—  Ken and Vesta  —

Wedding and Portrait Photography

541 773-3373

Untitled photo

Vesta and I are wedding photographers, but it wasn’t always so. In the nineties we did sea going photography. We sailed the Caribbean, took pictures and I’d write stories to go with them.

Most of my stories were about what not to do on a sailboat. You see, we didn’t know how to sail when we bought the boat. We’d seen a movie called “Captain Ron” when we were in Florida and it looked like a good life.

So we made a lotta mistakes and photographed them and wrote about them. And that’s how we got money when we lived on a sailboat.

But it wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of money. In fact, it was basically only a little money. So when a woman in the Trinidad writer’s group we belonged to told me she got paid five thousand dollars for every novel she turned into the Harlequin/Mill and Boon publishing people, I figured I could write romance novels as well as the next person and so I wrote a couple.

Sadly, they didn’t like ‘em too much. Maybe I’m just not romancie enough.

So after all this time, I’m making these two novels, that I believe Harlequin shoulda published here for free. All you have to do is scroll on down to read BRAZEN PASSION. I hope you like it.

Chapter One

Present Day.

Deborah Sherwood pulled the parking brake on her eight-year-old Ford Mustang. She sighed with the thought that the car was as old as her students. The kids were just starting out their lives, the car, however, didn’t have much longer. She’d bought it used. It looked like a bargain. It wasn’t. The past owner had driven the Mustang too hard and put it away wet one time too many.

The dashboard clock, about the only thing in the vehicle that worked properly, said it was eight-fifteen, forty-five minutes till she met the new kids, plenty of time for a cup of coffee in the teacher’s lounge and a little catch up gossip. She got out of the car, smoothed her skirt, then started for the lounge and choked back a scream when she saw him.


Her heart took off, racing out of control. Instant sweat beaded along her hairline. She grabbed a breath, sucked it in deep. How could it be? It wasn’t possible. He was walking with a purpose, like he was in control of his world. Well, David had always been in control.

He stopped abruptly next to a newish looking Volvo. Not his car, David would never drive anything so boxy. He turned slowly as if he could feel her eyes on him. Deborah wanted to flee, to run for all she was worth, but she was frozen in place, a doe caught in the headlights.

He smiled, a confused look in his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she stammered. “I didn’t mean to stare. I thought you were someone else.” It wasn’t him, but the resemblance was uncanny.

“A friend, I hope.”

“Not really,” she said.

“Then I’m glad I’m not him.”

“What are you doing here?” Deborah said as if she had the right to ask.

“Who wants to know?” His confusion turned into a grin.

“I teach here.” Her mouth was dry, her heart still beating like a runaway train.

“And you’re concerned for the kids?”

“Yes.” She sounded stupid. She knew it, but she had to know.

“I just dropped off my daughter. First day of school, she didn’t want to go. Normally it’s her mother’s job, but first days belong to Dad.”

“I’m sorry.” Now she really felt like a jerk. “Sometimes I get a little over protective, especially if I see someone I don’t know around the school.”

“Or someone you do know.” He turned to the Volvo. It was his car, after all.

“What do you mean?” she said.

He turned back toward her. “You said you thought I was somebody you knew. Obviously somebody you don’t want around the children or you wouldn’t be so upset.”

“Again, I’m sorry. I feel like I’ve made a fool out of myself. I’ve got to go.”

“Of course.” He got in the car, but instead of turning away and going into the lounge, she stood perfectly still, barely able to breathe, until he’d turned the corner and was out of sight.

Inside she went straight to the bathroom and splashed water on her face. She shut the faucet off, was about to leave, to get that coffee before class, when she caught sight of the frightened woman in the mirror above the basin. Her shoulder length blonde hair was disheveled, the fright in her blue eyes evident.

“Calm down,” she told the woman in the glass. “Everything is all right. It wasn’t him.” She held a hand out, palm forward and pressed it against the mirror as if she could both draw strength from and calm down that frightened reflection of herself.

In the lounge she spent a few minutes talking to the other teachers, met the new principal and the new librarian. The principal, a man named Butterworth, like the pancake syrup, seemed like a decent type. The librarian, on the other hand, seemed to be more concerned with the condition of the books, than the condition of the children that were going to be reading them.

Coffee finished, the nine o’clock bell about ready to ring, Deborah made her way to her classroom, finally calm. It wasn’t David. David didn’t know where she was. Didn’t know he had a child, therefore he wasn’t interested in her. As far as he was concerned, Deborah was nothing more than a bad memory.

She shuddered. A chill rippled up her spine. Just the thought of him finding out about Tony had her ready to jump out of her skin. No. It would never happen. Could never happen.

*  *  *

David Strong stood in the hot Caribbean sun and watched with satisfaction as the travel lift operator lowered the straps into the water. Not for the first time did the lift remind him of a giant, blue, three sided square on wheels. The diver turned toward David and flashed him the thumbs up sign. David gave it back and the diver jumped in with nothing but a mask and snorkel to position the straps under the sailboat.

Five minutes later the diver was out of the water. Again he gave David the sign, telling him everything was okay. David nodded toward the lift operator, who engaged the hydraulic gears and slowly the lift pulled the boat out of the water. David had seen it hundreds of times before and it marveled him every time.

His employees thought him daft, but he didn’t care. It was his name painted in white letters across the top bar of the travel lift, his name on their paychecks, his responsibility if something went wrong and they dropped a boat. True, other owners and managers of boatyards throughout the Caribbean didn’t take the personal interest David did in every haulout. Like David they had good employees and good insurance, but unlike them, David didn’t feel that it was enough.

A cruising sailboat was somebody’s home. David didn’t relish facing a couple that had sold everything they’d accumulated in a lifetime—so they could live their dream—and telling them that his people had dropped their boat, but not to worry the insurance will take care of it. He treated every boat as if it were his own and it was this personal touch that had cruising sailors throughout the Caribbean singing his praises.

Though David lived on the land, in a big house over looking Prickly Bay, he had a sailboat, too. Maybe he didn’t live on it the way his customers did theirs, but he understood boats, treated them as if they were living things, knew they were happier in the water than they were on the land, so he did everything in his power to make the sailor’s life on the hard pass as quickly as possible, unlike some of his competition  that slowed down the work in their yards in order to keep their customers longer, thus raiding their pocketbooks of more dollars.

David didn’t do that. He’d worked too hard to earn the money for the big house, the sailboat and the boatyard he loved so much. He wasn’t about to nickel and dime a customer into bankruptcy. Strong’s, only a year old, already had the best reputation in the Caribbean and he wanted to keep it that way.

That was the one lesson he’d learned from his family that he valued. The value of your reputation and David jealously guarded his. No customer left his yard unhappy, not if he could help it.

The boat out of the water now, David relaxed and went over to have a word with the diver while two of the yard workers pressure washed the barnacles from the boat’s bottom. Whenever possible he patted his people on the back. He ran a hands on yard and he counted everybody in it, from the rigger and sailmaker down to the kids that did the varnish, as friends. He knew all their names, liked them all.

“Saw a four foot tuna under there, boss,” Jimmy Pierre said. He used to go by Jiving Jimmy before he went to work for Strong’s. Now he was Diving Jimmy.

“Bet you thought it was a shark at first. Bet it scared you silly.”

“No.” Jimmy was nineteen, black as the night and not afraid of anything.

“You’ve been with us three months now,” David said. “How do you like it here?”

“I like it fine, boss.”

“And we like you, so don’t be surprised when you see your check this afternoon.”

“I got a raise, already?” Jimmy split his face with a wide grin.

“Just don’t spend it all on the ladies.”

“No, boss.”

“And don’t call me that.”

“Yeah, boss.” Jimmy laughed, everybody called him boss, despite his objections.

He started back to his office. Was at the stairs leading up to it when he saw him get out of the taxi. He was older now, but David could tell by the way he carried himself, that he was still trouble on two legs. Danny Paolo bodyguard to his father Gino Galterio Strong, the capo de capos, Mafia don, one of the most feared man on two continents. It had been a long time.

*  *  *

Deborah looked over the class and saw a sea of eager faces. Twenty-three fidgeting eight-year-old children. Fourteen boys, nine girls. She loved her job, but so many more boys than girls. She sighed. This was going to be a tough year.

“Okay, class, quiet down. Take a seat, sit anywhere you want.” In the past she’d tried sitting the kids in alphabetical order, for some it worked, but not for her. She found letting them choose who they wanted to sit next to was better. It made them feel important, getting to decide for themselves. 

She also used the seating arrangement as a carrot to help keep the class in line. So instead of causing problems, friends next to each other, it actually worked in her favor.

“All right,” she said after they were seated. “Here’s the deal. As long as there is no horseplay, no talking behind my back and no copying off your friend’s papers, then you can keep these seats. But it only takes one person to ruin it for everybody. If someone spends too much time talking to his neighbor or if I catch one person cheating, then I’ll move everybody, boy, girl, boy, girl and I’ll give everybody homework every night of the week.”

That got their attention.

“But if you behave in the classroom, save the noisy stuff for recess, then you only get homework on Monday and you have until Friday to finish it and never any homework over the weekend. How does that sound?”

Heads started bobbing up and down and Deborah smiled. Another of her tricks, she actually gave more homework than any other teacher in the school, probably more than any teacher in any of the public schools in all of Texas. But by giving it all to them on Monday and giving them all week to finish it, made it seem like she was actually assigning less and it encouraged the kids to work together on it and it also encouraged parent participation, because oftentimes Mom and or Dad were too tired or otherwise unable to work with their children on certain nights, but usually they could squeeze one or two in during the week.

A girl in the front row raised her hand.

“Yes?” Deborah said.

“How come you sound funny?”

“You mean my accent?” Deborah started to laugh, but the child’s question sent a sliver of fear sparking up her back, she didn’t know why, but she was missing something, something important. She pushed the tingling sensation from her mind. “I talk like this because I’m from England.” Deborah well knew that her English accent stood out in south Houston, home of the slow Texas drawl. It had taken her over a year to slow her speech down, but there was nothing she could do about the accent. It was a part of her, permanent.

Six and a half hours later Deborah pushed her desk drawer closed and sighed. Her first impression had been right. Fourteen boys was going to be a chore. Ah well, there was nothing she could do about it. At least none of them seemed the hyperactive type. She’d just have to be on her toes. Oh Lord, why were boys so much more bother than girls?

She got up, laughed as she thought of her own son who was going to be starting kindergarten next year. Talk about boys being more difficult. He was a handful, always into any and everything. Thankfully she had Angelia to help, because it would be virtually impossible for her to raise him and do her job alone.

There was a faculty parking lot, but Deborah preferred the street. The school was in a residential area, the street was never crowded and she was able to park right outside the teacher’s lounge. Other teachers told her she was flirting with danger, not parking in the secured lot, but she wasn’t worried, in fact she kind of hoped some misguided car thief would steal her car, because whatever the insurance gave her for it had to be more than that tired steed was worth.

She got in the car, keyed the ignition and listened to the starter grind for a few seconds before it caught and the car turned over with a bang and a puff of smoke. That was new and Deborah shook her head as she pulled away from the curb, because it was going to need to be taken care of if it persisted. She could hardly be blasting off like a gunshot every time she wanted to go somewhere.

On the way home she stopped and picked up Angelia’s medicine. Angelia was her sixty-two year old housekeeper, nanny, confident and so much more. She was easily the closest friend she’d ever had, a combination grandmother, mother and sister all rolled into one. Angelia played all the parts, depending on what suited her best and Deborah loved them all.

After she got the medicine, she stopped at the market, they were down to two quarts of milk when she’d left in the morning. It was unbelievable the amount of milk Tony disposed of. Where did he put it all?

“Paper or plastic?” the checker said.

“I’m paying cash,” Deborah said.

“I meant the bag, paper or plastic?”

“I’m sorry, I’ll take plastic.”

“I like your accent. I just got back from a two week vacation in England,” the checker, a freckle faced girl of about twenty, said.

“Accent?” Deborah said and all of a sudden it hit her. “So stupid. So obvious,” she said.

“What?” the checkout girl said.

“He didn’t say anything about my accent. Everybody does, because it’s so unusual for an English woman to be teaching the third grade in Texas.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I have to go.” She grabbed the milk and sprinted away, almost smashing into the automatic door before it opened wide enough for her to exit.

In the parking lot it took several seconds for the grinding starter to get the car going, but this time it started without the bang. She backed out of the spot with a heavy foot, stopped by smashing on the brakes, but not before tapping the bumper of the car on the other side of the parking aisle. She threw it into drive and sped down the aisle, turned right, praying she was wrong as she coaxed every last ounce of speed out of her car for the quarter mile ride home. 

When she arrived Angelia was waiting at the door. She put a finger to her lips to signify silence. Deborah saw the packed carry-on bag on the floor. She didn’t have to ask about Tony, Angelia would have spirited her son away the second she suspected the danger, pray God she’d seen it in time.

“Tony is at a birthday party at the ice cream place in the mall, you know, the one where they wear the clown costumes. Albert’s parents wanted to know if it was all right if he spent the night with them. I said okay, I hope you don’t mind,” Angelia said, in a perfect English accent, just as they’d rehearsed. “I have his things here. Do you want to drive them over, or should I?” That was the signal that Tony was tucked safely away at Angelia’s sister’s. Now it was Deborah’s job to lead them away, while Angelia saw to Tony’s safety.

“Am I supposed to take them to Albert’s or drop them off at the mall?”

“The mall if you get home before three they said, their home if you get back after.” It was two-fifteen.

“All right, the mall then,” Deborah said.

She picked up the bag, slung it over her shoulder, then met Angelia’s moist brown eyes with her own. Angelia opened her arms and Deborah fell into the hug.

“Good luck my little one,” Angelia whispered in Sicilian accented Italian. “Go with God.”

“Keep Tony safe.” Deborah whispered back in the same language. “With luck I’ll see you in a couple weeks.” She kissed the older woman on the cheek.

“I’ll have dinner waiting when you return.” Angelia was speaking English again, just in case there were microphones and somebody was listening.

There was so much Deborah wanted to say, but there was no time. They’d known for years that this day might come. She could only hope they’d planned well enough.

“I’ll see you when I get back.” Deborah was speaking English again, too.

She left the house, tossed the bag in the back seat as if it carried nothing more than Tony’s jammies and toys and not a couple changes of clothes, her passport and ten thousand dollars. She couldn’t use credit cards except to lay a false trail. She was running now.

She backed out of the driveway and drove to the mall.

She parked at the south entrance, slung the bag back over her shoulder and went inside. She went directly to the Book Barn halfway between the entrance and the ice cream place.

“Hey, Debbie,” the girl behind the cash register said. She was seventeen years old, had pink hair and wore a nose ring. She was Angelia’s niece.

“It’s time, Carla,” Deborah said.

“Oh, my God!” Carla fished in her purse, pulled out a key and handed it to Deborah. Then she came around the register and said. “Now let’s get you out of here.”

Deborah followed her through the store and into a back room. Carla pushed a key pad near the back door, turning off the alarm.

“Good luck, Debbie.”


They hugged and Carla said in Sicilian, “He’ll be safe, don’t you worry.”

“I know.” Deborah broke the hug.

“Now go.”

Deborah pushed through the door and found herself on the sidewalk that surrounded the mall. She crossed it, crossed the street and found Carla’s twenty year old Mustang where she always parked it. It started right up. Carla’s twenty-year-old version was in much better condition that Deborah’s and it made her laugh, despite the trouble she was in.

Thirty minutes later she was at the American Airlines counter at Houston’s Hobby Airport, where she purchased a round trip ticket to Miami. She paid with cash, then she went over to the United Terminal and bought a one way ticket to San Francisco and paid with the credit card. She had learned that the Mafia was into money laundering in a big way, that they had more bankers on their payroll than there were soldiers in the army. An exaggeration maybe, but it was the credit card they’d be using to follow her.

She could only hope that Angelia had gotten away with Tony by the time they figured out she wasn’t in the mall. She shuddered to think what they’d do to her, a Sicilian woman who had betrayed them. She crossed her fingers. Angelia would be all right. She had to be.

All of a sudden, Deborah realized she was hungry, famished. She hadn’t eaten since a breakfast of tea and toast. Tea at home, coffee at school. She checked her watch. Twenty minutes before the Miami flight. She saw a hot dog vendor and started toward him when someone grabbed onto her arm.

“Why didn’t you tell me I had a son?” It was David and this was the moment she’d been fearing for almost five years.

“Let go of me.” She tried to pull away, but his grip was vise-like. He was too strong for her.

“You had no right.”

“If you don’t let me go, I’ll scream.”

“Don’t even think it!” He tightened his grip.

“David,” she whimpered.

“Come with me. Do it quietly. Do it now!”

Chapter Two

Deborah was weak in the knees as she moved alongside him. He was leading her away from the terminal, past the ticket sellers. She should scream, but she was powerless against him. Part of it was the threat, she was in danger, she could see it in his black eyes, feel it in the way he squeezed her arm. But it was more than that. It was as if the years had melted away, as if the old David was back, the man she had loved, the man who had loved her.

David Strong, the man who had loved her so tenderly so long ago. David, he had only to look at her and she was lost. She’d loved him, oh how she’d loved him. Then it was over and it was as if she were dead. The magic had gone out of her life. Time stood still. The days, one after the other, were gray and she thought there would be no end to the tears.

The morning sickness had ended all that. She’d thought she might be pregnant, even before the signs became obvious, part of her wishing it were so, part of her filled with dread. She had longed to call him, to joyously tell him the news, but she’d found out what he was. She could never live with that, never raise one of their children for them. But termination was out of the question, because whatever David had been, she’d loved him. Besides, it wasn’t the baby’s fault. So she’d put away her tears and forced herself to get on with her life. And she’d never regretted it for a minute, because Tony had been a beautiful baby, was a beautiful child.

“Faster,” he said. “You must keep up.” He squeezed her arm harder.

He was leading her through the hustle bustle of the airport as if they were the only two people in the busy place. She saw a little girl running ahead of her parents, clutching a wrapped present in her hands. Meeting somebody that had flown in for his or her birthday probably. An elderly couple were standing by the hot dog vender. Even from where she stood halfway across the lobby, she could smell the hot dogs. All her senses seemed to be aware. Was it the fear?

“You’re hurting me,” she said, but he didn’t relax his grip. Didn’t say anything, just kept moving her along as if she were a reluctant pet straining against the leash. But she wasn’t straining, not really. There was no use. He’d found her. He’d come for her after all this time.

Ahead she saw the doors to the street. Taxis just the other side. People unloading luggage at the curb. She saw a policeman and for a second her heart leapt. Then she caught a flash of two big men pushing through the glass doors.

“Put your arm around my waist and lean into my shoulder, like we’re lovers,” he whispered urgently.

She obeyed and for reasons she couldn’t understand, the danger, like the years, seemed to melt away, too. A kind of strength seemed to flow from his strong arm through her whole body. No longer did she feel weak. No longer was she afraid. What was it about being wrapped up in his arms that could do that to her?

It was as if she were a school girl enthralled in the arms of her teenage idol. He could do anything he wanted, he only had to ask and she would obey. Why? How had he taken control of her mind and body so quickly, with nothing more than a few gruff words? Was she that much in love with him? Had she missed him that much? No, she told herself, it wasn’t love. But she had to admit he had some kind of animal magnetism about him. She didn’t know what it was, but she was helpless against it.

In her rational mind she knew she had to get away. Her life, the future of her son, depended upon it. David was the worst kind of criminal. He was Mafia. He would take her son and raise him the way he’d been raised. They would make him part of their evil family and God knows what they would do with her. But something from deep down inside of herself kept her from resisting.

“Kiss me!” He spun her round, pulled her into a kiss. He was brazen and brash. She struggled against it, a feeble attempt and in a matter of seconds she gave up. She couldn’t fight it. Didn’t want to fight it.

She felt as if she were in deep water, slipping away from the shore. Safety in the distance. Waves lazily lapping the beach in the distance. Everything rational, everything she believed in, off in the distance. Now she was going down. She was being swept away and she couldn’t do anything about it. Lord, she didn’t want to do anything about it. She wrapped her arms around him, hugged him tightly.

Nobody had ever been kissed like this, and in a public place no less. Passion, brazen passion, bold and courageous. If he were to take her right there, she’d be helpless, because in her mind they were alone. There were no people scurrying to and fro. No travelers arriving and departing. No pilots, flight or ground crew. No venders, solicitors or anything else. Just them, David and Deborah, alone in a universe where love is the order of the day and passion rules the night. 

 He was a passionate man. It was one of the things she had loved about him. But all of a sudden she felt more than passion in the kiss. There was something else. Not fear, not exactly. He tightened his grip on her, his heart pounding against her breast. Her heart pounding too, matching his rhythm, two hearts beating as one.

She felt him tense up, as if he were a lion on the African plain about to chase down its kill. There was something going on she didn’t understand. It was almost as if he were angry. Of course he was, she thought, he’d found out about the son she’d denied him. What man wouldn’t be angry. It had been what she’d been afraid of for so long, him finding out. Now he had.

She tried to break the kiss, to push away, but he clenched her more tightly. Not a lover’s grip at all, more a spider’s and now she was afraid.

“She’s around here someplace, neither plane has boarded yet.” The voice was rough. “She’ll probably take the Miami flight, but you watch the San Francisco one, just in case.”

Deborah shivered, her fear palpable. They were standing right next to them. Who were they? What did they want? Cold curdled up her spine. She heard them move away. They were looking for her.

David sighed his hot breath into her. She inhaled it, taking it deep inside herself, the air that had been in his lungs, giving him life for a few seconds. It was too intimate of a thing for this very public place, but it helped calm her fear. David broke the kiss, sighed again, then pecked her lips, a gentle lover’s thing, then he squeezed her into one more kiss that sent her to heaven. Danger and passion, a deadly combination.

Would he ever let her go? Did she want him too? Yes of course. She had to get away, but when the time came would she be able to run?

He stared into her eyes.


But he ignored her, hand again on her arm, again steering her toward those doors and the hot Houston day on the other side. Why’d he kiss her? What was that all about? Those men, he was hiding her face from those men. Why? David was the threat, had always been the threat. Because of him she’d never gone back to England. Because of him she had to hide in Texas just so she could raise her son in safety.

He pushed through the glass doors, leaving the air-conditioned lobby behind. The humidity seemed to settle on her like a shroud. Five years in Texas and still she wasn’t used to it. Suddenly she felt a shortness of breath. She was suffocating. She grabbed some air. More. She felt as if her world was spinning around. She was hyperventilating.

“Stop it, Deborah!” He squeezed her arm again, but that made it worse. She felt like she was choking. She needed air. It was so hot. Sweat drenched her, hot on her face, cool on the back of her neck, icicles under her arms.

“Can’t stop,” she said between breaths. “You’re hurting me.” She tried to twist away, felt his fingers dig in deeper, then he let go of her arm.

She doubled over, hands on her knees, catching her breath. Her vision was blurred, but not blurred enough that she couldn’t recognize the policeman on the other side of the street. She had to get away. Now or never, because once she got in a car with him it was all over. She’d be his captive, he’d find out where Angelia had taken Tony. He’d take her son.

Not that.

She couldn’t allow it. She had to fight him. She had to get away. She closed her eyes, clenched her knees, forced herself to slow her breathing. She’d be no use to Tony if she was a basket case. She had to get it together, keep it together.

“That’s better,” he said. Then, “We have to hurry.”

Yes, hurry, she thought. She had to hurry and get away. Get to Angelia and Tony. But how? The policeman first. He’d protect her from David. Two more long, slow breaths. She pulled the air deep into her belly, forcing herself to calm down.

“Okay, we’re going now.” He started to take her by the arm again.

She backed away, charged into the street, toward the police officer on the other side.

Instantly she knew she’d made a mistake, miscalculated horribly.

*  *  *

“Deborah!” David lunged for her, but she darted away and was in the street. “No!” he screamed as brakes screeched. “Debbie!” A blue airport van, brakes smoking, crashed into her.

David’s world turned into a slow motion horror movie as Deborah flew away from the van, arms flaying. Then she was down on the pavement. More brakes screeched, but David barely heard as he charged out into the traffic.

“Somebody call an ambulance,” he shouted. The words seemed to be coming from someone else. “Now!” He dropped to his knees, was about to cradle her head.

“Don’t touch her!” It was the policeman.

“She’s my wife!”

“I’m sorry.” The policeman knelt beside him, did a cursory exam as he talked. “We don’t know if anything serious is broken.”


“We don’t want to make it any worse than it is.”

“She needs to be in a hospital,” David said.

“I’ve already call for the paramedics.” The policeman tapped a mike by his collar. “They’ll be here any second.” And as if to punctuate his statement, David heard the sirens.

“That’s fast.” He’d been living in the Caribbean too long. He’d forgotten just how prompt things were in the real world.

“They’re stationed on the other side of the airport.”

She moaned.

“Don’t move,” David said. “Everything’s going to be all right.” He hoped to heaven he was telling the truth.

*  *  *

Deborah opened her eyes with his words, saw David staring down at her. He looked devastated. What was wrong with him? She saw the policeman, he was hovering over her, too, talking into some kind of microphone. Why?

“Right arm’s swollen, maybe fractured,” the policeman was saying. What was he talking about? Who was he talking to?”

She tried to say something, but words wouldn’t come. She tried to get up.

“No, don’t do that!” David said.

“Why not?” This time the words came.

“You were in an accident,” the policeman said.


“Do you know your name?” The policeman said. She saw more faces. There was a crowd of people gathering around. They were blocking out the sun.


“What is it?”


A siren wailed in the background, in seconds she felt it vibrating through her. Two more men on their knees beside her.

“How do you feel?” He was a black man. Skin very dark, puppy dog brown eyes, caring eyes. Must be a paramedic she thought or an EMT, emergency medical technician, whatever it was they called themselves these days.

“Been better,” she said.

“I dare say.” His gentle hands probed her body. “Do you know what happened? Do you remember?”

“Not really.”

“Do you know your name?”

“Yeah, Deborah, same as I told the policeman.”

“Good.” He chuckled as his partner, an impossibly looking young guy with a face pale as paper put a blood pressure cuff on her left arm.

“Your name?” Deborah asked. “You got mine, only fair.”

“Gene.” The black paramedic laughed. “Does it hurt anywhere?”

“My arm.”

“On a scale of one to ten,” Gene said, “how bad is the pain?”


“Your sense of humor hasn’t been affected.” He turned to his partner, said something she didn’t catch. Back to her, “We’re going to start you on a drip. It’ll help in case of shock.”

“Or internal bleeding,” she said.

“I don’t think we have to worry about that,” Gene said. “Okay, a pin prick.”

She barely felt the needle slide into the back of her hand. Then there was a flurry of activity and before she knew it she was on a stretcher, being loading into the back of their vehicle.

“She’s my wife,” David said. “Can I ride along?”

She almost shouted, no, but she held her tongue. She was safe for now. He wouldn’t dare try anything in front of the paramedics. Besides, he really looked concerned.

“Sure,” Gene said and David climbed in the back of the van after the stretcher was secured and then they were off.

She was helpless, strapped flat on her back. Whatever happened to her now was completely out of her control. Her life was in the hands of others. She closed her eyes and was about to let herself go, to reconcile herself to the fact that there was nothing she could do to determine her fate, when she remembered her son. She had to stay vigilant for Tony’s sake, no matter what happened.

At the hospital they wheeled her into the emergency room and immediately white coated people transferred her from the stretcher to an exam table. Someone was putting another blood pressure cuff on her good arm. Someone shouted out numbers, more hands probed her.

“You have a nasty bump on your head,” a sandy haired doctor said. She had hair cut close, styled as they did it in the twenties, with curls. She wore no makeup, she had green eyes, warm hands. “Do you know your name?”

“Of course, why does everybody keep asking that?”

“Standard operating procedure,” the doctor said. “I’m Denise Richards. My daughter, Lynda was in your class last year.”

“Ah, good kid, I liked her.”

“First day of school, bad luck for you. But God willing we’ll have you back in the saddle in a couple of days. How does your arm feel?”

“Not as bad as it did. Did they give me something for the pain in the drip?”

“No.” Gene came up behind the lady doctor. “We don’t like to do that unless it’s absolutely necessary. You were handling it like a trouper and you didn’t seem to be in shock, so no dope.”

“Thanks, I think.”

*  *  *

David paced back and forth as he watched through the glass. She was talking to them and that was a good sign. They’d taken her blood pressure again, had her on a new drip and they were taking their time, not rushing and that too was a good sign. She was going to be okay. Thank God. If anything had happened to her, he wouldn’t be able to live with himself.

“Mr. Sherwood,” someone said, a woman. At first David didn’t respond, then he realized she was talking to him and he understood. Sherwood, that was her name, had been for the last four years. He’d said he was her husband and they’d assumed.

“Yes, how is she?”

“We’re going to set the arm. It won’t inconvenience her too much. The cast will be from the wrist to the elbow, so she’ll have almost full use of the arm after a few days. But she’s going to have to get a substitute for the week, because we’re going to keep her overnight, then I’d like her in bed for a couple of days at home.”

“I understand.”

“We have some forms for you to fill out, for the insurance.”

“Don’t worry about that. I’ll pay cash.”

The doctor raised an eyebrow. “Let them know at admitting.”

“I will,” he said.

“I’ve got other patients.” She started to go, but must have seen the concern in his eyes. “Don’t worry, she’s fine. We’re just keeping her for observation, to make sure she isn’t concussed.”

David watched as they wheeled Deborah away. She was going to be okay, the doctor had said. She seemed competent, very professional. David believed her. He took a seat in the lobby, picked up a five-week-old Time magazine and read about old news that was all new news to him, because where he lived the events reported in the magazine had little effect on peoples lives.

At home he had no television, hadn’t seen a news broadcast or read a paper in years. He couldn’t help but know who’d won the last presidential election, people talked. And he’d seen the man’s photo on the front page of the papers when he’d shopped in the local supermarket, but other than that, he didn’t have a clue as to what was happening in the world outside the tiny island of Grenada and he didn’t care.

His life had been sailboats, sailors and the cool blue sea. For five years the world had been rotating very well without him, but now it had come barging into his life with a vengeance and he felt out of his league, like he was caught in a whirlpool and being pulled down into the black depths below.

