attempting to tie down more of the thatch. She climbed the ladder and helped him. From this vantage point she could see the darkness that was bearing down on them. It encompassed the entire sea it seemed. She briefly wondered how David and Isabelle were faring in that and a cold spot grew in her stomach.
"Here! Tie it here!" Colin directed, snapping her back to the present. Pulling as hard as she could to make the line tight, she wrapped the rope around the beam. Colin lent his muscle and together they tied it off. He sat back on the thatch his white shirt rustling in the strengthening wind. Lavinia noted where his gaze drifted.
"If you want to check on the church, you can. I think we have things well in hand here."
The lines in Colin's jaw tightened and he regarded her with woeful eyes. He was ashamed to be so blatant in his thoughts. "I'm sorry. I could just see the steeple from this height." He looked to the interior of the island again.
Leaning over the top rung of the ladder and laying a hand on his knee as he knelt on the thatch, she drew his gaze back to her. "Don't be sorry, Colin. Go to them and satisfy your worries. The church still belongs to everyone on this island, and that includes you."
Lavinia knew that though Colin's heart resided here with her now, so much of his life had been a part of that congregation. They were still his flock regardless of what someone decreed or what papers somewhere might read. Lavinia understand that and loved that part of him that worried so for other people.
"No one has been assigned yet as my replacement. I just want to be sure…"
"Go, Colin. I'll finish putting this away and join you."
He leaned down to kiss his wife, reveling in her wondrous ability to be so understanding. "I'll help you and we'll go together. There is still time.
Gilles burst in through the office door, his hand planted firmly on his head to keep the wind from snatching his hat. "Claire! I believe we should depart now. Close up shop we need to get back to the house quickly."
"I have another run to do," answered Claire with her head still bent over her work.
"Please, my dear, leave it for another day," said Gilles with unusual firmness in his voice. The truth was he was tired and a bit worried. Jack's adamant claim that the storm was going to be a bad one had bothered him enough that he had gone in search of his business partner. When Seraut had returned from speaking with Jack he had insisted that the Malahini be moved to the safety of the cove immediately. This was hours before the Grace had made port with her dire news of a raging storm headed their way.
That Seraut was so convinced by Jack's prediction had awakened a sense of urgency in Gilles. So in the course of several hours he and the crew of the Malahini had sailed her into the cove and made her as fast as they were able. He'd brought most of the crew back to town in a wagon from the plantation. He knew that they had families and would want to be with them if the storm was as bad as they all feared.
"Claire, We must leave now if we're going to beat the storm home. I need to be able to watch the Malahini from the house. If the wind gets any worst the horses will be impossible. Come, now."
Claire looked up at him and frowned slightly. She wasn't use to Gilles giving her orders. "Gilles, this is still a business. The order is supposed to be ready by tomorrow. What happens if the storm misses us? Then I'll have lost this order and I'll lose the payment. "
"The storm is not going to miss us," said Gilles with conviction. "Besides what does that matter? Soon you won't be dependent on the press for your livelihood."
Claire bristled, not so much at Gilles presumptions about their future, but that he couldn't understand the importance of a business contract. She had assured Mr. Tunstall that his printing would be complete. The man was in a rush for them. To fall back on her word could easily damage her reliable reputation. This was a matter of pride in her work. It spoke of character not money, which meant the world to Claire. Always she had dreamed of standing on her own two feet, like Isabelle, a woman independent and confident in her own abilities. Isabelle had always shown her that reputation and reliability was everything in business. To lose either could easily result in ruin.
She was still battling with Mr. Bradford over the prospect of a new printing press. He had offered to finance a new one. And part of Claire wanted desperately to accept the offer. However she knew doing so would put her in Tom Bradford's debt. Gilles might give her a press out of generosity even if he didn't understand why she worked so hard. His father did nothing without an eye to his own advantage. She had to finish the job she was working on. She needed the money.
Gilles didn't understand that. He never had to work that hard. His wealth made his reputation sound, and others like Jack McGonnigal made sure his business remained reliable.
Her stomach ached as she made that thought. Why could she not go a single day without thinking of the man? It infuriated her. They were done with each other. Each had moved on and she was glad they had. Her life had taken a different turn, a good turn.
She sighed and regarded Gilles, still standing in the doorway readjusting his hat. He was normally so neat; clean clothes, brushed hair. At that moment he was a mess. His clothes were streaked with mud; his thick dark hair was standing on end. His handsome face was creased with anxiety.
"Please come along, Claire. The wind is an absolute fright out there."
For a moment she was tempted. The plantation house would be a comfortable place to wait out the storm. It was located on a bluff well above the sea; built solidly by people who understood the power of nature. But if she went with Gilles now she wouldn't finish this job and if the storm was bad who could say when she would get back to her work afterwards. She simply couldn't leave this job unfinished.
"You go ahead. I'll finish this last run and then I promise I'll go to someplace nice and solid like the church. That's where Mrs. Russell has gone."
"Yes, I know, I spoke with her and told her I would take you out to the house with me."
"But you just said you can't wait for me. This job won't take more than a half hour. There will be plenty of time for me to get to the church."
Gilles looked torn. He wanted her to come with him so that he knew she was safe. But clearly she had dug her heels in and he couldn't fathom manhandling her as his father might do to a stubborn woman. Claire was not one to abide that. Not that he would treat a woman in such a manner. Still it would be nice if she would just do as he asked rather than make him feel he was leaving her in danger.
"Gilles, you need to go," admonished Claire. "If Mrs. Bradford is expecting you she will be frantic until you get back."
