Amber Passion

Vesta and I spent the Nineties living on a sailboat in the Caribbean. For us it was a great decade. living on the water is never boring, always exciting, oftentimes thrilling and sometimes terrifying.

And there are those times, when you have nothing to do but relax as you’re anchored off a deserted island with only a slight breeze.

And one of those time when we were anchored off the Five Island group, which are these small, unoccupied islands off the east coast of Trinidad, I was reading a Harlequin novel Vesta had picked up at the book swap in Bequia. 

I read it in an afternoon and when I finished, I thought, “Hey, I could write these. Easy Peasy.”

I belonged to a writer’s group that met once a week in Trinidad and one of the woman in our group actually wrote for Mills and Boon, which is what Harlequin is called in England. The next week I talked to her and she said, she got five thousand dollars for each manuscript she sent in and that she was able to churn out one every other month.

She told me the format was basically the same for all submissions and that I only had to read a couple to get it down. She also told me I had to write under a female pseudonym and that my stories should be over fifty, but under sixty thousand words.

Crap. I could do that. All I had do to was write three or four thousand words a day about love and marriage and romance and engagements and weddings and love, love, love. I could write two of those a month. Hmm, lets see, that’s ten thousand dollars a month. Son of a gun, I was gonna be rich.

So I wrote AMBER PASSION in fourteen days and I sent it in to those Mills and Boon people in the U.K. So sure was I of success, that I didn’t wait for their glowing letter of praise and that five thousand dollar check, before starting and finishing BRAZEN PASSION.

I gotta hand it to those Harlequin/Mills and Boon people, they got right back to me with their rejection letter just as I finished BRAZEN, two weeks later. “Keep trying,” they said. “Better luck next time.”

Well, okay, they didn’t like it, maybe it had too much of a sailboat theme in it. Maybe they didn’t like the part where the condom didn’t work and the heroine got pregnant. Who knows.

But I knew this. I had another book ready to go. That next time they told me about in their letter was now and I sent BRAZEN off to them. But this time I decided to wait for their response before spending my lazy, languid, island days writing lovey dovey stories.

I’d much rather hang out in Port of Spain, taking photographs that I could write about for my sailing stories, because there were a couple sailing magazines that actually liked the stories written by my sea going, photographer self.

But alas, a couple weeks later those Mill and Boon people again said no. “Perhaps you submitted too soon,” they’d said. I think that was a kiss off. Anyway, I acted like it was and I went back to writing my sailing stories.

So these stories sat unloved and unread for years. Until now. I decided to make them available oh Amazon’s Kindle for free, but they wouldn’t let me. I could make them free for only one week out of every ten. Those other nine weeks I had to charge, so I decided to make them available for free right here.

And here is Amber Passion. I hope you enjoy it.

Amber Passion, Chapter One, by Ken Douglas.


Christmas Eve Morning, Present Day.

Sandra Stone gasped, it was him. She pumped the brakes too hard and sent the car skidding to the curb, but she managed to stop it before she went under the freeway overpass. She shut off the engine, killing the sounds of an old Simon and Garfunkel CD, killing the incessant air-conditioning fans too.

She rolled down the window, letting in the rushing, hissing sounds of the cars flowing east and west on the overpass above. A cool breeze blew in the window, ruffling her shoulder length auburn hair, carrying along with it the scent of baking bread. She saw the bakery on the other side of the street, felt the twinge in her stomach. She’d missed breakfast and the bread smelled heavenly, but she put her hunger out of her mind as she checked the rearview mirror. No cars were coming up Bellflower Boulevard, so she got out of the car and walked around to the sidewalk and looked up.

It was Christmas Eve morning and somehow she’d managed to get through the whole three-oh with her life intact, but here it was the first day of her thirty-first year and there he was, the man of her dreams, the man she’d lost all those years ago, in bigger than life-sized color, holding the new Apple MacBook in his left hand and his latest book, HURRICANE DREAMS in his right. The billboard was new and it made her heart ache. Some birthday present, a reminder of what could have been.

The billboard was angled so that you could see it as you flew past on the freeway or if you drove below on Bellflower headed south to the university or the beach. Sandra looked into those big blue eyes. Steely eyes, smiling eyes. He had crow’s feet now, but if anything they made him look more dashing than he’d looked to her when he was battling a storm in a small sailboat, back when she was young and love was the only thing that mattered.

From his eyes she dropped down to his yellow Hawaiian shirt. She smiled, despite herself. The shirt wasn’t as tattered as the ones he’d worn back then, but still it was a Hawaiian shirt. In all the publicity photos she’d seen of him over the years, she’d never seen him dressed like that, as he’d dressed when they were lovers. She laughed, he was wearing shorts and sandals too. That was so unlike the conservative best selling writer image he’d cultivated for himself.

And the shirt was yellow. That used to be her favorite color. It stood for the new day, for love, for passion, for the future. Now all she wore was blue, like the baby blue blouse she had on and the faded jeans she was wearing. Blue, blue, blue. Yellow had gone out of her life when he’d sailed away with the sunset.

“It’s good to see you, Jack,” she said and for a minute she thought she was going to cry.

Jack Stewart, one of the most successful novelists alive. Every one of his books went to number one the day it was released. He and his movie star wife, Maria Magenta, had homes in Paris, New York and Malibu. They had a Million dollar sailboat in the Med, another in the Caribbean.

Though he tried to stay out of the limelight, it wasn’t possible with a wife who made more per picture than the gross national product of many nations. Maria was as outspoken as Jack was quiet. Every article Sandra had read about the couple hinted that Jack was uncomfortable with the notoriety, but if that was so, what was he doing up there on that billboard? That was hardly staying out of the limelight.

There were spotlights on it. She shook her head. Poor Jack, lit up at night, his face there for every passing motorist to see. She wondered why he’d done it, but she’d probably never know. She felt the track of a lone tear, wiped it away with a finger.

Ah well, she couldn’t sit all day looking up at a face from yesterday. She got back in the car, pulled back into the traffic, resolving once again to try and put him behind her. She’d been doing that for over a decade and hadn’t succeeded yet and she probably never would. She sighed. It was unfortunate that you couldn’t pick the one you love, life would be so much easier.

Ten minutes later she turned up into the driveway of her modest, single story home in Lakewood Park Estates. She shut the engine off, checked the dashboard clock, 9:00. She had an hour before Denise arrived. Denise was her best friend in all the world and the only person alive that knew about her short, but tumultuous affair with Jack Stewart, way back before he was famous.

Before she got out of the car, she spent a second worrying about her daughter. She had just returned from dropping her off at the mall. It was Amber’s first time there without Sandra hovering over her. But Amber had insisted that she needed to go shopping without Mom, otherwise how could she buy her her Christmas present. Besides, she was going to be with a group of her friends. Sandra had wanted to say no, but she didn’t want to be an overprotective mother either. It would be okay, she thought, Amber was responsible and behaved much older than her eleven years.

Still it was a mother’s job to worry and Sandra was good at that.

She got out of the car, patted it on the roof and was about to start for the house, when she stopped herself and looked over to the park across the street with longing. It had been a week since she’d run. She hadn’t gone that long since she was pregnant with Amber.

She sighed. She really wanted to get the last couple of drawings done before Denise showed up, but she wanted to run too, needed the physical exercise, needed it to exorcise him out of her system. She sighed again, who was she kidding, she’d never get him out of her system. She was going to die loving him.

Tomorrow, she told herself, she’d pick up her running again tomorrow. No, no she wouldn’t. Tomorrow was Christmas, Amber would be up bright and early. Denise would be over with the sun. They’d do the presents, then Tony, Denise’s boyfriend, was going to come over and cook them some kind of Continental Christmas turkey dish that he said was to die for and he should know, he was the chef at the Marriott Hotel out by the Long Beach Airport.

Okay, she’d do it now, she resolved. She had time to do five quick miles over at the park before Denise showed up. To heck with the Frog Prince. She’d do the drawings with Denise staring over her shoulder and grumbling. She’d done it before.

That decided, she hustled into the house, kicked her shoes off at the entry way, went straight to her room and changed into her sweats—pants cut off halfway to the knees, sleeves cut off halfway to the elbows—without looking at herself in the floor to ceiling mirrors on the sliding closet doors. She knew she looked dumpy and stupid in the plain Jane sweats, she didn’t need to see the proof in the mirror. She grabbed her digital watch on the way out. It had a stopwatch function and Sandra timed herself every time she ran. She was still running six minute miles, five in a row. When she ran like that all she could think about was her pounding legs, her pumping arms, her beating heart. She ran to get him out of her head. She was free only when she ran.

She padded in stockinged feet over the varnished hardwood floor to the living room. At the front door she slipped into her running shoes, then took her running key off the peg by the door, a key on a thick string she wore around her neck when she worked out. She stepped outside, locked the door, slipped the key over her neck and was about to jog across the street when Denise screeched her tires around the corner and pulled up in the driveway, behind Sandra’s Mercedes.

“Oh, no!” Sandra squeezed her eyes shut in anticipation of the collision, but instead she heard the squeal of Denise’s brakes. She’d stopped within centimeters of Sandra’s pride and joy. Sandra felt like screaming. That Mercedes was the first new car she’d ever owned. She and Denise did okay with their children’s books, but they weren’t getting rich. Sandra had a child to raise, house payments to make, bills to pay. It had taken them a long time to get ahead enough so that she thought she could afford the car, the last thing she wanted was for Denise to crack it up before it was even a week old.

“Have you seen the paper?” Denise said as she jumped out of her almost new, but already very dented Honda.

“Denise!” Sandra stamped her foot. “What are you trying to do? I love that car.” She loved Denise too, but her friend never thought about the consequences of her actions. She just followed her heart and acted, sometimes with disastrous results.

“Relax, kiddo.” Denise had the Long Beach Press Telegram in her hand. “Come inside, we have to talk.”

“Right behind you.” Sandra started to take the key from around her neck, but she needn’t have bothered because Denise had her set in hand and was already keying the door. Denise had a set because they used the back den of the house as their home office. It was where they worked. They wrote the Toad and Frog books, Denise did the words, Sandra the drawings.

“I need coffee, black and strong,” Denise said as she kicked her shoes off, then pushed them up against the wall by the door, between a pair of Amber’s tennis shoes and a pair of flats that Sandra wore when she dressed up.

In the kitchen Denise dropped the paper on the breakfast table, went to the coffee maker, filled it with coffee and water, turned it on, stepped back to smell the aroma and watch it do it’s magic. Denise was wearing designer jeans and a Mexican peasant blouse. She looked like a million bucks. Sandra didn’t know how she did it. The woman just threw on whatever was handy and left her apartment. She didn’t care a wit what anybody thought, she didn’t use makeup, had her hair done at the beauty school and said what she thought.

“Okay, what’s so important?”

“Front page, the entertainment section.”

“Can’t you just tell me?”

“No.” Then, “Jeez, I wish you could speed this darn thing up.” Denise was a coffee junkie and had a cup at the ready. “Instant in the microwave is a lot quicker.”

“Well, I don’t like instant, thank you very much.” Sandra tentatively reached for the paper. Even though she knew the story was going to be about Jack, she couldn’t help herself. She had to know.

“Don’t look so scared,” Denise said. “It won’t bite.”

“I’m not scared,” Sandra said, but it was a lie. She’d been in love with Jack Stewart since she was eighteen years old. And he’d loved her too, once. She had a good life, a daughter she loved more than life itself, a job most people would kill for and a best friend who accepted her the way she was, but even though she had all that, her heart ached. Mostly she could handle it, but sometimes life just seemed so hard.

“At last.” Denise pulled the coffee carafe out of the machine, letting coffee drip onto the kitchen counter as she poured herself a strong cup. She was never able to wait till the machine had finished. “Okay, open it up, read the story.”

Hands slightly shaking, Sandra opened the paper and read the review of Jack Stewart’s new book, HURRICANE DREAMS.

“Have you read it?” Denise said. “Not the review, the book.”

“It only came out yesterday,” Sandra said.

“That’s not what I asked you. I asked if you’d read it?”

“I’ve read it.”

“It was supposed to come out last month, but it got held up because of the cover art, so they couldn’t get it out till a couple days before Christmas, but you found the time in your busy schedule to fight through the gift buying crowd at the mall and get a copy. Then you found the time to read it. You must’ve been first in line and you must’ve stayed up all night. Is that why your eyes are so bleary?”

“You don’t look so wide awake yourself. And for your information I was not waiting in line at the mall. I happened to see it when Amber and I were at Target, getting her a new backpack for her school books.”

“What were you doing shopping, you were supposed to be working on the artwork for The Frog Prince? Denise chided.

“I needed a break.” She laughed. “Besides, you shouldn’t be such a slave driver, it’s Christmas.”

“That’s why you were up all night reading his book, because you needed a break?”

“I don’t want to talk about it. Besides, we agreed a long time ago not to talk about him or his books and that’s the way I want to leave it.”

“Then why were you up all night?”

“What do you want me to say?”

“How about that you’re still madly in love with him and now that you know he still loves you, you don’t know what to do. Your heart’s going all pitter patter and you’re consumed with stormy passionate desire.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“He was writing about you and you know it.”

“I do not.”

“What about the scar just below the left breast that happened when the heroine Kendra fell off her bike when she was ten years old? What about the mole just to the right of Kendra’s navel? What about Kendra’s long flowing hair? What about her Christmas green eyes? And what about the fact that Kendra’s father is a sailor who was never home when she was growing up? Explain all that if Jack Stewart wasn’t writing about you?”

“Okay, so maybe he borrowed a few things he learned from me and about me during our very short relationship eleven years ago for a character in his latest book. Authors do that. It doesn’t mean anything. He probably doesn’t even remember where he got the info for that character. It probably just came out of his subconscious.”

“Then explain how come Kendra sounds so much like Sandra.” Denise took a long sip of her coffee and Sandra wondered how come she didn’t burn her lips off.

“Come on Denise, give it a rest. It was over eleven years ago. It ended when he saw Woody kissing me in that restaurant.”

“I haven’t even told you the best part.”

“I can’t wait,” Sandra said.

“It’s finally time for you two to get back together.” It seemed every time Jack came out with a new best seller, Denise flew over to Sandra’s and urged her to call the man. Denise was a hopeless romantic. Never mind that he was happily married.

“Don’t talk crazy talk.”

“He’s at the Lakewood mall. Gonna be there all day singing his new book.” She took another sip of the black coffee. “Think about it, he writes a book about your affair in the Caribbean and on the very day it’s released, he’s signing hard cover copies of it in a mall about ten minutes away from here, what does that tell you?”

“That he’s doing his job, promoting his book,” Sandra said.

“And why here? Why with this book that’s so obviously about you and him.”

“It’s not obvious.”

“Not to anyone that doesn’t know, but it is to me. And it is to you, too, admit it.”

“No.” But it was about their affair, from his point of view. Try as she might, she couldn’t deny that. The book told how they met and the wonderful time they had on that sailboat. It also told how the hero caught his true love with another man she loved better and how the hero, wanting his lover to be happy, disappeared into the good night, never to be seen again. It was a different kind of book than the usual Jack Stewart thriller. The critics said he was taking a chance. The book made her want to cry.

“Oh, come on, Sandra, he loves you. He never stopped loving you. It’s as plain as the nose on your face.”

“That isn’t so plain anymore.” Sandra reached up, touched her nose. It had been a little longer, not her best feature, then she broke it in a auto accident with a drunk driver. When she’d come out of surgery it was the size of an orange, and when the bandages came off, it was beautiful. The plastic surgeon had used a little artistic license for which Sandra never stopped thanking him, because her once, interesting face was now gorgeous. Everybody said so.

“You know what I mean.”

“If he loved me so much, why did he run to New York and marry his agent, that Kimberly Wilson? It seems to me she was the one he loved.” Even after all this time, Sandra could close her eyes and still see the haunting beauty that was Kimberly Wilson.

“If he loved her so much, how come he divorced her after only two years?”

“He fell in love with Maria Magenta, the actress that starred in Dead Ringer,” Sandra said. That was his second book, the one where he killed off a woman that looked just like Sandra. He must’ve really hated her.

“Maria Magenta, Maria Magenta, you know, I’m getting a little tired of seeing that woman’s face every time I turn around. She must be on the cover of every bloody magazine in the Book Barn,” Denise said and Sandra had to admit that she was pretty tired of seeing the woman’s face too. “But tired of her as I am, I read her interview last month in Rolling Stone?

“I missed it and I don’t want to know about it. We have an agreement, remember?”

“Well if you’d have read the interview,” Denise said, ignoring Sandra, “you’d know that Jack and Maria have filed for divorce. You also would have learned that she still loves him very much, but that Jack was never really able to commit.”

“Really?” Sandra was surprised. They’d been married for five or six years. They’d been one of Hollywood’s more stable couples. Everybody said that it was true love.

“If you owned a television you’d know these things.”

“I have enough trouble keeping my own life on track. I don’t have time to worry about anyone else’s.”

“Right, so you’ve said. But I think you got rid of the TV so that Jack Stewart’s name wouldn’t pop up when you were least expecting it and remind you of what could have been, if only you wouldn’t have been so stubborn.”

“Denise, you’re going too far.”

“By the way,” Denise said, still ignoring Sandra, “did you happen to see that Macintosh add he’s in?”

“No.”

“Big giant billboard, you had to have seen it on the way back from the mall this morning.”

“How do you know I went to the mall?”

“It’s a secret.”

“Denise, tell me.” Sandra loved Denise, but sometimes it seemed that she and Amber were maybe too, close. She hated it that they had their secrets, that sometimes they excluded her. Denise said it was nothing, just girl stuff. But Sandra was a girl too. In fact she was five years younger than Denise, it didn’t seem fair that Denise always got to play the child.

“If I tell you, it’ll spoil your Christmas.”

“Oh.” She could understand them keeping that from her.

“So, are you going to go and get your book autographed?”

“Put that out of your head. I’ve got work to do.”

“The book is about you. He’s calling you.”

“Denise, stop it!”

“He’s at the mall. He’s signing books. He’s here for you. Go to him.”

“I can’t.


Amber Passion, Chapter Two, by Ken Douglas.


Hurricane Season, Twelve Years Ago.

Sandra looked out the window as the plane flew over the blue ocean. A spark of excitement rippled through her. She was going to spend a glorious two weeks with her dad before starting college in the middle of September.

“Pretty isn’t it?”

“What?” Sandra turned away from the window. The plane had only been about half full, she’d had three seats all to herself and had been reading a Jack Priest horror story through most of the flight from Miami. Next to Stephen King and Dean Koontz, he was her favorite. Now all of a sudden there was a young man in the aisle seat.

“Hi, my name’s Woody. Woody LaRue. You headed to St. Martin on vacation or are you going to work?”

“Vacation.” Sandra didn’t know if she should be relieved to have someone to talk to or annoyed that he thought he could pick her up just because she was alone on a 747.

“Me too. Gonna get my dive ticket before I start off for grad school in Hawaii.” He had to be twenty-two or so if he was starting graduate school, but he looked younger, not much older than Sandra’s eighteen years.

“Seems like you’re going out of your way to learn scuba.” Sandra was a diver, having learned in Antigua last summer on her annual two week vacation with her father.

“What do you mean?” He had kind of a sloppy, lopsided, devil may care grin, hazel eyes that sparkled in the sunlight streaming in the window, longish hair the color of cornstalks bleached by the sun and he was tanned like someone who worked outdoors.

“Well, Hawaii’s the other way.” Sandra pointed toward the back of the plane.

“Oh, I get it.” He laughed, showed some teeth, perfect all in a row, probably braces when he was a child. Teeth like that made Sandra self conscious of the chip out of her left front tooth. She ran her tongue over it, a habit she couldn’t break. Someday she was going to have to get it fixed. That and the fact that her nose was just a bit longer than she would’ve liked were her two worst features, at least as far as she was concerned.

“So, why come to the Caribbean to scuba if you’re going to Hawaii in a couple weeks?”

“Three reasons. One, St. Martin is home, well one of our homes, my folks have a house in New York and another in the south of France, but Mom and Dad are in residence here for now. Two, I’ve been spending my summers in Hawaii after school was over, surfing, so I was getting pretty tired of living in the dorms. And three, my fiancée is spending the last part of the summer in Europe with her parents.”

“Your fiancée lives in Hawaii?” Surfer, Sandra thought, that explained the tan. And darn, a fiancée, just when he was starting to sound interesting.

“Yeah, she’s Hawaiian born and bred. I really miss her.”

“Sounds like true love.”

“I guess it is.” He saw the sketch book in her lap. “Hey, let me see that.” He picked it up. “You’re good.”

“Not really.” She looked at the caricatures she’d done of the flight attendants as he flipped through them.

“No, you are. They’re cartoons, sure, but you’ve captured them all cold.”

“It’s just a hobby.” More than a hobby, Sandra thought. She’d been cartooning ever since she was old enough to put pencil to paper.

“Well, you’re pretty good. No, you’re darn good.” He gave her back the sketch book. “Now that I’ve told you my story, what’s yours? You can start with your name.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m not usually so rude. My name’s Sandra, I’m going to St. Martin to sail on down to Trinidad with my father. He’s a charter boat skipper.” She omitted her last name on purpose. After all she was never going to see him again. Besides, he was engaged, which in a way was too bad, because he was exactly the kind of guy she wanted to eventually marry and settle down with, good looking, educated and from a family with money. She’d spent most of her childhood, until her mother remarried, doing without. That certainly wasn’t the way she wanted to spend her life as an adult.

“You’re going sailing in the middle of hurricane season, why?” He pushed some hair out of his eyes, Sandra could see that the way be sort of bobbed and weaved when he talked that the hair was a constant problem. He’d probably been one of those overactive children that give their parents so much trouble.

“I don’t know anything about that.”

“When you live in the tropics, it’s something you worry about. Technically we’re out of the hurricane belt in Hawaii, but we get ’em on occasion, but there’s a well defined hurricane season in the Caribbean, June to December, August and September the worst months.” He smiled. “Can’t help myself, Meteorology major.”

“Really, what can you do with that?”

“Hopefully I’ll be the guy you see on CNN doing the weather some day.”

“I didn’t know people studied for that, weatherman.”

“They do, but I guess it’s a lot like anything else, it helps if you know the right people. My dad works for CNN, management, so it’ll give me a leg up.”

“It sounds like you’ve got your life all planned out,” Sandra said.

“Three kids, house in the suburbs, picket fence, a BMW for me and a Volvo station wagon for her.” He laughed. “Just kidding, but yeah I know what I want to do with my life.”

“Your fiancée is a lucky girl,” Sandra said and she meant it. He was exactly the kind of guy she wanted to marry someday. Someone who had both feet firmly planted on the ground and was going to keep them there.

“Thanks,” he said, then the fasten seatbelt sign came on.

“Uh oh, gotta get back, can’t leave the old lady alone too long, she’s kind of afraid of flying.”

“I thought you said your fiancée was in Europe?”

“She is,” Woody said as he was sliding out of the seat, “I was talking about my mother.”

“Ah.”

“If you want to know the truth, I probably would’ve stayed in Hawaii and surfed, maybe got my dive ticket there, but Mom flew out and dragged me home. She says I don’t visit enough.” He laughed, waved goodbye, then was gone.

Sandra looked back out the window and saw green St. Martin below. So peaceful. It was funny, she’d never thought about hurricanes before, didn’t even know they had a season. Ah well, her father lived down there, sailed down there every day of his life, he’d know all about them. It was something she didn’t have to worry about.


*  *  *

Jack Stewart put a hand to his forehead to shield his eyes from the overhead sun, squinted and tried to see through the windows into the arrival hall, St. Martin Customs just the other side. As usual the sun was reflected off the tall windows and he couldn’t see through, but he never stopped trying. He was a patient man, but he hated waiting at the airport, so usually he wouldn’t have shown up an hour early, but he was excited about the passenger he was meeting. So excited that he was willing to wait for them to off load the jumbo from Miami, before the plane from New York that he was waiting for.

He dropped his hand, tore the wrapping off the double chocolate ice cream bar he’d just bought, walked over to the trash can to the left of the taxi rank, dropped the wrapping in it. That was one thing he liked about St. Martin, both the French and the Dutch sides, lots of trash bins. People used them and as a result St. Martin was mostly litter free. The clean and friendly island kept the tourists coming year after year and the tourists kept him employed.

Back in the waiting crowd he took a bite of the ice cream. Chocolate, there wasn’t a taste on earth that could beat it. He swirled it around in his mouth, savored the cold of it, so refreshing in the island heat. Another bite, so good, then he wolfed the rest down before the sun had a chance to turn it into brown goo.

The ice cream finished he licked the stick. He didn’t like the wooden taste that mingled with the chocolate, but he couldn’t help himself, he wanted every last drop. When you worked as hard as he did and got paid as little, you didn’t waste a thing. The stick clean he turned toward the trash, tossed it and smiled, a two pointer. Then he faced back toward the arrival hall and gasped, the taste of chocolate still in his mouth when he saw her push through the double doors, one of the last passengers from the Miami flight.

The sun shining through her flowing auburn hair seemed to form a halo, she looked angelic, but the curve of her hips and the way she walked put wicked thoughts in his head. She looked up as if she could feel his gaze. Their eyes locked for the briefest of instants, then she looked away, toward the rental car counters and Jack shivered. She looked young, was young, but that didn’t stop the hairs on the back of his neck from standing up, didn’t stop the rapid beat of his heart.

Electricity seemed to charge the air. He turned to check out the others waiting as he was. An elderly woman with a blue rinse in her hair was holding onto the hand of a three or four-year old girl. She was looking expectantly toward the arriving passengers. There weren’t many, probably from the commuter flight from neighboring Antigua that was due in between the Miami and New York flights. The woman waved, a couple coming through the double doors waved back. The child’s parents probably, the blue-hair the kid’s grandmother. Both her and the child were obviously excited about meeting the arriving couple, but they weren’t touched by the electricity that was sparking up his arm. 

Nor was anyone else.

It was just him.

The sparks were caused by the angel girl with the devil hips. No doubt about it.

He looked back toward her as she stepped up to the Caribbean Rental counter. No luggage, just a brown canvas carry-on bag slung over her shoulder. Acres of flowing hair, full breasts, slim waist and legs that went on forever. She was wearing a yellow blouse, yellow shorts, white tennis shoes with yellow socks. She was tanned to a golden brown, was cheerleader perfect and Jack bet she wasn’t even twenty-one.

Too young.

Way too young.

He sighed, saw her turn toward him and he quickly looked away. Best to put her out of his mind.


*  *  *

Sandra risked another look at the tall man and caught him turning away. Was he looking at her? It seemed so. A tingle rippled along her skin, her palms were damp. She tried to tell herself it was the humidity, but she knew better. She’d seen the look in those crystal blue eyes the second she stepped out into the sunlight. He was eating her up with a glance.

She should be annoyed.

How come she wasn’t?

Maybe because the man reminded her of her father with his blond hair a little to long, Hawaiian shirt a little ragged, shorts well worn, too. She dropped her eyes down his tanned legs and saw the sandals. Sure enough, a yachtie like her father. Maybe even a single-hander, the worst kind. He probably lived on his boat in the lagoon, as did her dad. The guy was terrific looking, jaw of iron, eyes of blue, but as much as she loved her dad, the last thing she wanted to do was get tangled up with a man just like him.

“Can I help you?” The blonde at the Caribbean Car Rental desk said, pulling Sandra’s eyes away from the man. The blonde had Palomino hair, green eyes, twenty-five or thirty. The kind of a woman men fell all over for. The kind of woman her father would fall all over for.

“Yes, maybe. The guy that stamps the passports gave me this.” Sandra held up a note. “It says to see the woman at the Caribbean Car Rental counter. That must be you.”

“You’re Sandra?” the woman said. “I was expecting someone younger.”

“I’m eighteen.”

“And I’m Denise.” She laughed. “I suppose I meant somebody who looked younger. You’re eighteen going on thirty, but the way your dad talks about you, I sort of thought you’d be eighteen acting like twelve. He refers to you as his little girl, but you’re certainly not so little.”

“I’m Sandra, but you already know that.” She returned Denise’s laugh. “Well, I’m not little any more, that’s for sure. What’s with the note?”

“Ah, that, I’m afraid I have some difficult news. Your father won’t be able to go on that vacation with you. He got a permanent job on a yacht in Mallorca.”

“Mallorca, as in Spain?”

“He flew out this morning.”

“That’s just like him.” Sandra wanted to scream. “Now I’m really stuck.”

“No you’re not.”

“How do you figure? I was supposed to spend the night on the boat with him. We were gonna sail down to Trinidad in a couple of days, but now I guess I’ll have to see if I can find a hotel, then change my ticket and fly back to Ohio from here.”

“Actually, Dale got the ticket with his frequent flyer miles and I don’t think you can change it.”

“Oh great!” The last thing Sandra wanted to do was to call her mother for money. Roger would just love that. Though she knew her father was as flaky as they come, she hated hearing it from her step-father. She hated the way Roger gloated. Well, she was just going to have to put up with it.

“It’s okay, Dale made arrangements for you to catch a ride down to Trinidad with this lady skipper that’s taking his place. You’re supposed to spend the night with me, then meet her at the marina in the morning.”

“Dad has me going on vacation with a total stranger?” Sandra sighed. That too was just like him.

“Stranger to you, but not to him. They’ve been living together for the last couple of months. She’s going to join him in Mallorca after the delivery.”

“You know a lot about my dad,” Sandra said.

“Yeah, I do, your dad and I lived together for a few months before, well, let’s just say we don’t live together now.”

“You were gonna say before you found out how irresponsible he is, weren’t you?” Sandra said.

“Something like that. The man’s fifteen years older then me and I have more responsibility in my little finger than he’s got in his whole body.” She picked up a stack of car rental forms and put them in a notebook.