*  *  *

After x-rays had been taken they gave Deborah a local, but she still cried out, feeling a sharp pain when they set her arm. Then the pain was gone and she watched with a sort of remote detachment while a heavy set young man put her arm in a cast. He had a goatee as red as his frizzy hair. Deborah guessed him to be about twenty-five. He worked with a smile, told a joke a minute and she found herself laughing, despite herself.

“Okay, that should do it,” he said when he’d finished. “Do you mind if I sign it?”

“No,” she said.

“I look at it as art,” the man said. Then he pulled a felt pen out his pocket with a flourish and signed. “Heal safe, stay safe.” Then he added his name, “Tommy Tuesday.”

“That’s your name?” She said.

“It didn’t used to be. I don’t even want to tell you the name I was stuck with. When I turned eighteen I went to court and had it legally changed, you can do that.”

“I know.” Deborah thought back to her day in court when she’d shed her past. She’d kept her Christian name, there were a lot of Deborahes in the world after all, but both her maiden and her married name became part of her past when she’d chosen Sherwood for herself. Sherwood after the forest that kept Robin Hood and his Merry Men free. She’d hoped taking that name would keep her free, too. Apparently it hadn’t.

“Already for a nice sleep?” It was Lynda’s mother, Dr. Richards. What was her name? Oh yeah, Denise.

“I’m being admitted?”

“Yes, for the night at least. We want to make sure you don’t have a concussion.”

“Is that really necessary?” Deborah said, then she realized that maybe that would be the best thing. It would give her time to think, to plan and most of all it would keep David and whoever those other men at the airport were, focused on her, safely tucked away in the hospital while Angelia spirited Tony away.

“It would be a good idea. Better safe than sorry.”

“Okay,” Deborah said. “I’ve got insurance through the school district, so it won’t be a problem.”

“I asked Mr. Sherwood about that,” Dr. Richards said, “but he said he’d prefer to pay cash.”

“Mr. Sherwood?” Deborah said. “Oh, David. Well, if he wants to handle it that way, that’s okay with me.” She didn’t want to sound like she was afraid of him, best to act as normal as possible under the circumstances.

The doctor shook her head as an orderly came to wheel her away. She must think it awfully strange, someone paying for hospital care when they’ve got insurance, but that’s the way David’s people took care of things, with cash.

The orderly and a nurse got her set up in a private room, then they left her with the CNN news. Woody Dupree was giving the weather. There was a tropical storm out in the Atlantic, heading for the Caribbean. Deborah clicked the television off with the remote. There had been a tropical storm in the Caribbean when she’d married David all those years ago.

She closed her eyes and slept.

Chapter Three

Five Years Ago.

Deborah Heart pushed through the doors of the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles’s International Airport and greeted the noonday sun. She was twenty-two years old and she hadn’t been out of England since she was a little girl, back before she could remember. Though technically she was an American, she felt English to the core, no matter what her passport said.

She was supposed to arrive in two weeks time for her bus tour of California, but at the last minute she’d changed her ticket, because she wanted to spend some extra time alone in the country of her birth, before her every minute was regimented by a tour guide.

So where to go? She had no plans. No reservations. No luggage save for the grip she had slung over her shoulder. The tour people had said to travel light and she’d taken them at their word. Her mother would have said it was impossible to go off all the way across the ocean with so little, but then she was from a different generation.

“Mum, I miss you so much,” she mumbled as she pulled her shoulder length blonde hair back into a ponytail, fastening it in place with a frilly yellow squeezy. For a moment she felt lost as she stared at the cars zooming around the airport. She had been close to her mother. They were so much more than mother and daughter, they were best friends. She supposed it was because her father had passed away when she was so young and her mother had never remarried. Six months gone and Deborah still missed her like nobody’s business. 

“Oh, well, you’ll be with me in spirit, won’t you, Mum?” she said, then sighed.

“Pardon me?” A voice like a movie hero.

“Oh, nothing.” She turned and was drawn into the moist dark eyes of the most handsome looking man she’d ever seen in real life. He was wearing a light, but expensive looking gray suit and like her he was traveling with only a carry-on bag, only unlike her cheap canvas grip, his was made of expensive leather. The same dark gray as his suit.

“I, I was talking to myself.” She felt inadequately dressed next to him. As the vacation was supposed to be a great adventure she bought a brown leather flight jacket from a trendy boutique in Soho, which she was wearing over a Mexican peasant blouse that was tucked into a pair of well worn khaki pants that fell down over a pair of American cowboy boots only three days old. When she’d boarded the plane she felt very Indiana Jones. Now she just felt silly.

“And your name is Mum?”

“Okay, you caught me. I was talking to my mother. She passed on recently and I miss her.”

“I’m sorry.” The expression in his eyes was pained. He wasn’t just saying it, he meant it.

“You’ve lost someone,” she said. “Your mother too?”

“There’s my van. I’ve got to go.” He held his hand out and a blue airport shuttle pulled to the curb. The sign on the roof said Belmont Shore. It sounded nice. It was as good a place as any.

“My van, too,” she said and he stood aside as she climbed in. There was a couple and their children in the forward seats, so she had to take the seat in the rear and Mr. Handsome took the seat beside her.

The van followed the circular road that ran around the airport terminals till it found the exit to a freeway headed south. Deborah marveled at the traffic all driving on the wrong side of the road, just like in the movies. So many cars, so many people, and it was only the middle of the day, she could just imagine what rush hour must be like.

Twenty-two, just out of university and this was her vacation, one month in America before she went back home to English small village Devises to teach children between the ages of five and six. The best age, she thought, because their young minds were eager for knowledge. She loved kids and someday hoped to have several of her own, if the right man ever came along.

“So was it your mother you lost?” she said.

“Yes,” he whispered.

“Were you close?” she said.

“Very,” he said. He turned away from her and looked out at the traffic rushing by in the fast lane. For a second she thought he didn’t want to talk about it, that the memory was too painful, but then he turned away from the window. “I was studying for the bar. My father didn’t tell me. He was afraid it would affect my score, so I wasn’t even able to go home for the funeral. I never got to say goodbye.”

“Oh, that must have been hard.” Suddenly she felt sad.  “Couldn’t you have taken the bar later?”

“Yes, but it was important to my father that I pass as quickly as possible. He wanted me out of school so that I could come into the family business, but, as it was, it didn’t make any difference, because I failed.” He sighed, looked out at the traffic again. He seemed so sad, was sad. She wanted to reach over and pull him to her breast and hug the hurt away.

“Sometimes life just doesn’t make any sense,” she said.

Still looking out at the traffic he said, “He called me the night before to wish me luck and I knew, I just knew something was wrong. It was in his voice.” He laughed sardonically, turned back toward her. “So now I’m what the Japanese call Ronin. Well not exactly. That term used to mean a samurai without a master, now it means a student who has failed his college entrance exams and can’t take them until the next year. I like to think it applies to me, both because I failed the bar and because instead of studying my brains out, I’m sort of wandering, like those masterless samurai.”

“How long before you can take it again?”

“Like the Ronin, a year.”

“So she passed away recently, your mother?”

“A little over two months ago.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.” She burst into tears. All the grief was back, she couldn’t help it. “You must think I’m silly.”

“No.” He put an arm around her, pulled her close. She leaned her head on his shoulder and quietly sobbed while being held by a stranger.

“Are you okay, lady.” It was one of the children from up front. A boy about ten or eleven with a face full of freckles.

“Mind your own bee’s wax, Gerald,” the other child said. A girl, younger.

“It’s all right.” Deborah laughed through her tears. “I’m better now.” She moved away from the handsome man with the liquid eyes, sat up straight, wiped away her tears with the back of her fingers. “See, all better.”

They sat in silence for the next ten minutes or so until the shuttle van pulled off the freeway and dropped the family off in a middle class neighborhood called Lakewood. Then they were driving along a bustling boulevard.

“We’re going south,” the driver said, a black youth with a wide smile and a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball hat. “Be at the Shore in five, maybe ten minutes. It’s been a pleasure having you and I do accept gratuities.” He laughed. “Just something for you to think about.”

“Are you doing anything tonight?” the handsome man asked as the van passed a university, then started down a hill. The driver’s window was open and Deborah could smell the sea breeze.

“No, not really.”

“How about a late lunch or an early dinner? I know this place that serves great Mexican, but they close the kitchen at five.”

“Why so early?”

“The owner bought it to convert into one of those places that plays loud music after dark. Not a disco, but a place where boys can meet girls.”

“A pick up bar,” Deborah said.

“Yes, but he inherited the best Mexican cook in the world when he bought the place and he very wisely kept her on. He does the best lunch business in the Shore.”

“I like Mexican food and didn’t eat the stuff they served on the plane. Also I like your company, so yes, I’d love to have a late lunch or an early dinner.” All of a sudden she felt better. The grief was gone now, held at bay for awhile. “My name’s Deborah, by the way. Deborah Heart.”

“David, David Strong.” Then to the driver. “Can you drop us at the Menopause Lounge? Do you know it?”

“I know it.”

Deborah saw him smiling in the mirror.

“Cut it out,” she said.

“Hey, English lady, the gratuity is doubled if you find your one true love in my van.” He laughed, smiled wider.

“The lady said, cut it out.” David laughed and Deborah liked the sound of it, a real laugh. How swiftly he’d turned away from his grief as she had. Though she’d known him for less than an hour, she felt that they were good for each other.

“This is Second Street coming up,” David said. “The Shore is sort of a hip beach community. A lot of students from the university live here, but there’s a lot of seniors too, plus the occasional upwardly mobile person like me.”

“A yuppie,” Deborah said.

“I don’t like to apply that term to myself.”

“If the shoe fits,” the driver said. He had good ears.

“It’s not a good fit, too loose,” David said.

“Good one,” the driver said.  Then, “We’re here, the famous Menopause Lounge.”

The ride was twenty-five dollars each and David paid above her protests, giving the driver a hundred dollar bill. He told him to keep the change. A very generous gratuity indeed. The driver thanked him profusely, then hoped back in his van and was quickly gone.

*  *  *

David held the door open for her, then followed her into the Lounge. He hadn’t been kidding when he’d told her they had good Mexican food. Juanita Juarez was too good a cook to be making tacos, rice and beans for a skinny owner-slash-bartender that had spent the better part of his life behind bars. Anybody dumb enough to get caught as many times as Dick McPartland, didn’t deserve her.

But he had her and try has he might, David’s Uncle Armando had been unable to lure her down the street to his Italian restaurant, Armando’s, named after himself. She may be the best Mexican cook on God’s green earth, but every now and then she would serve up a stromboli or fettuchine with cream, basil & Romano cheese to die for and when Armando’s customers told him about the great Italian lunch they’d had in the Mexican place down the street, he’d grab his heart and swear.

Grudgingly David had to admit that Dick was a good employer. His employees were his friends. He was there for them when they were in need, generous with time off, generous with praise and generous with their salaries. Even though Armando had offered to double her pay, Juanita steadfastly refused to leave Dick. She was loyal, a quality David’s family understood and respected. 

“It’s sort of like my favorite pub, back home,” Deborah said as he led her to one of the back booths.

“There used to be a couple of pinball machines and a pool table, but they took them out when they changed the name of the place.”

“You mean it wasn’t always called the Menopause Lounge?” She laughed and it struck a chord in him. Her laughter was genuine and it made her blue eyes sparkle, even in the dim light in the restaurant.

“No, it used to be called Taco Town.”

“Say again.” Her smile opened her face up. She reached behind herself, took the elastic out of her hair.

“Yeah, pretty corny, but they did a good business.” He couldn’t take his eyes off her hair as she shook her head, sending it flying this way and that, till she was satisfied and let if fall down her back, touching the tops of her shoulders. “But Dick didn’t think it would pull in the kind of clientele he was after.”

“And Menopause Lounge will?”

“You’d be surprised. This place really fills up after dark.”

“Well, I guess I won’t see it, I’ve never been into the pick-me-up pub scene.” She picked up a menu. “I don’t believe this, camarones enchipotlados, that’s shrimp in chipotle sauce, and warm lobster tail with yellow tomato salsa. This is not your average Mexican restaurant.”

“That’s what I was saying,” David said, impressed. Maybe a dozen times he’d had the lunch. He knew the fancy stuff was good because everybody said so, but he’d always ordered a combination plate. He wasn’t a connoisseur of Mexican food, apparently she was. Actually he wasn’t a connoisseur of any kind of food, give him a burger, fries and a Coke any day, but he couldn’t let on to his family that he’d been won over by fast food.

The waitress came over and took their drink order. Deborah order hot tea with milk and got a raised eyebrow. David ordered his usual, Coke with a twist of lime. He wasn’t much of a drinker, a rum and Coke or two in the evening after a long day of racing sailboats when he was in the Caribbean or a glass of Cabernet with dinner. It wasn’t that he didn’t like alcohol, he did. It’s just that he believed that it dulled your reflexes, slowed down your thought process, made you stupid, and stupid people got themselves hurt. If there was one lesson he’d learned growing up, that was it. Don’t be stupid. Don’t ever be stupid.

*  *  *

Deborah felt out of her league with this sophisticated man. She noticed the waitress’ reaction when she’d ordered the tea and thought that maybe she should have ordered a drink, but it was too early and besides, she still had to find a hotel with a bed for the night. Drinking was the last thing she wanted to do, but for a moment she thought it made her look like a prude, but then he’d ordered a Coke and she relaxed.

“Can I tell you a secret?” David leaned forward, conspiratorially.

“Sure.” She wondered what it could be.

“I was raised back east, New Jersey. I came out west to go to college at UCLA and I’ve been staying with my cousin Gino, his father, my uncle, owns Armando’s, the Italian restaurant down the street, so Italian food I know, even though I’d rather eat at McDonald’s or Burger King, but I really don’t know much more than tacos when it comes to Mexican, so would you mind ordering for me?”

She picked up the menu as the drinks came, she put it back down. Tea didn’t go with what she was going to order so she asked him if he’d drink a margarita. He nodded, but she caught the frown.

“You only have to sip at it,” she said. “It’s necessary to appreciate the cuisine.”

“Okay.” He nodded.

“I’m sorry, you don’t drink, do you?”

“Sometimes, a glass now and then.” He smiled at her, much better than the frown. “I guess this is one of the times.”

“Only one, you don’t have to finish it.”

“I drink.” He laughed. “Really, I’ve even had a hangover on occasion.”

“Okay,” she said. Then she picked up the menu and ordered Budin de Elote, a kind of corn pudding, the lobster tacos and grilled shrimp with mango salsa. “That’ll set your taste buds hopping,” she said after the waitress left.

“Does that mean it’s hot?” David said.

“No, just a wide variety of very delicious tastes.”

“How do you know so much about Mexican food? You’re obviously British. I wouldn’t imagine you’d get it over there.”

“Oh we can get Mexican. You can get anything in London. There’s this wonderful little restaurant right near Trafalgar Square my mother and I used to go to all the time. We’d take the train in from Devises on Friday nights and really make an evening of it. Dinner, a play, a pub afterwards, then overnight at a bed and breakfast. Saturdays we’d hit the bookstores on Charing Cross Road, then the train back home.” She sighed. “I had so much fun with my mother. She was my best friend.”

The drinks came. She watched him lick the salt off the rim, then he tasted it.

“Not bad.” He really didn’t drink.

“You’ve never had one before, have you?”

“No, red wine has always been more to my tastes, but it’s good though.” He took another sip.

The meal came and it was like he’d said it would be, out of this world. They didn’t talk much while they ate, but that didn’t bother her. He was a quiet man and she liked that. And there was undoubtedly a chemistry between them. He was older, she surmised, but not much, four or five years.

“How about deep fried ice cream for desert?” she said.

“You can do that, fry ice cream?”

“Sure.” She raised her hand. They waitress came over and she ordered two helpings.

After desert she’d noticed that he’d finished his margarita. The waitress came and asked if they’d like two more and he nodded. She got the impression that, like her, he didn’t want to drink it, but he didn’t want the afternoon to end. The drinks came and they both licked at the salt, sipped a little, then he laughed.

“You know,” he said, “I’m pretty awkward with you. Usually I know just what I want to say to impress a woman. But you’ve got my tongue all tied up.”

“Well, untie it,” she said and they both laughed.

Then they started talking. He told her about growing up in New Jersey, about how he played football in high school, about how his grandmother loved to come and watch the games. She told him about her life in England, about her first crush, her first heart break, her first day at university.

She could talk so freely with him. She felt like she could talk forever, but after what seemed too short a time, they started moving away the tables and chairs and he looked at his watch.

“I can’t believe it, they’re setting up for tonight already,” he said. Did he have somewhere to go? He looked impatient all of a sudden. “I’d like to see you again.”

“Tonight?” Did she really say that? Could she be that forward? That wasn’t like her. She couldn’t believe it, she was practically throwing herself at him. What could he possibly think of her?

“I’d love to take you out tonight, but it’s after six and I have an engagement I can’t get out of. Family business. It’s why I flew back today. I wasn’t supposed to come back till next week.”

“I see.” But she didn’t. “Flew back?”

“I had to go back East. I came in by plane this afternoon. We met at the airport, remember?”

“Oh, yeah.” She’d been so caught up with him that she’d forgotten she was in a strange city, without any place to stay. “I have to get a hotel room.”

“I’m within walking distance of my appointment and can get a ride home from there, so I don’t need a cab, but if you want a hotel, you do. However, if a motel will do, there’s a good one just a couple blocks from here and it’s right across the street from the beach. I can walk you there if you like.”

“That sounds fine. I don’t want anything fancy.”

“Also it’s only a hop, skip and jump from my place. I could walk over in the morning and take you out to breakfast.”

“I’d like that.”

He motioned for the waitress, so he could pay the bill. She offered to pay for her share, but he wouldn’t hear of it. On the way out she caught sight of themselves in the giant mirror behind the bar. Him, tall, dark and handsome, herself, half a head shorter, slender and blonde. Him dressed up like a predator about to make a killing on wall street, her in her Indiana Jones attire.

Outside they slowly walked down a dark residential street toward the beach, each with their bags slung over their shoulders. The night was quiet. A cool wind slipped in from the ocean, carrying the scent of the sea on the breeze. Deborah felt like she was fifteen years old and out on her first date. Halfway down the block he took her hand, laced his fingers with hers and a shiver ran up her arm and stabbed her in the heart. Were they really two adults walking hand in hand on this oh so wonderful night?

At the corner she saw the ocean in all its magnificent glory. The stars above in a cloudless sky, a crescent moon, phosphorescent foam flowing through the gentle waves that lapped up on the beach. It was beautiful.

At the corner she saw the sign for the Blue Ocean Motel a half a block to the left. The vacancy sign was lit up in red neon.

“I’m going the other way and I’m running close to the wire, so I’ll have to say goodbye here.”

“I understand,” she said. But couldn’t he wait just a few more minutes, walk her to the motel? She didn’t want to end it right here on a dark and lonely corner.

“Do you mind if I kiss you good night?”

“That would be okay.” She dropped her bag as he took her in his arms and that shiver that had run up her arm now engulfed her whole body. Something was happening to her and she wasn’t sure exactly what. She’d never felt this way before.

Chapter Four

David stuffed his hands in his pockets as he looked across the street at the dark ocean beyond. Usually he’d linger, enjoy the sea, the stars, maybe stop at the pier, see if anybody caught anything, though tonight he wasn’t dressed for it.

He ran his hands to his inside coat pocket, fingered the envelope and thought about the papers inside. His father had fought long and hard to get the contract to build the new Gateway Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. There had been those that had opposed Strong Construction having anything to do with the job, both local government figures and concerned citizens. But in the end, as always, his father came through with a clean bill of health. Tarnished in the past, maybe, but his reputation was repolished and bright as any priest’s, the old man was fond of saying.

David hadn’t wanted to fly back there, hadn’t wanted anything to do with his family’s business. He laughed. If they only knew he’d failed the bar on purpose so that he’d have another year before they got their tentacles into him. He cut the laugh short. What would they do if they did know? He shuddered to think. Anyway, he’d gotten away with it and except for a few errands, like representing his father at the contract signing ceremony, he was basically free for another year. Then he was going to have to settle down and do what they expected.

He turned away from the beach, started back up the way he’d come, retracing the steps he’d taken with Deborah. A cricket chirped in the distance. Somewhere a dog barked. The blue light of a television flickered from a living room on the other side of the street. Leaves rustled, singing their soft songs on the cool evening breeze. 

They’d held hands. What was that all about? He hadn’t held hands with a girl since he was standing in line at the school library in the first grade, and then he’d only done it because Sister Mary Theresa packed a mean ruler and had ordained it. He smiled. Sister Mary Theresa and her wooden ruler, to this day that was the yardstick with which David measured fear.

A chance meeting and all of a sudden his life had been turned upside down. How could that have happened? It was the stuff of movies. It didn’t happen in real life. There was no such thing as love at first sight.

“Wait a minute, David,” he mumbled to himself. “Who said anything about love?” Well if it wasn’t love, he silently answered, it was something pretty close.

She’d captured him, how he wasn’t sure. He couldn’t pinpoint when exactly, either. Was it when she’d cried on his shoulder or when she’d made him order that awful drink? He thought back on the margarita. Maybe it hadn’t been so bad, after all. And the lunch had been delicious. Who would have thought that an English girl could know so much about Mexican food? He wondered if she was a familiar with Italian cuisine.

At Second Street he saw a wiry man dodge between traffic as he dashed across the road, headed to the Lounge. He looked familiar. It took a second, but when the man crossed under the streetlight just before going inside David recognized him. Horace Nighthyde. A weasel of a man with a ferret face that did small jobs for his uncle on occasion.

He didn’t know if Nighthyde had seen him. He hoped not. He’d been feeling pretty good and even a minor exchange with the man would be enough to take the glow off. He turned away from the Lounge and headed west, observing the people out and about on this cool night, window shoppers, walkers and a couple of guys standing in front of Fast Eddie’s, a friendly neighborhood bar, smoking.

A pack a day man during his first two years of college, David knew what it was like to be a smoker in the nonsmoking world California was becoming. Luckily he’d seen the handwriting on the wall and had had the willpower to quit. Cancer, he hadn’t worried about, but to be a slave to an addiction that could put you out on the street while your friends were inside having a good time, that he didn’t need.

He picked up his pace. He was going to be late. He hated that. He’d been raised to believe an appointment was sacred. His father, who had been out west for almost a month now, trying to nail down a hotel deal in Vegas, would be watching the clock. His Uncle Armando would be worried the food was going to go cold. Little Gino, well, he’d be at the bar. Frankie would be out trying to score. And Connie, she’d be worried sick something had happened to him, because he was never late.

Outside of Armando’s he ran his fingers through his hair, then pushed open the door and stepped into the warmth.

Inside the contrast between this restaurant and the one he’d just left was stark. The Lounge had a kind of, like she’d said, a pub like decor, whereas Armando’s was Italian to the core. Checkered table cloths. Candles growing out of wine bottles, lighting you could see by, live plants and artificial grapevines all over the place.

“There he is, we’ve been concerned.” Concerned, not worried. His father never worried, it wasn’t in his nature.

“Papa.” He kissed him on both cheeks. “I got held up.”

“No excuses,” the old man said.

“Do you hear me making any?” David said. “I got held up, I’m here now.”

“That’s my boy.” His father put an arm around David’s shoulder, moved him through the restaurant toward the family table.

Gene Strong, born Eugenio Galterio, had a sadness in his eyes that a thousand delights could never take away. Unlike many men in his profession, he’d never cheated on his wife and without her he wore fifty-eight like eighty. It seemed the only thing that kept him going was getting his son ready to step into his shoes, and part of that was seeing him married to a nice Italian girl.

“You don’t look so good, Papa,” David said. “Maybe you should take it easy.”

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Gene Strong laughed. “Connie’s mother flew in. Christ I can’t stand that woman.”

“I see,” David said as Adriana Fabrizio rose from the table and charged toward him. Only a hundred and fifteen pounds, but a voice like a lion, a grip like a gorilla and a mouth like a trout. And that mouth never stopped.

“David, you naughty boy. You had us all so worried.” She presented first one cheek then the other and David dutifully kissed the air around them.

“I’m here now.” Never apologize. It was the way in his family.

“Hello, David,” Connie Fabrizio said, dark eyes flashing as brightly as the full caret diamond engagement ring on her finger.

*  *  *

Deborah closed the door to her room, tossed the key on the bureau, then hugged herself.

David, David, David.” She spun around. “Oh, David.” She fell backward, flopped onto the bed and stared at the ceiling fan, blades whirling, beating the air with a whoosh, whoosh, whoosh sound that matched the beating of her heart.

She closed her eyes and listened to the sound of those rotating blades, almost hypnotic, and imagined herself walking along a sandy beach, her hand entwined with his as it had been on the too short walk from the Lounge to the motel. In her mind’s eye she saw palm trees swaying in the breeze, sea gulls gliding through the air.

She sighed, because she could almost feel the sand between her toes. Hot, wet, luxuriant. She tasted the salt on the air, that was real, because the window was open to the beach. She heard the gentle waves lapping up on the sand. That was real too. She was all a flutter, hot. Cool sweat tickled her skin. Her blouse under her arms was damp as was the hair at the back of her neck.

All of a sudden she was on fire, burning up. She’d never been so hot. She wanted to laugh, cry, giggle like a school girl, simper like a child. She felt her nipples harden, feverish electricity sizzled through her, radiating from her very center. Her hips started gyrating, slowly at first, finding a rhythm.

“Stop it, Deborah!” she told herself.

She pushed off the bed. She pulled off the leather Indiana Jones jacket, tossed it on a chair by the bureau. Off came the peasant blouse, then the rest of her clothes. She’d heard of men needing a cold shower, but she never thought she’d ever be needing one, not for that purpose. But need it she did. She smiled at herself in the mirror above the bureau as she padded her way to the bathroom. One quick glance at the look in that mirror woman’s eyes told Deborah that she was in love.

And that made absolutely no sense, she thought as she pulled back the shower curtain. She turned on the cold, stepped right under the spray, shivering as goosebumps peppered her body.

“Brrr,” she said, just before turning her face into the spray. “Cold, cold, cold,” she sputtered as water ran through her hair, washing down over her body. After five long minutes she set the water to as hot as she could stand it. He wasn’t out of her system, but she wasn’t so flushed anymore, no longer did she feel the need to freeze her feelings away.

Out of the shower she unpacked her bag. She’d brought very little along with her for this adventure. The clothes she’d worn on the plane, the backpack she used as a purse, underwear, a pair of faded jeans, two light summer dresses, because it was always bright and sunny in the American West, two pair of shorts, two blouses, three T-shirts, a hair and a tooth brush, but no make-up and no shampoo or cream rinse, as she was assured it was available in the colonies

She was going on a three week coach trip with nineteen stops. That meant nineteen different motor lodges, or motels, as they called them in America. Deborah shuddered at the thought of lugging heavy baggage on and off the bus, day after day, and even if they had someone to do it for her, she’d still have to take valuable time away from her once in a lifetime vacation to pack and unpack. Much better to rinse out some clothes every third stop or so and let them dry overnight.

Deborah felt very sophisticated, very much the world traveler. Even though this was her first time out of England since she’d been a little girl, she’d been reading about America and seeing it on television all her life. Her father had been an American from California, so in a way she felt like she was coming home.

She spied the remote on the nightstand between the two double beds. She picked it up, pointed it at the tele hanging from the ceiling above the bureau. Perfect for watching in bed, impossible to steal. Americans think of everything. She pushed the power button, saw the tele flicker to life, then she pushed it again, shutting it off. She hadn’t flown eight thousand miles to watch television. No, that would be a dumb way to spend her time.

Quickly she pulled on her khakis, slipped into a plain white T-shirt, stepped into her boots, grabbed her jacket and threw it over her shoulder, holding it in the same grip she’d seen black and white World War II pilots do so many times in so many old movies. Then she strutted to the door. She’d come for adventure and she sure as heck wasn’t going to find it in a motel room.

Outside she retraced her steps back up to the Menopause Lounge. She couldn’t get David out of her mind. He’d said he’d come by for breakfast. Only minutes in America and already she had a beau, well sort of.

She stood in front of the Lounge for a few seconds, debating whether or not to go in. Back home she’d have no qualms about going into a pub by herself. But she wasn’t in a small English village now. She was in big time, fast moving Southern California.

What the heck, she’d come for adventure and she was certainly dressed for it. She went in and was instantly amazed. The place was packed, people pressed up against each other in conversation, dancing, flirting. The Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman’ was playing through several small overhead speakers, so the beat was felt everywhere, but it wasn’t so loud you couldn’t talk.

“In for a penny, in for a pound,” she said aloud as she wended her way through the crowd toward the bar, where she found the same bartender who had been working earlier. She raised her hand.

“Margarita?” the bartender called out.

“Yes.” She watched as he made it. Then said, “How’d you remember?” when he put the drink in front of her.

“Skinny Dick, that’s me, never forgets a face. Never forgets a drink either. It’s what makes me the best.” He was thin, balding and wearing a wide smile. “I especially never forget what a pretty girl looks like.” He winked as someone on the other end of the bar raised a hand.

“Double martini on the rocks, big tipper, gotta go.”

“Bye,” she said as he hurried to make the drink.

She closed her eyes and licked some of the salt off the rim. It reminded her of her mother and all the times they’d made that special trip to London together for their Mexican outing. And now it reminded her of David, too, and that very special time they’d shared in this very place only a short while ago.

“Excuse me.” A wisp of a man wormed his way up to the bar, squeezing between her and the woman on her right. “So I hear that David Strong is back in town.” His voice had a hard edge. He had a thin, elongated face, feral. Instantly, Deborah knew she wanted nothing to do with him.

“You do need to be excused,” she said, “because I don’t know you.” She started to turn away.

“My name’s Horace Nighthyde,” he tapped her shoulder. “And I was asking about David Strong.”

“Sorry. I still don’t know you and I don’t think I want to.” She turned right away from him this time, trying hard to ignore the hard rap on her shoulder.

“I don’t really care what you want.” Now his voice sounded mean. Dangerous.

*  *  *

David thought of Horace Nighthyde as he took a seat next to Connie. He’d arrived just in time, they were serving the antipasto. Why the family used men like that, he could never understand. They had ambition, yes. But they were loyal to no one but themselves. They couldn’t be trusted beyond your eyesight.

If it was his business, and it would be someday, he’d never use outside contractors for anything. Keep everything in house, that’s the way he’d do it. He closed his eyes, made a fist. What was he thinking? If it was his business, what a thought. That was the last thing he wanted. That’s why he failed the bar, to keep away from the business.

