Excerpt: Come Into The Sun
Book Two: Tropical Escape Series
Alexis Kent sat on the cord-bound box at the edge of the long weathered pier, near the ramp leading to the sloop, her old surplus army duffel bag bulging beside her. Her denim tote rested on the pier near her small box. The sun was high in the West Indies sky; the air still; and the creaking of mooring lines, and the murmur of the small wavelets slapping against the planking of a dozen boats, a mellow background for the crying sea-gulls circling lazily in the sky. In the distance, on the commercial dock, old men were repairing their fishing nets, sitting unconcerned with the burning rays of the hot sun.
She shifted her position a little. Not fidgeting, outwardly serene and patient, only moving to gain a new view. Waiting beside the large sloop mentioned in the advertisement, she could see the entire ship. The dark-blue hull of the ocean-going vessel gleamed brightly in the harsh sunlight, freshly cleaned and shining. The low cabin amidships shown a bright white. The porthole windows sparkled. All gear was stowed away; the teak deck carried no clutter. The jib sail was folded tidily by the bow rail, the mainsail tucked neatly in its cover along the center boom.
A wander-class sloop, almost forty feet at a guess. Lexy had studied it earlier, the narrow deck surrounding the cabin, the cut-out well in the stern at the wheel, enabling the skipper to stand or sit while at the helm. She had not boarded the boat, so did not know the cabin configuration. There would be the basics, she was sure; galley, head, sofa converting to bunks, perhaps a forward cabin with bunks. She shrugged–she’d find that out soon enough if she got the job.
She’d been sitting for over an hour. She’d called out upon arriving beside the sloop but received no answer. She’d plopped down to await the owner’s return–still holding the paper in hand. She clutched it for reference, for introduction, and as a talisman. She really wanted this job.
It was hot and she grew thirsty in the unrelenting sun. How much longer?
Vaguely, her gaze touched on the old men working, talking among themselves; moving to watch the gulls, their circling flights, their dives. Some birds bobbed placidly on the water, resting. Was it cooler for them? She wished she could cool off in the water, not here in the harbor, but on a nice beach somewhere.
Her gaze moved to shore, diverted by the arrival of a taxi. A tall man climbed out of the cab, paid the fare, and started down the pier. She watched as he approached. Maybe he was the man she was awaiting. He was six feet tall at an estimate and solidly built. Dark brown hair, worn rather long, brushed the collar of his shirt and as he drew closer she saw his hair was flecked with gray. His eyes were a startling blue in the mahogany of his face, matching the knit shirt he wore. A square jaw and firm lips gave evidence of a determined, yet controlled individual.
As he drew closer, Lexy stood up, drawing his eyes, forcing him to really notice her for the first time. A small zephyr of air skipped by, cooling her a moment, before the hot glare of the sun resumed its boiling effect. He drew even with her and the ramp to the ocean-going sailboat.
‘Mr. Frazer?’ She did not quite reach his shoulder.
‘Yes?’ His glance was cool, registering, she knew, a small, thin woman. Her mop of short light brown hair was liberally streaked with blonde by the sun, her skin a deep honey gold, evidence of many hours in the open. She wore khakis and a sleeveless white T-shirt, her concession to appropriate attire for an interview for a job on a sailing ship. Tennis shoes clad her feet. She saw him flick a glance at the denim bag, which hung from her shoulder, and the old army surplus duffel at her feet. She met his gaze candidly.
‘I’m Alexis Kent, Mr. Frazer. I’ve come about the crewman’s job. Has it been filled?’ She offered the square piece of paper she had pulled from the hotel board advertising the position of general crewman for an oceangoing sailing-sloop, Jack-of-all-work, experience required, apply at the Marybeth, Santa Inez Harbor.
He raised an eyebrow and glanced at the paper. ‘The job hasn’t been filled, but you won’t do.’ He passed her and lithely crossed the short ramp to the boat, landing on the deck as softly and sure-footed as a cat.
She turned and watched him a moment, raising her voice slightly. ‘I’m experienced Mr. Frazer. And . . . and I’m very strong.’
Maybe it was her size that was off-putting, she thought hopefully. Fully aware, however, that it was her gender more than anything that kept her from the job; from even being considered for this job.
He turned at her voice as if surprised she was still there. At her assertion she was very strong a hint of amusement crept into his eyes, though his face remained sober. ‘I’m sure you are, Miss . . . er. . . Kent, was it? I must confess, I thought I’d have better response to the ad. I posted it several days ago and you’re the only applicant thus far. But you still won’t do.’
She stared at him, trying to come up with something that might change his opinion, to give her a chance.
He remained watching her with a steadfast gaze that was disconcerting.
She sighed slightly in defeat and reached for her duffel bag and box. ‘I’m at the Markly if..’ If what? If he should change his mind? ‘If you can’t get anyone else.’
The Markly was a hangout for sailors, fishermen and cargo handlers on Santa Inez Island. A wild bunch on Saturday nights, and not much better the rest of the time. The hotel was close to the docks, though, and clean and cheap, it had been on an announcement board that Lexy had seen the posted ad for the job. Posted several days ago, as he had said. She took some satisfaction in knowing she was the only applicant thus far.
Not that it would do any good if he wouldn’t seriously consider her for the job. She shook her head as she walked back up the pier. It wasn’t fair, just because she was a woman. She paused at the street and glanced back. Dominic Frazer had turned and was gazing out to sea, not giving her another thought. With a regretful sigh, she continued her way back towards the hotel.