“Then you were gonna say that you’re still friends, right?” Sandra mentally calculated Denise’s age. Her father was thirty-seven, that made Denise twenty-two, much closer to her own age than his, but then he liked them young.

“You know a lot about your father, too.”

“Enough to know that I never wanna end up with a guy like him.”

“Amen to that.” Denise laughed.

You can say that again. Sandra laughed too. 


*  *  *

It was high noon and hot as it always seemed to be when Jack was meeting an arrival. Not for the first time he wished St. Martin’s Princess Juliana airport had an indoor, air-conditioned arrival lounge, but it didn’t. Twice a month, during the season, he stood in the heat, waiting for smiling vacationers from the States, but the passenger he waited for today was no holiday maker and with luck he’d never have to stand in the hot sun again, looking like a tour guide as he held up a sign lettered with the name of the person he was supposed to pick up.

For six years he’d been living in exile, living under another name. Sailboat skipper in paradise, delivery captain, sometimes chef on a mega yacht and now, with luck, novelist. It all depended on what Kimberly Wilson, New York super agent had to say. It took him three years to write the book, another to rewrite it and still another to get up the courage to send it to Ms. Wilson, a name he’d gotten from the  credits in a thriller he’d read just last month.

He hadn’t a clue how the publishing business worked, so when he was finally ready to send the book off, he called a publisher in New York. The girl that answered the phone told him they only accepted agented submissions. She was polite, but firm. Jack needed an agent. So he sent the book to Kimberly Wilson. He’d heard that even the best of books were often rejected several times and it was a rejection slip he’d expected, not an invitation to call from Ms. Wilson when he went to his post office box last week.

He dialed the number with shaking hands, heard the quiver in his voice as he asked the man that answered the phone for Kimberly Wilson, felt the lump in his throat as she picked up. He was barely able to talk, was dumbfounded when she said she’d like to see him, that she’d fly out to St. Martin. That was two days ago.

“Jack, Jack Ramsey!”

Jack turned, saw his boss, Tom McCoy, waving his hand high so Jack could see him through the crowd. Jack sighed, that was a man he’d be glad to be shed of. He’d sent the book off under his real name and if, God willing, it was a success, he’d go back to the States as Jack Stewart, face and somehow overcome the charges against him, and never answer to Ramsey again. As far as McCoy and the others at Island Charters were concerned, he’d be nothing but a memory. If Ms. Wilson sold his book, Jack Ramsey was going to drop off the face of the earth.

“I almost didn’t believe my ears when one of the guys told me you were here. You’re not scheduled to pick anyone up.” Tom was a short man, early sixties, balding, heavy, sweaty as they come and he wasn’t happy unless he knew everything there was to know about those that worked for him.

“What do you want, Tom?” Jack wasn’t about to tell him why he was here, not because he was meeting an agent from New York. Unlike the others that worked for him, Jack didn’t cow tow to Tom. He could have been at the airport to meet a friend or to ship a package, it didn’t matter because he wouldn’t feed Tom’s need to know and Tom knew it. The only reason the man kept him on was because Jack took all the charters offered him, no matter how demanding the guests, no matter how bad the weather.

“Jenny flew out this morning, her sister had the baby early.”

“So why tell me?” Jack said, though he knew. Jenny was supposed to take Dale’s delivery down to Trinidad.

“Come on, Jack, I don’t have anyone else.”

“I was looking forward to a couple weeks off.” Already two months into hurricane season and he’d worked almost every day of them. This was supposed to be the slow season. But like last year, the charter customers didn’t understand the Caribbean seasons. They just kept coming.

“I need you, Jack.”

“All right.”

“There is one thing I should mention.”

“What?” Here it comes, Jack thought.

“Dale was supposed to take his daughter along for the ride.”

“You’re kidding?”

“He’s divorced, gets the kid a couple weeks out of the year. He was gonna take her on the delivery, stop at a couple of the islands and make kind of a vacation out of it.”

“No,” Jack said. “I’ll deliver the boat myself, just me and the autopilot, no children.”

“I don’t have anyone else. Besides, you like kids.”

“For crying out loud, Tom.”

“So you’ll do it?”

“Yeah, yeah, but the kid better not be a pain in the ass.”

“Hey, it’s Dale’s little girl, she’ll be a gem. The two of you will probably have the time of your lives.”


Amber Passion, Chapter Three, by Ken Douglas.


“You don’t mind putting me up for the night?” Sandra said to Denise.

“Not at all, anything for Dale’s daughter.” Denise laughed again and Sandra smiled, her personality was infectious. It was easy to see why her dad liked her, heck anyone would like her, man or woman.

“So what do I do now, wait for you to get off work or what?”

“I’m only working a half shift today, I get off in about five minutes. I thought we could get lunch. I know this place that does a great special and if you don’t want that, they make the world’s best burgers.”

“I don’t eat beef,” Sandra said.

“Fish?”

“Sometimes.”

“They have a killer tuna burger.”

“Perfect.”

“That’s settled.” Denise looked at her watch. “There’s just about enough time left for you to find my car in the lot and bring it around. You do drive don’t you?”

“Of course.”

“Good, because it’s a little bit of a hike and I have blisters on my feet because of these new shoes.”

Sandra peered over the counter. “Cowboy boots?”

“Yeah, I’m just a little ol’ Texas girl whose Texas brother bought her a pair of boots.” All of a sudden Denise had a Southern accent.

“Really?”

“He sent them FedEx. I wanted to have them broken in before he showed up with my parents next week.” The accent was gone now, apparently she could turn it on and off at will. “Pretty dumb wearing them to work, huh?”

“Not so dumb, we all do stuff like that for family,” Sandra said. 

“So, you wanna get the car?” Denise held out a set of car keys. “It’s the white Jeep at the back of the lot behind this building.”

“Sure.” Sandra took the keys.

“And add a little hustle to your bustle, because we just might be able to get to the Airport Beach Bar before the lunch special is finished.”

“Okay.” Sandra took off at a trot, weaving her way through the throng of people waiting for the next flight.


*  *  *

Jack watched Tom’s bald head as the short man waddled toward the curb and his waiting Porsche. No parking there, but no parking signs never bothered Tom and he never got a ticket. He knew all the cops on the Dutch side of the island, was friends with them all. He knew everybody who was anybody on the French side, too. It was odd, Jack not liking such an affable man, but there was something about him that rubbed Jack the wrong way. Maybe it was just the fact that he worked for the man. Jack had never had a boss he liked. Something about being an employee grated on him.

Having had enough of Tom, Jack turned back toward the arrival hall when someone slammed into him. With a whoosh his breath was gone and he was going down. Instantly he relaxed his shoulder, rolled away from the attacker and quick as a cat he was back on his feet, despite the lack of air. Hands in front of himself he darted his eyes around, saw someone on the ground, figured it was an accident, dropped his guard, doubled over, grabbed his knees and sucked in much needed air.

“Are you okay?” he gasped.

“Yeah.” She pushed herself to her knees. It was the girl.

“You pack a heck of a wallop.” Jack held out a hand to her. 

“I’m sorry. I was in a hurry.” She took his hand and Jack felt a jolt shimmy up his arm, stab him in the heart. Electric, sexual energy. It had never hit him like that before. The tension in the air was thick.

“That’s okay, no harm done.” She tightened her hand in his and that charge going up his arm got hot. He wanted her. He couldn’t explain it. She was too young. It was wrong.

“Yeah, no harm.” He pulled her to her feet, but instead of letting go, he kept on pulling until her breasts flattened against his chest and her lips were centimeters from his own. “Sorry.” He stepped back.

“I gotta go.” She backed away from him as if he were a snake. “See ya.” She turned on her heels and jogged past the taxi rank, made a quick right and too soon was out of sight.

“What was that all about?” he mumbled to himself. “Something, nothing, who knows?” He sighed. It was a good thing that she’d jogged out of his life, because she was too young for him. Besides, he didn’t have room in his life for a woman right now, maybe for a long time if the news from Kimberly Wilson was what he’d hoped.

But he let out another long sigh, because there was something about the girl that he couldn’t deny. No woman had every affected him that way before.


*  *  *

Sandra couldn’t believe how the man had turned her on. How’d he do that? It was as if she were a light and he had the switch. One second she was depressed, saddened because her father had left her in the lurch, the next she was sucked into the sexuality of the man. For a second she almost threw her inhibitions to the wind and kissed him. It had taken every ounce of will power she could muster to pull away.

She found the Jeep where Denise said it would be. She keyed the door, got in. It started right up. She backed out of the space and turned onto Airport Boulevard, took the first left and drove around to the taxi rank where she found Denise with her bag.

“Wanna drive a bit?” Denise climbed into the passenger seat, tossed Sandra’s bag into the back. “I’ve gotta get out of these damned boots.”

“Sure,” Sandra said. “Nice car.”

“Just a Jeep.”

“Maybe when I get a little older I’ll be jaded like that, but right now a Jeep that still has the new car smell is pretty darned nice to me.”

“Follow the road out and turn left.” Denise pulled off the boots, tossed them in back with the bag, then reached into the back seat and brought out a pair of tennis shoes similar to Sandra’s.

“I bumped into a man in the hurry to get your car.” Sandra said. “We fell down.”

“Are you all right?” Denise pulled on a shoe, started to lace it up.

“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just that there was something about him. There was like an energy between us.”

“Honey, you’re eighteen, you’ll feel that a lot in the next couple of years. It’s called hormones.”

“No it wasn’t that. I know what it’s like to be horny. This was more then that. It was almost like fate, know what I mean?”

“Not exactly.”

“Do you think you’d know your Prince Charming if you fell over him?”

“I hope I would.” Denise pulled on the other shoe. “But knowing me, I’d probably pass on the prince and settle for another dreamer like your dad. I don’t know why I do that, but I do. There’s just something about men like your father, the way they love you at first just makes your heart start racing. Then as time moves on you see that they’re nothing more than an over grown child, all dream, no responsibility, no commitment other than to the moment.”

“I sure know about that. No offence, but I’ve seen Dad with other women on more than one occasion, women I thought he was gonna settle down with, but something always happens and he breaks up and moves on.”

“I’m not offended. I’m just glad I saw it coming and broke it off before I fell in too deep and he broke my heart.”

“What’s his new woman like?”

“Jenny? She’s got it bad, but she’s a tough one. A single-hander like your father. She does charters, deliveries, cooks, cleans and climbs up in the rigging. This time I think old Dale Stone’s met his match.”

“I think I’d like to meet her.”

“You’d like her, everybody does,” Denise said. Then, “Take that left and park just up there.”

“Wow!” Sandra parked on the right by a row of basketball sized rocks that separated the road from the rocky incline that lead down to the clear blue ocean. Waves lapped up on the beach only twenty or thirty feet below.

“Takes my breath away every time I see it,” Denise said.

“I can believe that.” Sandra reached into the back, got her bag, opened it and took out the sketch pad. “I like to draw people I meet, this will just take a second.” It took a few more, but in no time, she’d captured her new friend.

“Let me see,” Denise said when Sandra had finished.

“I hope you like it.” Sandra turned the pad around, showed Denise the drawing.

“I love it.” Denise laughed. “I really, really love it. Did you train for this?”

“No, I’ve been doing it ever since I can remember.”

“We should talk later, but right now we should eat. I’m starved.”

The bar was an outdoor type of affair as was the restaurant. There were about twenty picnic like tables with giant umbrellas mushrooming out of them and most of them were full.

“I want one of those.” Sandra pointed to a tropical drink that a very attractive older woman was drinking.

“A strawberry daiquiri, what the heck, I’ll have one too.”

“I wasn’t serious. I’m not twenty-one. I can’t drink.”

“You’re not in the States now. If you can order it, you can drink it.”

“Really?”

“It’s true.”


*  *  *

Jack must have stood in this very spot at least fifty times in the last five years, holding a sigh aloft, waiting for someone to shout out, but all of a sudden he felt stupid doing it. He felt as if all eyes were on him. Like every waiting person knew what had transpired between him and that girl.

What? he asked himself. What had transpired? Nothing. It was all in his imagination. He was excited about meeting the agent, excited about his novel and what might happen to it. So excited that when he saw the girl his emotions ran away with him. Pretty dumb.

“Jack Stewart?”

“What?”

“You’re holding a sign with my name on it. I’m Kimberly Wilson.”

“I’m sorry, I was somewhere else.” Now he really felt dumb.

“Do you do that often, go somewhere else?”

“Not often.” He took her in. She was about his age. Wearing a wide brimmed straw hat, no make up, she didn’t need it, not a blemish on her face. She wore a peasant blouse with a denim skirt, but on her they looked high fashion. Kimberly Wilson was the real deal.

“I left my bags back by the gate.” She pointed and Jack saw two designer suitcases, brown with initials all over them. Immediately his mind went to the girl. She’d had a carry-on bag slung over her shoulder, nothing else. Kimberly Wilson didn’t travel light, but then she probably stayed in five star hotels. You didn’t have to drag your luggage around when you stayed in places like that.

“I’ll get ’em.” Jack pushed through the throng, picked up the bags. Heavy. He hauled them to the curb with Kimberly Wilson right behind. “Wait here, I’ll get the car.”

In the lot Jack studied the black Jeep Wrangler with the words Island Charters in white letters on each door. Not very professional, should have rented a car, but too late now. He climbed in, gunned the engine and drove around to pick her up. At the curb he jumped out, put her luggage in back. It wasn’t that he was being overly polite, it’s how he treated everybody he picked up.

“I have some news for you,” she said after she settled in the passenger seat.

“I’ve been waiting.”

“Not now, how about over lunch and a bottle of champagne.”

“I know just the place.”

“Has it got a view?”

“Oh, yeah, it’s out at the end of the runway. Jet’s land almost on top of you while waves break at your feet.”

“That sounds dangerous.”

“Only if you get in the way of the planes.”


*  *  *

All of a sudden thunder roared through the day and Sandra jumped. A couple at the next table laughed and she waved at them when she realized it was only an Air France 747 getting ready for take off. Not only was the Airport Beach Bar right on the edge of the ocean, it was right at the edge of the runway. Jets blasted off and landed almost close enough to touch.

“They could never get away with this in America,” She said.

“No kidding,” Denise said, “lawsuit city.”

Sandra took a bite of her tuna burger. “Hey this is good.” She smiled with a mouth full as a wave crashed below. Then she followed Denise’s pointed finger with her eyes and saw a jet coming in to land.

“KAL 747,” Denise said, “right on time.”

“It’s so exciting,” Sandra said.

“Look.” Denise was pointing again.

A group of young men, six of them, were lining up along the chain link fence that separated the runway from the beach sand. They dropped to their knees as the plane approached, arms outstretched, and started bowing up and down.

“It’s sort of a 747 landing ritual,” Denise said.

“I love it.” Sandra sipped at her drink. Something about drinking in the afternoon in this public place made her feel like an adult. Heck, she was an adult. Eighteen was old enough to vote, after all. You didn’t get more adult than that. She covered her ears as the plane roared down to the runway, the men bowing all the while. Then the plane was on the ground and taxiing away.

“Are you okay?” Denise asked.

“Sure. Oh you mean because of the drink. I’ve had alcohol before.” But she’d always had to do it on the sly so that drinking it felt cheap and wrong. Here—with Denise and all the others enjoying the beach, the planes, their vacation—it seemed right, no not right, what she thought earlier, adult.

Sandra took another bite of her sandwich. If this Jenny was as friendly as Denise, then the trip down to Trinidad might be fun. Who knows, she might even have more fun than she would’ve had with dad. With him she couldn’t drink fancy tropical drinks, and she couldn’t be herself either, because he always treated her like she was twelve years old.

“So tell me about the men in your life,” Denise said.

“The men?”

“But don’t talk with your mouth full.” Denise smiled, eyes twinkling.

Sandra swallowed. “I don’t have any men in my life.”

“No boyfriend?”

“Not right now. I’m going away to college in the fall, so I broke up with the guy I was dating in high school. It wasn’t serious anyway.”

“I bet it was for him. You’re the kind of girl men like to get serious about.”

Sandra was about to acknowledge the compliment, but her words were stuck in her mouth. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. It was him. The man from the airport. And he was with the most beautiful woman Sandra had ever seen in person. It took every ounce of effort for her to turn away, to not stare.

“Don’t look now, but there’s this gorgeous hunk of a man coming in with a woman that looks like a movie star,” Sandra said.

Denise started to turn her head.

“No, don’t look!”

“All right.” Denise kept her gaze forward, looked straight into Sandra’s eyes. “But I have to admit that you’ve got me curious.”

“It’s the guy I told you about, the guy I bumped into at the airport.”

“The one with all the energy?”

“Yeah.”

“Your Prince Charming?”

“I didn’t say that. I just said there was something.” Sandra gasped. “They’re coming this way.” She felt all a quiver. “What am I gonna do?”

“Relax.” Denise was still staring into Sandra’s eyes, hadn’t turned to look.

“Hello again.” The man touched her shoulder. His hands seemed hot and all of a sudden her shoulder was on fire.

“Hi.” Sandra had to struggle the word out.

“It’s a small island.”

“Guess so,” Sandra said.

“How are you, Denise?” he said. Sandra couldn’t believe it. He knew her. But then it was probably true what he said. It was a small island.

“Fine, Jack,” Denise said.

“Good to hear.” Then he turned back to Sandra. “Enjoy your vacation,” he said, then he put a hand to the woman’s waist and steered her toward a table on the other side of the of the outdoor patio.


*  *  *

“Cute girl,” Kimberly Wilson said as they took a table as far away from the girl as Jack could get.

“She bumped into me at the airport when I was waiting for you. She must be down here on vacation.” But Jack wondered about that because she was with Denise Daniels who worked for Caribbean Rentals. Maybe she was a friend, a younger sister maybe. He stole a quick look toward her table, then turned back to Kimberly Wilson who had her hand in the air, signaling that she wanted service.

“Topless girls drink for free,” the waiter said. He was about twenty, looked like a surfer.

“What?”

“It’s what the sign says.” The kid had a leer on his face. “Over there.” He pointed. Kimberly looked.

“You’re right, that’s what it says,” Kimberly said. Then to Jack, “So do girls really take their tops off or what?”

“Usually not till after the sun goes down. Sometimes they flash the bartender, sometimes they drink all night bare to the waist.”

“You got Champagne?”

“Yes,” the waiter said.

“I flash my tits and I get the bottle for free?”

“Champagne, I don’t know.”

“Doesn’t matter, these babies are staying wrapped up.”

“Whatever,” the guy said.

“A bottle of your best, two glasses.”

“You think he really expected me to expose myself?” Kimberly said.

“A lot of girls do. Go look at the pictures tacked up around the bar.”

Kimberly got up. Went to the bar as the waiter delivered the champagne. Jack watched as he opened the bottle and poured, stealing glances between Kimberly as she looked at the gallery of woman who’d had there pictures snapped when they’d bared themselves for that free drink and the girl eating lunch with Denise. There was something about her. Too young. But still he felt himself stirring.

“Yeah,” Kimberly said after she sat back down, “they really do show them for a drink. I don’t get it.”

“They’re on vacation. They figure they’re never going to see anybody here again. It’s all in fun.”

“I bet.” She picked up her glass. Held it forward to make a toast.

“I hope we’re drinking to my book.” Jack clinked her glass.

“To that and the million six advance.”

“What?”

“You heard me, Jack. Drink up.” She stared him in the eyes without blinking as she sipped at the champagne, then she tossed her head back and drained the glass dry.

“A million six!” Jack drank too.


*  *  *

“I’ve been waiting for you to ask about him,” Denise said. They’d been quiet the whole time it took Handsome and his gorgeous woman to get the table, order the champagne and for her to go up to the bar for some reason.

“What do you think they’re drinking to?” Sandra said.

“Probably for fair winds.” Denise reached for her strawberry daiquiri, picked it up. “Are you going to ask me about him or not?”

“Not.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, what do you want to know?”

“All right. His name.”

“Jack Ramsey. He’s a charter captain, like your father.”

“Don’t tell me, he lives on his boat alone. He’s a single-hander.”

“Right.”

That’s what I didn’t want to know. I love my father, but the last thing in the world I want is go get stuck on some guy just like him. Remember I said that back at the airport?”

“I remember.”

“I meant it.” Then. “Does he have any money? Does he own anything, besides his boat?”

“No. He really is just like your dad. He asked me out after we split up and handsome man that he is, I turned him down. Like you, I want stability.”

“And a man with money.”

“You’d marry for money?” Denise frowned.

“No, not for that alone. But I’m going to Harvard in the fall, a school full of mostly rich young men. I figure if I only go out with someone with bucks, then it’s someone with bucks I’ll fall in love with.”

“A great plan, but what are you going to do if your heart gets in the way?”

“I’m not going to let it.”


Amber Passion, Chapter Four, by Ken Douglas.


Jack was walking on the moon as he escorted Kimberly back to the company car. As before, he held the door for her. A million six, unbelievable. He could afford to fix the boat up. No, he could afford a new boat. Heck, he could afford just about any damn thing he wanted.

He scooted behind the wheel, rested his hands on it as he watched a Cessna come in for a landing, floating down toward the runway, a toy compared to the big jets.

“I hear they have casinos here,” Kimberly said.

“They do, not like in Vegas, but they got ’em.”

“Do they have blackjack?”

“They do.”

“Would you mind terribly escorting me tonight?”

“Madam it would be my pleasure. I’d escort you to Mars if you wanted.”

“Just a little gambling and dinner. I’m afraid I don’t have time for outer space. I have to make an early night of it. I have a conference call at seven in the AM and a flight out at noon-thirty.

“Gambling and dinner. Your wish in my command.”

He started the car, looked out over the sea as he eased away from the side of the road. A sailboat was running downwind, bright yellow spinnaker flying. The same color as that girl was wearing. Damn, why couldn’t he get her out of his mind.

“That’s what I do,” he said. “Sailboats like that one out there.”

“I gathered from your book. Is the hero based on yourself?”

“Oh, Lord no. I tried to make him sensitive, caring and intelligent. Three qualities I’ve been told I’m seriously lacking.”

“Really? I would have thought it’d take a pretty sensitive individual to write Turquoise Dreams. I cried when Dylan’s twin died. I was right there in the hospital with her. And when she developed feelings for her best friend. I have to admit, I thought you were gay, you write about the experience so well.”

“I was writing about two women, girls really. I didn’t look at it as a gay thing.”

“So you’re homophobic?”

“No.”

“Gay women don’t bother you. You don’t even think of them as gay, yet the girls admit it in the last chapter. They even use the word.”

“You don’t understand, it’s just not a term I think of, gay. If two people love each other, then it should be okay. We, society, shouldn’t judge, shouldn’t be allowed to. And we damn sure shouldn’t put a name on it if it’s not the kind of love we approve of.”

“And you say you’re not sensitive and caring.” She laughed, not at him, more at the observation she’d just made. “Would you like to work on intelligent now? Because I think it took a pretty bright guy to write the kind of book that you did.”

“Yeah, that’s me, a sensitive guy.”

“So tell me about what you do.”

“There’s not much to tell. I’m not much more that a glorified tour guide. Usually I take out two couples who pay about five grand for a skippered charter, sixty-five hundred if a cook comes along, but I usually work alone, which works out okay, because I like eating and every group of guests cook a little differently.”

“You take these people out there, on a boat like that?” She pointed out toward the sailboat.

“Yeah, I do, but I’ve been wanting to quit for a long time. I guess now I will.”

“You’re going to have to. The publisher’s going to want you to do a book tour, you know, sitting at a card table in front of a bookstore in the mall and autographing hardcovers. They’re going to want you to do television, too.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Am not. They don’t pay out a million six without expecting you to bust your butt helping them to get it back. That and a lot more.”

“When should I head back?” He shivered as the fist of fear tightened around his spine.

“As soon as possible. Tomorrow with me would be good, but you probably can’t wind up your affairs that quickly.”

“Normally I could, but I’ve got a charter I promised to do. A couple of weeks down to Trinidad. After that I’m free as a bird.” He could get out of the charter, probably should, but he needed the time to figure out how to handle the murder charge against him. He sighed, for the thousandth time he wondered if they’d believe his story.

“What was that sigh all about?”

“Just something I have to work out. It’s personal.”

“Once you sign on the dotted line tonight you don’t have a personal life. Not from me. I’m your agent. I’m going to take over you public life. I’m going to fight with you over your rewrites, pick out the clothes you wear on television, put words in your mouth for the press. In many ways we’re going to be closer than man and wife.”

“Are all agents this controlling?” He laughed, but it was forced. Of all the people he’d ever worked for, he liked fat, sweaty Tom the best and he didn’t really like him. He sure hoped Ms. Kimberly Wilson didn’t think he was going to be at her beck and call, because that’s not why he wanted to be a writer, why he wrote the book. He did it to be independent. How independent was he going to be if this woman was picking out his clothes?

“No, all agents aren’t this controlling, as you say. But not many agents can get a first time writer a million six.”

“Point noted.”

“So, I’ll ask again, what was that sigh all about?”

“I haven’t signed yet. How about I think about it for a bit and tell you tonight over dinner?”

“Fair enough. Now take me to the Sheraton Princess Resort so I can rest up for tonight.”

“Again, your wish is my command,” he said, but did he mean it? Would he be able to tell her he’d killed a man in a bar fight in Oceanside, California ten years ago?

They were driving along Airport Road, the blue ocean on the right, the lagoon on the left, the road a strip of pavement between. He looked left, saw Windfire floating in the calm lagoon. She was a Tayana 37, a double-ender built in Taiwan. A good boat, a good place to call home. But she was old and needed a lot of repair, almost as much as she was worth. He would've struggled by, somehow, he always did, but now with the book deal, he didn’t have to.

Then he thought about the Trinidad charter. He hadn’t wanted to do that before, he surely didn’t want to do it now.

He made a left at the light after he passed the Honda dealership and drove toward the French side. Five minutes later he turned into the Sheraton Princess Resort.

“Let’s make it an early dinner,” Kimberly said after the bellman had taken her bags. “I have that early conference call and I need my beauty sleep.”

“You don’t need any beauty sleep.”

“Flattery, that’s nice.” She smiled. “Pick me up at six, okay?”

“It’s a date,” he said, then he hopped in the car and drove back to the Dutch side and the Island Charter’s office in the Simpson Bay Marina.

“Hey fat man, how do I get out of this charter you hooked me into?” Jack said as he walked in the door.

“You don’t.” Tom McCoy blew smoke at Jack. He was smoking a Cuban cigar, one of his many vices.

“Something’s come up. I need some time off.” Forever Jack thought. That’d be enough time.

“Take a couple weeks after you deliver the boat.”

For a second Jack thought about telling Tom to stuff it, but he believed in honoring his word. He said he’d deliver the boat, so unless Tom let him off the hook, he was stuck. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t apply a little blackmail.

“Tell you what, I’ve got kind of a special date tonight. Let me use your Porsche and I’ll take the boat down to Trinidad.” Jack crossed his arms in front of himself and met the shorter man’s eyes.

“You already said you’d do that.”

Jack held his silence, continued his stare.

“All right, all right.” Tom dug into his trouser pocket, pulled out a set of keys and tossed them to Jack.


*  *  *

“Do you realize we’ve been sitting here since 1:00?” Denise said.

“Is that a long time?” Though she’d only had two of the tropical drinks, Sandra was feeling pretty good. She was on an island, after all. In a beach bar. Guys were giving her the eye and tomorrow or the next day she was going to sail to Trinidad. What an adventure that would be.

“Almost five hours. The crowd’s already coming in to look for the green flash.”

“What’s that?” Sandra said.

“If the conditions are just right, the sun flashes green just before it goes down.”

“Get out of here?”

“No, it’s true.”

“Woody?” Sandra said.

“You know this guy?” Denise said.

“We met on the plane,” Sandra said.

“Woody LaRue at your service,” Woody said to Denise. “Formally of Honolulu, Hawaii, presently of St. Martin in the Dutch West Indies.” Woody put one arm behind his back, the other in front of his waist and bowed.

“Are you related to the family that owns that big house up on the hill overlooking the ocean on the French side?” Denise said.

“My humble parents,” he said. Then, “You don’t mind me and my friend interrupting,” He sat down on the bench next to Sandra, his friend sat next to Denise. Sandra thought it was a smooth move and back home she would have said something about it, but she was on vacation. “It’s like she said,” Woody went on, “if the atmospheric conditions are right, you see a bright green flash just before the sun goes down. It’s caused by the refraction of the light rays over the water.”

“Really, this actually happens?”

“Yeah, it does or my name isn’t Woody the Weatherman.”

“That’s right,” Sandra said, “You’re a Meteorology major.”

“Thank you for remembering. That means you’ve been thinking about me.” He pointed at the man sitting next to Denise. “My friend’s name is Kevin, we met about an hour ago in the Casino.”

“I’m Denise.”

“And I’m Sandra,” Sandra said for Kevin’s benefit. She reached for her drink, picked it up, but put it right back down. She was a little giddy. She shouldn’t drink any more. At least not yet.

“The Japanese call it the emerald pearl,” Woody said. If you see one tonight, you should make a wish, it’ll come true.”

“Is that the weatherman in you talking?” Sandra said.

“No, the romantic,” Woody said.

“Would you ladies like another round?” Kevin said.

“I wouldn’t mind another,” Denise said.

“Me, too.” Sandra felt she should stop, but no man had ever bought her a drink before. It was a good feeling.

“Back in a flash.” Kevin got up to get the drinks. “Wanna help me bring them back?” he said to Denise. “I’ve only got two hands.”

“Sure.” Denise got up, too.

“So you’re a gambler, as well as a weatherman,” Sandra said to Woody after they’d left.

