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Chapter 2
So Far Away

 
David Grief could never recall a time when he had slept so soundly. If it hadn’t been for an irritating shaft of light which had rudely directed itself over his left eye and cheek he might not have awakened until noon.

Yet, he was conscious now and as his eyelashes flickered he noted the sound of daily activity outside, and he became aware of where he was -- and who he had been with. Partly dazed, Grief grinned, recalling the night and what it had disclosed. “Oh, lady.” he murmured, sing-song, but it was with a relaxed and grateful smile. Had he but known ... And now he turned slowly over, wanting to feel her warmth again but also knowing they needed to talk.

The space next to Grief was empty, void of all human life, and he lifted his head off the pillow, looking about the area, listening for her - perhaps - in another room. “Isabelle?” he asked but there was no reply. Untangling himself from the sheets and sitting up, Grief looked over to her open closet. He stiffened. The long garment bag was missing. He pulled himself widthwise over the mattress to look at the floor near Isabelle’s chest of drawers. The valise was gone …

“Damn!” Grief cursed and, nearly panicking, propelled himself out of the bed. He dashed to the bedroom door, looking down the hall, searching for her. “Isabelle!” -- ‘She would not just leave …’ His heart argued with what seemed reasonable. Grief glanced momentarily downward and saw that his own clothes, those which had been thrown carelessly onto the partially carpeted floor last evening, were neatly folded and lay in a tidy heap on a stool.

Quickly, he dressed and - knowing where she must be - Grief ran for the harbor.

***

“I’m sorry, son, but that freighter left over two hours ago.” The elderly native clerk announced, gently scratching the back of his silver-haired head. “Although, it did have a small list of passengers. They were all going as far as Australia. A drop off.”

“That’s the one.” Grief said, finally feeling as if he might be getting somewhere. He had been trying to get information from the docking clerk for over ten minutes but he was a crusty old man that appeared to trust little or no one. “Was there a woman on board?” Grief asked, “She’s in her late twenties, about this tall --” He lifted a hand to indicate measurement, “-- and has dark hair.”

“Pretty?” the clerk asked.

“Yes, and she’s English.”

Leery, the waterfront clerk began to flip through his ledger when all at once he looked up and, eyeing the questioner intently asked, “Are you David Grief?”

“Yes.”

The clerk stared at him a bit longer, as if trying to get the captain’s description down, then he pulled something from underneath the counter. “This is for you.” He pushed a sealed envelope in Grief’s direction, “Your right. She was a pretty young lady, from what these old eyes recall, and she was sad. Tormented, I’d say.” His eyes narrowed with accusation, “Are you her husband? Did you hurt her?” he asked in a manner that only the very young and elderly could get away with.

“No, nothing like that.” Grief assured, “We’re just …” He stopped himself from almost saying it. ‘We’re just friends’. How utterly unfitting that phrase seemed. “Thank you.” Grief took the letter and walked away, ripping the envelope open as he made his exit.

****

He was drinking too much and knew it. It was just past three o’clock in the afternoon. He sat alone at his favorite table at Lavinia’s, pouring yet more whiskey into his glass, and staring into space. The letter lay atop the tabletop, opened and slightly splattered with liquor.

Clare watched him from behind the counter where she was helping the tavern’s keeper. She then glanced at Lavinia, who had also been eyeing Grief, as she accepted money from a few slightly inebriated patrons.

Lavinia looked at the concerned Clare and nodded. No need to worry. She had taken care of matters.

With shaking hands and bleary vision, Grief focused once again - for he had read it ten times already - on the letter and read it silently to himself:

~~~~

My Dearest David,

This is by far the most difficult letter I have ever written in my life. But before you read further you must know this: Last night was without a doubt the loveliest evening of my entire existence. It was as if my soul was dancing beneath starlight and you were there to lead, to embrace me with your affections, to show me light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Never before had I felt such passion and tenderness. Never have a man’s kisses felt so perfect and pure. You brought out something untouched in me, David Grief, something nameless and untainted, an emotion I thought long dead but now, I discover, was merely dormant. My gratitude knows no bounds.

But now - today - we must face some truths. As incredible as that experience was, my dearest Captain, it was only what it was. We did what we did because I needed you and you … you were lonely and a little sad. I know you do care for me, David. I have no doubt about that. But you also understand the bigger picture far better than I ever did. We are both too selfish an animal to ever be together, occupying the same space at the same time. I realize this now and I know, in your heart, you are agreeing with me. We *are* too much alike and anything more than what we shared last night … it would only serve to make us miserable. It could never work. Never.

Besides, your true devotion lay with another woman. We both know who she is. I am not going to mislead myself into believing you ever fell out of love with her. How can I when I’ve seen you watching her, yearning for her, thinking you made an enormous mistake when you and she parted. Go to her, David. Go to the woman you love and tell her you made a mistake. You need her desperately and if the passion you and she share is anything like what we experienced last night … you will be happy together for a long, long time.

Thank you, David Grief. Thank you for the courtesy and attention you’ve shown. Thank you for being there for me. Thank you for sharing, even if it was only one flawless night, a part of your soul that will never belong to another woman, as it did with me. Mark it on your calendar, David. I will.

You changed my life and will be in my thoughts and heart forever.

With Deep Affection,
Isabelle