“Are you all right?” Connie knew him well enough to know when he was troubled. They’d been engaged for the last two years. The family knew and she wore the ring when she was with them, but it was a secret to the rest of the world. They were waiting for him to pass the bar and start earning a living before making it official.

“I’m fine. Just a little stressed. It’s been a long day.”

“You’re going to have to learn how to handle the pressure.” She squeezed his shoulder.


“There’s something else bothering you,” she said. “You’re not yourself tonight.”

“I know. Sorry. I saw that Horace Nighthyde creep on the street just before I got here. Guys like that put me off.”

“Ferret Face? He’s harmless.” She laughed. “Pathetic really. You know he made a pass at me once.”

“Really, what did you do?”

“I told him if he ever got fresh with me again that I’d tell your father and he went white. It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“That’d do it,” he said.

But he wondered why she hadn’t told the weasel that she’d tell her fiancé. Did she think he wasn’t capable of handling the situation? He thought about asking her, but then all of a sudden he realized he didn’t care, at least not right now. Right now he didn’t want to think about Horace Nighthyde flirting with his fiancée or anybody else for that matter. All he wanted to do was to get this evening over with. All he wanted to think about was the refreshing English girl he’d just met.

*  *  *

“Get your hands off me.” Deborah turned, glared at Horace Nighthyde.

“Answer my question. Tell me about Strong.”

“You must be hard of hearing.” It was Skinny Dick. Seconds ago Deborah had seen him behind the bar, now he was standing between Nighthyde and her. “You should go quietly and leave this nice lady alone. If you don’t I’ll break your neck, then call up Big Gino to come and drag your sorry carcass out of my place.”

“Sorry, Dick. Really. I was just trying to make some points with Connie. I didn’t mean nothing.” He looked past Dick, met Deborah’s eyes. “I’m sorry, lady. I didn’t mean to bother you. Sometimes I don’t think and I go to far. I get like overly enthusiastic. I’m really sorry.” His eyes had gone all puppy dog, but not puppy dog happy, more like a puppy dog who had down something on the carpet and was afraid he was going to get whacked with a newspaper.

“That’s all right,” Deborah said. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Okay, I’m gone. Okay, Dick?”

“Okay.” Dick let go of the man’s shoulder and Horace Nighthyde scurried through the crowd and found the door.

“What was that all about?” Deborah said.

“Ferret Face? He thinks if he comes on like some kind of gangster, like a tough guy, that it’ll get him laid.”

“Laid?” Deborah laughed.

“You’re British, you’re not stupid. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah,” she said, laughing a little more.

“Well, you don’t have to worry about him anymore.”


“I gotta go back to work, give David my best if you see him.” The bartender gave her a smile.

“What did he mean, that he was trying to make points with Connie?”

“Hey, what do I know?” He threw both his hands in the air. “I’m just a guy that minds his own business.”

“Okay, I get it,” she said as he went back to work.

Having had enough adventure for her first day, Deborah decided to call it an evening, but once she got outside and met the beautiful night, she decided to walk down Second Street and window shop. It wasn’t too late, there were lots of people out walking. She nodded when she passed them, said hello and her accent got a cheery greeting back. Americans, she decided, were a pretty friendly people.

She stopped at a bookstore called Gordon’s and looked at the Jack Stewart display in the window, then saw that his new novel was on sale. He was her favorite author, so she went inside, picked the book up and took it to the cash register. Now she knew what she was going to do with her night. There was no better way to spend an evening alone then tucked into bed with a Jack Stewart thriller.

Back on the street again, she was about to head back to her motel room and a good read, when she saw the Italian restaurant across the street. Armando’s the sign said. That was the restaurant that David had said his uncle owned. Maybe his uncle was over there right now. Maybe she could meet him.

“Don’t be silly,” she mumbled. But she started across the street anyway.

Chapter Five

For the second time that evening Deborah stood on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant and wondered if she should enter. Adventure pulled her into the first one, but this was something different. No, it wasn’t, she told herself, it wasn’t as if she were going in there to spy on David. She wasn’t going to seek out his uncle and pump him for information, after all.

She was just going to go in, find the bar and have a glass of wine, nothing more. But what if they didn’t have a bar? What if you had to take a table, order dinner? Well no matter, she’d order a salad, have a glass of wine, then leave. In fact, that was better. She wouldn’t mind an Italian salad, some black olives, some grated cheese with a vinegar and oil dressing. Sounded good.

With a sharp intake of breath, she pulled open the door and stepped inside.

“Can I help you, Miss?” an elderly gentleman with a thick Italian accent, who looked like a butler, said.

“Table for one. I just wanted a salad, if that’s okay?”

“You’re in luck, we just had a cancellation.” He arched an eyebrow and Deborah got the impression that he was studying her leather jacket and khaki pants.

“It’s been my lucky day,” she said. “Is the food here any good?”

“Of course.” He dropped the eyebrow, grinned. “I’ve even been known to eat here a time or two myself,” he said, “and my tastes are very discriminating.” He handed her a menu. “If you’ll follow me.”

She followed, resisting the touristy impulse of looking around the restaurant, however she stole a quick glance at a large party and saw all the suits and the elegant way the women were all dressed. For a second she thought that she probably stood out like a rose in the snow, but then she saw a couple dining in jeans and sweaters and another casually dressed, him in slacks with a Polo shirt open at the collar, her with some kind of outlandish flower print dress. So she wasn’t dressed inappropriately.

“Where’s the whip?” a guy said, making a crack about her Indiana Jones getup as she took her seat. There were two of them, young guys eating spaghetti at the table next to hers.

“Out front with the horse.” She smiled. She wasn’t the only one who watched old movies.

“You’re not from around here,” the guy said.

*  *  *

“You’re pretty sharp.” Her words sent a frission along David’s skin. Though he was sitting three tables away, he had no trouble picking out her English accent. It was Deborah. How? Why? No time to worry about that now. He pushed his chair back. Stood up.

“David?” Connie said.

“I just heard a voice I know.”

She turned as he started toward her table. She must have recognized his voice as well. She was still wearing that leather jacket, but the Mexican blouse was gone. He could tell she’d had a shower, because her hair was still a little damp. She was clutching a package of some kind, a bag from Gordon’s Bookstore. She’d bought a book. David’s heart stated to race. It was happening again. She was stirring his blood without even trying. It made no sense.

“Deborah, what a pleasant surprise.” He was about to find out a lot about Deborah Heart and Connie Fabrizio in a few seconds. He didn’t know how it would go, but it was going to be interesting.

“David, I thought you had an appointment.” The smile went away with her words. “Oh how stupid of me, it was a dinner appointment.”

“Come, join us. I’d like you to meet my fiancée.”

“Your fiancée?” She faltered as she rose, almost fell. David reached out, gripped her elbow, helped her up. “Oh, yes, you told me about her on the plane. I’m dying to meet her.” Now her eyes met his and the soft blue delight he’d seen not so long ago had been chilled away, frozen. Now he saw only ice. “I’m dying to meet her.”

He still had a hand on her elbow, but instead of guiding her over to the family table, he let go of her arm. What was she playing at? She hadn’t been on the plane with him.

“Over there?” She had ice in her voice.

*  *  *

Deborah tried not to falter as he lead her to his table. For a second she thought she might faint. How could she have been so stupid? How could she not have seen? She bit her lower lip, needing the quick, sharp pain. Don’t pass out, Debbie, she told herself. Show these people what you’re made of.

She looked up and studied the people sitting around the round table. There were two older men, continental looking, both in somber suits with dark ties, both with gray hair, gray moustaches, clean shaves. Brothers. Not twins, but the resemblance was uncanny. Big men, sure of themselves. 

A plump woman to the right of the brothers. Her hair was dyed a Lucille Ball red that contrasted sharply with her bright green eyes. She was wearing a sloppy smile and Deborah got the impression of a woman that blundered along through life without a care in the world.

The next chair was occupied by a suave looking, handsome man who looked a lot like David. He’d said he was living with his cousin. This must be the cousin. His hair was wavier than David’s. He had David’s laughing eyes, his strong chin. Though he was handsome, he looked maybe a little weak, but Deborah knew you couldn’t judge a book by its cover.

The next chair was occupied by the most beautiful woman Deborah had ever met in person. She gasped. A movie star. Connie Fabrizio, she was famous. Not big time famous, always the supporting actress to someone like Julia Roberts, but she’d been in enough stuff that Deborah knew her name.

Quickly she turned away from the actress. She didn’t want to stare like everybody else probably did. Besides, she was obviously David’s fiancée. Deborah passed her eyes over the next chair as it was empty. David’s. Then studied the face of the slender woman who had turned around, staring up at her, eyes pouring out venom. An older version of Connie Fabrizio, harder, meaner. This woman was a shark with capped teeth.

“Hello, dear,” the shark said and Deborah forced a smile. She’d taken the group in with a blink of an eye, but now her eyes were locked onto the shark’s. “It’s always a pleasure to meet a friend of David’s.”

“I wouldn’t call us friends, exactly,” Deborah said. “We sat next to each other on the plane out from New York. That hardly makes us mates.” Where did she learn to lie so easily and why was she doing it now?

“Well, you must join us.”

“It would be my pleasure, Mrs. Fabrizio.” Think Deborah, think, she told herself. Somewhere she’d read about Connie Fabrizio’s mother. People Magazine, yes. She’d made that horrible American movie right after she married Frank Fabrizio, the Italian director. What was the name of that movie? It had been the late show on the tele just a couple weeks ago. What was it? Oh yes.

“You know my name?”

“Of course,” Deborah lied. “David told me all about how he was engaged and what a great mother-in-law he was getting. But he didn’t tell me was marrying Adriana Fabrizio’s daughter. You were wonderful in “Georgia Asphalt.” You had the young southern belle down cold and I should know, because I studied film when I was in university.” Ignore the fiancée, praise the mother. Maybe it was petty, but Deborah couldn’t help herself.

“You liked my movie?” The shark seemed surprised.

“I loved it. In fact I tried to model myself after you for awhile.”

“You did?”

“Yes. I always thought that it was such a shame that someone with your talent stopped making movies. Such a loss.” She was laying in on kind of thick, but what the heck, she was never going to see any of these people again.

“Really?” The shark’s smile turned from false to real. “Call me Adriana.” She raised a hand. “Can we have a chair over here for—”

“Deborah, Deborah Heart.”

“What a delicious name and it goes with your accent. You know, I’ll bet you could be in movies if you tried,” Adriana Fabrizio said as a young man brought a chair. Adriana scooted over. “You must sit next to me. I think we’re going to be great friends.” She turned toward her daughter. “Don’t you just love her accent?”

Deborah shivered inside as she sat with the book in her lap. Somehow she’d bluffed her way through the killer instinct she’d seen in Adriana Fabrizio’s eyes. How, she didn’t know. Maybe she was a natural liar.

“Is this your first time in America?” Connie Fabrizio said.

“In a way.” Deborah was still pretending she didn’t know who Connie Fabrizio was. It was kind of fun. “I was born here, but I moved to England with my mother when I was a child.”

“My name’s Connie.” She seemed pleased that Deborah wasn’t gushing all over her, maybe she’d inadvertently hit a pleasant cord with her. That certainly had not been her attention, she’d wanted to annoy the woman, show her that she wasn’t Miss Movie-Star-Perfect to everybody, but her ploy hadn’t worked. Could it be that Connie Fabrizio was a genuine good and kind human being as all the stories about her claimed? Yes, she probably was, otherwise David wouldn’t be engaged to her.

“And I’m David’s grandmother,” a melodious voice said with just the trace of an accent Deborah didn’t recognize, almost Italian, but not.

Deborah flushed and looked across the table at the one person she hadn’t noticed as she’d approached the group. A slender, dark haired, doe-eyed woman who looked about seventy-five or so. She had no gray in her hair and just the way the she held herself, Deborah new the color was hers.

“My name is Sylvia.” Deborah got the impression that nothing would surprise this woman, that she had seen it all. That she had seen too much. The other women, Connie Fabrizio, her mother Adriana and the plump bundle of happiness were all wearing gay clothes, a yellow blouse and smart beige skirt for the actress, baby blue skirt suit affair for her mother, a polka dot print dress for the happy lady, but David’s grandmother was wearing a black blouse with matching skirt and she wore them as if she’d just come back from visiting the dead. Deborah didn’t think she was a very happy woman.

“I’m glad to meet you, Sylvia.”

“So you met David on the plane?”

“Yes.” Deborah didn’t know how, but the woman knew she was lying. Did the others? She look around the table. No, they were all smiles.

“I’ll introduce the men first.” Sylvia touched the man next to her on the shoulder. “My oldest, David’s father, Gino, then his brother, my youngest, David’s Uncle Armando, and that young man that needs a hair cut is David’s cousin Gino, we call him Little Gino so we don’t get confused.” She laughed. “You’ve met the ladies, all except for David’s Aunt Louise.”

“Charmed.” Louise reached a plump hand across the table and Deborah shook it while everybody else looked a little embarrassed. Louise had already had too much to drink and their dinner hadn’t even arrived yet.

“Louise is from Tuscany,” Sylvia said, “almost a foreigner.”

“I was born in Rome,” Adriana said, “but I came to America when I was still a teenager. Connie, of course, was born in America, so we’re foreigners too, aren’t we, Sylvia?”

“Not everybody can be from Sicily,” Sylvia said.

“Sicily?” Deborah said. “No wonder I didn’t recognize your accent.”

“I didn’t think I had one anymore.”

“Just a slight one, but maybe it’s because of my English ears. An American probably wouldn’t have noticed.”

“I can’t tell, Nana,” David said. “You sound as American as apple pie to me.” He winked at his grandmother, then turned to Deborah and favored her with a smile. What was he playing at? How could he do this to her? How could he be so cruel?

*  *  *

David gave her his most sincere smile, but she wasn’t responding. Well, he could hardly blame her. He’d thrown her into a pack of wolves and she was coming up roses. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear that she’d been on that plane with him from Newark. How did she learn to lie with such a straight face? If she ever spoke to him again after tonight, he was going to have to ask her.

“Well, I’m proud of where I come from,” his grandmother said, “so if I still have some of that thick Sicilian sound playing around with my words, then I guess I’m glad.” That was the truth, David thought. His grandmother had wanted to move back to Sicily ever since he could remember.

“You have a beautiful accent, Sylvia,” Connie said sincerely and David wondered it he loved her, really loved her. If he did, why the heck was he so infatuated with Deborah.

“Mysterious,” his father said, “like you, Mama, mysterious.”

“Like our guest you mean,” his grandmother said. “Dropping in out of nowhere, looking like she’s ready to tame the world.”

“Nana you can’t pick on Deborah, you haven’t known her long enough,” David said, but he knew his words would have no effect. Nobody in the world could tell his grandmother what to do, or not to do. She did as she pleased and to devil with the consequences.

“I don’t know her at all.” His grandmother turned her eyes to Deborah. “So tell me about yourself and don’t leave out why you’re dressed up like a comic book character.”

David couldn’t look at Deborah. His grandmother was the most direct person he’d ever known. She asked what she wanted to know. She didn’t mince words and if she didn’t like you, you knew it, and it appeared that she didn’t like Deborah.

“Boy, Sylvia, you and me would make quite a pair,” Deborah said. “You dressed up to bury the dead, me dressed up to dig up their old bones. I bet they could write quite a few comic books about us.”

David’s father sputtered, “Young lady—”

“It’s okay,” his grandmother held a hand up. “Let her talk.”

“You’re older of course, so you’ve had a chance to refine your smart mouth and I’m still working on it. Also, I suspect that like me, you don’t like to take any shit.”

David’s father stood, face red. His napkin fell from his lap.

His grandmother burst out in laughter. “Sit down, Gino.”

“No one talks like that to my mother!”

“Calm down, Gino. She’s a girl, I can take it.”

His father sat, picked his napkin up from the floor, rearranged it in his lap.

“I don’t think Deborah meant anything, Nana.” David wondered what his grandmother was going to do. There was no stopping her when she lost her temper. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, look out. Still, she was laughing. She had that twinkle in her eyes that she used to get when they played the piano together when he was a child.

“Oh course she did, didn’t you?”

“Only what I said. Nothing more, nothing less.”

“Deborah,” his grandmother said, “in less than five minutes you’ve done the impossible. You’ve won over both Adriana Fabrizio and myself. Nobody has ever done such a thing before.”

“That is certainly the truth,” Connie said. “You have both Mom and Sylvia eating out of your hand.”

“I think I’ll go and powder my nose,” Deborah said and David watched while she picked up her book, pushed her chair away from the table and got up.

“I think I’ll go, too.” Connie got up from the table.

David forced a smile, but it was a frown he felt. What had he been trying to accomplish with Deborah? Had he wanted her to gush about their late lunch in her cute English accent? Had he been trying to make Connie jealous? Why would he want to do that? He didn’t. At least he didn’t think he did. So why had he done it, thrown her at the family like that?

And why hadn’t he told Deborah that he was engaged? Had he been planning to take her to breakfast tomorrow, spend the day with her then bed her? That wasn’t what he was about anymore. So why had he been acting as if it was? What was wrong with him? What had he been thinking?

*  *  *

Deborah pushed open the door to the ladies loo. What had David been thinking, inviting her to dine with his family like that? And why hadn’t he told her he was engaged? And to Connie Fabrizio no less. What was wrong with him? What he’d done was cruel beyond words. What did he think of her? Was she just going to be one last fling before he got married?

She went to the wash basin, set the book down, splashed water on her face, sighed, then studied herself in the mirror.

“So where did you really meet David and was it just a coincidence you coming in here tonight?” Connie Fabrizio said. Deborah saw her in the mirror. The woman had every right to be angry, but she didn’t look it.

“Didn’t fool you, huh? And I thought I lied so well.” Deborah fought tears as she turned to face Connie. “I don’t know why I did that. I never lie, never. But he just came over to my table and took me right over to you all as he told me he wanted me to meet his fiancée. I felt so foolish, so I just said the first thing that came into my mind.”

“You weren’t trying to protect him?” Connie said.

“Gosh no!” Deborah couldn’t believe it. One day in America and she was in the loo talking to Connie Fabrizio about a man. “I just wanted to hold my own. And once I saw you, I felt two feet tall, especially because of the way I’m dressed. I look stupid. I am stupid.” She could hold back the tears no more.

“It’s not worth crying about,” Connie said. “It never is.”

“You’re not mad at me?”

“No. David and I have been engaged forever. He’s got some stuff at my place. I’ve got some at his. We sleep together. The sex is great, but we’re never going to get married.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, I don’t think we’re in love for one. Two, it would be a bad career move for me and a worse one for him. We just sort of keep up the facade for our families. At least I think that’s why we haven’t broken it off yet. That and the sex. He is good at that.”

“I’m afraid I wouldn’t know.”

“So tell me about it,” Connie said and Deborah did. She told how she’d come to America to take a bus tour, not just any bus tour, but an Americoach tour. She told how she’d met David on the shuttle van from the airport. How they’d spent a wonderfully long lunch together. How he’d walked her to her motel. How he was going to come by in the morning and take her to breakfast. How she’d had tomorrow all planned out.

“Of course, that won’t happen now,” Deborah said.

“So you knew who I was all along,” Connie said. “You were just pretending, right?”


“Whew, you really did a tap dance on my ego.” She smiled. “Come here.” She hugged Deborah. She really was just a normal person, exactly like they said in People Magazine. Connie broke the hug. “That was pretty good, building my mother’s ego up the way you did. And the way you faced off Sylvia. Nobody gets away with that. You’ve got some kind of moxie, Deborah.”

“That’s not me. I was just acting. Besides, I figured I was never going to see any of you again, so what difference did it make if I got caught out?”

“Well, you’re a darn good actress, you had everybody fooled.”

“Not you.”

“Only because you said you’d been on the plane from New York with David. His flight was from Newark, but because of your accent the others didn’t catch it.”

“I don’t want to go back out there,” Deborah said. “I know he’s laughing at me, waiting for me to trip up and the last thing I want to do is give him the satisfaction.”

“David’s not like that,” Connie said.

“I don’t care what he’s like. I just want to go back to my room and pretend that I’ve never met him.” She grabbed her book to her breast.

“There’s a back exit into the parking lot. Just follow the hall and make a right. I’ll tell them you had a headache.”

“Thank you.”

They hugged once more. Then Deborah snuck out the back way and cried all the way back to her motel room.

Chapter Six

David woke with a hangover, his first since he was eighteen years old. Drinking was stupid. He knew it, but last night he couldn’t help himself. After Connie returned from the restroom alone, he felt like fleeing. He knew he should go to Deborah. Get up, get away from the table and run as fast as he could to her motel.

But he couldn’t.

Not after what he’d done. She’d refuse to see him, probably slam her door in his face. And he’d deserve it, that and more. Besides, he couldn’t disappoint his parents, not yet.

For too long he and Connie had gone on with their engagement, keeping it secret from everyone but the family, because of her career, they’d said, but the truth was that neither of them had ever expected her career to take off the way it had. Now, with the light of publicity that would chase her after her first staring roll, they both knew they could never marry. Soon they were going to have to talk about it. Then they were going to have to break his grandmother’s heart.

Not Adriana’s though, that woman had no heart. He laughed as he got out of bed. Looking back, David could see that she’d been the driving force behind their engagement and he and Connie had gone along for the ride. He was heir to a fortune and Connie was a poor, struggling actress destined to go nowhere. He got a pretty wife. She got rich. His father got an Italian daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

Adriana. He shook his head as he peeled off the clothes he’d slept in and stepped into the shower. Adriana, even now with Connie poised to step into the big time, all she could see was the Strong fortune. Couldn’t she see that in a year or two Connie would be making ten million dollars a picture, more probably. If they got married, it would ruin all that, ruin her career.

He turned on the water and shivered as cold needles splashed him in the face. He drank from the spray, gobbling the cool water as if he’d been too long in the desert. He turned, let the spray run down his back. Ten whole minutes in the cold shower and he was as awake as he was going to get. He shut off the water, dried off, shaved, then eased himself into a pair of well worn sweats. A good run was a sure fire cure for a hangover.

Standing by the large king-sized bed he felt dizzy. He sat, faced the big screen television. Surround sound. Big bucks McIntosh amp, pre-amp, tuner and CD player. Bose speakers. A very high tech, high end entertainment center. He curled his toes in the plush white carpet, pile thick as the wool on a lama’s back. He took a deep breath, slowly exhaled, then stood again and studied himself in the floor to ceiling mirrors on the sliding closet doors.

In the sweets he looked ordinary. He could be anybody. But he wasn’t anybody. He was Gino Strong’s son. That alone kept him at the books during his freshman year in college, when all the other young men seemed to be chasing girls. The last thing he wanted to do was to disappoint his father, the girls could wait till he graduated. His major had been business, but he soon switched to Political Science with a minor in History.

He did well and found himself interested in the law. He applied for and was admitted to UCLA’s law school. He loved the school, was glad that he could continue his education there. Unfortunately all good things come to an end. He graduated at the top of his class and that’s why it came as such a blow to his father when he failed the bar. His father had raged against the system, but even the son of the President of the United States didn’t get a free pass on the bar exam.

“Just plain old ordinary David Strong,” he said to his reflection. He clenched his fists as did the man in the mirror. The mirror man wasn’t smiling and for the first time in his life David saw his grandmother’s sad eyes in his own reflection. Was that something new? Or had they been there for a while now and he’d just not noticed?

In the living room he looked over the expensive Danish modern oak and glass furniture. No he wasn’t ordinary, could never be ordinary, not when his living room set cost more than the average American made in a year. Not when he drove a fully restored ’57 Thunderbird. Not when he dressed in designer clothes.

He went to the balcony, put a hand to his forehead to shield his eyes against the rising sun, looked out at the beach, inhaled the sea air and luxuriated in the sound of the waves lapping up on the sand. A couple of seniors were jogging along the water’s edge and David longed to be out there with them, because that’s when he was ordinary, when he was like everybody else, when he wasn’t just Gino Strong’s son. When he dressed in tattered sweats and ran his heart out, bare feet splashing in the surf, that’s the only time he was ordinary, the only time he was like everybody else.

Twenty-six years old. A law student that had failed the bar and he owned more then men twice his age who had worked their whole lives to make something of themselves, to provide for their wives and children, to put a roof over their heads. Twenty-six years old and David had never wanted, never done without. He was Gino Strong’s son, the heir apparent.

He turned away from the beach, jogged down the stairs. The house was a large converted duplex, four bedrooms, two living rooms, two kitchens, two baths. Little Gino lived downstairs, he lived upstairs where he’d converted his extra bedroom into a den where he surfed the net and studied.

Outside he jogged over the beach sand till he got to the edge of it, then he turned his back to the sun and ran. He pumped his arms, forcing his feet to match their rhythm. In minutes all thought was banished from his mind as his feet matched the beat of his thumping heart, then all of a sudden his heart started pounding a single word through to his brain and he heard it over and over again as his feet pounded through the surf.

Deborah, Deborah, Deborah. It was as if he were a train and her name was the sound made by the big wheels clacking along the tracks. Deborah, Deborah, Deborah. He could no more shake the drumming sound of her name then he could stop the beating of his heart. He slowed to a jog, doubled over, grabbed his knees, heaved great breaths in and out and still his heart beat her name, a steady tattoo pounding through his veins. Deborah, Deborah, Deborah.

Nothing like this had ever happened to him before. He’d been with lots of women before Connie, but had always moved on when they started to cling and had never given a thought about them. Connie was different, but they were friends as well as lovers. Lovers, but not in love.

Was that it?

Was he in love with Deborah?

Impossible. He’d only known her for a few hours. It didn’t happen like that, not in real life. There was no such thing as love at first sight. There wasn’t. But then how come he couldn’t get her out of his mind?

He thought about the way she’d handled herself with his family. She was so young, but she’d faced them down and won them over. She had pluck. He smiled when he thought of the defiant look that blazed from her cool blue eyes when he’d brought her over to the table. It had been a game for him then, but it was no game now.

He turned, faced into the rising sun. Her motel was only a short half mile away. He started jogging and, curiously, the closer he got, the quicker his heart beat, until he was standing right outside the motel office and his heart was racing out of control.

He pushed through the glass door, saw a pimply faced teenager behind the reception. The kid had long hair, like a girl and he couldn’t have been more than sixteen or seventeen. He was reading a computer magazine. Figures, David thought, geek.

“Can you tell me what room Deborah Heart is in?”

“She checked out about an hour ago,” the kid said without lowering the magazine.

“Where did she go?”

“Don’t know.” He still had his eyes buried in the magazine.

“Did she call a cab?” David fisted a hand in the magazine, jerked it away.

“Hey!” The kid’s eyes went wide, but one look at the set of David’s jaw and his clenched fists shut him right up. “Yeah, she called a cab.”

“Did she call or did you get it for her?”

“I called for her.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” David said. “Who did you call and where did she go.”

The kid told him.

*  *  *

Deborah got out of the cab, determined to put David out of her mind and to keep him out of it. She slung her grip over her shoulder, then paid the driver. Hollywood, she’d read about it, dreamed about it, had hoped someday to make movies in it, but that part of her young life was forever over. She’d studied acting for almost two years before a kindly instructor told her that she didn’t have what it takes. Fortunately acting classes weren’t all she was taking at university, so she’d managed to graduate with a teaching degree.

There was no shame in teaching, she told herself. It was a worthwhile occupation, molding young minds. Besides, she liked children, loved them. Still, she smiled to herself, she would have liked Connie Fabrizio’s life. Handsome leading men, lots of travel, real adventure, not just a coach bus touring through California. When she thought of it like that, her little adventure seemed kind of pathetic.

“Don’t do this to yourself, Debbie. This is the adventure you can afford, so just thank your lucky stars that you were able to change to an earlier date and enjoy yourself.” Though she’d whispered the words, it felt like she was shouting.

“Did you say something?”

“Not really.” Deborah turned to see a dapper looking gentleman with hair white as angel’s wings, a neat moustache, same color as the hair and a deeply tanned face. He was rail thin, but his voice boomed as if he carried around twice his actual weight.

“Name’s James Henderson.” He was wearing a Panama hat and a loud blue and purple shirt. He actually doffed the hat. “Are you the girl that joined at the last minute?” He nodded toward the coach, a large touring bus with the word “Americoach’ emblazoned on the side.

“Yeah,” she said. “I got to America early to do something else, but it didn’t work out, so here I am.”

“Well, you’re just in time. We’re all eight here, so I suppose we can get started.” He raised a hand to his moustache, twirled a waxed end. “And none too soon, time’s a wasting.”

“Only eight?” Deborah was surprised. Such a big coach for only eight people, it didn’t make any sense. “How can they make any money?”

“Eight for the first week, to San Diego and back, then twenty-six more join us for the run up to Northern California and Lake Tahoe. That should be a jolly group. You’re British aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Deborah said and all of a sudden she’d noticed his affected accent.

“My wife and I lived in London, Sixty-four through Seventy. Picked up a little of the accent and haven’t been able to shake it.” Maybe he was a skinny little man, but he was all puffed up like the cock of the walk. “The wife is Italian. Taking the sister on the vacation with us. Lost her husband and daughter a while back, very tragic. We’re the only family she has now, poor thing, and she has no English.” He tut tutted and Deborah tried not to smile. She tried for somber, but all the acting lessons in the world couldn’t have kept the corners of her mouth from curving up. Then she remembered her own circumstances and any laughter she might have had for the funny little man just slipped away.

“I lost my mother recently, so I know how your sister-in-law must feel.”


She’s Italian, your sister-in-law?”

From Sicily actually,” James said.

“What a coincidence,” Deborah said, immediately thinking of David and his family.

“What do mean?”


“Shouldn’t do that, leave a person dangling.” He was at his moustache again, fiddling with it.

“I’m sorry. Should we go in and meet the others?”

“I can give you the run down. Used to be in the investigative business.” He was puffed up again and Deborah didn’t feel like deflating the balloon that was his chest. Besides, it couldn’t hurt knowing a little about her fellow travelers before she met them.

“All foreigners,” he said. “You don’t get many Americans going on these kind of trips. Not that you don’t get good value for money, but Americans all have cars, so if they want to see Lake Tahoe or San Juan Capistrano, they just drive. Mind you, they are big on coach trips on the continent.” He was speaking with a hushed voice, as if he were whispering secrets or something. He was enjoying himself.

