Disclaimer: These characters and this narrative are mine, so there is nothing to disclaim in this here story. You will need an open mind to read it though. If you find something you think needs disclaiming, you are more than welcome to let me know. It won’t change anything, but it may make you feel better. Ugliness will earn you a smack to the back of your head.
Thanks: To my truly awesome Beta Team. Thanks to Carol, Marsha, Phil and Liz for the editing and for the questions, comments, steering and encouragement. You guys ROC!
Special Thanks: To the webmistresses who have to put up with my funky, pain-in-the-ass formatting and post my stories anyway.
Author’s Note: This story is not part of the Valiant Series. It is a stand-alone story with two completely new characters. The Storyteller’s Cardinal Rule is in effect.
Most Cherished Dreams
Prologue: Once Upon a Time....
I had the dream again last night, and I am beginning to go mad because of it. Those eyes surround me and invade my soul, and yet I cannot find them when daylight strikes the Earth.
Papa has agreed to take me on the next voyage. Perhaps I will find what my soul seeks there.
I found eyes similar to the ones I have spent a lifetime searching for, but they were not the eyes that belong to me. It was mostly by accident I think, and I tried to warn the man away from my ship. He didn’t seem put off that I was a woman, the Captain, nor the fact that we bore flag of a pirate ship. If I did not know better, I would say he was relieved to have found us.
The man, Michael, spent quite some time on board as if he were searching for answers to an unknown riddle. He must have been satisfied with what he found, for when he left us he was in much better spirits than when he arrived.
I am glad he found his answers, if he did. His last comment to me has made me a bit unsettled and has strengthened the resolve of my search.
“You will find her, for she will come to you in due time.”
How could he know what haunts my dreams?
The dreams grow increasingly more frequent. I cannot imagine what I did to anger God in such a way so as to be cursed like this, for I had these visions long before I took to the seas. And the priest assures me that what we are doing is not wrong in the eyes of God.
I almost dread the nightfall and yet I eagerly embrace it as well, for I know that there I will find comfort in her arms.
She has become more clear to me as time has passed. Green eyes the color of the grass in what was once my home. Golden hair that reminds me of the treasures that abound in these waters for those who know where to look. A lithe body; muscles that speaks of hard work and softness addressed by womanly curves. All of this I see, and still her face remains hidden except for those eyes that have haunted me since I was a child.
I wonder if she dreams of me as I do of her.
Something has changed, and for the first time in my life I feel a true sense of anticipation for the future. Could it be our time has come at last?
Even the men have noticed the change and go about their tasks in a brighter frame of mind. Who can blame them? It seems as though we have been in this stretch of ocean for hundreds of years instead of the few months we come this way every so often. Truth be told, we have been here more often than usual just because I feel the need to be.
I have hope now for whatever reason. I will find her.
October - Twenty Years Ago
“Are ya sure about this, Jack? We can’t afford to be wrong.”
“I’m tellin’ ya, Mike. It was the three-masted cutter of the legends. I couldn’t make out the name, but there were people on board, Mikey, and they looked like pirates from centuries past.”
“C’mon, Jack... we both know that there’ve been no pirates in those waters in a hundred years. You keep talking crazy like that, they’ll lock you up and throw away the key.”
“Mike, I saw the pirate banner. I saw the cannons. I saw HER.”
Now Mike got serious. “Did you get the coordinates?”
Jack nodded. “Oh yeah. Wanna guess?”
“The Triangle?” Mike sighed. He closed his eyes at Jack’s affirmative nod. “Did she say ANYTHING?”
“Not a word. She searched the area over a two week period then disappeared into the mist.”
“Was there a pattern to the search?”
“Amazingly yes.” He unrolled a map out into the table, then placed a grid on top of it. “I didn’t think a pirate would be quite so methodical, but....”
“Daddy, what’s a pirate?”
The two men looked up at the question, and Mike smiled at his little girl. Little five-year-old Hannah was the bright spot in his world. Beautiful, with honey colored hair and bright green eyes, she was the spitting image of the mother who had died giving her life. He opened his arms, and Hannah giggled as she ran to jump up into them.
“How’s Daddy’s angel today? Did you have fun in school?”
“Oh yes, Daddy. It was the mostest fun. We colored and pasted and played hide-n-seek and....” Mike laughed joyously at his daughter’s enthusiasm. She reminded him so much of her mother and though it was still sometimes a very painful reminder, he found great joy in that fact as well.
“I’m glad you like school, Sweetheart. Say hi to Uncle Jack.”
The five-year-old squealed. “UNCLE JACK!!”
“Hiya pumpkin! How’s my favorite niece?”
Hannah did the best grown up imitation she could manage snuggled up in her Daddy’s arms. “Uncle Jack, I’m your ONLY niece.”
Jack Reilly laughed. “That’s true, Cutie. I brought you something back from my trip.”
“Yea!! Is it from the pirates?”
Both men looked startled at the question. “Um, no. But it is your very own piece of paradise.” He handed her a conch shell. “Hold it to your ear... like this.” He demonstrated what he meant. “You can hear the ocean.”
She did what he said and the green eyes grew wide with amazement. “Wow! Daddy, can I go show Katie?”
“Sure, Sweetie. I’m sure Mrs. O’Shea wonders where you are.”
Hannah smiled and kissed him before he set her firmly on the ground. She ran to Jack and threw her arms around his neck, kissing him as well. “Thanks, Uncle Jack!” she said before she left at a run for the next-door neighbor’s house and her very best friend in the whole wide world with her shell clutched tightly in both fists.
“Well if the routine holds true, we have ten years to work on this puzzle. After over one hundred and fifty years of mystery, I don’t think waiting until tomorrow to start working on it is gonna make a difference.”
“I know you’re right, Jack. I just... can’t explain it really. I need to solve this.”
“We will brother. We will.”
September - Ten Years Ago
“Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust,” the minister’s voice intoned solemnly. There were quite a few people gathered at the graveside, but the young woman sat alone by the casket. The minister finished his benediction and took Hannah’s hand to mutter a few final words of comfort. She waited in silence for him to finish and nodded, willing him to leave her in peace.
The crowd began to disperse and still Hannah Reilly sat quietly by the casket. Katie and her family stood by respectfully, waiting for her to say her final goodbyes.
“Daddy, I hope you finally found what you were looking for when you died.” She closed her eyes and drew a shuddering breath before continuing. “We haven’t been able to reach Uncle Jack yet, so I’m going home with the O’Sheas for now.” A sob shook the small frame, and Katie started forward, only to be held back by her mother.
“Give her another minute, Kate. I don’t think she’s done yet.”
“I love you, Daddy. And I’m really gonna miss you. Maybe I should have told you about the dreams. You might have understood them, or at least... well, anyway. Give Mama a real big hug and kiss for me, okay? I’m glad you have each other again, ‘cause I know you’ve missed her.”
Hannah stopped talking and remained seated for another long minute. Then she wiped her eyes and rose, nodding to the waiting funeral director. She moved toward the O’Sheas. Katie met her halfway, and Hannah gratefully returned the embrace she found herself in. Her best friend topped her by four or five inches, and she found herself tucked under Katie’s chin while the curly auburn hair tickled her nose.
“I’m glad you’re coming home with us even if it’s just til your uncle gets home,” Katie said softly. “It’ll be nice to have another girl in the house.” Hannah just smiled. She knew Katie idolized her three older brothers and they doted on her.
“Are ya ready then, Hannah?”
“Yes ma’am. Thank you for....”
“No need to thank me, Dear,” Sarah O’Shea cut in smoothly. “You’ve always been a part of the family. We’re glad to have ya for as long as you’d like to stay.”
Tears welled in the green eyes again, but Hannah refused to let them fall. Instead she nodded slightly and gave Sarah a watery smile. The portly woman smiled back at her and patted her graying red hair when a breeze blew through the graveyard.
“C’mon, now,” Sarah continued. “Let’s get home before it rains.”
Seamus had brought the car around to them and they all piled in and shut the doors just as the bottom fell out. “Do you know when you should hear from Jack again?” he questioned in the silence.
“No sir. I thought he and Daddy were together, but apparently they split up to do some more research on the Triangle. I expect to hear from him within the next two or three days though. He’s always been real good about calling me faithfully once a week whenever he’s been away on business or what have you since I was seven.”
“That’s good then. You are always welcome in our home and in our family, you know that. But I think he needs to know what happened. It’s time they gave up that damned fool hunt.”
The last statement caught Hannah’s attention. “Do you know what they were looking for, Uncle Shae?” The children had always referred to the adults in this manner. Hannah didn’t miss Sarah laying her hand on Seamus’ arm nor the deep breath he took before answering.
“They were chasing a ghost, Little Bit. They were looking for a legend.”
A simple question with no simple answers. Seamus shook his head. Sarah looked at Hannah compassionately. “They felt it was important. We were never really given any enlightenment on the subject.”
Hannah nodded, accepting the explanation unsatisfactory as it might be. She had questions for her Uncle Jack when he got home.
May - Five Years Ago
“I can’t believe you’re going to graduate with your Master’s degree a year before I even finish my Bachelor’s!” Katie good-naturedly complained. Hannah had become more driven upon her father’s death, and that energy was channeled into her studies and her dreams... but those remained her own little secret.
Jack had returned home immediately once he got the news, but it was agreed that Hannah would remain with the O’Sheas whenever he was out of town. And after his brother’s death, that seemed to happen a lot more often. Still he was good to Hannah and doted on her as much as he could, and he made sure she always knew how precious she was to him.
He never told her precisely what he and her father had been working on when Mike died. They had agreed early in Hannah’s life that this part of the family history was something she would need to discover for herself, if and when the right time for her to know ever came. Shortly after Mike’s death, Jack put out a book on the Mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle, and he let her believe that the research that had gone into the publication was what had caused her father’s death. Truth as far as it went; just not the WHOLE truth.
So the time had come for Hannah to walk a second time. She had already published two young reader books and had a daily syndicated column in newspapers around the country. Her future was quite bright, and she chuckled at the frustrated tone in Katie’s voice.
“Well Katie, if you’d focus a little harder on your studies and a little less on the parties....” She let the thought trail off, then caught the pillow aimed for her head.
“Uh huh.... Well, someone has to have your share of the fun since you don’t ever seem to have any. I worry about you sometimes, working so hard. What are you looking for?”
Green eyes turned inward for a minute at the suddenly serious turn in the conversation. “I’m trying to find where I fit, Katie. I don’t feel like I belong here.”
“Hannah, we all feel that way sometimes. But it seems to be the only thing that motivates you.”
Hannah shrugged. “Maybe it is. Sometimes the feeling is so overwhelming I feel like I should be searching for my way home.”
Katie wrapped an arm around the Hannah’s shoulders. “You’ll find it. I have faith.”
Hannah stood on tiptoe and pressed her lips to her best friend’s cheek. “Thanks, Katie. I love you.”
“I love you too, Hon. Now,” changing the subject to lighten the discussion, “When is Jack coming into town?”
“Um, tonight I think. Uncle Shae is picking him up at the airport.”
“Cool! Family reunion! ‘Cause you know the boys are coming too.”
“Good... my kind of party!”
Katie rolled her eyes but smiled inwardly. She was glad to see Hannah excited and enthusiastic about something other than school or work for a change. Maybe it was an indication of better times to come.
June - Present Day
Katie whirled into the room, holding the wedding dress in front of her. Her long auburn curls streamed behind her, and she giggled like the schoolgirl she hadn’t been for years now and looked at Hannah. Her brown eyes twinkled in pure happiness.
“What do you think of this one? Do you think Frank will like it?”
“Honey, Frank isn’t going to be looking at the dress,” Hannah remarked with a teasing grin. “If you want my honest opinion, I like this one the best,” holding up a dress that had been tried on several dresses before. “It suits you beautifully.”
“Do you really think so?”
“I agree with her, Sweetheart,” Sarah said. “And you know Hannah has always had been honest about how things look.”
Katie chuckled softly, remembering some of Hannah’s less-than-tactful, but frightfully honest comments she had been the recipient of through the years. “Well, now that’s true.” She looked at her blonde friend. “Do you remember the green and pink Mohawk and that ugly red and purple raincoat I had? And your comment when you saw them for the first time?”
Hannah laughed softly, and Sarah chortled. “Um, yes.... though I’m sure now I could come up with a better way to say ‘that sucks’ than that.”
“I dunno,” Katie answered still chuckling. “That was actually pretty effective.”
They moved over to the bridesmaid’s area, and each of them took a different rack and began looking through the selections. As a joke Katie held up an outrageous feathered purple sequined number. Hannah just raised an eyebrow.
“I’m not auditioning for a part in ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’.”
Both of the O’Shea women squealed and Katie hung the dress back up. “I want to know who would wear something like that.”
The saleswoman muttered as she passed them with an armful of clothing, “Some things are best left as a mystery.” Three sets of eyes got big at the implication, and they turned their attention back to the racks. Sarah found the next offering... a bright blue lace creation.
“I’m not sure the maid of honor should have on more lace than the bride,” was Hannah’s only comment.
“Good point,” Sarah answered as she hung it up again.
“What about this?” The blonde woman held up her selection.
It was a simple sleeveless sheath in a blue-green satin that complimented both her tan and her eyes, deepening them and bringing them out beautifully.
“Yes,” was all Katie said, and within minutes, their shopping was complete and the two friends were headed out to lunch together.
“I’ll see you girls at home,” Sarah called to them as she left them alone to catch up.
Once they were seated, Katie took up the conversation again. “I’m so glad you were able to come home for this,” she said to Hannah solemnly. The blonde woman ducked her head, acknowledging the gentle, unspoken reprimand. As soon as she’d gotten her Master’s degree, Hannah had moved to the city and only rarely had come home for a visit.
“You know I wouldn’t have missed it.”
The waiter approached and conversation halted while he took their drink orders and gave them the day’s specials. Katie waited until he was out of hearing before she spoke again.
“I know, but we’ve missed YOU. Phone calls and emails just aren’t the same.”
“I know and I’m sorry. I just....”
“Are you still having the dreams?” When Katie had come to see her after graduation, Hannah had finally shared with her a tiny bit about the dreams that she’d had since was a child. The blonde head nodded and she sighed.
“Yeah, and the more vivid they become, the less comfortable I am in my own skin, in my job, in my life. And it seems to be worse here.”
“I’m sorry, Hannah. I didn’t know.” Katie clasped her hands over Hannah’s on the table. “I wish there was something I could do to help.” She paused briefly, then took the plunge. “Ya know, Patrick still....”
“I know, Kate, and I love Patrick but like a brother. Besides I’m not comfortable with me. How could anyone else be?
“I think you’re selling yourself short, Hon. I mean look at you. You’re a gorgeous woman, a successful author... and by the way, I recognize a few of the adventures Trudy and Evan have in those stories.”
Hannah laughed. “I’ll bet you do.”
“Ahem,” Katie cleared her throat. “ANYWAY... I should have said successful, award-winning author.” Here the blonde woman simply blushed and lowered her head in acknowledgement. Katie reached across the table and lifted her chin. “Don’t be ashamed of your work, my friend. I cannot tell you the number of ADULTS I know that read your books. That is something to be proud of. Not to mention the column that runs in how many countries now? You’re flourishing.”
The food arrived right then, and Hannah sighed. The waiter refilled their glasses then left them in peace again.
“That is just my point, Katie. I have everything. I have lovely friends who keep in touch with me regardless,” and she gave the other woman a sheepish smile. Katie smiled back broadly. “I’m thriving in my chosen professions and have been recognized for my work. I have a comfortable bank balance and a nice place to live and still....”
The waiter returned, topped their glasses again and placed a carafe on the table, then left without another word. Katie made a mental note to tip him well for his discreetness. Hannah swallowed the bite of food and resumed her thought.
“Still Katie, I don’t feel right.”
“I’m not sure I understand what you mean, Hannah.”
“I have never felt like I fit here in this time and this place.” She chuckled sardonically at herself. “Don’t get me wrong. I love my technology and my creature comforts, but it has always seemed a bit foreign to my nature.” She sighed in frustration. “I really can’t put into words very well what I am trying to say.”
“That’s okay, Hon. I think I understand what you are getting at. Almost like your karmic cycle is out of sync.”
Green eyes widened. “My God, that’s exactly what I mean.”
Katie laughed. “See I did pay attention in some of those classes.”
The blonde woman joined the laughter. “I’m sure Aunt Sarah and Uncle Shae will be thrilled to know their money was well-spent on your education.”
“I’m not sure I would go that far, but....” She paused and selected a bite of chicken. “Hannah, is there... someone... special in your life?”
It was silent for a time after that as the two women continued to eat while Hannah considered her answer. “No, not really. I’ve tried dating, but those eyes... they... I can’t find them, and they are the key to everything, Katie.”
“You’re that sure, Hon?” Hannah kept green eyes locked on the brown ones across from her, and Katie saw the conviction in them before the blonde nodded her head. “All right then. I have faith that when the time is right, you’ll find them and you’ll know.”