As Claire knew it would that made Gilles's decision. His step-mother, who was normally the most practical of women, was terrified of lightning. It was her custom to gather up her entire household and make them sit together in the foyer. Even Mr. Bradford was not allowed to scoff at the power of nature. Gilles would never deliberately add to his step-mother's fears.
"A half hour, no more," he said with a sigh of frustration. "Then you will join Mrs. Russell in the church."
"No more. I promise."
He darted forward and kissed her warmly. He walked back to the door and started to put his hat on his head. Then he stopped and stared at it. With a quick gesture he threw it on her desk in disgust. Turning to look at her one more time he said mulishly, "I'm holding you to it."
"I promise. Be careful on the road," said Claire, her eyes soft with affection. "Safe home."
And he was gone. Claire sighed. What had gotten into Gilles today? It wasn't at all like him to be ordering her around. He was very much a child at times. He made her laugh often and she cherished that. Had she laughed that often before Gilles? For the life of her she couldn't recall anything past the bitterness that still nestled in her heart.
She pushed it all from her mind and concentrated instead on finishing the run on time. God, she loved deadlines. She grinned wickedly and pushed herself and her machine to its limits.
Lavinia was grateful for Colin's firm hand as they raced the storm. They were practically to the church and already there was damage everywhere. Branches of thick palms were sliding along the ground to be pinned against another more sturdy structure. Sections of thatch were caught high in the wind and flew overhead. She swore she even recognized a metal weathervane from the Titchmarsh's Export Company imbedded in a tree.
The rain was coming down in fits and starts. She was already damp. Though the wind was warm she still felt cold and clammy, perhaps from fear. The rain that drove in practically horizontally was more salt than fresh as it picked up its moisture from the sea.
They passed a few islanders still huddled in their hut, praying against hope that they would stand the storm. Colin paused in their dash and shouted at them, "The wind is a killer! Get out of your houses!"
"Come with us to the church," urged Lavinia, waving her arm in their direction in case their voices could not be heard above the wind. To her relief the families abandoned their huts and came with them.
As the troop turned up the church lane Lavinia could see people outside struggling to board up windows. Mainly it was islanders, most hoping to take refuge within the church's sturdy walls. Mauriri was even there. His broad back heaving up plank wood after plank wood to those who where hammering it into place.
Her eyes caught the daunting figure of Mr. Howard, the American who had been in the bar earlier. Mrs. Russell was there also, struggling against her full skirts that threatened to take her away like a sail as she struggled with one end of the heavy wooden cross that once graced the roof of the church. The wooden cross had been lowered down to be moved inside for safety. The usually prim woman's hair was completely undone and her face red, but she would not give into nature's fury. Lavinia admired her for that. However, in contrast, Mrs. Titchmarsh was conspicuously absent from the proceedings and that did not surprise Lavinia.
Lavinia and Colin released their grip on each other as they ran to help. Lavinia grabbed the other end of the cross and together they carried it into the sanctuary of the church. They lowered the heavy object between the pews hoping the added strength of the wooden seats would protect it if something should fall through the roof. Permitted to catch her breath, Mrs. Russell slumped for a moment on the pew beside her. She regarded Lavinia with grateful eyes.
"Thank you and Colin for coming. The storm," she said rather breathlessly, "it's moving so fast upon us. When I first heard people in the market talking about a bad storm heading our way I thought they were fooling. It was such a beautiful morning."
"We couldn't very well stay away," said Lavinia seriously. It struck her as curious that she and Mrs. Russell should be talking to each other. It was the crisis that the storm created; it temporary broke down the normal barriers. "This was Colin's home for many years. It always will be."
Mrs. Russell nodded. "I wasn't sure anyone would remember to secure the church, especially since everyone needs to look toward their own home as well."
"Many live in homes that are not strong enough to stand against the wind. They know they are safer here in the church."
Mrs. Russell smiled. For a moment she had a metal picture of the stone cathedral in southwest England where her husband had been dean. "The church is always a refuge for God's people. The physical building as well as the institution has served as such in Europe for centuries."
Lavinia looked steadily at her and said, "The church has come to be very important to many people here, mainly because of Colin. It sometimes isn't so much the god that inspired us but the man who brings his word."
"People believed in Colin."
Lavinia nodded. "I know I do."
"But you did not convert," Mrs. Russell pointed out. It was a curious conversation to have with a hurricane bearing down upon them. But it was a question that nagged at her and when if ever would she get a better opportunity to ask it.
"I didn't feel the need, but it doesn't make me respect my husband then or now any less. It was his conviction in his beliefs and the respect not only for his god and congregation but for all people, native and European alike, that won my heart. Here a person is judged by his actions not just by his beliefs."
The older woman felt the implied criticism. "The Reverend is-" she broke off as she remembered that this woman was largely the reason Colin Trent was no longer to be addressed as the Reverend Mr. But now was not the time to being thinking about such things. Now was the time to draw together in spite of their differences.
Mrs. Russell gave a little cough and said, "I mean Colin is a good man."
"Yes, he is." Lavinia considered saying more but chose to ask a different question. "Is Claire not here?"
"No," said Mrs. Russell with a slight shake of her head. Her damp hair clung to her cheeks. "Gilles wanted her to go out to the plantation with him so she was finishing some work until he was ready to go home. I'm sure they have gone by now."
"You didn't want to go as well?" asked Lavinia. "The Bradford house would be as safe a place to ride out a storm as I can think of."
"I considered it of course when Gilles asked but when I asked him what those who live along the beach would do he said many would likely come to the church. That made me think of the church and that there was no rector at the moment. I'm afraid the vicar's wife woke in me and I felt my place was here in the church. I see many people have brought food with them. I did think to bring a basket of bread and a casket of tea." Mrs. Russell paused. With a small, self-depreciating smile, she said, "So very British of me I suppose to think a cup of tea will help."