“Not me, him. I went with my mother and a group of her friends for a late lunch. I thought I’d try a hand or two of blackjack, lost three in a row and retired to the bar where I met Kevin. He’s from Kansas. I made a joke about it, you know, I said something like, “Well we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.” He laughed, we got to talking and I told him about the topless drinking rule here. He had to come and see if it was true.”

“Well I guess you’re out of luck, because I haven’t seen anyone bare anything so far.” But just as she said it a girl raised her blouse at the bar. A camera flashed and Denise and Kevin, standing next to her, started laughing. Then Denise raised her blouse, but got it down before the bartender could take the picture.

“Your friend’s got guts, how about you? Are you risqué like that?”

“Not in your wildest dreams,” Sandra said.

“Somehow I didn’t think so.”

“And you shouldn’t be asking, aren’t you engaged?”

“Engaged, not dead. It’s okay to look, just as long as I don’t touch.”

“So how are you two getting on?” Kevin said, coming back with the drinks. Sandra noticed that Denise was drinking a beer now, as were Kevin and Woody.

“Here you go,” Kevin put the Strawberry Daiquiri on the table in front of Sandra.

“So did you get the drinks for free?” Woody said.

“Just mine,” Denise said.

“I can’t believe you did that,” Sandra said.

“Oh, I’ve done it a lot of times. A lot of the girls that live here have. It’s all in fun.”

“I sure won’t be having that kind of fun,” Sandra said, thinking that maybe this island life was a little too fast for her.

“It’s getting ready to go.” Woody pointed.

Sandra looked toward the yellow ball as it slowly set over the sea. The sky was a painting of amber and pink, the ocean, cobalt blue. She’d never seen anything so beautiful. This was a perfect night and she felt perfectly all right. She picked up her daiquiri and took a sip as she watched the sun slowly slip into the ocean, a great sinking orange ball. Sandra wondered if she’d see the flash everybody had come to see. She wondered what she’d wish for if she did.

“It’s gonna flash, I feel it.” Woody scooted closer, put his arm around her.

“I still don’t know if I believe you.” Sandra thought about shrugging his arm away. He was engaged, after all, but Kevin had his arm around Denise and she didn’t want to seem like in immature child. Besides nothing more was going to happen and furthermore, she was never going to see him again after tonight.

The sun was halfway buried in the ocean on it’s slow descent to somewhere else. There was a vapor trail left by a high flying plane overhead. A cool breeze wafted through the outdoor restaurant, carrying with it a myriad of smells, beef and chicken from the grill, some kind of tropical flowers, the salty scent of the sea breaking below.

The sun slipped lower, Woody dropped his arm, took her hand and squeezed. Sandra kept her eyes on the setting orange ball. Lower it fell and all of a sudden her heart quickened. Were they putting her on? They couldn’t be, there were too many people staring at that old sun going down, down around the world.

Then all of a sudden she saw it. A bright green flash as if someone way out over the ocean had shot off a quick flash with a giant camera. She closed her eyes and wished she’d see the handsome Jack Ramsey once again. Then as sudden as the flash, she realized what she’d wished for and gasped.

“What?” Woody said.

“Nothing.”

“It was something.”

“Yeah, I guess it was. I wished for something.”

“And?” Denise said.

“I didn’t think, I just wished.”

“And?” Denise said again.

“I was kind of surprised what I wished for.” Sandra felt herself going red in the face and hoped the others wouldn’t notice.

“What was it, your wish?” Woody said.

“Can’t tell, otherwise it won’t come true,” Sandra said, glad she thought of the quick retort. No way did she want to confess.

“Better be careful what you wish for,” Denise said, “because you just might get it.”


*  *  *

“Better car,” Kimberly said as Jack held the passenger door open for her. She was wearing a simple beige silk blouse that buttoned down the front. The top three buttons were undone, showing off the full carat solitaire that hung on a dainty silver chain resting above her ample cleavage. The blouse was tucked into a slightly darker, very short silk skirt. On her feet she wore leather sandals that on anyone else would have looked stupid with the rest of her outfit, but on Kimberly Wilson, nothing looked stupid. Gone was her wide brimmed straw hat. Her dark hair hung long and over her shoulder.

“Looking at you kind of makes me feel under dressed.” Jack  had worn his old brown corduroy coat over a beige Polo shirt. He wore no tie, didn’t think a tie went with faded jeans. He was, however, wearing shoes, not the beat up sandals that were the trademark of most cruising sailors.

“Oh, I don’t know. I think we make a good pair.”

“What do you mean?” He forced a laugh.

“We’re color coordinated, your jacket’s the same color as my skirt. We couldn’t have looked more together if we tried.”

“Yeah, I guess we do match.” What did she mean, look like they were together? Was she flirting with him? Well two could play at that game.

Her skirt rode up as she slid into the seat and Jack kept his eyes glued to her legs. It wasn’t hard to do, because her legs were bare, no stockings, no pantyhose, and they were about the best pair of legs he’d ever seen.

“Do you always look so openly like that,” she said after he got in behind the wheel.

“Only when I can’t help myself.” See, he told himself, flirting.

“Does that happen often?”

“No, hardly at all.”

“I’m flattered.” Then, “Who’s car?”

“It belongs to my boss. I didn’t want to take you out to dinner with Island Charter’s written on the door, kind of tacky.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I thought it was cute.” She was wearing some kind of designer perfume. He didn’t know what, but he knew it was rich. He dealt with a lot of people in his line of work, from all walks of life and not many of them, hardly any, in fact, smelled as good as she did right now. He was getting excited and he hoped she didn’t notice.

“Are you any good?” She said.

“Huh?”

“At gambling.”

“Oh.” He felt himself blushing.

“What did you think I meant?” She laughed. He liked the sound of it.

“What you said, gambling.” He was really blushing now.

“Well, are you?”

“I’ve won a hand or two at blackjack and I’m a mean poker player.”

“Ever play the slots?”

“Never.”

“Not even a quarter on occasion?”

“Not even.”

“Smart,” Kimberly said. “Stupid people play the slot machines.”

Jack didn’t say anything, because he thought it was a pretty stupid thing she’d said. He knew a lot of pretty bright people that fed the quarter eaters. They didn’t win, not in the end, but they enjoyed themselves, they could afford it. Jack didn’t judge and he didn’t like it that she did and under normal circumstances he would have said something, because he was the kind of person that spoke his mind, but she was bringing him a deal for a million, six hundred thousand dollars. For that kind of money he could keep his opinions to himself for once.

“This is where we were earlier,” Kimberly said when Jack made the left after the airport.

“Yes it is, the casino’s just past the Airport Beach Bar.”

“She got to you, didn’t she?”

“Who?” Jack said, but he knew who she was talking about.

“That woman you bumped into at the airport.”

“You’re kidding? She’s just a kid.”

“No, not the way you looked at her. Not the way you made sure we sat as far away as we could. She’s a woman. A beautiful woman that somehow reached out and grabbed you by the heart. She scares you.”

“You’re wrong,” he said, but did he mean it? He sighed. What difference did it make, he was never going to see the girl again.


Amber Passion, Chapter Five, by Ken Douglas.


“What happened to Kevin and Denise?” Sandra said as she came out of the bathroom. She glanced around the outdoor bar again, looked toward the barbecue, back toward where some people were milling around by the steps that led down to the beach. She didn’t see them anywhere.

“They went to the casino,” Woody said.

“What?” Immediately she realized she was all alone. If Denise went off with Kevin she was really stuck. She couldn’t even get her bag out of Denise’s locked Jeep and even if she could, what good would it do her, she didn’t have a place to stay, not without Denise.

“Don’t be nervous, they said they’d be back in an hour or so. Kevin has a blackjack system he was going to show Denise.”

“There is no such thing as a blackjack system,” Sandra said.

“Sure there are, there’s lot of ’em, they just don’t work.”

“You’re probably right about that.” Sandra laughed, she couldn’t help herself. On one hand she knew the alcohol had loosened her up, lowered her inhibitions, but on the other hand she was having more fun than she’d had in a long time. Woody was a perfect gentleman, hadn’t tried a thing, other than the friendly way he’d put his arm around her and held her hand during the green flash, but that was just the magic of the moment, he wasn’t trying anything, wasn’t trying to make the moves on her.

She sipped at her drink, finished it.

“Want another?” he said, really a gentleman.

“Sure.” She knew she shouldn’t but just one more. She wasn’t drunk or anything. She just felt good, real good. She followed him up to the bar, stood behind a girl who flashed the bartender and got flashed back by the camera.

“How about it? You going for the free drink? Woody said.

Sandra shook her head no and he paid for the drinks.

“You want to walk down by the water?” He asked.

“Down there?” She looked to the ocean below, then over at the steps leading down to it. “Those waves seem awful big.”

“Not as big as they sound.” He handed her her daiquiri, took a pull on his beer.

“What if Kevin and Denise come back. They won’t know where to find us.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll be back way before they leave the tables. Come on.” He started toward the stone stairs.

Part of her said, “don’t go.” Another part said, “why not?” She was going to be nineteen in three months, she deserved a little adventure. Besides, she told herself again, he was perfectly safe, he was engaged. So she threw caution to the wind and followed him. At the steps she had second thoughts. He was already several steps ahead of her, like he knew she’d follow and she started to, but it was dark down there, very dark.

For a second she thought about Jack Ramsey. She stopped. Why did that man keep intruding on her thoughts? A chance meeting, that’s all it was, two ships in the night. But there was that stupid wish. What was that all about? Did you suddenly get stupid when you drank? Of course you did. She knew that. The alcohol had been affecting her more than she wanted to admit.

“I’ll wait here for you,” Woody said. He’d turned around, was facing up toward Sandra. “So you won’t have to come all the way in the dark.”

He was considerate, that was for sure. She gripped the drink firmly in her left hand, grabbed the rail with her right and started on down. She stumbled, started to slip, caught herself, barely saved her drink.

“Careful, it’s slippery.”

“Now you tell me.” She laughed. Stopped again. It wasn’t funny, was it? She heard him laugh, too. Yes, she guessed it was. She continued on down toward him, taking each step very carefully until she reached him at the halfway mark.

“I think for safety’s sake we should get rid of the drinks.” He put his bottle to his lips, chugged the beer down. Finished, he tossed the bottle out into the night.

“That wasn’t very nice.”

“What?” he said.

“Throwing your bottle like that? If everybody did that, the beaches would all be covered in garbage.”

“Do you always do the right thing? Are you a nice girl?”

“I don’t litter.” She laughed again, couldn’t help herself, this conversation was so stupid. Here she was on a Caribbean island with a handsome man and she was talking about littering. Duh.

“So you are a nice girl?”

“Not always,” she insisted.

“Show me.”

“How?”

“Chug-a-lug your drink, then toss the glass away.”

“I could do that if I wanted.”

“Let’s see.”

In the back of her mind she knew he was maneuvering her into drinking down the strawberry daiquiri the way he’d done the beer. In the back of her mind she knew he was trying to get her drunk. And in the back of her mind she knew he was going to make a move on her, engaged or not. But in the front of her mind she didn’t feel drunk, just happy. In the front of her mind she could chug the daiquiri, it wouldn’t affect her. And in the front of her mind, she was sure she could resist any move he might make. So she put the glass to her lips, tilted her head back and slowly slurped the fruity drink on down.

She almost finished it, when she was attacked by a cold headache.

“Ouch!” she said.

“What?”

“Headache, like when you eat ice cream too fast.”

“You still have some left.”

“So.” She put the glass to her forehead to steal some of the headache away. After a few seconds she finished the drink, then threw the glass with all her might out into the dark.

“Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you throw like a girl.”

“Thanks, I think.”

“Come on.” He hustled down the stairs and she followed with a hand on each rail.

“Wow, this is wonderful,” she said. The ocean seemed to open up in front of her, just for her, for her alone.

“Let’s go in,” he said.

“Can’t, I don’t have a suit.”

“Oh, come on, nice girl.” He took his shirt off, kicked off his shoes, dropped his shorts and underpants in one smooth motion. Don’t just stand there,” he said. “Get those clothes off and let’s get wet.” Then he turned and ran into the dark sea.


*  *  *

Jack signaled the waiter that they were ready to order. They were in the casino restaurant at a booth that afforded them both a view of an artificial waterfall and the blackjack tables just outside the door. The waiter came, set them up each with a glass of water and they ordered. Steak, medium rare, potato with all the trimmings for her, swordfish and steamed vegetables for him. She ordered a Bordeaux as she was eating red meat, he ordered a Coke.

“Funny I pictured you as a steak and potatoes man,” Kimberly said and Jack wondered if she would have ordered fish if she knew he didn’t eat meat, but then he pushed the thought from his mind. He was thinking of her as manipulative and that wasn’t fair, not really. She’d brought him a huge advance, enough money so that he’d never have to work again.

“I usually stick to fish. You get kind of used to it living on a boat.”

“You don’t mean to tell me that you catch all your own food?”

“Not the peas and carrots.”

“Very funny.”

He glanced up at the blackjack tables, saw Denise and some guy he’d never seen before. He was playing, Denise watching. Even from here he could see she’d had more than her limit. Jack didn’t drink. Well, not much, he’d shared the glass of champagne earlier, but that was special.

“Are you going to tell me now?”

“What?”

“What we talked about earlier.”

“I was hoping we wouldn’t have to talk about that, but I guess there’s no avoiding it. Not now.” For the first time in years, Jack wanted a stiff drink. His mouth was dry. He reached for the water, took a sip. “I killed a man. It’s why I’m out here doing what I’m doing. It’s why I haven’t been back to the States in almost forever.”

“They can find you and extradite you. Aren’t you worried?” She seemed to take what he’d said in stride. No shocked reaction. It was as if she got this kind of news from her clients every day. She was one tough lady. Beautiful to a fault, but tough.

“They won’t find me. Not as long as I don’t contact my family or anyone from my former life. Well, they will now, now that you’re here.”

“What do you mean? I don’t get it.” She put two fingers to a cheek, as if she were thinking. “Ah, you’ve been living out here under some kind of alias. You wrote the book in your real name. That’s it, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“Why’d you do that?”

“I guess I miss being home. I’ve got a brother, two sisters, parents. I don’t even know if they’re still alive. I was hoping if the book was a success that I’d get enough of an advance to hire a good attorney. Maybe I’d only have to serve a couple years.”

“Why don’t you start at the beginning.”

“Maybe I’d better.” He took another long pull from the water glass. “I joined the Marine Corps three weeks after my seventeenth birthday. My dad was only too glad to sign the papers, because as a kid I was nothing but trouble. I was a lousy student, interested only in sports. The only reason I got through any classes other than auto shop was because they passed me to keep me on the football team. I was the quarterback and I could hit someone in the end zone from the fifty yard line every time. My coach called me a prodigy.

“Also my dad was afraid of me.”

The waiter interrupted Jack with the wine. He sat silent while the man went through the ritual of opening it, letting Kimberly sniff the cork, then taste it. Then he poured her a glass.

“I think I’ll have a glass too.” Jack held out his empty water glass.

“I’ll get you a wine glass,” the waiter said.

“This will do fine.” Jack hadn’t meant to sound hard, but that’s the way it came out.

“Yes, sir.” The waiter filled Jack’s water glass halfway up.

“Thank you.” Jack took a sip, than drank more.

“You don’t drink,” Kimberly said after the waiter left. “I couldn’t help notice you ordered Coke.”

“Which the waiter didn’t bring by the way,” Jack said. He was a little hot under the collar.

“And you’re angry about it?”

“I used to have a problem with my temper.” He set the glass on the table, forced himself to calm down. It’s one of the reasons my father was afraid of me, that and the fact that I was a Shotokan blackbelt. My dad started me on karate lessons when I was twelve years old. He figured it’d be good for discipline, but it wasn’t. For five years the only lessons I ever missed were the ones that conflicted with football practice. Football and karate, that was my life. I was football strong, karate tough and dumber than a post.

“And it all came to a head in my senior year in high school. We got a new principal, one of those guys that thought schools were primarily for learning, that students ought to be able to add and subtract, sign their own name. You get the picture.”

“I do,” Kimberly said.

“It didn’t take him long to learn about me. Two weeks on the job and I was off the team. He called in special teachers to bring me up to the grade level I was in, not to get me back playing football, he could’ve cared less whether we won or lost the division conference, he just plain thought it was his job to educate me.”

“And did he?”

“No, I was an angry young man. If he didn’t appreciate me the way I was, I’d find someone who did.”

“And did you?”

“There was a Marine recruiting station right next to the karate dojo.”

“And they say Marine’s are dumb.” Kimberly laughed.

“Like I said, I was one tough animal, but my blackbelt didn’t cut muster with my drill instructors. They’d been there, done that. And they’d done it for real. I guess you could say the Marine Corps straightened me out. I completed my high school education and my first two years of college while on active duty. I had a future all planned out with the Los Angeles Police Department and then it happened—”

“Wait a minute, you were going to be a cop?”

“That’s right. I took the test, passed and was going to go into the academy within a month of my separation from the service. But I was in a bar in Oceanside celebrating my twenty-first birthday and my impending discharge, when this big guy backhanded a woman over by the pool tables. I didn’t stop to think, I just jumped up before he could smack her again and hit him.

“One time, but that’s all it took. One of my friends checked the guy and told me he was dead, so we got out of there. I didn’t know what to do, fortunately Marines stick together. My friends emptied their pockets and three hours later I was on a flight to Miami. I rented a flea bag room behind a laundry and went to work getting phony ID.”

“How did you do that?”

“It’s pretty easy, especially if you’re fairly young. I had kind of a baby face and thought I could pass for eighteen, so I went to the local college library and checked the microfilm for eighteen year old newspapers—”

“Looking for a child’s death in the obits. Just like in the movies.”

“Yeah. I got lucky right away and found a kid, John Jacob Ramsey, died at two weeks, weak heart, and sent for the birth certificate. Then I got the driver’s license. Nobody suspects an eighteen-year-old kid. After that the Social Security Card. Then The passport, which led to a job on a sailboat headed for the islands and I never looked back, never went back.”

“So you’re a deserter, too,” Kimberly said.

“Technically, I guess so,” Jack said.

“And you were drunk when you hit that guy. That’s why you don’t drink?”

“You’re pretty smart.”

“Just observant.” Then, “You never checked to see what happened to your friends?”

“No, there was no need. There was a bar full of witnesses. As far as anyone was concerned, I did it. I ran away.”

“What about them giving up their money? That made them all accomplices.”

“I told you, Marines stick together.”

“What about the guy you killed? Do you ever think about that?”

“All the time. I wonder if he had a wife, kids. I imagine he did, have kids that is. I see them raised in poverty because I killed their father. I don’t sleep. I don’t trust myself with alcohol, makes me a good delivery skipper, sober, awake all night.” He laughed, but there was no joy in it.

“You know you probably would’ve got off. You were defending a woman.”

“The Marines have been known to get drunk and tear up a bar on one or two occasions in Oceanside, so we weren’t the most popular guys in the neighborhood, plus I have a blackbelt in karate. How do you think that would’ve looked to a jury of my peers?

“But now I’m ready. It’s time. I just hope I can keep it out of the press. I’d hate to hurt sales of the book.”

“Jack, that’s not going to happen. Once this gets out your book’s going to go through the roof. If I’d known all this I could’ve gotten you three times the advance I negotiated for you, maybe more.”

“You’re kidding.?

“It’ll take about a year before they’re ready to come out with the book. We’ll do a media campaign just before. You’re going to be the hottest thing in America since sliced bread. I guarantee it.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” the waiter said, intruding on their conversation, “but we’re out of swordfish.”

“What other kind of fish do you have?”

“That’s it, I’m afraid.”

“I think we’ll go someplace else,” Kimberly said. “Can we have the check?”

“You want a burger?” Jack said. “I can get one with a tuna steak at the Beach Bar.”

“Do I have to go topless?”

“Naw.” He laughed. “Well, if you want.” Then to the waiter. We’ll take the wine with us and a couple travelers.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Traveler?” Kimberly said after the waiter left.

“Plastic cup for drinking on the go. I thought we’d take a walk along the beach and work up a little appetite while I show you the stars.”

“Why, Jack, you are a romantic, but what about your not drinking?”

“I do sometimes, a little on special occasions and this is about as special as it gets.”

“You are a romantic.”


*  *  *

Sandra stared out at Woody flopping in the waves, his naked rear end reflecting the half moon’s glow, mooning the heavens back. She started to unbutton the blouse, stopped herself. She wasn’t a prude. They were only gonna skinny dip together. It wasn’t like they were gonna have sex or anything. And it wasn’t like she’d never gone skinny dipping before. One time she and her friends and some of the guys at school, snuck into the park pool after dark and they’d all gone in stark naked. She remembered the tingle she got when she noticed the guys looking at her, but somehow that seemed okay, because everybody was naked. There was strength in numbers.

Being naked around a bunch of classmates wasn’t the same as being naked alone with a strange guy. There was no chance of anything happening back in Ohio. Besides, she’d had her friends with her, she’d been perfectly safe. They’d all been safe, high school kids having a little adventure.

But this was no little adventure. She looked around. They were alone, very alone. Again she looked out at Woody splashing in the surf. He seemed to be having so much fun. It was as if he were alone in the world, as if she didn’t exist. What more proof did she need that his intentions were innocent. It wasn’t like he was trying to con her out of her clothes. He was just having a good time, having fun, enjoying his vacation, while she stood alone on the sand on this night full of a thousand stars, acting like a prude, acting like a child.

Well, she wasn’t a child, not anymore. Her hands went to her blouse, fingers to the buttons. She sucked in a deep breath, undid them, shucked out of the blouse, then her hands were behind her back, seeking the catch, she exhaled as the bra burst free. She felt all aglow as her breasts were bared before the stars. Her nipples tingled, hardened. She kicked off her tennis shoes, raised a leg, pulled off one sock, then the other. Another deep breath. She sucked in still another as she pushed her shorts down around her knees, she let it out as she stepped out of them.

Naked except for sheer, almost see through panties, she stood and looked out again at Woody. He was still frolicking in the waves. He hadn’t even noticed. What more proof did she need that his intentions were honorable. She stepped out of the panties.

“I’m coming in,” she shouted out to Woody, the sea, the stars, the night and she took off toward the water at a dead run, breasts flopping as she ran. Then she was in the water, splashing up to her knees. She looked out at Woody and laughed. He was paying attention now. His eyes were glued to her breasts. Oh, yes, he was paying attention and for a second Sandra thought she’d made a mistake, then he splashed her.

She laughed, splashed him back.

Then he was right in front of her and he wasn’t laughing. He wrapped his arms around her, pulled her into a kiss and all of a sudden she was caught up in a wondrous feeling. The passion in his kiss, the way her breasts felt mashed up against his hard chest.

“Let’s get out of the water,” he said.

“Yeah,” she said as his hand found hers.

“Come on.” He led her to the wet sand, lowered her down to it, the waves lapping at their feet.

“Tell me you want it,” he said and all of a sudden the mood was broken, because she realized that although Woody was the man on top of her, she was thinking about that man she’d bumped into at the airport. That Jack Ramsey.

“No.”

“What?”

“I don’t want to do this.” She tried to squirm out from under him, because as quickly as the mood had been broken, she now knew this was wrong. He was engaged, promised to another. What kind of man cheated on his fiancée. Not any kind of man she wanted anything to do with. Certainly not the kind of man she wanted to take her virginity. And that’s what he was about to do.

“You’re not going.” He held her down.

“I said no.”

“You can’t lead a man right up to the well and say no.”

“Get off.”

“No.” He moved into position.

She saw the determination in his eyes. He was going to do it. Any second he was going to stuff it into her. “Please.” She tried to push him off.

“Sorry,” he said.

She felt the hardness of him. He was going to shove it in.

“The lady said no!”

“What?” Woody said as someone pulled him off her.

She looked up, saw Jack Ramsey with one hand fisted in Woody’s long hair, the other cocked, ready to smash his face in.

“Don’t hit him.” The woman with Jack shouted out.

“Right,” Jack Ramsey said. Then he pushed Woody to the ground, turned to Sandra and said. “Get your clothes, get dressed and get out of here.”


Amber Passion, Chapter Six, by Ken Douglas.


Jack was wearing khaki shorts and a blue Hawaiian shirt as he waved to the security guard at the Simpson Bay Marina. He was saddened and glad at the same time. Saddened that the Caribbean part of his life was over. He’d enjoyed living on the water, enjoyed the challenge and enjoyed the people he met, both the cruising sailors and the customers that came out to the islands for that special two week sailing vacation. But he was glad he wasn’t going to have to work the long hours anymore, glad he wasn’t going to have to hop every time Tom McCoy said jump and glad he was finally going home.

He’d been away too long.

Checking out the boats as he walked the dock, he thought about last night, replayed his evening with Kimberly Wilson. She’d questioned him about that fight that happened so long ago. The brief altercation that left a man dead at Jack’s hand. It had been seven years. He was a new person now. Lucky he mused, the identity he’d assumed, John Jacob Ramsey. A lot of Johns called themselves Jack, President Kennedy had. He’d been Jack all his life, at least that hadn’t changed, although everything else had.

Kimberly had asked him why he didn’t want to just keep on living under the assumed name. He could grow a moustache and beard, let his unruly hair grow even longer. For all intents and purposes he’d been Jack Ramsey for the last seven years, why not keep on being him.

Because he couldn’t. He’d told her that, and God bless her, she seemed to understand. She’d spent ten minutes before they left the restaurant, firing question after question at him. What was the name of the man he killed? Jack didn’t know. What were the names of his friends?” Those he remembered and he told her. What was the date it happened? Jack told her. What was the name of his commanding officer at the time? Jack told her. And strangely, it felt right telling her about this secret he’d kept bottled up for so long. There was something in her eyes that inspired his trust. He wasn’t exactly sure what she was going to do with the information, but somehow he knew that she wouldn’t use it to hurt him. She was, after all, his agent.

And that had to be the best thing that had  happened to him since birth. An agent. One million, six hundred thousand dollars. A million six. No matter how he said it, it sounded wonderful.

At Tom McCoy’s Swan 57 named Caribbean Folly, Jack rapped on the hull. Getting no response he rapped again. Tom was a heavy drinker and was barely able to make it into the office by noon, Jack didn’t think he was going to appreciate his pounding on the boat as early as ten o’clock. That was the advantage of owning your own business, nobody was going to fire you if you came in late.

“What?” Tom’s gravelly voice rasped from below. Too many cigarettes last night, Jack thought. But then Tom was a chimney. If he didn’t have an expensive Cuban in his mouth, he was smoking Marlboro hundreds. Jack could just imagine the state of his lungs.

“It’s me.”

“Me who?”

“Jack Ramsey.”

“Just a second, let me get some clothes on.”

“I’ll be back in five,” Jack shouted to the man below.

“Make it ten and bring coffee and donuts from the Commissary.” Tom shouted back.

“Right,” Jack muttered. He had to laughed. Nobody ever got the better of Tom McCoy and if you inconvenienced him he made you pay. Subtle sometimes, but you always paid. This morning the price was small, breakfast of coffee and donuts for waking him before the crack of noon.

The Commissary was a mini market located in the marina. The coffee was good, the donuts always fresh. On the way back to Tom’s boat Jack thought of the girl last night. He’d fantasized about her after she’d bumped into him at the airport. She was too young for him, sure, but there was something about her that tugged at his emotions. For reasons he didn’t understand, he’d sort of put her up on a pedestal, something he’d never done with anyone before. And why he had done it with her was beyond him, but he had, so when he found her under Woody LaRue—who he recognized right away as the spoiled son of Winston and Maimie LaRue, who used to hang around the Marina before he went off to college—drunk and naked, he was hurt, almost as if he’d caught a lover or wife cheating.

And the fact that she was saying no didn’t cut much mustard with him. Woody clearly hadn’t ripped her cloths off. He’d plied her with drink, took her down to the ocean, finessed her out of her clothes, probably with her whole-hearted agreement, maybe even encouragement, then when she suddenly figures out what happens when boys and girls get naked together, she cries no.

Jack had been angry. More angry than he had a right to be. Without a doubt if he’d hit the man, as he was about to, he’d have killed him. It’s what he’d intended. Thank God, Kimberly was there. Thank God she’d made him stop. He’d had no right losing his temper that way. She wasn’t his wife. What she did was her own business. He probably shouldn’t have even gotten involved. When people drink too much, they deserve whatever happens to them, even little girls. If you can’t handle your liquor, you shouldn’t drink.

He’d stood there, like some kind of parent or cop, while they dressed. He’d sent Woody off down the beach, followed Kimberly as she helped the girl up the steps back to the Beach Bar, where they found Denise. Kimberly helped Denise pour the girl into Denise’s Jeep and then Kimberly said she wanted to go back to her hotel.

At the outset of the evening Jack had thought that he was going to have more than just an author/agent relationship with Kimberly, but at the hotel she kissed him on the cheek and told him that she never did more than dinner with her clients, that she’d talk to him in the morning, leaving Jack to go back to his boat alone, where he dreamed of the beautiful Kimberly, but the image of that girl naked on the beach kept intruding.

And he didn’t even know her name.

“I see you’re up,” Jack said when he got back to Tom’s boat.

“In appearances only.” He reached for the bag Jack was carrying.

“That’s good enough for me.” Jack handed over the bag and Tom greedily opened it, pulled out a glazed donut and took a large bite out of it. “I’d like to get out of that charter down to Trinidad. Something’s come up.”

“Sorry,” Tom said between bites. “Got no one else.”

“Tom, I’m gonna be quitting.”

“Not you too, First Dale and Jenny, now you. What am I gonna do?”

“Don’t play the wounded heart with me.” Jack said. “There’s a million and one skippers down here you can hire.”

“None as reliable as you.”

“None who’ll take your bullshit and still work slave’s hours for slaves wage’s.” Jack said.