Hannah smiled. “I’m glad one of us does.”
“Oh I do. And probably when we all least expect it. Now,” taking the check and adding the extra tip for the waiter, “Let’s go get some ice cream. By the time we walk the two blocks to get there, I’ll have room.”
“Katie,” Hannah intoned seriously, “There is ALWAYS room for ice cream.”
“So Hannah, are you ready to go through the house? I think it’s time.” Jack and Hannah were sitting in the old house that had been locked up for quite some time. Jack had taken an early retirement seven months earlier and had moved down to the islands he had visited so much. It was more like home to him that his brother’s house had ever been, no matter how welcome he had been.
Hannah sat curled into one corner of the couch with her hands loosely clasped together around one knee. She missed her Uncle Jack, though they still talked regularly on the phone and communicated by email almost every day. He looked better than he had in years though, and she was glad to see that retirement was agreeing with him so well.
“I think you’re right, Uncle Jack. I can take some extra time off after Katie’s wedding.” She paused and swallowed. “Will you stay and help me?”
“You bet, darlin’. I was hoping you’d ask. I don’t think anyone should have to do this kind of thing alone.”
“Thanks, Uncle Jack. Um, how long can you stay?”
“I am my own boss. I can stay here as long as you need me here.”
“Well, I have five year’s worth of vacation, comp and sick time I can draw on, so that gives me more than six months to work with.”
“Six months?!? My Lord, girl... how the hell’d you manage that?”
“Oh, it’s easy when you don’t take vacation and you cover most of the major holidays. So I think I am due some time off. I have columns to cover six or eight weeks so maybe I’ll take a month off.”
“You think it’ll take a month to clean this place out and get it ready to sell?” Jack didn’t think his brother was THAT big of a packrat, but one never knew til they started cleaning.
Hannah chuckled, and the older man smiled at the happy sound. It wasn’t one he got to hear all that often anymore, and sometimes he missed the bright-eyed child she had been.
“Um, no. I don’t think it will take more than a week. I was hoping maybe you’d let me invite myself down to your place for some time in the sun.”
And so it begins.... Jack thought to himself solemnly. Aloud he said, “I think that’s a great idea, Hon, and I’d love the company. I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too, Uncle Jack.”
The following day was the rehearsal, and the girls of the wedding party decided to spend the time before the rehearsal itself shopping. Their first stop was a lingerie store, and amazingly everyone found something scandalous they just had to have... except Hannah.
“C’mon Hannah. You gotta get something outrageous. Get into the spirit!”
The blonde woman took her friend aside. “Katie, who am I gonna wear this kind of stuff for?”
Katie rested her forearms on Hannah’s shoulders and smiled down at her. “Do you remember the talk we had yesterday? I told you I have faith so you need to be prepared. ‘Cause it’s gonna happen.”
Hannah smiled back at her, and gave her a quick, hard hug. “Have I told you lately just how wonderful a friend you are?”
“Yes, but I don’t mind if you keep telling me.” Hannah swatted her on the butt, and Katie squealed. “Don’t you be getting fresh with me, missy,” she teased. “I’ll have you know I’m an almost married woman! Now,” returning the swat and pushing Hannah in the direction of the lingerie, “Find something wickedly shocking.”
Green eyes twinkled mischievously. “I think I can manage that,” she replied. What she found didn’t have the material of a thong bikini, and the rest of the girls shrieked when they saw it. It reminded them that their next stop was for swimwear and away they trooped to the next store on their list.
This excursion elicited even more howls and screams as they went though some of the most interesting material scraps that were considered bathing suits. Katie held up one that couldn’t have had more than a hundred threads to it.
“Where’s the rest? It doesn’t cover anything.”
“I don’t think it’s supposed to,” Finola commented with a chuckle.
“My question is why bother? I mean really... what is the point?” Rebecca asked. “May as well walk around bare ass naked. At least then you don’t have to worry about tan lines.”
Hannah picked up a thong bikini that had enough material in the top that she wouldn’t pop out at the slightest intake of breath, and enough material in the bottom that she wouldn’t have to shave completely. It helped matters that it was a cute tropical print.
“What about this, guys?” She held the garment up for inspection.
“Hey, that’s cute!”
“I like that one!”
Those and several other murmured comments answered Hannah’s query, and she smiled, pleased with the reaction. She took her find to the counter.
“Um, Hannah... where are you gonna wear that?” This from Katie.
“I thought I’d wear it to the pool at the complex.” She waited for Katie’s eyes to go wide before she lost her composure and broke into laughter. “You’re so funny. I’m gonna go visit Uncle Jack after we get the house closed up and ready for sale. I thought I’d wear it on the beach.”
Katie took a good long look at the suit, then Hannah’s behind, then back at the suit. “Well, at least you have the ass for it,” was her only comment. She had to cover her mouth with her hand to keep from howling at the expression on Hannah’s face.
Lunch was an interesting, high-spirited affair, and the entire restaurant smiled at the laughter that flowed from the table of women. The afternoon offered more shopping, and when rehearsal time rolled around, five very tired women were hauling themselves into the church.
Mary muttered to the rest as they crossed the threshold, “Next time we sit by the pool.”
“It’ll be someone else’s wedding,” Katie said. “’Cause I’m not doing this again.”
The group laughed and they set themselves for rehearsal.
The wedding was a beautiful affair, and by the time the bride and groom took their leave, everyone was in a state of happy exhaustion. Jack and Hannah were among the last to leave, having helped the O’Sheas to clean up once the reception was over. There were quite a few willing hands to make the work lighter, and the caterer was surprised to see so many pitching in to get things wrapped up.
In short order everything was done, and the Reillys were headed back to their home. They dropped onto opposite ends of the couch and kicked off their shoes simultaneously. Then green eyes met green, and they broke into quiet, tired laughter.
“Guess you can tell we’re related, hmm?” Hannah commented.
“Maybe just a little,” Jack answered. “It was a nice wedding, but damn... I’m beat.”
“Me too, but I’m glad I was here for this. I think Katie and Frank will be happy together. He’s been in love with her since we were kids.”
“What about you, Little Hannah?”
“What about me, Uncle Jack?” She looked directly at him. “I’m not involved with anyone, if that’s what you’re asking which makes this hysterical in the extreme,” indicating the bride’s bouquet she’d caught as Frank and Kate were leaving.
“Why not, Hannah? You’re beautiful, pleasant and altogether charming and yet you remain alone.”
“So are you Uncle, and I don’t see an aunt around here,” she replied, turning the tables on him, and seeing the slightest hint of shadow cross his face.
“I couldn’t have the one I loved, and I wouldn’t settle for less,” he stated quietly but firmly.
“Neither will I, Uncle Jack. I just haven’t found mine yet.”
“When you do, hold tight. It’s not something you ever want to lose.” He spoke with finality and she nodded, seeing clearly the remembered pain in his eyes and wondering at its cause.
“C’mon,” she said, rising from the couch and bending over with a moan to pick up her shoes. “Let’s go to bed. We have a lot to do in the morning.”
“Isn’t that the truth,” the man replied with his own groan as he stood. “I’ll start in my room. At least I know what’s there mostly.”
“That sounds good,” Hannah answered as she started up the stairs. “I don’t have very much in mine so I’ll start in the attic. That by itself will take a bit.”
“Good, we can work out the rest as we come to it,” Jack said as they reached Hannah’s room. He leaned over and brushed his lips across her cheek, and she returned the gesture with a hug. “Good night, my dear. Sleep well.”
“You too, Uncle.”
And the house settled into quiet for the night.
“Holy Moses!” Hannah exclaimed as she peeked her head into the large attic space. It was much bigger than she remembered it being, and there seemed to be a lot more stuff. She stepped into the room and flung open the windows. “I think I’d better go get some more coffee,” looking down at the single mug in her hand. “Maybe I should bring a thermos.”
Several minutes later, she could hear Jack still chuckling at her when she headed back up the stairs. Then she heard his footsteps behind her and turned to see him coming up behind her. She moved into the attic and allowed him room to enter the space. He looked around and his jaw dropped.
“Tell ya what, Honey. I’ll help you do this first. I didn’t realize there was such a mess up here.”
“Thanks, Uncle Jack. Me either actually. You want left or right?”
They were pretty well evenly matched with things, and Jack couldn’t even tell what most of it was. “Doesn’t matter really. Six of one....”
“True. Okay, you start there, I’ll start here.”
They turned on two small oscillating fans and opened the windows on either end of the room to encourage air circulation. Then silence settled around them for a bit as each tried to determine the best place to start, then each began to set things into different piles for disbursement. Occasionally they would find pictures or such, but even those memories were set aside in the desire to get done with their task. By lunch, they had made a considerable dent in the attic and worked up quite a sweat in the process.
“My God,“ Jack griped as they moved a few of the picture boxes into Hannah’s room. “I didn’t realize they had so much up there; so much that belonged to Mama and Grandmother.” He set the boxes carefully down.
“Are you sure you don’t want to keep some of this stuff, Uncle Jack?”
“Sweetheart, I told you. You go through and pick out what you want to keep, then send me the rest.”
“All right. I just don’t want you to miss out on what should be yours.”
“Nope, not a problem. Now let’s go get some lunch. I’m starving.”
It took the rest of that day and most of the next before they finished in the attic. Hannah ended up with two trunks and several boxes of pictures and mementos that she was slowly sorting through in the evening.
Jack finished with his room while Hannah tackled the study, and when he joined her after lunch on the third day, he found her sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded by books cradling her head in her hands.
“You okay, Sweetheart?”
“I was just thinking how much I miss my Daddy. So many of my memories of him are tied into this room.”
“Do you want me to do this? You want to go do the kitchen or his bedroom or...?”
“No, I think I need to do this. But you can sure stay and help me if you like.”
“I like. A lot of my memories of him are wrapped up in this room too, ya know.”
“Yeah, I guess they would be. You did a lot of your research together here.”
“Yep, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to ship any books you don’t want to the Island. We’re a fairly small community, and I’d like to start a library in his name.”
“Oh, I like that idea, Uncle Jack. And I think he would too.”
It took them two days to do the study, and Hannah only kept a handful of books out of the hundreds that were in the room. Jack smiled to himself at her choices, but didn’t say anything to her otherwise. The kitchen, living room and her father’s bedroom had already been mostly done so by the end of the sixth day things were pretty much packed up.
“I’m tired,” Jack said plaintively as they sat in a favorite restaurant.
“I can totally sympathize,” Hannah replied before turning and waving the O’Sheas over to join them.
“My goodness, the two of you look beat,” Sarah said bluntly as she took a seat. Seamus scowled at her.
“Now, Sarah....” he began, but she cut him off.
“No Seamus. It’s true. So you are both gonna let the girls and me come over tomorrow and help with the cleanup, right?”
Hannah and Jack looked at each other. “You don’t have t....”
“I know we don’t, Dear,” Sarah said patting Hannah’s hands gently. “But it’s the right thing to do.”
“Well then,” Jack answered heartily, “We accept with alacrity and thankfulness.”
Sarah chuckled. “There are days, Jack Reilly, when I’ve suspected you of being a poet.”
“Not me. I’m just a dream chaser. It makes me... verbose.” He cleared his throat. “Tell ya what. We’ll all help get it cleaned up tomorrow, and then I’ll treat the entire gang to pizza and beer for lunch and the Driftwood Restaurant for dinner.”
Seamus looked at Jack solemnly. “Well that will get the boys here for sure. They never miss an opportunity to eat there even if it requires a jacket and tie. You sure you wanna do that?”
“Yep. I’d like to get this finished, and I’ve always enjoyed eating there myself. We have a shipper coming in the morning to pick up the boxes that I am sending home and that Hannah is keeping. Otherwise everything else can be taken out tomorrow, and we can turn the keys over to the realtor on Monday.”
“Sounds like we have a plan then,” Sarah commented.
“Yep, except for deciding what we want for dinner tonight.” Seamus’ observation made them look at their menus, and conversation turned to other subjects.
Monday morning arrived and so did the realtor. Hannah was surprised to see Mary standing on her doorstep.
“Hi, Mary! C’mon in. I’m sorry I can’t offer you coffee or a place to sit,” motioning to the empty house, “But I’m waiting for the realtor and then I’m headed back to the city.”
“I’m the realtor, Hannah. Richard gave me the listing this morning.”
“Wonderful. Then I know the house is in good hands.”
Mary smiled warmly. “I already know of several couples who might be interested in the property.”
“Really? I didn’t think....”
“Oh yes. I wouldn’t be surprised to have an offer on the table by the end of the week.”
“Wow, so soon?” At Mary’s enthusiastic nod, she continued, running a hand through her hair. “Um, wow,” she repeated. “Um....”
Mary placed a concerned hand on her arm. “Hannah, are you all right?”
“Uh, yeah. Just surprised, I think. I didn’t think it would be so quick. I’m gonna be out of town for a couple weeks on the Island with Jack. Is that gonna cause a problem?”
“No, I can still reach you out there. Besides, while I wouldn’t be a bit surprised, it may take a while. Sometimes it does.”
“I’m sorry, Mary. I didn’t mean to freak out on you.”
“Not a problem. You didn’t really freak. I kinda broad sided you.”
“Well, I sure didn’t think about it selling quickly until then. But that is a good thing, I think.”
“As long as you don’t forget about your friends here.”
“I don’t think Katie or Aunt Sarah would let me get away with that even if I wanted to.”
Mary laughed, remembering some of their escapades together as children and unconsciously rubbing her backside. “I think I can agree with that.”
They laughed, and Hannah gave Mary the keys, taking one last look around at what had always been home to her. Then without glancing back, Hannah stepped out and firmly closed the door on her past and headed out to find her future.
It was a four-hour drive back to the city, and Hannah was just a little tired when she pulled into her garage beneath the building where she lived. The doorman recognized her car and came to see if she needed help getting her things in. She’d made friends with Harry when she’d moved into the building three years previously, and the older gentleman had always made an effort to extend every courtesy he could to the young woman.
“Hello, Miss Hannah.”
“Hi, Harry. How was your week?”
“Very quiet. Mrs. Jenkins’ cat got out again, and Mr. Mark had to take Dolby to the vet. Miss Christa passed her audition, and Mr. And Mrs. Andrews left for a month long tour of Alaska. Otherwise,” he stated as he reached for her suitcase, “it’s been dead around here.”
“Well, I’m leaving this afternoon for a two week vacation.” Harry’s eyes widened, but he didn’t show any other sort of surprise. Instead he held the elevator doors open for her and stepped in behind her. He swiped his key, and the lift began its long climb to the top floor.
“Good for you, Miss Hannah. You’re due for a bit of fun.” He paused. “Oh before I forget... two trunks and a couple boxes arrived for you on Saturday. I had them delivered to your living room as you instructed.”
“Thanks, Harry. I have to catch a shuttle to the airport at six. Can you call them for me please?”
“Surely. Will you need help with your bags?” The car stopped and the door slowly opened into her penthouse apartment. Harry brought her bag in and set it by the couch.
“Thank you, Harry. I don’t think so. I am going to see my Uncle Jack in the islands, and I don’t think two or three swimsuits will make for very much luggage.” She smiled at him, and he returned it with a light chuckle.
“No ma’am. Given what I’ve seen of bathing suits these days, I would be inclined to agree with that observation. But if you find yourself taking more than that, you let me know and I’ll be up to collect it.” He tipped his hat at her and stepped back into the elevator. “Have a nice day, Miss Hannah.”
She smiled and gave him a little wave as the doors closed on him. Then she looked at the trunks and boxes and sank into the couch with a moan. “Oh geez, I’m tired.” She lay there in a half doze for about half an hour before her stomach reminded her that it was noon and time for lunch. She slid off the couch and padded to the kitchen. Then she snorted in disgust when she realized she’d cleaned the refrigerator out before she’d left for her long weekend.
“Well, I suppose that’s to the good actually, since I stayed a week,” she grumbled to herself as she grabbed the phone and a takeout menu for the deli at the curb. “And that means I don’t have to do that before I leave this afternoon. Guess I should call Charlie though.”
She called the deli first and gave her name to Sally who promised her usual order would be downstairs in fifteen minutes, then Hannah hung up so she could dial her editor.
“Jones.” The voice was gruff and Monday morning harried.
“Hi, Charlie. It’s Hannah.”
“Reilly, are you sure you need to take a vacation? I need you here.”
She chuckled soundlessly. Charlie was severely lacking in the humor department on Mondays, and Hannah didn’t want to make things worse for her or anyone else by laughing aloud. Still the plea was not unexpected, and Hannah found it mildly amusing that Charlie was so predictable.
“Charlie, you don’t need me. You need my work. And I am sending you the next month’s worth of columns to you by courier. You’ll have them by three this afternoon.”
“Honey, I will always need you, and why are you sending me a month’s worth? You’re only supposed to be gone for two more weeks. I’m not sure things will stay on course without you here.”