“So tell me about these foreigners.”

“Two couples, Italian, like the wife and her sister. That’s why we booked this particular tour, so Angelia, the wife’s sister, would have somebody to talk to. Usually we book a group with the English, like the tour you were going to be on, but this time we booked with a mainly Italian group, though these couples don’t look like they are going to be much companionship for her. Oh well, maybe we’ll get lucky with the second group of people after we get back from San Diego.”

“That’s not much of a rundown.” Deborah smiled.

“Don’t laugh, I’m not finished.” He pulled a pocket sized notebook out of his hip pocket, flipped it open. “Ricardo and Violetta Casele. He’s a suave looking guy, regular Latin lover. Works for the Church, some kind of accountant. Speaks English like an American. His wife is a wisp of a thing, smaller then me. She speaks English too, like she was born in California. The other couple are, Romano, calls himself Roman, and Maria Donatelli. Roman works with Ricardo. They speak English too. American accents the lot of them. I guess there’s no such thing as a real Italian anymore.”

“Your sister-in-law.”

“Call her Italian and she’ll eat you for lunch.”

“Oh yeah, Sicilian.”

“Right.” He flipped the notebook closed. He had to be sixty-five if he was a day, Deborah thought, and she wondered just what kind of investigator he used to be.

“So, by changing my tour, I wound up with a group of Italians.” She flicked hair from her eyes by shaking her head. “That’s good, it’ll be lots more interesting then motoring along with a group of people I could have met by just staying home.”

“Oh, there will be some of your countrymen along on the second part of the tour. The first part lasts a week, the second part fourteen days. Brits don’t like sitting on their buns for three whole weeks, a fortnight seems to be about their limit.”

“More Italians too, I’d expect,” Deborah said.

“Oh yes, but French and Spanish, as well,” James said. “A regular continental bunch.”

*  *  *

One call from the motel, his father’s name mentioned to a dispatcher at the taxi company and David knew where she’d gone. Americoach Tours in Hollywood. Why? Then it dawned on him, she’d moved up her tour, probably because of what had happened last night. He called Americoach, but all he got was a recording.

“What kind of company doesn’t answer the telephone at eight-fifteen in the morning?” he muttered.

“The kind that doesn’t open till nine,” the kid said.

“How long ago did she leave?”

“Around seven or so.”

She’d told him she was going on one of those big bus vacations. He’d seen them in Europe, didn’t know they had them in the States, but it only made sense that they did. If the company didn’t open till nine, he could probably get there before she left. He looked at the kid, saw amusement in his eyes.

“I’d get going if I was you, otherwise you might never catch her.” The kid laughed.

“Right.” David dashed to the door and once outside took off at a dead run.

*  *  *

Inside the small terminal James introduced Deborah to the others going on the tour. He’d been right. Ricardo Casele did look like a Latin lover, from his Armani shirt right down to his designer jeans and expensive loafers, undoubtedly Italian. The Church must pay its accountants well, Deborah thought. And his blonde wife was indeed tiny, but her handshake was strong and she had the prettiest green eyes and a button nose to die for.

“Nice jacket,” Violetta said as she dropped Deborah’s hand.

“I like it.” Deborah felt herself blushing. Violetta was wearing designer jeans, too. The same brand as her husband and a simple blouse, the same green as her eyes. She wore her hair cropped close and it almost made her look like a boy.

“These are our friends, Roman and Maria.”

“Pleased.” Maria held out her hand and her grip was as firm as Violetta’s, but the similarity stopped there. Where Maria was slight and fair, Violetta was as tall as Deborah, with long legs that her very short summer dress displayed for all the world to see. And where the petite Maria was almost flat-chested, Violetta had breasts like cannons.

“I’m Roman.” Curiously his handshake wasn’t as firm as his wife’s and no designer clothes for him. He wore faded Levi’s and a plain white T-shirt with a black leather jacket. Deborah smiled, she’d rather be Indiana Jones that Arthur Fonzerelli any day. But then again wasn’t Fonzi copying somebody, James Dean or Marlon Brando from those early black and white movies?

“This is my wife, Rosa,” James said and Deborah turned to see a woman in her mid-fifties without an ounce of fat on her sturdy bones, black hair flecked with gray that touched her shoulders, wide brown eyes, high check bones, a Jackie Kennedy face with a genuine smile.

“Pleased to meet you.”

“Glad to meet you too,” Rosa said with a hint of that same accent Sylvia Strong spoke with.

“Oh my!” Deborah said when she saw Rosa’s sister Angelia. Twins, but Deborah would have no trouble telling them apart. David’s grandmother may have had sad, Sicilian eyes, but Angelia’s eyes were sadder than sad, tragic was the only word that came to mind. She didn’t belong on a bus tour. She needed comforting in the worst way. “My name is Deborah.” She held out her hand.

“Angelia.” Maybe she spoke no English, but she’d understood Deborah’s confusion. Angelia took Deborah’s hand and held it. Not a firm grip, not weak either, but warm and sincere. Something passed between them. The woman had lost her husband and daughter, she was grief stricken, but somehow she was going to make room in her life for Deborah. It was in her tragic eyes, eyes you could see right into, eyes like windows. Eyes that said welcome.

“Okay, now that we’re all here, we can get going.” Deborah turned to see a man who looked to be in his mid-thirties. He looked like a bodybuilder with sun-bleached hair and a deep tan, just like those men in that lifeguard TV show, but not a lifeguard, probably a surfer, a real California surfer. “My name is Kevin, I’ll be your driver. You can follow me to the bus. The baggage, except for our last minute arrival’s, is already stowed.”

“This is all I have.” Deborah held up her grip. “I’ll take it on the bus with me.”

“No problem,” Kevin said.

The group followed him to the bus. The two young American looking Italian couples went straight to the back, staking out their territory, each one taking a double seat for themselves, but Deborah didn’t care, she wanted to sit in the front anyway.

James and Rosa took the seat behind the driver. Rosa taking the window. Just the way they went right to the seat, as if it were theirs by right, told Deborah that they were indeed, as James had said, veterans of coach tours.

Angelia looked at the other front seat, passed it and took a seat by the window a couple of rows behind James and her sister. Then she patted the seat next to her as she turned her glistening eyes toward Deborah and gave her a half smile. Deborah smiled back, tossed her grip in the rack overhead, then sat down next to Angelia.

“Hello.” A girl’s slightly amplified voice drifted out from speakers all over the bus. Deborah looked forward and saw a blonde surfer type with a wireless mike in the front of the bus. A real California girl, Deborah thought. “My name is Karen. I’ll be your guide, pointing out points of interest as we motor along. She was wearing a pants suit kind of uniform, the same as Kevin. “We’re a pair, me and Kevin,” she said. “He’s my husband and he’s a tour guide as much as a driver, so you can ask either of us anything.”

Surfers, Deborah thought. They had a pair of surfers for guides. At least they looked like surfers. She sat back and smiled. How California.

Kevin started the bus.

“So for now, sit back and enjoy yourselves. We’ll be at Disneyland in about an hour, depending on the traffic.”

*  *  *

David turned into the Americoach lot at nine-thirty. The bus had already departed, but the clerk, an elderly, busybody type of man, was only to happy to give him the itinerary for a hundred dollar bill. They were going to spend the day at Disneyland, then motor to Huntington Beach where they were going to spend the night at the Ocean Vista Motor Hotel.

He smiled. A motel with a fancy name. Back in the car, he took his cell phone from the glove box and booked himself a room.

Chapter Seven

David pulled off the freeway at ten-thirty behind a stream of cars full of kids and out-of-towners, all going to spend a day of fun and excitement in the land of enchantment. Disneyland, home of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, Main Street USA and David’s personal favorite, the Pirates of the Caribbean.

He followed the line of cars to where a youth pointed out a parking space. He parked, got out and put the top up. He saw the bus parked with a half dozen other tour buses, but he saw no sign of Deborah. She was probably already in the park with her traveling companions. Still following, only now groups of happy and cheery people, he shuffled along with the crowd to the entrance gate.

Okay, David, he thought, you’ve taken this far enough. It’s time to get back in your T-bird and head on out of here. Time to go home. This Deborah is trouble with a capitol T. But when the girl at the ticket booth told him the fare, he paid it and entered the park.

Now what? He looked at his Rolex. Ten minutes after eleven and the park was full almost to overflowing. How was he ever going to catch sight of her in this press of humanity?

“Mister over here, yuk, yuk.” David had been raised on Disney cartoons, he recognized Goofy’s voice, even if it was a poor female imitation. He turned and smiled as Mickey’s sidekick shambled up to him. “Would you take a picture?” Goofy said.

“Here.” A girl, twelve or thirteen, thrust a disposable yellow camera into his hand, then she ran to Goofy and posed with three of her friends. “Okay, we’re ready,” she said.

“No poker faces,” David said. “Pretend I’m the best looking boy in school and I’ve just asked you to the prom.”

The girls started laughing, giggling and David snapped the picture.

“One more.” Donald Duck squeaked as he waddled into the view finder. More giggles and David took two more pictures. It was then that he saw her. The khakis were gone, replaced by tight fitting, faded Levi’s, but she still had on that leather flight jacket.

“Okay, I have to go.”

“Thanks, mister,” Goofy said as one of the girls came forward for the camera.

“Not a problem.” David handed it over, then set off at a fast pace to catch up with Deborah.

He was right behind her, was about to tap her on the shoulder, when all of a sudden someone ran into him, hitting him hard in the leg.

“What?” David mumbled.

“Sorry, mister.” The boy couldn’t be any more that six or seven. Where were his parents?

“Billy! Billy where are you?” A woman, beseeching.

“It’s my Mom.” The boy was covered in freckles. “I gotta go.” The boy made like he was going to escape, but David grabbed him by the arm.

“Over here,” David said.

“Let me go!”

“Oh, thank you.” Billy’s harried looking mother said. “He’s so hard to watch.”

“I can imagine.” David couldn’t believe it. The kid was actually trying to ditch his mother. With thousands of people in the park, how did he ever hope to find her again? “He was running away. Trying to hide from you.”

“That can’t be.” The woman looked doubtful.  “He’s just enthusiastic.”

“No, he was running away. You never would have found him.”


“Aw, Mom. I just wanted to have some fun.”

“I can’t thank you enough,” the woman said as she took her son by the hand. By the time they were gone, Deborah was too.

*  *  *

Deborah saw a young couple approach, teenagers, each with a hot dog in one hand, a Coke in the other, eating on the run, not wanting to take even five minutes to sit somewhere and enjoy their lunch, because, she supposed, there was just so much to do in the sprawling amusement park and they wanted to do it all, see it all. 

“Those look good,” she said. Then the realized Angelia didn’t understand. She pointed to the hot dog in the girl’s hand as they passed, then pointed to her own mouth, then touched her stomach.

“Si.” Angelia nodded.

In the distance Deborah saw some tables, a short line of people at a food stand. “Come on.” She took the older woman’s hand and lead her along. It was easier than pointing and gesturing and Angelia didn’t seem to mind.

The surfer tour operators had left them at the entrance with instructions to enjoy the park and to be back at the bus by four, when they would motor to Huntington Beach, where they would cook hamburgers on the sand at an old fashioned campfire. The two couples from Rome had disappeared immediately, giggling and jabbering as they vanished into the crowd of people entering the park and, strangely enough, so did James and Rosa. Deborah had been left with the sad-eyed Angelia.

Her plan had been to wander around the park, enjoy a ride or two, soak up the place. She hadn’t planned on a sidekick, especially a sidekick she couldn’t talk to. Besides, Indiana Jones didn’t have a sidekick, but she couldn’t just leave the woman standing at the entrance gate all by herself.

“Come on, Angelia, it looks like it’s you and me, girl.”

Angelia nodded as if she had understood and followed Deborah on into the park and she had been with her for the last two hours. When Deborah’s turn came, she ordered the hot dogs and wondered for the umpteenth time how Angelia’s twin sister could just rush off and leave her. She was definitely going to talk to Rosa about it, because it wasn’t right. The poor woman had just lost her husband and daughter and they took her to Disneyland, of all places, then abandoned her. It was cruel.

“Let’s go sit over there.” She handed Angelia her hot dog and drink as she nodded to a group of round tables that had umbrellas growing from their centers, looking a patch of giant mushrooms.

Seated, Deborah watched the parade of people pass by as she ate. When she finished with the hot dog, she sipped at her drink and began to talk. She told Angelia how she’d been uprooted from America, from California, when her father had died. How she tried so hard to remember him, but couldn’t. How she tried to remember her little friends, the house she’d lived in, her first year of school, the taste of her best friend’s mother’s coconut cookies and couldn’t. It was as if her life had started in the small town village of Devises, like the first five years of her life hadn’t happened.

“I’m as American as all these people,” she swept her hand in front of herself, “but I don’t feel like it. I don’t feel English either. I don’t know what I feel.” She went on to talk about her mother, how she’d been ill for months, but the drugs, thank God, had stolen away the pain like an angel of mercy. She told how she’d been holding her mother’s hand in the hospital when she’d passed away. She told about the deep canyon of her grief and about her slow climb out of it.

Finished, she found that she’d been silently crying. She wiped at her tears. She’d talked to David, told him a lot, but none of this, not about her grief, how despondent she’d been. Maybe it was because Angelia couldn’t understand her. No, Deborah thought. That wasn’t it. It was her eyes and the deep sadness there, and something more. There was something about this woman that had no English, something Deborah couldn’t understand, something she suspected she wouldn’t be able to define even if she could.

Angelia reached across the table, took her hand and started talking, as if she knew Deborah was finished and that now it was her turn. Though the older woman spoke with a thick sounding Italian, she had a voice like music, a lullaby kind of voice, the kind of voice her mother had storied her to sleep with when she was a child.

It hadn’t take long for the tears to come, soft, gentle tears. Their faces glistened and occasionally a passerby or two would notice, but they’d discreetly look away as they strolled by.

Deborah didn’t have to understand Italian or Sicilian to know that Angelia was talking about her husband. She was even able to tell when she started talking about her daughter. After Angelia had finished her telling the two woman sat in silence and watched the people stream past, a steady flow of happy faces, children old and young. Deborah had so looked forward to Disneyland, to the rides and attractions she’d heard so much about, but now none of that seemed important. For the first time since her mother had passed away, Deborah felt at peace and she suspected Angelia felt the same.

“You want to walk around?” Deborah said after awhile.

Angelia gave her a quizzical look.

“Oh, yeah, I forgot.” Deborah got up, pointed down the way.

Angelia smiled, got up from the table too, and they wandered the amusement park, exploring every nook and cranny, while they observed the gay crowd, never themselves trying out the rides or visiting the attractions. Later on Deborah pulled James Henderson aside as Angelia was boarding the bus that was going to take them to Huntington Beach and their motor lodge for the night.

“How could you just leave her alone like that and go off and enjoy yourselves?” Deborah couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so angry.

“I’m sorry, but we’ve tried everything else.” James smiled at her. “It’s been seven months since her tragedy and Angelia’s been with us the whole time. We have tried to help. Lord knows we have, but nothing we did seemed to work.” He shook his head as Rosa boarded the bus.

“We took her everywhere with us, church, the movies, shopping, nothing worked, nothing. She made no attempt to speak English and she barely spoke to Rosa. Then we got this idea of the coach vacation. Rosa and I have been on several. We like them and we thought if we booked one with some Italians on it, you know, somebody she could talk to, that it would help bring her out of her shell. Never in our wildest dreams did we think it would take someone like you to do the trick. Thank you.” He took her hand and kissed it.

“Your welcome. I think.”

“It was a good thing you did, spending the day with Angelia. Now, shall we board the bus so we can move on toward our next destination?”

“Yes.” She stepped up on the bus with James coming up after her.

Rosa smiled at her as she passed on her way to take her seat next to Angelia. Deborah didn’t know what to think. In two days she’d made a kind of special connection with as many people. How? Why? Was this what being back in the land of her birth was all about? Did Americans connect with people like that all the time? No, of course not. First off, Angelia wasn’t even American and secondly the connection she’d made with that skunk David was a man woman chemistry thing that could have happened to anybody, anywhere. Still, it was strange.

Angelia had reclined her seat. She smiled at Deborah, then closed her eyes as Kevin started the bus. Deborah was tired, too. She pushed the button on the arm rest, pushed her own seat back and was asleep by the time Kevin eased the bus into the traffic on Harbor Boulevard.

*  *  *

David parked in front of the beach front home he shared with Little Gino and shut off the engine, but didn’t immediately get out of the car. June was his favorite month of the year, the beginning of summer, the beach starting to crowd with kids, running, shouting, playing. Summer had been the best part of his life as a child because his father had always put so much pressure on him about grades. He had to be the best, not only scholastically, but athletically as well. Quarterback during football season, pitcher during baseball season, but summers he was free from all that, free to be himself.

Even now, even at twenty-six years of age, summer meant freedom, at least for this one last year. He was going to have to pass the bar in ten months time, then he’d be expected to go into the family business and work as hard as his father. David tightened his hands on the wheel, shivered. It wasn’t as though he was afraid of hard work, but for the Strong family, once you went into the family business, the work consumed you, all day, every day, seemingly forever. David couldn’t remember the last time his father had had a day off. Couldn’t even remember him wanting one.

David looked out over the beach and saw a red Frisbee sailing through the air. He watched it as it spun like a flying saucer, arching higher and higher, ever higher, following it when it made it’s descent. A pretty blonde was running along the beach, shouting, hand in the air. She caught it, laughing, then tossed it back to her boyfriend.

David sighed. Young love. He was beginning to understand it, because he’d never felt as he had yesterday when he was with Deborah. He didn’t know if it was love gripping him and twisting him all up inside or something else, but whatever it was, that English girl was certainly the cause of it. He had to see her again. He had to know.

He watched the couple throwing the Frisbee for a few more minutes, then watched a cat slink under his neighbor’s old Ford on the beach side of the street. His neighbors, Gordon and Ricky, were a couple of gay men that over time David had come to accept as friends. Maybe the only real friends he’d ever had. At first their lifestyle had repulsed him, but the cheery hello he got from Ricky when they met every morning as they retrieved their respective newspapers off their respective porches started to break down the barrier that David had set up between them. Then he started jogging in the evenings with Gordon. It hadn’t been a planned thing. The two men just liked to run in the cool of the evening, so it only made sense to run together.

From living next door to them, David learned that those two gay men shared the same kind of love he’d seen in his parents when he was growing up. You didn’t see that much anymore. He smiled as he thought of his youth, high school, cheerleaders and football. He’d had a great childhood.

But it was all too soon over, then it was off to college on the West Coast. He’d moved away from New Jersey to California. Moved in with Little Gino near his uncle’s restaurant. At first the hour drive from the Belmont Shore section of Long Beach to UCLA bothered him. He’d wanted to live in Westwood, with all the students, be a part of the community, but after a few months he grew to like the beach city. Yes, he was always under the watchful eyes of Uncle Armando, but he was driving a classic sports car and was living in one of the biggest houses on the beach. And besides, Belmont Shore was kind of a student community, too. Different university, different students, but the same kind of atmosphere.

Everything was going well. Good grades, but no sports in college, “Time to really knuckle down with his studies,” his father had said, never mind that he’d gotten straight A’s in high school, so David, used to the extracurricular activity, substituted girls instead, but eventually he tired of the sport and finally asked Connie to marry him. They’d been childhood sweethearts and when her budding career took her to California, it was only natural for them to take up where they’d left off.

Then one day in the middle of his second year of law school his grandmother had showed up on his doorstep. She’d said she was tired of New Jersey, but David knew she’d really moved to be close to him. She bought a house in Westwood, near UCLA and David saw his freedom being sucked away. He loved his grandmother, but he didn’t want to live with her. Fortunately his engagement to Connie had saved him from that.

 “How could he carry on any kind of relationship with a woman if he was living with his Grandmother?” he’d argued and Nana, wanting David to settle down with Connie, relented, but she couldn’t understand why they’d want to keep the engagement secret.

“She was a twenty-four year old young actress. It was important at this stage in her career that she remain single,” they’d both said.

“A married woman wasn’t supposed to have a career,” his Grandmother had said. But David and Connie had won the day, it was, after all, their lives, they had argued.

It seemed that every weekend Nana drove down to the Shore for dinner on Friday night at Uncle Armando’s restaurant, dinners he was required to attend, while she pressured him to make the engagement public and lately the pressure was much more intense because of Connie’s success. Though she’d never say it aloud, David knew Nana was worried that Connie would fall in love with a famous actor. His Grandmother wanted the wedding to happen as soon as possible. She wanted Connie off the silver screen and safely married. David unhitched his seatbelt and sighed as he got out of the car without putting up the top, because neither one of those things were ever likely to happen.

Inside he went to his bedroom, then to his closet where he pulled a leather grip from the top shelf. If Deborah could travel with nothing more than she could carry in a grip, then he could too, at least for a couple weeks or so.

Tomorrow was Sunday, he’d be expected at Nana’s by nine for mass with her and his father. He picked up the phone to call and tell them that he wasn’t going to make it, but cradled the handset before he punched out the number. What could he tell them? Certainly not that he was going after the English girl from the night before.

He’d have to call them when he got back. Nana might kick up a fit, his father too, for that matter, but it wasn’t anything he couldn’t handle. Besides, he was too old to spank.

Grip slung over his shoulder, he jogged down the stairs only to find Gordon out front with a bag of groceries.

“Hey, Dave.” Only Gordon and Ricky called him that, nobody else.

“Hey, Gordon.”

“Stopped by the deli.” Gordon reached into the bag and tossed David a package of beef jerky. “Chew away.”

“Thanks.” David tossed his grip and the jerky into the passenger seat.

“Going somewhere?”

“Met a girl.”

“Does Connie know?” Though his engagement was secret, Connie was a frequent overnight guest at David’s. Often they’d invite Gordon and Ricky over for dinner and often they’d have dinner at their place.

“No, but I don’t think she’d mind.”

“I’ve been getting that impression lately.” Gordon, a twenty year veteran of the FBI, was pretty perceptive. It hadn’t taken long, for example, for the ex-FBI man to figure out about David and his family, but Gordon was retired now, owned a successful bookstore and prided himself on minding his own business. 

“She’s English.” David had to tell somebody.

“I wouldn’t want to be around when you tell your grandmother.” Gordon pretended to shiver.

“Me either.” David laughed. In the five years he’d lived next door, Gordon had learned almost all their was to know about David and his relationship with Nana.

“You get in a jam, you know you only have to call,” Gordon said.

“I know that.” David got in the car. He started it with a wave, then shut it down.

“What?” Gordon said.

“I think I’d like to take the board out.”

“Great,” Gordon said. “Just remember the gas gauge doesn’t work.” They had a deal, David and Gordon. David had paid for the rack on top of Gordon’s twenty-something year old Ford and whenever he wanted to take his surfboard out, they swapped keys. Gordon and Ricky got to go out in David’s classic Thunderbird and do up the town, while David took Gordon’s old Ford down to Huntington beach to surf.

“How much do you have in it?”

“About half a tank.”

“I’ll fill it.”

“Remember what I said,” Gordon said, after they’d strapped the board onto the rack, “if you find yourself in trouble, you call me. I mean it.”

“I know you do,” David said, then he got in, waved and pulled away from the curb. For generations his family had stuck together, bound by the thick glue of Sicilian blood, but he was closer to two gay men then he’d ever been to any of them.

He shivered, not the pretend shiver Gordon had pantomimed earlier. From his father’s point of view, what he was about to do was tantamount to treason. He was driving off into the unknown, about to turn his back on the family and in his excitement about seeing Deborah, he forgot all about getting any gas for Gordon’s car.

Chapter Eight

Deborah woke as the bus turned right onto the Pacific Coast Highway. She’d already seen the Pacific Ocean last night in Belmont Shore, but that long beach had been protected by a breakwater, which made for gentle waves. There was no breakwater in Huntington Beach. These waves were monsters, dragons frothing at the mouth. And riding the dragon’s breath, surfers.

“That’s something, isn’t it?” Karen had come back from her seat in the front, was now sitting on the seat opposite Deborah.

“Yes it is,” Deborah said.

“The surfing championships start in two weeks, so there’s a lot of guys out there practicing. That’s why we’re staying in Huntington Beach instead of Anaheim this trip. We’re going out on the pier where you’ll have almost a bird’s eye view of some of the surfers, then tonight we’re going to cook hamburgers at an open fire right on the beach and we’re going to roast marshmallows for desert.”

“It sounds like fun.”

“Guaranteed a good time for all,” Karen said as she got up to go to the back of the bus and the two Italian couples.

Rosa came back and translated for Angelia. Angelia nodded her head when her twin was finished. Deborah, like Angelia, continued to watch the surfers as the bus motored down the highway. Soon they stopped in front of the Ocean Vista Motor Hotel. Because her rate was based on double occupancy, Kevin told Deborah that she’d have to share with Angelia.

James told her that he’d thought the sisters would room together and that the tour company would find a single man for him to share a room with him, but it hadn’t worked out that way.

“It’s all right,” Deborah said. “I don’t mind, really.”

“Perhaps,” James said, “on the second part of the tour, they’ll find a girl around your age for you to share with and a bachelor for me.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Deborah said. “I like Angelia, I’d like to stay with her for the whole tour.”

“That will make things much easier all the way around,” he said.

“I’m glad,” Deborah said. And she was.

After they checked in and were in their room, Deborah watched as Angelia took her two suitcases and opened them on her bed. Then she emptied out what was obviously a carry-on bag about the same size as Deborah’s grip. It took a few minutes before Deborah figured out what Angelia was doing. She was packing the carry-on with a couple changes of clothes, her toiletries, a bathing suit, underwear, the bare essentials.

Finished, she zipped up the canvas bag, then slung it over her shoulder. Satisfied with the weight she set it on the opposite bed, then started repacking the suitcases. Some paperback books in Italian, several changes of clothes, a blow dryer, perfume. She wasn’t trying for neatness and in minutes she was latching the suitcases closed. That job done, she lugged them from the bed and stuffed them in the closet. She closed the door on them with a flourish, then pointed to Deborah, then her grip, then herself and her own canvas bag.

Deborah got the message. Those suitcases would be in the closet for the next guest to find or maybe the maid, because Angelia was now traveling light, like Deborah.

Deborah held out her hand.

Angelia shook it.

“We’ll have to get you a leather jacket first chance we get.” Deborah fingered the collar on her flight jacket.

“Si, si,” Angelia said.

“Maybe some Levi’s, too.” Deborah touched her jeans.

“Yes,” Angelia said.

Deborah was about to comment on the fact that Angelia had spoken in English, even though it had only been one word, when she was interrupted by a knock on the door.

“Surf’s up.” It was Kevin. “Time to go.”

The eight tourists followed Kevin and Karen toward the Huntington Beach pier like a train of ducklings. They went out on the pier as a group and Deborah found a good spot on the rail and looked out at the surfers. They were riding the waves. The sun was floating in the west, reflecting off the shimmering water, forcing her to squint as she looked out over the ocean. James Henderson next to her was smoking a pipe. He was leaning over the rail, looking out to sea. There were three Japanese tourists on her other side.

She looked out toward the surfers again and saw him. Brazen and tan as he stood up on a huge wave. He had more daring than brains and she couldn’t take her eyes off him, despite what he’d done last night. It was David. How?

“Hey, David!” she yelled out. There was no way he could hear and she knew it, but she couldn’t help herself. “Hey, David!” She waved her arms over her head.

“How could you know anybody out there?” James said.

“I met him last night.” She couldn’t contain her excitement. He was a skunk, but she couldn’t help herself.

“Quite a coincidence,” James said.

“Yes, I guess it is.”

“Which one is he?”

“There.” She pointed.

“He’s good.”

“It seems so.”

“Think he’ll be back for the surfing championships?” Kevin said.

“I don’t know anything about that,” Deborah said. David was standing straight up, no bend in his waist at all. His arms were out to his sides, balancing like a man on a high wire. He looked like he was born to surf.

“Sure, he’ll be back,” Kevin said. “He’s really good. What’s his name?”

“David, David Strong,” Deborah said. David’s ride was almost finished, but he was still standing as the wave carried him to the beach.

“That look’s dangerous,” Rosa said. “What if you fall off?”

“It’s just water,” Kevin said.

“But you’re going awfully fast,” James said. “And you could get run over by another one of those surfers. That would hurt like nobody’s business if you got clobbered by one of those boards.”

“Like nobody’s business,” Deborah muttered and all of a sudden she was glad that David’s ride was over.

“He’s going back out, your David,” James said.

“He’s not my David.” Deborah looked around and saw him. David was paddling back to catch another wave.

“So how did you meet him?” Rosa asked.

“We shared one of those taxi vans from the airport,” she said.

“That’s all?” James arched his eyebrows.

“No, we had lunch.”

“Just lunch?” Rosa said.

“Nothing else.” Deborah was about to say he was engaged, but then she’d have to say she’d met Connie Fabrizio and the questions would never stop.

“Lunch and nothing else,” James mimicked her.

“Really.” She looked away from the ocean to the man next to her. “And if you arch those eyebrow again, I’m going to smack you.”

“Look at that!” Kevin said. “He’s straight out of 1962.” He pointed to an aging surfer who was paddling his board alongside the pier, out toward where the kids were waiting to catch their waves. He was wearing a loud red Hawaiian shirt with faded yellow shorts that went down to his knees. Deborah saw the traditional ring of hibiscus flowers around each leg. The flower rings were bright pink.

“He’s big and fat, but he sure looks graceful.” Deborah wondered how that could be so. The surfer was lying on his stomach as he paddled his long board. She bet it was heavy. The man was ancient. Thick gray hair flowed over his back. He looked like a white whale as he lay on the board, but his arms moved through the water like a seal’s flippers.

“He’s a surfer from the old school, that’s for sure,” Kevin said. “It brings back memories. I used to wear baggy pants just like that when I was a kid.”

“Just how old are you?” Deborah asked.

“Forty-seven,” Kevin said.

“Really? You don’t look anywhere near it.”


Deborah looked at the surfer’s pants. “I think they’re cute.”

The Japanese tourists next to her were watching the old surfer, too. Deborah looked around. A lot of people were watching him. The noisy buzz that had been drifting along the pier had quieted. People were tapping others on the shoulder and pointing. Did people know him? Was he famous?

