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
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.
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 …
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.”
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.
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?”
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.
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
Lavinia looked at the concerned Clare and nodded. No need to worry. She had taken care of matters.
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.
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.
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.
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
“Get what right, David?”
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.”
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?”
stared at his drink and said nothing.
Mauriri spotted the open letter laying on the table and picked it up.
…” 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.”
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?”
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.
Grief said and was astounded by how comfortable the admission was as it passed his lips.
“Do you want her here?”
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!”
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.”
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.
Mauriri stood. “Go rest up on The Rattler, David. Then get her prepared for the trip. Remember, dawn.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.”
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,
“What’s your name?” she asked, holding back until he answered.
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?”
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.
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.
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.