Hannah knew that Charlie had always had a bit of a crush on her, but her editor had never crossed the lines of friendship they’d both set up for themselves when their association developed beyond purely business.
“Sure they will, Charlie. You’re good at keeping everything together. Besides, I figured you’d be more comfortable having the columns there as opposed to locked on my hard drive. I have another month’s worth there.”
“Okay. You’re right. I would feel better about having them here. But don’t you go and do something stupid that makes me have to use them, all right?”
“I’ll do my best, Charlie. It’s just a vacation. My most exciting plans call for an emergency trip to the corner store for sunscreen when I run out.”
Finally Charlie laughed. “That sounds good. Relax and have a good time, huh? You’ve earned it.”
“Thanks, Charlie. I will. And who knows... maybe I’ll come back with material for a novel.”
Harry brought her lunch up shortly thereafter, and she sat down in front of one of the trunks. The first one, the red one, she’d already gone through. It had been filled with pictures and mementos that her grandparents and great-grandparents had saved... some of them dating back to the mid 1800’s. There was one in particular that almost... well, it was familiar in a way it couldn’t possibly have been since it had been taken more than a hundred years before she had even been born.
So she slowly lifted the top of the blue trunk and peered inside. Her eyebrows rose at the compartmentalization of the contents. There were stacks of shoeboxes, each neatly labeled with names and dates. Hannah picked up each box and read the contents’ description before neatly setting each one to the side. Towards the bottom of one side, she came to a flat box that took up the entire half of the trunk. She paused and reached for it, hesitating briefly when she saw its only description was ‘Pirates’.
“What the hell?” she muttered to herself. “I always did wonder what Daddy and Uncle Jack were talking about.” Her curiosity got the better of her, and she grasped the box in both hands and drew it out gently. Moving to the sofa she sat and raised the lid, then sat and stared at the contents.
The first things she noticed were the map and grid she’d seen on her father’s table all those long years ago. There were several pictures that were hard to make out but with the vague outlines of a ship. There were other photographs of different spots in the water Hannah assumed. She turned them over and noted that each had a longitude and latitude written on them in Jack’s clear firm hand. At the very bottom was a thick notebook, and Hannah remembered having seen it on her father’s desk many times during her childhood.
She opened it reverently and realized that there were several different handwritings on the pages. Her father’s she recognized as well as the notes that Jack had made, but the rest.... Some of it was very old, and she was intrigued.
“Guess I’ve found my vacation reading,” she commented to herself. She put the diary aside and moved back to the trunk, smiling as she got to pictures and memories she’d remembered making.
Hannah spent the remaining time before she left looking at the photographs she’d found. She tucked a few carefully away to give to Jack and went to pack her bag.
She did take a bit more than three swimsuits but not much. And she wasn’t at all surprised to hear the elevator coming up at five minutes of six, nor to see Harry standing in the doorway.
“The shuttle is here, Miss Hannah. I told the girl you’d be right down.” He looked at the bag on the floor. “Is that all you’re taking?” He hefted the bag, a little surprised at the weight.
“Yep, that’d be it,” she answered looking around one last time to make sure everything was set. “I can carry it, Harry.”
“I know you can Miss Hannah, but it is my pleasure to do so for you.” He sketched her a neat half bow.
She smiled in return and gave him a slight curtsy before stepping into the elevator. “You know, Harry, if it wasn’t for the fact that there is a Mrs. Padulous for you to go home to every night, I’d have to marry you.” Hannah smiled in sympathy with the deep red blush that moved up his face. The car started its downward trek. “You’re a sweet man, Harry. I’m glad you’re my friend. I hope she appreciates you.”
“She surely does, Miss Hannah. We’ll be celebrating fifty years together this August.”
“That’s amazing, Harry. Just wonderful.”
“We both think so. And by the way, Bonnie will continue to keep an eye on your plants for you while you’re gone. No one has a green thumb like my girl does.”
They reached the garage level and stepped off towards the waiting shuttle. “You’re not kidding. Some of those plants haven’t looked so well in years.” She held out her hand to him and he took it, looking at her in surprise. She held up her other to forestall his protest.
“Let me, Harry. You have always been so nice to me and looked out for me like I was your daughter. Let me do something nice for you and Bonnie. Take her to dinner and a movie on me, okay?”
The old man gazed into her eyes and saw the sincere desire to do this, and he capitulated with a nod. “Thank you, Miss Hannah. We’d like that very much.”
“Good,” she said as she grinned. “I can’t wait to hear all about it when I get back.”
He opened the door and she slid into the seat. “Take care, Miss Hannah, and enjoy your vacation.”
“Thanks, Harry. I plan to.”
The flight was relatively smooth, and Hannah was surprised to be gently awakened by the stewardess. She smiled sheepishly at her and stood to grab her bag from the overhead. She’d flown into Bermuda and would be picking up a chopper to the island where her uncle had a home the following morning.
The air as she stepped from the plane was humid and salty, and she welcomed the freshness she could smell above and beyond the jet fuel that was prevalent on the tarmac. Hers was the last flight in for the evening, and she joined the small group boarding the hotel shuttle.
It didn’t take long, and she settled in for the evening. After a quick call to room service, she settled into the comfortable bed and pulled out the diary. She began by reading the most recent entries that belonged to her father and Jack.
I saw the ship today, and she who commands it. That much of the legend is true then. We will have to see if we can discover who she is and what she seeks. We only have what the rumors, myths and this book say about her. I wonder how much of it is true. -- M
Jack has gone out this time. We are trying to find the cycle that exists for her appearances. According to all the legends we have researched, when the ‘Maiden’ was first seen, the intervals were approximately twenty-five years apart. But that seems to have changed, and she is coming into the Triangle more frequently. There is still no indication of who she is for sure or what she is searching for aside from the stories we have in this journal. We do know that she does no harm to those she encounters and has even given aid to the distressed on occasion. -- M
The ship is simply amazing. I got close enough to see it clearly this time before it vanished again in the mist. I am making notes on when and where it appears because there seems to be a methodical search in progress instead of random appearances. So it is true that the beautiful Captain of this boat is hunting for something of great value to her. Otherwise why keep looking? -- J
I have spoken to Donovan and members of her crew after they rescued me from a hellacious storm. I now know what it is she seeks though she has never shared the actual fact with me. I know because I have been alone for the last fifteen years, and I recognize the look of longing as she scans the horizon. There are still things about this vessel and its mission that I do not comprehend, but I do not expect to make it to the next sighting. I am bleeding, and there is nothing they can do to stop it. When I leave this ship, it will be so I can go home to be buried. -- M
Hannah had to stop reading then, both because of the tears that clouded her vision, and the knock at her door as her dinner was delivered to her room. The waiter asked politely if she was all right, or if she required anything else. She shook her head and smiled at him, giving him the best grin she could manage. He nodded and accepted the signed check assuring her he was on call all night if she needed anything further.
She lifted the cover from her steak, pleased to see that the chef here understood what medium rare meant, sniffing in approval at the scent that wafted up from the marinade. She moved the journal to the table and began methodically decimating her meal while continuing to read.
The cycle is coming more often now. It has gone from twenty-five years to eighteen years, to ten years, and now it seems to be every five. I believe Michael was right in his belief, and I will continue to observe and make notes for myself, but it is no longer necessary to keep the journal. The time for fulfillment is near. -- J
Hannah set the notebook aside then, pondering the words as she finished her meal. She set the tray outside the door and moved herself and the journal back to the bed.
“Maybe I should have started from the end. Since the new stuff seems to be on top, maybe the original story is in the back.”
But she soon discovered that wasn’t the case. Everything was somewhat randomly shoved between the two covers, and she would need to sort through it to get any kind of order out of the chaos. “I cannot believe Daddy and Uncle Jack were so unorganized. How did they find anything in that mess?” muttering to herself. She set the book gently to one side of the bed and turned off the light. “I’ll deal with it tomorrow.”
When morning arrived, it arrived wet and overcast. The blinking light on her phone was a message from Jack, letting her know the helicopter that brought those seeking seclusion and peace on the tiny island where he lived was going to be delayed until the weather cleared. Hannah made arrangements at the front desk for a possible late check out, then called room service again to order breakfast.
She noted the journal still lying on the unused side of the large bed and shook her head. “Shower first, I think. I need to be able to see clearly and think rationally before I try to tackle that.”
Half an hour later she was wrapped in the complimentary robe and answering the door to let the waitress into the room. Hannah draped the towel she was drying her hair with over her shoulders and signed the check. The girl smiled and nodded and left without saying a word.
Hannah removed the tray covers, eyeing the fresh fruit cup and adding plenty of butter and syrup to her pancakes. She hummed in enjoyment over the first bite but didn’t take too much time to dawdle. She was too anxious to get the journal into some sort of order that she could read comprehensively.
Finishing quickly, she dressed and moved over to the bed. Hannah opened the journal and began to remove the pages, spreading them out so she could organize them by date. When she finally got them into chronological order, she took a second look at the dates listed on her father’s and Jack’s entries. I need to check my diary to be sure, but I’ll just bet you.... She let the thought trail off, knowing that she would have plenty of time to check since she never went anywhere without it.
The phone ringing startled her, and she jumped even as she reached to answer it. “Yes?”
“Ms Reilly, the weather has turned, and the island hopper will be landing in approximately half an hour. We can arrange a shuttle for you in twenty minutes if that is acceptable?”
Hannah glanced at the clock, surprised that the morning had passed so rapidly and that it was now almost noon. “Yes, that would be fine, thank you.”
“Very well,” the cultured voice spoke. “Your bill has been taken care of. Would you like us to send up a bellman for your bags?”
“No, thank you. I will be downstairs to catch the shuttle in twenty minutes.”
“Thank you, Ms Reilly. We hope you have enjoyed your stay with us and will return again soon.”
She was the only passenger on Jack’s small helicopter, and she gave him a big hug when he exited the craft. He looked around in confusion.
“Where’s the rest of your luggage?” he shouted over the whirr of the blades.
“This is it, Uncle Jack. I don’t plan to do much of anything except rest and relax on the beach and hang out with you.”
He grinned broadly in response to her wide smile. “That sounds like a winning plan to me.”
The flight was a short hop, and soon they were touching down on the small helo pad near the secluded resort. Hannah marveled at its ingenuity and privacy. They climbed into the waiting jeep and began moving through the resort and out towards Jack’s home. “Is this your design?” she asked motioning to the different bungalows they passed.
“Well, the concept was mine. But there are several of us who are partners on this project.” He was obviously proud of the resort, and he was happy to expound on its origins to his only niece.
“Years ago, some buddies and I were talking about the kind of resort we’d like to build in the islands here. Not something for tourists, but a place where people could be alone or interact with others like them if they chose. The restaurant is actually the main meeting place. It houses the small check in area. Otherwise each bungalow is a separate entity, and they are each well hidden in their own little dell.”
“That’s fantastic; how many do you have?”
“We have twenty cottages of various sizes. Several corporations have research teams in the area, and they usually reserve the larger ones and keep everyone together. You know how paranoid suits tend to get over company secrets.” He smirked at her. “Most of them are much smaller, catering to individuals and couples. It’s quiet, and the locals enjoy the boost in income without the destruction of their island and way of life.”
“I can’t wait to explore. I didn’t realize how badly I needed a break until I decided to take a vacation.”
Jack looked at her then and noted the twinkling eyes and smiling lips. “Well,” he drawled with a smile, “I’m glad you decided to spend it with me. Though I promise not to hover.”
Hannah chuckled. “Me too,” she replied, her chuckle turning to a full-fledged laugh when the flush rose up his cheeks.
Soon they were headed up a short incline, and through the trees the most beautiful vista stretched before them. The water started out a green almost the color of her eyes, and gradually darkened to a shade of blue that sapphires would envy. The white sand sparkled and beckoned, and in the near distance Hannah could make out the darker shape of two other islands.
“This is simply lovely, Uncle Jack.”
“Uh huh, and you haven’t even really seen it yet. C’mon in the house.”
It was then that Hannah saw the small structure that blended into its surroundings so well she didn’t even notice it until Jack motioned her towards it.
The outside of the house did nothing to indicate the spaciousness or state-of-the-art technology she found inside. She realized that part of the house was actually built into the hillside, which aided in both its camouflage and its roominess.
“This is amazing. I’m gonna have to get out my thesaurus if this keeps up, ‘cause I’m running out of adjectives.”
Jack just laughed and watched as his niece turned in a slow circle taking in everything around her. The limestone and granite cavern hosted the bedrooms, study and bathroom area. The living and kitchen spaces were actually some sort of native lumber that appeared to have moss growing both inside and out. Her eyebrows rose at....
“A fireplace, Uncle Jack?”
“Yeah. It reminds me of home a little, and it can actually get very cold here at night especially if the wind is up. Besides, it’s cozy.”
“The whole house is cozy. No wonder you are so happy living out here,”
He grinned. “This is true. It’s my own little piece of paradise. Of course,” he gestured her in to the small study, “I have all the creature comforts of the twenty-first century, too.”
“That’s it,” Hannah commented half jokingly as she slipped into the comfortable leather desk chair. “I’m moving.” She swung around to look at his system set-up, then turned her attention back to him. “Do all the cottages have this kind of technology?”
“Um, no. Some of the cottages don’t even have electricity though they all have running water and modern plumbing. People come here for a respite from their world so the technology stays home... or in the safe until they are ready to leave. The corporations provide their own gear, and the generators to run it so that works out well for us as well.”
“Very sweet set up, Uncle Jack. If I get inspired while I am here, I may have to borrow it.”
“You are more than welcome to, but I don’t think you’re gonna want to work once we get you settled in and you get a chance to start relaxing.”
“That is very true, but already I can feel the creative juices flowing. There’s an energy here that... well, I told Charlie I might have enough material for a novel when I left. I feel like I am on the precipice of starting something new.”
A momentary fear clutched at Jack’s heart, but he covered it almost immediately with a lightly strained laugh. “You are, my dear. You’re gonna learn how to relax and enjoy life for a change.”
Hannah laughed with him, not seeing his clenched fists. “I do like the way that sounds. Maybe I’ll take up basket weaving while I’m here.”
They left the study, and Jack moved to the kitchen area where he had left lunch waiting in the fridge. “Well, you could ask one of the native ladies to teach you,” he replied setting cold cuts and sliced fruit on the bar top. “But I’m warning you it is actually quite difficult and arduous. Maybe you should try a sport... sailing for instance.”
“Do you have instructors for that?” She started opening cabinets looking for glasses. Then she grabbed the iced tea out of the fridge and poured them each a glass.
“Oh yes; we have instructors for every activity the resort offers in the guide book.”
“Well I may just have to take a look. See what new activities I’d like to try while I am here.” She paused to take a bite of food before continuing. “But first I want to try the beach this afternoon. I intend to go home with a tan that will be the envy of the world.”
“I have a private strip of beach,” Jack said, swallowing his mouthful and washing it down. “C’mere.”
They walked to the windows that made up the sea side of the house and he pointed. “You see that?” pointing to the beach down sloped just slightly from where they stood. “Between the two trees marked with the bright yellow ribbons,” indicating two very large palms some distance apart. “That is my private beach space, and everyone respects that.”
“Even the original inhabitants?”
“Even the locals. It’s a long story, and maybe while you’re here I’ll tell it to you.”
“I’d like that.”
Jack smiled at her boundless curiosity, once again seeing a flash of the inquisitive child she’d always been. “Okay, but you should know I use it as a nude beach.” Hannah blushed and her uncle continued speaking. “You don’t have to, of course. I usually swim first thing in the morning. If you’d be more comfortable, we can set up some sort of signal here to let one another know when we’ll be at the beach or at least when we’ll be nude there. I rarely go down there except in the early mornings though. This place keeps me busy.”
“Well, I doubt that I will ever do the nude thing, but maybe we should work out a signal just in case I become a bold and daring adventurer while I’m here.”
“All righty. We’ll come up with something. In the meantime I want you to settle in and relax. This is your home too.”
Hannah leaned over and gave the grizzled cheek a kiss not saying a word. Jack patted her hands affectionately, and they finished lunch in happy silence.
When things were cleaned up, Jack took Hannah’s bag, raising his brow at the weight.
“I brought some reading,” she chuckled.
“What? War and Peace? You want to relax.”
“Nah,” she answered nonchalantly. “Some of Daddy’s books.”
“Gotcha,” Jack replied, trying to remember what she’d kept. Then he shook his head, figuring he’d remember or she’d tell him eventually. “C’mon, Hon. Let me show you your room.”
They walked into the natural part of the house, and the temperature dropped noticeably. It was not unpleasant just unexpected, and Hannah shivered slightly.
“Sorry, I forgot to tell you about that. The temperature in here is pretty constant... around sixty degrees. That is why I added the rugs. Stone cold floor first thing in the morning is really not a happy way to wake up.”
Hannah smiled but didn’t have the chance to comment because Jack stopped and opened a door right then. The room was quite large and surprisingly airy, due in large part to the wall of thick glass that faced the water.