“There is that.” Tom laughed, fished another donut out of the bag, and one of the coffees. He handed the coffee to Jack. Clearly he’d staked out the donuts for himself.

“I’d like to get back to the States. I’ve got a life to pick up. It’s nothing personal.”

“‘Is it the money? Do you want more?”

“No, it’s not the money.”

“Look, I was telling the truth yesterday. I need you. I’ve been there for you when you needed me, now I need you. Just this last charter.”

“This one must be special,” Jack said.

“Just another expensive sailboat, but it’s owned by the commodore of the New York Yacht Club. He wants it in Trinidad by the end of the month and I don’t have anybody else and I’ll be damned if I’d trust a boat owned by a guy like that to someone new. He could mean a lot of business for me. Take the boat, please. You can fly to the States from Port of Spain. I’ll pay for the ticket.”

“What about the girl?”

“Part of the package, I’m afraid. Dale and the Commodore are friends. Please, Jack, do this for me and I’ll love you forever.”

“You already love me.” Jack laughed.

He was about to tell him definitely no. He’d jumped to Tom’s tune long enough, but then he saw Kimberly Wilson at the end of the dock waving to him. She had on that wide brimmed hat again and some kind of almost see through baby blue blouse tucked into designer jeans that looked like they were painted on.


*  *  *

Sandra woke to a splitting headache and a thirst like she’d never known before. She felt sick, she was covered in sweat. Light streamed in from an overhead skylight. She turned away from it, buried herself under the pink, chenille bedspread. Chenille bedspread? She hadn’t slept under one of those since she was eight years old. And the skylight? She peeked out from under the covers. She had no skylight in her room. She saw the bureau opposite the bed, the television on top of it. The vanity, the floor to ceiling mirrors on the sliding closet doors. Where was she?

She threw off the covers, quickly pulled them back up to her chin. My God! She was nude. She never slept that way. What was going on? She curled up like a baby, pulled the covers over herself. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong.

She heard the door open.

Who could it be?

Sandra was afraid.

“Wake up sleepy head. It’s almost noon.”

Good, a woman’s voice. Sandra pulled the covers from her face.

“Do I know you?” she tentatively said.

“Denise, the girl from Caribbean Car Rental. This is my place.”

“Oh, yeah, I kind of remember. I got that note, you’re a friend of my dad’s. He moved to Spain or something.”

“Boy did you ever have too much to drink.”

“What are you talking about?”

“What’s the last thing you remember?” Denise said. “You think about that and I’ll get you some hot coffee.” Denise left.

Sandra quickly got out of bed, found her cloths folded neatly on top of the hamper in the bathroom. She splashed some water on her face, thought about taking a shower, but she wanted to be dressed before Denise came back with that coffee. She was about to put the bra on when she smelled something. Vomit? She remembered throwing up. Oh, no, she’d already had a shower. They’d stripped her, put her in the tub and ran cold water on her. Kept it coming till she threw up.

Why’d they do that?

Who’d done it? She closed her eyes and a picture of the man she’d crashed into at the airport filled her mind. Jack Ramsey, what a good looking man. Then it all came rushing back. The drinking, Woody the Weatherman. Woody the Weasel was more like it. And Jack Ramsey pulling Woody off of her. Jack’s date, the most beautiful woman Sandra had ever laid eyes on, had ridden along with them in Denise’s Jeep with Jack following.

How humiliating.

At least they’d folded her clothes. But she was still going to look like she’d slept in them. She looked around for her bag. Didn’t see it. Then she remembered that it was in the back of Denise’s Jeep. They’d probably had their hands too full with her to worry about the bag. Sandra could certainly understand that. She’d behaved like a jerk.

And now she had the mother of all headaches and she was thirsty. At least she could do something about that. She turned on the water in the wash basin, lowered her mouth to the faucet and drank greedily, letting the cool water flow over the parched desert of her mouth.

“Careful you’ll make yourself sick.”

Startled, Sandra jumped away from the sink, covered her breasts.

“I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“It’s okay.”

“Why don’t you take a shower. I’ll go out to the car and get your bag so you can put on something fresh.”

“Thanks,” Sandra said and once again Denise left her alone.

She took a sip of the coffee. Heaven. Then she got in the shower, ran it cold, then as hot as she could stand it, then cold again. Satisfied that she was fully awake, she used some of Denise’s shampoo and did her hair.

“You okay in there?” she heard Denise say from outside the bathroom.

“Fine, I’ll be right out.” Sandra shut off the shower, got out. How could she face Denise after last night. Boy, did she ever make a fool out of herself. Well, one thing for sure, she was never going to drink again. Not one drop. Not ever.


*  *  *

“I’ll be right back,” Jack told Tom McCoy, then started up the dock toward Kimberly Wilson.

“I think I’ve probably got the best news you’ve ever heard,” she said as soon as Jack was within hearing distance.

“What?” He couldn’t imagine her telling him any news better than a million six.

“That guy you hit, he didn’t die.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Just what I said.” She was bubbling over with enthusiasm. Jack didn’t see how it was possible, but she was even more beautiful now than she was last night. “His name was Danny O’toole. He had a concussion and was in the hospital for a couple days, then they released him.

“You can’t be serious.” But one look at her smiling eyes and Jack knew she was telling the truth. Besides, his first impression of this woman was that she was a straight shooter. You didn’t get were she was in the agent business by lying. “How?” It was all he could think of saying.

“Well, you didn’t give me a lot to go on. You didn’t even know the man’s name, but I had one of my assistants track down your friends, the Marines that were with you. That wasn’t so easy, but one of them is still in the Marine Corps and once he got through to your commanding officer and explained everything, the ball just kind of steamrolled along.”

“And I’m not in any trouble?”

“Nobody died, nobody pressed charges for assault, so the only problem you have is the desertion thing. I’ve talked to a friend of mine on the Military Appropriations Committee in Congress and he assures me that he’ll have everything cleared up in a couple weeks, maybe three. So all you have to do is stay low till the end of the month and you can come home a free man.”

“I didn’t kill him?”

“No.”

All of a sudden Jack felt like the dark had been lifted from his life. All of a sudden the sun seemed brighter. All of a sudden he felt whole, complete. He looked at Kimberly Wilson, deep into her sparkling eyes.

“Why? Why’d you do this?”

“You’re my client. It’s my job.”

“You did it because you’re my agent?”

“Exactly. I’m the best damned agent in the country, because I look after my client’s interests, all of them.”

Jack grabbed her by the shoulders, kissed her full on the lips. Kissed her hard. Kissed her deep.

“Thank you,” he said when he broke the kiss.

“Jack, I told you I don’t do that with my clients.”

“Sorry.” Jack laughed like he’d never laughed before.

“But I’ll forgive you this time, just don’t let it happen again.”

“Right.” He was still laughing.

“Here’s my card, meet me at the address on it one month from today and we’ll talk.” She stood on her tiptoes, kissed him on the cheek. “See you, big boy.” Then she turned, pushed through the security gate and in a moment was gone.

“What was that all about?” Tom asked him when Jack got back to his boat. “And who was that gorgeous babe?”

“She’s a friend. The best friend I’ve ever had.”

“So you gonna take the charter or leave me in the lurch.”

“Tom, this is just about the best day of my life. I feel so bloody good that even your ugly puss looks fine to me. Yes, I’ll take your charter, but I’m still quitting afterward and you’re still buying my ticket home.”

“Dale’s little girl’s gonna be here at 1:00, you wanna go check out the boat before she gets here?”

“Show me the way.”

“That broad had some kind of affect on you, didn’t she?”

“Yes, my friend, yes she did.”


*  *  *

After a very late breakfast of two pieces of wheat toast with just a small pat of butter and two glasses of orange juice, Sandra felt a little better, almost well enough that she thought she might be able to go on with her life.

“Don’t you have to work, today,” she asked Denise.”

“Yeah, but I’ve got the late shift, two till eight.”

Sandra closed her eyes, it hurt to talk. How could people stand this? It felt like her head was going to burst. She waited a few seconds and the throbbing subsided.

“Do you ever get hangovers?”

“Sometimes?” Denise said.

“So why do you keep drinking?”

“First off, I don’t keep drinking. I usually only drink a glass or two on occasion. Sometimes, if I’m out for a good time, I might drink enough to feel tipsy, and very occasionally I’ll overdo it and wind up with a hangover.”

“Do you ever do something as stupid as I did? I mean all my inhibitions just flew out the window?”

“No, I’ve never done anything like that?”

“Do you ever throw up?”

“I have, once or twice, when I was younger. I don’t anymore.”

“Have you ever woken up and not known what you’d done the night before? Has the drinking ever messed with your memory?”

“No, it hasn’t. I think if it did, I wouldn’t drink?”

“Amen.”

“You’re only eighteen.”

“I’m old enough to know that drinking isn’t for me. I tried it, and it tried me. I’m cured.”

“If you can make a decision like that at your age, then you’re more of a woman than your years. Much more.”

“So, I guess I’m ready to go and meet this lady that’s been living with my dad. Are they gonna get married? Do you know?”

“No I don’t, but if any woman can get him to tie the knot, Jenny’s the one.”

“I can’t wait to meet her. Let’s go to the marina.”

Fifteen minutes later Denise parked her Jeep in the Simpson Bay Marina parking lot. Sandra got out of the car feeling much better, except for the throbbing pain in her head, she seemed to be completely recovered. Maybe she’d go jogging this afternoon. She hated to miss a day, because once you missed, it was easy to miss the next day, then the next and before you knew it you were gaining pounds in all the wrong places. Her mother was a heavy woman and Sandra was determined that that was never going to happen to her.

In the Marina office Denise introduced Sandra to Tom McCoy, then asked him for Jenny, and Tom said that someone else was taking her charter as Jenny’s sister had the baby early. Sandra was about to ask who when the phone rang.

“Last boat on A dock, on the right.” He motioned them away with a wave of the hand and picked up the phone.

“Come on,” Denise said. “Let’s see which one of Tom’s minions you’re sailing down to Trinidad with.”

“I just hope it’s someone I can get along with.”

“Don’t worry all the female skippers that work for Tom are good people.” Denise pushed through the security gate and Sandra followed her down the dock. “There, it’s the big white sailboat, the sloop.”

Sandra saw the words Sweet Dream on the bow and thought it was a wonderful name.

“Hey Sweet Dream, company,” Denise called out. Then “Is there anybody aboard?”

“Coming right up,” a man shouted from below and Sandra thought she recognized the voice and a chill rippled over her skin. Then she almost died of embarrassment when Jack Ramsey popped his head out of the hatch.


Amber Passion, Chapter Seven, by Ken Douglas.


Jack’s breath caught in his throat. This couldn’t be happening. For the first time in his life he was struck speechless. It was Denise and the girl from the night before. What were they doing here? Then he nodded to them in recognition. The girl had tracked him down to apologize. Well, he could certainly understand that, she’d had too much to drink and had made a fool of herself.

This afternoon she was wearing a white T-shirt and beige shorts that went halfway down to her knees, at least she wasn’t flaunting it the way a lot of the girls that came down to the islands on vacation did. Her hair was tied up with a red bandana. Now he knew how that wolf felt, because she looked good enough to eat.

“You’re the skipper taking over my father’s delivery?” He fell right into her green eyes. Christmas green eyes.

“Say again?” Jack took his attention away from her eyes, concentrated on her words. He couldn’t believe his ears. What was she saying?

“I wanted to know if you’re the skipper that replaced my dad’s girlfriend? Are you the skipper taking me down to Trinidad?” She looked a little cross. She was too young to be cross with him, to young to be cross with anybody.

“I don’t think so.” Jack climbed out of the cockpit, stepped over the lifelines, stepped around her and started up the dock toward Tom’s office. He couldn’t believe it. Tom had talked about her as if she were a child. Well she was a child, but certainly not the kind of child he wanted to be cooped up with on a boat for two weeks.

“Wait a minute, please,” the girl said. “I didn’t mean to sound angry. I was just surprised that it was you.”

Jack ignored her as she followed him up the dock. He felt some kind of animal attraction for her, that was for certain, but that didn’t mean he had to like her, and judging from what he’d seen last night, she wasn’t the kind of person he could like. Dale’s little girl, what was that all about? She wasn’t so little. Tom had some serious explaining to do.

“Are you gonna talk to me or what?” she said.

 Jack stopped, turned. It was a little after 1:00. The sun was caught behind a large cumulus cloud, it’s rays showing off the cloud’s billowy beauty. She was backlit by the sun and that cloud and the diffused sunlight sparkled though her hair. She was beautiful, dangerous as well.

“What’s your name?” He was tired of thinking of her as the girl.

“What kind of answer is that?” she said. “You can’t answer a question with a question. You’re supposed to answer me first, then you ask yours.”

“I don’t need this.”

“Please, Jack, just listen.” Denise was standing just behind the girl. Jack saw the frown on her face, the concern in her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Denise, but if she can’t even tell me her name, then there’s nothing for me to listen to.” He spun around, pushed in the door to Tom’s office.

“Sandra,” the girl said. “It’s Sandra, satisfied.” It sounded like she was trying to be angry, but she wasn’t pulling it off. She sounded hurt, lost, but that wasn’t his problem.

Jack closed the door, shutting her out. Tom had just hung up the phone, looked up at Jack expectantly. “Did you meet Dale’s kid?” He pulled a Cuban out of his shirt pocket.

“I met her and I want out of the delivery.”

“Sorry, Jack, but that was Baldwin on the phone. Since you agreed to take the job, I told him he could have the week off. He’s got a girlfriend coming in that’s got one of those time shares up at the Pelican Resort.” Tom bit off the end of the cigar, spit it in the trash and started rummaging around the papers on his desk, looking for a light.

“You can’t be serious. You had Baldwin in reserve all the time and didn’t say anything. Why, just in case you couldn’t talk me into it?”

“I didn’t have any choice. He put in for the vacation three months ago, but he woulda cancelled if I was in trouble.”

“Sure,” Jack said. Jimmy Baldwin was so afraid of losing his job, he’d do anything for Tom. He was a lousy skipper, a slacker and not a very nice guy to be around. Tom just kept him on because the guy’s nose was browner than the Cuban cigar he was lighting. 

“Really, would I lie to you?” Tom took a puff on the cigar, sucked the smoke deep into his lungs, exactly what you’re not supposed to do with those, Jack thought. Then he exhaled the smoke with a cough.

“You should get that looked at and, yes, I believe you might lie to me.”

“Name one time.”

“Tom, I don’t think I can do this. You know how I feel about drunks.”

“What’s that got to do with Dale’s little girl?”

“Stop calling her that, she’s not so little.”

“I think I noticed that.”

“And I noticed that she drinks like a fish.”

“How could you, you’ve only know her a few minutes?”

“I rescued her from Winston LaRue’s spoiled kid on the beach last night. They were both very naked and very drunk.”

“Tell me I’m not hearing this. That’s all I need is trouble with the LaRues.”

“It’ll be fine. The kid’s probably to embarrassed to say anything to his folks. I’m sure we’re okay on that score. It’s the girl’s drinking I’m worried about.”

“She’s too young to be a lush. She probably just got sucked into the island life a little too quickly and had too much to drink, first day away from the land of rules and regulations, it happens sometimes, you know that. Doesn’t mean she’s a slave to the bottle. Not at her age, I don’t believe that.” He sucked in another lungful of cigar smoke, coughed it out again.

“You should stick with the cigarettes, they’d be healthier for you.”

“Jack, I’m gonna do something I never do. I’m gonna say please. Please take this charter to Trinidad. Please show Dale’s daughter a few of the islands on the way. And please deliver the boat safe and sound to the Trinidad and Tobago Yacht Club down there. Would you please do these things for me?”

“Only if you put out that cigar.”

“Oh, Jack, you ask to much.” But Tom grabbed one last deep breath of the dangerous smoke, then stubbed the stogie out in the oversized full ashtray that took up the center of his unkempt desk.

The door opened and Sandra stepped in.


*  *  *

“Who said I wanted to go with him?” Sandra couldn’t believe it. Jack Ramsey, the man from last night. The man that had seen her naked and drunk on the beach. She sure as heck didn’t want him, or any man other than her father for that matter, taking her on a long cruise down to Trinidad. The last thing she needed right now was to be cooped up in a small boat with a man for two weeks. Especially him. She remembered the look of disgust in his eyes when he’d watched her dress. And did he turn his eyes away? No.

“Then we have a problem,” Tom McCoy said, “because I don’t have anybody else.”

“Then hire someone.”

“I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that. I’m not gonna hire someone I don’t know and trust him with a three million dollar boat. Especially this boat. Look I’m gonna go outside and leave you two in here to work it out. If you can’t be adult about it. If you absolutely hate each other, then I’ll see what I can do.”

Sandra couldn’t help but notice the grimace on his face as he pushed himself out of his chair. The man looked like a heart attack waiting to happen.

“Don’t take all day though.” Tom said when he was at the door. “I have a business to run.”

Sandra studied Jack as he took Tom’s chair behind the desk, sat back and put his feet up. Why was he acting this way? She hadn’t done anything wrong. Maybe she had acted a little like a brat out there on the dock, but the way he whirled on her and demanded her name scared her and she got her hackles up in defiance.

“I don’t really think it’d be a good thing for you and I to go on that boat ride, especially during hurricane season,” he said.

“Are you trying to scare me.” Hurricane season, that was something she knew about, Woody told her all about it on the plane. He’d also told her that people sail in it all the time, they just had to be careful and watch the weather. She felt assured her dad knew how to handle hurricanes and if Jack Ramsey worked with her father, then he too, probably knew how to handed them.

“No, I wouldn’t try to do that. In fact the last few years have been relatively safe, hurricane wise and there’s nothing out in the Atlantic that looks dangerous, but that could change.

“So we’ve got a weather window now,” she said. That was a term she’d picked up from her father.

“But a depression out there could develop circulation before we get to Trinidad, then we’d have to run right down or find a hole, it wouldn’t be the vacation you’d been promised.”

“Listen, Mr. Ramsey, I’ve got a ticket from Port of Spain to Cleveland that takes off in seventeen days that I can’t change. I don’t have any money and if I call my step-father, he’s gonna gloat and say, I told you so like you wouldn’t believe. I’d almost have to kill myself to get him to stop saying it.” She was pleading with him. She hated that. But she didn’t want to call Roger, so if he was her only hope, she’d plead. Besides, after last night, she couldn’t blame him if he didn’t want to take her along. He probably thought she was a drunken spoiled brat.

“Rule number one, there will be no liquor on board, not even beer or wine.”

“Not a problem.” She put her right hand in the air. “Scout’s honor.”

“Rule number two, I’m the captain. If I think we’re in any danger and I tell you to do something, then you’ll obey without question.”

“Of course.” Sandra thought he got his rules backwards. Then she figured it out. He did think she was some kind of drunken slut. That’s why he said what he’d said about the liquor. She bet he didn’t say that to his other charter guests. She sighed, of course not, people came down here to drink and have fun, not to be dictated to. She was about to say something, but caught herself. She needed the ride down to Trinidad.

“And the most important rule of all,” he said.

“What’s that?” she said.

“Don’t fall off,” he said. “That’s rule number three.”

“You don’t have to worry about that one.”


*  *  *

Well, now he’d done it. Jack was about to tell her no, absolutely no way, despite what he’d just promised Tom, when she sprang the I told you so line on him. He hated that. He could just picture her father-in-law, smug, always right. Plus he sounded like he was tight with his cash, probably made her beg for spending money. And Lord knows her real father probably didn’t have anything left over from his paycheck to send her. Dale was just too good natured with his wallet, especially after he’d had a few drinks. He sighed, he hoped it wasn’t going to be like father, like daughter with respect to the booze, because that’s all he needed, a teenage lush on his hands.

“What was that sigh all about,” Sandra said.

“I’m just tired and I have a lot to do if we’re going to get out of here in the next couple of hours.”

“So soon? Can’t we wait till tomorrow?”

“No, we have the window now and I don’t want to lose it.” The last thing he wanted to do was tangle with a hurricane in a three million dollar boat that he wasn’t familiar with. “We’ll sail to St. Kitts-Nevis and anchor in Ballast Bay. I’ve been there dozens of times, so it won’t be a problem getting in after dark. We’ll spend the day, so you can explore one of the islands. From there you can take your pick, Antiqua or Guadeloupe—”

“Guadeloupe, I went to Antiqua with my dad last year.”

“So you know how to sail.” 

“A little, not much.” She turned her eyes down as if she were ashamed that she didn’t know her way around a boat.

“Would you like to learn?”

“Really? Yeah.” She perked right up, like a little girl that had been given the candy store.

“I’ve  got a couple of errands to run, but I should be back in about an hour or so, then we can go over the boat and get her ready to sail.”

“Would you mind if I took a little longer, maybe two hours? I feel terrible. I’ve got a hangover and my body feels like it’s been through the ringer. I’ve gotta go and fix it.”

“You’ve got the cure for that? This I have to hear. Just how are you going to fix yourself up?”

“I’m going to go out and run five miles in less than thirty minutes. Then I’m going to cool down by doing five more in forty-five. After that I’m going to drink about a gallon of water.”

“That should do it. You can have your extra hour.” He laughed. “Just be here by 4:00, but don’t be any later or we might miss the 5:30 bridge.”

“Thank you.” She turned to go.

“One question,” Jack said.

“What?” She turned back toward him.

“This running business. It really works?”

“Mister Ramsey, if you run five six minute miles, than do five more at eight minutes or less, your body is hurting so much it doesn’t have time for a hangover and if you’ve got any poisons in your system, you’ll sweat ’em out, guaranteed.”

Jack shook his head as she walked out the door, because her words seemed to confirm his suspicions. She drank, drank a lot. Then she ran the hangover away the next day. Ah well, it was none of his business, not really. He’d never see her again after he dropped her off in Trinidad. Besides, who was he to judge, he drank when he was her age, of course he was in the service and drinking with his buddies.

He wanted to tell himself that that was different. That it was different for men. But in his heart he knew better.

“So, it’s all worked out,” Tom said, coming in through the door, another Cuban clamped between his teeth.

“Yeah.”

“Just don’t get to close to her,” Tom said. “That one’s throwing off a flame that could burn.”

“Don’t worry about that.” Jack snatched the cigar from his mouth.

“Hey.”

“I’m not a moth, but I’ll keep my distance anyway.” Jack snubbed the fresh cigar out next to the other one in the overflowing ashtray.


*  *  *

Back at Denise’s Sandra changed into her sweats. Denise sat on the bed, staring out the window at the ocean lazily lapping the long sandy beach. It was hot outside, but with the air-conditioning on Sandra was cold.

“You sure you’re going to be okay with him?” Denise said.

“I’ll be fine,” Sandra said. “He’s just like my dad and I’ve been wrapping him around my little finger my whole life.”

“A lot of woman have wrapped your father around their fingers, me included, but he always seems to wiggle off.” Denise got up, started to make up the bed as Sandra pulled the sweatshirt on. “He’s a heck of a man. A lot of woman would give their right arm for a guy like him.”

“I’ll be careful.” Sandra said, but she wondered if she wanted to be careful, because there was just something about Jack Ramsey that made here weak in the knees when she was around him.

“Jack’s had a lot of girlfriends, none have ever moved onto his boat. In fact, I don’t know if any have ever slept over, he usually stays at their place, or if it’s a one night stand with a tourist, their hotel room.” Denise tucked the bedspread under the pillows, smoothed it over.

“How do you know all this?” Sandra said, interested.

“It’s a small island, and the boating community’s even smaller. There are no secrets, even though some like to think there are.”

“So knowing him like you do, what do you think I should do if he tries to, you know, get close. Should I push him away or should I let myself get caught?”

“Oh, honey, with that attitude, you’re already caught. Just don’t think you’ll be able to keep him. He’s a wanderer just like your father.”

“You’re wrong, Denise. I don’t want to get caught and I don’t want to catch him. In a little over two weeks there’s a flight out from Port of Spain and I’ll be on it. I promise you that.”

“I believe you, but just make sure you don’t leave your heart behind.”

Don’t leave your heart behind, Sandra thought as she jogged down the steps from the apartment to the ocean below. How could Denise say that? She didn’t have any intention of falling for Jack Ramsey. She was going to have fun for two weeks, just like she’d planned on having with her father. When she got to Trinidad, she was going to take that flight out, go home, pack, then take another flight up to Boston and Harvard University, where she’d find Mr. Right sometime in the four years she was up there and she’d marry, settle down and raise a couple kids, who’d have all the things in life that she’d never had.

At the beach, she did a few warm-up stretches, then she took off at a dead run over the wet and hard sand by the water’s edge. She didn’t have her stopwatch with her, but she knew about how fast she was going. She was no stranger to running.

About two miles and the beach ended near the airport. She turned, ran alongside the chain link fence that paralleled the runway. She was running hard as if she were racing, so hard she didn’t notice the big Air France 747 taking off till it was roaring alongside her, lifting off right in front of her eyes like a great silver bird. She pumped her arms harder, pulling her legs faster as she tried to catch up, but the plane was doing over two hundred miles an hour. It was a race she was destined to lose.

At the western end of the runway she turned left, still running alongside the fence that kept trespassers from wandering out onto the runway and getting clobbered by the great planes as they dropped out of the sky. Sweat rolled off her body as she turned left on the road, running now with the lagoon on her right, the runway and the ocean beyond on her left. It was beautiful. She was truly in paradise.

All thought was gone now, it was just Sandra, her body and her beating heart. Thump, thump, thump her running shoes beat the tattoo on the road. Her legs burned, her lungs were on fire, her pumping arms felt like lead, but the hangover was gone. She was one with her body, one with the universe.

She sucked air in and out in great breaths as she poured on the speed. A fleeting image of a train shot through her as another plane took off. She was that train, speeding down the tracks, out of control, no engineer at the throttle.

Then from out of nowhere the image of Jack Ramsey’s suntanned face flashed before her mind. She lost her rhythm, dropped her arms, stumbled. Fell. She threw her hands out in front of herself to break the fall, skinned her palms on the pavement, but it didn’t hurt and she pushed herself off the road, back onto her feet and stood there with the cars going by, gasping for breath and wondering just how the thought of Jack Ramsey could send her to the ground like that.


Amber Passion, Chapter Eight, by Ken Douglas.


“What did you do to your hands?” Jack had seen her injured palms the second she stepped onto the boat. “Sit,” he said and she did, taking the starboard cockpit seat. “Don’t move.” He went below, returned less than a minute later with a first aid kit. “Did you wash them?”

“Yes, but Denise didn’t have any antiseptic.” 

“You have to be careful down here. Infection breeds like rabbits in the tropics.” He took her left hand, inspected it, sprayed it with an antiseptic spray that didn’t sting too much. She winced. “That didn’t hurt, don’t be a baby.” He smiled and it seemed to light up his eyes. “How’d you do it?”

“I tripped over my feet somewhere in the middle of mile nine.” Her hand felt hot in his and the heat seemed to shimmy up her arm. “And I broke my fall with my hands, stupid, I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Other hand,” he said and she obeyed. He took it and ministered to it as he’d done the left. “They’ll be raw for a couple days. Saltwater might sting them some, so no swimming for awhile. Other than that, you should be okay.”

“Thanks,” she said as he was putting the spray back in the box.

“Now the wrapping.” He took out a spool of gauze.

“You’re not serious?”

“Remember rule number two?”

“That’s the one that says, you’re the captain and I have to obey in an emergency.” She looked into his eyes, saw a glint of humor there and she smiled.

“That’s right and a crew injury is an emergency on this ship, so hold still and let me bandage those hands.”

“But they’re not bleeding.”

“They were though, weren’t they?”

“A little.”

“Well, this will help keep them from getting infected.” He wrapped her hands with the gauze, then taped the gauze with white surgical tape. Sandra was surprised at the professional look of it, like he’d been a surgeon or a nurse.

“Where’d you learn how to do that?”

“There are no doctors at sea. You can’t call 911 if you get in trouble, so the more skills you have, the better your chances of surviving a bad situation.”

“Can you stitch up a cut?”

“I can, but I don’t have a lot of practice, so I’d probably leave an ugly scar. Better than bleeding to death though.” He put the tape away, closed the first aid kit. “Now are you ready for the ten cent tour?”

She nodded and followed him below into a spacious salon.

“You could dance in here,” she said.

“This boat is built to go fast, but also built to house a cruising couple in relative comfort. The owner is taking it down to Trinidad to have the bottom done before leaving on a round the world cruise.”

“Bottom done?” Sandra questioned.

“They haul the boat out of the water and paint antifouling on the bottom. It’s got tin in it that keeps the barnacles from growing on it.”

“How many cabins.”

“Just two. The owner’s double and a single side cabin the owner’s going to use as an office. Tom told me he’s going to write a book about his adventure.” He laughed. “I wish him luck, because it seems a lot of the guys sailing out here are writing about it.”

He showed her the shower, how the propane stove in the galley worked, where the provisions were stored, how the toilets, called marine heads, worked and then he told her she was going to get the double cabin.

“But I can get by in the single,” she protested.

“Yeah, but I want the single. I’m a bit of a writer myself and it’s got a desk in it.”

“So I’m not putting you out by taking the larger cabin?”

“Not in the least.” He was being so nice. First he fixed up her hands, now he was making excuses so she could have the better cabin. Too bad he was so old, and double too bad that he wasn’t the marrying and settling down kind of man. Oh well, at least they weren’t going to be at each other’s throats during the trip.

“Okay, now that you’re situated, I’m going to leave you alone with her to get acquainted while I tie up a few loose ends.”

“Her?”

“Boats are like people, for most a her, some a him, but never an it. Didn’t your father teach you that?”

“No.”

“Your first lesson. Now poke around her. Look in all the cabinets, check all the drawers. Learn all you can. I’ll be back in less than an hour.”

“But you said we had to be out of here by four so that we could make the five-thirty bridge.”