She turned back to the surfer. He was shrinking in the distance, but she’d noticed something else strange. The kids out beyond the pier were sitting on their boards. None of them were trying for waves. They looked like they were waiting. Passersby stopped to see what everybody was staring at. Some of them didn’t get it, because he was too far out now.

The surfer paddled among all the kids on their tiny high tech boards. A couple paddled aside to make way for him as he maneuvered his big board around. He was little more than a speck out there now, but there was no hiding the drama that was unfolding.

A wave was building behind the group of surfers. Apprehension filled the crowd. Did these people all know him? Was it possible? The surfer let the wave roll under him and more surfers, the ones farther away, sat on their boards. It was as if they were communicating via mental telepathy. Like dolphins.

The surfers on the beach were standing now. The ones without hats had their hands up to their foreheads to shield their eyes. The winds aloft were scooting wispy cirrus clouds across the sky, but none dared cover the setting sun. It was as if they too, knew something special was about to happen.

Another wave formed behind the surfers. This one bigger than the last. It was the kind of wave all these kids loved to ride, but none tried to catch it and the old surfer ignored it. Deborah found herself holding her breath. Goosebumps popped up on her arms as if she’d been too long in a cold bath. More people were watching now. It was almost as if something holy was about to take place.

Deborah ran her eyes along the beach. Mothers and children were watching the surfers standing next to their boards. They must be wondering what they were staring at. Two policemen walked among the crowd. They were looking out at the surfers on their boards, too.

“Look at that!” Kevin said.

Deborah turned. “Holy cow!” It was the mother of all waves. Any other day all those kids would be paddling to beat the band, struggling and straining to catch that wave. She’d only been out on the pier a few minutes and she knew that. But today only one man moved his board into position. He was standing even before the wave was under him. It looked like he’d gotten up too early. Surely the wave would crush him. But it didn’t. He rode up and over it as graceful as a swan in flight.

And then he was in it, shooting the curl as the great wave wrapped around him. And as if a spell had been broken, people started to cheer. Some were waving. Some stamping their feet. People were going crazy.

“Holy Moses!” Kevin yelled.

The Japanese were shouting a slew of short syllables. They were as enthusiastically caught up as everyone else.

The surfer was lost in the tunnel of water swirling around him, then he shot out of it and was riding the crest, hair streaking behind. The bright red Hawaiian shirt, unbuttoned, flapping like a flag. He was too far away for her to make out his expression, but he was standing back like a man that would be grinning. He was going to ride that wave all the way to the sand.

Then he turned and was surfing toward her.

“He’s going to shoot the pier!” Kevin said.

It was happening so fast. She gasped. It felt like her heart stopped. He was coming straight for her. She didn’t know how fast, but it seemed fast. Real fast. Fast fast. 

“Nobody shoots the pier,” Kevin said. “It’s too dangerous. Besides, it’s against the law. You can get killed!”

The roar was deafening. People were screaming like they were at a rock concert. He was close now. Deborah saw his face as clear as her own in a mirror. He was grinning. His white beer belly stuck out from his body. It almost looked like he was pregnant. She wondered if he could even button that flapping shirt. He held a hand up, waving as he shot under the pier.

She dashed to the other side, afraid that he’d smashed up on the pylons below. She sighed when the crowd cheered even louder as he shot out from underneath, heading toward the beach and the waiting police officers.

He was going to jail now. But so what? A man like that wouldn’t care. It would just be another adventure.

“Who was that?” Deborah asked as she watched the cops lead the man away.

“Johnny Tanner,” an older man with long gray hair tied in a ponytail said. “He used to be the best surfer in the state, but he got a job, got married and quit surfing about thirty years ago.”

“It looks like he just made a comeback,” Kevin said.

“Yeah,” the man said, “those kids out there must have been expecting him.”

“It was spooky,” Deborah said.

“Look!” someone said.

Deborah looked out to where the surfers had been waiting. Several of them were up on a wave, but one of them was in the lead and he was following the same course as the old surfer had only moments before. Deborah felt her heart leap. It was David. And she knew what he was going to do.

“No, David. Please no,” she murmured.

He was going to shoot the pier. Did he know she was up here? Was he trying to impress her?

“He’s going for it!” someone yelled. Johnny Tanner and his stunt were forgotten as all eyes were on the handsome man who seemed to be hanging over the front of his tiny board.

The wave wasn’t as big as the one Johnny Tanner had ridden, but it looked plenty big to Deborah, and David seemed to be going faster.

“Hail, Mary!” Kevin said.

“He’s not gonna make it!” someone else said.

He was so close now. He looked up. Their eyes locked. Then he was under the pier and Deborah shivered. She was sure he was going to be killed. But then a quiet roar welled up from the crowd. Quiet, because many of the watchers were sighing rather than cheering. Deborah was one of the sighers.

She looked toward the beach. The cops were halfway to the street. Johnny Tanner was with them. They’d been watching David’s performance. One of the police officers started back toward the water as David rode the board right up onto the beach. Then he was off it and running toward the pier. The cop started after him, but gave up when he realized it would be no contest. Once David was among the crowd, he’d be safe. No one would give him up for shooting the pier and the cop knew it.

She lay back against the rail and heaved a second sigh. He’d made it. Then all of a sudden she knew she had to get out of there. She didn’t want to meet him. Not yet. Not till she’d sorted out how she felt about what he’d done to her last night at that dinner with his family. No she didn’t want to meet him now, maybe not ever.

“I have to go.” She clutched Angelia’s wrist and pointed down the pier.

“Si.” Angelia seemed to sense her urgency.

There was a taco stand on the opposite side of the pier. People were lined up, some waiting to order, others waiting for their order to be finished. There were some tables next to the stand, people eating there. Next to the tables a group of people were looking down at the waves below.

“Come on!” Deborah wended her way though the crowd, joined the line with Angelia right behind. She saw David coming, heading to where he’d seen her as he rode that wave under the pier. She moved around Angelia, keeping the older woman between herself and him.

“Ah.” Angelia was no dummy. She knew exactly what Deborah was trying to do and she seemed to puff herself up, trying to make herself larger, the better to hide Deborah from the dripping wet, dark, handsome man in the bathing suit.

Deborah took off the leather jacket and draped it over her arm as David moved past. Then the two woman made their way off the pier. She saw that the light to cross Pacific Coast Highway was green and she picked up her pace, with Angelia matching her stride for stride, until they were across the street. She was about to head back to the motel when she felt a tug on her arm. Following Angelia’s pointed finger, Deborah nodded. 

“We should be safe in there.”

“Si,” Angelia said and they wandered into Jack’s Surf Apparel and Army Surplus, a large clothing store on the corner of the highway and Main Street.

*  *  *

David frantically looked through the crowd, but she wasn’t to be found. How could that be? She must have recognized him. They’d locked eyes, even from down there, just before he pulled the stupid stunt, he felt he was looking through those blue eyes and deep into her soul. There was a connection. There was. But he’d had to break it or the pylons would have broken him.

The situation was perfect. She was up here somewhere and he had to find her. She’d seen him surfing. He’d been here first, so it would be impossible for her to think that he was following her, that he’d set it up. Except that now she wasn’t here. She’d disappeared.

There was nothing for it, except for him to go back to his motel room. Initially he’d booked a room where the tour group was staying, but on reflection, he realized how it would look, him staying there, so he booked at a motel down the road, about a quarter mile away.

In the room he showered, then changed into jeans and a yellow Polo shirt. All his life he’d been used to first class rooms in first class hotels. This was a bare bones room, two double beds, a television and a bureau with a mirror on the wall above it. Somehow he didn’t think they had a laundry service, so he rinsed out the bathing suit in the sink and hung it over the shower curtain rod.

Just a small thing, washing his own bathing suit, but it was a chilling thing too, because it was a sign of things to come if he persisted on this quest. His family would forgive him if he and Connie broke off their engagement, but they’d disown him if he brought home an English bride. He’d go from prince to pauper in the wink of an eye and he’d be washing out a lot more than his bathing suit, because he’d have no money to pay to have his laundry done.

Did he want that?

He thought about his custom board, left lying on the beach. Over a thousand dollars. The police probably had it, waiting for him to come and pick it up so they could ticket him for shooting the pier. He wondered what the fine was. Two days ago he wouldn’t have given a second thought over the price of the board, much less the fine.

“Stop it, David,” he told himself aloud. What was he doing? Was he planning the rest of his life with a girl he’d only known for a day? Stupid? She would cost him everything? Besides, he didn’t know how she felt about him. Probably not much judging from how fast she’d disappeared from the pier.

He sat on the edge of one of the beds, picked up the remote and turned the television to CNN and tried to watch, but the news of the day held no interest for him. He clicked off the television, checked his watch. Almost six. He’d learned from the tour company that they were going to have a bonfire tonight at seven-thirty.

Would she believe it was a coincidence if he crashed the party? Could she? He lay back thinking about it as he closed his eyes. He felt like a stalker, was a stalker. But if he could make her believe he was walking the beach and just happened to stumble over the cookout, it might be okay.


He couldn’t think of what else to do.

He’d never felt this way before.

Chapter Nine

Deborah stared into the bonfire and curled her toes in the cold sand as the flames licked the night air with a cracking sound like hail smacking the street in front of the house she’d grown up in back in England. Stars filled the sky. There was no moon yet, but enough light filtered from the heavens for her to see that they were still out there, the surfers. Waves crashed against the shore, their foaming sound mixing with the sound of traffic up on the Pacific Coast Highway off in the distance.

Hamburgers crackled on a makeshift barbecue, some kind of screen over four stones. Kevin and Karen alternated between tending the smaller fire under the meat. It smelled heavenly. Deborah hadn’t had a thing to eat since that hot dog at Disneyland and she was ravenous.

The group was sitting around the bonfire on chair-sized stones worn smooth, Deborah thought, by hundreds of hungry fire watchers, eagerly awaiting their dinner, as she was.

The air was fresh, cooled by a slight breeze coming in from the ocean. The breeze played havoc with her hair and Deborah wished she’d thought to bring a scarf or a squeezy so she could pull it back into a ponytail. 

“I think I like it, the new outfit, I mean,” Rosa said.

Deborah and Angelia had joined the group late, having walked Main Street, wandering in and out of all the stores and boutiques after they’d outfitted Angelia in her new clothes. A pair of relaxed fit Levi’s, a solid gray T-shirt with a skull and cross bones emblazoned on the chest, a leather flight jacket similar to Deborah’s, and a pair of running shoes. Deborah too had bought a pair as the cowboy boots were getting a little uncomfortable.

“She’s just like me now,” Deborah said, “a gal in search of adventure.” She gave it her best imitation of an American accent, but she knew she hadn’t pulled it off when everybody started laughing. “Well, you know what I mean.”

“I think it’s great,” Rosa said and she hugged Deborah, then started speaking in Sicilian accented Italian to Angelia. Though she couldn’t speak the language, Deborah was starting to be able to tell the difference between the dialects.

“Did you meet your friend?” James asked. “Is that where you were all afternoon?”

“No. We bought Angelia’s clothes, then we played the tourists on Main Street,” Deborah said. But she’d been thinking of David the whole time. It was quite a coincidence seeing him surf like that, shooting the pier the way he did. She felt herself flush and was glad it was dark out. He was quite the athlete.

“Tell us all about him,” Rosa said as she took Deborah’s arm and led her away from the group, but she needn’t have done that, because Kevin, Karen and the young Italians were more interested in cooking their hamburgers and drinking American beer then they were in Deborah’s love life.

“There’s not much to tell,” Deborah said.

“Oh, I think there is,” Rosa said. “I saw you hide behind my sister when he came charging out on the pier looking for you. Then I saw how quickly you ran away.”

“I didn’t see that,” James said.

“You don’t see anything that’s not right under your nose,” his wife said. Back to Deborah she said, “So I guess he didn’t find you, did he?”

“No, he didn’t.”

“Are you afraid of him.” James puffed himself up. “Because if you are we can protect you.”

“No, I’m not afraid of him. It isn’t anything like that,” Deborah said as Angelia said something to Rosa. She wanted to know what they were talking about, Deborah realized, and she waited while Rosa translated what had already been said.

“Angelia wants to know all about this David,” Rosa said. “She says to tell it all and to leave nothing out. She’s very inquisitive, she’s always been that way. She likes to know everything. It’s very Sicilian.”

“It’s my life.” Deborah crossed her arms in front of herself as if to tell them that part of the conversation was closed.

“Angelia won’t give up, so you might as well start talking,” Rosa said. “Really, she’ll keep pestering me till you do and I’ll just have to keep pestering you.”

“And I won’t get any peace, so you might as well open up and get it over with,” James said.

“No.” Deborah stamped her foot.

“Si,” Angelia said. Her sad eyes were intense, her expression rigid.

“Angelia?” Deborah pleaded. She didn’t want to tell these strangers about how she’d been humiliated last night. She might tell Angelia, if she could talk to her, but she couldn’t.

“Get it off your chest,” James said.

“Si,” Angelia said again.

“All right, all right!” Deborah said and she started talking. She began with when she met David in the airport taxi and continued right up till she’d seen him surfing from the pier.

When she finished Angelia had a few words to say.

“She wants to know about the restaurant,” Rosa said. “Did David’s father own part if it? Was it a family business? Or was David’s father a lawyer? Is that what David meant when he said he was going to go into the family business after he passed the bar exam?”

“I don’t know,” Deborah said, curious. She would have thought Angelia would be more interested in the movie star Connie Fabrizio, but then maybe she wasn’t so famous in Italy. Yes, that was probably it.

“I was a bank investigator for thirty years,” James said “Worked for the Bank of America, and one thing I learned in all that time was not to believe in coincidence.”

“What do you mean?” Deborah said.

“You met this young man in the airport taxi and had a romantic evening, then you found out he was engaged when you barged in where you weren’t invited—”

“Wait a minute!” Deborah interrupted.

“No, you were snooping and you found out something David didn’t want you to know,” James said. “Then the very next day you just happen to see him surfing on the first day of your tour. That’s a coincidence, too much of one to believe in.”

“Well, I guess you’re going to have to, because I didn’t tell David about the tour. So there’s no way he could have known where I was going to be tonight.”

“It’s still a coincidence and I don’t like it.” Now it was his turn to cross his arms in front of himself.

Angelia said something else.

“She says it’s important to know about the family business,” Rosa said.

“Hello, my name’s David Strong.”

Deborah whirled as David stepped up to their circle. He had his hand out, approaching James. James uncrossed his arms and shook it.

“So you want to know about the family business?” Then he spoke a rapid fire heavily accented Italian to Angelia. Finished he said, “I told her my father is the CEO of Strong and Galterio, that he builds hotels. I also told her that he hopes his son one day will be able handle all the corporation’s legal work.” He smiled. “Quite a coincidence, you running into so many Sicilians your first few days in America.”

“And I was just saying how I don’t believe in coincidence,” James said.

“I do,” David said. “I’m Sicilian, my family, these women, pretty coincidental.”

“I can’t argue with that,” James said.

“Would you like to join us for dinner?” Rosa said. “I’m sure we’ll have enough.”

“I think I’d like that.” He laughed, a boyish kind of laugh that made him seem vulnerable. “What’s with the jacket on your friend?” David said. “Are you starting a fad?” He laughed again. Everybody else did too and as they laughed some of the doubts they had about David seemed to slip away.

They rejoined the rest of the group, made introductions and Deborah was relieved that their tour guides and the young Italians weren’t as interested in how she’d met David as James, Rosa and Angelia had been, because the last thing she wanted to do was to repeat the whole story again.

The moon rose as they made their hamburgers and the whole group watched in awe as it crept skyward, yellow and full. By the time they’d finished their meal and were all sipping an American Coors beer, the moon was high enough to illuminate the surfers and Deborah was surprised to see that several of them were still out there, riding the waves, even at this late hour.

“Do they always stay out after dark?” James asked Kevin.

“You can almost always count on one or two diehards, but with the contest coming up and a full moon, you’re going to get a lot more.” He got up, said that he and Karen were going back out on the pier to watch. The young Italians got up to join them.

“I think I’ll stay by the fire.” Deborah wanted the others to go and leave her alone with David. There was a lot she wanted to talk to him about.

“I think James and I have had enough excitement for one day. We’ll stay with the fire as well.

“Si.” Angelia nodded her head and sat on one of the smooth stones, staring at the orange and yellow flames as they licked at the night.

“So, young man, you are engaged to a movie star, yet you spent last evening with our Deborah,” James said and Deborah looked at him anew. Our Deborah he’d said. She hadn’t even known these people for a day and it was as if she’d been friends with them forever. There was that special connection she’d felt with Angelia, did that automatically make her connected to Rosa because they were twins? And to James as well because he was Rosa’s husband? It was almost as if she had a family again.

“You told them?” David turned to Deborah and she tried to read his expression. Was he angry or amused? He smiled and she sighed as he turned back toward James and started talking without waiting for her answer. “I can’t blame you for what you’re probably thinking about me,” he said, almost a whisper. She had to strain to hear him over the sound of the breaking waves. “My family can be a little daunting and it wasn’t right of me to throw Deborah to the wolves.”

“It was cruel,” Deborah said. She was speaking softly too.

“Yes. At first I was surprised when I heard your voice as you were being seated in my uncle’s restaurant. Sooner or later you were going find out I was there and I didn’t know what you’d do, so I took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and well it appears you all know the rest.”

“You seemed to enjoy it,” Deborah said.

“In the beginning maybe I did, but it was still wrong.” He paused as if he were searching for words. “You have to understand my family. Tradition is important.”

“I don’t understand what that has to do with me,” Deborah said.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with you. It’s me. Connie and I got engaged before her career took off. We can’t marry now, for a lot of reasons, but the most important one I think is that we don’t love each other any more, maybe we never did.”

“So why can’t you just call it off?” James said.

“You don’t know Sicilians.” He smiled at Rosa, then said. “Well, maybe you do.”

“Yes, son, I think I do,” James said. “After forty-three years of been married to Rosa, I think I understand them pretty well.”

In the background Deborah heard Rosa quietly translating for Angelia.

 “Then you’ll understand that my parents have been waiting a long time for me to get married,” David said. “And they love Connie. It was as if God had heard their prayers. Connie has the same problem, her mother wants the marriage as badly as mine.”

“And so you decided to introduce Deborah into the mix.” James chuckled. “You were hoping the sparks would fly and you’d be out of your marriage smooth as silk.”

“It was a spur of the moment thing and again it was wrong. For a few minutes there I thought Deborah might get angry. Then Connie might get angry, too. But it didn’t happen. Deborah made up that story about meeting me on the plane to save face and then ducked out the first chance she got.” He turned toward Deborah. “I’m sorry. Can you forgive me?”

“I think maybe it’s time I took my two ladies out to the pier to watch those surfers.” James got up, Rosa did too. Angelia did not.

“Come on,” Angelia,” James said. Deborah could see that she didn’t want to go, but she got up anyway and all of a sudden she was alone with David.

“Alone at last,” David said.

“Tell me you didn’t plan all this,” Deborah said. “I mean, I don’t know how you could have, but it just seems like an awful amount of coincidence.”

“I did plan it. I hope you’re not mad.”

“James was right. Oh, you!” She playfully punched him in the shoulder.

“Ouch! What was that for?”

“James said me meeting you at the airport, than seeing you out there surfing this evening was too much of a coincidence. He said he didn’t believe in coincidences, but I said it had to be one, because you didn’t know where we were going.”

“The kid at the hotel told me what cab company you took. I called them and found out where they dropped you off. Then I drove up to Hollywood, but the bus had already left, so I bribed that old guy up there and he gave me your itinerary.”

“How much?”


“The bribe. How badly did you want to see me again?”

“A hundred dollars worth.”

“Jeez.” She laughed. “You could have said a thousand and really made me feel special.”

“You are special and no I couldn’t have. I could never lie to you. No matter what else, always believe that about me. I’ll never lie to you.”

“A hundred dollars,” she said again.

“I’d have given more if I had to. A thousand, ten thousand. He was just a poor negotiator.”

“Really? You would have paid ten thousand dollars to find out where I was tonight?”

“I would have, and you can believe that because—”

“I know, because, you’d never lie to me.”

“That’s right.”

So, James was right, David had contrived the whole thing. Part of her wanted to be mad, but she couldn’t be, just couldn’t. He’d gone to so much trouble to meet her again. No man had ever done that before. It made her feel special, even if he did only pay a hundred dollars.

“You want to take a walk on the beach?” David said.


He offered his hand. She took it and shivered at his touch. There was an electricity between them, there was no denying that. Standing, still holding her hand, he led her down the beach in the opposite direction her friends had gone only minutes earlier. Quickly they were alone in a world all their own, on one side the pounding surf, on the other, high bluffs. There were people up there walking, Rollerblading, cycling on the bicycle path. There were cars traveling on Pacific Coast Highway. There was a cinema complex she’d seen earlier on Main Street, people were there watching movies. There were restaurants and bars up there where people were eating, drinking. But down here there was only the pounding surf, the moon, David and her. Then a cloud covered the moon and it was dark.

All of a sudden he stopped. “Would you care if I kissed you?”

“What?” she said startled. “No, I don’t think so. That would be nice.” She loved the way he had asked, it was sweet. He let go of her hand, put his hands on her shoulders, gently turned her so that she was looking into his dark eyes. “David,” she whispered.

“Hush.” He lowered his lips to hers, captured them. There was no resisting, she didn’t want to resist, couldn’t have resisted. She was his, now and forever. Whatever he wanted of her, she would give. He could have her right here, take her on the beach with the water lapping over their naked bodies, she didn’t care. All she knew was that she wanted him, needed him.

The kiss was deep, long and she shuttered, fought to keep from passing out. What was happening to her? She pushed him away. “I need some air.” She grabbed a quick breath. “I feel like I’m drowning.”

“Me too.” He seemed to be struggling for breath every bit as much as she. After a second he said, “I think I’ve fallen in love with you.”

“I feel the same.” She looked into his eyes and dark as it was, she was able to see that he was sincere. “It’s unbelievable.”

He kissed her again and this time there was no coming up for air. It was as if she were in a warm sea and going down. Going down and loving it, reveling in it. Then he broke the kiss.

“Marry me,” he said. More of a command than a question.

“Yes,” she answered as he lowered her to the cool sand even as his lips found hers again.

She felt his hand at her waist, at the buttons on her Levi’s. He was trying to get them off. Somehow she managed to kick off her new running shoes, then her hands were at his belt buckle, they were stripping each other like hunger teenagers. It was crazy. She was crazy. He was crazy. Everything was crazy. They wiggled out of their pants like snakes shedding their skin, never breaking the kiss, their tongues entwined, dancing.

She felt the sand against her skin as he mounted her. She ran her hand between their bodies, grabbed him and gasped. He was hard with desire as she guided him into her. Contact and she shuddered with the orgasm. He hadn’t even entered yet and she was going off like she’d never gone off before. How could this be happening?

She pulled her hand away from him as he slid himself inside and all of a sudden her world exploded. Wave after wave of pleasure blasted through her, orgasm after orgasm seemingly never ending, like the waves beating against the beach and she hadn’t even done anything yet, hadn’t moved.

Then he was pulling out.

No, she wanted to scream, but she needn’t have worried, because now he was going back in and he was going in hard. She arched her hips, again and again and again to match his pounding rhythm. His driving rhythm. His hard driving rhythm. She wrapped her arms around him. Grabbed him tightly. She was never going to let go. Never, never, never.

And it seemed like he was never going to stop. He was driving her into the sand, taking her in the open, the way primitive men had taken their women thousands of years ago and she was every bit as primitive as any woman had ever been, wanting nothing more in the world than this man inside of her, here, now, always.

“I love you,” he said as his body stiffened. “Only you,” he said in the middle of his pleasure and unbelievable as it was, she had still another orgasm, the mother of all orgasms. She tried to scream, but he covered her mouth with his. Kissed her hard as her whole body vibrated and vibrated and vibrated.

“Wow!” she said when he broke the kiss.

“Yeah,” he said as he rolled off her. Then, “I didn’t hurt you did I?”

“If you did, It was worth it.” Where did that come from? She didn’t talk like that. That wasn’t her. Well, maybe it was now. Maybe it was the new her. She was changed, that was for sure.

“We should get dressed before someone comes.” He sat up.

“Yeah.” She pushed herself up too. “I’m covered in sand.”

“I’ll brush it off.”

She was nude from the waist down. He was too as he wiped the sand away from her sticky, sweat covered body. Self-conscious now, she looked around. She needn’t have bothered. There was no one to see. They were still alone in their own little world.

“Finished,” he said, then he pulled on his pants.

“Thanks.” She reached for her jeans, then stopped as she saw the wispy clouds move on and reveal the moon, a bright orange ball. She sighed, it was as if that gorgeous moon had been waiting for them to finish before showing herself.

“Look,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

“Not nearly as beautiful as you,” he said.

“Really?” She pulled up her jeans.

“Yes, really. And I meant what I asked. I just didn’t say it in the heat of passion. I want to marry you.”

“I know you meant it. I know you do. I want to marry you, too.”

“Not some day in the future. I want to do it as soon as possible. Las Vegas tomorrow, how does that sound?”

“What about Connie?” Deborah hated bringing up his fiancée, but it had to be done. She had to be realistic. As much as she wanted to run away with him right this minute, she couldn’t do it until he’d worked everything out with her.

“You’re right.” He seemed thoughtful, almost as if he were having second thoughts. “And I’ve got to tell my family. It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t.”

“Of course.” She was worried.

“I didn’t want to get married in a place like Vegas anyway,” he said, brightening, “too ordinary.” He paused, looked into her eyes. “Tell you what, you finish the first part of your vacation, enjoy Southern California with your new friends. While you’re doing that I’ll make everything all right with Connie and my family and when you get back to Hollywood, I’ll be waiting with plane tickets in hand.”

“Plane tickets?” She was confused. If he didn’t want to get married in Las Vegas, what did they need plane tickets for?

“For Dominica. It’s a small island in the Caribbean. It’s romantic, you can get married there without waiting and we can charter a boat and spend our honeymoon sailing in paradise.”

“Honeymoon,” she said and hugged herself.

Chapter Ten

Deborah leaned into him as they walked back to the campfire arm in arm. Love at first sight, she still couldn’t believe it. And she was going to get married after only knowing David for a day. She couldn’t believe that either. She felt like pinching herself, but she was afraid she might wake up.

“You shouldn’t have left the campfire unattended,” Kevin said when they returned. James, Rosa and Angelia were there with him. Karen must be still off with the Italians from the Vatican, Deborah thought.

“You were afraid maybe the beach would catch on fire?” David laughed.

“Regulations,” Kevin said sheepishly, then laughed along with David.

“Oh sod the fire,” Deborah said. “We’re getting married.” Then she laughed too.

“What?” Rosa said, then she lapsed into Italian and Angelia jumped up from the rock she was sitting on, came over to Deborah and hugged her.

“Oh, Angelia.” Deborah hugged her hard. There were tears in the older woman’s eyes and all of a sudden Deborah was glad that she wasn’t running off right away and getting married. She needed some time too, some time to get to know this wonderful woman she could barely talk to, but with whom she seemed to be able to communicate so well. “I’m not leaving tonight. We’ll have a whole week together,” she said and David translated as they broke the hug.

Forty-five minutes later Deborah was standing with David on Pacific Coast Highway. They were on the sidewalk next to his car, an old brown Ford. David had explained that the car was his neighbor’s, that they had traded so that he could carry his surfboard down to the beach.

“I really loved that board,” he said.

“I don’t think the police are going to give it back without giving you a good talking to,” Deborah said.

“And I could certainly do without that.” He laughed. She loved his laugh. “Especially tonight, because I expect in an hour or so I’m going to get enough talking to to last me a lifetime.”

“Oh, David, are you sure you don’t want me to go with you?” It was silly. She’d seen into his soul, knew she meant as much to him as he did to her, but she was afraid of what his family might say.

“No, it’s something I have to do on my own.”

“I think I should go with you. We should be together.”

“In your heart of hearts, you know this is something I have to do by myself,” he said.

“Oh, I know you’re right,” Deborah said. “It’s just that I’m worried they might try and talk you out of it.”

“My father might be upset at first, but he’d never try to do that. It’s just that he loves Connie like a daughter. It’ll be a shock. A shock for my grandmother, too. There might be some fireworks from her, but she’ll come around.” He unlocked the car door. “I really should go, if I stay any longer, I’ll be dragging you off somewhere.”

“You can drag me.”

They both laughed and Deborah thought that laughing was going to be a big part of their life together. Then he interrupted the laughter with a long kiss.

“I’ll be waiting when you get back from the first half of your adventure. Then we’ll be off.”

“Oh, David, I can hardly wait,” she said as he eased himself into the car and then he was gone.

She cried as she made her away down the beach to her new friends, but they were tears of happiness. Angelia held her hand when Deborah got back to the dying campfire and she cried too. It was as if they were tied together emotionally, Deborah and Angelia.

*  *  *

David kept his eyes on the tail lights of the car in front as he made his way south on Pacific Coast Highway. He felt good, but a little afraid. His father had been such a force in his life and he’d spent most of his life trying to live up to his expectations. He’d done well, made his father proud, until he failed that bar exam, his only black mark, but Gino finally forgave him. “After all,” his father had said, once he got over his disappointment and his anger at the system, “there’s lots of famous lawyers in America that didn’t pass the bar the first time out. You’ll pass it next year.”

Thank the Lord there was no way his father could ever find out he’d failed it on purpose. That was a secret he kept absolutely to himself and there was no one he’d ever tell, not even Deborah. He frowned, gripped the steering wheel. He didn’t like the idea of keeping secrets from her, but he was already keeping one big one, what was this, compared to that? Still, it made him feel guilty, a new feeling for him.

“She really got to you, David,” he said aloud. “She got to you like nobody’s business.” He sighed. It was like someone had hit him over the head with a sledgehammer and altered his personality. One minute he was confident and sure of himself, the next he was in love like a gawky teenager mooning over a cheerleader, his confidence gone, replaced by a quivering doubt about whether he was good enough for her. He’d never felt like this before.

And that sledgehammer changed his future. No longer was his whole life planned out for him. Now he was wallowing in a sea of uncertainty, the future murky, the present a haze, the past something he wanted to forget.