"It sounds very comforting," said Lavinia. She was remembering that Mrs. Russell was the widow of a minister and had spent long years as 'the vicar's wife'. "There is a small stove in the, um-"
"Sacristy." supplied Mrs. Russell.
Their conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Lianni, Tahnee and Tevaki. With a squeal of delight the children ran for Lavinia. Lianni trailed behind them lugging a sail wrapped up into a bundle.
"Aunt Lavinia," said Tevaki, lisping through the gap in his teeth. "Papa said our house might get washed away by the sea and I was to bring my most favorite thing. So I brought my football."
His sister did not look as excited about the prospect of their home being washed away. She held a tablet of drawing paper and a box of colored pencils tightly against her chest.
"Is Colin with you?" asked Lianni. She was breathless from the weight of her bundle. In it she carried her few pieces of jewelry, carvings that had been in Mauriri's family for generations, her Bible, and a photograph a traveling photographer had taken of her family when Tevaki was a baby.
"Of course. He couldn't stay away and I wouldn't think of asking him to."
Lianni embraced Lavinia warmly over the heads of her excited children. "I'm glad you're here and I appreciate it immensely."
"You look exhausted," said her friend anxiously.
"No more than you do I suspect," responded Lianni with a small laugh. "We did everything we could to reinforce the house but Mauriri says it is just too close to the beach to stay in it. I fear for my dishes." Her pretty face took on a dramatic mask of mock tragedy for a moment.
"He'll have to get you some more. You have with you what is important," said Lavinia, smiling down at the children.
"I do indeed," said Lianni. She nodded her head toward Mrs. Russell. "We have received help from all over to help save the church."
Mrs. Russell smiled, pleased to be valued at such a critical time as now. She was even more astounded as Tevaki and Tahnee squirmed onto her lap to play at her ribbons and lace that dotted her dress. But their smiling faces could not have delighted her more.
Lavinia pushed her rain damp hair from her face and took a step toward the door. "I should go outside and see if there's anything more to do." Mrs. Russell immediately tried to rise and go with her, but Lavinia lifted a hand. "You stay here and rest a moment more."
Lianni nodded. "The children seem occupied, which is a comfort at the moment. The storm has been a cause for worry for them."
"Then I shall be happy to stay and watch them," said Mrs. Russell. She was relieved to have something useful to do that would not require her to go back out in the wind.
Colin was on the ladder hoisting up more coils of rope to Mr. Howard as he secured sections of the roof.
"I could spell you for a bit, Mr. Howard." Colin hoped the elder man would take him up on his offer. The man's face was drenched in sweat and his flesh puffy and red-flecked as the capillaries near the surface of his skin burst due to his exertions.
"Almost done here," the man shouted. "Pass me that rope. Who the hell made this roof so steep?"
"It helps deflect the rain," offered Colin who had requested that detail of the men who constructed the church. "We have an awful lot of it around here."
Howard just regarded him with a sour expression, obviously not appreciating the former missionary's humor. "Makes it damn near impossible to secure. It won't be my fault if the bloody thing blows off."
"Of course not, sir. We certainly do appreciate your help though. I was afraid no one would remember to secure the church."
"First thing I thought of, but then I don't have a house here. If I did, the church be damned."
Colin swallowed his ire at that comment. Of course a man's home would take precedence, as well it should. "There are islanders who will want to use the structure for shelter. Theirs are not the sturdiest of homes."
"Foolishness. A home should be your shelter, made of stone and wood, not made of twigs and seagrass. They'll learn that lesson, I'm sure, before this day is done."
Colin shook his head, desperately wanting to educate the man on the lack of good raw materials and adequate funds facing the islanders. Few could afford to build such strong homes out of good materials. But there was little time and he had learned long ago that one word would not change years of inaccurate thinking. It was enough that Mr. Howard was lending his assistance in securing the building for those less fortunate. For that he was grateful.
Colin instead diverted his consideration toward Mauriri, once he attracted the islander's attention. "Head for your home! I believe we have this under control now!"
Mauriri shook his head. "I secured everything before coming here!" he shouted back. "Lianni and the kids are here with me. With seas this heavy, I couldn't risk staying at the house. It could easily be swamped." He gazed up at the black sky above them.
"I say we've done all we can," remarked Colin. "Now we need to get everyone inside!" The rain was now coming down in sheets and he could barely see inches in front of his face. Currently the water was up to their ankles already. He was glad they had raised the foundation of the church a few feet. At least that afforded them some additional height against the flooding.
Mauriri nodded and helped hold the ladder as Colin and Mr. Howard descended. As they watched the older man walk stiffly towards the door of the church Mauriri leaned down and spoke near Colin's ear. "Another condescending white man full of good advice for idiotic islanders. He must think I've never been through a storm."
Colin stifled a sigh. Mauriri was correct that Mr. Howard was over-bearing and opinionated. He was also a lonely old man who had without being asked pitched in to help secure a church he had never attended.
Ahead of the storm the wind had been increasing in velocity for hours. When the storm struck Matavai it bent the palm trees level, ripped off the roofs of several houses, then roared out to sea, where it threw great clouds of spume across the roads and tore away the masts of two ships. During its destructive passage the whistling increased to an intense shriek and then subsided.