~~~~~

When Mauriri entered the bar Grief had finished with his first bottle and he had motioned over to Clare to get him another. Sizing up the situation, the Polynesian took the bottle and an extra glass from the countertop. He made eye contact with both Clare and Lavinia and silently ambled over to Grief’s table. He sat in a chair opposite his friend and poured them both a finger full. “Beautiful day, David. You should be out in it. Maybe checking out The Rattler before our next big haul.”

Glancing at his friend then at the whiskey glass, Grief nodded. “You’re right, Mo. You’re always right.” he said but it sounded less than a compliment. “It’s time to go on, yet again, like nothing has happened. Where would men be without that ability? You ever wonder? Oh, I know. They’d be drinking their sorrow’s away, at a south seas bar, knowing one day they’ll get it right.”

“Get what right, David?”

“Women.”

Mauriri nodded and suppressed a sigh, “What happened?”

“You don’t know?” Grief leaned back in his chair and looked up at the thatched roof above him, “She left.”

“Isabelle?”

“Yes, Isabelle.” Grief picked up his glass and downed the whiskey with one swallow.

“Did you tell her Lavinia, Clare and Colin and I were willing to help rebuild …”

“Yes, I told her and she made it very clear she would not be looked upon as a charity case. She took a ship to Australia this morning.”

“The freighter?” At Grief’s nod Mauriri took the bottle and poured him another finger full. “Makes sense, I guess. She’d want to be with Dante one last time before she loses him for good. But I’m still surprised. Isabelle’s not usually so impulsive. Running a business gave her patience. Something must have happened. What do you think could have made her want to leave so soon?”

Grief stared at his drink and said nothing.

Mauriri spotted the open letter laying on the table and picked it up.

“No …” Grief started, reaching forward but suddenly stopped when Mauriri looked at him, inquiring. Again, Grief sat back in his chair and watch his friend as he read the intimate correspondence. He was waiting for Mauriri’s expression to change at some point but the Polynesian was passive. Even when he finished reading and refolded the letter, when he slipped it back into its envelope, his expression did not betray him. He merely picked up his own drink, tossed it back, then looked out of the bar’s open front, at the beach beyond. He was silent for too long. “Say something, Mauriri.” Grief demanded.

Unhurried, Mauriri looked back at David then to the table top, drumming his fingers gently on it’s surface. Then, with a sigh, he asked: “Is she right? Do you still love Lavinia?”

Grief glanced at the beautiful bar keeper as she smiled and served her patrons. “I’ll always care for Lavinia.” he said, “But do I think we have a future together? No. That’s past. We’ve both moved on.”

“And what about Isabelle?”

“You said yourself that she is nothing but trouble. You were right.”

“If it were a hundred years ago I’d agree with you, David.”

The men met each other’s eyes.

“What do you want me to say, Mo?” Grief put his glass down with a loud ‘thunk’ and appeared suddenly defeated, “We had our night and she left. Does it matter how I feel now?”

“Yes, it does!” Mauriri was stunned by the utter gullibility of the man. How could someone who claimed to be as worldly as Captain Grief be so blinded when it came down to the female of the species. “Do you love her?” he asked again, this time his tone demanding a truthful answer, not a glib comment.

“Yes.” Grief said and was astounded by how comfortable the admission was as it passed his lips.

“Do you want her here?”

“Yes.”

“Then go find her and bring her back!”

“She doesn’t want me to …”

“So what! When did that ever stop you?”

“What does it matter if I love her but she doesn’t love me? I can‘t force her to return.”

Mauriri tossed his hands up in frustration, “Did we read the same letter?” he asked, “The woman is crazy about you, David. Her pride and fear are not going to let her admit it, especially if she thinks your heart belongs to another woman, but one sure way of letting her know where she stands is to *go get her* and tell her how you feel. From there you two can make some decisions.”

Nervous, Grief sat up straighter in his chair. “What if we go all the way to Australia and I discover …You could be wrong, Mo!”

Rolling his eyes, Mauriri explained: “You may have far more experience than I do with women, David, but I think I can safely say that I know them better. I have a wife, children and the good sense to know love when I see it and read it.” He tapped the envelope for emphasis. “Go to her, David. Bring her back. Tell her you love her.”

“When did you become so smart?” Grief asked, with an amazed grin.

“About the same time I realized my love life was more satisfying than your own.”