“No, I said you had to be here by four. I’ll be back in plenty of time.” He hopped onto the dock. Gave her a quick wave, then left.”


*  *  *

Jack took the company car to the airport, left it in the lot and moved through the crowd waiting on the KAL flight from Amsterdam. He found her at the Caribbean Rental Counter.

“Evening, Denise.”

“I was wondering if you were going to come by.”

“You were expecting me?”

“I thought maybe you might come around and ask some questions about Sandra, yes.” She shuffled some car rental forms around on the counter. “And I think it might not be proper for me to answer them.”

“We’re friends, Denise.”

“She’s my friend, too.”

“You’ve known me longer.”

“But I know her better.”

“How can you say that?”

“Easy, I’ve known you for at least three years, but I don’t really know you. Nobody does.”

“That’s not fair,” he said, but he had to admit to himself that she was probably right. He had no real friends, confided in no one. He was closer to Tom than anybody on the island and he wasn’t very close to him, didn’t even like him all that much most of the time.

“Maybe not, but it’s how I feel, however, I think I’ll tell you about her anyway, because I’ll probably be doing you both a favor if I do. That way you won’t chase after her and she won’t be hurt when you walk away.”

“So what’s her story?” he asked and Denise told him everything she knew.

Jack stopped at the Commissary on the way back to Sweet Dream and bought a couple loaves of bread and two quarts of milk. Cold cereal made for a quick and filling breakfast or snack at sea. Standing in line behind a group of tourists, obviously on a charter because they were buying several cases of beer, he pondered what he’d learned from Denise.

She’d been right. He didn’t want to get involved with Sandra and not just because she was too young. She was a gold hunter and now that he’d sold his book there was plenty of gold in Jack Stewart’s hills. Well, he was going to have to keep that from Sandra, let her think he was just a poor, but humble sailor. The last thing he wanted was for Dale’s daughter, or any other woman for that matter, to want him for his money.

He was, however, glad that he’d been wrong about Sandra’s drinking. Denise assured him that the girl had been caught up with the thrill of getting away with something she couldn’t do at home, like so many of the young people that come to the island to vacation. Unfortunately Woody turned up and things got out of hand. Denise told him that Sandra couldn’t punish herself enough and that she’d said that she was never going to drink again.

Well, if getting drunk one time at eighteen and almost getting raped was what it took to keep her off booze for the rest of her life, than maybe the experience was worth it. But somehow Jack didn’t believe it. It was sort of like a soldier promising God he’d become a priest if he survived the battle. However Sandra’s heart seemed to be in the right place and Jack was going to make sure she didn’t meet anybody on this trip that might help her off the wagon.


*  *  *

“Ahoy, Sweet Dream.” Jack called down and Sandra dropped the book on nautical knots she’d been leafing through, got up and popped her head out of the hatch. 

“I’m here.” She smiled, now she was the one below and he was alerting her that he was back. It seemed nice somehow.

“Ready to shove off?” He stepped onto the boat and handed her a shopping bag. “Bread and milk,” he said.

“I’ll put it away.” She went below, put the milk in the fridge, the bread in the bread box. Back on deck she saw that he was casting off the dock lines

“Do you want me to do anything?”

“I’m going to leave the bow lines in place till I’m ready to back out. You can go out there and take them off the cleats when I give the signal, then jump on. I’ll be moving back very slowly as soon as you do the last one, so don’t hang around thinking about it, get right on.”

“Aye, aye, Skipper.” She hopped off the boat, went to the bow. Her adventure was finally starting, not exactly how she’d planned, but for some reason she thought it was going to be even better. Maybe he wasn’t exactly the kind of man she’d been looking for, but maybe the kind of man she’d been looking for wasn’t the kind of man she really wanted. And maybe he wasn’t the kind of man her mother wanted her to have, but maybe mother didn’t always know best.

On the dock she checked out the line from the front of the boat to the dock cleats. She’d decided she’d undo the one on the right first, then the left, then jump on. She could do it, she was an athlete, after all.

“Okay, ready?” he said

She nodded.

He started the engine and she heard it turn over than rumble to life, saw the blue exhaust smoke for a few seconds, before the diesel warmed up, smelled the fumes on this hot and still late afternoon.

“Let ’em go!” he shouted.

She did and she saw the boat start to move. She jumped to the bow, grabbing onto the bow pulpit. She grabbed onto the headsail, lifted a leg over the pulpit and stepped over.

“How’d I do?”

He shook his head.

“What?”

“I didn’t mean for you to jump onto the bow. You could’ve gotten hurt.”

“Could not, it was only a few feet.” She didn’t understand. “What did I do wrong?”

“You should’ve just walked along the finger pier on the side of the boat, you had all the time in the world to step over.”

“You said to jump right on. You didn’t say anything about walking along the side of the boat and just stepping over.”

“Sometimes you just have to use common sense,” he said.

“I’ll do better next time.” She didn’t get it. He sounded cross, not carefree like he was earlier when he’d bandaged up her hands. She looked at the gauze wrappings. And why did he have her handle the bow lines anyway with her hands wrapped up like they were? There were any number of people milling about on the dock that would’ve been glad to help.

She wanted to ask if she’d done something to make him angry, but decided not to. Maybe this was time to follow some of her mother’s words of wisdom and to keep quiet until she found out what the man wanted. She hated doing that, acting like her mother around Roger, but she couldn’t think of anything else to do, not until she knew him a little better at least.

Away from the marina Jack steered the Sweet Dream around a small island in the center of the lagoon and Sandra was amazed to see about twenty other boats circling around in a small area. She wanted to ask what they were doing, but Jack had  a determined look on his face. The twinkle in his eyes was gone. If she was her mother, she wouldn’t speak up now. Not yet. Sandra decided to keep quite awhile longer.

Jack stopped the boat just outside the area the boats were circling and put it in neutral. There was no wind and Sweet Dream sat still in the water.

“I’m going to go down and use the radio,” he said. “Shout if it looks like we’re going to drift into anything.”

“Okay,” she said. She must have done something, but for the life of her she couldn’t figure out what.


*  *  *

As soon as he saw all the boats ready to leave at the 5:30 bridge opening, he knew something was up. Was there something going on out in the Atlantic he should know about? He’d been so intent on getting to the airport and putting those questions to Denise, that he’d forgotten all about the weather. Pretty stupid. He never left without checking it, especially this time of year, but the damn girl had him so flustered, that he’d forgotten all about it.

He picked up the mike, thumbed the talk button. “Island Charters, Island Charters, Sweet Dream.”

“Island Charters here,” Tom answered. Then they switched from the calling channel.

“There must be twenty-five, thirty boats lined up to get out of the lagoon. Is there something going on?”

“There’s a tropical wave that looks like it might develop. It’s about four days out. You should run down as far as the Saints tonight. Then if it looks okay, you can hang out there for a few days, but if in the morning it looks like it might get bad, run as far south as you have to to be safe.”

“Right.”

“I’m serious. I don’t want you anywhere near anything that looks the least little bit nasty.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll keep Dale’s daughter, the boat, then myself safe, in that order, okay?”

“No, not okay, you don’t even think about the boat. If for any reason you think you might get caught in something, get off, find a place on land and hunker down. Forget about the boat, I got insurance. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Yes I do, Tom.” Jack had always thought Tom was a mercenary soul. Protect the property first. How could he have been so wrong about him after all these years? Denise had certainly hit the nail on the head when she said he didn’t have any friends.

“Just remember what I said. People come before boats with this company, always have, always will.”

“Why, Tom, I didn’t know you cared.” He was being a jerk and he regretted his words the instant he’d said them.

“Just because you’re quitting doesn’t mean you can get smart with me. I’ll track you down like a bad dog and smack you upside the head, you don’t watch your mouth.”

“Sorry.” Jack smiled. Tom really was an okay guy. “I’ll call you when we get to Trinidad.”

“Maybe we should just call this whole thing off. I could afford to send Dale’s kid home from here.”

“We’ll be fine,” Jack said.

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, mother.”

“You’re being smart again.”

“I’d love to keep this up a little longer, but I’ve got the kid on deck watching the fleet, checking to make sure nothing runs into us while I’m down here talking to you.”

“Okay, go to work.”

Jack hung up the mike and wondered why he didn’t take Tom up on his offer and head right back to the marina. Heck, he didn’t even have to stick him with the bill for sending Sandra home. He could’ve paid it. He could afford it now. But when he had the chance to get out of the charter he’d claimed he didn’t want in the first place, he’d turned it down.

True, he wasn’t feeling very charitable toward Dale’s daughter right now, but she was like a magnetic flame and though he’d been warned, it seemed he was just a flitting moth and he was afraid he was going to get burned.

He picked the mike back up. Was about to push the talk button, was about to cancel the charter, but he couldn’t do it. 

“Damn.” He fisted his hands. He could’ve gone back to his boat, laid back and read for the next two weeks, then flown on to New York from here. “Damn, damn, damn.” What was it about that girl?


*  *  *

Sandra stood behind the wheel, both hands on it, but she was afraid to turn it, afraid to do anything. What if one of those boats came too close? He shouldn’t have left her all alone up here with all of them moving around like that. But after a bit she calmed down. Although a lot of the boats were on the move in what seemed like a small space for so many, they all seemed to know what they were doing and they all gave Sweet Dream a wide berth. It was as if their skippers knew the girl at the helm didn’t have a clue.

Then she saw the bridge going up in the distance just to the left of where the sun was hanging low in the sky. She wondered if this was going to be another green flash sunset. If it was, maybe she should wish that Mr. Mood Swing down below would lighten up. This trip was supposed to be fun. She didn’t sign up for a gloomy sourpuss face kind of trip. 

“You better get up here,” she shouted down below. “The bridge is up and boats are going out.”

He came up without a word, took the wheel, shifted into gear and joined the line of boats heading out of the lagoon. Sandra climbed out of the cockpit, stepped up to the headsail and hung onto it as they made their way toward the bridge.

As they got close she could see the cars stopped, waiting for the boats to go past. There were people up there waving. Sandra felt a spark of joy tingle over her skin as the breeze picked up. She waved back as Jack maneuvered the boat through the narrow opening. She bet those people up there were envious, jealous that the sailors and crew on the boats below were going out to sea, while they had to carry on with their humdrum normal lives.

Then she remember where she was. Nobody had a dull life here. This was a vacation island. Paradise. Everybody up there was either a tourist or lived here. She didn’t know who was better off, the vacationers or the residents. The residents, she decided, and all of a sudden she was the jealous one, because in two weeks she was going to have board a plane bound for home and school in chilly Boston, while those people that lived here got to enjoy the laid back island atmosphere for the rest of their lives.

Once through the bridge Jack turned a little to the right to get out of the line of boats that all seemed to be turning around.

“Come on back here!” Jack shouted. He still didn’t sound so happy. She wondered if he was going to be grumpy for the whole trip.

“What are they doing?” she asked as she stepped into the cockpit.

“Turning into the wind so they can raise their mainsails. We’re going to do it too.”

“How come so many? Is this usual?”

“Not really,” he said. “There’s a tropical wave out in the Atlantic that looks like it might have some development in it. They’re all running south, just in case.”

“Just in case of what?” Sandra said.

“In case it turns into a tropical storm, or worse, a hurricane.”

“That’s what I was afraid you were going to say.” Sandra took a deep breath and rubbed her arms against the sudden shiver of cold that seemed to roll over her skin.


Amber Passion, Chapter Nine, by Ken Douglas.


Jack wished he could lighten up on the girl. Crack a smile at least. If he was going to keep acting like such a jerk, then he should have cancelled the charter. He didn’t, he told himself, so give the girl a break. So what if she wanted to marry a guy for his money, that just means she’s not for you. It doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the trip down south.

He spun the wheel to port till he had Sweet Dream into the wind.

“Okay, step behind the wheel.” He tried to smile, but he didn’t think he pulled it off. “Just take the wheel and keep the boat pointed at that pink house up on the hill there.” He pointed. “See it?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m going to go up and raise the main.”

He went forward to the mast. Took the main halyard out of the self-tailing jaws of the winch and started hauling down on it. The main went up easily, not like on his old boat where he had to struggle the sail up. He cleated off the halyard. Sweet Dream was fifty-five feet long with a water line of about fifty feet so Jack guessed with her deep keel and racing lines that she’d make about ten knots in a twenty knot wind.

However, the usual Trades were light, seven or eight knots, so he was going to have to motor sail until the wind picked up. Murphy’s law, he mused, because usually with a charter you wished for calm winds so the boat didn’t heel over very much and the guests could sit back, relax and enjoy their vacation, but most charters for him seemed to be wave busting, windy affairs. On delivery’s he wanted wind so he could get the boat where he was supposed to take it as quickly as possible, get paid and get back and for reasons he could never understand, he seemed to be plagued with calm days more often that not when he was doing a delivery. And with weather maybe forming out there in the Atlantic the last thing he wanted was a calm night.

He looked toward the evening sky and whistled.

“What was that all about?” Sandra said when he stepped back into the cockpit.

“I was trying to whistle up some wind.”

“Does that work?” She had the cutest smile.

“No.” He smiled back. It was forced and he saw that she could tell. She looked hurt. He was going to have to do better, but he didn’t know if he could. If he just wouldn’t have gone behind her back and talked to Denise. But then if he hadn’t done that, he would’ve told her about the book, about the million six. Then she’d have been all over him and that was the last thing he wanted. 

“You said we were going to St. Kitts or Nevis, they’re not that far.”

“Change of plans because of the possible weather,” he said. “We’re going to head straight for the Saints, a small group of tiny French islands five miles south of Guadeloupe. They’re about a hundred and fifty miles that way,” he pointed. “and at the rate we’re moving now, we won’t get there till about this time tomorrow.”

“That’s okay with me,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

“Yeah,” Jack said.

The boat was heel over slightly with the breeze, the motor was running, they were moving along nicely. Jack set the autopilot. “Are you up to three hour watches throughout the night?”

“Sure,” she said, looking toward the setting sun. “Think there will be another green flash tonight?”

“You saw one last night?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s rare. First night in the islands and you see it.”

“They’re good luck.”

“Where’d you here that?”

“Woody told me. He also said if you make a wish it’ll come true.”

“Woody, isn’t he the guy—”

“Yeah, I’d rather not talk about him,” she said, but Jack wondered why she’d brought his name up in the first place. And why she didn’t have venom in her voice when she did.


*  *  *

Sandra crossed her fingers for another green flash, because she was going to need all the luck she could get, but the sun sank into the sea without sparkling. She wished anyway, though. Wished that Jack would lighten up. This could be such a wonderful vacation if he’d only just give her a chance.

“I’ll take the first watch if you don’t mind,” Sandra said. “Because there is no way I can sleep, this is just too exciting.”

Something splashed off the starboard side.

“What was that?” she squealed.

“Dolphin.”

“Really?” She was out of the cockpit in a flash. She dashed up to the shrouds, hung on and looked down at the mammals frolicking in the bow wake under an amber sky. “They’re beautiful!” she shouted back to Jack. Maybe he was going to be a stick in the mud, but she was going to enjoy herself no matter how gloomy he got. So there, Mr. Sourpuss, she thought.

The dolphins stayed with Sweet Dream till dark set in, then the sky was filled with so many stars, so bright, Sandra almost felt like she could reach out and touch them.

“I’m going below. If you see anything give me a shout, I’m a light sleeper when I’m at sea.” He went down through the companionway and then Sandra was alone with the night.

It was magic.

The wind picked up after an hour and the boat heeled over more, but the automatic pilot seemed to be doing the job just fine. Sandra knew this because the compass said that they hadn’t changed course.

Three hours later Jack came up on deck.

“You should’ve got me up when the wind picked up. I could’ve come up and shut off the engine, that way we wouldn’t have wasted any fuel.”

“You didn’t tell me that. You said to wake you if I saw anything. I didn’t see anything. And besides, if you’re such a light sleeper, how come you didn’t get up when it started to get breezy, you’re the one that whistled up the wind, after all.”

“You’re right, you’re right. My fault, I’m sorry,” he said, but he didn’t sound like he meant it. It was beginning to look like her wish that he lose the attitude wasn’t going to pay off.


*  *  *

Again he was giving her a hard time. Getting on her case about wasting the fuel. He didn’t mean to sound upset, but she should have applied a little common sense.

“You should go below and get some sleep,” he said.

“But I’m not tired.”

“Try anyway, because you’re going to be plenty tired in three hours when you have to stand your next watch if you don’t get some sleep.”

“When I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep,” she said.

“Then just lay there with your eyes closed, rest. You’d be surprised, but it helps.”

“Aye, aye, skipper.” She went below.

“Damn,” he muttered to himself. He didn’t mean to sound like he was ordering her around, but she was thick headed. Everybody knew that you had to rest on your off watch, otherwise you dragged all the time you were on duty.

He went to the wheel, checked the instruments, then shut off the engine. Now they were moving along powered only by the wind. He took in a deep breath, exhaled. It was a great feeling, perhaps the greatest feeling, being alone on the sea on a night like this.

He listened to the quiet whoosh of water rushing along the sides as Sweet Dream slid through the waves. The swells were about seven seconds apart, about three to four feet in height, the wind about fifteen knots off the beam. A perfect night. Life didn’t get any better. He stepped out of the cockpit and went forward. Usually he wouldn’t leave the cockpit without being clipped on when he was alone on a sailboat after dark, but the sea was gentle, the wind just kissing the sails. He felt safe.

At the forestay he checked the sail, marveling as he always did at the vertical  cloth wing that pulled a sailboat forward. He grabbed the forestay, looked to the starry heavens, raised a hand in the air and for a second he felt like he was touching the hand of God.


*  *  *

Sandra had been below in a sailboat with her father a couple of times, so she didn’t expect it to be quiet, but never after dark. How could anyone sleep with all the racket. She felt like she was trapped inside of a giant bass drum. It seemed that everything that happened outside was amplified a thousand times down below.

She tried to do as he’d said. She stretched out on her back on the starboard settee, closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep. She didn’t think the sleep would come, but as much as she hated to admit it, Jack was right. She had to get all the rest she could if she wanted to be alert on her watches.

She opened her eyes with the sun. She had slept after all.

For the second day in a row she got up in a strange place with the sun streaming over her face. She tried to blink it away, put a hand to her eyes to block it as she sat up. Unlike yesterday when she felt like death warmed over, this morning she felt like a million dollars. 

She stretched her hands above her head, was about to climb out of the settee, when she heard—

“You missed all your watches.” He was sitting on the settee opposite. Had he been watching her sleep? It certainly looked like it.

“What are you talking about?”

“You never relieved me.”

“Are you serious? If you wanted me awake all you had to do was come down here and get me up.” What was wrong with him? Why was he acting like this so early?

“I guess I figured that if you were too tired to get up for your watch, you were too tired to stand it.”

“Duh. Are you sure all the wires in your head are snapping in sequence, because it sounds to me like you might have a problem in the common sense department yourself, Einstein.”

“There’s cold milk in the fridge, cereal is in the cabinet just above it. Coffee’s in the thermos.” He stood up. “I’ll be on deck.” He stepped up the ladder, went out through the companionway before she had a chance to say anything else.

And a good thing, too, because she could’ve said a lot. In the first place, if he’d wanted her to wake up on her own, he should’ve told her. There must be an alarm clock somewhere on this tub. She could’ve set it. And in the second place, she wasn’t a child, she was an adult and it was high time that he started treating her like one.


*  *  *

“Jack you are some kind of fool,” he muttered to himself as he tightened up the jib sheet with a couple of turns on the winch. Several times he’d gone below to wake her, but she just looked so innocent, sleeping all curled up like that. Childlike, but she was no child. He’d spent an hour in the morning, just watching her sleep. What was that all about? Was he turning into a pervert in his old age? No, it was just something about her.

He was at attracted to her.

No, it was more than that, he wanted her, flat out wanted her. He wanted her naked and squirming beneath him on a dark beach somewhere, the way she’d been with Woody. He clenched his fists. He’d almost hit the rich bastard, wished he had. He was jealous, knew it and hated himself for it, because it wasn’t Woody’s fault. He was only doing what comes natural. She didn’t have to get out of her clothes, play in the ocean with him. He didn’t force himself on her. She didn’t say no till the very last possible second. How many men Woody’s age could stop themselves in the circumstances? Hell, Jack didn’t know if he could, probably not, not the way he wanted her.

He remembered resolving to ease up on her when they’d left St. Martin, to have fun, to act like he was never going to see her again after they got to Trinidad, but now he didn’t think he could do it. Not after watching her sleep like that. It had taken every ounce of his strength not to wake her, to take her in his arms, to kiss her. No, he couldn’t lighten up. He was going to have to stay on his guard, keep his distance.

“So where are we?” she said as she came up on deck. She’d pulled her hair back in that bandana again, maybe splashed some water on her face, but she hadn’t time to do anything else, except throw a Yankee’s T-shirt on over a yellow bathing suit, so how come she looked like she just stepped off the page of a glamour magazine?

“That’s Montserrat off the starboard side,” he said. “We’re sailing on the windward side of the island. We should be able to see Guadeloupe in about an hour or so. We’ll go down her leeward side, so we’ll probably have to motor for a bit, then it’s the run down to the Saints.”

“Windward, leeward, explain please.”

“I thought you’d been sailing with your dad.”

“Just a couple times when I stayed with him in Antiqua last year. Usually he takes off work for the two weeks I’m with him and we just tourist off on whatever island he’s working on at the time and gab the days away.”

“Okay, the leeward side is the side of the island that’s protected from the wind. It’s where the safe harbors are and where most of the towns are. The windward side is the side that’s open to the wind and waves.”

“What if the wind changes.”

“Ninety-nine percent of the time it doesn’t. It was something the early sailors counted on, the wind being constant and always blowing in the same direction. That’s why they called them the Trade Winds, because they counted on them for commerce.”

“I didn’t know that?” She seemed genuinely interested. Then, “I get it, you lose the wind on the leeward side, that’s why you have to motor?” She smiled. She seemed pleased with herself, like a kid that had solved a difficult math problem.

“Right,” he said.

“Can I steer?” She said.

“How are your hands?” He’d noticed that she’d removed the bandages, then put them back on.

“They’re fine, I checked. I probably don’t need these anymore, but better safe than sorry. I’ll be able to drive the boat okay.” She didn’t seem to be holding his attitude against him. It took a special person not to rise to all the bait he was throwing out.

“I’ll take it off auto.” He moved around behind the wheel, clicked off the autopilot. “Okay, you want to come around here?”

“Oh boy.” She scooted around next to him.

“It drives just like a car. You turn right—”

“I got it.”

“She might want to round up a bit, so you’ll have to hold the wheel against it.” Round up, he explained, was the boat’s tendency to want to turn into the wind if the boat was left uncontrolled. He was impressed enough with how quickly she grasped the mechanics of sailing and following a compass course, that he decided to go below and get a little shut eye. Besides, the best way for someone to gain confidence behind the wheel of a sailboat was to be left alone with it.


*  *  *

“How could he do that?” Sandra said under her breath. “How could he leave me up here all by myself?”

Her first inclination was to scream at him to come back, but she bit back the scream, said nothing. That’s what he wanted. He wanted her to fail. Well, she wasn’t going to. Just like a car, he’d said. She turned just a little to the left, back to the right, then looked at the compass needle. Keep the needle at a hundred and seventy degrees he’d said. Well, she could do that, she’d show him.

After ten minutes of steering the boat she thought she had it down, when a wave, bigger than the rest, smacked the side of the boat, startling her. Instinctively she turned toward it, the way she’d learned in driving school to turn into a skid, and the sails started flapping, gunshot-like noises ricocheting over the deck.

So loud.

Frighteningly loud.

She pulled the wheel back to the right, careful not to go too far and in a few seconds the sails got their shape back and Sweet Dream was once again gliding through the water.

“Take that, Jack Ramsey,” she said, feeling pretty good about how she got herself out of that little fix.

But an hour later the hot sun was baking her. Sweat poured down her forehead, stinging her eyes. She’d forgotten to put sun protection on and she was burning. Her hair was damp, sweat dripped from her arms and she had to go to the bathroom. Giving up and calling him to come up and take the wheel would be so easy, but she wasn’t a quitter. She’d been sunburned before and once, when she was hiking with the senior class on an outing in the woods back home, she had to go to the bathroom so bad she thought her bladder was going to burst, but she’d held it until they got back to the cabin. She could hold it now.

She saw movement out of the corner of her eye, turned and gasped. It was big, black and magnificent. It broke the surface, then crashed back into the sea, water dripping of its huge tale as it went under. A whale. Sandra wanted to hug herself, but she was afraid to take her hands off the wheel. She wanted to call down to Jack, so he could see it too, but she didn’t. Seeing that whale was like seeing a shooting star. You had to be there at the right time, eyes ready, alert. You couldn’t make it come back, couldn’t do it over.

The wind started blowing a little harder and she looked at the windspeed indicator. Sixteen knots. Was that like miles per hour? The speed indicator said they were sailing along at seven-point-five knots. Yes, it was like miles per hour, she remembered now. That wasn’t very fast in the car, but it sure seemed fast over the water.

Ten minutes later the wind picked up more, now blowing between eighteen and twenty knots, the boat was heeled over a little more and they were sailing eight knots. The waves were higher, not dangerously high, not enough to frighten her, not enough to make her call down and ask for help like a stupid girl from the city who didn’t know what she was doing.

An hour later she saw Guadeloupe off in the distance, a beautiful green island reaching up and touching the clouds. She imagined she was an ancient sailor that had been at sea for weeks, hungry, thirsty and then rising out of the forever sea, she sees the green covered mountains of land reaching up so majestically toward the sky. She smiled at the thought and again she thought about calling down for Jack, but she didn’t, because she thought the sight of an island after a day at sea was probably old hat to him. He’d laugh at her.

Besides, he was probably asleep. He’d been up all night, after all. And if he wasn’t asleep, he was down there waiting for her to call for help. In either case, she determined that she’d soldier on even though she really had to go to the bathroom now.

Another hour and Guadeloupe loomed even closer on the horizon, but she saw gray clouds moving over the mountainous island, coming from the east with the wind. In no time the island was covered by them and another group of billowy clouds seemed to moving toward her.

She didn’t know how long she’d been at the wheel, but it felt like forever. Never had her arms been so tired, so leaden. Her shoulders screamed, muscles she never used stretched to their limit. All of a sudden the wind went up to twenty-five knots, the boat heeled over even more and the speed picked up to eight and a half knots.

She knew in her mind that it wasn’t very fast at all, but Sweet Dream seemed to be flying through the waves and all of a sudden it started to rain. It was as if she were an insect under a water faucet. She was drenched in seconds and she reveled in it. The sweet rain soothed her sunburn, cooled her tired body and offered her cover. She smiled and peed her pants.

She felt like she could go on forever.

“You’re in a squall,” Jack said as he rushed up from below. One look at him told her he’d been sleeping. He must have been worn out to exhaustion, otherwise he never would have been able to sleep though everything that she’d been though. “I’ll take the wheel now,” he said.

“That’s okay.” She laughed like she hadn’t laughed since she was a little girl. “I’m enjoying myself.”


Amber Passion, Chapter Ten, by Ken Douglas.


Jack was snug in his dry foul weather gear as he watched Sandra steer Sweet Dream through the squall. The bandages on her hands were soaked. Water poured off her like she was under a waterfall, she looked dead in, but she was handling the boat as well as anyone he’d ever seen. The girl had pluck. He had to hand her that.

“I slept too long, sorry,” he shouted to be heard above the cacophony of the driving rain.

“That’s okay,” she shouted back.

“I never should have allowed myself to get that tired. My fault.”

“I said it was okay.” She was smiling, laughing. She really was enjoying herself.

“You’re worn out.” She looked like she’d just run a marathon, he thought, then he remembered she was a runner, she probably ran marathons, she knew what it was like to be exhausted and to keep on going. Like when he used to workout at the dojo, doing kata until the blisters on his feet bled.

“I can handle it,” she said.

He didn’t answer, just stood, a hand on the bimini top for balance, and drank in the vision of her. The T-shirt was plastered to her body and he saw that what he’d mistaken for a one piece bathing suit earlier was in fact a bikini and she wasn’t wearing the top, though the Yankee shirt was dark blue, he could she the sway of her breasts, one each side of the NY emblem. Her nipples were erect and he found that it excited him.

“It’s harder to handle than it was.” She was just stating a fact, not asking for help and he pulled his eyes away from her breasts and looked up at the sails.

“To much wind, gotta let ’em out some.” He went to the jib sheet, took it out of the self-tailing jaws and let it out a little, slowing the boat down a bit and taking out some of her heel. “That’s better.” He cinched it tightly in the winch jaws, then let out some of the main sheet, thus letting even a little more heel out of the boat. Now they were almost sailing straight up, the wind a just aft of the beam.

“Easier to handle now?” he shouted.

“Much.” She shouted back. Then she pulled her bandages off. “I don’t need these any more.”

“Without them your hands will be too tender to steer. Let me help.” He moved around the wheel, till he was standing behind her and all of a sudden he was overcome with desire, she was helpless between him and the wheel. He moved in close without thinking, reached around and cupped a full breast in each hand and squeezed.


*  *  *

She felt him reach around her and instinctively knew he was about to do what no man had ever done. He cupped both her breasts and a shiver rippled through her from her breasts down to her very core. She gripped the wheel tightly, felt a little pain in her hands as she kept the ship on her course while he pressed his maleness into her rear end, all the time playing with her breasts, massaging, kneading, massaging, kneading.