He left the highway and turned left onto Second Street full of apprehension. He passed the Menopause Lounge and turned left again to Ocean where he made a right and continued on till home. He parked the Ford in front of Ricky and Gordon’s and got out. The lights were on, they were still up, but it was just after eleven, he should wait until morning. Even as he thought it, he knew he wouldn’t wait. He had to tell someone about Deborah and he had to tell them now.

He went up the walk and knocked on door.

“Ricky’s asleep,” Gordon said when he answered the door. “And you missed Connie about an hour ago and some guy that looks like he just stepped out of an old black and white gangster movie.”

“Little guy, looks like a weasel?” David said.

“That’s the guy,” Gordon said.

“Horace Nighthyde. I wonder what she’s doing with him?”

“She’s moving. He’s helping.”

“She couldn’t get anybody else?”

“I don’t know. I would’ve helped, but she didn’t ask.”

“Wait a minute, you said she was moving. When did this happen?” Someone just didn’t up and move overnight. She had to be planning it for quite awhile. How come she’d never said a word to him about it? And where was she going?

“Again, I don’t know. She doesn’t confide in me.”

“Apparently not in me, either.” David felt the blood rushing to his head. They were supposed to be engaged. How could she do this, move away without telling him? “Can I come in and sit down?”

Gordon peered over David’s shoulder. “What happened to the surf board?”

“It’s a long story, ending with me getting married in about a week.”

“Why do I feel that this will be news to Connie?” Gordon stepped aside and David went in.

“Just say congratulations.”

“Congratulations.” Gordon closed the door and followed David into the living room. David took an arm chair opposite the sofa. The room was light and airy, the furniture was rattan, the cushions green and floral. The furniture was a perfect blend with the beach outside and the forest of plants that Gordon and Ricky had growing everywhere.

“Congratulations again, I think.” Gordon took a seat on the sofa. “Now tell me all about it,” he said and David did. “She sounds like a wonderful girl,” Gordon said when he finished. “So how come you seemed a little angry when I told you Connie was moving? Seems to me if you’re getting married to someone else, that you wouldn’t care where Connie lives or who she informs about it.”

“You’re right,” David said. “I’ve got no business being upset about it. It’s just that so much has happened to me since yesterday and I haven’t quite adjust to it all yet.”

“Marriage is a big step. It takes a lot of adjusting.”

“You don’t think I’m being maybe a little too quick about all this?”

“Having second thoughts?” Gordon said.

“Do you have to answer my question with a question? Can’t you just give me a straight answer?”

“Okay, I believe in love at first sight, but then I’m an incurable romantic. However, I’m not the one you’re worried about, am I?”

“Heaven help me, another question.”

“Is it Connie?”

David was about to answer no, that it was his family he was worried about, when he heard someone knocking. Gordon got up, went to the door. It was Connie and that Horace Nighthyde character was with her.

“Speak of the devil,” Gordon said as they entered.

“You were talking about me?” Connie said.

“In a way. David was just telling me how he’s met someone he wants to marry.”

“Gordon!” David said.

“The little English girl?” Connie said.

“What English girl?” Nighthyde said.

“He met her on the way home from the airport yesterday. She’d come over to take one of those bus trips up and down the California coast. Wait, not just a bus trip, the girl said, an Americoach tour.” Connie smiled. “Congratulations, David.”

“You could at least pretend to be upset.” David was relieved that she was taking it so well, too well.

“Oh, David, you knew we were never going to get married.”

“Really?” Nighthyde said, smiling at Connie. It was obvious he had a crush on her. Good luck, buddy, David thought. He hoped Connie knew what she was doing, hanging out with somebody like that, but then she usually did. Besides, she liked flirting with danger.

“Put your eyes back in your head, Horace and go out to the car and get David’s clubs.” Connie had borrowed his clubs weeks ago to go golfing with her younger brother who didn’t own a set.

“Better watch your puppy dog,” David said as soon as Nighthyde was out of earshot. “He bites.”

“Who? Horace?” Connie said. “I can handle him.” She laughed as if the mere thought of Horace hurting her was ridiculous. “Have you told your father yet?”

“I thought I’d wait till morning.”

“Whoops,” she said, “no can do. Gino’s going back tonight. He’s over at your Uncle Armando’s right now, packing.”

“Why’d he cut the trip short?” But as soon as he asked, he know Connie wouldn’t know. The men in his family kept the woman out of the business. It’s the way it had always been and the way it would always be.

“Why would he tell me?” Connie said as if to underscore his thought. She had her hair up, she seldom wore it that way. It looked good. “Oh don’t look so panic stricken,” she said. “His flight doesn’t leave till two-thirty. You’ve got over an hour before they all go out to the airport.” Picking somebody up or dropping someone off at the airport had always been a family thing. David wouldn’t be surprised if his grandmother, aunt and uncle were all riding out to LAX with his father. Heck, if they had a bigger car, they probably make Frankie and Little Gino go along as well.

“Then I better hustle.” Maybe it was only ten minutes to Seal Beach where Armando lived, but David was sure he would need a lot more time than that to explain about Deborah, so he really was in a hurry.

“Good luck,” Gordon and Connie said in unison as he headed for the door.

“Can I use your car again?” David said, assuming it would be okay.

“Sure thing.”

Second Street was deserted and David saw that Pacific Coast Highway had only a few cars on it when he turned at the traffic light. It was almost midnight. Clouds had moved in from the ocean, blanketing the moon, making it a dark night. He hoped that it wasn’t a sign. He hoped that his father and grandmother would congratulate him and welcome Deborah into the family, but somehow he didn’t think that was going to happen. They would be angry, but there would be no shouting. Not in the Strong family, but he’d see their anger, feel it. They’d would try and make him ashamed, try and talk him out of it.

However he felt fairly confident that when they saw how much he loved her, they would come around. After all, they wouldn’t want him to marry someone else if it would make him unhappy. That’s not what the Strong family was about. Strong men made their own decisions, damned the consequences and lived with the results. But could he convince them in the short time he’d have before they had to go to the airport? If his father’s flight left at two-thirty, they probably wouldn’t leave till one because Gino Strong hated waiting. “Much better to sit around with family and friends and sip Chianti than wait around an airport with a bunch of strangers,” he’d heard his father say on more than one occasion.

Yes, he thought, that’s what they’d be doing when he got there, drinking wine. Well, maybe that would be a good thing, maybe it would take the sting out of their initial anger. But the wine might also excite their emotions, make it worse. He hoped that wouldn’t be the case, hoped that nothing would be said that couldn’t be taken back later.

All of a sudden he wanted to hurry, to be there, to get it over with. He tapped down on the accelerator, but instead of going faster, the engine sputtered, then stopped.

“No!” David pounded the wheel, then steered the car toward the side of the road. That damn gas gauge. He was out of gas. Could he have used a half tank? Could Gordon have been wrong about the amount? “Stop it, David,” he told himself. There was no use blaming someone else. He’d told Gordon he’d fill it up and he’d forgotten. His fault.

He coasted to a parking spot in front of a Taco Bell Mexican fast food restaurant, got out of the car and opened the trunk. Thank the Lord for small favors, there was a gas can. But could he get to the Seventy-six station back on the corner of Second and PCH, and back to the car in time to get to Armando’s before they all left for the airport? Maybe if he could talk the gas station attendant into giving him a ride back. That shouldn’t he a problem, he thought, because even if there was only one man working, a large tip would entice him to close up for a few minutes and ferry David back to Gordon’s car.

But after twenty minutes he wasn’t so sure. It was farther to the station than he thought. He checked his watch. They’d be going in about forty-minutes. He picked up his pace. Fifteen minutes later he started to jog, the giant spinning orange ball with 76 emblazoned on it, a beacon in the distance. Desperate, he wasn’t going to make it, he started to run.

He heard the quick blurp of the siren before the police car pulled alongside him.

David stopped.

“What’s the problem?” an older officer asked him. He was alone in the car, leaning over the passenger side, talking though the open window.

David dropped the gas can, bent over, hands on his knees.

“Out of breath,” he gasped. “Out of gas. And I have only a few minutes to get to Seal Beach and tell my family I’m getting married before they leave for the airport.”

“Get in,” the officer said. “I’ll take you.”

David picked up the gas can, got in the car.

“Gas station first? Do you have time?”

“No,” David said.

“Then let’s get you to Seal Beach.” The cop put on the siren and stepped on the gas.

“Thank you,” David said.

“No problem. To protect and serve, that’s what it says on the side of the car. Tonight I’m serving.”

David showed him the way to Armando’s, but when they got there the house was dark. It was too late.

“I guess I’ll have to tell them over the phone,” David said.

The policeman gave him a ride back to the all night gas station, then back to his car. It was two o’clock by the time he got home, tired and despondent. He called Connie on her cell phone straightaway.

“It’s me,” he said when she answered.

“It really must be love,” Connie said. “You didn’t even ask me where I was moving to.”

“I’m sorry and yes, it’s love.”

“That’s nice to hear, coming from you.”

“I need a big favor.”

“Anything,” she said.

“I ran out of gas and didn’t get to Armando’s till after they left.”

“Oh dear.”

“So, can you keep it quiet, you know about me getting married. We’re going to elope, I just decided.” That way he wouldn’t have to deal with Nana or the family.

“That’s wonderful,” Connie said. “I won’t tell a soul. You can count on me.”

“Thank you,” David said, but he’d forgotten about Horace Nighthyde, a man he definitely couldn’t count on.

*  *  *

The next week was a blitz of Southern California sights and sounds and Deborah took it all in with Angelia, James and Rosa constantly by her side. Sunsets on endless beaches, dry deserts, bustling cities, people with wide smiles from all walks of life. There was no class system in California and everybody’s accent was the same. Everybody was so friendly, from restaurant waiters to the helpful policeman that pointed out the way to a boutique in Newport Beach that sold custom made jewelry made from exotic sea shells.

And every night Deborah was alone with Angelia in a different motel room. They talked in their respective languages, laughed and poked fun at things they didn’t understand about each other, grew closer. And even though that should have surprised Deborah, that she could grow even closer to Angelia than she had on that first day, it didn’t. It was almost as if it had been ordained. Somehow, despite the age difference and the language barrier, they became like sisters. And James and Rosa became like family, too.

The week was all too soon over and on the bus ride back to Hollywood, Deborah and Angelia both broke down and cried. Tears of happiness for Deborah’s impending marriage mingled with tears of sorrow, because Deborah was going to be leaving. Deborah promised she’d write them in Houston. Angelia promised she’d learn English and Deborah promised she’d learn Italian.

“That will be good for you, learning Italian,” Rosa said. “You’ll be killing two birds with one stone, because you’ll need it to talk to David’s family, the ones that don’t speak English.”

“How do you know he’s got family that don’t speak English?” Deborah said.

“I suppose because he speaks Italian like he was born in Sicily. There must be someone in his family that spoke it to him when he was growing up, otherwise he wouldn’t be so fluent.”

“Maybe his parents just wanted him to have his native language,” Deborah said.

“Maybe,” Rosa said, “but even so, having a second language in common with your husband will be a good thing, especially if he speaks it to your children. You wouldn’t want your husband and kids talking in a language you couldn’t understand, now would you?”

“Not on your life.” Deborah laughed as Rosa translated, then they were all laughing as Kevin pulled the bus off the freeway and they laughed all the way into the Americoach parking lot where Deborah saw David standing tall, wearing faded Levi’s and a short sleeved yellow shirt outside the jeans, open at the collar, very casual. The sun was hanging low in the sky, casting its warm glow, making him look soft and vulnerable. Handsome and strong, like his name, but soft and vulnerable, too.

“There’s your fellow,” Rosa said.

“Si,” Angelia said.

“Yeah, there he is.”

“You never doubted, did you?” James said.

“Not for a second.” Deborah smiled, because what she told James was the truth. What she’d shared with David on that beach was so powerful, so intimate, so binding, that she knew nothing short of death itself would have kept him away.

*  *  *

David held his breath as the bus lumbered into the parking lot with the setting sun, an elephant of a vehicle. The size of the mammoth beast, but none of the beauty, none of the grace. In the last week he’d done a lot, but not nearly enough. He’d had Connie over for dinner, talked to her about Deborah throughout the meal. She’d laughed, said she was happy for him. She’d also said she was glad she wasn’t going to be around when he told his family.

And that he hadn’t done. He’d tried, but just couldn’t bring himself to do it. It would break his grandmother’s heart and infuriate his father. They would try and stop the marriage, try and turn Deborah against him and that he could not live with. Better to present them with a fait acompli. Once the deed was done and they got to know Deborah, they’d come around. It would be okay, after all, with them marriage was for life.

The bus parked in front of the office and David clenched his fists in anticipation as the door opened. She was the first out.

“David,” she squealed.

“Deborah.” He relaxed and opened his arms as she ran toward him.

Chapter Eleven

“You’re still driving your friend’s old car,” Deborah said as she got in the passenger side. Their reunion had been swift, but wonderful. She was the first off the bus, rushed into his open arms and he’d kissed her long and deeply in front of everybody, not caring who saw. Deborah didn’t care either. Now they were about to be on their way to a new life together.

“Yeah, mine’s a classic “57 Thunderbird, it wouldn’t last a day in long term parking at the airport, no matter what kind of security they claim they have.”

“Whereas nobody in their right mind would steel this.” Deborah rolled the window down and waived one last goodbye to Angelia, James and Rosa as David started Gordon’s car and drove out of the parking lot. She turned back toward him. “We could have taken a taxi or one of those airport vans that we met in, then we wouldn’t have to leave your friend’s clunky car at the airport.”

“It’s not so clunky. It just looks it. The engine, transmission, everything mechanical is top of the line, this car can scream like a bat out of hell if it wants to.” Why was he talking about the car? Was he trying to take her mind off her friends or trying to keep the conversation away from his family?

“You didn’t tell them, did you, your family?”

“Am I that transparent?”

“You didn’t, did you?”

“How can you tell?” David clutched the steering wheel tightly, because now he was taking a page out of Gordon’s book, answering a question with a question. He had to tell her about the family, then she’d understand why he hadn’t been able to tell them. But not now. Later, when he figured out what to say. He gripped the wheel tighter. When would that be? He’d spent all week worrying about it. If he couldn’t figure out how to tell her in all that time, did he think the words were going to come to him in a few minutes.

“I can tell, because I know you. Even though it’s only been a few days, I feel like I’ve known you all my life. I know your moods. I know when you’re hiding something. Don’t ask me how, but I know.”

“Okay,” he laughed. “I didn’t tell them. I missed my father, he went back to New Jersey early. I thought about telling him on the phone, but he’ll be back. He comes out every month—”

“So you thought it’d be easier if it was a fait acompli,” she interrupted, “if we were already married?”

“Something like that.”

“And will we be married by then?” She sounded unsure of herself now, like a little girl. Was she changing her mind?

“Wild horses couldn’t stop me,” he said.

“Me either.”

David saw the freeway entrance ahead. He was going to have to take the Santa Ana to the Harbor, to the Century Freeways. There was no direct route from Hollywood to the airport. It would give them time to talk, get reacquainted.

*  *  *

Deborah thought there was more to David not telling his parents than his father catching an early plane, but it was his family and it was for him to work out, so she decided to leave it alone.

“So what did you do all week, while I was touring Southern California?”

“This and that.” He laughed. That was good, she like the sound of it.

“Tell me.”

“Well, I bought airline tickets to the Caribbean. You’ll love Dominica.”

“You’ve been there before?”

“Yeah, I go down to the Caribbean and crew on race boats whenever I get the chance. I’ve sailed in a lot of the regattas down there, so I know most of the islands.”

“I sail,” Deborah said, pleased that they had this in common. “My mother and I spent the summers in Southampton. We had a boat in the marina there, not a race boat, but a nice little twenty-six footer with a fin keel.” For a second she thought tears might come, because she’d loved that little boat, but sadly it was one of the things they had to sell when her mother became ill.

“So you really do know how to sail?”

“I’m not just a pretty face, you know.” She curled her toes back hard in her sneakers, using the flash of pain to help take away the memory of her mother being sick. Now wasn’t the time for it.

“Then you’re going to love the month I planned out.” He took the on ramp and shifted easily into the fast lane. Deborah didn’t know how he could do it, understand the tangle of freeways that ran all over the Los Angeles area. And the way he darted between the cars, without even turning to look. She could never do that, but then she was cautious by nature. At least she had been, right up until she’d met David and thrown all caution to the wind.

“Keep talking.” She was starting to feel better.

“First we catch a night flight to Miami,” he looked at his watch, “in about two hours. Then we rush to catch a flight to Martinique.”

“Martinique, I thought we were going to Dominica. You said they had no waiting to get married, remember?”

“We are going to Dominica, but they don’t have an airport big enough to take jets. We have to get an inter-island commuter.”

“They must not get many tourists, if they can’t get the big planes.”

“Cruise ships.”


“But you’re right, they don’t get anywhere near the tourists the other islands get. In a way it’s like going back in time.”

“How far back?”

“Way back, you’ll love it.”

“I love you, that’s all I need.”

“We’ll be there before the sun sets tomorrow and we’ll be married before dinner.”

“Just think, in less than twenty four hours,” she said.

“Not getting cold feet?” He sounded worried, he needn’t be.

“What me? Never!” She reached over, squeezed his arm.

“After the short, but lovely service, we’ll go to our honeymoon cottage in gorgeous Prince Rupert Bay where we’ll, well you know.”

“I know. I can hardly wait.” She tingled with the thought of it. She wanted him close to her, holding her. She wanted to make love to him all night long. And the next time she would. It wouldn’t be a quicky on the beach. She laughed. That quicky had been a powerful, wonderful thing. It had changed her whole life.

“You’re blushing,” he said.

“I was thinking about our night on the beach.”

“What, by the campfire?”

“You know what I mean.” She punched him in the arm playfully.

“I know what you mean, boy do I know what you mean.” He laughed too, like a little boy and now Deborah knew for certain that everything was going to be all right. “Then after we’ve spent four lovely days, doing, well you know,” he laughed, “we’ll catch the island hopper to Grenada where we’ll pick up our forty-five foot sailing home on which we’ll spend a delightful three weeks.”

“I can hardly wait,” she said. “I’m so happy, just think, my little adventure is turning into both a honeymoon and a grander adventure than I ever could have imagined.”

At the airport they had a bland dinner in the terminal, but it didn’t matter because they were talking as they had that first day. Actually, when she thought about it as he slept next to her in the aisle seat on the plane, she’d done most of the talking, with him drinking up every word as if he were a thirsty man come in from the desert and here words were water. Nobody except her mother had ever been interested in her like that before. He seemed insatiable. He wanted to know everything, from the cradle to the present, and she’d relished the telling. There was nothing in her life she wanted to hide from him, even her old boyfriends. Her life was an open book and he was the reader.

“Time to wake up.” She nudged him when the pilot turned on the seatbelt sign in preparation for landing. “You must have been tired, you’ve been asleep for the last half of the flight.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, you looked so peaceful. I didn’t want to wake you. Besides, I had the new Jack Priest horror novel that I bought in the flight shop.”

“Jack Priest,” I don’t think I know him.”

“Horror writer, like Stephen King, but not as verbal.”

Since neither of them had eaten on the plane, they had an early breakfast, then made their way to Customs and Immigration. Inside, Deborah stopped at a kiosk and spied another Priest novel she hadn’t read and picked it up, just in case he slept away most of the next flight as well. But she needn’t have worried on that score, he was relaxed, having gotten a few hour sleep during the night. She was the one who was tired, but she only slept fitfully.

They landed in Martinique in time for lunch. Deborah was as tired as she’d ever been, but she woke right up when she saw the size of the commuter plane. When David had said jets couldn’t land in Dominica, she never thought propellers and she’d never thought the plane would be so small. 

“It’s okay,” David assured her. “They do this all the time.”

But it wasn’t okay, she was terrified. The plane was so small and they were loading so much luggage into it. How would it ever get off the ground? Then, when it was time to board, they wanted David to sit up front and her in the rear, because he was heavier, they’d said. It was better to distribute the weight that way, the heavier passengers forward, the lighter ones in the rear.

David got on first, with the other men. Deborah, being the lightest, she supposed, was boarded last. She didn’t like it, but David seemed so confident and when she took her seat he turned around and winked.

Then they closed the door and the plane taxied to the runway. Deborah felt like she was being jolted in a carnival ride and they hadn’t even taken off yet. Then the pilot put in the power and they rattled down the runway. She wanted to scream. They were going to crash, she knew it, but somehow, she couldn’t imagine how, the plane left the ground and flew.

In the air she saw the wide bay and the busy city of Fort de France below. Sailboats abounded, seemingly standing still as they sailed from one side of the bay to the other. Then the plane turned and they were flying over lush green Martinique. She closed her eyes, sure that they were going to crash into the forested mountains. She didn’t sleep, how could anyone with the sound of those propellers as loud as they were?

Almost three hours that seemed a lifetime later, they were approaching Dominica’s small Melville Airport on the windward side of the island. Please, God, she prayed to herself, guide the pilot’s hand, let him land the plane safely. She fisted her hands as she stared out the window and watched the ground rush up to grab them, but at the last minute the pilot straightened the plane and they landed on the runway with a bounce that jolted her to the core, but then the wheels found the pavement and the pilot taxied the plane to the terminal.

“Safe,” she said when someone from outside opened the door. She couldn’t wait to get out.

In contrast the taxi ride through Dominica’s mountain rain forest was a panoramic thrill that she’d never forget.

“It’s so beautiful.” She laid her head on David’s shoulder.

“Coming to get married?” the West Indian cab driver said from the front seat.

“Yes.” Deborah saw his smiling face and gleaming white teeth looking at them through the rearview mirror. She smiled back.

“I can always tell.”

“Do you know where we have to go to get the license?” David asked.

“Not waitin’ till tomorrow?” the driver said.

“No,” Deborah said.

“Well, you all just settle back and leave it to Andrew, that’s me,” he said and Deborah could swear his eyes were twinkling at her through that mirror. “Meanwhile, I’ll be your tour guide, lots to see in mountains.”

He had a gentle voice and though Deborah wanted to just hold David’s hand and stair out the window at the tropical beauty as they motored along, she found she didn’t mind him pointing out the different kinds of banana and coconut palm trees. In fact, there must have been hundreds of different flowers and trees and he seemed to know them all.

“Hotel first or the Justice of the Peace?” the driver said when they entered Portsmouth, a small two street town that seemed out of this century. Everywhere she looked she saw smiling black faces. She hadn’t known what to expect, hadn’t thought about it, but here she was in the minority. It was an eerie feeling.

“Could we get something to eat first?” Deborah said. “They didn’t give us anything on that small plane and I’m starved.” Not to mention that she had been on the go for the last twenty-four hours. She needed a few calm minutes just to sit and unwind.

“I know a nice restaurant out by the medical school,” the driver said. “Good food and quiet.”

“Sounds just right,” David said.

“They have a medical school here?” Deborah asked. From what she’d seen of the tiny town, she didn’t think it could support one doctor, much less a school for them.

“Sure do,” the driver proudly said. “It’s for the ones that couldn’t get into one in the States. They come here for their education. Mostly Americans, but we get some from England, too. He turned onto a road that paralleled the sea and Deborah saw a protected bay with some sailboats at anchor. “That’s it there, the medical school.” Andrew pointed to a group of buildings as they slowed down. “Best food on the island.” He smiled through the mirror at the startled expression that must have been on her face.

There were several food stalls lining both sides of the road, small shacks really. Several young, white faces were lined up at the various stalls. College kids, she thought, the medical students.

“That one there makes the best roties in the Caribbean.” Andrew pointed to a bright blue painted stall. Seven or eight students were waiting in line.

“Ever had a roti?” David said.


“Then it’s time you tried one.”

The roti was sort of like a burrito only with curried peas and chicken inside. You ate it with your hands.

“You like it?” Andrew asked.

“Very much.” This wasn’t exactly the quiet restaurant that she’d expected, but she was glad that Andrew had brought them to these huts by the side of the road. 

They spent some time talking to the students, tomorrows doctors, she thought, and they told her stories of how they couldn’t get into or afford a school in the States, so they came here to learn. They got a good education and the students were a good source of revenue for Portsmouth.

Soon lunchtime was over and Deborah found herself saying goodbye to the students as if they were old friends. They wished her well, congratulated her on this, her wedding day and then they were gone.

Andrew drove them to town and parked in front of a small, one story court house. The room was stark, the furniture old, but the Justice was a warm man who looked an awful lot like Andrew.

“My kid brother,” Alexis,” Andrew said. Then as if by way of explanation he said, “It’s a small island.”

The ceremony was over in ten minutes. Deborah and David kissed when Andrew’s brother told David to kiss the bride and then she was Mrs. David Strong. Deborah Strong. She loved the sound of it. Then she started to cry.

“Are you okay?” David asked, concerned.

“I’m just so happy and sad at the same time. I wish my mother could have been here.”

“She’s here in spirit,” David said.

“Yeah.” She wiped a tear away as Andrew witnessed their signatures on the license.

“Next stop, your honeymoon home,” Andrew said and Deborah found out that it really was a small island or at the very least the northern part was a very small community, because the hotel was just down the street from the medical school.

“Want to go to a party tonight?” Andrew said after they pulled up to the reception.

“No!” Deborah said. All she wanted to do was find their hotel, make love to David, then sleep for a week.

“What kind of party?” David said.

“The boat boys and the medical students have a party at the old bar up the river about six times a year.”

“Boat boys?” Deborah said.

“Men really,” David said, “they’re just called that. They have pirogues and they service the cruising boats in the bay.”

“Cruising boats?” she said.

“She’s got a lot to learn,” Andrew said.

“Cruising boats are boats that people live on.”

“Then they must be called Cruisers.”

“She learns fast,” Andrew said.

“And that’s going to be us in a couple of days,” she said.

“No, we’re going to be charterers.”


“Because you’re just renting,” Andrew said. Now about that party. I’ll pick you up just before dark.”

“David!” Deborah said.

“You wanted adventure,” he said as Andrew drove away.

“Yeah, but I might be getting more than I bargained for, besides I’m jet-lagged, dead on my feet and all I want is a bed.”

“You’re not very patient, are you?”

“Not at all.” Deborah had never been the patient sort, but she waited patiently while David checked in. It seemed to take forever. But when they found their room, a free standing cottage, on their own private beach, overlooking beautiful Prince Rupert bay, she decided that the wait had been worth it.

Chapter Twelve

David keyed the door, pushed it open. Then, without warning, he scooped her up and carried her across the threshold, kicking the door closed as he went through. He carried her to the queen-sized bed that seemed to dominate the room, setting her gently down on it as if she weighed no more than a feather pillow.

The curtains were closed to the outside, but they were open just a little, letting in enough of the sun’s golden glow to bath the room in a romantic orange, almost as if several candles were burning. On her back on the bed she looked up at David covered in the soft golden sunlight as he pulled his shirt off.

“Oh, David,” she breathed as she used one foot then the other, to kick off her running shoes even as he pulled his loafers off.

“Deborah,” he husked as he worked at his belt.

“Hurry.” Her hands flew to the buttons on her Levi’s, popping them open faster than she’d ever done it before. She pushed the jeans down, kicked them off as he stepped out of his Dockers and boxer shorts. He was nude now, a golden Adonis and she still had on her T-shirt, bra and panties. She reached for the shirt.

“Take it off slowly. I want to watch.”

“Okay,” she said, unsure of herself, but then she saw the hungry look in his eyes. Never in her life had she seen someone look like that and she tingled all over as she ever so slowly pulled the T-shirt up and over her head, because the hunger was for her. Now she was clad in only her panties and brassier.

“Beautiful,” he said and she dropped her eyes to his erection.

“Yes, beautiful,” she answered as her hands found the clasp in the center of the bra. She felt a chill as she pulled it off, her nipples hardening under his gaze.

“I can’t wait any longer.” He came toward her and shivers ran up and down her back as he got on the bed, then he was on top of her, smothering her in a deep kiss.

He broke the kiss, lowered his lips to her neck and she squirmed under him as his hands found her breasts. He tweaked her nipples for a second and she let out a squeal. She couldn’t help herself, she was his, he could do whatever he wanted. Then he dropped down lower and covered first one nipple, then the other with his mouth, suckling as if he were a starving infant.

“David,” she moaned as he went ever lower. 

*  *  *

David gently shook her awake. He was having second thoughts about going to a party with a group of people he didn’t know. It had sounded exciting, going up the Indian River after dark. He’d been up it once before during the daytime and it was spectacular. Maybe she was right, maybe they should stay in. It was their honeymoon, after all, and they only had three more days before their flight to Grenada. It seemed a shame to spend just one second of their time here together away from this magical room.

“I’m awake,” she said.

“We don’t have to do go to this party,” he said.

“No, it’ll be fun. A real adventure.” She hopped out of bed, padded naked to the bathroom. “I’ll take a quick shower and I’ll be ready.”

They met Andrew at the hotel’s dock just as the sun was going down. He was tying a bright red pirogue alongside it. “I have to run across the street and get some things, be back in a flash.” But he wasn’t back until the last of the light had faded from the sky, about a half-hour later.

“Had to get a couple bottles of rum and some ice,” he said. “I should’ve been back quicker, but I ran into my wife’s cousin. Lord that woman can talk up a storm, but we’re ready to go now.”

David climbed down into the pirogue. Deborah dropped her backpack and he caught it, then held out a hand for her. She took it, but he saw she didn’t need it. She was one tough girl. Andrew came down next, pulled the starter cord and quick as a wink they were planing across the dark water.

“It seems like we’re going at the speed of light,” Deborah shouted, happy and David wondered if she’d still have that glow in her voice when she found out about his family.

*  *  *

Deborah was up front, leaning into the wind. The outboard was screaming. She’d never been on the water in a fast boat like this after dark. It was exhilarating. She could barely see through the black and she knew she should be frightened, zooming through the water like this, but she was too excited to be scared.

David shouted something to her.

“What?” she shouted back.

“I put a little flashlight in your backpack. Get it out!”

“You think we need it?”


“I know the way!” Andrew shouted.

“See, he knows the way.” She laughed.

“Get out the light, please!” David sounded anxious.

“All right.” She dug the light out of her backpack, flipped it on.

Andrew must have thought this was the signal to go as fast as he could. Funny, Deborah thought he was already doing that, but she was wrong, because when that light came on the pirogue seemed to leap out of the water.

“We’re really going now!” she shouted.