“I couldn’t stand the dark so some of my engineering buddies worked it out so I could put windows in back here.”
“It’s gorgeous.” And it was. The room had been whitewashed and was decorated in blues and greens that complimented the view. The bed itself seemed an extension of the wall, and the lighting was recessed and well hidden.
“Now, I’ll leave you to get settled in. I have a couple things I need to do this afternoon so the beach is all yours.”
“Okay. Would you like me to cook tonight?”
“I thought we’d go to the restaurant if you’re up to it. Then I can show you the town a little more, and you can be introduced to folks.”
“As long as I don’t get too burned this afternoon, you’ve got yourself a date, Uncle Jack.”
He smiled. “See you later then. Enjoy.” And he closed the door behind himself as he stepped out of the room.
Hannah stood looking around for a moment more simply absorbing the atmosphere. Then she shook herself from her reverie and opened her bag to begin putting things away. “Time to go have a little sun and fun, and see if I can discover the mystery of these pirates.”
The skimpy tropical print thong bikini necessitated quite a coating of sunscreen, but finally Hannah was ready to go down to the beach. She picked up the journal and her diary, then slipped into the bathroom that was shared between her room and Jack’s. She looked around in approval at the white and deep blue scheme, her eyes lingering on the sunken tub.
“Oh I could definitely get used to this,” she commented to no one in particular as she snagged a towel.
A short stroll downhill brought her to hot white sand, and she stood for along moment just looking out at the water before setting everything down. A quick glance around showed her a small shed, and inside she found several beach chairs, more towels and a tiny shower. She nodded in approval, then grabbed a chair and moved to the water’s edge. She arranged the chair and towel to her satisfaction, then took the books and sat down.
“Now let’s see if we can make sense of this.”
October - 1847
Today marks the end of my daughter’s first voyage on the ‘Warrior Maiden’ and I have to say I am well pleased. Most of the men of my crew were skeptical and superstitious about allowing her on board, but she won them over by sheer persistence and presence. Her mother will not be happy to hear this. She had different dreams for our daughter. I believe at this point though that the crew would follow her as Captain if need be.
An odd note... while we were at 32* N, 64* 90’W we came across refugees of some sort. I’ll admit to being a bit confused by their manner and mode of speech and dress but they seemed harmless. We landed them on the nearest island and made the Crown aware of the new settlement. I will be interested to see how they fare.
Ernst Scott - Captain, Warrior Maiden
There was more scribbled down at the bottom of the page in another hand. Hannah’s eyes widened as she read the words.
I am convinced I will find the green eyes I seek at sea. I do not know when or where yet, but I will find you, my love. We are meant to be one together in this lifetime. -- DS
Hannah closed her eyes and pictured the crystal blue eyes that had haunted her since she was a small child. She reached for her own diary and opened it to one of the earliest entries.
I herd dady and unkl Jack tawkin bout pirats today. I ast bout wat they wer but dady dint tell. I think I no tho cuz I had a dreem bout a preddy lady with blue preddy Iz and long dark hare. She was beyutifull. She was lik the pirat in my pitur book.
Hannah froze. Until that moment nothing was clear about that memory except the eyes that continued to haunt her to this day. And yet having read the diary entry, she wondered what her younger self had dreamed of. Even though the image was unclear, she saw the eyes and the dark hair blowing in the wind.
With a sigh, she realized she needed something to drink and marked her place before going to the small shed in search of something cold and wet. She smiled when she saw the small refrigerator, and was pleasantly surprised at the options available to her there. She took out a bottle of water, and moved back out to her beach chair, opening the journal to the next entry.
This mission has been fraught with difficulty and peril. Papa was injured early in our travels, but he refused to turn around and go home. I have been acting as Captain in his stead. The men are satisfied with my leadership and things in that regard have gone smoothly.
Papa will most likely recover but will be unable to return to his life at sea. Mama will be happy to have him home more, I think. Maybe she will eventually forgive me for following in his footsteps with him there.
We found an injured sailor and did our very best for him. He insisted upon leaving though it was clear to all that he was dying. I suppose he wished to see his home once more. And who can blame him?
The game we play has become hard, but still we do so because it is the right thing to do. It is unfortunate that we have to become pirates to keep people alive because of the greed of a few.
Donovan Scott - Acting Captain, Warrior Maiden
Hannah closed the book with her finger marking her place and stared at the water for long minutes. Instead of making anything clearer, she was simply becoming more confused. She was sure the whole story was here; she just had to assemble all the pieces she had in the right order. She opened the journal again and turned the page over and found to her surprise a note written on the back of the thick paper.
My daughter did an outstanding job commanding this vessel during my injury and convalescence. She is correct that I will be unable to return to sea. I feel the hand of destiny in this, but the truth is Donovan is driven by something far greater than her love of the sea. I only hope I live to see it to fruition. -- ES
Hannah closed the book, setting it and her diary on the lounge chair before taking the two steps necessary into the warm, clear water. She waded out until she was waist deep, then plunged head first into the surf. She swam quite a distance, enjoying the relative warmth of the water and the sun on her body. Pleasantly tired she turned and headed to shore, stopping to sit and rest on a sandbar about halfway back.
She looked out at the water, marveling yet again at the myriad of color depth she was surrounded by. Hannah brought her right hand up to move the hair from her face and found her attention caught by the ring she wore there. It had been the last present her daddy had given her before he’d died, and she always wore it. Now she realized she’d found a color to match the stone in it.
She’d been surprised by it really. She was just fifteen, and Mike was scheduled to go out to the Triangle to do some more research. Hannah knew her dad felt that whatever he was doing was important, but they’d never really discussed his work. And she’d never shared the dreams she had of the ice blue eyes that beckoned to her. So she’d been taken aback when he’d called her into his study.
“Hannah, you know I’m leaving in two days.” She nodded and waited. “I have something for you, and I hope you like it.” Mike handed his daughter a small jewelry box. “Go on... open it.” She did so and her mouth dropped open in shock.
“I... it... it’s beautiful.”
And it was. The stone was a crystal clear blue, the exact shade of those haunting eyes. But her dad had no way of knowing that. She looked back up at him for an explanation.
“It reminds me of the water out there... and it seemed suited to you for some reason.”
“Thank you, Daddy.”
“Wear it in happiness, my girl. I love you.”
“I love you too, Daddy,” Hannah muttered aloud as she came back to the present. She looked around, surprised by the angle of the sun. “Guess I’d better get back to the house if I want to use that wonderful tub before we go to dinner.” She headed herself for shore once more.
A light knocking on the door woke Hannah from the doze she’d fallen into. Instead of a long soak in the tub, she decided on a quick rinse in the large shower. She was so relaxed when she stepped out that it only took a moment and she was asleep on the bed still wrapped in her towel. She blinked her eyes open when she heard Jack’s voice.
“Hannah, are you in there?”
“Um, uh... yes, Uncle Jack. Uh… ugh, hang on a minute.”
She rolled off the bed and grabbed the robe he’d left hanging on the back of the door for her and slid into it. She picked her discarded towel off the floor and opened the door. Jack was leaning against the doorframe with a crooked smile on his face. She blushed and returned his smile.
“Guess I fell asleep,” she muttered.
“That’s not a bad thing, Honey,” he chuckled lightly. “Do you feel up to going out tonight or would you prefer to stay in?”
Hannah ran a hand through her still damp blonde mane and bit back a yawn. “Well if you can give me a few minutes to wake up and get dressed....”
“I can do that. I’ll be in the living room when you’re ready.”
Twenty minutes later Hannah emerged from the back part of the house in a casual sundress and sandals. Jack took one look at her and whistled wolfishly.
“You are very lovely, my dear.” He extended his arm to her and she took it lightly even as a blush suffused her face. “C’mon. Dinner awaits.”
Jack was quick to notice the attention their entrance into the restaurant drew, and he chuckled silently to himself as everyone in the place, both men and women, made their way over to his table. Hannah met them all graciously but did not show particular interest in any of them. Several offered to spend time with her, but all were politely turned down.
He did note with some interest that she studied everyone’s eyes, and that occasionally her glance would drift down to the ring she wore. He wondered how much she knew about the significance of the stone. He made a mental note to ask her about it later.
They stepped out into the cool evening after dinner and made their way over to the jeep. “People seem to be friendly here,” was her only comment to the almost overwhelming attention she’d received during the meal.
“You are a beautiful woman, Hannah. Surely you are used to such attention.”
“No, Uncle. I don’t go out much. I never got into the scene.”
He started the engine and directed the vehicle towards home. As they drove up into the yard he finally turned to her and asked, “Are you lonely, Hannah?”
“Yes... no... it’s hard to explain.”
He opened her door and helped her from the jeep. “Try, please?”
“Um, well, it’s like I told you before. I haven’t found my tree in the forest yet so in that sense I suppose I am a little lonely. But I know there is someone out there for me, and one day... well, I’ll know when it happens. That’s all.” She couldn’t help glancing down at her ring.
“You sound sure,” Jack said as he opened the house door and gestured her to go in ahead of him.
“I am sure.”
“If it’s not too personal, can I ask why?”
She couldn’t hide the blush the crawled up her face, but she met his eyes squarely. “Ask me again in a few days. I should have an answer I can share with you then.”
He nodded, accepting her hesitation. “I can do that. And I’ll tell you the story behind your ring as well. Now,” he asked, changing the subject gracefully before she could say a word. “Would you like to walk on the beach with me? I find it very peaceful out there this time of night. It’s very relaxing.”
“Sure, I’d like that,” Hannah responded. “Should I change?”
“Entirely up to you, my dear. Whatever you’re most comfortable in. I’m going to.”
“Okay,” she answered, heading for her room. “Meet ya back here in five.”
They walked along in silence, simply enjoying the salt tang of the breeze and the swish of the waves and the softness of the sand as they walked along together barefooted. The moon was about halfway through its cycle, and made a tiny path on the water.
“You know,” Hannah finally said softly as they stood looking out over the vast ocean, “I always wondered where the moon’s path would lead if I ever tried to follow it.”
Jack smiled in the darkness, though she did not see it. “Well, I think it depends on the person involved. My path led me here. Yours will undoubtedly lead you to your dreams.”
Hannah looked at him startled but remained silent.
The following morning Hannah prudently stayed away from the windows until she heard Jack come in and close the door to his bedroom. Then she got up and went into the kitchen to start breakfast for the two of them.
“Wow... I think I like having you here if you’re gonna cook like this for me,” Jack teased as she set a loaded plate in front of him. She smiled. “Actually,” he continued before she could comment, “I like having you here regardless. I’ve missed you.”
“Me too, Uncle. I’m glad I came down. I may have to make this a regular event.”
“Or you could just move.”
He’d flummoxed her with the statement; he knew by the dazed look on her face. “It’s not something you have to decide right now or even while you’re here, but I would like you to consider it.”
“I... I... um... wow.”
He smiled and covered her hand. “Think about it, okay?” She nodded and he pulled his hand away and picked up his fork. “So what big plans do you have for today?”
“Nothing major,” Hannah replied, still trying to wrap her mind around his invitation. “I have lots of reading and sunshine to catch up on.”
“I have a suggestion then if you’re open to it.” Jack offered. She nodded. “Would you like to go sailing with me for a bit this morning? We could take a picnic lunch, and I’ll take you to one of the prettiest spots on the whole island. You can read and sun while I do some fishing. Maybe you can even learn to sail a bit.”
“You sure I’m not messing up your plans?”
“Yep. I wouldn’t have offered otherwise.” Jack grinned rakishly and waggled his eyebrows at her, and for an instant Hannah was taken back years... before the adult world and responsibilities came between them and Jack had simply been her doting uncle.
“I’d like that,” she answered honestly, finishing up her breakfast.
“Good,” Jack said. “Since you made breakfast, I’ll take care of lunch.”
“Sounds like a plan, Stan,” Hannah replied as she stood and moved to wash her dishes. “See ya out here in ten.”
The boat was fairly small comparatively speaking, but it was plenty big enough for the two of them. Hannah took a seat in the bow with her bag and watched fascinated as Jack maneuvered them around with expert skill.
They came to a small inlet and Jack guided them into it. He tied off the anchor and stripped off his shirt. “I’m going swimming.”
Hannah stretched out and pulled out the journal. Jack’s gray eyes widened when he recognized the item she had, but he didn’t say a word. Oh, Mikey... we were right. His smile was bittersweet. Then he jumped into the warm waters and began stroking away from the shore.
Hannah opened the journal to her stopping place, then grabbed her diary out of the bag and looked for the corresponding entry she was sure was there. An earlier note caught her attention and she stopped to read it.
I had the dream again last night. It’s the same one I always have. I’m looking for... someone or they are looking for me. It’s so hard to tell.
The only thing clear in my dream is those eyes. Not a form or a face. I am haunted by ice blue eyes.
I wonder what Daddy would think about what those eyes mean. They are the one consistent factor in my dreams. They are always the same. Maybe I will ask him about them when he comes home.
The eyes look at me now with love and compassion, almost as though they know of my sorrow. I need to find them. I think they hold the answers to my questions.
Hannah stared off into space. She remembered the confused teenager she’d been then and smiled wistfully to herself. It had been then she’d decided that whether her blue eyes belonged to a man or woman, fair or dark skinned, believer or agnostic, it would not matter to her. It had made her into the caring and considerate human being she’d become. It also made falling in love impossible for her, for deep in her heart, she knew she belonged to the one she called ‘Blue Eyes’.
She took up the journal, realizing that the dates coincided with her graduation, and she recalled with a blush the end result from the intensity of some of the dreams she was having then. Yet the only clear visual she could summon from her mind was.... She looked down at her ring again, studying the stone intently.
“How did you know, Daddy?”
“Did you say something to me, Sweetheart?” Jack ran a hand through his buzz cut and climbed back onto the deck.
She considered, then looked up at him. He stood apart from her so as not to drip on her books. He toweled himself off while gazing at her inquisitively. “Uncle Jack, will you tell me the story of my ring now? I think I need to know.”
He tossed his towel on the deck and took a seat studying her. She returned his regard and he smiled. “Yes, but I have to go back a ways. And you have to know how I came to have an interest in this island first.”
She marked her places and set the books aside giving Jack her full attention. “Okay,” she answered, clasping a hand around one knee. “Tell on please,” she instructed, smiling impishly at him.
He shook a finger at her. “Ya know, kiddo... one of these days....”
She laughed out loud. “You’ve been threatening me with that since I was knee high. It’s kinda lost its punch.”
He got up and started menacingly towards her. She scooted back on her behind, not liking the mischievous look in his eyes. He took another step towards her and she backed up into the railing. Then she held her hands up in contrition. “I give... I give. I don’t need today to be the day.”
Jack clasped his hands together and raised them above his head. “The winnah and still champeen!!” he intoned. Hannah stuck her tongue out at him and then broke into laughter.
“Now where was I?” he asked, resuming his seat.
She raised a blonde brow. “The beginning?”
“Oh yes, well... you have to realized that this happened five years before you were even born.”
“I’ll be back in time for the wedding, Mikey. I don’t want Mama or Elizabeth on my ass for missing it.”
“It’s not even necessary, Jack. The ‘Maiden’ shouldn’t be seen for another five years.”
“I know, Mike, but since I have to be in that vicinity for the other project, I may as well swing by that way and check things out. You’re just getting wedding nerves.”
Mike cuffed him on the back of the head. “I’ll show you wedding nerves, buddy. Just be careful, all right? You’re the only kid brother I got, and it has been a rough storm season down there this year.”
“I’ll be fine. And I’ll be back before rehearsal.”
“You’d better,” Mike muttered, “Or I’ll sic Mama on you.”
Jack shuddered. “No need to threaten a fella. I’ll be here... promise.”
“You have to understand that your daddy was right; it had been unusually fierce in this area that year. I took care of the paid project, then headed over this way to work on our pet one.”
“Uncle Jack, what was so fascinating about the Triangle for you?”
He shook his head at her. “That is something you will have to discover without me telling you. That’s how it has always been with this place in this family.”
“But....” Hannah stopped when the older man held up his hand.
“I’m serious, Hannah. Either you will figure it out or you won’t, but I CANNOT tell you.” It was easy to read the intent behind his gaze.
“Okay, Uncle. I’m sorry. I just feel like it is important. Please continue with your story.”
“I headed over this way in a speedboat from Bermuda. That was our base of operations for a long time. About halfway here, I noticed a horrible storm out in front of me, and I could only hope it would miss me. It was nasty... the clouds were so low they looked like they rested almost in the water, and the lightning was constant. In fact I had decided to turn around.”
Lightning hit very close to the boat and the engine stalled. In the silence that followed, Jack heard a cry for help. He peered into the downpour searching for the cause of the sound. Finally his eyes lit on the source, and they widened perceptibly.
There not fifty feet away was a tiny raft bobbing in the rough waves on the outer fringe of the storm. On the raft sat three huddled children, clinging to one another desperately in an attempt to keep together and stay on the raft.