Henri Seurat stood by the window watching as the rain arrived and belted his windowpane. He had left one window unbarricaded against the storm, merely a few inches, but enough to allow him to place his telescope in the crack and observe the devastation of the island. On the hillside where his home was located, he had the perfect vantage point. The bay of Matavai lay beneath him and he could see the wharf clearly through the torrents of rain.
Tremendous seas were breaking over the small ships that had been foolish enough to remain in the harbor. Small craft were already being torn loose from their anchors. The wind had risen to 80 knots, with gusts of far greater intensity, and even the larger ships were dragging anchor under the pounding of 30 to 35-foot seas. The bay was now in almost total darkness, and was a scene of utter chaos as ships suddenly loomed in the darkness, collided, or barely escaped colliding by sheer luck, and were as quickly separated by the heavy seas.
Seraut thought of Isabelle and cursed her obstinacy. Instead of being safe here in his house, she was out there in this storm. He offered her an easy way to ride out the storm in his company and she had practically tossed it back in his face.
Truly it hadn't surprised him. For a woman as spirited as Isabelle a stormy night at sea was likely to be quite thrilling—if she survived it.
He knew he was jealous. In his opinion jealousy was a useless emotion. Occasionally in his life he had wanted something another had had enough to feel a tinge of jealousy. When he had he simply redoubled his efforts to get what he wanted. To be jealous over a woman was something he had never experienced. But then Isabelle was unique in his experience of women. It was particularly gulling that it was a man like Grief who was his rival.
Beyond the obvious what did she see in David Grief anyway?
"Oh, my dear," said Seraut softly, "do go on and sleep with the man. Have a mad, passionate affair, go running through the waves naked, anything. Just get him out of your system so you can get on to more important matters."
Claire could kick her printing press. Of all the times to break down. She tugged at the stripped gear and yanked it out, her fingers smeared with years of old and new ink. Craning her neck to see out the door since the windows were already boarded up, she could see the dark clouds massing overhead. She wasn't sure how long it had been since Gilles had left. Surely it couldn't have been more than a half hour. She intended to keep her promise.
Leaves and light debris were already winging their way past, as if all fleeing the onslaught bearing down on them.
She pushed such silly fears aside. There was still time to get this last set out. The run was almost done. Additional parts for the press were stored in the cellar beneath the office. She refused to admit defeat to the cranky machine. Besides she could always ride out the storm right where she was if she absolutely had to.
Wrapping her cloak tight around her and firmly holding onto the ends, she pushed her way out into the storm. The wind was fierce and for an instant her resolve almost fled, but she saw a few people still moving about outside and it gave her back her fortitude. It wouldn't take long. The force of the gale pushed her along to the back of the storefront. The heavy wooden door to the cellar was her greatest challenge. It took all of her strength to force it up and over. She fought to enter the dark hole and nearly slipped on the damp steps as they led down. Muffling a harsh expletive she'd learned from Isabelle, she made her way down. There was a lantern to the side that she lit. She hadn't realized just how dark it would be, particularly since it was still early afternoon. But it seemed to be almost dusk thanks to the dark ominous skies above her.
Using the meager light from the swaying lantern, she searched through the boxes, finally alighting on one that housed her spare parts. She tried to open the crate but to no avail. And she had left her crowbar upstairs in the office. There was no choice. She had to bring the whole crate with her. Thankfully, though heavy, she could still lift it. Perhaps the excess weight would anchor her to the ground, she thought wryly, priding herself in the fact that she could still laugh in the face of danger. Isabelle would be most proud of her.
She was tottering toward the stairwell, when she heard heavy footfalls come down the steps. Looking up at the shadowed figure, she couldn't quite see who it was. She could only assume one thing.
"Are you looking for shelter?" she shouted as loudly as she was able.
The cellar could afford someone at least a rudimentary sort of protection from the storm. She didn't mind sharing it as long as she could be sure her supplies would not be disturbed. Perhaps the person would be willing to help her take the box upstairs and then she would send them to the church which was really much safer than a cellar.
Her heart nearly stopped beating in her breast. Jack.He's worried about me. She squashed the thought immediately. She looked up and saw his lower body silhouetted against the erratic light of the storm. He paused; his hand appeared on the door jam. He seemed to be leaning heavily against it.
Jack swallowed hard. He might as well be on the deck of the Malahini in the storm if his bad head was going to make the short flight of stairs buckle and buck every time he took a step.
"What are you doing down here?"
His usual quiet tone was sharp and reprimanding.
It both startled and angered her. How dare he even speak to her? She didn't like it one bit. "I'm working. Not that it is any of your concern," she snapped back.
"Working? Are you daft, girl? There's a typhoon coming?" He thumped down the rest of the stairs quickly, ignoring the sick roll of his stomach. He tried to grab the box of printing parts from her. She didn't relinquish them.
They stood toe to toe over the heavy box. In Claire's brown eyes Jack saw fury. He looked away and pulled on the box.
Claire pulled back. The light from the lantern played over the sharp planes of his face. He looked ill; his eyes had barely focused on her. For just a second she felt concerned over him then she said disdainfully, "I am not interested in your opinion of my mental condition, Mr. McGonnigal. There was no reason for you to interrupt your drinking session to come take care of me. I am perfectly aware of the situation."
Jack felt cold. She hated him. How typical of him that the one thing he had done in his life with complete success was to make the woman he loved hate him.
Above them the wind was shrieking through the heavy tops of the coconut palms. It made a weird, almost human sound. The laughter of ghosts, thought Jack, his shoulders shaking. He banished the thought and gritted his teeth. Through them he said, "There is a bloody typhoon coming!"