“Will you come with me?”

“I’m not sure I should.”

“You should. I’m going to need all the morale support I can get.”

“You know, I think you’re right.” Mauriri glanced at both Clare then Lavinia - a thought entering into his head - and he smiled. “We’ll take off first thing tomorrow morning. It’ll give you enough time to sober up and I have some personal and business dealings to get straight before we leave.”

“Business?” Grief questioned.

“Never mind.” Mauriri stood. “Go rest up on The Rattler, David. Then get her prepared for the trip. Remember, dawn.”

‘Australia.’ Grief thought, watching his friend’s back as he left. What would they find there? Friend, foe or lover?
***
 
Isabelle Reed stood on the great ship, petite toes solid on the wooden planks underneath her dark boots. She leaned over the railing, staring thoughtfully into the murky water churning before the freighter, her mind deep in thought. She was leaving the only true home she ever had. She loved Matavai; its beauty and the freedom it afforded her. Isabelle also cherished her business and the challenges it presented. She wasn't certain what she would miss more, her horses or the people she had grown to care for. Most especially ... no. She would not dwell on him right now. Isabelle stood straight and closed her eyes, attempting to think of something less distracting. It wasn’t working.

It had already taken more out of Miss Reed than she could ever imagine, watching him lay there this morning, so strikingly handsome and at peace, never knowing that she was silently dressing, pulling her bags from the room, abandoning him to his dreams. God, when she thought about the tenderness and delights they shared last night, of their profound joining, it was enough to make Isabelle shudder. It was easier leaving as she was, without a confrontation, because no matter what David Grief said or what he intended there was no way she could avoid an inevitable humiliation. Was she being a coward? Perhaps but how could she remain in a place that had witness her fail so miserably? And how could she face him again in the morning, after all that passed between them during the night, and tell David he had not changed her mind?

She loved Matavai and never dreamed of leaving yet she had to. It hated her. It disgraced her … and she had succumbed to its false promise of prosperity.

And David … It would be better for him to detest her, consider the woman a cold hearted witch, then for him to ever believe anything good could come from their affair. Isabelle, despite the gloom and depression permeating her soul, smiled at a memory. Before she left, she had kissed him on the cheek, careful not to wake the attractive Captain, then - just before the ship sailed - Isabelle had left that letter with the docking clerk. She could picture poor David reading it, his eyes igniting in both anger and betrayal, and Isabelle imagined him walking immediately to Lavinia's to get drunk. Over her? Probably not but one could fantasize.

“God, I’ve grown so decent.“ Isabelle whispered to the sea. There was a time in her life when she would have allowed a man, actually *anyone*, to help her out with as much money as they were willing to provide. As a matter of fact, with little dignity, she would laugh and kick her own pride in the face if it meant she could live the good life and walk, free from controversy, out into the sunshine. Isabelle had wanted nothing more than the power wealth presented, to wear pretty clothes and, perhaps, show off a diamond or two. Her greed knew no bounds.

However, that all changed when Marcel was murdered and she was shipped to Matavai. *He* came into her life. David Grief distorted everything, beating down her defenses and showing a former female gutter rat exactly what it was to have honor … and care ... and self restraint. He had practically forced respectability onto Isabelle and, for that, she was initially cynical then eventually obliged.

She closed her eyes once again in reflection. After their night together, when he had whispered those loving endearments into her ear, Isabelle knew what she had to do … and where the first place was Grief would look for her and … ‘Why did I do it? Why did I leave him that damn letter?’ She knew why. Despite everything, Isabelle could not leave Matavai with David thinking she did not care, believing that he and the time they spent together had meant nothing. That self-centered woman he met eighteen months ago wouldn’t have cared but the new woman, the one he helped grow a heart, did not want to think about how he might suffer. Still, it probably would have been better if she *hadn't* written the letter, Isabelle reflected, but at least she told him what everyone already knew.

David Grief still loved Lavinia. When he made love to her last night, murmuring those words of worship and passion, he was actually seeing Lavinia’s face and recalling the life they once shared. How else could he have made someone so undeserving feel so splendid? Only a man in love could do the things he did … and after all this time Captain Grief just could *not* be in love with Isabelle Reed. How could he, especially now, when she had so little to offer?

‘I’m not that foolish.’ Isabelle brooded. When it came down to a typical male perception, even from a man like David Grief, a woman like her was good for only one thing: An incredibly intense but gratifyingly brief fling. Isabelle herself had had enough of them to know when it was time to take her leave.

Yet, a man had never reached down so generously and expressively, so deeply inside of her, and touched emotions like David Grief had last night. What she had always suspected was true. He was an incredible lover and someone like Lavinia warranted such a man …“Captain Grief, you deserve happiness.” Isabelle whispered, continuing to stare into the water. “And we never should have …” As wonderful as it was it never should have happened. He was supposed to be with Lavinia. They could live a very happy life together, bringing up beautiful children and planning an idyllic future … and if their passion was even a fraction of what she and David shared in a single night, they would both die immeasurably content. “Please be happy, David.” Isabelle whispered again, miserable.

