More Than Words
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"You and this woman have got some kind of strange connection going on ...."
Mauriri to David Grief about he and Isabelle from "The Locket"


****

"David," Mauriri called up from the cargo hold of The Rattler, "When are we shoving off? It's getting late."

"As soon as her highness, Isabelle, graces us with her presence." Captain Grief replied, watching from a distance on the deck as the woman and her friend walked on the sandy beach to the dingy which awaited her. Grief leaned thoughtfully against the ship's sturdy mast, concentrating on what he was witnessing.

Their partner, she who paid the bills and who now scheduled he and Mauriri's current shipping and receiving schedule, was currently very distracted. Isabelle and Samuel Pederson kissed a long good-bye near the shore. Eventually she sat in the dingy and he shoved it into the water. David noted how he waved to her and Isabelle did the same, nearly dropping one of the oars into the ocean water as she stroked.

She was costing them time and money and someone had to tell her about it.

***

"You told me to tell you if I ever thought you weren't keeping up with your end of the bargain. I'm telling you, you're not." Grief, bent slightly at the waist, was rummaging through his tackle box, taking inventory of his meager fishing supplies. He needed to stock up and soon."It's not all your fault. I know you've been distracted. It happens." Then he added, "Believe me, I know it happens."

"Don't do that, David." Isabelle warned, pulling at the collar of her blue jacket. The weather was unseasonably cool for this time of year. "Samuel is not an obsession for me. I am totally capable of keeping a private life and a business life."

"Then why were you late this morning? You're never late."

Isabelle started to answer then stopped. She couldn't just tell him that she and Samuel had indulged in a little good-bye loving before she got dressed and walked out with him to the dingy. "I'm sorry." she said, "Time just got away from me." Then Isabelle's eyes narrowed as she noted David concentrating a bit too hard on a bottle of three year old fish pellets, "What do you have against Samuel, anyway? He likes you and is very grateful for your help."

Grief dropped the pellets into his tackle box and looked directly at Isabelle, "I don't think he's good enough for you."

The Rattler had pulled anchor at half past dawn, when the weather was good and promised to stay calm at least until the ship brought he and his companions to the island of Tangi. The natives there had set up a rather prosperous trade-sell business and were eager for European business. Most of their items, particularly horse flesh, were reportedly over-priced but with a good negotiator a fair deal could be found. Isabelle Reed was, indeed, a lady who knew how to negotiate her way into a good deal. She could do well for them all.

Isabelle looked up at David with wide, unbelieving eyes, "How can you say that?" she questioned, "Samuel and I are cut from the same cloth. He's trying desperately to change his life, just as I have."

"And he's doing it all with your hard earned money, Isabelle."

"He's making lucrative business deals for me and I'm paying him a commission."

Grief paused and looked at her, "Sometimes I just can't believe how you, the woman of the world you claim to be, can be so na´ve. First there was that business with Roger Addison then there was the gold fiasco with Walsh. Now *this* guy who is so obviously using you."

With an effort to remain calm, Isabelle gently bit her bottom lip. It was true, all of it, but Grief was forgetting something. "David, did you have these *same* feelings when you helped me about thirteen months ago?" she asked. "Was *I* not good enough for you? Is that why *we* never ...?"

"That was different. I was involved." Grief responded, turning again to his tackle box, hiding a look of discomfort and slight dread. "Besides, instinct told me you had the strength of character to make it on your own." Then he smiled and glanced in her direction, "You've proven my instincts correct."

Isabelle accepted the compliment with a grin of her own although she was well aware that it was a diversion from her original question, "There are times, David Grief, when you have to go with your heart, as you did with me. You knew what was right for the both of us back then ... about a lot of different matters. It was a great judgment call if I do say so myself."

Now he chuckled, "I often wonder why I *did* help you. You've been nothing but trouble ever since."

Isabelle knew why he helped her. She'd seen it in David's eyes the first time they spotted one another. There she was, in chains, accused of murdering her French lover, and David had been drawn in by desire and a sincere belief Isabelle hadn't committed the crime for which she was accused. There was nothing more alluring for a man like Grief than an attractive woman who needed him. He said himself he had a past that haunted him with regards to this topic. There had been another woman, much like her, who needed him. He didn't help that girl when he could, finding out later she was innocent of her crimes, but he would not make the same mistake again.

David *had* been her knight in shining armor for awhile, pulling Isabelle out of trouble and relishing that feeling of accomplishment when all his tricks and cunning did what they were supposed to do. She was found innocent and released. Then, to his dismay, she had set up shop in Tahiti. Horse breeding, renting and selling. She still found herself amused when recalling the expression on his face when he found she would be about as both competition and temptation.

Still, facts were facts.