No, she thought, but she couldn’t bring the words to her lips. All she could do was grip the wheel with white knuckles. Oh Lord, thumbs and fingers found her nipples, gently pinched. Heaven. Then hot breath on her neck. Now she was holding the wheel so tightly she thought it would break. He took his hands from her breasts. No, she thought, put them back. But she needn’t have worried, because now his roving hands had wormed under her T-shirt and were again at her breasts, back at her nipples. No hand other than her own had ever touched them before. She enjoyed it so much she thought she was going to pass out.

More, she wanted more. Now was the time. She let go the wheel, turned around, found his lips with her own and lost herself in the kiss. She was a wanton woman, she would do anything he wanted.

“Autopilot,” he said.

“Yes,” she answered.

He reached past her, flicked it on and now Sweet Dream was steering herself and his hands were at her bikini bottoms, pushing them down, down, down, off. Then he pulled her T-shirt over her head and she was naked for all the world to see. She pushed him back a bit because she wanted him to see it all, to see what she was offering him, something she’d given to no man before, something she’d never give to another, all he had to do was say the word.

He took her hand, led her around the wheel to the starboard cockpit seat and lowered her down. He was going to do it outside in the rain. Wonderful, she wanted her first experience to be wild, wet and wonderful and it was going to be, she just knew it.

She lay flat on her back, held her arms out to him as he pulled off his rain gear, then his Hawaiian shirt. He stopped with his hands at his shorts and seemed to drink her with his eyes. He was beautiful, water cascading over his body, wonder in his eyes as he took her in. Then in a swift movement he dropped his shorts and was naked before her and she gasped at the sight of him.

“Hurry,” she said. Where did that come from? Surely some other woman residing in her body. “Please hurry.” Again, was she shameless? “Hurry, hurry, hurry.” Yes.

Then he was on top of her and she knew from the hunger in his eyes there was going to be no foreplay. She felt a short stab of pain, then a building pleasure, then she heard some other woman screaming, “More, more, more,” but those begging sounds were coming out of her own mouth. She loved it. She loved him. She was never going to let him go. This was so right. This was forever.

When it was over they lay entwined in each other’s arms, bathed by the rain. She shivered. It was the rain, his touch, the ecstasy. Was this how other women felt? No, it couldn’t be, because if it was they’d be shamelessly following their men around, doing their bidding, fetching whatever they wanted.

“I hate to say this, but we should get up and tend to the boat,” he said.

“Autopilot,” she murmured.

“The wind’s shifted, we’re going off course.”

He got up, a bronze god, tan all over, except for the white band where he wore his shorts. Naked, he went to the wheel, pushed some buttons on the autopilot, reset it. Then came back to her, sat on the edge of the seat.

“You didn’t tell me you were a virgin.”

“Emmmm,” she said.

“What’s that mean?” He smiled.

“It means I don’t recall you asking.”

“I just assumed— Oh my God, we didn’t use protection.”

“Uh oh,” she said. Then, “You got some?”

“No.”

“No?” She didn’t know if she should be happy or cry. It was good in a way that he didn’t have any. That meant that he didn’t sleep around very much, probably hardly ever, otherwise he would’ve been prepared. It also meant that he hadn’t planned what had just happened. But on the other hand it meant no more of that wonderful, ecstatic experience till they got to a store and got some.

“Don’t look so sad,” he said.

“What are we gonna do?”

“I didn’t know, I’m sorry.”

“I’m not talking about you brutally stealing my virginity, you dummy. I’m talking about how can we do it again, if we don’t have any, you know, those goodies you guys are supposed to carry around with you?”

“We’ll think of something to occupy our time till we get to the Saints. We should get into the anchorage before the sun goes down. We’ll take care of the protection problem first thing tomorrow.”

“Good. That’s good.” She felt better now. “But what are we going to do in the mean time?”

“I’ll think of something,” he said and he lowered his lips to her and he did.


*  *  *

Dressed and on deck after the squall, with Sweet Dream still on autopilot, Jack watched Sandra as she sat on the seat opposite, staring out at the ocean. She looked satisfied, content. The squall had passed and again the sun blazed high and hot. Sweat was already beading around her hairline.

“What are you thinking?” he said.

“About an amber sky, the sun going down and a wish I made. And about passion.” She wiped the sweat from her brow with a finger. “Yellow has always been my favorite color,” she said and Jack remembered the yellow outfit she was wearing when he’d first seen her at the airport. “Not that kind of bright yellow,” she pointed up to the overhead sun. I’m talking about the color of the sky you can get just before sundown, almost, but not orange. Amber. It’s a romantic color, it reminds me of passion. I didn’t know that until just now. That’s what I’m thinking about.”

“Amber passion?” he said.

“Yes, that’s it. Amber passion, sort of a soft glow somewhere inside of you that’s always on fire, not all consuming, sort of like burning embers.”

“Amber embers.” He laughed.

“I’m serious.” She pouted.

“I’m sorry,” he said, but he couldn’t stop laughing.

“Stop it!”

“All right.” He smiled. “So you have these embers smoldering inside of you, then what?”

“Then nothing. They’re just always there, waiting to flame up when the man you love stirs the coals. Then the passion glows yellow like the sun and becomes burning hot and you let yourself go and become one with him. Then afterwards you’re satisfied and happy, all aglow and the special fire has died down to amber again, but it never goes out. It’s always there waiting for your lover to fan the coals and turn them into flames.”

Did she just say that she loved him? Was that it? He couldn’t tell. He had to know.

“So what happens if these embers ever go out?” he asked.

“That’s the saddest day of a woman’s life, because it means her lover’s lost to her. She doesn’t love him anymore.”

“Maybe she found somebody else.”

“She can’t. Amber passion only glows for one man. If that love dies, she’ll be lost, because no other love can measure up to that one true love. Oh, she may have lovers, but she’ll never love like that again.”

“This is scientific?” He smiled, laughed a little, because it was time to change the subject. It was too early to talk about undying love. She was only eighteen. She was going back to America in a few days.

“No, it’s not scientific, probably not even real, but it’s what I believe,” she said.

“And I believe that you should go below and put on some sunscreen. You’re getting burnt.”

“Oh yeah.” She touched her arm between shoulder and elbow with a couple fingers, then she poked it, the spot went white. “Yup, it’s gonna get red.”

“You’re already red. Your arms look like lobster claws.”

“Do not.” She laughed, but went below.

“Oh, Jack what are you going to do with yourself, with her,” he mumbled to himself when she was out of earshot.

She was too young, that was a fact. She’d stolen his heart. That was a fact, too. He stepped behind the wheel, took the boat off autopilot. He needed the feel of a sailboat under his command, the wind in his face, the sounds of the sea, all of it. He needed it to help him think, to help him put everything in perspective.

He’d only known her for a few days. But from the very instant he’d first laid eyes on her at the airport, he’d known there was something special. Her star slipped, slipped a lot when he found her on that beach, drunk and with Woody and it slid right off the scale when he found out that she was looking for a rich husband.

But now, could this be the same girl?

Her attitude was gone. Or maybe she never had one. Maybe it had all been in his head. Was he in love? He looked out over the sea, looking for what? A sign? He could look all he wanted, but he wasn’t going to find the answer out there, this he knew. The answer was below, putting sunscreen on her arms and legs.

“I’ll be up in a second,” she shouted from below and all of a sudden he had his answer.

It was love. He was in love. No doubt about it. He knew it was true, because he’d never felt this way before. He wanted to hold her forever, protect her against all the bad things in the world. Love, so this is what it was like. He wanted to shout it. Scream it. Was about to when she came up from below and all of a sudden he was afraid.

All his these years he’d lived alone, living hand to mouth. Maybe at times his clothes were a little tattered and maybe the only place he could afford to eat out at was Herman’s Cheap Chinese in Simpson Bay. And maybe his boat was old and he wasn’t able to afford all the modern gear they were coming out with these days. Maybe he’d done without a lot, but freedom was one thing he’d had in ample supply.

He could walk into a sailor’s bar or restaurant anywhere in the world and in seconds he was welcomed by cursing sailors he’d never met before, welcomed as a friend because he was one of them. He could spend the evening telling tales, tall and true. He could meet a girl, or not, his choice. He could come and go when he pleased, also his choice. Could he give all that up? Because that’s what falling in love meant. Sharing. Sharing everything, especially time. Was he ready for that?

And then there was the age thing.

Maybe he’d better back off a little. Besides, he sure wasn’t the kind of man she was looking for. She wanted somebody younger and richer, like Woody. Well, he was going to be plenty rich in a few weeks, by his standards anyway, so he could certainly satisfy her in that department, but he didn’t want a relationship based on the money.

Yeah, best to back off. See where it went.


*  *  *

“Penny for your thoughts,” Sandra said as she came up from below.

“I wasn’t thinking anything, just looking out over the sea,” he said, but Sandra saw the sad look in his eyes and didn’t think it was true.

“You’re not sorry are you? About what we did, I mean.” She sucked her lower lip between her teeth, expecting the worst. He was going to let her down easy, tell her things had gotten out of hand, that he was sorry.

“About that, are you kidding? How in the world could I ever be sorry about that? I’m just a little pensive, sometimes I get this way, especially when I’m at sea. The ocean sort of puts everything in perspective, let’s you know how small you really are in the grand scheme of things.”

“Oh, I’m so relieved.” She sighed, let go of her lip, then stuck it out and blew the hair out of her eyes. “I’m not experienced and I imagine you are. It bothered me, you have something to compare to and I don’t. I was afraid I didn’t measure up, that maybe I wasn’t too good.”

“Don’t ever think that. What we just did, it doesn’t get better than that, has never been better than that for me and I can’t imagine it ever will be.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“I’m glad.” She started to sit opposite him.

“No, I think you should go below and get some rest. Force yourself to get some sleep. We’ve got about five or six hours left go and maybe some more weather judging from those clouds up ahead.”

“But I’m not tired.”

“You’re gonna want to be alert and awake when we go ashore and do up the town, aren’t you?”

“You bet.”

“Then get some rest. I don’t want a zombie on my hands tonight.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” she said with as cheery a voice as she could muster, because it seemed he was dismissing her.

Back below she picked up a Stephen King horror novel and lay down to read. She had to do that, because she needed to take her mind off Mr. Jack Ramsey. She read the first page and found she couldn’t get into the book. She closed it, then closed her eyes. It didn’t make sense. All she wanted to do was be near him, touch him, see him smile. He should want that too, shouldn’t he?”

Of course he should, she thought, but she had to admit that despite the fact that she was an athlete and a runner, she was tired. Maybe he was right. Maybe she should get a little sleep if she could.

Thunder boomed and Sandra jumped awake. The boat was dark and they were heeled over again and it was louder than ever down below. How could she ever have slept through all the racket. She pushed herself off the settee, grabbed onto the companionway ladder, stepped up a couple rungs and stuck her head out the hatch.

“What’s going on?” She shouted as Jack was getting into his fowl weather gear. The boat was still being steered by Mr. Autopilot.

“Squall?” Stay below!” he shouted.

She went back down, pulled the hatch closed after herself. He’d told her to stay down, but it seemed an order and she sure didn’t like the way he’d said it, barking it out as if she were a dog or something. “Stay below,” she said aloud. “I think not.” She’d gone through the boat when she’d first boarded, seen what was in the cabinets and closets and she went to the closet in the side cabin where she’d seen a yellow rain coat. It was a little big, but she put it on anyway.

Now she’d be as toasty dry as him and he’d have no excuse to banish her below. But the rain stopped as soon as she got on deck. She’d hunted up the rain coat for nothing. She was about to take it off when Jack burst into laughter.

“What?” She put her hands on her hips and tried to give him a serious stare.

“You look like a homeless waif in that?” He laughed hard. “Awful cute, but a poor homeless child, nonetheless.”

“It’s not that bad,” she said, but as quickly as the words left her lips she realized she was swimming in the raincoat. She also realized that he was laughing and that was good. So good that she started laughing, too.

“Did you have a good sleep?” The late afternoon sun kissed his light brown hair. She had to admit it, he was the most handsome man she’d ever laid eyes on.

“I only nodded off for a few minutes.”

“What a story,” Jack said, smile wide. “I checked on you every ten minutes or so, you were out like a light, snoring like a sailor.”

“I don’t snore.” She stamped her foot, but she was secretly pleased that he’d been checking on her.

“I think there’s a tape recorder somewhere on board.” He came toward her, took her in his arms. “So, tonight after we get back from shore and you’re snug like a bug in a rug in the forward berth, I think I’ll hunt it up and then tomorrow morning you can see for yourself.”

“You wouldn’t dare.” She tingled all over as he put his arms around her. He kissed her.

“I’ll dare more than that,” he said after he broke the kiss.

“And I’ll let you,” Sandra said.

“Later.” He kissed her again, then put his hands on her shoulders and turned her around. “There they are, just two miles away. Iles des Saints. The Saints.”

“They really are small islands,” she said. They looked like barren lumps in the middle of the ocean, but as they got closer Sandra saw a few buildings, then an actual small city with white houses and red roofs. And when they were in the anchorage right off the city of Bourg des Saints, Sandra hugged herself, because the city looked just like she’d always pictured the way it would look in the south of France.

“Okay, you take the wheel and follow my directions,” Jack said and she did, turning first to the right, then left, maneuvering between the boats already at anchor, till Jack found the spot he wanted. Then he went forward and dropped the hook.

“Did you see the way the people on those other boats were looking at us when we drove through the pack. I felt just like a real sailor.” She laughed, hugged herself again. Everything was wonderful in the world. She was in this magical place, with this magical man.


Amber Passion, Chapter Eleven, by Ken Douglas.


Jack couldn’t help but be caught up in her enthusiasm, even though it was childlike. She reveled in the fact that other yachtsmen watched her as she drove the boat through the crowded anchorage, reveled in the fact that she’d done it right, reveled in the fact that they took her for a sailor. It seemed to take so little to please this girl-woman.

He wanted to laugh, to hug her again, to grab her tightly in his arms, kiss her hard. She evoked a desire in him that no woman had ever touched. But still she was a child. A child in a woman’s body, to be sure, and women her age got married all the time, raised kids and lived happily ever after.

But even if it wasn’t for the money thing, he didn’t think she was ready to settle down, no matter what she was feeling right now. She needed to see the world, experience life outside of Ohio. Have a croque-monsieur in Paris, tapas in Madrid. She needed to date a prince, work at a job, live a little, experience that thing called life.

He’d made a mistake, taking her to bed in the rain. She’d been beautifully wet, with a smile that cold turn the coldest of men to jelly, but that was no excuse. He was going to have to be firm. No more sex. If they kept that up, they’d be planning the wedding long before they got Sweet Dream down to Trinidad, heck they’d probably be married long before they got to Trinidad, plenty of these islands had marriage without waiting.

“Let’s get the dinghy in the water and go ashore and get a real French meal,” he said.

“And some protection,” she said.

“Right,” he said. It was going to be hard, not having sex with her again. Awfully hard.

“I can hardly wait.” She stood on her toes, kissed him quick. “So, let’s get hopping.”

She was a bundle of energy in the dinghy as they motored to shore with the setting sun, bouncing on the rubber tube like an exited child. Damn, he thought, there was that child word again. If only he could get it out of his mind.

At the town dock she jumped out, took the painter and tied it to a cleat. Then she held a hand out for him and he grabbed it in a Viking grip and let her pull him up to the dock and she kept pulling and then they were kissing.

“I wondered why you had your hand out for me,” he said. “At first I thought it was because you thought I was an old man not capable of getting out of the little rubber boat all by myself.” The girl was incorrigible.

“You’re not so old.” She pushed away from him, took him by the hand and started up the dock toward the town. She had a spring in her step that was infectious. He found himself almost skipping alongside her and he couldn’t help swelling up with pride as heads turned when they walked on by.

“Bourg des Saints is a town without cars,” Jack said as they turned onto the walking street. It was Sunday evening and most of the boutiques and souvenir shops were closed, but there were a lot of tourists window shopping.

“Darn,” she said when they passed a pharmacy. “It’s closed, too.”

“So?”

“So, no protection. What are you going to do about that?”

“Me?”

“You’re the man.”

“What do you want me to do, walk up to everybody we pass and say, hey do you have a—”

“Stop it.”

“Stopping it,” he said, secretly glad it was Sunday and the pharmacy was closed. It meant they’d go the night without making love. It’d give him another day to sort out his feelings for her. They could spend dinner talking, and talk themselves to sleep when they go back to the boat. Who could tell, maybe everything would work itself out given a little time.

“Why are they stopped there?” Sandra indicated a group of people with a nod of her head.

“In France the restaurants post the menu du jour—a complete mean—salad, main dish, vegetable and desert for a fixed price. A group of people will wander the streets, reading the menus, till they find something everybody can agree on and that’s where they eat.”

“But this isn’t France.”

“Actually it is. Unlike the other powers that fought over, colonized and brought slaves to the Caribbean, the French didn’t treat the islands they’d won as territories or colonies. The French West Indies is a department of France, like a State in the U.S. The people here vote in French elections, carry French passports and they all think they are very, very French.”

“So, they’re like Frenchmen?” she kidded.

“And French women.”

“Okay, let’s eat,” he said and they walked the street, still holding hands, studying the posted menus.

“I don’t eat meat,” she said as they were reading the third offering.”

“Me, too,” he said, “except for fish.”

“I eat fish, too.” She squeezed his hand and they continued looking till they found a place serving swordfish. When the waiter started to show them the wine list, she just waved it away and asked for a bottle of French bubbly water.

“That brought a smile to his face,” Jack said. So maybe she meant what she’d said about no more drinking. A very adult decision.


*  *  *

The dinner was magic. There was just no other word for it and Sandra didn’t want to look for one. Magic, magic, magic. Jack spoke fluent French and talked to the waiter as if they were old friends, but he didn’t leave her out of the conversation. He stopped after every other sentence or so and translated, doing it in such a way that Sandra felt like she was almost speaking French, too.

“You talk as if you’re at home in the language,” she said.

“Spanish too,” he said. “I live in the Caribbean, from Puerto Rico to Bonaire, with Venezuela in between and I’m a single-hander. That means I’ve got no one on board to talk to, so if I’m in a French or Spanish speaking country, I’ve got to know the language if I want to converse with anybody. Helps when you want to buy a loaf of bread, too.”

“Everybody speaks English in Ohio,” she mused, but she resolved to start learning French or Spanish as soon as she could. And she wondered about this single-handing business. It was a lifestyle that had stolen her father away from her mother. Dale Stone had to be free to get up and go whenever he wanted. Was Jack Ramsey the same? She was afraid to ask. Afraid she might make him think she was trying to tie him down.

Desert was a kind of custard thing called flan with a hard caramel crust underneath. It was about the best thing she’d ever tasted. When it came to being an international person, she had a lot to learn.

Jack drove the dinghy very slow on the way back to the boat, seemingly, like her, wanting to make this special night last as long as possible. He pointed out the Southern Cross to her in the western sky and explained to her that it was a constellation never seen up in the States. She’d never given any thought to the fact that the people who lived in the southern hemisphere saw different stars. She felt so ignorant.

“No more television for me,” she declared. “I’m going to become a bookworm till I’m as smart as you.”

“I’m not so smart,” he said.

“You are.”

“No, it just comes with life.”

“You speak three languages. That’s pretty smart.”

“A lot of people speak more than one language. Most Mexicans, for example or almost everybody in Europe.” Being multilingual doesn’t make you smart, it just makes you multilingual.”

“Em,” she said. “I never thought about it before. I guess we’re pretty isolated in Ohio.”

“I think we should sleep in separate cabins tonight,” he said.

“What?” Where did that come from all of a sudden? “After what we’ve shared, how can you say that?” Sandra was devastated, hurt.

“Don’t take it wrong,” he hastily said. “It’s because we didn’t get the, you know, protection. We can’t let anything happen till we do. We’ve already taken a heck of a chance. We can’t do that again.”

“Oh.” She sighed, what a relief, for a second she thought he was rejecting her. “We can sleep together without doing it,” she said.

“No we can’t.”

“We could hug and stuff. We don’t have to do, you know.”

“Sandra, if I’m in bed with you, hugging as you call it, there probably wouldn’t be any stopping me. I just don’t want to challenge myself like that.” He cut the motor and they glided up to the aft of Sweet Dream.

He cleated off the painter and she pulled herself up on deck at the shrouds, thinking about what he’d said and she hated to admit it, but he was probably right. The last thing she wanted was to get pregnant. She was way to young for that.

“Okay,” she said. “We sleep apart, but first thing tomorrow we solve that little problem. Deal?” She held out her hand.

“Deal.” He shook it.

She walked up to the bow, looked to the heavens. “Isn’t this wonderful?”

“It’s strange, is what it is.” He said. “I’ve been so wrapped up with you that I haven’t been paying attention to the weather.”

“What do you mean, wrapped up with me?”

“In a good way,” he said. “But I should’ve been watching the weather.”

“What’s wrong with it? It seems fine. Nice.”

“No wind, not a hint of a breeze. The water’s flat calm, like a lake, not a ripple.”

“That’s what I said, nice.”

“I was thinking maybe the calm before the storm.”

“That really happens?”

“Sometimes, but this is probably nothing to worry about. I checked the weather before we left, it seemed okay.”

“Seemed okay? What does that mean?”

“It means there was no circulation out in the Atlantic. These things usually take a couple days to form up.”

“What things?” she said, but she knew. He didn’t have to say it.

“Hurricanes.” But he said it anyway.

Below, after she was snug in bed with the lights out, she found that the walls seemed to be closing in. After about fifteen minutes or so, she got up dressed only in an old extra large Ohio Buckeyes T-shirt that she slept in, she padded into his cabin, crept into bed with him.

“We don’t have to do anything, honest. I just don’t want to be alone.” She snuggled up against him. “Please hold me.”

And he did, all night long.


*  *  *

Jack lay away with her head on his shoulder long after she’d gone to sleep. He wanted her so badly he ached. He caressed her hair, stroking it with his fingers, but he could do no more while she slept, though he burned with desire. With no wind it was a hot night, even with the overhead hatch open to the starry sky.

He knew the constellations, had spend countless nights alone at sea with them for company. They offered him solace, but not tonight. There was nothing that could fan the flames of his desire except the girl-woman sleeping soundly beside him. Girl-woman, he was going to have to stop thinking of her that way. He was only twenty-eight. Lots of people married woman ten years younger.

Hold it. Who said anything about marriage? He was lost in that world between sleep and not sleep where random thoughts ran through your head, where you live in a world of make believe. That special world where life works out your way, where you’re the star. Where sometimes your subconscious mind knows your heart better than your conscious self.

He drifted off to sleep with a glow he hadn’t known since he was a child and had kissed Janis Ostrander in the first grade.


*  *  *

In the morning Sandra woke with the sun and a pounding on the hull.

“I’ll check to see who it is.” Jack got out of bed. He was wearing a pair of white shorts and nothing else.

She got up too, slipped into a pair of shorts and followed Jack. On deck she saw that he’d put on a Hawaiian shirt which he wore unbuttoned. She thought he looked like a commercial for sun tan lotion. Then she noticed the military men he was talking to and she started to get nervous. Had they done something wrong?

“What did they want?” she asked him as they motored over to the boat anchored next to them.

“They wanted to tell us about Hurricane Louise?”

“What?”

“Formed up quickly last night. We have to leave here. This anchorage isn’t safe. They said the surge in here could be up to twenty feet. We’d never survive something like that. They think we should go up to Point-a-Pitre, it’s protected by mountains and reefs. They say that unless Louise rolls right over us, we’ll be safe there.”

“Do you think so?” Sandra looked up at the sky. Though the winds were still nonexistent, sometime during the night the clouds had crept in. Not dark, but getting there. Ominous was the only word she could think of.

“I don’t know what to think. I’m going ashore to call Tom and see what he wants me to do.”

“I’m going with you.”

Ashore, Jack called his boss and though Sandra could only hear one side of the conversation she could tell they were arguing. It seemed Tom wanted him to take the boat up to Point-a-Pitre, anchor it the best he could, then get off and find a hotel room for the both of them.

Jack was arguing that that was irresponsible. Other boats would be in the anchorage, it wouldn’t be right to leave Sweet Dream unattended. What if she dragged into someone else’s boat. In the end Jack won half the argument. He agreed to get a hotel room for Sandra, but he was staying with Sweet Dream.

“I’m not leaving you alone on the boat,” she said after he hung up. “I’m staying with you.”

“No you’re not,” he said and just the way he tensed up told Sandra there was no arguing with him. Fine she didn’t want to argue anyway. But she wasn’t leaving the boat, not unless he did, too.

“We’ll talk about it later,” he said as if he could dismiss her like a child. “Meanwhile there’s a small market the next street over that opens early to sell fresh baguettes.”

“You go,” she said. “I want to call my mother and tell her I’m all right, because if she sees anything about a hurricane on the news, she’ll just go ballistic.”


*  *  *

Jack studied the darkening sky as he quickly walked to the grocery. She was something else. Most people would be terrified of being on a boat with a hurricane bearing down on them. He knew he was and he’d expected her to jump at the chance to be buttoned up safely in a hotel room. But no, she wanted to stay with him. Well, that was certainly not in the cards. It was one thing for him to risk his neck over somebody else’s boat, which was probably insured to the hilt, but he’d be damned if he’d let her do it, too.

At the small market Jack bought three baguettes, two loaves of sandwich spread, cheese and pickles. Sandwiches were easy, you could make them in advance and grab a few bites when hunger called. He grabbed a carton of some French brand of corn flakes on the way to the checkout. Cold cereal was easy too and he could eat it all day long.

The girl behind the register was ringing up his purchases when he saw the condoms on display. He plucked a couple packages from the rack and dropped them on the counter. He loved Sandra, was in love with her, and in his heart he knew that if he really felt that way, then he should let her go, at least for a time. If it was really love, true love, then they could wait, and waiting meant no more sleeping together. That was the responsible way to handle the situation. But he bought the condoms anyway. He was going to try and be responsible, but he was going to be prepared this time, just in case things got out of control again.

“It was a good thing I called her,” Sandra said when Jack returned to the public phone by the town dock. “She’d been watching the weather channel and was probably biting her nails to the quick. I told her we were fine and not to worry.”

“Did she believe you?” Somehow it made Jack feel a little sleazy, talking about her mother this way and he wondered if the woman had any idea what had transpired between him and her eighteen-year-old daughter.

“I don’t know, probably not. She’s a worrier.”


*  *  *

Jack told her he’d worry too if he had a child anywhere near a hurricane. He said he was worried himself, but Sandra thought he was just saying that to frighten her so she’d stay in a hotel. Well it wouldn’t work. She was staying with him, come what may. Besides, she told herself, he was an experienced sailor like her dad. He wouldn’t stay on the boat if he didn’t think he could handle it. He was just being overly cautious with her safety and if you thought about it, that’s how men were supposed to be with the women they loved.

Love. Just the thought that he might love her peppered her arms with goosebumps. She tingled all over. Mrs. Jack Ramsey. Sandra Ramsey. The name had kind of a ring to it. She almost slipped up and said it allowed as she followed Jack down the steps from the dock to the dinghy. She bit her lip to keep from laughing. That’s all she would have needed, to go blurting something like that out after they’d only slept together once. She may be young and inexperienced, but she’d been around long enough to known that the very mention of marriage would frighten any guy off that had only know a girl for a few days and only slept with her one time. She wanted him for all time, but she was going to have to take it slow. She was woman enough to know that. 

Jack drove the dinghy as fast as it would go on the way back to Sweet Dream and under other circumstances Sandra would have been thrilled the way they were planing over the calm water, like a magic carpet over Arabia. But lightning flashed in the distance and thunder boomed just as they got to the boat.

“Come on,” Jack said. “We should hurry now.”

Sandra pulled herself out of her dream state and looked over the anchorage. Boats all around were pulling up their anchors. There was a steady stream of them heading north toward where they black clouds seemed to be coming from. What was that all about?

“Shouldn’t they be going the other way,” she said as she hoisted herself up on deck.

“No, that’s where the safe harbor is, nineteen miles that way.”

“It’s starting to get windy,” she said and she felt the first pitter patters of rain.

“It’ll be coming right over the starboard beam.” He turned his face into it. “That’s good.”

“Why?”

“A beam reach is the fastest point of sail.”

Sandra watched as he winched the dinghy up on deck with the main halyard. That finished, he became a whirlwind of activity. He started the engine, put her behind the wheel and instructed her on what to do as he went forward to work the windlass and pull up the anchor. Then he told her to turn Sweet Dream into the wind and he pointed the direction as he went to the mast to raise the main.

In minutes they were sailing out of the harbor at seven knots, heading toward the blackest, most frightening sky Sandra had ever seen.


Amber Passion, Chapter Twelve, by Ken Douglas.


“What is it?” Sandra asked. Those black clouds looked like no sky she’d ever seen before and she was from Ohio, she was used to violent thunderstorms.

“Feeder bands.”

“What are those?”

“Clouds, squalls and just plain old bad weather being sucked into the hurricane.

“And we’re going to sail into it?”

“We don’t have any choice.” Jack was behind the wheel, one hand on it, the other fiddling with the autopilot. “I’m going to tighten up sail and try to get some more speed out of her.” He went to a winch, took a handle and started grinding the line in, thus tightening up the jib.

“I can feel it.” Sandra was more excited than scared, still convinced Jack had the situation well under control. The boat heeled to port and though they were only going about eight knots, it felt like eighty to Sandra.

“You should go below and get your oversized raincoat, my fowl weather gear, too.” He went to another winch. “I’m going to bring in some of the mainsheet. We want all the speed we can get.”

Sandra looked ahead, there were twenty or thirty boats racing into the black weather, they were last in the flotilla, probably because they went ashore to use the phone.

Lightning cracked overhead and Sandra screamed with the thunder blast and all of a sudden the heavens opened up.

“Hurry with that fowl weather gear!”

“Hurrying.” Sandra went below as fast as she could, found the rain gear and rushed back on deck, but Jack was already drenched, despite the bimini top.