With a regretful sigh, Miss Reed backed away from the railing and attempted to shake away disheartening thoughts. With a deep, cleansing breath she tugged and straightened her white blouse. It was near feeding time for the horses, she knew. To keep her mind off of Grief and a more than uncertain future Isabelle decided to go below and help.

Besides, visiting Dante always lifted her spirits.

****

They were making excellent time.

Behind the wheel of The Rattler, David Grief looked out to the sea, gauging the weather and wind, then he glanced over his shoulder to where the sun was setting. They would sail into the Australian harbor by late tomorrow afternoon.

Below, Mauriri was cooking dinner. Grief could smell the aroma of pepper salmon and he was glad his partner had decided to go with him. It was at times like this that Grief realized just how lost he was when his best friend wasn’t around to give him direction -- and cook. The dinners he and Isabelle had prepared in the belly of the ship were never as savory …

The smile left his lips the moment he thought about her. Once they arrived at their destination how was he was going to approach her? None of the women of his past had ever been this much trouble, Grief thought, then amended the muse when he recalled a certain dark haired monster that nearly destroyed him. But that had been an unreal time in his life, when all reason left him. However, here and now he was sane … and mostly sober.

With the sensation of fresh air and a spray of sea salt through his hair, buffeting against his red shirt, and dampening his skin, Captain David Grief once again rehearsed what he intended to say to Isabelle when they had their reunion.

***

"Stay still a you stupid little broom-tell! I'm boss here and if you don't watch your step, my girl, when we get home I'm telling your master to send you off for glue! "

Walking slowly down the steps into the cargo hold, lifting her dark blue skirt so as not to fall, Isabelle heard a loud whinny and the stomping of aggravated hooves. Her smooth brow gently furrowed when she heard the snap of a riding crop. The horse protested once again and Isabelle quickly marched to where she heard cursing and the obvious fear of an animal being unnecessarily abused.

She stood and watched as a man, possibly a worker from a privately owned stable but commissioned by the freight ship, roughly grasping the bridle of a light colored mare. He was jerking her head about, as he none too gently washed her neck with a tepid bucket of water and a wire brush that had seen its best days three years ago. He was rough, too rough, and a mare was objecting to his treatment of her.

"Stop that!"

The surprised worker stood to his impressive full height and turned his well muscled shoulders about to look at the comely young woman as she walked quickly and impetuously forward. "What's that you say?" he asked, a tired and slightly amused sound in his accented voice.

"This is no way to treat a horse." She objected, vehemently snapping the reins from the man's outstretched hands, "How would you like it if somebody tried to give you a bath in such a manner?"

"If it be someone as pretty as you," he leered in a less than gentlemanly manner, revealing a surprisingly nice set of white teeth. "I might like it quite a bit, missy."

Isabelle, knowing his type, rolled her eyes. She was not impressed with the cad’s Irish accent or his ruggedly handsome features. Vulgar and obnoxious, Isabelle decided, and a peasant. Gently, she rubbed the horse’s nose. The mare reach forward, obviously appreciating the woman’s soft touch, and gently nuzzled Isabelle’s cheek. “See, she’s like any female. Be gentle with her and she may not stomp you to death.”

Indifferent, he held out a hand. "Now, hows about you handing those reigns back to me. You let me do my job and you go about your business, M’queen.”

“What’s your name?” she asked, holding back until he answered.

“John O’Finney. And yours?” he asked, abruptly and with an odd confidence.

Isabelle slapped the reins in his hands but did not answer his question. Instead, she asked another, “Who owns these horses?”

“Most are owned by the bank.” he said, turning from her and going back to work, “They will all be up for auction in a couple days. They’ll be staying at the Wilke Ranch until then. As a matter of fact, some are already the property of Lord Henry Wilke.”

“Lord Wilke from England?” Isabelle asked, curious.

“The same. He has a Winter home in Australia.” O’Finney paused, looking at Isabelle, forming a conclusion, “Why, you interested in buying?”

“No, not exactly. But there are a couple geldings here that mean a lot to me. I want to see that they get a good home.”

“Geldings you say?” He looked Isabelle up and down, pleased with his own wit. “I would never have pictured you as a woman with an interest in geldings.” he said, rather lewdly.

“Idiot.” Isabelle murmured quietly under her breath. Then, with an haughty turn said, “You just be good to these animals, Mr. O‘Finney, or I’ll report you to whoever is your master.” Isabelle about faced and walked to where she knew Dante had been stalled. She could feel the man’s eyes on her back.

She couldn’t help being repulsed … and a little flattered.


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