Idiot, she thought angrily as the duffel bag banged rhythmically against her leg. I should not have counted on the job, just because I have experience. How silly he must think me to show up all packed and ready to go. It was stupid. I should have first made sure I obtained the position, then packed up. Blast the man anyway for not even giving me a token interview.
She stopped and let her duffel and box down slowly. Flexing her fingers to ease the strain, she picked them up changing hands this time, and continued.
It was hot. Perspiration trickled down her back and between her breasts. The way back to the hotel seemed longer and harder than the walk to the marina.
She was most anxious to leave Santa Inez, escape as she put it, to get as far away from the uncomfortable situation with the Culvers as she could. To get away and start anew where no one knew her or anything about her or her past life. Where people would believe whatever she had to tell them, not be prejudiced by past events, not be influenced by rumors and gossip and unfounded allegations. Especially about something that had happened so long ago. She had so been looking forward to this position.
Something else would turn up. She just needed to be alert to opportunities and be ready to act when they arose.
Two days later, late in the afternoon, Lexy Kent wandered into the bar at the Markly Hotel, discouraged and hot, grateful to lean her arms against the cool polished wood of the bar. The room was dim, shaded and sheltered from the intense heat, a slow-moving ceiling fan swirling the air a little. Not really cool, but at least giving the impression of coolness–a welcomed relief from the broiling afternoon sun.
‘Hi, Dick,’ she said, greeting the man behind the bar. ‘I’ll have a large lemonade, plenty of ice, please.’
The dark old man behind the counter smiled sympathetically, his white teeth flashing in the faint light. ‘Bad day, Lexy?’ he asked as he filled her glass.
‘You said it. I can’t find a job anywhere! I shouldn’t have left my other one until I had something else lined up. Ummm, that’s great.’ She tilted her head and drank deeply from the lemonade-filled glass.
‘Gentleman over there asking for you,’ Dick said in a low voice, nodding across the room towards a table on the far side. Lexy Kent turned slowly, her face apprehensive. It cleared at once seeing Dominic Frazer tilted back in a chair, a tall lager on the table before him. He watched her.
She took her glass and walked calmly over, her face smiling politely. ‘Mr. Frazer. Dick said you were asking for me. May I?’ She pulled out a chair and waited.
Dominic Frazer banged down his chair on all four legs and nodded. Lexy sat and waited–it was only a moment before he spoke, yet the time dragged by. Lexy was conscious of his appraising regard, his cool, blue eyes. She was curious as to why he was here, but tried not to show it. Calmly she met his gaze and waited for him to begin. He had asked for her after all, not the other way around, so he could begin the conversation.
‘Are you still interested in the position on my boat?’ he asked at last.
Her face lit up, but her reply was a rather guarded, ‘I am.’
‘I seem to be having trouble attracting applicants. I want to sail soon and need a second person. The sloop has been moored here on the island for the last six months. Now I’m ready to take off. My problem is my brother’s always crewed for me in the past, but he was married recently and is now working in Barbados.’ Dominic Frazer shook his head impatiently. ‘If I had had any idea of how difficult it would prove to hire someone here, I would have filled the position when I was in Bridgetown. Tell me, Miss Kent, why do you want the job?’
‘I rather need it,’ she began slowly, choosing her words carefully. ‘I came here in the employ of … of someone, and when my services were no longer required, naturally I began looking for another job. I thought I’d like something I had done before. I have been most recently working as a cook, but didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. I like being outdoors, not stuck in a hot kitchen all the time. I’ve sailed extensively on several different kinds of boats. There aren’t many jobs going right now, yours looked suitable.’ She turned her glass absently on the table before her, watching her fingers tracing patterns in the condensation. ‘I’m ready to leave Santa Inez, too,’ she added, shrugging off that reason.
He raised his eyebrows at this, but asked no questions. ‘So you can cook?’ he asked.
‘Oh, yes, I’m a good cook,’ she replied enthusiastically, on safe ground at last. ‘I’ve sailed on a ketch and a seafarer-class sloop. I know a little about navigation and how to judge the currents and winds of the Caribbean. Not enough to do it on my own, though,’ she added truthfully, ‘where are you heading?’
He smiled at this. ‘Do you care?’ he asked. ‘As long as it’s away from here?’
She grinned impishly. She watched his eyes move to the small dimple showing in her right cheek. For a moment she remembered another man, another time. ‘Got it in one. Anywhere is fine with me. I’m footloose and fancy free.’
He glanced at his lager, his eyes hooded, unreadable. ‘I’m a writer, Miss Kent. I’ve been doing research the last few months and am now getting down to writing the book. I want no distractions, no interference. I plan to sail out to sea, anchor and get on with it.’ He paused, glancing up to gauge her reaction. She watched him steadily. Seemed extreme to her, but she’d always heard writers were quirky.
‘I need a crewman who can pull his own weight.’ He smiled tightly at this, his glance going quickly over her slight frame. ‘I would also like someone to cook, keep the ship tidy, but most of all someone who can entertain himself-or in your case herself-not disturb me while I write. It’ll be a rather lonely existence, I’m afraid–no town, no bright lights, no beauty parlors.’ He stopped, quirked an eyebrow in silent question, waiting for her reply.
Lexy nodded. ‘Do I really look like I frequent a beauty parlor?’ Her hair was tousled, cut short by the nearest barber and totally sun- streaked. She wore no make-up. Her eyelashes were dark, her skin was tanned dark brown by the sun. She preferred healthy to artifice.
Abruptly he asked, ‘Tell me, what do your parents think of your trying for such a job?’
That question caught her by surprise. Just how old did he think she was?