"Yes, I know," she stated calmly. Inside she was seething. How dare he barge his way in here. She knew what she was doing. She didn't need for him to swoop in and rescue her. "There is still time. I need to finish one more run and then I'm…"
"There's no more time, Claire," he shouted, ripping the box from her and tossing it aside. "It's already here!"
There was a great tearing sound from outside and suddenly something came crashing down on top of them, a mix of dirt, water and wood.
All Claire had time to do was scream before she felt Jack fly against her and she fell back with the air in her lungs departing roughly. Then there was a bright flare of light and cold pain that felt like ice and she knew no more.
Jack groaned as he lifted his face from the inches of water about to drown him. He cleared his lungs roughly and wished he hadn't as his head blossomed with pain. His left leg was tangled awkwardly in the remains of the stairs.
He shoved himself up as best he could, fighting off the waves of darkness that washed over him. There was still light coming from somewhere. His arms shook at the strain of holding himself up, but he loosed one of them to fumble for Claire. He sobbed as he found the sodden cloth of her dress lying beside him. In the ebony darkness of his pounding head and the dim shapes he ran his hands over her, desperate to know her condition. She was limp as a rag doll and his pounding heart caused everything to sway and spin.
He pulled his leg free of the shattered wood with a cry of agony, heedless of the splinters and ragged pieces scraping his flesh. He crawled to her and half pulled her body to him.
"Claire! Claire, answer me!"
He knew panic was overwhelming him and he knew he should fight it as he had many times before in desperate situations, but this time it felt all encompassing, threatening to swallow him whole. Please God, don't let her be dead.
He pulled her limp form up onto his half curled legs to keep her out of the two inches of water in which they lay. His hands found her face and used his fingers to brush the hair away. He cursed his calloused hands which prevented him from feeling anything concrete in terms of wounds; the slickness of the water made it difficult to discern if she was bleeding.
"Claire!" He needed her to wake. He pinched her arm hoping the pain would rouse her. But she remained cocooned in her unconsciousness. Strictly by feel he examined her limbs, feeling for broken bones, and thankfully finding none. He didn't know if he could say the same for himself. His leg burned and sent fingers of fiery agony all the way up to his neck.
He needed light. As his vision adjusted slightly to the dim interior, he realized that there was light coming from a lantern that had fallen between the crates. Using one of the boxes to prop Claire up so her head was above the water, he reluctantly left her to seek out the lantern so that he could use it to examine her.
But the moment he tried to gain his feet, agony erupted. With a cry more of rage than of pain, he fell back to one knee, his left leg a sad unreliable mess. He sucked in gasping breaths as he shoved the pain to the back of his brain. He crawled the last few steps and dug his arm between the wooden crates. The emergence of bright light filled the room as he retrieved it. He set the lantern on one of the crates and turned up its brilliance.
Then he turned to Claire and his heart nearly stopped. She was covered in blood. Her beautiful honey hair was rusted with it. He sped back to her side as best he could, dragging his nearly useless leg behind him.
To his relief there was a small gash on her scalp just above the hairline. Such wounds bled incessantly but might not be serious. Still any head wound should not be taken lightly . The irony of his having that thought was lost on him. He tried to rouse her again, but to no avail .
The light illuminated more as well. A large banana tree had crashed in on top of them. It had effectively sealed them in, covering the opening with its heavy and thick branches. The stairs themselves were crushed to kindling. There would be no way to climb out.
He shouted as loud as he could, praying against hope that someone would hear him above the wail of the wind and the streaming of the heavy rain. He had been walking alone when he had spied the light coming from Claire's cellar. No one would know where they were. His hand angrily slammed against the thick branch within his reach. The tree didn't even shudder. It was jammed in tightly. They were truly and imminently in danger.
But it was the last thing he saw that made his gut wrench in a doomed way. Water was rushing in through the stairs beneath the weight of the tree. It was the reason why they were sitting in a couple of inches of water.
Storms in this region were not frequent, but Jack knew storms such as this one. Its brute force was not easy to imagine. Its winds uprooted trees easier than a child plucked grass, made houses explode from the inside and destroyed man-made structures like bridges and dams with unbelievable force. Winds generated by these storms, also spawned monster seas that few but the largest of ships could take safely.
However, the worst effect by far was caused by the very wide swath of torrential rains that trail around and behind them. Such storms could pour more water in a locality in three days than rain falls in temperate latitudes in several months. These deluges convert rivers into interior seas and cause yearly tremendous destruction to crops, animal stocks, infrastructures and human lives.
They had to get out of the cellar, now before they drowned. The storm could last for hours and in those hours this small hole in the ground would fill like a tidal pool. Ignoring the agony in his leg, he dragged himself up onto the remnants of the splintered stairs and desperately tried to push the tree just enough to allow him to crawl through and bring Claire with him. But the tree's girth was enormous, easily the diameter of three of the masts of the Malahini lashed together. He wasn't going to move it without help.
All he could do was shout and watch as the wind whipped his cries away as the water continued to rush inside.
David closed the door to his cabin with a firm yank. He was soaked and his shirt clung to his flesh like new painted skin.
"Did you go outside?" Isabelle was almost annoyed that he went topside again without her. But David shook his head scattering raindrops that clung to the ends of his curls.
"Water's comin' in over the gunwales and getting into the hold. We'll have to keep a rotation on the bilge down below. If we get too much, she'll sink." At the wide eyes of Isabelle, he added. "Tah-mey's on first duty. I'll spell him in an hour and then you can have a turn. I think we'll be fine if we keep at it."
She nodded and braced herself against the wall as the ship tossed and bounced in the rough seas. She almost lost her balance, but David was immediately there to steady her.