Jack tried to restart his engine, getting only a click in response to his effort. He gritted his teeth together and tried again with the same response. “C’mon you goddamn engine!!” he screamed in frustration. The he watched in horror as a wave lifted the raft up and nearly overturned it.
He slid from his seat and grabbed the throttle cord, praying for a manual start. He jerked the cord as hard as he could, and to his relief the motor sputtered to life. Jack looked back to where he had last seen the small raft and gave thanks for the miracle he saw... the three children were still on the slippery craft.
Swiftly he turned the boat in their direction, and in a matter of minutes had all three youngsters on his boat. Now it was raining so hard he was afraid of losing his bearings, and he looked at the children again.
“Do you know where your home is from here?” he asked the oldest, a girl of about eleven. She nodded and pointed through the storm, and he could just make out the darker edges of what he hoped was an island. “All right, guys. Sit down and hang on. We’ll get you home soon, safe and sound. I hope.” The last was muttered under his breath.
The ride seemed to take forever, but in reality took less than five minutes before he landed in relatively calm waters with an anxious group of villagers getting into their boats and canoes. When the girl stood up in the back of his boat and waved at them, a cry arose, and he was welcomed into the village with open arms.
“It turned out that the older girl, Merryweather, was the headman’s grandchild, and the two younger children were his great-niece and nephew. They had gone out fishing when the storm came out of nowhere and caught them unaware.”
“My God, that’s amazing. Talk about right place, right time.”
“No kidding. And as token of their esteem for what I had done, they offered me the land that I now call home. I tried to refuse it until Jacob made me understand that to do so would dishonor them.”
“Jacob is the headman?”
“He is now. He is Merry’s father. He is one of the reasons the island is the sanctuary it is today. He understood what I wanted to do, and he helped me convince the others of his tribe as well as my business partners.”
“He was the tall, dark, attractive older gentleman who stopped and spoke to us last night, correct? Dark blue shirt and black slacks?”
“You have an outstanding memory, my dear. Maybe you should consider politics.”
“Oh no. No, thank you. That requires more compromise than I am willing to give.” She paused a moment and thought. “That was a great story, Uncle Jack, but what does it have to do with my ring?”
“My word, you are an impatient little thing, aren’t you?” His smile took any sting from the teasing words. “I was getting to that.”
“The next trip I made out here was after your parents married, and they came with me. In fact we traveled out together many times before you were born. Elizabeth enjoyed the travel as much as Mike and I did, and she was quite interested in the research we were doing.”
“The last trip we made together was for Merry’s sixteenth birthday and her betrothal celebration. We were invited as special guests, and it is when your mother got pregnant with you.”
Hannah’s eyebrows rose. “And you can pinpoint this so exactly how?”
“Because the shaman here confirmed it.”
“Oh, I can’t wait to hear this.”
The trio was warmly welcomed by the headman and his family when they stepped onto the island. Merry was not present as she was being made ready for the ceremony and celebration that would start later in the evening.
They were escorted to their quarters. Jack was in the process of slowly carving himself the home he now occupied, and Mike and Elizabeth had a small house in the village. Everyone was instructed to rest for the evening’s festivities.
As the sun touched the horizon, the drums drew the villagers to the center square and then the ceremony began. Merryweather’s betrothed began his claiming dance, reaching her as the sun slipped below the sea and left darkness in its wake. The village cheered, and the celebration began in earnest.
As the feasting started the village shaman took a seat next to Mike and Elizabeth. Jack sat on the other side of his sister-in-law, and what Cyrus said next caused the three of them to blush for very different reasons.
Cyrus placed a large gentle hand on Elizabeth’s belly and she froze. Then he looked deep into her eyes. “I see some of you did not rest this afternoon as instructed.” He smiled at her. “The life you now carry within you is very precious.”
Mike and Elizabeth sat stunned. They had been trying for a baby for three years. How could this gentle giant know...? But the conviction in his voice and eyes gave them unlooked for hope. Cyrus reached into his pouch and withdrew a brilliant blue stone. He passed it to Mike.
“This is for the Angel. You will know when the time is right to give it to her, and she will understand its significance when you do.”
Mike looked at Cyrus for a long moment before extending his hand and accepting the stone. “Thank you, Cy. For everything.”
The tall man nodded and moved away. Mike and Elizabeth gazed at one another. “We’re gonna have a baby girl, honey,” Elizabeth whispered. “We’re gonna have a daughter.”
Mike blinked the tears out of his eyes, and tenderly wiped them from his wife’s face. “Yeah, we are. And Jack gets to be an uncle.”
“Whoo hoo!” the younger man cheered loudly, needing to let loose some of the emotion flowing through him. “This is just too cool!”
“When we got back home, Elizabeth went right to the doctor who confirmed that she was indeed pregnant with you. Mike put the stone way, and to be quite honest I forgot all about it until I saw you wearing it after he left the last time.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about it then?” Hannah asked quietly while the tears streamed silently down her face.
“Oh, Honey. You were fifteen years old and already going through so much. I figured when you were ready to hear about it, you’d ask.” He smiled at her. “And you did.”
She nodded. “That’s true. I’m not sure I would have been ready to hear that story before today, but thank you for sharing that with me. I’m glad to know it.”
“Good. Are you hungry yet?” Jack’s stomach grumbled loudly. “’Cause I’m starving.”
Hannah laughed, an outlet for her emotion as much anything else. “Yeah, I’m hungry too. Let’s see what you packed us that’s good.” They got down to the serious business of eating.
“Uncle Jack?” The two of them were almost dozing in the early afternoon sunlight, having eaten their fill of the lunch Jack had provided. Her words were barely more than a murmur, and Hannah cracked an eye open to see if the older man had heard her. He felt her regard and tipped his head in her direction.
“I was just wondering about something.”
He turned his head completely and cupped a hand over his eyes to shade them. He might have been raising his eyebrows in question, but he was squinting so hard it was difficult to tell. “‘bout what, pumpkin?”
“You make me feel like a kid again.”
“You are a kid, Hannah. But I’m sure that’s not what you were wondering about.”
She laughed. “No, actually,” she replied. “I was thinking about names.”
His eyebrows hiked up visibly and he sat up to peer at her from beneath his shading hands. “Names?” He couldn’t imagine the train of thought that had brought about this subject for discussion.
“Yeah. All the natives that I’ve met so far or that you’ve talked about have British names... Jacob, Ernest, Scott, Cyrus, Harold, Robert. Even the woman... Merryweather. They’re all good solid British names. Not what you would expect to find on an island in the Caribbean.”
“Oh,” he answered suddenly enlightened and cursing his dilemma. He lay back down and closed his eyes, considering where to begin his tale. “It’s tradition,” he said finally breaking the silence. “Many years ago, a ship bearing British sailors gave aid to the people of this area. As a result, many of the people took the British names, both first and last, and named their children after the sailors. It’s become something of a legacy.”
“It sounds like it. Will you tell me the story?”
“Later perhaps. I’m going to take a bit of a nap first.”
“That sounds like a good idea.” The gentle rocking of the boat lulled them both to sleep.
“Ow! Oh! Damn, that was stupid,” came the muttered curses from Hannah’s lips. From the angle of the sun and the soreness she could already feel, she was not going to be a very happy camper over the next couple days.
“Uncle Jack?” she called, pleased when the man stirred immediately. “I think we need to head back in.”
Jack sat up disoriented. He looked around in alarm. “What? Oh, damn! Been a long time since I fell asleep like that.” He looked at Hannah and motioned her to turn over. “Well, you’re about evenly done. Looks like you flipped over sometime in your sleep.”
“Great... the only part of me that’s not a crispy critter is the bottom of my feet.”
“No worries, Hon. I have some stuff at home that will take out the sting and will help turn the burn to tan.” She looked at him skeptically. “Honest... the locals swear by it.”
Hannah sat up gingerly and winced when the padding rubbed against her skin. “Well, I’ll try anything. I don’t want this to screw up my vacation.”
He smiled and got up to head the sailboat towards home.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Hannah said flatly when she stepped into the bathroom. The smell was incredible. “There is no way in hell I’m getting into something that smells like that.” Her nose wrinkled reflexively, and she almost gagged. “What IS it, anyway?”
“It’s a panacea the locals use. I’ve used it several times myself.” Her eyebrows rose into her hairline. “It’s easy,” he continued hurriedly. “You sit and soak in the mixture of lukewarm water for about thirty minutes, then just sit in here out of the water for another thirty. Then a lukewarm shower to rinse off the scent to a tolerable level. In the morning, you’ll be tanned and can shower as normal.”
“I have to smell like this all night??”
“By the time you get to bed, you won’t even notice it. I promise.”
“By the time I get to bed, I won’t have any olfactory sense left, you mean,” she muttered but moved to her room to strip out of her suit. “You realize,” she called through the closed door. “We’re gonna be doing a lot of laundry tomorrow.”
Jack chuckled in response. “Won’t be the first time, Honey,” he replied.
Despite the smell, Hannah felt much better by the time she was allowed to shower off. And true to Jack’s word she hardly noticed the scent by the time she stepped from the bathroom. He’d given her an aloe mixture with the comment, “It’ll take out the rest of the heat.” She’d covered herself in it while he soaked, sat and showered.
She felt better once she had the cream rubbed in and went into the kitchen to see about fixing some dinner. When Jack stepped from the back, the olfactory senses Hannah had been complaining about earlier were filled with the scent of fresh biscuits.
“Oh, I can see I’m gonna have to watch myself while you’re here,” he commented with a chuckle. “I could get to be the size of a barn real easy otherwise.”
“Didn’t you always tell me - ‘Enjoy life to the fullest, Hannah. You’re not gonna get a second chance at this.’ ?”
He reached for a biscuit and liberally applied butter to it. “You’re right. I did.” He bit into the bread and hummed contentedly. “I’ll get new clothes.” He washed down the biscuit and reached for another. Hannah just laughed.
The next morning Hannah woke up darker than she’d expected to be in her whole two weeks of vacation and smiled at her reflection. She jumped in the shower while Jack was at the beach, glad to scrub the lingering remains of the scent from her body.
“You know,” she commented to her uncle as they sat down to eat breakfast. “If it wasn’t for the smell of the remedy, these guys could make a fortune with that.”
“I’d thought of that. But I have been assured that whatever combination of things makes it stink is also what makes it work.” He paused. “So what are your plans for today?”
“Aside from laundry, you mean?” He chuckled and nodded. “I think I’d like to do a little exploring. See what I can see.”
“That sounds like fun. Will you need the jeep?”
Hannah thought about that for a long moment, then shook her head. “I don’t think so. I think I’ll just walk along the beach.”
Jack nodded. “All right, but be careful. You don’t want to run into trouble.”
Her brow furrowed. “You think I will?”
“No, but I do want you to remember that human beings are the same the world over, and not everyone is as nice and helpful as the folks you’ve already met here.”
“That makes sense. Even Paradise had a serpent.”
He laughed at her analogy. “Very true, my dear. C’mon. Let’s get the laundry started. I have several clients to pick up today.” It didn’t take long and the two of them were heading out to begin their respective days after making plans to meet for dinner.
Hannah slipped into another bikini - this one a shimmering green that brought out the depth of her eyes. She pulled on a pair of shorts and grabbed her tennis shoes, sticking those, the journal and her diary in a backpack. Then she moved into the kitchen and snatched up a water bottle and several pieces of fruit and walked out the door heading down toward the beach.
She turned right when she got to the beach, heading west. The sun was warm on her back, but thanks to Jack’s cure-all, it wasn’t painful. She trudged along through the sand, noting the small homes and neatly kept yards along the way. They grew more plentiful and Hannah realized she was moving in towards town and smiled, altering her course just slightly.
The town consisted of the restaurant, a grocery/supply store and the dock that housed several sailboats, a few Sea Doos, two fishing trawlers and a couple speedboats. Hannah made a beeline for the grocery store and stepped across the threshold.
It was like stepping back in time. The counter was solid wood and had the oldest, most authentic turn-of-the-last-century cash registers the writer had ever seen. The shelves had several modern, recognizable products, but there was also a bottled Coke machine, a wall that held bolts of cloth and other sewing supplies and an ice cream counter.
Hannah walked over to the ice cream and began looking at the twelve different choices of hard-packed ice cream offered there. Vanilla, chocolate, pineapple, mango, passion fruit, orange mint? Hmm... coconut, wildberry... wonder what kind of wild berry? Banana, pineapple coconut, honey, and mint chocolate... Well, I feel daring today.
“A scoop of wildberry, please.” The woman behind the counter gave her a generous scoop and took her money, then Hannah exited the store. She took a good look around town, returning the waves of a few of the locals who she recognized from Jack’s introductions. She saw Jack lifting off in his chopper, and she lifted a hand to him. He gave her a thumb’s up and a big smile before heading the bird toward Bermuda.
Hannah turned when he was out of sight and made her way back towards Jack’s. She’d seen this part of the island and was interested in investigating the parts that she hadn’t seen yet. She was glad for the ice cream break though. It was good ice cream.
She stopped back at the small shed and picked up a new water bottle. Then Hannah continued walking east toward the sun. She noticed that along this side of the island everything had been left to grow naturally. There were no houses or walking paths or anything that gave an indication of any form of human habitation. It was peaceful though, and Hannah let the calm pervade her soul. She wondered briefly why the natives left this side of the island uninhabited and then shrugged to herself as she spread out the towel she’d pulled from the pack.
Hannah eased out of her shorts and sat down, pulling out her lunch and her books. She grabbed up an apple and opened the journal to the next entry.
The story begs to be told so I do so here in the pages of my private journal. There it will remain hidden and private for if the truth were to get out, my men and I would all be hanged for treason to the Crown.
Papa was not happy with many things within the Navy, and I found that he had surrounded himself with likeminded officers and men. The crew of this vessel has always been treated with dignity and respect, and they have accorded my father and myself the same. It is one reason I was accepted into their ranks as readily as I was. That and a lot of hard work on my part, but I digress.
Over the years we have tried to correct wrongs done to the people we deal with, and in return they are good to us when we come into port. Always, ALWAYS when we do this, we leave behind the trappings of the Navy and become ‘pirates of the high seas’.
We do not take from the poor. Rather we take from those who steal from those who are without and give back to them, much in the footsteps of the legendary Robin Hood.
Six weeks ago we came upon a tiny island that was being exploited to the point of destitution. The natives were starving as the merchant who was doing Crown business grew fat on the wealth of his spoils.
My men and I snuck onto his ship, and in the middle of the night emptied his hold, intent on returning everything to the natives he had stolen from. Imagine our surprise when we found not only food and such but children shackled like animals.
We didn’t even have to discuss it. With only a few looks, the children were freed and silently moved to the boats we had waiting for booty. The rest went in search of the crew.
We decimated them and set the ship on fire. It will be months before this ship is missed.
Do I sound cold and heartless? I am not, and I was violently ill when we returned to our own vessel as were many of my crew. This was the first time we had to utterly destroy a target, but we could not let their actions go unpunished. The natives will let the word get around in the right channels that that kind of behavior will not be tolerated.
As it is, we have quite the reputation as pirates, and we are careful not to destroy our credibility with the Navy either. The priest has assured me that our actions were warranted, and may make things better for the people on these islands. I hope so, for I grow weary of the greed and deceit I see in so many of my fellow countrymen out here.
Could you forgive me for what I have done here, Green Eyes? I long to find you and take you home. Perhaps I will take you to America where we can live in peace. I will find you, my love. I know that you are out there for I have seen you in my dreams.
Hannah sat back, absently reaching for the pear and biting into it. She thought about what the Captain had said and done and wondered if she could have done the same thing... probably not. But could she understand and forgive the actions... most definitely. In fact if she was honest with herself, Hannah agreed with what that Captain and crew had done... on many levels. She wished she knew the full story. They sounded like interesting characters.
Hannah finished eating a banana and packed her trash neatly, then folded the blanket and put it away. Then she resumed her eastern trek.
She’d been walking for about another ten or fifteen minutes when what looked like an overgrown footpath between two very stout trees caught her attention. Intrigued she thought a moment, then slipped into her shoes and shorts, then started down the trail anxious to see where it led.
The trees began to thin out as she approached what appeared to be a glade. Hannah took careful note of her surroundings, not wanting to get lost, and saw that there were several plants growing wild that she did not remember as being indigenous to the area. Hannah frowned as she stopped to study them a moment, then shrugged. She would do some research when she got back to Jack’s. In the meantime her curiosity had been piqued, and she was anxious to see what lay hidden in the dell.
She broke through the trees and stood motionless just taking in the scene. The field was a riot of color, and Hannah again saw some plants that didn’t compute as native. Everything had been left to grow wild. And the beauty was intoxicating.
In the center of the grove stood the remains of what had once been a house, Hannah thought. Actually it still was mostly or it could be with a little work, she thought to herself. She moved closer to get a better look.