Then all of a sudden Andrew pulled back on the power and his outboard purred like a leopard as he eased into a dock at the mouth of the river. A couple med students jumped aboard. Neither with lights, but it didn’t matter, Andrew said, because he knew his way up the river. “Besides, we have Deborah’s toy flashlight.”

There was no moon yet and Deborah felt shivers shimmy up her back. Going up the Indian River on a night like this was definitely a spooky deal. There were so many bugs chirping she felt as if they were crawling all over her skin. She heard bells. Andrew told her it was the sound river lizards made when they called to each other. Deborah wondered how big they were.

“What else am I hearing besides lizards and crickets?” she asked Andrew as he slowly motored the boat up the dark and twisting river.

“Frogs. More frogs than any human wants to know about,” he said. “Then there’s the things you don’t hear.”

“Like what?”

“Snakes, and you can’t see them in the dark, either. So don’t think about going for a swim.”

“Not on your life,” she said.

“Duck your heads here,” Andrew said. Deborah did and felt an overhanging branch brush the top of her head. “Better hope no boa constrictors,” Andrew said. “They like to eat the tourists.”

“Swell,” Deborah said.

“Duck,” he said again and her head was between her knees in a flash.

“Just kidding.” Andrew laughed, so did everybody else on the boat.

And then she saw lights ahead, out in the middle of nowhere. Andrew pulled his boat up to a dock and they all got out. The lights had come from a building that resembled the kind of saloon she’d seen in dozens of old western movies. In the background she heard the hum of a generator.

More boats pulled up and the outdoor, up the river bar filled up with boat boys, their girl friends and tomorrow’s doctors, the students from the medical school. They put on music. They brought out coconut punch and beer. The kids—and they were kids, some of them didn’t look old enough to drive—started drinking. Deborah and David did too. People started to dance. The floor was hard packed earth, dust flew as she moved her feet to the fast dancing, pounding Caribbean rhythm.

Someone fired up a barbecue and the smell of hot chicken wafted through the night.

“What a relief, David said. “I thought they were gonna draw straws to see who was gonna be dinner.”

“Oh, you.” Deborah laughed as Andrew handed them paper plates and plastic utensils. They went to the barbecue, got served chicken and some kind of potato salad.

“So, you’re sailing the Caribbean on your honeymoon?” an older man said. Probably one of the teachers at the medical school, Deborah thought. “I envy the people that live on boats, except in times like this, of course, with a tropical storm on the way.”

“What?” David said, obviously startled.

“Tropical Storm Alice, first one of the season. It’s headed right toward us.”

“Tenth of June,” David said. “Early.”

“Officially hurricane season is from the beginning of June through December,” the older man said.

“But you hardly see anything outside of August through September.”

“But you can,” the man said and all of a sudden Deborah was worried.

David must have been able to tell, because he said, “Don’t be frightened. Even if it does develop, we’ve got a nice safe place on the land.”

“Hurricane Bertha took out some of those wedding cottages,” the man said.

“Yeah, well, shit happens,” David said. Then to Deborah, “Come on, they’re playing a slow song for a change, let’s dance.”

They danced three slow numbers in a row. David was a sexy dancer and soon all thought of storms and hurricanes were wiped from her mind. The DJ put on a fast one and again Deborah found herself dancing to a raucous Caribbean soca beat. Several songs later David led her away from the hard-earth dance floor to the bar.

They had a drink, then Deborah told David that she was too pooped to go on and he got Andrew. In his pirogue once again, Deborah listened to the sounds of the river. The belling lizards, the croaking frogs, the chirping crickets. She sighed. This Indian River was a magical, fairy tail place after dark and she wondered what it was like when the sun was shining. Did those lizards and frogs still pepper the forest with their ghostly sounds. Somehow she thought not.

Back at the cottage they made languid love, then she fell into a dreamless sleep and she probably would have slept till noon, but the sound of thunder woke her with the dawn.

“What?” she sat bolt upright, frightened, disoriented.

“I think Alice is upon us.” David was at the window looking out.

Deborah got up, put on a T-shirt and went to the window. The water in the bay was churning like the boiling water in a witch’s cauldron. Waves beat against the shore, frothing almost up to the cottage. Thunder boomed again.

“Frightening.” She shivered.

“Very,” he said, “but we’re on the edge, it’ll pass by tonight.”

“Will we be safe on a boat? I mean if hurricane season has started.”

“We’ll be fine. The chances of another storm in June are probably one in a million.”

“Brrr.” She was still shivering.

“It’s okay, really?” He put an arm around her as they both continued to stare out the window. “We’ll pick the boat up in Grenada day after tomorrow and our three week sailing adventure will end in St. Martin, way before another storm even thinks about forming.”

“Serious?” she said.

“Would I lie to you?”

“Never,” she said.

*  *  *

Three days later David had nothing but admiration for Deborah. The storm had lasted longer than he’d thought, forcing them to stay indoors while lightning bolted down from the heavens, thunder boomed through the sky and waves lashed the shore in front of their cottage. She had to have been scared, but she didn’t show it. She’d said it was a good thing that they couldn’t go out, because she wanted to spend the rest of their stay at the cottage in bed, making love till they were physically unable to do it anymore and that’s what they did.

And today, she’d boarded the plane like a trooper. He remember how frightened she’d been on the flight over from Martinique, now one would think she’d been flying on small aircraft her whole life. 

Because the airlines didn’t have as much baggage or cargo to board, they got to sit next to each other and David was able to point out the islands below that they’d be visiting once they picked up their boat.

In Grenada they took a taxi to the charter boat company, where they found out the boat there were getting was called Summer Romance.

“How Romantic,” Deborah said.

“It’s like they knew about us, how much we’re in love,” David said, still surprised that this girl, his wife now, could get him to say things like that.

“Can we spend a day here and go shopping before we sail away?” Deborah said. “I’d like to buy some clothes.”

“Your wish is my command,” David said and they spent a day in St. Georges that he would never forget. She looked at dozens of T-shirts, but didn’t buy a one. She was looking for something special, she said, and she found it in a little store by the cruise ship dock. A yellow summer dress.

“It’s gorgeous. Just what I wanted, a nice dress that nobody has ever seen me in. I’ll only wear it when I’m with you.”

“You’re the most romantic person I’ve ever met,” he said.

“And I’m going to stay that way,” she said. “We’re going to be so happy.”

The feasted on Pizza in an upstairs restaurant over looking the picturesque town of St. Georges and the bay it wrapped around, then they went back to the charter company where they got familiar with Summer Romance.

“I’ve never made love on a boat before,” she said as the sun went down.

“Me either,” David said, “but there’s a first time for everything.”

 *  *  *

They left Grenada with an orange sunrise and a gentle wind off the beam. The ocean was unusually calm for the Caribbean, David had said.  Jimmy Buffet was on the stereo, singing his songs about boats, beaches and bars. Deborah inhaled the crisp morning air as David played the binoculars over St. Georges while they sailed away. It was a perfect day, Deborah thought. It was certainly a sailor’s delight, everybody’s dream. They were on their way to meet the Birdman of Union Island.

Deborah could hardly wait to see these birds carved out of wood David had told her about. They seemed the perfect gifts for her new family. Not David’s family, but Angelia, Rosa and James, for she thought of them as her family now. Like David they would be in the rest of her life, she would make certain of that.

They sailed into Chatham Bay on the back side of Union Island, the seas still calm, with the Rolling Stones on the stereo now. Mick was singing about David Bowie’s wife Angie as Deborah turned into the wind and David went forward to bring down the main. She smiled as she watched him drop the sail, then she motored close to the beach, slowed the boat, and shifted into neutral. This wasn’t like sailing in chilly old England. There were no palm tree laden beaches in England, no deserted beaches either.

Excited, she left the wheel and made her way to the bow as David dropped the anchor. She watched it plummet through water clearer than a fairy’s eyes. And smiled with joy as it dug into the sandy bottom.

“Time for that traditional rum and Coke,” David said.

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s a time honored Caribbean tradition that all sailors out here follow. You have to have a rum and Coke every time the anchor goes down. Caribbean rum of course.”

“Of course,” she laughed.

“I’m serious.” She saw that he was trying not to laugh. “Sailors celebrate with the traditional rum and Coke each and every time they safely get somewhere.”

“I’ve been sailing with my mum lots and we never celebrated that way.”

“Caribbean sailors.” His smile cracked. “I’ll go below and make them.” He was so sweet. She loved him so much. They were going to have such a perfect life together.

A few minutes later David was back on deck and as they clinked glasses a blue pirogue powered by an oversized outboard left the shore.

“Think that’s him?” Deborah said, “the Birdman?”

“Must be.” David took a swallow of his drink as the boat came alongside.

“Captain,” a handsome West Indian man said as a kid about ten years old, standing on the bow of the blue boat, grabbed onto their lifelines, “you want to come for a lobster barbecue on the beach tonight?”

“No, David said. We’re looking for the Birdman, the guy that carves the pelicans.”

“That’s me, Shack Attack at your service.”

“What kind of name is Shack Attack?” Deborah said.

“My name,” the West Indian said.

“I’d like to talk to you about your work,” David said.

“Tonight over lobster tail. Twenty dollars US dollars each.”

Deborah was about to tell him they weren’t interested, because she wanted to spend the night alone with her husband when David piped up, “What time?”

“Seven-thirty, bring your own drinks. Dinghy up to the fire.” Then he was off, motoring over to a charter catamaran with a gaggle of girls dancing on deck.

“Look there!” David pointed at the sunset. “We might get a green flash.”

“You think?” Deborah said as she listened to the girls on the catamaran next door oooing and aahing while the sun slipped from the sky. She had heard that if conditions were just right in the tropics, that one could see a flash of green just after the sun set over the water.

“You never know,” David said, “so you have to watch the sun every time it goes down. Besides, it’s kind of romantic.” He put his arm around her as they both squinted their eyes as they watched the sun.

Deborah couldn’t take her eyes off it. The sun was a giant orange ball sitting on top of an azure sea. So beautiful. So perfect, just like her life. And it seemed to be going down so fast, much faster then she’d thought. Did it go down this quickly at home? It didn’t seem so.

“Almost gone,” David said. “I have a good feeling.”

“Me too,” Deborah said as he tightened his arm around her and the sun winked out.

“I saw it,” one of the girls on the catamaran squealed as the other girls clapped.

“I saw it too,” Deborah whispered. “A quick green flash, like a bright emerald, shining on, then off.”

“Exactly what it was like.” David kissed her. Soft and tender. “Never leave me.”

“I could never,” she said and she meant it. She could never leave him, not ever. But why had he said it? She was about to ask him, but all of a sudden he was a bundle of energy. 

“We have a lot to do if we’re going ashore in an hour.”

“Like what?”

“Come below and find out.”

She followed him down and he led her to the forward berth, where they made slow, passionate love. 

“I’m wearing the yellow dress tonight,” she said after they were finished.

“For a beach barbecue?”

“I want to look soft and feminine for you.”

“You always look like that to me, no matter what you’re wearing.”

“Even in my jeans and flight jacket?”

“Even then.”

“I’m still wearing the yellow dress.”

“Then I’ll wear my best Hawaiian shirt.”

Twenty minutes later they climbed down into the dinghy and motored to shore. They brought a couple bottles of chilled white wine along with them and Deborah was expecting a good time. Not to mention that she still had the pelicans to look forward to. She was so happy.

Chapter Thirteen

Ashore, Shack Attack told them that eight people off the charter cat would be joining them for dinner as they waded up to a campfire and met Winston and Jingles, two West Indian men, who were tending a fire with six large lobster tails on it. Uh oh, Deborah thought, how in the world was that going to feed ten people? But she held her question and poured everybody a glass of wine.

“This way.”  Shack Attack escorted them to a long picnic table, then brought them bread and salad.

“More wine?” Deborah noticed that his glass was all of a sudden empty.

“Don’t mind.” He held the glass out to her and she filled it. “The others are eating fish,” he said as Winston dropped three plates of lobster tails in front of them.

“Holy smoke! Is this all for us?” Deborah said.

“Enjoy,” Shack Attack said. And they dug into one of the best meals Deborah had ever had. Succulent didn’t even begin to describe the lobster she gorged herself on.

And to make a perfect evening even better, the people on the catamaran turned out to be a wonderful Portuguese family, father, mother, one son, four daughters and a son-in-law. They brought champagne, wine, French rum and Cuban cigars to the table.

The girls told them that they’d just come from Mustique where they’d seen Mick Jagger in Basil’s Beach Bar.

“What was he like?” Deborah asked the youngest, who appeared to be about sixteen.

“He was old, but he was cool.”

“Cool,” another of the girls said.

“Yeah, definitely, cool,” the youngest said. Though Portuguese, they spoke English like Americans.

“Are you enjoying your Caribbean vacation?” David asked.

“Yeah, it’s the greatest,” the oldest of the girls said. Especially tonight. This is the best.”

“This is a special vacation for us,” the father said. “The whole family together on a yacht in the Caribbean.” He looked up at the stars, took a puff on his cigar. “It doesn’t get better than this.” He raised his glass.

“You’re right.” Deborah raised hers and they sipped their wine as waves lapped the shore. She was content. It was a special night. A special meal. Not only was Shack Attack the Birdman of Union Island, but he was a chef extraordinaire as well.

“Would you like one?” the father asked David. 

“I think so,” David said and the man handed him a cigar which David lit up.

After they finished their cigars and Deborah had bought two of Shack Attack’s carved birds, it was time to say good night. David pulled the dinghy off the beach into the water and Deborah hopped in. Back at the boat David kissed her as soon as they were on deck. She tasted the cigar on his breath and decided that she liked it.

Below he took her to the forward cabin and slowly undressed her. Sex twice in an evening. Making love with the man she loved, life was wonderful.

“Do you think we’ll grow old together like them?”

“The Portuguese banker and his wife?”

“Yeah, like them, and do you think we’ll have as many kids?”

“More,” David said. “I want to raise my own baseball team.”

“How many on a team?” Deborah laughed.


“Oh, you.” She hit him with a pillow, laughed louder, then hit him again.

In the morning they brought up the anchor with the sun and set sail for Bequia, the northern most island in the Grenadines, where they spent two lazy days shopping at the touristy boutiques, then they sailed on to St. Vincent, anchoring among several cruising yachts at Young Island Cut on the southern side of the island and Deborah marveled at the number of people living on boats in the Caribbean. They seemed to come from everywhere, America, Britain, Holland, Canada and France.

“Do you think you could live on a boat?” she asked David after they’d made love on their last night in St. Vincent.

“It’d be nice traveling with your home and all your stuff with you. But a sea going gypsy? I don’t know.”

After St. Vincent they sailed on to the French Island of Martinique, where they stayed out late at night eating French food and enjoying baguettes for breakfast. They spent a marvelous week there. Then they did an overnight sail past Dominica, because they’d already seen it, and stopped in the Iles des Saints, or The Saints in English. Bourg des Saints was a small town without many cars. They spent a day, then sailed up to Deshaies, another small French town set in a tiny bay in the northeastern part of Guadeloupe.

David was in a hurry to get up to St. Martin and Marigot Bay on the French side, because he said he wanted to show her his most favorite French town in the world, where the food was so good it made you want to cry. So they got up early, but they found flat seas and no breeze. David wanted to go anyway, so Deborah grabbed a quick cup of coffee, while he started up the engine, then brought up the hook. They had the Royal Kingdom of Redonda in sight, a small island populated only by brown sea gull-like birds called boobies. An English writer had claimed the island years ago as his kingdom and the crown had been passed on to two more generations of writers.

“You’re not serious?” Deborah said when David told her the story.

“It’s the truth. The first king went to England and presented himself at court. Apparently he made such a nuisance of himself that they recognized him, at least I think that’s the way the story goes.”

“And that’s Montserrat off in the distance?” she asked.

“That’s it.”

“Well it looks like we’re going to be motoring the whole way, because there isn’t a lick of wind,” she said.

“Maybe we should whistle it up?” He whistled.

Deborah did too, but after ten minutes of whistling and laughing there was still no wind.

“I guess we motor,” David said. “At least the current is with us, that’s something.”

“This is the Caribbean, after all,” Deborah said. “And there’s a reason why they call them the Tradewinds. They’re supposed to blow all the time. Can you imagine those sixteen and seventeenth century sailors on a day like this?”

“Plenty of time for them to rest up, drink rum and mess around with each other.” He grabbed her into a playful kiss.

“Naughty,” she said, breaking the kiss. “There weren’t any women on board those ships.”

“No women? Heavens!” he said as he went back to steering the boat.

They passed Redonda on the windward side with still no wind. Montserrat was ahead, the halfway point to Nevis and David said that unless they planned on spending the night in Rendezvous Bay on the north side of the island and looking for fuel, that maybe they should go back to Deshaies. That sounded okay to her, she’d loved Guadeloupe.

“I’ve anchored on the northern end of Montserrat a couple times in the past, there’s not a lot of people there anymore and they really appreciate it when you stop in,” he said, so they decided to do that. “You’re supposed to stay ten miles off, because of the active volcano, but that’s kind of hard to do when you’re going there.”

“Active volcano?” Deborah said.

“It doesn’t erupt much anymore. Besides, it’s perfectly safe on the north side. That’s where everybody that didn’t move to England or Canada went.”

Deborah looked up at the bleak, brown landscape. Clearly the island must have been as green as all the other islands she’d seen as they’d come up the chain, but not now. The lava had cut a gigantic valley as it had come down the mountain, burying lush vegetation, farms, homes and anything else that had been in it’s path. To the north of the barren valley she saw abandoned homes, some crushed by rocks as big as cars that must have been thrown out of the mouth of the volcano. The whole island was brown and it looked like something from another world.

“You’re sure it’s safe?”

“It’s been months since it erupted. We’re perfectly safe, trust me.”

Those words sent shivers down her spine, because she remembered something her father used to tell her when she was only a child. “Darling,” he’d said, “when somebody tells you to trust them, you can’t.”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Relax,” he said. “Let’s go in for a closer look.” He pointed the boat toward the island and motored within a few hundred meters from the shoreline.

“Wind,” Deborah said. The wind speed indicator said three knots.

“Not enough to sail by, unfortunately,” David said.

“It’s the most we’ve seen all day,” she said. “Maybe it’s a sign that it’s going to pick up.”

“I hope so,” he said.

“David.” She pointed to a plane flying low over the water. Then she heard the buzzing sound of its motor. “It looks like it’s coming this way.”

“What’s wrong with that idiot?” David said and in seconds the buzzing from the plane’s propeller sounded more like a roar as they watched spellbound as the small single-engine plane drew closer.

“He’s coming right for us!”

“What’s he playing at?” David shouted as the plane over flew them, missing their mast by inches. Then it circled around, started to climb and headed for the island of Nevis ahead.

All of a sudden three explosions rang out from the shore and Deborah forgot all about the airplane.

“Gunfire!” David shouted. “Get down!”

“I don’t see anybody,” Deborah said.

“Down now! he shouted loud and she dropped to the deck. “Somebody’s shooting at us!” 

“Shooting?” she ducked down in the cockpit. “I don’t understand.” She was scared. David was down behind the wheel. Had he been shot? Nobody was driving the boat.

Two more shots rang out.

“Are you all right?” Deborah shouted.

“Fine!” he shouted back.

“We’re headed for shore, turn the boat!”

“Yeah.” He raised his head for a look, then spun the wheel to port, away from the island.

“See anything?”

“Just the volcano.”

Deborah poked her head up for a look. The dome was covered in a great cumulus cloud of brown dust and dirt.

“It was the volcano, not gunfire.” She got up and stared up at the billowing, moving cloud, mesmerized. Then she heard another explosion, not like gunfire this time, more like a bomb, and a rock the size of a Volkswagen came rolling down the face of the volcano, headed for the sea. “That’s not good,” she said.

“We’re gone.” David shoved the power forward.

The volcano exploded again. Deborah screamed and it exploded still again, spitting car-sized rocks and adding to the great brown cloud that was above the dome.

“David, we’re only going four knots! Do something!”

The volcano thunder cracked.

Deborah covered her ears.

“Let’s get the bloody sails up!”

“Right, I can do that.” Deborah went forward as David quickly spun the boat into the wind. It only took seconds for her to haul up the main, but it seemed like forever to her. David was rolling out the headsail as she leapt back into the cockpit.

Another explosion. Deborah expected more rocks, but this time it blew out ash which flooded down the mountain like rippling water as the brown cloud grew ever larger, like a specter from a John Carpenter horror film, looming larger, ever larger, darkening the sky. Deborah’s heart was pumping.

It lasted about an hour and by the time it was over they were about four miles away, four miles off course, four more miles to motor to Nevis, because Deborah didn’t even have to ask, no way on God’s green earth was David going to want to spend the night in Montserrat. Not now, not after this. She didn’t want to stay the night there either.

So they turned the boat, soldiered on to Nevis. They got in after dark, dropped the hook off a long beach, peppered with palm trees. Then David went below to break out the rum. Back on deck he handed her the traditional rum and Coke.

“A toast to Vulcan, “he said, “god of fire.”

“To Vulcan,” Deborah said. She’d laughed so much since they’d been sailing the days away, but tonight she didn’t feel much like laughing. “To Vulcan,” she said, again. “Thank you for sparing us.” Then she asked, “What made you think it was gunfire? That was the last thing on my mind. I thought maybe somebody was doing demolition work on shore or something.”

“My uncle was shot to death,” David said. “I was only a child at the time, but I was there.” He looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. “Ever since, whenever I hear an explosion like firecrackers or a backfire, I think someone’s shooting at me. I’ve tried to get over it, but I don’t seem to be able to.”

Deborah looked at the countless stars above in the clear night sky, so much brighter than she’d ever seen before, so many more than she’d ever seen before, too. The heavens seemed endless.

“Tell me about it,” she said, “maybe I can help.”

“It happened back East. Uncle Armando used to have a restaurant in Asbury Park. That’s in New Jersey. The three brothers, My father, Armando and my Uncle Dominic and I were having lunch. They were pretending to treat me like an adult, because it was my birthday. I was seven.

“I was so proud. They let me order whatever I wanted on the menu. I’ll never forget what I had, spaghetti with Armando’s giant meatballs. To this day I still can’t eat spaghetti.” He paused.

“Go on,” Deborah urged softly. “Don’t stop.”

“They’d just brought out the cake. They had these candles on it that you can’t blow out. I remember that I was blowing and blowing. My father and my uncles were laughing. It was a New Jersey hot summer day, but we had the air conditioner on. There were some ribbons attached to it, blowing in the artificial breeze.

“The waitress, a girl named Patty, was urging me on, saying, “Come on Davy, you can do it, blow them out! Blow them out! Blow them out!” My dad and my uncles picked up the chant. “Blow them out, Davy! Blow them out! Blow them out!” Pretty soon everyone in the restaurant was chanting along.

“Then there was a bang so loud it made my ears hurt. Then another and another. I think I knew they were gunshots right away, after all I had seen enough television, but if I had any doubts, the blood I saw on my father’s shirt wiped them away. I looked up and there was a man with dark, slicked back hair pointing a gun at me. His eyes were squinting, like he had something in them. He hadn’t shaved in a couple of days. Sweat was all over his forehead and I knew he was going to shoot me.

“But all of a sudden my uncle Dom jumped between me and the man with the gun. He shot and Dom fell dead even as two or three other people in the restaurant shot down the man with the slicked back hair and the squinty eyes.”

“That’s horrible.” She wanted to reach over, pull him into a hug, but somehow she knew that this wasn’t the time.

“It was bad,” he said. “My father was seriously wounded. The bullet lodged near his heart and he barely pulled through. For years because of that I thought someone was going to shoot him again, finish the job and take him away from me. Just like Uncle Dominic was taken away.”

“Oh, David.” Deborah was crying.

“I’ve never been able to get that man’s face out of my mind. He was going to kill me.”

“Why?” Deborah whispered.

“Who knows? He was just a man gone crazy. It happens sometimes.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be it was a long time ago.”

“But there’s one thing I don’t understand. How come there were other people in your uncle’s restaurant who had guns, too?”

He paused for a second. Sighed.

“A lot of off duty policemen used to eat at Uncle Armando’s.”

“Oh.” Now she sighed.

That night when they went to bed she held him close to herself, but it was the first time in the three weeks that they had been married that they had gone to bed without making love.

Deborah woke to a knocking sound and someone shouting. “Hey, anybody awake?”

“Someone’s outside,” she said.

“I hear.” David got up, put on a pair of shorts and went on deck.

“Wait up, I’m coming too.” Deborah jumped into shorts and a T-shirt and followed to find an ageing West Indian standing in a pirogue, hanging onto the side of Summer Romance. Too old to be a boat boy. Deborah wondered what he wanted.

“Morning,” the man said to David. “I’m here to take the skipper to shore.”

“What for?” David said. “We were about to bring up the anchor and head out to St. Martin.”

“That’s what I figured. Most people that don’t anchor off the town are just passing through. That’s why I came out. You’re supposed to pay the new harbor fee even if you only spend the night.”

“That can’t be right,” David said. “International law gives us the right to stop for the night without clearing in if we don’t go ashore.”

“I don’t know about international law, but I do know about the laws of Nevis and St. Kitts. Skipper has to come in, show his passport and pay twenty-five EC Dollars. I can take you in and have you back in less than an hour.”

Deborah quickly did the math. It was only about seven pounds. Not that much. She looked past the long beach to the city of Charlestown off in the distance. Then she looked down into the pirogue. It was painted red, as was Andrew’s, but that’s where all similarity ended. Where Andrew’s was kept up so well that it looked new, the paint on this one was fading and cracked. And where Andrew kept his boat spotless, this West Indian man’s boat was filthy.

“Don’t worry,” David said. “I’ll go. It’s not right, this charge, but I’m not going to get anywhere arguing and the last thing I want is a local coast guard boat chasing us down after we pull up the anchor.”

“That would be bad,” the man in the pirogue said.

“Just let me go and get my papers and finish getting dressed.” David went below and came back up in less than two minute’s time, carrying the bag with the boat papers and their passports in them.

“Lady’s passport in there?” the man said.


“It’s against the law for foreigners to be on the island without carrying a passport. She should keep it with her.”

“That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. It’s normal for the captain to bring in all the passports for his crew.”

“I don’t make the law.”

“Very well.” David took her passport out of the bag, handed it over to her, then climbed down into the pirogue. She waved as the West Indian man put the boat up on a plane and they sped away.

She watched until they were almost out of sight. She was about to go below when she saw another pirogue, this one painted bright yellow, leave from the shore. It appeared to be coming out to Summer Romance. Out to her. She kept her eyes on it, saw that a West Indian was behind the throttle-tiller of the big outboard, but a white man was riding in front.

She gasped.

It was James.

How? Why? She was frozen in place. It was so unexpected, seeing James here. Then she realized it wasn’t a coincidence. He’d tracked her down. It was the only explanation.

As the pirogue came alongside she saw that it was spotless, the paint looked new, like Andrew’s pirogue, not like the one that had just spirited her husband away and now, seeing James, she wondered to where.

“Good you have your passport,” James said as the West Indian man tied the painter to a stanchion in the middle of the boat. “We have to go, right now.”

“You’re kidding, I’m not going anywhere.” Deborah’s voice caught in her throat. “Why would you think I would?”

“Your husband, David. He’s from a crime family. He’s Mafia.”

“What?” She wanted to shout that it wasn’t true, but in a flash of a second she knew that it was. It explained so much. Why David’s marriage to Connie would hurt her career. Why he hadn’t told his family about her. Why some maniac had walked into that restaurant and gunned down his uncle. Why other people in the restaurant had guns. Why he was afraid that she might leave him.

“They sent someone after you and he hurt Angelia. He broke her fingers. Now come on! We have to go! We have to go right now, because when David gets to shore and finds out I paid that man to trick him off the boat, he’s going to come back and he’s going to come back mad.”

David being from a crime family might not have been reason enough for her to desert him, but they had sent someone to hurt Angelia and that was enough.

“Just a second.” She went below. It only took about a minute for her to pack her things into her grip. She left the yellow dress and the two wooden pelicans. She didn’t want to take anything more than she came with, anything that might remind her of David. Back on deck, she took a last, wistful look toward the direction David had gone. Then she said, “Let’s go,” as she climbed down into the yellow pirogue.

Chapter Fourteen

Present Day.

Deborah was more asleep then awake, almost dreaming, as her mind went back into the past, back onto that horrible day when she’d had to confront the truth about her new husband, about David. She could see James’ worried face as he stood in that pirogue, telling her about David, as if it were yesterday.

She closed her eyes, reliving it all again, seeing it in the present as if she were someone else watching it from a distance.

*  *  *

She throws her grip down into the yellow pirogue. It lands with a dull thud. She climbs down, numbly takes a seat as the West Indian man opens the throttle up and heads toward the center of the long beach and all those palm trees, the opposite direction that other man had taken David.

The pirogue goes right up to the beach. She gets out, James follows, neither caring that their shoes and pant legs are getting wet. There is a car waiting.

“I chartered a plane,” he says as he is leading her up to the road. But we have to hurry, because when he finds you’re gone, he might call the airport and keep us from leaving.”

“How can he do that, stop us?” she mumbles.

“These people can do anything. They have friends everywhere.”

“They’re not above the law,” she says, knowing even as she says it that they probably are, that there is no point in arguing. She’d made her decision when she got in the pirogue.

“No, they’re not above the law, but almost. They have powerful friends. If they knew I was helping you, I’d be a dead man.”

Could that be true? she thinks. It must be, they’d hurt Angelia.

“Tell me about Angelia!” she says

“Someone came looking for you,” James says. “A small, mean man with a gun. He said his name was Nighthyde and if we didn’t want it to be the last thing we ever heard, we’d better tell him where you and David ran off to. He said that Gino Strong of the Galterio family had offered a million dollar reward and he planned on getting it.”

“How did he hurt Angelia?” Deborah remembers Horace Nighthyde and from the look she’d seen in his eyes that night, she can well imagine him hurting someone.

“He broke her fingers, but she didn’t tell where you were. She pretended she didn’t know you other than as a fellow traveler on a tour bus. We all did.”

“He just walked in and announced that he worked for the Mafia and was after this reward?” she asks.

“Not at first. That didn’t come out till he broke Angelia’s first finger and she didn’t talk. It made him angry. He wanted us to know who we were dealing with, so that we’d be more frightened than we already were, as if that was possible.” James is panting, clearly agitated by the telling. 