“Sorry.” Sandra handed him his gear, then slipped the big yellow raincoat over hear head. She too was soaked through by the time she managed to get her gear on.

“We’re gaining on them.” Jack seemed excited. Sandra looked ahead. They were indeed catching up to the stragglers. “This is one fast boat. We’re almost doing nine knots.” It was a game to him, this race against the hurricane.

Sandra looked at the windspeed indicator. Twenty knots. That wasn’t so bad, they’d had that much wind coming down from St. Martin. But thirty minutes later Sandra was seeing windspeeds of Twenty-five knots, gusting to thirty and seven foot waves were smacking the side of the boat.

“It’s too much for the autopilot, We’re going to have to steer.” He didn’t shout it, but he was talking loud enough to be heard over the rain. “You’re going to have to drive for a few minutes while I go below and look at the charts. Can you do that?”

“Yeah!” Sandra was glad she’d spent so much time steering on the trip down. She went behind the wheel and Jack clicked off the autopilot.

“Turn up into the waves just before they hit the boat, then turn away and let them roll under you. Watch!” He turned into a wave, then away from it, did it again, then again. “It’s called getting in the grove. Once you’re in it, it’s almost automatic. You try it.”

Sandra took the wheel and turned into an oncoming wave, but the boat thumped against the sea because she didn’t turn back in time.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said and after a few minutes she found the grove.

“It’s not so easy,” she said. “The boat’s fighting me.”

“Normally I’d reef up, roll in some of the headsail and shorten the main to slow us down. I’d be a heck of a lot safer, but we’re in a hurry.”

“Why?”

“We want to get the anchor down before all these other guys take up all the good spots.”

“You’re kidding?” They were taking very loud now.

“I wish I was. I’ve never been in there, but I can’t imagine there’s too many spots to hunker down.” He watched her handle the boat through a couple more waves, then said, “Okay, I’m going to go check out the charts. I’ll be as quick as I can.” He went below and Sandra was alone with the frothy sea.

A few minutes later she passed her first boat, a small blue sailboat. She waved, the other skipper waved back, then she passed another, then another. She tried to imagine she was behind the helm of a great racing boat racing for a thousand dollar prize and not racing the other boats for the safest spot to hunker down against a hurricane.

“No charts,” he said, coming back up on deck.

“What?” She didn’t know exactly how bad that was, but she knew it wasn’t good.

“Tom just gave us what we needed to get down to Trinidad, I guess he didn’t think we’d be taking this little detour.”

“It’s almost impossible for me to control,” she said. Squinting through the rain she saw that the windspeed indicator said the wind was up to thirty-five knots gusting to forty.

“I’m going to have to reef.” He went back to the winches, ground in over half the headsail. “You’re going to have to turn into the wind so I can drop the main.”

“In this weather?”

“No choice,” he said.

This time he didn’t have to point out which direction the wind was coming from. Sandra spun the wheel to the right, turning the boat into the wind and the waves as Jack went forward to the mast He dropped the main and Sandra cringed at the whip cracking sound the flapping sail made as it fell into the lazy jacks on the boom.

“Please, Lord, let him be okay,” she prayed as Jack tied off the sail while the boat jumped around in the raging sea. She was terrified. Then he was finished and coming back to the cockpit. “Thank you,” she silently mouthed.

“How’s she handling now?”

“Much better,” Sandra said, surprised she hadn’t noticed.

He came back behind the wheel and stood next to her. “There’s a dredged channel to get into the lagoon. I’m sure there’s channel markers, but a chart would have been nice.”

She relinquished the wheel to him.

They passed several more boats as the sea continued to build. Lightning cracked directly over head, the thunder instantaneous. Jack’s hair seemed to glow, her hands too. She screamed, for a second she thought they had been hit.

“It’s all right,” Jack shouted. “St. Elmo’s fire. Happens when lightning strikes real close.”

A few minutes later the rain was so think they could hardly see. Then they were sailing blind. Sandra was terrified. She didn’t know how they’d ever get out of the storm. She prayed they’d be okay. Then she saw it.

“Look there! Right in front of us!” It was a giant French flag.

“We’re in France!” he shouted with a face splitting grin. “He’s French! So he probably knows where he’s going, we’ll follow him in.”

“Thank you,” she again mouthed. Her prayer had been answered. They had hope.

Jack kept Sweet Dream’s bow right behind the French flag and that sailboat led them straight into the dredged channel where Jack again gave her the helm after he turned on the motor, so he could winch in the headsail. They continued on behind the French flagged sailboat and she led them though the reefs where all of a sudden the water was calm. Jack turned the boat around into the wind, facing the first reef, then went forward and dropped the anchor.

“Are we safe?” she asked when he came back to the cockpit and shut off the engine.

“I think so. I was going to hunt around the lagoon and try to find a good spot, but there’s already a lot of boats in here, this is probably as good as we’re going to find.”

“It’s like the twilight zone.” Sandra could see over the reef, see the waves breaking, hear the wind howling, but the mountains on their right seemed to protect them where they were. “It’s almost like we’re trapped in a vortex or something.”

“Let’s hope the hurricane doesn’t come anywhere near here,” he said.

“What are you talking about, didn’t we just come through it.”

“No. That was just a giant squall being sucked toward it.”

“When will we know?”

“Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the next day.”

Sandra looked away from him toward the high rise buildings of Point-a-Pitre and saw a spectacular bolt of jagged lightning spear down from the heavens and strike somewhere in the center of the town.

“And it’s going to be like this for two whole days?”

“Maybe more, maybe worse.”

But an hour later it was quiet. The sky was a bright pink, turning to a stunning red. Sandra had never seen anything like it. She’d showered, had changed into dry clothes and was on deck with Jack drinking hot tea with milk.

“I bought fresh baguettes and cheese,” Jack said.

“That’d make a good lunch,” Sandra said. “I’ll get it ready.” She went below, found where he’d tossed the bag of groceries and the baguettes just before they pulled up the anchor. She cut a baguette in half, then sliced it open to make two long cheese sandwiches. She looked in the bag, found something else and squealed.

“Jack come on down here,” she said in as sexy a voice as she could muster. “Look what I found,” she held up a packet of condoms.

“Those are for later, just in case,” he said through a sheepish grin.

“Right,” she drew him into a deep kiss, then took his hand and lead him to the forward berth. “Lunch can wait.”

“I wasn’t hungry.” He stooped, put an arm under the back of her legs, and lifted her off the ground into another languid kiss, then he laid her down on the double birth and slowly undid the buttons on her frilly white blouse. She wasn’t wearing a bra and she delighted in the way his eyes appreciated her full breasts.

“So pretty,” he said.

“No more talking.” She put a hand behind his neck, pulled his face to her breasts. His lips found a nipple and she found heaven.

“Get your clothes off,” she said.

He did, then pulled of her shorts and panties and then they were caught up in a tangle of arms, legs, kisses and fast, furious, passionate sex that went on and on and on, seemingly forever. But they were so caught up with the heat of each other, they forgot the protection. Later, when they woke to a dark sky, rain beating on the deck and the wind howling through the rigging, she remembered, and was about to say something as Jack jumped out of the berth, but what was the point, what was done, was done. They’d just have to be more careful the next time. 

She put on the big raincoat and joined him in the cockpit. Rain pelted the bimini top, ricocheted off the deck, made concentric circles in the water. She looked at the boat anchored next to them and saw that its chain was stretched tight. The windspeed indicator said forty knots. It sounded like banshees were out and it wasn’t even dark yet.

“Are we going to be okay?”

“I don’t know. Depends where it crosses the island chain.”

Jack went below. She followed him and listened as he called for a weather report on the radio. She heard longitude and latitude delivered as so many degrees north and so many degrees west She watched as Jack wrote down the information.

“Well?” she said when he hung up the mike.

“It’s two hundred miles out, headed right for us, traveling at between fifteen and twenty knots.” He looked grim.

“So ten to twelve hours or so.”

“Yeah.”

“Will it get worse than this.”

“We could be in trouble.”

Three hours later the sky was blacker than she’d ever seen any sky, the only light the anchor lights atop the tall masts in the anchorage and the occasional lightning blast accompanied by the blasting jolt of thunder. Jack checked the track of the hurricane every thirty minutes. It slowed down to ten knots for a couple hours. He said that wasn’t good, because that usually meant it was gathering strength. It was still headed right for them and the winds, louder than anything she’d ever heard, were up to fifty knots, when around midnight the hurricane stalled about a hundred miles east of them.

But there was no let up in the horrifying wind. No drop in decibels. The sound was so loud she felt like she was stuffed in a metal trash can and some evil monster was beating on the can with a baseball bat. She prayed like she’d never prayed before. Lord, just make it go somewhere else. And she felt guilty for her prayers, because it meant she was asking God to take the death and destruction to plague someone else.

Then it stared moving eastward again, but sometime between 3:00 and 4:00, when it was seventy-five miles away, it turned northeast, heading straight for St. Martin. The eye rolled right over Simpson Bay Lagoon at 6:30 and though the winds were still high, forty knots, Sandra could see they were gradually getting weaker. At 7:00 Hurricane Louise was over the Virgin Islands, at 9:00 she was on her way to Puerto Rico and the wind was down to a respectable fifteen knots when Sandra went on deck and saw the most beautiful sky she’d ever seen.

Pink wispy clouds and patches of the brightest turquoise imaginable, like the Indian jewelry she’d seen. They’d been up all night, their nerves were on edge. Sandra felt as if her skin was undergoing electric shock treatment. She tingled all over.

Without talking she went below and found Jack plotting the path of the hurricane. She took his hand and led him to the forward berth, where she pulled off her T-shirt. She was wearing nothing underneath. 

“You’re beautiful.” He ran a finger along the one inch scar under her left breast. “How?”

“I fell off a bike when I was a little girl.”

He touched the mole near her navel.” She didn’t mind. She wanted no secrets from him. He looked into her eyes. “Beautiful.”

“No, I’m not.” She felt self conscious. “My nose is too long. It’s ugly.”

He lowered his lips, kissed the end of her nose. “Everything about you is beautiful,” he said, then he undressed, climbed up in the berth after her and they made long, slow, languid love, and for the third time they did it without the protection. Why did he even bother buying them, she wondered as he took her body to heights she’d never known existed.


*  *  *

Stupid, Jack, he told himself as he throttled the dinghy toward the Bas du Fort Marina. He’d bought the damn things. How come he hadn’t used them. Stupid, stupid, stupid, she could get pregnant. Only three times, so he was probably okay, but he was going to have to be careful.

He watched her sitting on the rubber tube in the front of the dinghy, hair blowing in the breeze. She was happy. She could make him happy. But even with all the money he was going to get for the book, was he ready for marriage. Part of him said yes, part of him said no. Thank God she hadn’t brought it up. He wondered how long before she did. Then what was he going to do?

Ashore they had lunch at a very French outdoor cafe adjacent to the marina. It was a picturesque setting, the boats in their slips, the haunting sky in the background. They had something called a summer salad and sparkling water. Then they were going to split up the tasks and try and get everything finished by five, when they’d meet back in the restaurant. Jack wanted to show her St. Anne on the southern coast of Martinique and the Tobago Cays in the Grenadines before they went on down to Trinidad, so he was anxious to leave first thing in the morning.

Sandra was going to do the laundry—they’d used every towel on board, drying up after the rain—and the shopping, while Jack jerry jugged water out to the boat and filled the tanks. When he finished with that he was going to buy duty free fuel and then jerry jug that out to the boat as well. And sometime he had to work in calling Tom up in St. Martin and tell him Sweet Dream was okay and that he was going to be able to make the delivery on schedule. Also, he wanted to find out about his own boat. Though he feared the worst The eye of the hurricane had rolled right over St. Martin, right over the boat he’d called home for the last seven years. In his heart he knew she was lost, but he could always hope.


*  *  *

Sandra knew from Denise that Jack had a boat anchored in the Simpson Bay Lagoon and she guessed he was worried about it. It was probably his only asset She felt like crying for him, because when they’d been listening to the radio before they’d come to shore, they’d heard that a lot of boats in St. Martin had gone down. She prayed his wasn’t one of them.

She spent an hour in the coin laundry waiting on the machines to do their job and while she was there she met a lot of cruising sailors. They were all tired because they’d been up for the last twenty-four hours as she had been, but they were friendly and glad to include Sandra in their conversation, making her feel as if she belonged.

Once the laundry was folded and ready to go, she left it neatly stacked on top of one of the dryers and went to search out the supermarket that she’d been told was right down the street.

“Sandra.” It was a man’s voice. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

She turned and couldn’t believer her eyes. “Woody?” She smiled, though she should have been mad at him, for some reason she couldn’t find it in herself to blame him for what had happened on the beach in St. Martin. “What are you doing here? How?”

“I was at the Island Charter office looking for you when Mr. Ramsey called to tell them about the hurricane and what his plans were. When he said he was coming here, I called the airport, charted a plane and flew right up.”

“That must have cost a small fortune. Why would you want to do that?”

“I can afford it. I’ve got a trust fund from my grandfather. So much money that I’ll never live long enough to spend it all. But just because I’m wealthy doesn’t give me the right to treat anyone the way I treated you. I had to find you to apologize.”

“Really. That’s so sweet.” Sandra smiled.

“What’s so funny?”

“Life.” And that was the truth, she thought. A mere week ago she’d probably have let Woody finish what he’d started on that beach if she’d known about his money. Now everything had changed. She’d never be hung up on material things again. It was much better having the man you loved than all the money in the world any day.

“Is there someplace we could talk for a few minutes? Maybe have a drink.”

“Tea, I only drink tea now.”

“Yeah, I’ve cut back on the booze,” he said.

“Well, then I know this nice restaurant about two minutes from here.”

They had the same waiter that she and Jack had had for lunch. She ordered tea, and he ordered a split of Bordeaux. So much for his cutting down, Sandra thought. It was 4:00. You could get plenty goofed up by dark if you started drinking that early.

“I wanted to give you this, to sort of make up for what I did.” He took an envelope out of his pocket, laid it on the table, pushed it toward her.

“What is it?” He couldn’t be giving her a check, could he? She hoped not.

“A poem.”

“A poem?”

“Yeah, I wrote it for you. A sort of written apology in rhyme.”

“Woody that’s so sweet.” She breathed a sigh of relief. Thank God it wasn’t a check. Thank God he wasn’t trying to buy her silence because of what he’d done. She liked him and didn’t want to think he did that kind of thing all the time.

“I was kind of hoping we could start over.”

“Woody, you’re engaged.”

“I can’t help it. I fell for you the second I met you on the plane.”

“I’m sorry, there’s somebody else,” she said, thankful that he hadn’t declared himself back then, because if he had, things might be different now.

“Is it serious?”

“Very.”

“Mr. Ramsey?”

“Yeah.”

“Then I guess I should go.”

“What are you gonna do?”

“Well, I’m not running right back to Hawaii and get married that’s for sure. I’m obviously not ready. I think I’ll wait till I find someone just like you.” He stood and held his arms out.

Sandra stood, embraced him.

He kissed her on the cheek. “So long, Sandra, think of me when you read the poem.”

“I will,” she said and he left.

She sat back down to finish her tea.

Thirty minutes later the waiter came by and asked if she’d like anything else.

“No thanks,” she said. “I’m waiting for someone.”

“The same man you had lunch with?” He dropped his voice, like he was about to tell her something confidentially. “He came in while you were with that other man. He saw you embracing and left. I thought you should know.”

“Oh, no!” Sandra dashed out of the restaurant, ran along the quay toward the dinghy dock and almost fainted. The dinghy was gone. She looked out over the water just in time to see Sweet Dream sail out of the harbor.


Amber Passion, Chapter Thirteen, by Ken Douglas.


Sandra looked out the window as the 747 circled to land at St. Martin’s Princess Juliana airport. Was it only three months ago she’d been on this same flight, looking out of this same window? It seemed a lifetime. Yesterday was the day before Christmas, her nineteenth birthday and a day destined to change the rest of her life. She’d gotten up in the middle of the night, barely made the toilet in time to toss her dinner. Morning sickness her doctor had said. She was three months pregnant.

How?

Stupid question, she told herself, she knew how.

Why?

That was a better question. She’d only had sex three times in her short life and she’d gotten pregnant. Why? Why? Why?

She closed her eyes on the beautiful ocean below, fought tears. Lost. It wasn’t fair. She wiped her wet cheek with the back of a finger and thought about those few glorious days and how she’d felt in his arms. It had been the most beautiful thing that had ever happened to her.

She heard a bell, looked up, saw that the pilot had turned on the fasten seatbelt sign. She check the belt, snugged tight.

Ten minutes later they were on the ground. She pulled her carry-on bag, her only luggage, from the overhead locker, stood and shuffled out of the plane with all the holiday makers who’d come down to St. Martin from the cold north to bask in the warm Caribbean sun over Christmas.

She felt like she was a sailboat adrift in a stormy sea, lost miles away from safe harbor. She was standing behind a big man, basketball player tall. He too had a travel bag over his shoulder. Sandra wondered if he was traveling as lightly as she while she followed in his wake, off the plane to the Immigration man. She smiled at him as he checked over her passport.

From Immigration she followed the tall man through the baggage claim, still shuffling. How could she have been so wrong? She’d been so stupid. But then she’d been raised by a single, hard working mother, who’d told her almost every day of her life not to do as she’d done, not to fall in love with a man who would leave her heartbroken with a child to raise alone.

The basketball player pushed open the double glass doors that led out of baggage claim and into a hot Caribbean Christmas day. He turned right toward the taxi rank, she turned left toward the rental car counters.

“Hey, Denise. Remember me?” Sandra said to the girl at Caribbean Rentals.

“Sandra, What are you doing back?”

“I’m in trouble.”

“Just a second.” Denise stepped back to her desk, picked up her purse. “I’ll close up.”

“You can do that?” Sandra said.

“It’s Christmas day and my last week on the job. Let Hertz and Avis have the business.”

“You’re quitting?”

“Yup, moving out to California. I’ll tell you all about it over lunch at the Beach Bar.”

“So, why are you leaving St. Martin?” Sandra asked as soon as Denise started up her Jeep.

“You first,” Denise said.

“I think we better wait till you’re sitting down and not behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.”

“Okay, I’ll tell you mine.” Denise made a left on Airport Road.” I’m going back to college. Can you imagine, twenty-two and I’m going to be a freshman just like you.”

“Not just like me. I changed my plans. I won’t be going to college for awhile.”

“I thought you were going to Harvard. Gonna find a rich guy.”

“Yeah, well it didn’t work out that way. I just dropped out of school.”

“What happened?”

“Sitting down, not driving, remember?”

“Don’t tell me you’re pregnant?”

“How’d you know?”

“It just hit me. Wham, like a blow from a heavyweight. Why else would you come back after three months?”

“What do you think he’ll say? Sandra wanted to cry, fought it. “Do you think he’ll even want to see me?”

“Honey, I don’t know. Jack never came back from that trip he took down to Trinidad with you. His boat sank during the hurricane, so we all thought that he’d gone on to another one of life’s great adventures. Tom’s tried to get a hold of him, so have some others, but it seems like he’s vanished into thin air.

“Oh, Lord.” Sandra burst into tears. “Now what am I going to do?”

“Have you thought about termination?”

“What, abortion?” Sandra tried to wipe away her tears, but there were too many, her face was all wet. “No I can’t do that. It’s his baby. No, no way. Even if it was somebody else’s child, even if I’d’ve been raped, I still couldn’t do that. No matter how it was conceived, it’s not the baby’s fault. No, abortion’s not an option.”

“How about your parents?”

“My father? You know him, how much help do you think he’s gonna be. He’ll just tell me to get an abortion and move on with my life and I just said I won’t do that.”

“Your mother then,” Denise said.

“Oh boy, am I going to be a big disappointment in that department.” More tears, Sandra couldn’t help it, couldn’t stop them. “She won’t just tell me to terminate the pregnancy, she’ll drag me down to the clinic and demand that they put me at the head of the line.” She fumbled in her purse for tissue, found some and dried her face with it, then forced a smile as she looked at Denise. “I think I’ve got the crying under control, I hope, maybe.” 

“Listen, girl, my sister and her husband own some apartments by the beach in California. I was going out there to go to art school and they were going to let me live in one of the apartments for free. I needed the art classes for the career I’ve been dreaming about, but maybe I could skip the school, maybe I could just jump right in, but I’d need help, professional help. Maybe you could give it to me. Maybe we could help each other. I’ll be there for you and your baby. I’ll give you a place to stay, till you get on your feet and you can help me.”

“What?” Sandra didn’t understand what Denise was offering, but it sounded like hope, like a chance.

“I write children’s stories. I got the idea from your dad and Jack. They were always writing.”

“I don’t understand how can I help you with that? Sandra knew that her father wrote humorous sea stories for cruising and sailing magazines, but she didn’t know what Jack wrote. Come to think of it, she didn’t know very much about Jack at all, other than she loved him and that was enough.

“That’s what I’ve been leading up to. Children’s books need to be illustrated. I was going to go to school to learn that, but now I don’t have to. You can do it.”

“Me? You’re not serious, are you?”

“Have you ever been to California?”

“No.”

“The apartment is in Belmont Shore, you’ll like it. It’s a nice beach community near a college, so lots of young people live there. We’ll waitress or get office jobs till the books start to sell. Then we’ll—”

“Whoa, you’re going too fast,” Sandra said, but she liked it. Denise’s excitement was contagious.

Sandra spent Christmas with Denise but this time Denise slept in her own bed and Sandra used the sofa in the living room. There was a going away party at her boss’ big house on the ocean and Denise dragged Sandra to it. There was fake mistletoe, lots of kissing and drinking, but Sandra didn’t touch a drop and not just because of the baby. One night in her life acting the fool was enough, thank you very much. And to Sandra’s surprise, Denise like her, drank only Coke.

She wandered out to the balcony to look out at the velvet black ocean. She saw a sailboat out in the distance, lit up only by the light of the moon, and she thought of Jack. Where was he? And wherever he was, was he thinking of her?

“Miss him?” It was Denise.

“Yeah?”

“I wish I could help, but nobody knows what happened to him.”

“I know.”

“What are you going to tell your father about the baby?” For a second Sandra wondered why Denise asked, but then she remembered that she’d lived with her father for a few months, so naturally she’d be curious.

“I’m gonna tell him I met a guy when I was here, got pregnant and went to California with him and the poor guy got run over by a truck or some version there of.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I am. Look, you know my father. I’ll always be daddy’s little girl in his book. It would devastate him if I had a child out of wedlock. And I’ve told you about my mother. She’s been heaping tennis, piano and dance lessons on me since I was old enough to remember. She has plans for me and a child’s not in the cards. She’d track me down to the ends of the earth if she thought I was going to do the single mother bit. But if I tell her I married a guy I met out here and moved to California, she’d just disown me.”

“That’s kind of harsh.”

“Oh, she’ll get over it and probably love her grandchild to death, but it’ll take a while, by then my husband will be conveniently dead.”

“When did you decide all this?”

“Just now, while I was watching that sailboat out there. It just sort of came to me.”

“Divinely inspired.”

“I wouldn’t say that, but I think it’ll have to do.”

“Who are you going to say you married?”

“I thought Jack, but then what do I do if he turns up someday. He knows my father. I can’t imagine him cutting everybody off forever just because he doesn’t want anything to do with me.”

“Don’t you want Jack to know about the baby?”

“Yeah, but I can’t tell my father he’s dead. What’ll he think of me if he runs into Jack in a marina somewhere? Besides, I don’t want him to know Jack’s the father, it’s much better if it’s someone he doesn’t know.”

“So you’re going to make somebody up?”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

“This is a small community and people here talk. We should spread the word tonight that you came back to get married. A lot of these people are Dale’s friends. They’ll pat you on the back, wish you luck and most importantly, they’ll back up your story.”

“This is getting more complicated than I thought.”

“If you’re going to do something like this, you have to plan it out and do it right.” Denise looked thoughtful. “Wait. If you say anything tonight, they’re going to want to know who the lucky guy is. You sure can’t make up somebody who lives here, that’ll never work.” Denise scratched her head, mussing up her long hair. “I’ve got it, a tourist. You met a tourist when you were on vacation here. The two of you came back to get married. He’s not here tonight because he had to spend Christmas with his family.”

“That could work,” Sandra said, playing along. She didn’t even know if she was going to go that route. But she had to admit it’d be a lot easier and that way the baby would grow up thinking she had a father. Sandra didn’t know how, but she knew it was going to be a girl. Mother’s intuition perhaps.

“Sure,” Denise continued. “You can say he’s coming in tomorrow and the two of you are flying down to Dominica to get married.” Denise was really getting into the story now. “People come from all over to get married there. Weddings are one of their main tourist attractions. You can do it in an instant, like Vegas.”

“Okay, let’s go in there and do it.” Sandra tried to smile. She knew that she hadn’t exactly been the life of the party, hiding out on the balcony, avoiding the crowd. If she was going to pull off this grand deception, then she was going to have to act like the happiest girl in the world, just the opposite of how she felt.


*  *  *

Five months later it was all came together for Sandra and Denise. They finished and sold their first book, Mister Toad Learns to Count. Their agent was only able to wrangle a small advance out of a new publisher of children’s books, but there was the promise of a future. The publisher had agreed to take two more. They weren’t going to get rich, but they weren’t going to starve either.

Sandra’s parents accepted the story about the young man she’d met in St. Martin. They bought it, hook, line and sinker, the wedding in Dominica, the honeymoon and the tragic way her young husband was killed by a drunk driver only a month after they’d settled in California. She thought the drunk driver bit was a good touch, because it gave her an excuse not to drink whenever somebody tried to press one on her.

And best of all Sandra found that she loved Belmont Shore. The Shore was fashionable and trendy. It seemed that Second Street was always teaming with tourists who came to sample the food in the many restaurants or shop in the numerous boutiques. Denise and Sandra fell in love with a bar called the Menopause Lounge, even though neither drank, Skinny Dick the bartender claimed he served the best Mexican food north of the border. Sandra had to take his word at that, because she’d never had Mexican before, but she grew to love it, as she did everything else about the beach community, from Grandma’s Candies to Julie’s Ice Cream. But best of all, she loved the Second Street Book Store, because it was the first bookstore anywhere to carry Mister Toad Learns to Count.

Also the Shore was home to a lot of the students that went to Long Beach State. They mixed and mingled with the upwardly mobile yuppies and the seniors that had come to the Shore to retire. All kinds of people lived in the Shore and all kinds of people came to town to play and picnic at the beach on the weekends. It was exactly the kind of place she wanted to raise her baby.

Sandra had decided on natural childbirth. Denise was her birthing coach and partner. At first Sandra felt self-conscious in the classes because she was the only new mother without a mate. But she soon got over it, because Southern California changed her in ways she never would have dreamed. Nineteen years old and she challenged all of the beliefs she’d grown up with.

No longer did she think it wrong for a single woman to get pregnant out of wed lock. She was stronger emotionally now and she wished she’d never lied to her parents about the phony marriage. She wished she’d had the courage to stand up to her mother and her Midwestern Methodist past, but back then, only a few short months ago, she was a frightened child. Now she was a woman, able to accept the responsibilities for her actions and surprisingly when she finally called them and told them it wasn’t as bad as she’d thought it was going to be.

Her father laughed it off, the way he laughed everything off, didn’t even ask who the father was. Her mother, cried. But in a few weeks she was over it and calling every other day or so, checking on Sandra’s health and the health of her grandchild.

Then a week before the baby was due, her mother flew out from Ohio.

“Mom, this is Denise. Denise, this is Marge.” Sandra felt awkward introducing her mother that way, as Marge, probably because she felt she was her mother’s equal now. Strangely, her mother seemed to accept the change and, for the first time in her life, Sandra thought they might be friends.

Two days later, Sandra was flipping swordfish steaks on the grill when she felt a sharp pain. Stronger than usual. Their apartment was on Ocean Boulevard. The beach was right across the street. Denise and Sandra often barbecued on their porch with the waves lapping in the background. A lot of her neighbors did, too. It was just another one of the things she liked about the Shore. Another pain stabbed her as she was squeezing lemon over the fish.

She groaned.

“Are you okay?” Her mother looked worried.

“I’m fine.” The evening was going well and Sandra wasn’t about to let a few cramps disrupt it. Her mother was enjoying herself and it was important to Sandra that she have a good time while she was visiting. Also Sandra wanted her to know that she was able to take care of herself and the baby.

“You sure you’re okay?” Denise was stretched out in a lounge chair, eyes shielded from the sun with a new pair of reflective sunglasses. Sandra’s mother said they made her look like one of those girl lifeguards on that TV program. But she said it in a nice way. They seemed to be hitting it off and Sandra smiled. She was seeing a new side of the woman that raised her and she was glad. It was a good thing, she thought, to like your mother.

“Such a nice day,” her mother said.

The sun was hanging low, an orange ball over the ocean.

“Oh no!” Sandra staggered back from the grill. There was no doubt in her mind now about what was causing the cramping pain.

“What?”

“It’s time!”

“Now?” Denise went white.

“Let’s get you to the hospital.” Her mother was by her side in an instant. “Just take it easy. We’ll get your bag, then we’re off.”

“Yeah, the bag,” Denise said.

Sandra barely remembered the ride to the hospital. The labor pains were like a mule kicking her in the stomach. She thought she was going to die. At the hospital a young man and woman in white helped her from the back seat of Denise’s clunky looking Ford into a wheelchair. In no time she was in the delivery room looking up at Denise’s masked face.

“I’m glad you’re here.” Sandra squeezed her hand, then yelled as a monster pain ripped through her.

“Push,” Denise said.

“I am.”

“Again.”

“I am!”

“Harder.”

“I am, dammit!”

“I see the head,” someone said.