The cottage still had four walls and a roof though there were shingles missing from what looked like storm damage. Several of the windows were missing their protective casings, and one of these was missing glass panes as well. There were a few that had escaped unscathed, and these still had wooden shutters covering them. The steps leading up to the door were stone, and slick with moss and lichens. The whole place had the sense, not of neglect, but of sacredness... almost as though it was hallowed ground that was waiting for its caretaker to come home.
Hannah walked around slowly, wondering at the story behind the old place. She stepped on the stairs carefully, not wanting to risk a slip and fall out here alone. She peered in the window, her curiosity overcoming her natural caution. Prudently she reached for the door latch, surprised to find it unlocked. The door did not want to open easily though, swollen from years of disuse and exposure to the weather.
She pushed against it gently then with more force, jumping in startlement at the loud cracking sound the wood made as the door opened. A whoosh of old, stale air rushed against her and Hannah felt a momentary pang of guilt about encroaching on private property wash over her. She hesitated on the threshold, then felt her curiosity and something deeper pulling her into the room. She crossed into the room, and the door fell shut.
It was like coming home... in a different era. Dark mahogany wood graced the floors and walls and gave the cottage a warm, homey look. The furniture was slip covered and Hannah lifted the coverings to find heavy, solid wood antiques beneath the dusty cotton. The cushions and seats were done in a slightly moldy brocade, but it was still remarkably well-preserved considering its age.
The empty fireplace was done in stones that had bits of moss growing sporadically, and there were leaves scattered liberally around both it and the broken window. It was quite dark, the room lit only by the two windows that were uncovered.
Hannah hesitated, unwilling to trespass too much, but feeling a familiarity that beckoned her further. She shook her head. I think I need some more information, and I know I need some more light. She looked at her watch, surprised to find it was mid-afternoon. I’ll come back tomorrow. There’s something about this place....
Hannah stepped back out slowly, careful to close the door behind her. She walked back down the path with more than one backward glance. When the house was out of sight, she picked up speed and made her way back down the beach towards Jack’s place.
When Jack returned home at almost sunset, he found his study a mess and his niece pacing furiously up and down the beach outside, apparently talking to herself. He stood at the window and watched her for several long moments as she pounded the air and stomped across the sand. Finally she dropped to the ground in frustration, and he turned his attention back to the room.
The journal sat open on the desk, and several books had been pulled from the boxes he’d had shipped from his brother’s home. His smile was bittersweet when he realized that she was beginning to put the pieces of the puzzle together. And he wondered how long they would have together before she felt compelled to start the search that had consumed his family for years.
He remembered how he felt when he knew for certain that all his research was not for his own benefit but for Hannah’s. He’d been so sure.... Jack shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t begrudge the fact that Hannah would be the one to solve this particular mystery. He just hoped he would be able to see the conclusion through to fruition.
Jack moved to his bedroom as he saw his niece rise from the sand and head for the house. He did not want to put her on the spot about her findings, nor did he want to be asked questions he couldn’t answer. He knew she was close to discovering everything.
The walk along the beach into town was quiet, and dinner surprisingly was not a strained affair. It was almost as if by unspoken consent, they had put untouchable subjects aside and instead focused on other interests they had in common. They found a mutual liking of musical theatre, science fiction, and roller coasters. They also discovered an honest dislike of rap music, bad art and cocktail parties.
More people stopped by their table to exchange greetings and meet Hannah. The lady from the general store said hello, and Hannah complimented her on her ice cream. The woman smiled and blushed. “It is homemade.”
“Well, it’s very good. I’ll be back to try more of it.”
“Had a sweet tooth craving this morning, huh? I wondered how long you’d make it before you sniffed out the ice cream.”
Hannah chuckled. “You knew it wouldn’t be long.”
“I know. I could never understand how you stayed so thin with as much ice cream as you ate.”
“I guess, but it was frustrating as hell for me.” He patted his belly. “I always had to watch that.”
She looked at him wryly. “Uh huh,” she said drolly. “Try telling that to someone who didn’t eat banana splits with you on a regular basis.”
“Ahem. Whoops, I forgot about that.”
“Yeah, I’ll just bet you did,” Hannah laughed at him. She looked around and sighed in contentment. “I really do like it here, Uncle Jack. I can see the appeal and really understand why you stayed here.”
He didn’t say anything, just gazed at her with quiet knowledge. “Oh,” he said as an afterthought, “before I forget. The annual Pirates’ Ball is in ten days, two nights before you are scheduled to fly home. So you need to be thinking about a costume.”
“Pirates’ Ball? Costume?”
Jack chuckled. “Well, you got the essentials.” At that moment, a tall, dark grizzled man stopped at the table. Jack stood in respect and held out a hand. The elder man shook it and looked to Hannah before returning his gaze back to Jack.
“May I?” came the soft-spoken question in a deep voice.
“Please,” Jack answered and gestured to an empty chair. “Hannah, this is Cyrus, the village shaman. Cyrus, this is Hannah Reilly, Mike and Elizabeth’s daughter.”
Hannah held out her hand, and the shaman accepted it, gazing at her eyes for a long moment. Then he smiled at her. “It is very nice to meet you, Hannah Reilly. I have waited a long time for this.”
“Well it’s nice to meet you too, Cyrus. I’m sorry you had to wait so long. This is a very beautiful place.”
“Yes, it is,” he agreed. Jack just sat back and watched their interaction. “Can you tell me the color of your eyes?” Seeing her startled look, he continued. “I apologize, but my sight has become such that I no longer see very well. I cannot tell if they are green or blue in this light.”
A frown crossed his face. “Hmm, I’d have thought.... Well, no matter. I am glad to have made your acquaintance. Your parents were lovely people, and Jack here is a good friend.” The older man rose. “I look forward to seeing you around. You will be here for the celebration, yes?”
Hannah looked at Jack. “I dunno. Will I?” He nodded. “I guess I will then.”
The older man rose. “Good. I’ll look forward to it.” Cyrus slipped off into the night before Hannah or Jack could respond.
They settled their bill and exited the restaurant, slowly walking back along the beach to Jack’s. “So tell me about this Pirates’ Ball. I got that it is some kind of costume party but otherwise....” Hannah trailed off and lifted her hand.
“Well, the Costume Ball is actually a culmination of the day’s events, but I figured it would take you a little time to get a costume together.” He watched as her eyes went introspective, then a blinding grin crossed her face.
“Got it covered,” she answered, pleased. “I just need to make a phone call.”
“You’ll just have to wait and see. Now tell me more about this celebration.”
“Well, every June twenty-fifth, the people of this island and the small islands surrounding us come together to celebrate the heroics of a group of pirates.”
“Waitaminute, Uncle Jack. HEROIC pirates??”
“Yep. They were pirates because they were stealing from the British merchant ships. They were heroes because their actions helped all the native people, and they did so without thought of gain.”
Hannah cast her mind back over the journal entry she’d read earlier, and a tiny piece of the puzzle clicked into place.
“So anyway,” Jack continued oblivious to her wandering thoughts, “every year they get together and have a field day. Races, contests, some really good food and games. Then the night ends with the Pirates’ Ball. Almost everyone keeps in the spirit and dresses in the 1850’s style.” He paused. “Rumor has it that sometimes the Captain and her crew actually show up for the festivities.”
“WHAT?? C’mon, Uncle Jack.” Hannah chuckled. “I’m sure it makes for a good ghost story, but....”
“Don’t discount anything, Hannah,” Jack said soberly. “Remember, this IS the Bermuda Triangle.”
It was late when Hannah left the solid, strong warmth of the arms that surrounded her in her dreams. The reality of them was so genuine that she looked around in bewilderment for the missing body before she realized the truth. It almost brought her to tears. The scent of breakfast finally pierced her senses, and she shook her head to clear it before moving to join Jack in the kitchen.
“Well, well,” he teased as he handed her a cup of coffee. “Someone must have had a late night.”
He knew she’d been up a while after he’d retired. He’d awakened twice after retiring to check on her only to still see light pouring from the study and to hear movement and mumbling as well. Jack wondered how her search had gone.
It had been the wee hours of the morning before Hannah had given up in frustration. She couldn’t seem to pinpoint where she needed to be searching. The island had no records from the era, and no historical database she’d tapped into referenced any ‘heroic pirates’. She’d looked in some of her father’s books, but there wasn’t much in them either.
She’d grabbed up the journal again, and read the next entry. Her brain had been jolted at what she’d read, and she’d searched frantically for her diary. By the time she’d recalled where it was, her eyes were too tired to focus properly, and she’d given up and gone to bed only to have the dream become a living reality. Her cheeks flushed in remembered sensations.
Jack watched the play of emotions across her face and wondered at the thoughts behind them. He set a plate in front of her and reached to refill her coffee cup. He startled her when he put it down.
“Oh, sorry. Thanks, Uncle Jack. You were right... I was up late. Guess I’m not really awake yet.”
“Everything okay?” wondering if she was ready to talk.
“Hmm? Oh yes, just doing a bit of reading and some research. I really think I’ll be able to get a novel out of this trip.”
“Very good. I’ll look forward to it.” He smiled at her encouragingly. The phone rang then, interrupting them, and Jack excused himself to answer it. When he came back, his face was troubled.
“Problem?” Hannah asked him.
“Depends. I have to fly to Bermuda. I’ll be there overnight, possibly two, but it shouldn’t be longer than that. Would you like to go with me, or would you prefer to stay here? Your choice.”
Hannah looked at him seriously, weighing her options. She wanted a chance to spend time with Jack, but she needed to finish her research. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to stay here.”
Jack nodded his head in agreement to the not unexpected answer. “That’s fine, Honey. I’ll let Jacob know to keep an eye out for you.”
“That’s really not necessary, Uncle Jack.”
“I know, but it makes me feel better.”
An hour later Hannah drove back from the helo pad where she’d dropped Jack off. She found it an interesting experience to be driving on the left hand side of the road and was glad to have had the road to herself. She was sure everyone was safer that way. She was a little proud though. She’d managed to stall the jeep only once and only twice had turned on the wipers instead of the turn signal. This was a new skill to practice but later. She was going to take the journal and her diary down to the beach and do some comparisons.
A quick change into a blue swimsuit later and she snatched up a towel and the books she needed. Hannah settled herself in the chair, sighing in contentment at the warm sun, the cool breeze and the expanse of beauty surrounding her. Then she opened the journal and began rereading the passage that had given her such wonderful dreams the night before.
She came to me again last night, and it was so very real. And though her face still is not clear to me, her eyes are engraved in my soul. It is how I recognized her.
She is short of stature and fits against me perfectly. Her breasts are full and heavy and her hips are round and firm. Her waist is small, but she is tanned and muscular as I am which is very unlike any of the other women I have seen.
Slowly I peel her clothing away, revealing her to my hungry eyes. Her skin is smooth as silk as I discover it, and she trembles in my arms as my touch traces her features and lingers over sensitive places on her body. She reaches for my own clothing, frustrated when the ties refuse to loosen. I take her smooth hands in my own and kiss the fingers one by one, laving the fingertips with my tongue. I feel the moan she makes in the center of my being.
I undress for her, watching those green eyes deepen in lust and passion. I reach for her and she comes to me, and the joining is a completion of body and soul. I dip my head down, capturing her lips even as we lay down together on the bed. What happened then is a private affair between us, but it is fair to say I love this woman with all of my heart, all of my soul, all of my mind. Now I have but to find the flesh and blood incarnation of my dreams.
She is out there. What we shared last night is too real for her not to be. I love you, Green Eyes. Wait for me because I will find you.
Hannah let out a trembling breath, recognizing the arousal the words had inspired in her yet again. She closed her eyes, seeing again the reality of the dreams she had lived the night before.
“Okay, this isn’t working. Maybe a swim will cool me off.”
The water was warm and soothing, and Hannah enjoyed body surfing until she ended up with a mouthful of sand.
“<Cough, cough> Ick! Ew! Pah, pah, phooey!” She spit out the sand and salt water she’d inhaled and looked around, realizing she’d forgotten to grab a water bottle on her way out the door. She dragged herself from the surf, pushing her blonde hair out of her eyes and walked to the small shed. She retrieved a bottle from the fridge and rinsed her mouth out first, spitting the water out. Then she guzzled half of what remained.
“Oh yeah. That’s much better.” Hannah strolled back over to the chair and snatched up the towel, rubbing herself dry and resuming her seat. “All righty then... where was I?” She lifted the journal noting the date, then picked up her diary and opened it to the marker, seeing the similarity in the dates.
I am graduating Summa cum Laude with my Master’s degree today, and yet all I can think of is the dream I had last night. I know now for a certainty I have fallen in love with a woman, and my soul and body ache to find her in the flesh.
I dreamed of her last night and she became real to me. I cannot see her face... only her eyes are clear. But her body was mine for the taking, and it was beautiful.
She offered herself to me and claimed me for her own as well. The vividness of my dream made me wake feeling sated and loved. I have never felt as loved and cared for as I did last night under her ministrations. I only wish I could find the reality of her. We fit, like nothing or no one I have ever known, and I want it to be more than just a dream.
Hannah sat back after reading her own words and remembered the sensation she’d awakened with that very morning. It recalled to her this very time... well-loved, satisfied, protected and at the same time lost and confused. She stared into nothingness for a time before jumping up and grabbing her stuff. She headed into the house, setting her books in her room and hanging the towel up to dry before slipping into the kitchen for a bite of lunch.
When lunch was finished she slid into a pair of shorts, snatched up a towel and her shoes and picked up a flashlight. Then she determinedly made her way down toward the beach and headed east, looking for the path she’d discovered the day before. Stopping at the entrance, she set her towel down and stepped into her shoes. Then she started up the trail to the cottage.
The door opened a little easier this time though the house still smelled old and musty. Hannah crossed the threshold and moved further into the house. The furniture was still draped in cotton coverings, and the floor creaked just slightly under her weight. She walked in, turning on the flashlight and looking around in curious interest. Aside from the coverings there were two portraits on the wall she had not noticed before.
The first painting made her hold her breath, gazing in wonder at the eyes she had known all her life. A woman in the uniform of a Captain in the British Navy done by the loving hand of a true artist. Hannah stepped closer to the picture, not recognizing the artist’s name but drawn to closer inspection of it. The figure wore white breeches and waistcoat topped by a blue dress coat. Imposing but not nearly as fascinating as the face.
She’s gorgeous, Hannah thought to herself. Long raven hair flowed freely over the woman’s shoulder’s framing the tanned lean face. Piercing blue eyes glowed with intensity from beneath slim, arched brows and the high cheekbones accented the planes of her face. There was the slightest hint of a quirk to the full lips, and this was magnified by the twinkle lurking in the depths of blue. Hannah found her own lips creasing into an answering smile.
“Who are you, I wonder?”
Hannah turned and focused her gaze on the other picture in the room. It appeared to have been done by the same hand as the first, and what she saw made her drop the flashlight in startlement. It was with shaking hands that Hannah retrieved her light and then continued to stare at the picture in true shock.
The scene was of two women standing on the very beach this house sat on looking out over the water. The taller stood behind her shorter companion, arms wrapped around her in complete contentment. It was impossible to see their faces, but the wind whipped their hair together, blending the blonde and brunette into a single entity.
“I recognize this... I remember this,” Hannah breathed to herself. “What am I saying?? I can't remember this." She shook her head again. "But it’s so... familiar." Almost she could hear the wind; smell the tang of the sea; feel the warmth of those strong arms around her. She pulled herself away forcefully, deliberately turning her back on the sense of coming home the picture communicated to her soul.
Instead she walked towards the back of the cottage, finding a small, old-fashioned kitchen area complete with a table and two chairs set against the shuttered window at the back of the house. The handle pump beckoned to her, but she found it in desperate need of priming and was unable to move it. The sink and drainage set up was quite clever and advanced considering its age, and she was surprised to find stored foodstuffs still in the pantry.
The house had dishes in the cabinets, and some of the finest bone china Hannah had ever seen. It was completely furnished for living, she realized. A partially opened door off the kitchen revealed a bathing room with a huge, old-fashioned claw-footed tub, and the most peculiar plumbing she had ever seen. She opened a small closet and found the tattered remains of what had once been linens.
She stepped back out of the room and opened the door from the kitchen back into the main living part of the house. It was then that the flashlight caught the reflection of a door handle on either side of the fireplace, and she moved to the nearest one.
It took a little effort, but Hannah managed to push it open, then stopped dead. It was a bedroom, and from one of the windows missing its covering the light was allowed to flood in. A four-poster canopied bed stood regally in the center of one wall and was the focal point of the room. Bits of cloth draped each post, bare reminders of their needed function. Each side had a small table with a lamp, and an armoire stood on the wall nearest the bathing room door.
There were two fireplaces - the one that backed into the living room and one on the wall towards the outside. There was a door next to this one, and Hannah wandered over towards it. She noted an empty frame above one fireplace, and two crossed swords over the other. It occurred to her then that the house had been built for a single person or a couple, and every indication was that it was a home for two.
