Many people look forward to the new year for a new start on old habits. ~Author Unknown


January 1st, 2009

I woke up that morning to two wondrous things. The first was the memory of kissing Audrey last night. Holding her in my arms and tasting her mouth had been the highlight of my evening. Her warmth, the way her lips felt against mine, it reminded me I was human. I had wanted nothing more than to feel her lips against mine again. After the second kiss she had laughed and pushed away, saying that I couldn't get all the New Year's luck. She'd gone searching for Duke, but came back disappointed she hadn't found him. As for me, I was elated.

The mystery of where Duke was had been resolved at about 3am. His battered yellow truck sat, rusting and sullen, in my driveway. I'd known he'd been planning the trip out since I caught him talking to Bill about putting up his truck in Bill's barn, but I somehow thought it would conveniently be more than the "couple of days" Audrey told me he was expecting to be away last night. If it were "only a couple of days" then he would have just kept his truck parked at the marina. I didn't tell her that Seabrook was a day trip, and he could have been back here before nightfall if he left in the morning.

The door to the guestroom was firmly closed, and I went to bed assuming Duke was sulking. The next morning I awoke to find the truck gone, the room cleaned, and a note on my kitchen table with money for "rent." Duke Crocker had left, and wasn't planning to stay at this bed and breakfast establishment again. It was the second wondrous thing to find. I was surprised that he hadn't waited around to try to bait me this morning, but the curiosity factor did little to dampen my spirits at figuring out my hostile houseguest was gone for good.

I spent the first day of the new year cleaning the rest of my house, and paying the last of the old year's bills. It was nearly dinner time when Audrey stopped in with Chinese food. This time when I went to kiss her I guess I was too forward because she ducked away. We ate in companionable silence. Eventually she asked "Did you know Duke fixed his boat?"

"Nope." I continued merrily crunching something with a name that I couldn't hope to pronounce correctly.

"He did. I thought he was going to wait for Ryan to show up." She looked down, as if the shrimp in her dinner might have had insight as to our resident crook's mysterious ways.

I shrugged, and grabbed some more fried rice. "Audrey, Duke is Duke. It's not the first time he's said one thing and done another. Won't be the last."

"Do you think his repair will hold?" She looked up at me and I could see the concern that caused her to ask it. She and I would have very different feelings upon hearing that Cape Rouge sunk at sea and her captain's body was never recovered.

I chewed for a moment, and swallowed. "He worked for the metal works for a while when he was a teenager. I imagine he can weld his boat together as good as Ryan can. He just couldn't support the tanks on his injured shoulder before. To fix it he's got to go in the water and under the waterline." I shrugged. "Look at it this way, if he can go scuba diving, he's taken no permanent harm from the wendigo." How very sad.

Audrey nodded, and communed with her dinner again. "Harbormaster said Duke left early this morning."

Ah, this was the heart of the matter. "Didn't you tell me he was making a run down to Seabrook?"

"Without saying goodbye?" She looked up. "You know he saw you kissing me last night, don't you." She was angry, but more at herself than at me. I didn't know why. It wasn't like there were rules about who could kiss whom when. If Duke failed to be next to Audrey at the midnight, it wasn't my fault. The fact that he left like a sulking child didn't say much for his maturity level.

"Duke's like a bad penny or a stray cat, he always turns up." I let the comment about the kiss stand unanswered.

"Julia's gone, too. Pete was down by the shore trying to fish." She paused, obviously wondering about the sanity of anyone fishing in the ocean in winter. "He said that he thought he saw her get on Duke's boat."

The rat bastard was going to console himself with having seen Audrey and me kiss by shacking up with Julia and then breaking her heart. Probably trying to salve his ego by going after someone that had already been in love with him once. I hoped he would be gone for good this time. Still, I wasn't going to waste this opportunity.

"Duke is probably going to wine and dine Julia. What, are you jealous?" I asked teasing her. I did wonder if Duke even realized that he was driving a wedge further between himself and Audrey every time he went off with some other woman, rather than making her jealous. I wasn't going to inform him, if he didn't. I rather enjoyed having Audrey all to myself.

"No, Nathan, I'm worried. What if another storm comes through and sinks the boat." She stabbed one of the shrimp with her fork.

"Audrey, that storm was a once a decade event. We aren't like to see weather like that for a long time. Duke's an experienced sailor. I'm sure he'll be fine with whatever weather he finds," I said, trying to reassure her.

"I hope so," she said quietly.

"Tell you what, while Duke is romancing Julia at sea, let me show you some of the wonders of Maine. There is more to it than just Haven. We both have the vacation time." I smiled at her. Because of all of the zaniness of last year, we'd both rolled over nearly a month's worth of vacation time. Before the Chief died, he figured that since Audrey had basically used her FBI vacation time helping us, he'd refund it back to her. The end result was that both of us had much more vacation time than we'd ever get to use this year.

"So Duke mentioned last night. And where do you want to take me?" she asked, skeptical.

"Skiing, skating, down to the 'tourist traps' down south. We can even go over the border and watch them tip cows in New Hampshire. What do you say?"

Audrey laughed. "They don't actually tip cows, do they?"

"You won't know unless you come with me," I replied.

Audrey debated with herself for a long, quiet moment. "Ok."