"David, if you hadn't helped me," Isabelle reminded with a humorous smile, "if you hadn't taken that risk, you would currently be out a ship and your best friend." Then she quickly added, "No need to thank me." Isabelle turned her head, the wind blowing random strands of her dark hair about her neck and shoulders. Again, she hid a smile. Yes she had helped him in return, a sort of compensation for all he had done for her. Months ago Isabelle was instrumental in David mending fences with Mauriri after it seemed the two friends would never speak and partner again. A terrible time helped by several large bottles of brandy and an all night talk, instigated by both Isabelle and Lavinia. She also paid up Grief's debt while he was on a one man quest to find the truth about a piece of baggage he had no business ever falling in love with. Isabelle did it all for more than one reason but mostly because she valued David Grief and didn't want to see his life ruined because he, like her, had made feeble-minded mistakes.

Unfortunately, despite an obvious attraction, when all was said and done Grief once again pushed Isabelle away. She expected it. Early on David had been deeply in love with Lavinia but even when he and the beautiful bar keeper split up he could not see himself with Isabelle. It hurt a little, especially when he began to take up with other women. First, Veronica Gray then the deplorable Jenny Duval.

Isabelle grimaced once again at the thought of Jenny. "He thinks the world of you." she had said to Isabelle. Strange how from that woman's mouth it sounded so incredibly insincere. Yet David had believed everything she told him. He loved her. Even now, once in awhile, Isabelle would spy David looking out into the ocean, deep in thought, and she wondered if he was thinking about Jenny. They had never found the woman's body.

"Do you really trust him?" David suddenly asked.

"What?" Isabelle blinked, jousted out of her thoughts.

"Pederson. You really haven't known him that long but you're trusting him with a lot of important business matters. You better be careful Isabelle."

"You know me better than that, David. I'm not going to put myself in a financial hole over a man. I'm too selfish. But I must say," she suddenly beamed in a dreamy fashion, "he was very concerned when I told him I was going on this hop to the island. Samuel's a thoughtful man."

"So why isn't he here with you?"

"I told him to stay at the stable, to keep an eye on things while I'm away."

"Did you tell him or did he tell you?"

Samuel Pederson had shown up at the bar one morning, just over a month ago, recently released from prison. He told Grief a tale of woe. He was looking for work. He seemed a nice enough chap and David felt sorry for him. He suggested he look up Isabelle. She might have an odd job for him to do around the stable. Little did David know the former inmate was going to wheedle himself into her heart and bed. Certainly he was good looking enough but there was something cold in his eyes that made Grief believe, unlike Isabelle, the man was not yet ready to give up his thieving ways. He made it his business to keep an eye out on Pederson.

Still, weeks had passed with no problems. The man cleaned up well, tall with blond hair and piercing green eyes, and Isabelle hadn't a single complaint. Still, David couldn't get past the idea that Pederson was a cad. He was sorry he had ever introduced the man to his friend. Grief, more than any other, was well aware how love could blind a person to their lover's true objective.

Isabelle was growing weary of the conversation. "David, you've never taken an interest in my personal life before so why are you acting like a jealous school boy now?"

"We're partners, remember? What affects you affects me."

"That's only where The Rattler is concerned. He is strictly my horse-man." she reminded.

"Isabelle," David straightened, forced to confess and looking slightly uncomfortable doing it, "I don't want to see you hurt again. Marcel Pinette ..."

"Ancient history, David."

"History has a way of repeating itself."

Mauriri, at the wheel of the Rattler, watched and listened as his partners argued back and forth. He shook his head at the futility of it all. They bickered like a married couple. Sometime he wondered why David didn't just take the plunge with Isabelle. Maybe there really was something there. At least if they slept together, even if it was just one night, he could get her out of his system and move on. Yet, having thought that, Mauriri reconsidered. There had always been something strange between these two, an odd bonding they couldn't see but he felt right away. Early on it disturbed Mauriri because he felt Isabelle bad news. Not only had she lied to them but she threatened David's relationship with Lavinia. However, the better he got to know Isabelle the more Mauriri respected her. Hell, she had saved his life! Often times Mauriri would think back on that time when the Rattler had been grounded and he managed to get himself stabbed with a sharp length of wood. The fever and hallucinations were all he recalled of that time but later, when he found it was Isabelle who took care of him, pulling the wood-dagger from his side and making sure all was well both internally and externally, he had been grateful. She was a good person and, as much as he hated to admit it, she and David were well matched. If only Captain Grief himself could see it.

Unexpectedly distracted by a rumble in the distance Mauriri looked up, his dark Polynesian eyes noting a change in the atmosphere. Black clouds were beginning to drift in and the wind was making it hard to steer the Rattler. "David," he called, "I think we're heading into a storm."