There was a cozy niche opposite the armoire near the second fireplace, and here resided what looked to be two very plump, cushy chairs. Hannah lifted the covering enough to peek, sneezing at the dust she stirred in the process. These chairs were much more worn that the ones in the living room, and she suspected the occupants spent a lot more time here than in the formality of the outer room.
Hannah looked toward the door and walked over to it, surprised when it swung open almost easily. This room was filled with books... very old and very well kept. A map hung above the fireplace, and a massive desk stood against one wall. The writer's eyes glowed in appreciation for the treasures she'd found in this room, and she delicately touched the bindings on the shelves nearest her.
She walked slowly around the room, green eyes taking in with interest the variety of titles and topics the library held. There were books overflowing onto the desk and filling every conceivable space on the shelves. She noted the beautiful rug on the floor and the layer of dust covering everything, and felt sadness at the neglect of so many wonderful things that had obviously been such a part of someone's life.
Hannah took a last look around, then walked out the front door closing it tightly behind her again. Then she took a seat on the steps mindless of the stains the algae was leaving on her shorts. She closed her eyes and put her head in her hands. It was so easy for her to picture what this place might have been like when it was still breathing and full of life. The thought that it no longer was alive brought unexplained tears to her eyes, and she let them roll silently down her cheeks for a moment before getting up and wiping them away.
She turned and faced the house again, smiling now at the image she had of it and its occupants. Then she stepped back onto the path towards the beach without a backwards glance, her mind rapidly putting together the pieces of a new story.
Hannah chuckled silently as she emerged onto the beach from the path. She slipped her shorts off and folded them on top of her towel. Then she squealed in pure happiness and plunged into the warm surf.
"'Tis a beautiful day out, Mr. Merryweather. There's a feeling in the air...."
"I'll agree with that sentiment, Fitz. And our Captain seems to be in a fine mood." From their positions near and at the wheel, both men looked toward the forecastle where the Captain stood looking out across the expanse of sea.
"Aye, sir. She does. And it does my heart good."
The officer put a hand on the shoulder of the steersman. "Agreed again, my friend. I worry about her sometimes. What we do is hard on all of us but her especially."
"I hope she finds what she's been looking for out here." The first officer didn't answer, but squeezed Fitz's shoulder before he moved towards the bow of the ship.
"Mr. Roberts, trim the sails." He stopped to look as several of the sailors braided and coiled rope and gave an approving nod. Another group was busy cleaning, and Merryweather had to laugh at the military spic-and-spanness this 'pirate' crew maintained.
"Mr. Merryweather!" The voice from the crow's nest beckoned. The tall blonde man turned his attention upwards.
"Yes, Mr. Cyrus?"
"Land ho, sir!"
"Excellent work. I'll notify the Captain."
The first officer snapped his fingers at the cabin boy who scampered over to him. "Yes, Mr. Merryweather?"
"Fetch the Captain's spyglass, Harold. Quickly."
"Aye, sir," and the youngster ran to do his bidding.
The officer made his way to the front of the ship where the Captain continued to stand looking out towards the west, waiting for the island to come into view. She couldn't help the smile that crossed her face from time to time. The dream the night before had been so real, so vivid that she knew for a certainty that destiny was approaching.
Donovan didn't even turn around when her first officer approached. He stood quietly behind her watching as running footsteps joined them. Merryweather reached out his hand and the boy slipped the spyglass into it. The officer nodded his dismissal and then handed the glass to the Captain. "Sir," was all he said.
"Thank you, Mr. Merryweather," the low voice said softly. Then she lifted the scope to her very blue eyes, closing one so she could focus. Her sight swept the familiar shoreline of the island that had become a home away from home to both her and her crew. She missed it when they were away too long though she understood her men's need to go back home, and of course their official orders dictated it regularly.
Without warning her eyes lit on a vision emerging from the tree line that led to her cottage. She focused harder, willing herself to see the woman more clearly. A gasp fell unbidden from her lips and she sagged slightly before she felt Merryweather place a hand on her shoulder in silent support.
Donovan let it remain there for a moment before she straightened and he removed his hand as a matter of course. "Bring the ship about Mr. Merryweather. Hard to port."
"You heard me, Mister. We need to come in to the Eastern side of the island. I have to get to the cottage immediately."
"Captain?" Never in the eight years they'd served together and in the four years he'd served as her second had she ever put herself or her needs above the crew or their duty. The need in her eyes now was so apparent it was painful to see, and the blonde man simply nodded in acquiescence. "Aye, sir."
"Mr. Fitzgerald, bring her about to port, sir! Mr. Roberts and Mr. James, man the sails. And Mr. Cyrus, keep a sharp eye out. We don't want to hit the reef!"
A chorus of "Aye, sirs!" answered his instructions and immediately the ship began maneuvering to come in to the east. The Captain had raised the glass to her eye again and seemed to be focused intently on something he could not yet see. No matter. She had always done her best for them. It was time to do their best for her.
Oh, Green Eyes... have I found you at last?
Hannah was tired but very relaxed when she waded out of the water some time later, and she already had a basic outline of her new novel in her head. She smirked to herself. Charlie is gonna be so surprised and so is Anita, knowing the reactions of both her editor and her publisher. Both women had been after her for quite some time to try her hand at writing for adults instead of pre-teens.
She walked over to her towel, shaking it open and drying off. She stood with her eyes closed absorbing the sun for a long moment, and when she opened them caught a glimpse of a huge three-masted ship. She swiveled her head around, but there was nothing there. She blinked but still saw nothing so she shrugged and wrapped the towel around her.
She grabbed up her shorts and shoes and stuck them in the bag with the books. Then she started back down the beach towards Jack's house. Unexpectedly a blast of cold air blew across her, and she shivered in reflex. She looked around again and hugged the bag to her, picking up speed.
She was exhausted by the time she reached the house. She took a quick shower and dropped into bed for a quick nap. The sun was just hitting the horizon when she woke up.
"Oh... wow!" Hannah scrubbed a hand through her hair. "Hmm, I think that's gonna need a little water," she chuckled as she looked in the mirror at the hair standing up all over her head. She stepped into the shower correctly figuring it would be the fastest and easiest method to deal with her hair. She dressed and threw a load of towels into the washer, then headed out the door to town.
She was glad the road was empty because navigating backwards in the dark was harder than she'd imagined it would be. She arrived in town to pick up the dinner she'd ordered and was stopped by Jacob on the way in to the restaurant.
"Is everything okay, Hannah? You look like you're enjoying our island," he smiled at her engagingly.
"I'm fine, Jacob. Thank you for asking. And I love your island. It is so beautiful here... so peaceful."
His wife Elizabeth took her hand and answered. "It is, and we’re glad you've come to visit. You will be here for the Pirates' Ball, won't you?"
"Yes ma'am. I’ve already called for my costume," remembering the surprise in Sarah's voice when she'd called.
"Good. It’s a great party. You’ll love it."
The waitress came over then and brought Hannah her dinner. She paid the woman and nodded her thanks, then turned back to Jacob and Elizabeth. "Thank you for checking on me. It makes me feel a part of the community here."
"You are, and we're glad you're here," Jacob responded.
"Now go eat your dinner while it's hot, dear," Elizabeth added. "We'll talk more later."
Hannah nodded and made her way back to the jeep and headed for home.
"Are you sure about this Mr. Merryweather?" the yeoman asked as they rowed the longboat back to the ship. The first officer had brought the ship to the closest point to the cottage that he could manage and offered to take the Captain ashore. She hadn't refused and they had dropped her almost at the path's entrance.
"Yes, Mr. Jacobs. I am sure."
"Good," the younger man responded. "It's time she found some happiness as well."
Donovan stepped from the longboat and took her bag from her second with a nod. He offered her a salute. "Sir, we will continue on around the island and take care of business. We will be back around to pick you up after the Ball."
"Very well, Mr. Merryweather. Carry on." Her expressive eyes said what her lips could not utter.
"Aye, sir. Enjoy your reprieve."
She smiled genuinely then and lifted a hand in salute and farewell. She pushed them back from the shore, then picked up the bag she'd set to one side and headed for the place she loved to call home.
She ran a critical eye over the house as she stepped into the grove, pleased with what she found. The cottage looked to be in good shape. All the windows were shuttered and though a few shingles appeared to be loose, they were all there and seemingly in good condition.
Donovan noted that the steps needed sweeping but were in good repair, and she pushed open the door easily, smiling in relief as the familiar scents of home greeted her. The furniture was covered, but that took only a moment to correct, and wood lay in the fireplace ready for lighting. She opened the shutters to allow the light in and opened the windows to let fresh air to flow through the house.
She gazed wistfully at the portrait of the two women together she had painted two years previously, after a very intense erotic dream. Soon, Green Eyes. Donovan opened the door to the bedroom and set her bag down, carefully putting its contents away. She took fresh sheets from the cedar closet and carefully made up the big bed, tying back the canopy netting until it would be needed later that night.
She looked around at the sparse room. I really should find something to put above the mantles. then she shrugged. Not like I spend enough time here to do that yet. Then she smiled. She knew she would one day. Already she had a number of creature comforts installed, thinking of the brand new tub she had installed on her last visit and the gorgeous rug she'd found for her study this trip. She was still working, but more and more this place was becoming a home.
Donovan carefully laid the rug out in front of her desk, nodding in approval at the way it brightened the room. She glanced at the partially filled shelves, noting that she would have to meet the ship at some point before they left to pick up the crate of books she'd left on board. They would almost fill an entire shelf, leaving her with only four more shelves to fill.
The Captain moved into the kitchen, knowing that she would need to do some trading for some fresh supplies while she was here. She primed the pump, letting the water run for a moment before grabbing a glass and rinsing it out then filling it up and taking a long cool drink.
"Ah, that hits the spot." She knew most of her men eschewed the thought of drinking fresh water, but to her it was nectar after weeks at sea. She filled a metal basin and set it on the stove, then lit the fire. She moved back to the bathroom, starting the water running into the tub, and congratulating herself once again for her ingenuity. Now if I could just figure out how to heat it before it got here.
Shrugging she pulled her boots off with a groan of relief, then slid out of her leather pants and cotton shirt. The trousers were laid over the back of a chair and the shirt was put into a corner for washing. She stopped the water and went back to the kitchen.
"Well, that is going to take a while," she muttered moving back to the study. "Let's see what we can find to read." She grabbed the book she'd been reading on her last visit and moved back into the bedroom. Lying down on the bed she started reading, but it wasn't long before exhaustion took over, and she feel into a deep sleep. The sun was just beginning to set when Donovan opened her eyes. "Holy Mother!" she exclaimed as she rolled swiftly from the bed and raced to the kitchen.
The water in the still mostly full pan was gently roiling. Donovan blew out a breath of relief and grabbed the basin with two potholders and moved into the bathroom. She poured the hot water into the tepid water already in the tub and took the container back out to the kitchen. Then she shucked her undergarments, sighing in ecstasy as she settled into the cleansing warmth.
It didn't take long once the water cooled, and she was clean and smelling faintly of cinnamon. She smiled as she thought of her mother preparing the soap especially for her. She dressed carefully, sliding into clean leather and silk. Her still wet hair she combed through and braided back tightly. She wiped her boots off and stepped into them, pulling them up and settling them firmly. She stamped her feet and looked around, then stepped out the door and went in search of her destiny.
Hannah dropped the bag on the table and transferred the towels to the dryer. Then she took her dinner and put it on a plate, deciding to sit in the small garden alcove that overlooked the beach and eat by the light of the moon.
The sound of the waves was mesmerizing and she took her time enjoying the spicy island fare. She watched as the moonlight traced a path in the water, and wondered again where it would lead her if she followed it. So absorbed in her thoughts was she that it took a few moments before she became aware of the rhythmic sound of footsteps approaching her.
Strangely she was not alarmed by the sound. They were sure and steady, not stealthy, and she took comfort in that fact. Obviously it was a native who had wandered too far without realizing they'd crossed the boundary. It didn't dawn on her that the sound was coming from the east and not the west.
She was still eating when the figure emerged and she just looked for a long moment, trying to discern if she'd met the person now standing down from her facing the water. The individual was tall, strength evident in the breadth of the shoulders and the molded leather pants. Dark hair was braided tightly and rested against the strong back.
The figure turned then, and the profile was silhouetted by the moonlight. Hannah drew in a breath. The vision was a woman and so familiar. Hannah searched her memory, trying to recall the woman's name but nothing fell into place. The tall woman turned slowly as though searching for something.
"Excuse me, but are you lost?" Hannah called out quietly. Donovan spun on her heel. She couldn't see much of anything... a bare outline from the direction the voice had come from. The Captain didn't answer the question. She was trying to place the soft voice. "I'm sorry," Hannah said again, "but you are trespassing on private property. Can I help you find something?"
Donovan came to herself then and shook her head. "I beg your pardon, M'lady. I was not aware this bit of land had been claimed. If you will excuse me...." And the Captain bowed with a flourish and headed back down the beach before Hannah could recover her wits that scattered at the low, rich lilt that had rolled across her hearing when the dark woman spoke.
Hannah ran her hands through her hair in frustration. There was something so familiar in that body, that profile, that voice.... But she couldn't place it and the harder she pushed, the more elusive the memory became.
"I think I need to take a break. I have been trying so hard to solve whatever this mystery is that my brain is on overload. Tomorrow I'm gonna do nothing but relax." She looked in the direction the tall woman had retreated. "Maybe I'll go meet the new neighbor... if I can find her."
Donovan strolled back down the shoreline, a preoccupied frown etched on her face. That voice, she was sure that she'd heard it before, but there was no way to be certain without being able to see the owner. She was frustrated. The darkness had made it impossible to follow what she thought was Green Eyes' trail, even by moonlight.
She stopped suddenly. "Wait just a damn bloody minute," she cursed to herself. She turned and glanced back in the direction she'd just come from. "Do you suppose...?" She took two steps back toward that voice before jerking to a halt and shoving her hands in her pockets.
"Waitaminute, Donovan," she muttered. "You do not need to go in there scaring the young lady half to death. If you are right, she might understand. If she has been having the dreams anyway. But if you are wrong, they will send you to the loony bin for sure." She ran one hand over her head, loosening the braid and letting her hair fly free in the breeze. "You have waited this long. Waiting until it is daylight not going to kill you."
She increased her pace until she was moving at a near run. "Maybe I will see her in my dreams tonight." That thought caused her exuberance to soar and the emotion made her almost giddy. She increased her pace and jumped into the air, doing a lazy somersault before returning her feet to the earth, then running exuberantly all the way home.
She was still smiling when she settled down to sleep.
A face slowly began to form around the loving blue eyes. Nothing clear, but a profile that was resolving itself into a familiar shape. Hannah reached up with trembling fingers and gently traced the planes of the face and sifted her hand through the free-flowing dark hair. She felt large, work-roughened hands grip her gently at the waist and ran her other hand up the soft, strong chest to wrap in the raven tresses.
Hannah tugged gently on the head in her hands and was delighted by the twinkle in the blue eyes reflected in the growing smile as the dark head lowered. Then those full smiling lips captured her own, and Hannah lost herself in the passion that ignited between them.
Donovan let her hands wander down from the small waist and over the shapely hips, pulling the lithe body more firmly into her own. She smiled into the kiss as Hannah began massaging her scalp, taking a firmer grip on her hair. The kiss went on interminably until the two were forced to pull away for a lack of air.
Blue and green gazed at each other for long moments, speaking words that their lips did not say. Donovan caressed a smooth cheek, smiling when Hannah closed her eyes and leaned into the touch. "You are very beautiful."
Hannah had no chance to answer the compliment for Donovan covered her lips again and claimed them passionately. Hannah let her hands wander, loosening the ties she found on Donovan's shirt and sliding her hand inside to touch the soft skin hidden there.
Donovan pulled away from Hannah just slightly, causing a furrow to crease Hannah’s brow until she realized Donovan's intent. Donovan shrugged out of her shirt and returned to the kiss-swollen lips, untying the knot at the neck, then dropping Hannah's dress to the floor. Without breaking the kiss, Donovan lifted Hannah and encouraged her to wrap her strong legs around Donovan's waist. Then Donovan walked them over and tenderly lowered them to the bed together, making their dreams reality once again.
Hannah woke up late morning wrapped around a pillow instead of the warm body she'd expected to find there and frowned. It was so real, considering how loved and sated she felt. Then she smiled. I will find you, Blue Eyes. Very soon. She stretched and swung her legs out of the bed. But first I need a shower. And then I'm gonna go meet this new neighbor I seem to have gotten.
It didn't take long. Hannah dressed in the tropical print thong she'd found shopping with Katie, and tied a sarong over her hips. Then she looked through the fridge, putting together a picnic for two from the abundance of things Jack had available. Nodding in satisfaction she headed out the door and down the beach. Her thoughts wandered while she walked, reviewing the dream she'd had the night before. Hannah was in quite a state by the time she'd reached the footpath and stopped a minute just to breathe. Finally feeling herself under control again she hefted the basket and started down the trail.