"You need a different set of sea legs for times like these." He eased his mouth into an effortless grin to comfort her. He guided her over toward the bunk. "Here. Sit down. It will make it easier to ride out the storm."
He gently helped her up and she lost her grip again as a particularly rough wind knocked them about. The ship nearly tilted over on its side. She couldn't help it as cry of surprise fell from her lips, quickly followed by a mumbled curse.
David grinned as he held onto her and the bunk, keeping his feet planted on the deck as the ship swayed. "Are you wishing you'd stayed in Matavai?"
Her eyes darted in his direction, hard and determined. "Not at all. This is delightful." Her eyes fell lower at where his hands were placed around her waist and she grinned. "You can let go now."
David followed her gaze and then grinned devilishly. "I don't know, another wave could hit us at any moment."
"You'd like that wouldn't you?" She had said in a slightly teasing tone, but was totally unprepared for his honest response that came out that breathless sigh.
"If it meant being able to touch you, then yes."
Air slipped from her lungs as if it had no right to be there. Her face lifted toward his, her hand reaching out to steady herself on his forearm. She could feel nothing but hard muscle beneath. "You don't need my permission to touch me, David."
His sharp exhale filled the tiny cabin. Her features had softened and her gaze remained fixed on him. God, she was beautiful and the need that resonated in her eyes appeared to match his own.
"Then you won't mind if I do this." His head bent to wrap his lips around hers, leaning in toward her so the rocking of the boat couldn't dare separate them.
Isabelle gripped his arm tightly, pulling them closer and wrapping her other arm around his neck. His lips dragged on hers as if sucking on a ripe fruit; his tongue darted in and out of her mouth that was open and slack as he feasted on her mouth. Her dark strands of hair loosened from the whipping wind, fell over him like a black veil.
Then his hands pulled at the collar of her shirt, pulling the buttons apart so that her breasts, clad only in her thin camisole, were exposed to him. His tongue followed down the line of her throat to the bottom of her breasts. She arched back against his hands that were now encircling her waist. She moaned as he sucked on her left breast. Even through the silk she could feel the force of his gentle suckling and her heart rate raced forcing hot blood through her veins. It was like lightening under the surface of her skin. One of his rough hands left her and pulled the camisole strap off her shoulder so that the material slipped off and he could touch her bare flesh. His lips captured the nipple again and his gentle nipping made Isabelle writhe. He did the same thing to her other breast, leaving the silk camisole puddle at her waist.
She coaxed him up onto the bunk with her. He pressed his body against hers as she lay back. The rocking lantern offered her only glimpses of his face, but even so she could see the determination and the longing resonating with each pass of the swinging dim lantern light.
She felt as if she were in one of her dreams that she had experienced over and over till she no longer knew where her fantasy ended and reality began. Her hammering pulse kicked up another notch. Her slender legs were intimately entwined with his slightly rough, muscled thighs. His scent bombarded her, warm and fresh and blatantly male. Her stomach clenched. Flames licked through her, burning out of control.
He covered her mouth with his. Devouring her, and then sliding his lips down her neck, moving lower to quench the fire raging inside her. David's pupils dilated. His hungry gaze scorched her face, the feeling as hot and compelling as if his fingertips had stroked her skin. His heart thundered against her breastbone. His fingers caressed her face, her eyes, lightly gracing the curve of her feathery lashes.
Her mouth closed over his thumb and tasted his warm, salty skin. David inhaled sharply. She cupped his face, slipped her tongue into his mouth and reached her hand low to his hips and stroked. Slow. Sensual. Persuasive. He tasted like David, like the sea. He stayed completely still for many long, shattering heartbeats. Then he groaned. He thrust his fingers into her hair and pulled her deeper into his embrace, deepening the kiss.
More at peace, more complete than she'd ever been, she slid her arms around him and tangled her fingers in his silky thick hair. Pressing close, she snuggled against his chest. She ran her hands over the soft, cotton shirt that stretched across his shoulders, then trailed her fingers down his wide back.
He broke the kiss. His breathing ragged, he rested his forehead against hers. Dear God, he was actually nervous. "I'm not sure this is the right time for this. We shouldn't…"
Her lips broke in to a sly smile. She wasn't about to let him get away. She reached down and lightly brushed the front of his pants. "Seems to me you're up for the job."
A soft laugh escaped him. "You're wicked, by God. And I want you. But are you sure?"
She stopped his words by placing two fingers on his lips. "Positively. No regrets allowed."
He groaned again before hugging her close. His tongue making, then keeping exquisite sensual promises, he made love to her mouth until she was panting for air. He roared over her, resting on rigid arms, as she deftly undid the buttons of his shirt and peeled away the layer of cloth.
She drank in the beautiful play of firelight over the bronzed, rippled muscles on his chest and abdomen. Her eyes followed the dusky trail of hair down toward the waistband of his cotton pants.
Being in his arms felt so right. She needed him. And he needed her, more than he ever realized. The tender longing in his eyes held her spellbound.
He reached out to cup her face in his broad rough-hewn hand. His nimble fingers worked open the buttons on her pants one by one. He enfolded her in his embrace again. His hard, heated chest warmed her breasts as he captured her mouth in a deep kiss. His clean, male scent surrounded her. Her swirling thoughts were dizzy with need.
Heavens, the man could kiss. As their tongues mingled, he wrapped his arms tightly around her. After kissing her breathless, he nuzzled his way down her throat, his lips worshipping every inch of her body. She shivered and her nipples beaded.