Grief looked up at the sky, also noting the change. "Dammit." he murmured, "What's the closest island?"

"Baritonga." Mauriri answered.

"Oh David, do we have to go there? Can't we just continue on or go around it?" Isabelle asked.

"It's not safe and I don't want to risk the Rattler."

Disappointed, Isabelle nodded.

"Let's head on in and drop anchor." he called to Mauriri then looked to the woman, noting her regret. "The storm will probably blow over in a few hours, Isabelle. Tangi will still be there when we arrive."

"Whatever you say." Isabelle said, unhappy and crossing discontented arms under her breasts. "After all, who am I to question the great Captain David Grief?"

****

By the time anchor was dropped near Baritonga the skies above the little island were black and threatening. Grief debated with Mauriri. Should the three of them stay on the ship, riding the storm out below in the safety of the cargo hold, or risk going ashore? Both, despite Isabelle's reservations, eventually decided it would probably be best to row a dingy to the island. Once there they could meet with the Bari people, an intense but reasonable tribe of savages, and request sanctuary in one of their hut homes until the storm blew over.

"A great uncle on my mother's side was a Bari." Mauriri had told Isabelle, noting her concern, as they pulled the small boat onto the wet sand. "They *should* welcome us with open arms."

"*Should*?" she questioned, leery, automatically placing a hand on her hip to feel for the comfortable bulk of her gun.

"They've only been semi-civilized for ten years." Mauriri half shrugged, realizing his reassurance was falling flat.

"And you know how unpredictable some of these native tribes can be." Grief commented, adding to Isabelle's trepidation, lifting a small telescope from a clip attached to his belt. He put it to his eye and examined two routes in the distance. "We can either go left into the valley or take the longer route through the jungle."

"I suggest the jungle." Mauriri said, "The trail to the valley is shorter but we'd have to pass by the Tonga tribe and that wouldn't be good."

"Why?" asked Isabelle.

"Cannibals."

At this bit of information Isabelle looked directly at Grief's profile and arched her brows, "Somehow you thought going ashore would be *safer* than staying on the ship?"

The trio pulled the dingy behind a shield of boulders, to keep it from floating away when the tide came in, then set off to find the Bari.

***

"The best laid plans of mice and men." Grief commented, shielding his eyes with one hand and holding Isabelle's arm, keeping her upright, with the other.

Halfway through the jungle the skies finally let loose with a torrent of rain so powerful it blinded the visitors, making travel impossible. The wind was so fierce it took more energy for the men and woman to stand on their feet than realistically acceptable. Finally, it got to the point where they couldn't see the jungle floor only a few meters in front of them.

Laboring to keep upright, Isabelle panted, "I've been threatened with drowning before but not while I was standing on sold ground!" and she began to cough, struggling with the effort to speak.

"David! Here!" Mauriri had gone ahead of Grief and Isabelle and found just what they needed.

It was a dark shallow cave, more of a crevice than anything else, but it served its purpose. They were out of the rain and now, with a small fire burning, all three were huddled together, waiting for a break in the storm.

Miserable, Isabelle fussed with her dark hair, pulling the wet strands away from her pale face with a small ornate comb made from ivory. She had it nestled in her back pocket.

"Never seen that before." David commented, shivering beside her, warming his hands over the fire and watching her.

"The comb? Samuel gave it to me for my birthday."

Grief stiffened a moment. "You had a birthday?"

"Most people do."

"When?"

"A little over a week ago."

"Why didn't you tell us?" Mauriri asked, also surprised.

"No one asked." was her simple replied.

"Happy birthday." both Grief and Mauriri spoke in unison then looked at one another.

Isabelle barked a laugh and tried to hide her reaction with the comb. She found the entire situation quite funny. Here they were, three drowned rats stuck in a dark, cold cave during a deadly storm, possibly a typhoon, and her two partners were looking guilty because they hadn't been aware they missed her birthday. Isabelle said, "Don't worry about it. I didn't get a card from my brother either." but her smile faded slightly at this disclosure.

Grief knew what she said was to alleviate their guilt but it just made him feel worse. He would have to do something for her once they got back to Tahiti. Perhaps he could arrange something with Lavinia at the bar, a small celebration amongst friends.

Mauriri stared out the cave entrance, noting how the wind was vigorously whipping the palm trees about, "It looks like this storm is going take awhile to pass." he commented, "If it's all the same with you two I'm going over there and take a nap." He pointed over to a moss covered stone wall not far from them, "I was up at four a.m. after having slept only a few hours in the first place."

Isabelle watched the muscular Polynesian drag himself over to the moss and make himself comfortable, "Why do you think so little sleep?" she whispered to David.

"His daughter has the flu." Grief replied.