How could they? How could David be a part of them and not have told her? For that she could never forgive him, not after what they did to Angelia.

So she ran.

On the way to the island’s small airport, James told her more. Horace Nighthyde had shown up at James and Rosa’s home in Houston only a day after they got back from their motor coach vacation. He had a gun and he had questions. He asked about Deborah. “Where was she from? Where was she going with David Strong? What did they know?”

James said he told them that other than the fact that she had an English accent, they didn’t know anything about her.

Nighthyde tied them up, then, when they were helpless, he bent back and broke Angelia’s right index finger. James had feigned terror, though he probably had been terrified, who wouldn’t be, and told Nighthyde that if they knew anything, they would tell. “That,” James had said, “was when Nighthyde lost his temper.” He spat at them, wasn’t rational, said that the Mafia would come to Houston and turn them into sausage if they didn’t tell. Then he broke Angelia’s middle finger, but when that didn’t get him the information he wanted, he finally believed they didn’t know anything and he left.

Rosa took Angelia straight to the hospital while James went to the telephone. First he’d called a travel agent and got a list of all the hotels in Prince Rupert Bay, then he started calling, getting lucky with the third call. He told the woman on the other end of the phone that it was a matter of life and death and she told James that David and Deborah had flown to Grenada, where they were going to charter a boat. Back to the travel agent and he got the names of the charter companies in Grenada. There were only two. From the second call he’d learned that the honeymoon couple were sailing up island in a forty-five foot white Beneteau called Summer Romance.

The next day he flew alone to Martinique, where he managed to charter a plane with a pilot who didn’t mind flying low over the ocean and buzzing sailboats. It took him three days before he spotted them off Montserrat. The pilot hadn’t wanted to fly so close to the volcano, but James offered to double his salary. Having spotted them, he flew back to Nevis and hired two fishermen with pirogues, one to come out to the boat and lure David to shore with a fictitious story about some new laws and the other to come and get her off Summer Romance while David was safely away.

She hadn’t liked the small commuter planes and she would have liked the small four passenger plane even less, but she was still operating in a state of shock when they got to the tiny airport. She was hardly capable of thought when James hustled her onto the small plane.

They flew to Martinique and caught a flight to Miami, then on to Houston. Amazingly James and Rosa took her in and she shared a room with Angelia until she got a job teaching. When she found out she was pregnant, she knew she had to hide her son from his father and his evil family, so she went to court and had her name legally changed.

 Reliving it all made her heart ache. Where had she gone wrong? She’d done everything right. It wasn’t fair. Everything should have turned out okay. She should have been the fairy princess. She should have had a fairy tale life. No, it wasn’t fair and she wanted to forget all about David’s family. Just for a little while. But then she realized where she was and she knew she couldn’t do that. She had to think, figure a way out of her dilemma. Tony’s future depended on it. 

That man at the school who looked like David was obviously someone from his family, but not his cousin Little Gino, she’d have recognized him. Someone though. Some Mafia man checking up her. Some Mafia man looking for Tony. Thank goodness Angelia had him safely hidden away.

“Welcome back to the land of the living.” The voice was a woman’s, soft. Deborah vaguely remembered it. “I’m Dr. Richards, do you remember me?”

“Yeah, you’re Lynda’s mother.” Deborah blinked, looked up into the pretty face.

“You can call me Denise, because from the look in your eyes, you need a friend more than you need a doctor right now. Do you want to tell me about it. I’ve got a good ear?”

“What time is it?” Deborah looked out the window. It was dark outside.

“A little after midnight. You’ve been asleep for over twelve hours, we were a little worried.”

“You didn’t give me anything?” Deborah tried to remember.

“No, we were worried about a possible concussion.”

Deborah felt her head. “Seems okay to me.” She pushed herself into a sitting position before Denise was able to tell her not to. “Not woozy.”

“Careful, Deborah,” Denise said.

Deborah moved her head from side to side. “I feel fine.” She took a deep breath, looked from side to side again. She exhaled. “Fine. Now can you get my clothes and help me get out of here without anyone, and I mean anyone, seeing?”

“Your husband?”

“Especially him.”

“I don’t understand,” Denise said.

“And I’m asking you to trust me. One woman to another. My son’s life depends on it. Mine too.”

“I can call the police.”

“Please don’t do that,” Deborah said. “They can’t help and you’ll only be making it a lot worse for me. Who knows what he’d do if they were brought in.”

“It’s their job, they’ll protect you.”

“Like they protected Nicole Simpson?” Deborah saw Denise waver. “Besides, he’s not my husband, not anymore. I’ve been hiding from him since before Tony was born. I even changed my name. I never thought he’d find us.” She felt trapped. “I need to get out of here now, before he comes back.”

“He’s asleep on a cot upstairs in the maternity ward. I told him I’d come up and get him if you woke before morning.”

“Then I can get away while he’s asleep.”

“You really should stay.”

“Have you been listening to what I’ve been saying?” Deborah pleaded. “He’s a much greater threat to me than any concussion I may or may not have.”

“I’ve been listening and I’d be stupid if I didn’t believe you, and stupid, I’m not.”

“Then you’ll help me?”

“There’s others,” the doctor said.

“What do you mean?”

“Two others. One looks like your husband. They’ve been asking about you. When I told them your husband was upstairs they said not to wake him.”

“Oh, my god!”

“I’ll help you on one condition. You come to my house and stay until you’re well enough to do whatever it is you have to do.”


“On problem, though. Your clothes are missing.”


“Someone must have taken them. I’ll work something out. Don’t worry.” She went to the door. “I’ll be back as quickly as I can.”

A half hour later she was back.

“Okay,” Denise said. “I’m going to distract them while you sneak out of here. All you have to do is go to your right, pass by the nurses’ station, then go through the yellow door on the right. It’s a stairway going down. We’re on the second floor. When you come out the door on the bottom, you turn right again and go in the first door. That’s the nurse’s lounge. I’ll meet you there.”

“Do you really think you can distract them?”

“I’ll be facing you and I’ll be telling them in my somber doctor voice that I’m worried about a concussion. They’ll be listening, don’t you worry, you just be quick and quiet.”

“Okay,” Deborah said.

“Give me fifteen minutes.” She took her watch off, an inexpensive digital, and gave it to Deborah. “Fifteen minutes.”

Deborah got out of bed as soon as Denise Richards left and put the watch on. They’d taken her clothes, leaving her with only the hospital gown, open at the back. She might as well be naked. She clenched her hands into fists. Someday she was going to get even. Calm down, she told herself, this isn’t the time to get mad. Save it for later. She relaxed her hands, took a deep breath.

Exactly fifteen minutes later she padded to the door, peeked out. True to her word Denise was there, talking to a man. One man! Where was the other one? Was he off getting a snack, coffee? Would he come back just as she was trying to sneak away?”

She bit her lip, put that thought aside and quickly, quietly moved out the door. She felt so vulnerable. She caught Denise’s eyes. If that man turned around, it would be all over. She hurried past the nurses’ station, saw the door. She saw a nurse coming down the corridor with her eyes in a chart. Deborah gasped. What if she looked up, saw her? The man started to turn. Denise touched his shoulder, said something, regained his full attention.

Deborah hurried to the door. Her stomach churned. Flashes of cold knifed up and down her spine The knob felt like ice in her grip. She turned it, thankful that it opened without a sound. She went though. Safe, she thought, as she ever so quietly eased the door closed behind herself.

She felt nauseous. Where was the other man Denise had told her about? Maybe he didn’t get a snack. Maybe he’d gone up these very stairs to wake up David. She had to hurry. She took a deep breath, grabbed onto the rail and started down the steps. Halfway down the stairs she thought her stomach was going to explode. Her nerves were on fire. Sweat glistened on the back of her hands, she felt it under her arms, wet and slippery.

She grit her teeth and forced herself to go on. She took two more steps. Her legs felt like lead. She was so scared, too scared to pay attention, she overstepped, stumbled and fell. The stairs mauled her as she tumbled down. She felt each one, like a blow from a determined tormenter. Then she was on the bottom. She was breathing fast. In and out. She tried to slow it down. Fought to catch her breath. Finally regained control. In and out, slowly now.

Pain shot around under the cast on her arm. She moved her fingers, flexed her fists. Then her arms. Then her legs. She curled her toes. Then wiggled her feet. Nothing seemed broken. But her arm hurt like hell, though she hurt all over, so maybe it wasn’t anything to worry about. She grabbed onto the handrail and pulled herself to her feet. She had to go on, she couldn’t quit. Tony depended on her. He needed her. She wouldn’t let him down.

She had a horrible headache. Maybe she had a concussion, after all. The thought frightened her even more. She tried to put it out of her mind as she pushed the door at the bottom open a little and peeked through to the other side. She gasped. The man she’d seen at school that looked so much like David was standing in the center of the corridor, eyes roving around. Sniffing the air. Smelling for trouble.

He turned away from her, looking down the corridor toward the patient’s rooms. Once again she had to sneak past someone who had his back turned. She held her breath, stepped out though the door and scooted along the wall. She opened the door to the nurse’s lounge, slipped inside and closed it just as the man started to turn back around

She looked around the room. Antiseptic white walls, two rows of gray lockers in the center of the room, gray benches in front of them. What to do now? Nothing, it was out her hands. She had no clothes. All she could do was sit and wait. She hoped Denise would hurry. She started toward a bench. The room started to spin. Oh Lord, she did have a concussion. She felt like she was going to vomit. Then she felt like she might pass out. She needed a doctor. Where was Denise?

The door opened part way. Denise squeezed through. She was breathing heavily, like she’d been running.

“Are you okay?” Denise said.

“I don’t know. Can we get out of here?”

“Let’s get this gown off.” Denise helped her take it off. Then dumped it into a laundry basket. She went to a sink, rinsed out a washcloth and gingerly wiped sweat from Deborah’s forehead. “Are you sure you’re up to this?”

“I don’t have any choice.” Then, “What am I going to do about clothes?”

“I arranged with one of the nurses for you to borrow hers.” Denise keyed a locker. Inside she pulled out a pair of jeans that looked like they’d fit. A baby blue sweatshirt followed. “Sorry about the clothes, some of the nurses don’t think they have to dress up to come to work, because they just change into their uniforms once they get here.”

“The clothes are fine. I’m lucky you found someone who’d let me borrow them.”

“No shoes, you’ll have to go barefoot.”

“That’s okay.” She stepped into the jeans, then pulled the sweatshirt on. Thankfully the sleeves were lose enough for the cast. “Check to see if the coast is clear.”

Denise looked out the door. “Yeah, it’s okay. We’re going left as soon as we get outside. Follow me.” And she was out the door with Deborah in her wake. The corridor was deserted. “Emergency room ahead, we’re going right through.”

Deborah followed her. Lights bright. Stainless steel gleaming. A black man with a bandaged head on a gurney. A child with a broken arm already in a cast, sitting on a sofa looking bored. No doctors, two nurses.

“Hey, Dr. Denise,” one of the nurses said, friendly.

“Hey, yourself,” Denise answered. Then to Deborah, “You’re wearing her clothes.”

“Thanks,” Deborah said.

“Just take care of yourself,” the nurse said.

Then they were pushing though the double exit doors and out into the night. It was sprinkling lightly, a fine mist mingling with the summer heat, sticking to the skin, mating with the sweat. Denise led her across the ambulance ramp to the parking lot. Her car, a shiny new BMW, was parked close. Doctor’s privileges. They’d made it. They were out of the hospital. She was safe, for now.

Instead of taking her to her house as she’d said, Denise took her to her sister’s, because Ruth still had ten days left of a three week vacation. “Besides, she’s just coming off a bad divorce and can use the company.”

“I won’t be staying long.”

“Long enough so that we can be sure you’re fit to travel,” Denise said. “Part of the deal for me helping to break you out, remember?”

“Okay, you win,” Deborah said, glad that she had somebody on her side.

Ruth, Deborah learned after a day in her apartment, worked with the big cats at the Houston Zoo. She said she was good with the animals and judging from the photos of her with various lions and tigers that she’d shown Deborah, she was telling the truth. Not only smart, she was pretty and looked like she was nineteen, ten years younger than her actual age.

Deborah liked Ruth immediately and was sorry to hear from her about how her husband had left her for a much younger woman. Ruth had been hurt, well Deborah knew about hurt.

“It’ll get better,” Deborah said. “I know.” Then she told Ruth about David, his family, her son and just how badly she’d been hurt.

“I don’t think you can run from them anymore,” Ruth said after Deborah had been there for five days. Five days of worrying whether or not Tony was all right. She couldn’t call, because James had told her on several occasions that the Mafia had sophisticated listening devices. They tapped phones. They did what they wanted. But, of course, Tony was all right. David wouldn’t be interested in her, only his son. The very fact that he and his family were after her, told her that they didn’t have him, that Tony was safe.

“I think you’re right,” Deborah said.

“I mean, they found you this time and they know about your son now. You should just go to them and tell them you’ll go to the police if they don’t leave you alone. Be tough. Besides, maybe your husband only wants to see his son on occasion.”

“I don’t think so.”

“So what have you got to lose? It’s not like you’re going to hand Tony over to them. Go alone, if things don’t work out, you can always run again.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Besides, what choice do I have?”

Two days later she picked up the phone, called information in Long Beach and asked for the number of Armando’s Italian Restaurant in Belmont Shore.

Chapter Fifteen

Deborah held her breath as she looked at the big house, almost a mansion. There was no fence around the perfectly manicured lawn. Neatly trimmed hedges, yes, but they were less than a meter high. They’d never keep out even the most inept of villains. Besides the hedges parted at a rose-lined walkway that led up to a large porch.

 Deborah didn’t understand. She studied the house. It was painted a sort of egg shell white. Curtains were drawn, closing off the large bay window from the outside, but other than that, the house was open to anybody who wanted to walk up to the porch.

There weren’t even any bars on the windows. Armando had sent her on a wild goose chase, this couldn’t be the home of a Mafia chieftain. There was no protection, not even a big dog in the front yard to discourage unwanted visitors.

Two cars were parked in the driveway to the right of the house. A bluish late model Chevrolet and in front of it, a white Mercedes sedan. Hardly the cars of a Mafia boss. “Stupid, Deborah,” she mumbled, “what did you expect, a bulletproof, black limo?” She took a deep breath. “Okay,” she continued aloud, “let’s do it.”

She started up the walkway, stopped, then looked left down First Street. She shivered at the memory of that first Mexican lunch with David at the Menopause Lounge oh so long ago as she stared at the intersection where First merged with Second Street. The house was within walking distance of the Lounge. She remembered that day as if it were yesterday. Was Skinny Dick still making drinks behind the bar? Was that wonderful cook Juanita still working her magic? Did the Lounge still turn into a dance place when the sun went down? How glorious everything had seemed back then.

She turned back toward the house, sucked her lower lip between her teeth, gently bit down to give herself courage and went up the walk. She felt prickles on her skin as she mounted the steps to the porch and was absolutely terrified when she saw that the front door was open with only a screen door between the outside world and David’s father. Something wasn’t right here, she could see right into the house through the screen.

“In for a penny, in for a pound,” she said under her breath, then she rang the bell.

“Coming.” Though it had been over five years, she recognized the voice immediately. It was David’s grandmother.

“Hello, Sylvia.”

“We’ve been expecting you.” Sylvia opened the screen door.

“Is it Sylvia Strong or Sylvia Galterio of the Galterio Family?” Deborah stood motionless on the porch, made no move to enter.

“We changed our name when we emigrated in 1950. We’re Strongs now. And my grandsons were born that way.”

“Yeah, well I know all about changing your name.”

“Yes, I guess you do.” Then, “Are you going to stand out there all day or are you going to come in?”

*  *  *

David was a bundle of nerves. He wanted a drink, but it was too early, besides he wanted to keep his wits about him, in case she came. He’d been watching the door, nursing one Coke after another since ten. He checked his watch. Four o’clock. He hoped today wasn’t going to be like yesterday and the day before, but if it was, he’d come back tomorrow and the day after, and the day after that till she came. And she’d come. If he didn’t know anything else, he knew that. She was going to come.

But when?

*  *  *

Deborah followed Sylvia though the big house. There was some fine art on the walls, Renaissance and she wondered if they were reproductions or the real thing, then she saw a Picasso and she knew that the paintings were real. Gino Strong wasn’t the kind of man who would hang fake pictures on his wall.

“In here,” Sylvia said and Deborah went after her into a back bedroom.

“Oh no!” Deborah gasped.

“I hope you’re startled because you didn’t expect to find Angelia and Tony at my bedside and not because of my appearance,” Gino Strong said from a king-sized bed. He was sitting up with pillows propped up behind him. Angelia and Tony were sitting on the side of the bed. Angelia and Gino looked like old friends.

“I don’t understand?” Deborah said.

“It’s all right,” Angelia said. “Don’t worry.”

“Mom, what happened to your arm?” Tony jumped of the bed and Deborah dropped to her knees as he ran into her hug.

“It’s okay, just a little break. It’ll be better in no time.”



“Did you see my Grandpa’s head. Isn’t it cool?” Tony said, excited. Apparently her broken arm forgotten, at least for now.

“Yes, Tony,” Deborah got up, “cool.”

Gino Strong had had his head shaved and there was an oval sized red welt that was going to be a scar on the left side of it where a surgeon had cut into his skull. Several gleaming staples went over the welt. Deborah supposed to hold the part of the skull that had been cut out in place, probably till it knitted back together.

“The Picasso I can believe,” Deborah said, knowing she sounded foolish, “but the Cezanne?”

“The real deal,” Gino Strong said, “but why would you bring that up under the circumstances?”

“I just didn’t want to think about brain surgery, even for you.”

“What do you mean, even for me?”

“You haven’t exactly been my favorite person these last few years. I’ve lived in fear of this day.” Deborah tried to be brave.

“Angelia,” Sylvia said, “why don’t we take Tony out to the kitchen? I think maybe we still have some of that chocolate peppermint ice cream left over from last night.”

“Oh, boy, can I, Mom?”

“Sure,” Deborah said.

“Things aren’t always as they seem.” Sylvia squeezed Deborah’s arm, then they left.

“I look pretty bad, don’t I?” Gino said.

“Yes, you do.”

“Brain tumor.” He touched the staples. “They were ninety-five percent sure it was going to be malignant. I guess because I smoke so much. Well not anymore. Hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, quit smoking.”

“Please, Mr. Strong, I don’t understand.”

“You don’t understand a lot, do you?” he said.

“No, I suppose I don’t. Why don’t you tell me.”

“I don’t really know where to start.”

“How about when I saw that man that looked like David outside the school where I teach? How about there?”

“That would be Frankie. Little Gino’s older brother. He was always a problem. You were correct in assuming he was after your son, but not for the reasons you think, worse, actually.”

“What could be worse than you kidnapping my son?”

“Frankie kidnapping him and using him to force me to change my will.”

“I don’t understand.”

“There you go again.”


“Forgiven.” He sighed heavily, as if he were having trouble breathing. “This whole sorry mess started because my lawyer has a big mouth. I changed my will when they told me that I only had a couple months to live. Days if I didn’t have the tumor removed.

“The old will divided everything I own, plus the money, between David, Frankie and Little Gino. But the more I watched David from afar, the more I realized he wouldn’t take anything from me, alive or dead. Little Gino’s in business for himself now, eleven McDonald’s, and he’s well on the way to becoming a hamburger king. All on his own, all legitimate. But Frankie has been languishing along in his father’s restaurant, waiting for his father or me to die, so he could inherit. I talked to my brother and we both agreed that he could have the restaurant when Armando passed on, but not a cent more. We both changed our wills, leaving everything to various charities that help children.”

“And Frankie found out?”

“Yes. My lawyer didn’t think I was right in the head and since Frankie’s the oldest, he called him. Needless to say, the lazy bastard went crazy. He came to me, demanding I change the will. Ha, I fired the double timing lawyer and hired another one. Then I got several prominent people to attest in writing that I was competent. Now my will was iron clad, but that didn’t stop Frankie.

“We all knew David ran away and got married, no thanks to either of you. Connie told us. And we all know how you two met and about your bus trip around California. Little Gino’s two girls think that’s the most romantic thing they’ve ever heard of by the way. Frankie went to my mother, his father and his younger brother, complaining about how unfair the will was, but his whining fell on deaf ears.”

“Wait a minute, what do you mean David ran away and got married? You sound as if you believe that we’ve be living together all these years.”

“It’s what they all believed, but my mother and I knew better. I’ve been keeping track of him. He doesn’t know that, by the way, but he’s my son, I had to know if he was all right.”

“So what happened to him?” Deborah asked.

“He’s been living in Grenada. He got a job as a charter captain, saved his money and bought his own boat, then two more. Then when the owner of the small shipyard there decided to retire, he sold out to David, very little down and payments. They’d become friends apparently. It only took him a year to pay it off. Now he owns the yard lock, stock and barrel and like Little Gino, he did it all on his own. He did it honest.”

“You mean he didn’t coming running straight back to you, back to the family after I left him?”

“No. He never came back. I guess he blamed us for losing you. He made a clean break and it broke my heart, his grandmother’s, too. And to be honest we didn’t think it would last, his fling with sailboats and shipyards, but it did and now we’re proud of him. He changed all our lives.”

“I don’t—”

“I know,” Gino cut her off, “you don’t understand.”

“That’s right.”

“And now you will. You see when I saw how hard David was working, I decided to quit, to go straight, so to speak. I talked to Armando and he agreed. We kept what we had, which was considerable, as you can well imagine.” He paused, sighed. “Then I gave away my responsibilities to a younger man, not related. And then I sold everything we had left in New Jersey and moved out here.”

“I didn’t think you could do that. I thought once in, always in.”

“You’ve been watching too many movies.” He laughed, coughed.

“I get it now,” Deborah said. “Frankie needed to find David, because he hoped he would talk you out of the change in your will. He went looking, but he found me instead.”

“Yes, he went to that bus company and paid them so that he could go through the records and he found your name. On the same hunch Horace Nighthyde used years ago, he went to Houston to see the people you were traveling with.”

“Nighthyde never would have done that if you wouldn’t have offered that million dollar reward,” Deborah said.

“Yes, that was foolish of me and I rescinded it as soon as I realized it.”

“Well you didn’t do it quick enough.”

“I know, I know, but let’s get back on the subject.”

“I’m all ears.”

“Okay. Unlike Nighthyde, Frankie got lucky. Your friend Angelia lives with you. Uses your address. He asked a neighbor and found out where you teach, then he went looking for you.”

“So it was him I saw that morning?” Deborah said under her breath.

“Probably, if you saw someone who looks uncanningly like David. Too bad he doesn’t have David’s character, or his younger brother’s for that matter.”

“Yeah, too bad.” Deborah was confused. If David hadn’t gone home to the family when she’d left him, it meant that she never had to leave. She could have spent the last five years with him. “Oh, no!”

“I know how you feel,” Gino said. “I’ve lost the time with him, too.”

“How did he know Frankie was coming after me, after Tony?” Deborah asked.

“Simple, I had Frankie followed. Everything Frankie learned, I learned almost as quickly. When I found out what he was up to, I decided it was time to send someone to David. Had I known my operation was going to be a success, that I have years ahead of me, then maybe I would have handled it myself, but you know how it is, we all have twenty-twenty hindsight.”

“What happened to Nighthyde? did he go straight too?” Somehow Deborah couldn’t believe all she was hearing.


“What? I thought you said you were honest now.”

“Relax, I didn’t do it. Somehow he got himself involved with the Yakuza, the Japanese Mafia.”

“I know who they are,” Deborah said. “I’ve spent the last five years studying up on organized crime in my spare time.” Her hair had fallen into her eyes, she pushed it back. “So they killed him, the Yakuza?”

“Nobody knows for sure. His body was found in the parking lot across from the Long Beach Police Station.”

“I can’t say I’m sorry to hear about that.” Deborah shivered. She’d never given thanks that someone was dead before. It was such a cold thing to do, but in Horace Nighthyde’s case, it didn’t seem so wrong. He’d made Angelia suffer, after all.

“He was a poor excuse for a human being. I don’t think anybody cried over him,” Gino said.

“Okay, enough about him. What about David?” Her heart quickened with the thought that she didn’t have to run from him anymore.

“I don’t know where he is.”


“He called here right after you disappeared from the hospital.”

“He was frantic,” Sylvia said coming into the bedroom. “I told him we’d already located his son and your friend Angelia. I promised him they’d be all right. He called back two days later, still distressed and I told him Angelia and Tony were here now, safe. And I also told him his father pulled through the operation just fine. That the tumor wasn’t malignant.”

“We haven’t heard from him since. He hasn’t shown up at his shipyard and he hasn’t come here. It’s like he dropped off the face of the earth.”

“Five years.” Deborah shook her head. “He wasn’t like you. He was good. If only you’d left him alone, we would have been all right.” Now she was fighting anger.

“I did leave him alone, dammit. No one forced you to run away from him.”

“But Horace Nighthyde, I thought—”

“You didn’t think. If you’d have trusted your husband, you’d be together right now.”

“And if you wouldn’t have been what you were, I never would have had to doubt him.”

“This isn’t getting us anywhere,” Sylvia said. “We should all have some tea and see if we can figure out where David might have gone.”

“I’ll have a Scotch on the rocks,” Gino said.

“You’ll have tea, and be thankful that I’ll let you have that.” Sylvia stared him down, then said, “Come on, Deborah, let’s go join Angelia and Tony and make the tea.”

*  *  *

David looked at the Pepsi clock behind the bar. Five, time for a drink.  Just one, well, maybe two. He hated the nights when the Lounge got crowded. Men and woman looking for a good time. Dancing, maybe finding the mate of their dreams, as he had once upon a time in this very place.

“Rum and Coke.” Skinny Dick put the drink down in front of him.

“Am I that predictable?” David said.

“Let’s see, you’ve been in here every night for the last five days and you order your first drink at five, your second one at eight and you leave at ten or eleven, but you leave a good tip so I don’t mind, David.”

“You remember me after all this time?”

“Yeah, I never forget a face. Plus you’re Big Gino’s son, that helps.”

“You know my father?”

“Everybody in the know, knows Big Gino, and you look enough like your cousins that you could all be brothers. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist.” He wiped the bar in front of David with a damp rag. “So you think tonight’s the night?”

“What do you mean?”

“I remember the pretty lady from England, too. That is who you’re waiting for, isn’t it?”

“That’s the one.” David sighed. He felt so despondent.

“Business is slow, want to tell me about it?”

“Sure, God knows I don’t have anyone else I can talk to.”

“Should’ve been honest with her up front,” Dick said when David finished with the telling. “She’d’ve stood by you, especially if you tried to make a new life for yourself as you say you have.”

“I know that now.”

“She’ll come, don’t worry. I can sense these things.” An elderly woman raised her hand at the opposite end of the bar. “Uh oh, gotta go. Hang in there, it’ll work out.” Dick gave him a smile, then left to make the lady her drink. 

*  *  *

The living room was arranged for conversation, two cozy brown sofas faced each other with a coffee table in between. A comfortable wing chair between the sofas faced the end of the coffee table and the bay window. Gino Strong’s seat, Deborah was sure. His guests sat on the sofas. It was a nice room. The light beige walls and carpet mingled with the darker brown furniture. It was a man’s room.

Deborah sat on one of the sofas with Tony beside her. Angelia and Sylvia sat on the sofa opposite.

“How did you get here, Angelia?” Deborah asked.

“It was Sylvia. She was at James and Rosa’s when I went to pick up Tony. Once she told me the truth of things, I agreed with her that this would be the best place for us to come until you and David got yourselves sorted out.”

“How did you find her?” Deborah asked Sylvia.

“Didn’t Gino tell you that we had Frankie’s two detectives followed? I was the one who did the following.”

“Two detectives? No he didn’t tell me about that.” So they must have been the two men at the airport. The ones that David shielded her from with that kiss. All of a sudden she was all tingly inside. It was the thought of that kiss that did it.

“Stupid detectives, couldn’t spot a frail old lady on their tail,” Sylvia said, but Deborah didn’t think she looked the least bit frail. This was a woman like Angelia. A woman that could take care of herself.

“And you just believed her when she told you this truth.”

“It was the truth,” Angelia said. “Sicilian women don’t lie. The men might, but not us.”

Deborah let out a long sigh.

“Now all we have to do is find, David,” Sylvia said, “and we can put everything right.”

“How do you mean?” Deborah said. “I thought you wanted him to marry a nice Italian girl?”

“That was then, this is now.”

“I don’t get it,” Deborah said.

“She’s smarter now,” Angelia said.

“Yeah, Mom, Nana’s pretty smart,” Tony said.

“Little ears,” Deborah said.

“You always say that when you don’t want me to hear something,” Tony said. “But I’m almost five years old and I know stuff, too.”

“What do you know, squirt?” Deborah said.

“I know that I have a dad now. And I know that everybody is worried about where he might be.”

“I’m afraid we aren’t very good about talking around children here,” Sylvia said.

“That’s okay.” Deborah closed her eyes and it was as if a light bulb had gone off in her head. She smiled.

“What?” Angelia said.

“I know where he is!” She jumped off the sofa, started for the door. “If I’m not back in half an hour, don’t wait up.” Then she was out the door and running down the street.

Five minutes later and out of breath, she was at the Menopause Lounge. Please, God let him be here, she prayed, but in her heart of hearts, this is where she knew he’d be. If he loved her as much as she loved him, he’d come here and wait till she figured it out, because this was the one place in the world they could call theirs. This was where they’d had that long lunch, where they’d fallen in love.

“Love at first sight,” she said as she pushed through the door into the Lounge.

She looked around the restaurant, but she didn’t see him. Her heart fell.

“Hey, Deborah.” It was that same bartender from way back then, Skinny Dick.

“Hello.” She felt wasted, used up, ready to sleep for a thousand years.

“He went next door to get me a pack of Marlboros. Our machine’s out,” Dick said.

“You mean he’s here?”

“Look there.” Dick pointed and she followed his finger to the end of the bar where she saw two very delicate, very beautiful pelicans carved out of wood.


She turned to the door she’d just come through.

“David!” She rushed into his arms. He squeezed her tightly, then kissed her like she’d never been kissed before. Better even than that long, hot kiss back at the airport in Houston. Much better and he was kissing her in front of everybody in the restaurant. Kissing her with that brazen passion she’d remembered about him and she melted into his arms. She was so happy and she knew for certain now that everything was going to be all right.

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