His hands cupped her full breasts, gently cradling them in the expanse of his palms. She arched into his caress. She breathlessly explored the smooth skin of his back, languishing in the strong muscles bunching under her hands. He was such a beautiful man, beautifully tanned, ridged muscles, and sculpted male perfection, gloriously aroused. With desire for her. Her mouth went dry. She touched the fine whiskers on his cheek, traced his sensual lips.
And then he was inside her and a ribbon of heat streamed through her, coiling into a sweet ache. Her hips rocked against him. Seeking an anchor, she thrust her fingers to the sides and grasped the wooden edges of the bunk Her head thrashed from side to side as her body quivered. She could no longer tell the difference between the rocking of the boat and the rhythm of their own movements. A whimper escaped as she strained toward completion, caught in a hurricane of desire.
Then with a crash of seawater against the hull, fire blazed inside her, burning outward, scorching every nerve ending. Blessed release coursed through her as tremor after tremor of ecstasy exploded inside her. David followed after her and together they shook with sweet release. It was several minutes before they returned to their senses, gasping and trembling.
His mouth curved into a slow smile as he lifted his head and then drank once more of her lips. They remained cradled together as the storm rocked them to sleep.
Jack pulled Claire's limp body into his arms. He had positioned some of the crates and boxes so it formed a small island. His body shook as he held Claire. He couldn't tell if it was the wail of the wind and the chill in his skin that his body was reacting to or the despair that clutched his heart. Claire still had not moved nor uttered a sound while he worked to bring them to relative safety in the cellar atop his ramshackle pyramid.
Calloused fingers smoothed the hair from her face. "Please, Claire. Wake for me. Open your eyes."
His cheek lowered to her forehead as he closed his eyes and started a soft song that was more a gentle sob. Anything to drown out the sound of the violent storm above him. He clutched to her tightly as he forced memories of another storm away. He couldn't think about that now. It wasn't the same storm. He tried not to think of Flynn, his old friend, his mentor who had lain in his arms as Jack's song carried him to the gates of heaven.
"Don't you leave me, Claire. Please don't leave me." It was a harsh, dry mantra that got louder with each utterance.
Then he felt her shift in his arms. He reared back and touched her face again with his hands. "Claire! Can you hear me? It's Jack. Look at me."
Her head lolled in the crook of his elbow. Her lips moving as a low moan fell from them. But still her eyes did not open; from her mouth spilled a single word in a near whisper.
"Yes, love, I'm here. I'm right here. Look at me. Open your eyes." His voice was cracked and hoarse and laced with relief, but it was short lived. Her eyes remained closed and her head lolled about in the crook of his arm.
His cheeks felt suddenly warm as more than just rainwater ran across them. He held her chilled body closer to him, hoping to ward off shock. He was icy cold as well, but even the smallest amount of heat might stave off death. His body shook with the thought of being alone in the storm. She couldn't die! She mustn't! He couldn't go through it again, not with her. Anybody but her.
Fate was too cruel a master to place that upon his soul. He lifted his head and screamed at the sky in rage and defiance. "You let her live! Damn you! Let her live!"
But the storm merely shook the lodged tree and poured more water inside so that it came in torrents down the fractured stairs. No one heard him, not Fate, not God, and not a living soul.
Isabelle roused in David's arms as he shifted. She felt his warm soft lips press onto hers a moment before he spoke in her ear.
"I'm going to relieve Tah-mey. Stay here."
She sighed into his embrace as he tightened his grip on her for a moment more.
"God, you make it so hard to leave."
Isabelle lifted her dark lashes. "But you won't right?"
"Never." He cast her a wicked smile. "You can come and relieve me in an hour."
"Work, work, work," she intoned dryly and without much enthusiasm.
"Is the shoe on the other foot now?" Isabelle was always a stickler for hard work.
"My idea of pleasure is much different than a beer and a poker game." Her white teeth flashed brightly in the lantern light. "I do have standards."
"I see the wisdom in that." He kissed her deeply one last time before exiting the bunk and pulling on his damp clothes again.
"See that you always do." The sheet fell just slightly above the swell of her breasts and immediately David found it hard to move away from her. He could easily see the lines of the sun-kissed flesh in the V-shape of her neck where her skin had tanned by the low neck line of her blouse. It made it as if it were pointing to her creamy breasts. He leaned down again and kissed her there. Her answering moan swept through him like a living thing. It coiled down low.
"Tah-mey," she gasped.
He caught her lips with his and then released them. "Don't you ever say another man's name like that."
She grinned. "Jealous?"
"Well, then go help him and in two hours, I'll say your name that way." There was an impish and seductive tone to her voice that made David swallow hard his rising passion.
He pushed himself away and headed for the door. It was the hardest few steps he ever had to take. Thoughts of her consumed him throughout the process of going topside and working his way down into the hold where Tah-mey stood in ankle deep water working a pump furiously. He was sweat streaked and breathless as David entered.
David approached the exhausted crewman quickly. "Here, my turn. Get some rest."
Tah-mey stood back as David came forward. The Polynesian man sank back atop a lashed crate as his aching arms and legs and back gave out. He sat there wordlessly as David took over the job of working the bilge pump. It was hard work and for the first time David was grateful for his frustration for it gave him energy to burn off by the physical exertion of keeping his ship afloat.
"You all right?" David asked after a bit of silence.
Tah-mey nodded. "I'll take a look topside…"
"Already done. Just get some rest, my friend. You have a couple of hours. Use them wisely."
Tah-mey smiled and regarded David with dark glinting eyes. For a moment David wondered if the islander suspected anything. There were times David swore the islander was a shaman because of the insightful way he knew things no one else could possibly know.