"He should have stayed home to take care of her."

"Mauriri had already committed himself to this trip. Besides, his wife is very capable."

Isabelle noted the affection and slight envy in Grief's tone. He and Mauriri really were brothers. It would have been a terrible shame if they hadn't worked out their differences. "I'd like to meet her sometime."

Grief glanced at Isabelle as she stared into the fire. That's right. She had never met Mauriri's better half. Grief had been her friend for over a year now but really didn't know anything about Isabelle Reed, other than she was beautiful and capable. Now, in the light of the fire, he could see the pain and longing in her expression. Isabelle had no real family and very few friends. His heart suddenly went out to her and he put an arm around the woman's shoulders. "I'm sure she'd like to meet you too."

Smiling mildly, Isabelle continued to look into the fire and leaned into his half embrace, pleased with the warmth. "I like kids too. I bet his children are beautiful."

They listened to Mauriri's gentle snoring.

"They are. Sometimes they call me Uncle David ..." he trailed off.

The couple then looked at one another, aware of a closeness, caught up by the soft glow from their fire and the warmth of each other's bodies.

David lifted a hand to touch her damp hair, sliding a gentle finger down her smooth cheek. He looked deeply into Isabelle's blue eyes and was acutely aware of sensations he hadn't allowed himself to feel or think about for months. Isabelle had once told David Grief he would never totally get over her influence on him and, by God, she was right. He fought this attraction for a long time, not entirely certain he could trust Isabelle but also disquieted with the way she made him feel. Grief continually told himself he was not a man to settle with just one woman, one reason he had allowed Lavinia to slip from his grasps. Yet, when Grief was around Isabelle, watching the woman do all the things he did with, perhaps, even more confidence and panache, it unsettled him. Could he *just* have a love affair with a woman that so plainly mirrored his own spirit and passion? And, if he did, would she demand more from him when all was said and done? Isabelle could be damn well vindictive when she wanted to be.

The fierce wind outside reached its zenith, pulling trees from the ground and knocking large stones together above the mountain the threesome were huddled underneath.

Isabelle closed her eyes quickly and held David tightly. She was so afraid and hated that he was here to witness it. The last thing Isabelle wanted was to be weak in David Grief's eyes. Yet his arms, as he held her, were comfortable, kind and secure. Slowly but surely, Isabelle felt her blood begin to stir ...

David gulped slightly and looked over to Mauriri, still unawake. That man could sleep through anything. He felt Isabelle shiver from more than the cold, "It's okay." he whispered, the scent of her rain-soaked hair mesmerizing him. He couldn't deny it. He wanted her, craved her touch, but fought his desires ... until she looked up into his eyes. No. Not just a love affair. Not just a one night stand. Not just an adventure ...

Isabelle felt herself losing a battle to remain composed. His very touch was making her pulse race and when his lips moved in to touch hers she could not help reaching for him. She pulled David Grief closer, feeling the heat of his powerful body as his arms held her, his mouth crushing against hers in a torrent of pent up passion and, dare she think it, adoration.

Kissing deeply they slowly fell backward together in front of the blaze.

"Wait, wait ..." Isabelle, suddenly cognizant, gasped and gently pushed David from her. She struggled into a sitting position, "Oh David, I'm sorry. What am I thinking?" she apologized, pulling at her blue blouse where a few of the buttons had come undone in front.

"What's the matter?" Grief asked, panting, unsettled and almost frightened by the disruption.

"Samuel." she explained, "He and I are trying to ... I mean we ...."

It hit him suddenly and Grief nodded. Of course. "You're in love with him." he unexpectedly said, although the revelation gave him no pleasure.

"In love?" Isabelle blinked, "I'm not sure." She put fingers to her temples, carefully massaging, as if attempting to clear her mind of the fervency she and David had just shared. "But I just can't have a romp with you while I'm trying to get my personal life in order with another man." She was stunned by how easy it was for her to let David Grief, not to mention her own lack of moral ethics, compromise her new found principles. "You may find it hard to believe but I'm just not that type of girl."

"I know ... and even if I didn't know it I'm not the kind of guy who has a fling with a woman who's involved with another man." The words were true but 'fling' was hardly what he would describe as what he wanted with Isabelle Reed. Grief could have kicked himself. He had the worse timing of anyone he knew. A month ago, if they had been in this cave, experiencing the same situation, there would be no stopping the passion. Both he and Isabelle were free and he, for the most part, was over any remaining pain involved with either Lavinia or Jenny. It was time to move on. But now, here he was with a beautiful woman he'd been wanting, but he kept at arms length, for months. He was feeling all those old familiar, and not so familiar, emotions and now she wasn't his for the taking or giving.

What had he expected? Was Isabelle supposed to wait around forever?

***