"Hello? Hello?" she called. "Is anyone here?" Hannah felt foolish. Her two previous visits had shown her there was no one here, but her logical mind dictated that the woman had to have come from here. It was the only place within reasonable walking distance from this direction. The town itself and all the locals she'd met lived on the other side of Jack’s.
"Excuse me," came the lilting voice from the night before from a position high above her. "Are you lost? You are trespassing on private property."
Hannah flushed slightly, remembering these exact words falling from her lips the night before. God, I didn't realize how snotty that sounded. She looked around for the speaker and cleared her throat.
"No, I'm not lost. I'm looking for someone."
"Well, there is no one here but me." The voice was still out of sight, but Hannah detected the slightest hint of a smile in it.
"Perhaps you are the one I am seeking. Could you step out where I can see you, please?"
Donovan rose to her full height then and stepped to the front of the roof. She'd awakened at dawn so refreshed and full of energy that she'd taken a run. When she'd gotten back to the cottage the sun had been up, and she'd decided to check the roof. The haze on the horizon meant a storm this afternoon, and Donovan wanted everything tight and cozy before then.
Hannah stared in astonishment at the vision that stood to greet her. The woman was fierce in her presentation, backlit by the sunshine that outlined her sculpted, muscular upper body. She felt her mouth drop slightly, but couldn't seem to tear her eyes away.
Donovan had been almost finished when she'd heard the young woman's approach. She looked down at herself in disgust. She was sweating profusely, and in the rough trousers and shirtless state she’d been working in, she was in no position to receive company.
She snatched up the shirt she'd taken off early in her task, and slid it over her shoulders, leaving it untied, so her breasts were covered, but her muscled abdomen was still visible. She stepped from the eave and slid down the ladder. Donovan landed with a bit of a flourish and turned, freezing when blue eyes met green for the first time.
Hannah moved closer, reaching up a shaking hand to catch the drop of sweat rolling down the dark brow, their gazes locked and searching each other. She stroked the soft skin of the cheekbone, tracing the taller woman's features before sliding her fingers into the damp locks.
Donovan felt her breath catch in her throat as she realized that Green Eyes was finally flesh and blood within her grasp. She watched in fascination as Hannah made the first move to bring them together, almost groaning at the first touch of skin on skin. She forced herself to keep her eyes open while Hannah explored her face, unwilling to lose the reality that was becoming hers. Only when Hannah twined her fingers in the raven hair did Donovan finally allow herself to reach out and grasp the slim waist and draw Hannah firmly into her.
No words were exchanged. None were necessary in this first real physical communication between them. Donovan leaned in slowly, offering Hannah the opportunity to pull away if.... Then she felt her head being drawn down and their lips met, and everything except the reality of them melted away into nothingness for a timeless moment.
"Finally," Donovan breathed. "Finally I have you in my arms. I have dreamed of you, you know, since you were a child. I watched you grow up in my dreams." Donovan said quietly when their lips reluctantly parted. "You became my dream."
"And now, I want to make you my reality. I am going to take the time to get to know you personally... to court you the way a lady deserves to be courted. I find you to be a most beautiful woman. I want to know all about you, and I would like to take you home to meet my father and mother."
Hannah gasped slightly. "This is so very sudden. And yet, I've waited a lifetime for you."
"As I have for you, Angel. I have spent my life falling in love with you in my dreams."
"I'd like to do it for real."
"Then you'll come home with me? Meet my parents?"
"I promised Uncle Jack I would stay for the Pirates' Ball. But if you still want me when that is over... yes, I will come home with you and meet your folks. And in the meantime we can get to know each other outside our dreams."
Blue eyes lit with uncontrolled happiness. "I think I would like that. It is something I have looked forward to for a long time."
Hannah couldn't help the grin that plastered her face. "Me too. So will you join me on a picnic for lunch?"
"Well, that depends," Donovan answered seriously as thunder rumbled ominously in the background. A cool wind followed the sound and Hannah shuddered slightly. Donovan tightened her grip slightly.
"On what?" Hannah asked curiously.
"Will you tell me your name?" The dashing grin on Donovan's face made Hannah blush, and that simply made the grin broaden. "I will go first. I am Donovan Scott."
"Well, Hannah Reilly, if you would consent to allow me a few moments to clean up, I would be delighted to join you on a picnic." The thunder rumbled ominously again. "Though we may end up having to eat it in the house."
Hannah smiled, her nose crinkling up in delight. "Well," she started, bending over to retrieve the basket she had dropped when Donovan had stood up on the roof. Donovan slipped it gallantly from her grasp and extended an arm. Hannah took it as a matter of course and let the taller woman escort her toward the cottage door. "I think I could do that." She smiled impishly, now. "Though a little rain never hurt a body."
Donovan chuckled. "I will remind you of that while we are standing in the middle of the meadow getting soaked together."
Hannah's eyes widened at the implications and she swallowed hard. Donovan missed the expression since she'd moved slightly ahead of the smaller woman to open the door for them to enter the house.
Donovan swung the door open and gestured for Hannah to step in ahead of her. Immediately Hannah was struck by several subtle differences from her visit the previous morning. The first thing she noticed was the abundance of light that shone in the room, and the fresh air that greeted her. The absence of dust coverings was apparent, and she noted that the furniture seem almost new.
Unconsciously she looked for the two paintings that had so captured her attention the day before, and realized that only one hung in the room now. Her brow furrowed. How very odd, she thought to herself but found her feet moving to stand before the portrait of her and Donovan on the shore.
Donovan set the basket in the kitchen and came back out to see Hannah mesmerized by the seascape. She walked up behind the blonde gently and tenderly laid her hands on Hannah's shoulders. "I did that one about two years ago," she whispered, her warm breath a caress on Hannah's ear that sent goosebumps skittering along her skin. "After the most incredible dream with you."
Hannah flushed, and knew Donovan could feel the heat. "I remember that," she mumbled, leaning back into the strong body behind her. "It was the first time we made love together in our dreams. And before we left we stood on this shore together, wrapped around one another just like this." She sighed when Donovan's hands slid around her waist and cradled her carefully. "It was so wonderful." Her face scrunched up in thought. Though I thought it was five years ago. Whatever.
"Our first real time will be even more wonderful, I promise." Donovan felt Hannah laugh and pulled back slightly to peer into her eyes. "What?"
"I'm not sure either of us could survive it," Hannah smiled impishly, watching Donovan's smile light up her whole visage.
"Aye, but what a way to die. Now if you will excuse me for a moment," she continued without pausing for breath, “I need to clean up before I stink up the place." She placed a light peck on Hannah's cheek. "Be right back."
Hannah heard the water running and sank into the small couch, her eyes again regarding the portrait while her hand rested on the still tingling spot that Donovan's lips had touched. "Whoo boy, I think a cold shower might do me some good too."
Hannah sank into the couch, eyes still focused on the portrait and letting that visual carry her back to the events that had inspired its creation. That was five years ago... I KNOW it was because that was the night before my Master's graduation. She shrugged. Not that the *when* actually matters. Nothing is going to change the way that I feel or what we shared. Absently she stroked the brocade's newness and let her thoughts drift.
A hint of cinnamon reached her nostrils and Hannah smiled in reflex. "Hello, Love," she whispered, sighing in contentment as two strong arms wrapped around her from behind. "You smell nice."
Donovan chuckled and sat down, stretching an arm out in invitation. "Better than before then, yes?"
"Well, different." Hannah scooted over until they were touching, sitting side by side. Donovan curled the arm around her, and Hannah turned just slightly in the embrace. "You have a very pleasant natural scent actually and though I will admit to being partial to the aroma of cinnamon, clean sweat does have its charm."
Donovan grinned, and not for the first time Hannah noticed the roguish sex appeal it held. "Does it now?" she asked leaning into Hannah just slightly and feeling inordinately pleased when Hannah returned the pressure.
"Um hmm," she answered, leaning even closer and brushing her lips over Donovan's, and Donovan lost no time in returning the kiss. Her arm tightened around Hannah, and she brought her other hand up to cup Hannah’s face. The embrace deepened, and two sets of breathing had gone ragged before they separated and looked into one another's eyes.
"We don't have to give up the kissing while we do this courting thing, do we?" Hannah asked on a breathless note. Donovan captured her lips again briefly, passionately. "I'll take that as a no," Hannah replied with a smile.
"You would be taking it rightly then," Donovan said, gently stroking the skin underneath her hand, happy when Hannah's eyes closed and she leaned into the touch. "I do not want you to think... I mean, I want to know you... um, I uh...."
Hannah laid her hands on Donovan's chest, feeling the rapid beat of her heart. "Donovan, I am touched that you want to court me. I'd like the chance to do the same... to spoil you a little. And I am looking forward to getting to know you as a person and not just a dream. But nothing, NOTHING is going to change the way that I feel about you. All right?"
Donovan read the sincerity behind the words in Hannah's eyes. "Very well," she nodded. "I just do not want you ever to feel like you are being taken advantage of." She stopped speaking as fingers covered her lips.
"I have never been taken advantage of by you. I have only been well loved." Hannah leaned forward and kissed Donovan lightly on the lips. "Now c'mon," she said, looking out an open window. "The sun is shining and the thunder is gone so maybe the storm passed by us. Let's go picnic."
Donovan stood and helped Hannah to her feet. Hannah looked at Donovan who stood casually in cotton trousers and shirt. The shirt had no sleeves and was tied just below her ribcage and Hannah was again impressed with the musculature she could see. "Come," Donovan said quietly, extending a hand out to Hannah.
They walked out through the kitchen, and Donovan snagged the basket Hannah had prepared. Then they walked out the back door, and for the first time Hannah noticed the stone patio. "Oh, how lovely. I like it here."
Donovan looked around and took a deep breath. "As do I," she smiled. "This is my sanctuary. The men helped me build the basic structure, but I have been working on it every chance I get when we come here."
"How often do you come?"
Donovan shrugged. "For the past four years, a couple weeks every six months or so. This year has been a little different. This is actually our fourth trip here."
Donovan turned and faced Hannah, and the smaller woman rested her hands lightly on Donovan's hips. The Captain smiled. "I was chasing my destiny. I had a feeling I would find you. I just had to keep trying." Hannah smiled and blushed charmingly. Donovan kissed her on the nose. "Besides it gave me a chance to get some things done around here."
"Well, I like what you’ve done here. It's beautiful." Hannah looked around again. "You have very talented hands."
Donovan waggled her eyebrows. "Thank you, my dear," she said with a roguish smile.
Hannah blushed again and slapped her arm. "Behave, you!" Donovan laughed out loud and they resumed their walk. They didn't go very far... just out of sight of the cottage. Donovan set the basket down, and Hannah retrieved the blanket she'd packed on top.
Donovan took a side and together they laid it on the ground. Then Hannah began unpacking the lunch she'd brought for them to share. The basket had been an old one she'd found at Jack's and it had been quite the challenge to figure out how some of the old-fashioned containers worked. So the first thing she did was pull everything out and set it to one side.
Donovan was investigating the contents of each of the boxes with incredible ease, Hannah noted absently, considering her own difficulty. Then she remembered that this woman had built her own house from the ground up and figured the engineering involved in a picnic basket wouldn't be terribly hard for her.
"What do we have here?" Donovan muttered as she opened the first lid. She sniffed carefully. "Fried chicken?" She looked up at Hannah. "Potatoes, hmmm... I like potatoes. And biscuits... this just keeps getting better." She took the fourth container from Hannah's hands. "You know, these are quite clever. I don't believe I have ever seen anything quite like them."
Hannah nodded her agreement, pulling an old canteen from the bottom of the basket. "Neither had I actually, but it was all I could find at Uncle Jack's place. I guess he's not big on picnics."
"Maybe he's waiting to find someone special to share them with." She picked up the last container. "Now what could this be?" The perplexed look did not leave Donovan's face even when she opened the box. Cautiously she lifted it nearer her nose and inhaled. "Well, it smells pretty good... like chocolate," arching an eyebrow at Hannah. "What is it?"
"Chocolate cake." Hannah's brow furrowed when the brow remained cocked. "You've never had chocolate cake?"
Donovan shook her dark head. "I do not think so. It does not smell like anything I have ever eaten."
Hannah took the container from Donovan and scooped up a blob of icing on her finger. She lifted the finger to Donovan's lips and waited. Donovan sniffed at it again, then shrugged and extended her tongue to cautiously taste the offering. Very tentatively she tasted the morsel she'd licked from Hannah's finger, then with a primordial growl clasped Hannah's wrist and drew the finger into her mouth, cleaning it thoroughly.
Hannah swooned and nearly fainted from the sensations Donovan was causing to cascade over her body. Donovan looked up and was treated to raw passion and desire flushing Hannah's face and making her eyes darken and glow. Donovan cleared her throat as she slipped the finger from her mouth.
"I uh... I am sorry Hannah. I... that was, um... delicious. And so was the chocolate," muttered under her breath. Hannah heard her though, and she couldn't control the flaring of her nostrils. Donovan caught the look and smiled nervously, suddenly feeling like a rabbit in a cage with a cobra, and she felt a distinct chill skitter across her skin. It wasn't an unpleasant sensation, but it was definitely different than what she was used to or expected. She cleared her throat again and inhaled a shaky breath. "Maybe we should concentrate on eating lunch?" Donovan suggested in a questioning tone.
Hannah took a deep breath of her own and closed her eyes, willing herself to calmness. When she felt her breathing slow and her heartbeat resume a more measured tempo, she opened her eyes and stared at Donovan. "Maybe we should because if you play with fire...."
"I know. And I would still like to know you as a person before I get branded for life." This said with a grin that twinkled in the depths of her eyes.
"Oh," Hannah replied with a mischievous smile. "You've been branded. You just don't know it yet." She smirked. "But you will. I promise you will." Hannah handed Donovan a full plate and winked. Donovan got into the spirit of the conversation.
"Guess I had better find a ring and a minister then. I need to make an honest woman out of you. Although actually...." The thought trailed off, and it wasn't until Hannah realized that Donovan was lost in thought that she picked up the thread.
"Actually what?" She lightly prodded Donovan on the leg. Donovan started and began to eat the meal in her hand.
"Oh, um, my father is a ship's captain or he was until he retired from service. He could marry us."
"Would he, though? It's not like this is an accepted lifestyle by most people."
"I think he would. He has never wanted anything more than for me to be happy. He would understand that you make me happy. Mama on the other hand...." Donovan looked up and let her eyes meet Hannah's. "I do not know how Mama will react. She was not happy when I went to sea with Papa. And she has never been comfortable that as far as the world knows, I am a man." Hannah's eyes grew startled. "Oh, the men of my crew know, of course as do my parents, but as far as the rest of the world is concerned, Donovan is a man. And that bothers Mama."
"What about you?"
"What about me? Even as progressive a time as we live in, I cannot do what I love to do as a woman. The Royal Navy will not allow me to serve as a Captain. So when my father retired, I became a long-lost nephew who was found to assume his title and command. I had already been serving for four years at that point."
"How do your men feel about the deception?"
Donovan smiled gently. "We all have things to hide, and we have learned to trust one another with our lives and our secrets."
"I'm glad," Hannah said softly. "Do you think I could meet them?"
Donovan shrugged. "I do not see why not. I need to meet up with the ship at some point to get my latest case of books off."
"Good," Hannah replied, taking Donovan's now empty plate from her and placing a thick wedge of chocolate cake on it. "Here," she added, opening the canteen. "You're gonna need this to wash it down with."
Donovan took a small sip and smiled. "Milk? I cannot remember the last time I drank milk."
"Yeah, well, it’s the best thing with chocolate cake." Hannah gestured with her fork. "Dig in."
Donovan couldn't contain the moan that welled up in the back of her throat as the first taste hit her tongue. She moaned and growled in turn as she savored each and every bite, going so far as to lick her fork and plate clean. Grabbing the canteen, she chugged the milk down, delighting in its cold, clean taste. "Oh Hannah," she groaned with repletion, leaning back on her elbows and looking up at the canopy of trees surrounding them. "If I wasn't already madly in love with you, you'd have won my heart with your cooking. That was absolutely delicious."
Hannah cleared her throat. "I'm uh... glad you liked it. Would you like my piece as well?" offering Donovan the still untouched slice of cake.
"No, Angel. I am full. But thank you for offering because it was simply wonderful."
Hannah smiled. "Tell you what... why don't I put this away for you, and you can have it tonight?" Donovan's eyes shone in delight even as her head shook negatively.
"I could not do that, Hannah. You should have some too."
"Sweetheart, I have more at home. You take this one."
"You are sure?" Donovan questioned. She smiled in appreciation when Hannah nodded. "Thank you, Hannah." She leaned in for a kiss, a little overwhelmed by the ferocity that greeted her but melting into the touch. The embrace went on for long moments as they explored one another. Only the suddenly nearby, utterly ominous rumble of thunder separated them.
They looked up then, and were pelted with fat, heavy drops of rain. Almost immediately it went from shower to storm, and they snatched up the basket and blanket and made a mad dash for the cottage.