But then Tah-mey walked to the ladder, moving side to side with every pitch of the vessel. It was almost like a waltz. For the next hour David concentrated on keeping his vessel afloat and tried not to let his thoughts slip towards Isabelle lying naked in her bunk. He was lax only once with his thoughts and the storm pitched him to the floor. Sputtering he grabbed hold of the pump again and flinging his sodden hair back worked even harder.
So hard was his concentration he didn't even hear Isabelle descend into the hold. She was dressed and her hair pulled back and braided. It was only her hand on his shoulder that brought his gaze up to her. For a wild second he imagined that she was just a figment of his imagination still the storm heaved the boat leeward. He reached out and grabbed her just before she lost her footing. He sat heavily onto a nearby barrel. Thankfully the ropes keeping it immobile held tight.
"I guess I still don't have sea legs for this."
"You're doing fine," he told her, cursing that his breath sounded shaky and hoarse with desire. Just one touch, one look at her and his passion rose like a predator that has caught a scent. Without conscious thought he breathed in deeply and he caught her faint smell of lavender mixed with the sea. It swept through his brain like a fever.
It took ever ounce of willpower to stand again with her and keep her at arm's length. An hour, his brain told him, only another hour and you can make love to her again. At this very moment, David didn't think he could wait.
But Isabelle smiled, kissed him quick and then sat down beside the pump. "I'll be there as soon as Tah-mey comes." She appraised him with a critical eye. "What have you been doing down here? Swimming? Get out of those wet clothes."
He smirked at her. "Your wish is my command."
She raised an eyebrow. "And you call me wicked." Then she smiled.
It was enough for David. He departed, performing the same tilting dance as Tah-mey as he climbed topside. He risked one more glance outside, but could see nothing but darkness and pelting rain. The masts were still with them since he had not heard anything break away, but he knew that the sails and rigging might have taken damage. He had brought an extra sail just in case and hopefully Isabelle could sew together the others if need be.
His mind strayed to Matavai and he prayed that everyone was safe.
Inside the little church, people huddle in an inner corner, which Colin said was sturdiest, and in the lee of the wind. The moaning whistle increased in pitch while high in the coconut palms dead branches began to tear loose.
The wind howled down from the mountains in new gusts, knocking down trees and throwing pigs and chickens into ditches. From the little stream before the church it picked up water, flinging it upon the trees, then passed out to sea, where it dashed three moored vessels together, staving in the sides of one and leaving it in perilous condition.
The wind increased, rising to even more furious levels than before, and now it became evident why most Polynesians had left their homes, for one after another the little huts went flying through the air, crashing into the first solid object that intervened. Mauriri, Colin and their wives crowded around a lone window which they left a small crack in the shored up wood.
"Will these walls hold" Mrs. Russell asked anxiously. No storm she had ever experienced had prepared her for the fury of the hurricane.
But before anyone could assure her, Colin saw a dark object hurtling through the air, and cried, "The taphouse!"
"It's the roof," Mauriri shouted, astonished at what he saw. "It's the entire roof!"
Majestically, the roof sailed over the town and plunged into the sea.
From the top of the hill they had a clear view of the town just below them and part of the bay. "The left wall is going down!" Lavinia cried as the wind destroyed a good portion of the building. The outside decking was already gone with the storm surge. Her voice was shrill with astonishment and fear. Her entire livelihood was disappearing before her eyes. Colin's grip on her tightened and they clung to each other as they watched the devastation. Tears began to well in her eyes, but it wasn't until Mauriri turned his horrified face toward her; his pain and anguish for her made the tears spill over.
"I'm so sorry, Lavinia."
She couldn't speak. She knew there would be damage on the island but never did she imagine it would take such a staple in the community as the taphouse.
Still holding her husband's hand Lavinia turned away from the window. She couldn't stand to look at anymore of the destruction just then. Without intending to look at the child Lavinia caught Tahnee's eye.
The sensitive little girl recognized despair and loss in her "aunt's" eyes. It frightened her badly. She wanted to be brave but a sob escaped her lips.
Mauriri heard his daughter's cry. He turned instantly from the window and gathered her up into his arms. Cradling her head against his shoulder he whispered Tahitian endearments.
Mrs. Russell looked around the huddled group of people. Most of the children were being held by a parent, many of them were crying.
"We need to do something to take their minds off the storm," she said quietly, more to herself than to anyone else. It was a foolish thing to say she thought. What could possibly take one's mind off the storm?
"Singing usually helps when one is afraid," said a very gruff voice beside her.
Mrs. Russell turned to look at the tall, elderly, white man standing over her.
"Do they know any Christian music?"
"I beg your pardon?" said Mrs. Russell, blinking her tired eyes.
"Well, they are in a church I thought they might know a few hymns. Very good for stirring the blood are hymns."
"Yes, yes, indeed," responded Mrs. Russell, nodding rapidly. It sounded exactly like something her late husband would have said. "Um, how, how about A Mighty Fortress is Our God?"
"An inspired choice, madam."
Mrs. Russell took a deep breath and began to sing.
"A mighty fortress is our God"
The sound of her voice was lost in the howl of the wind. Then Mr. Howard's deep bass joined her reedy soprano.
"A bulwark never failing"
Colin had been standing with his hands on his wife's shoulders offering what comfort he could. He looked up at the sound of their voices. It was an inspired choice for it was a favorite hymn of his and therefore one his congregation was familiar with. As he opened his mouth to sing he heard Mauriri's voice and Lianni's beautiful soprano also join the singers.
Our helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
By the end of the verse the church was full of song. It did not drown out the howl of the wind but it did challenge it. To raise one's voice in song is a simple thing, a brave thing, a holy thing.
Continued in Part 2