“Push. One more time. A big one.”

“I’m pushing!”

“It’s a girl!”

“A girl.” Sandra sighed, then drifted off.

She woke in a cool hospital room. Denise’s smiling eyes were the last thing she’d seen in the in the delivery room and they were the first thing she saw when she woke up. Sandra was glad she’d been there for her.

“Where’s my mother?”

“Down the hall looking at the baby.” Denise was wearing the biggest smile Sandra had ever seen.

“I’m cold.”

“I’ll get a blanket.” Denise pulled one off the bed next to Sandra’s, draped it over her. “Do you have a name yet?”

“Yeah, I do,” Sandra said. It seemed they’d talked about nothing else for the last month. A million ideas, a million rejections. Sandra wanted something special, but not something corny.

“Well?” Sandra said.

“Amber, after that amber sky you see just before the sun goes down and also after that special passion I shared with her father.”

“Some day you’ll have to tell me about that,” Denise said.

“It’s indescribable,” Sandra said. “For a very short time in my life I was very, very lucky.”


Amber Passion, Chapter Fourteen, by Ken Douglas.


Christmas Eve Day, The Present.

Jack Stewart loved the autograph signings in the malls, unlike most successful novelists. He liked feedback from people that actually paid money for the books they read, because that’s who he wrote them for, not the critics that reviewed them in the nation’s newspapers.

Most of the critics routinely gave him a thumbs down, calling his novels little more than airport books. To them Airport Book was a derogatory term used to define books sold in airport boutiques and the only reason for the existence of these action or love packed books was to take a passenger’s mind off the flight as he or she quickly turned the pages while the plane ate up the miles.

But Jack took the term as a compliment. As far as he was concerned those people who disparaged his books by calling them that, either couldn’t write or couldn’t sell what they wrote. They didn’t get it. The purpose of a good novel was to take the reader on a ride that made him forget his troubles for a few hours. A good novel was supposed to be entertainment as far as he was concerned, not about how to enlighten a person in better naval contemplation.

He would rather have the housewife or the steelworker’s stamp of approval on his books than the critic’s any day. And the only way he could find out what they thought of his work was to set up a table in front of a bookstore in a mall and sign autographs for his fans. As long as they lined up and greeted him with warm smiles and a new copy of one of his books, well than he was doing something right, no matter what the critic in the New York Times had to say.

Jack checked his Rolex as he watched the clerk set up the table in front of The Book Barn in the Lakewood Mall. She was seventeen or eighteen, wearing cut off jeans and a lose fitting white T-shirt, emblazoned with the bookstore’s logo, a cartoon owl wearing reading glasses, reading a book with the store’s name on the cover. Jack would’ve found her attractive if not for the nose ring and the pink hair. She was though, he’d found out after only a few minutes of conversation, extremely well read for a person her age, had read all his books and liked them, so that made her all right as far as he was concern, nose ring, hair and all.

“We get authors here singing their books on occasion,” she said, “but it’s usually to promote a first novel. We’ve never had anyone as big as you before.” She covered the folding table with a baby-sized patchwork quilt. “I made it myself,” she said as she spread it out. “Sort of a homey touch.”

“Nice,” he said, meaning it.

“Okay, the way we do it here, is they come into the store, buy the book if they don’t already have it, then they come out here and you sign it. That way you don’t look so sleazy, taking their money and stuffing it in a cash box.”

“I appreciate that.” Jack had done signings where they’d had him actually sell the book. He hated it. So much so that he’d debated telling the bookstores he wouldn’t do it anymore, but then it was their business, if having a big time novelist selling his books for them helped promote it, who was he to complain. After all, where would he be without them?

“We have all your stuff in hardcover, too. Who knows, we might get lucky and somebody will want all twelve autographed. That would really make Mr. Takoda’s day.”

“He seems like a nice guy.”

“Gordon. Yeah for a gay, ex-FBI man, he’s all right.”

“FBI, that’s a strange jump, Fed to bookstore.”

“The gay part doesn’t bother you?”

“No, the world’s a hard place. Most of us wander our lifetimes through it, struggling every minute of the way, till they dig a hole and put us in the ground. The way I figure it, those of us that find someone to love along the way, someone that helps ease our pain, then we’re pretty lucky, especially if that person loves us back. And I don’t guess in the grand scheme of things it makes any difference who that person is, not as long as the love is real.”

“Really? I’m gay.” She stood up from the table, looked him in the eyes. “I’ve never told anybody that, except my girlfriend, of course. It’s sort of a secret, also she’s older and afraid we’ll get in trouble, because I’m only seventeen.”

“A lot older?”

“Two years.”

“I don’t think you’re going to have any problems.” He laughed.

“No wonder I like your books, you’re as real in person as your people are on the pages.” She stood on tiptoe, kissed him on the cheek. “That’s better than an autograph any old day.”

“I won’t argue with that.”

“Did you ever have anybody you loved like you just said, you know, who helped take away the pain?”

“Almost, but I’m afraid I blew it.”

“That’s really too bad,” the girl said.

“How about you, does your friend help take away the pain?”

“She loves me like there is no tomorrow.”

“Then you’re very lucky.”

“Yeah, I am.” She smiled, kissed him on the check again. “That time it was because you’re so smart. Now why don’t you go get a cup of coffee or something. That way you don’t have to be here while they’re lining up buying your books.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Ah, but I do. With you here milling around the customers are gonna all be talking and taking your picture, instead of spending money on your books. We don’t want them speaking with you for free, they gotta get in line, buy a book.”

“And you say you’re only seventeen?” Jack was impressed.

“But I’m in my second year of college. They skipped me two grades in high school.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

“Go.”

Jack went. It was a little after 11:00, but the stores in the mall had been open since 9:00 because in was Christmas Eve, the busiest shopping day of the year. He stopped into a CD store and browsed. It was her birthday. He sighed as he flipped through the Rolling Stones selection. They’d been singing their hard brand of rock and roll since before he could remember. Jack liked the Stones. He sighed again. Mick Jagger was right. You can’t always get what you want.

“I like them, the Rolling Stones, I mean,” a child’s voice said.

Jack turned, startled. The girl was ten or eleven, had long blonde hair pulled into a ponytail, a couple freckles, cat green eyes and a button nose. She was wearing faded jeans and a Wallflowers T-shirt, with a heavy looking red backpack slung over her shoulder. She was going to be a stunner when she grew up, he thought.

“This is my favorite.” She picked up Let it Bleed.

“I was just thinking about a song on that record.”

“We call them CDs now.” She smiled.

“Yeah, I know, but it was a record when I first bought it.”

“Let me see if I can guess the song.” She turned the CD over and sort of scrunched her face up as she read the titles on the back. Jack had the impression she was deep in thought. “Let’s see,” she said after a few seconds. “It wouldn’t be “Midnight Rambler,” you’re much too clean cut.” She laughed. “Not “Gimme Shelter’ either, you don’t look poor.” She looked up into his eyes. She was wearing a serious expression on her face now. “I think I can narrow it down to two, maybe “Love in Vain,” but maybe “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” I think I’m going to go with number two.”

“Amazing,” Jack said. “How’d you do that?”

“Pick between the two songs? Well, I thought maybe they both applied to you, so I went with my heart.”

“Your heart? You mean a hunch, you guessed?”

“No, my heart. I might not be very old, but I’ve got heart, more than most people know.” For a second it looked like she was going to cry, then she put the CD back. “You know sometimes you can get what you want, you just gotta have heart.” She backed away from him, turned and ran out of the store.

Jack shook his head. First the girl at the bookstore, then this girl. Kids today were growing up a lot smarter than when he grew up. They were wiser than maybe they should be. It was the times, he thought.

Back in the mall, he stopped at a cookie place and got a chocolate chip with a half pint of cold milk. Forty years old and he was still fit, though it took a three mile run every morning and every other day in the gym to fight his sweet tooth. Finished he dropped the empty milk carton in a trash bin and started back to the bookstore, where already there was a line of about twenty people. This Christmas Eve was going to be a long day.


*  *  *

Sandra sat down at her easel, tried to picture the Frog Prince just before he kissed the princess. She closed her eyes and thought of  Froggy’s eyes. She knew what it was like to lose a prince. Now she tried to imagine what it would be like to get him back. How would she feel. Glorious, self-fulfilled, whole. Could she capture that in a cartoon frog’s eyes.

She could try.

She started to draw.

Sheet after sheet.

The minutes ticked by. The hour hand went from 11:00 to noon and still she hadn’t got it right. Something was missing. A touch of sadness maybe, because of the many years he’d lived as a frog. Could she capture that. She thought of Jack Ramsey, now Jack Stewart, the only man she’d ever loved, made love with. She thought of his eyes, dreamer’s eyes.

She started to draw again.

Perfect.

She scanned them into the computer, pasted them onto Froggy’s face.

“I can’t believe it, You’ve made him real.” It was Denise, sneaking up behind her as usual.

“It’s a day off Sandra said, yet you’ve come by twice in the same day.” She turned off the computer. “What’s up?”

“Nothing, I just thought I’d come by and take you to lunch.”

Denise still lived in Belmont Shore, the thriving beach community they’d moved to when they left the Caribbean all those years ago. And she still lived in that same apartment they’d been living in when Amber was born. Though she could afford a lot better, Denise was happy there.

But after they sold that first book Sandra had decided she needed to move out. So she scraped together a down payment, bought a house in dreary old Lakewood, about twenty minutes inland from the beach. Though it was a modest tract home in a middle class neighborhood, it suited Sandra because it seemed the ideal place to raise a child. The schools were good, crime was low and she lived right across the street from a park where she and Amber jogged in the early morning and Amber played with Skipper, her Sheltie puppy in the evenings. Only six months old and already the miniature Collie was catching and retrieving her daughter’s tennis balls, turning them into soggy, doggie balls, which was fine with Amber, because she hated tennis.

“I didn’t even know it was lunch time,” Sandra said.

“Well it is, so let’s go.”

“On one condition. No more talk of Jack Stewart and his new book.”

“I promise. We’re going to lunch and we’re going to talk about Mr. Frog, his princess and why I think we should go to that stupid agent of ours and demand she get us more money.”

“Now you’re talking.” Sandra got up, went to get her coat. 

“What are you doing with that?”’

“They said it might rain.”

“On Christmas Eve, get real, God won’t let it.” Denise was always saying stuff like that and for the millionth time Sandra marveled how she went through life looking at it with a childlike logic. It was probably what made her so good at writing children’s books.

“You think?” Sandra said.

“Put it away.”

“All right but if it rains you’ll never hear the end of it.” Sandra put the coat back, started for the door, when she heard the dog barking.

“Gotta feed Skipper first.” Sandra went to the kitchen.

“Why do you think Amber named him that?” Denise said as Sandra poured the Puppy Chow into a dish.

“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.” She added warm water to the dry food. “What do you mean?”

“You know, Skipper. That’s what they call the captain on a sailboat. Do you think she knows?”

“Not unless you told her, because I never have.”

“Haven’t said a word. You know I wouldn’t. Still, it’s quite a coincidence, isn’t it?”

“No.” She started toward the back door with the dog dish, opened it and was almost knocked over by the charging puppy. He was small, but he was a bundle of energy.

“Get him,” Sandra said, but the dog was past Denise and charging for Amber’s room.

Denise whirled around, ran after the dog and caught him on Amber’s bed. “Sorry boy, Amber’s not home, nobody to play with.”

The dog barked.

“No, I won’t play with you.”

Skipper jumped off the bed, grabbed a tennis ball in his mouth, then charged through the house to the back yard.

“Come on,” Sandra said. “We can throw the ball a few times. We’re not in a hurry.”

In the back yard the puppy dropped the ball at Denise’s feet. She picked it up. “Yuck.”

“All her balls are like that. So much for the expensive lessons.”

“You’re pushing her to hard.” Denise threw the ball and Skipper dashed after it, catching it on the fly. “You’ve gotta give her time to be a kid.”

“You’re right, it’s just that I want to give her all the opportunities I never had.”

“I know.” Denise stooped, held out her hand and the puppy dropped the ball into it. “But you’ve got to let them live their own lives. She’s not you and you sure don’t want to become your mother.”

“You’re right, you’re right, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. She’s all I have and I just want so much for her.”

“That’s not true. You have me.”

“I know. You’ve always been my rock. I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for you and your talent.”

“Hey, we’re a team you and me. It’s your pictures that sell my stories.”

“No it’s the stories. I’m just along for the ride.”

“Oh, stop.” Denise threw the ball to the far end of the yard into the bushes that were growing along the brick fence that separated Sandra’s yard from her neighbor’s. “Now lets make our getaway before he finds that damn ball.”


*  *  *

Jack smiled at the first fan of the day, a grandmotherly type who was clutching two copies of HURRICANE DREAMS to her breast.

“Two copies, I’m impressed,” Jack said as she set them on the table before him.

“One’s for my daughter. A Christmas present. That’s okay isn’t it?”

“Yes, sure. Is there anything special you wanted me to say.” He picked up the first book.

“My daughter’s name is Angela, so how about just “Merry Christmas to Angela, from Jack Stewart.” Is that all right?”

“Sure it is.” Jack signed the book. “And your name?”

She told him and he sighed her book.

For the next hour he dutifully signed his name. He asked each fan how he or she wanted the name signed. Some, mostly the men, just wanted his name, others wanted him to say something like, “From a dear friend,” or some such variation. One woman want him to professes his undying love for her on the credit’s page, and he did. He was selling fantasies, he was a novelist and if that woman wanted him to inscribe that he was her special lover in his book, well then that was fine with him. Who knows, maybe it would increase the book’s value after he was long gone from this mortal coil.

The mall was teaming with last minute Christmas shoppers, rushing to and fro, bags and boxes in tow. It was Jack’s favorite time of the year and he couldn’t think of any place he’d rather be than signing books for his fans in a place like this, on this special day.

He looked past the line of fans and out into the mall, saw a group of coeds. One of them had the same flowing hair, almost that same nose, a striking resemblance to Sandra, but of course it wasn’t her. Sandra would be much older now. He sighed. He never walked though a crowd, never sat and watched one walk by, without looking for her face. Especially on Christmas Eve, Sandra’s birthday.

Two marriages, both to wonderful woman who would have satisfied any other man. But both unions had ended in divorce. Amicably, and that was hard to believe. What were the odds that a guy like him could marry a beautiful super agent, divorce her, then marry a stunning actress, divorce her too and still remain best of friends with both.

Both woman were rich in their own right, it was love, not the money which attracted them to Jack. And it was for love that they’d divorced him. Neither woman wanted to compete with a memory. They’d seen that he was in love with the girl he wrote about in so many of his books. They’d known him well enough to know the girl was real. And they’d known him well enough to know that she’d been lost to him. In the end, they’d let him go.

When Maria told him she wanted to end the marriage, he wasn’t shocked, wasn’t even saddened. He’d tried to love her, but couldn’t. She told him that she’d talked to Kimberly, that they both believed he’d never truly be happy till he found the girl of his dreams, the girl in his books. Find her, they’d urged.

But he’d tried.

Three or four month’s after he’d fled to New York, deserting her in the French West Indies, he came to the belated conclusion that maybe he’d misinterpreted what he’d seen in that restaurant, actually he didn’t want to believe it. So he called her father, who was still working in the Med, and found out that Sandra had gotten married. To Woody, Jack assumed.

Six weeks later he married Kimberly Wilson.

“Hello, Jack, I’m one of your biggest fans.” The voice jerking his mind back to the present came from a large woman clutching the handle of a child’s red wagon in a white-fisted grip. “It’s okay if I call you Jack isn’t it?”

“Of course.”

“See, what’d I tell you, Sherry. I knew he’d be just fabulous.” The big woman was as round as she was tall, with bleached white hair. Not her natural color Jack could see, because her eyebrows were dark.

“We’d be so honored.” This one was thin to the point of being anorexic, but shorter than her five foot friend. Her hair was bleached just as white, but her eyebrows were red. Both had pale skin that looked as if it had never seen the sun.

“We’ve got every one of your books here, two copies, one for each of us.” The thin one said. “Do you mind?” Her eyes were glassy.

“Not at all.” He grimaced as the women emptied the paper bags and started plunking the books down on the table in front of him. Big mama and her freaky friend wanted each one signed differently. It took fifteen minutes. Another five for him to listen to their praise and their heartfelt thanks.

“Pretty scary.” It was the girl from the CD store.

“Sometimes fans can go a little over the top,” Jack said.

“Please, those ladies were from Pluto.” The girl took the backpack off her shoulder. “I’ve got a book for you to sign. I didn’t buy it here, so I hope it’s okay.”

“Sure, no problem.” There was something about the girl that tugged at Jack. Her eyes maybe. “What’s your name,” he asked as she handed him a copy of HURRICANE DREAMS.

“Amber, and could I have you write something special, like you did for those space ladies.”

“Sure.” Jack laughed.

“Could you write, 'To Amber, who I promise to love with all my heart'. And could you sign it 'Love, Dad'?"

Amber Passion, Chapter Fifteen, by Ken Douglas.


"What?” Jack dropped the book, dropped the pen, looked into the girl’s eyes. He was speechless.

“Here, I’ve got a picture of my father. I’ve been carrying it around since I was five years old.” She took a wallet out of her backpack. Took a piece of blue glossy paper out of the wallet and unfolded it.

“The dust cover for DESPERATION MOON.” Jack recognized it. It was a book he’d written years ago.

“Yeah.” She showed Jack the picture of himself on the inside of the jacket. “That’s my father. That’s you.”

Any child could take a dust jacket photo like that and delude herself that the author was her father, but there was something about this child. Jack looked deeply into her eyes and what he saw there told him that what she said was true. He studied her face. She was her mother’s daughter, with a little touch of his baby sister thrown in. How come he hadn’t seen it in the record store?

“I’m your daughter.”

“Excuse me,” Jack said to the woman behind Amber. “But I have to take a break.”

“I understand, I heard,” the woman said. “I’ll explain to the others in line.”

“Tell them I’ll come back the day after Christmas and sign their books. And if you take their names and addresses and leave it with the girl inside, I’ll send you all a signed copy of my next one free of charge.”

“Thank you.” The woman turned to relay what Jack had said as he got up and took Amber by the hand.

“Did you hear what I said?” Amber tried to tug her hand back. “I’m your daughter.”

“I believe you. I’m just taking you somewhere where we can talk. How about lunch?”

“Oh, just what I was thinking.” She quit resisting. “I’d like that.” With her free hand she pushed her hair out of her eyes.

“Any place good around here?” Jack said.

“You mean in the mall?” She stopped as if in thought and her hair fell right back over her forehead. She stuck her lower lip out, a carbon copy of a move he’d seen her mother do, oh so long ago, and blew the hair back.

“Yeah, I guess.”

“I’ve got a favorite place. It’s about fifteen or twenty minutes away.”

“No place closer?” He didn’t think it’d be a good idea to go driving off with her. Legally it might be kidnapping. He wasn’t sure.

“It’s hard to find good restaurants for people that don’t eat meat.”

“Tell me about it,” he said.

“So, where’s your car?”

“I don’t know if going in my car is such a good idea.” They were in front of the cookie place where he’d got the milk and chocolate chip earlier. He was about to ask her if cookies would do, when she said. “I thought you might say that, that’s why we’re taking the bus. It goes by right where I want to go.”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh, don’t be difficult. I got here on the bus and I’m going home on it, too. The restaurant is on the way. I stop and eat there all the time.”

“You’re eleven, you shouldn’t be taking the bus all over to hell and gone.”

“You know how old I am?”

“I can do the math.”

“Really?” she said.

“I can balance a check book and everything,” he said.

“You’re cute, I see way Mom fell in love with you. But you’re not too smart, otherwise you never would have left her on that island, just because you thought you saw something you didn’t see.”

“What are you saying?” Jack felt his insides tighten up. For some reason he didn’t think he was going to like what this girl was going to say.

“We gotta hurry.” She picked up her pace, moving ahead. She still had him by the hand, pulling him along. “Come on, we don’t want to miss the bus.”

“I didn’t say we were getting on any bus.”

“If you wanna find out what I’m talking about, then you’re gonna have to.” She pushed through the door to the outside. Jack had to squint against the bright sun. “Hey, wait up!” Amber shouted and jerked urgently on his hand, pulling him toward the bus.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Jack protested.

“Just get on.” Amber fumbled in her backpack for the right change, dropped it in the coin box. “Thanks for waiting,” she said to the driver, then led Jack to a seat at the back.

“Okay, I’m on the bloody bus, so now can you tell me what you were talking about back there?” He couldn’t believe he’d been out maneuvered by a child. He was the adult here, after all.

“You saw mom hug a rich guy named Woody that had rented a plane and flown down to that island because he thought he was in love with her. Plus he wanted to apologize for almost doing, well you know what he almost did. Mom told him she was flattered, but that she was in love with you. This Woody man said he understood, hugged her goodbye and kissed her on the cheek. That’s what you saw, but because you’re a man and that makes you automatically stupid, you thought it was something else and like a big chicken, you ran away.”

“Damn.”

“So now you and me are gonna talk about it over lunch and see what we can do to fix it.”

“Double damn.” He sat back and closed his eyes. The girl, Amber, his daughter, was right. He had been stupid. A coward, too.

“Okay, we’re here.” The bus had stopped at the Marriott Hotel on Lakewood Boulevard, across from the Long Beach Airport.

“This is my hotel.”

“Really?” She got up, started for the door. On the sidewalk she said. “They got the best swordfish and tuna fajitas in the world here.”

“Not on the menu I saw yesterday.”

“It’s the special.” She took his hand again, led him toward the entrance.

“It is not,” he said.

“Special menu for today, you’ll see.”

“How do you know?”

“I live around here. I know stuff.”

At the hotel restaurant the maître d’ greeted them with, “Ah, Miss Stone we have your table ready.” He seated them, then said, “I trust the fajitas will be to your satisfaction this afternoon.”

“See, special menu for today.” Amber winked at him.

Jack laughed. There was more to his daughter than met that eye and if he’d doubted it earlier, that wink proved it.


*  *  *

“Maybe we should rethink lunch and just go back to work,” Sandra said. She sat back down at her computer, turned it on. “Besides, I’ve been putting on a little more around the tummy than I like, so I’ve been thinking about going on a diet.

“Nonsense, you’re not one pound heaver than you were when I first met you twelve years ago.” Denise got up, reached past Sandra and pulled the plug on the computer.”

“Denise!” Sandra said. “The computer doesn’t like that.”

“But it’s so much fun.” Denise just had no respect for Sandra’s Mac. She was a Windows person.

“I’m still not hungry.”

“You will be.”

“What to you mean?”

“Swordfish and tuna fajitas at the Marriott.”’

“Since when?”

“It’s a new dish. I promised Tony we’d stop by and try them out,” Denise said. Tony and Denise had been dating forever and were about as serious as a pair can get that didn’t live together. It was a strange relationship, two head strong people set in their ways and used to living alone, but loving each other. Sandra thought there might be a wedding in the not to distant future and she was glad, but even after they tied the knot, she wouldn’t be surprised if they each kept their own places.

“That does sound good.” Sandra hadn’t been to the Marriott in ages and she did like Tony’s dishes, “but I’m close to finishing up the last Froggy piece and you know I can never really enjoy myself while I have work on my plate. Another couple hours and I can put paid to this project, then I’ll really be able to let myself unwind over the holidays.” She plugged her computer back in.

“Okay,” I’ll tell you the real reason I want to go to the Marriott.”

“I’m listening.” Sandra knew it had to be something, because Denise was usually very impatient when she’d finished the text and Sandra was behind with the art work. Once Denise was done with the writing, she wanted to send the book off to their agent, so that she could curl up with a dozen or so books and read for a month with nothing to bother her at all. 

“Tony and I sort of had a fight and I want to make up. You know how we always make him laugh when we tell everybody in the restaurant how good his cuisine is. I need that. I want him laughing, then he’ll forget all about how we argued.”

“Denise, just tell him you’re sorry.”

“Come on, Sandra, I’m asking for a favor here.”

“Okay,” She got up. “Since you put it that way.”

Twenty minutes later they passed through the lobby of the hotel and Sandra had to admit she was starting to get hungry, but she wasn’t surprised, Tony was an excellent chef, just the thought of his food turned her taste buds on. She was about to ask for a table in the restaurant when she saw her daughter talking to a man who had his back to her.

“Amber!” Sandra strode past the startled maître d’. “You’re supposed to be at the mall!” Amber looked up, a smile on her face, like she wasn’t doing anything wrong at all. “What are you doing here?”

“Having lunch with my dad.”

“What?” Sandra gasped.

The man turned to face her. “It’s been a long time, Sandra.”

“Oh, my.” She stepped back and for a second she thought she was going to pass out. 

“Hello, Jack.” Denise said. “I guess it’s kind of a reunion, huh?” 

“Denise? I remember you from the car rental place.”

Sandra saw that he still had those same eyes that seemed to see right through you.

“We’ll have to get together sometime and talk over old times,” Denise said, “but right now I have to take Amber back to the mall because her mother gets upset when she’s not where she’s supposed to be.” She laughed and Sandra couldn’t miss the irony in her voice.

“Yeah, I gotta get back before Mom gets mad.” Amber got up from her chair.

Sandra whirled on Denise. “You told me she didn’t know.”

“So I lied.” Denise smiled. “We’ll get past it.”

“I thought you told me you rode the bus to the mall,” Jack said to Amber.

“I lied too.” Amber laughed, then took Denise’s hand. “We’ll see you guys.”

“Amber!” Sandra tried to sound stern, but couldn’t.

“Later, Mom.” She laughed. “Chill out.” Then to Jack. “You and I have a lot to talk about, so you better not skip out and stay away for another eleven years.”

“I won’t.”

“Promise.”

“I promise.”

“Come on,” Denise said to Amber, “we better go. Bye.” Halfway to the exit they both turned and shouted out, “Merry Christmas.” Then they laughed, then they were gone.

Jack got up, held a chair for Sandra. “I think we’ve been set up.”

“I could brain that child, Denise too.” She said, but she sat down, embarrassed.

“You fixed your nose. You didn’t have to, I wasn’t lying back then when I said it was beautiful.”

“Automobile accident. The plastic surgeon exercised a little artistic license.”

“Well, he did a good job.”

Sandra couldn’t believe it. They were using her nose as an ice breaker. Now she was more embarrassed than ever. She was about to try and change the subject when Tony came over to the table. 

“You’re in on this, too?” Sandra said.

“Of course.” Tony was a big man and when he talked his strong bass voice boomed. He didn’t talk to you, he vibrated through you. “I’m an Italian chef, trained in the mother country. I don’t make Mexican for just anybody. Oh, yes I make it at home, and for Denise, because she likes it so much, but here we serve Continental Cuisine. How would it look, you two sitting here having fajitas? And then there is this to consider, they look so delectable, someone else might order them and we only ordered enough fish for this one special meal. So you see we have a problem and I was wondering if you could help me out?”

“And how would we do that, Tony?” Sandra crossed her arms, stared into his puppy dog eyes.

“I was thinking that if we had room service set it up in Mr. Stewart’s room, that that would solve my problem. You can have the special meal Amber and Denise have paid so dearly for and I’m off the hook with the management for serving something not on the menu.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Room service is setting up the dinner table in Mr. Stewart’s room as we speak.” He smiled and let out a long sigh. “Enjoy your lunch.” Then he went back to the kitchen.

“Well, I don’t know what to say,” Sandra said. “I guess I should apologize for my daughter and Denise. I’m sure they meant well. No, actually I’m not sure what they meant.”

“How come you didn’t tell me I had a daughter, Sandra.” Jack’s steely blue eyes were boring right into her. Was he angry? He had no right.

“As if I could’ve. You dropped off the face of the earth.”

“At sometime or other you must’ve figured out who I was, you could’ve contacted me.”

“And said what?” Sandra was starting to get her hackles up now. “Amber was five years old when I first saw you on a talk show with Maria Magenta. What was I supposed to do, ring you up and tell the newlyweds about the daughter you didn’t know you had.”

“I see.”

“You left me standing on the dock without a cent to my name. I had to call my parents. Do you know how humiliating that was. And all because you saw something innocent that upset your stupid ego.”

“I was wrong. Amber told me about all about it.”

“What could she know?”

“She knew about Woody renting a plane, flying out to say he was sorry about the stunt he pulled on the beach. And she knew you turned him away. I was such an idiot, can you ever forgive me?”

“For Amber’s sake, I guess I will.” She wanted to smile, but couldn’t, even though his blue eyes seemed to soften.

“I did try and get a hold of you, though,” he said. “About three or four months afterward I called your father in Europe and he told me that you married somebody you met in St. Martin. I assumed it was Woody. I thought that when you called your mother while I was getting those baguettes, that you were actually calling him.”

“That was just a story Denise and I made up. We invented a husband, then had him die so that my mother could hold her head up in small town Ohio. We came clean just before Amber was born, because I didn’t want to raise her in a lie.”

“So you told her about me?”

“No, not a word.”

“She said she’d been carrying a photo from the inside of one of my dust jackets around with her since she was five.”

“Oh, my God. She must’ve have heard me and Denise talking when we saw you and your new wife on that talk show. She never said anything.”

“She’s quite a child.”

“Yes, she is.”

“So, we’ve both made mistakes,” Jack said. “Mine much greater that yours, I’ll admit.” He looked just the way she’d remembered him. Maybe a few more wrinkles, but he was the same man she’d been in love with back then, the man she’d never stopped loving. “So, do you want to come up to my room and have fajitas?”

“I think I’d like that,” she said.

He showed her the way to the elevator. It stopped on the second floor and she followed him to his room and waited while he fumbled with his card key. Maybe it was her imagination, but it looked like his hands were trembling.

Inside she saw that the table had been set and the fajitas smelled divine.

“Before we sit down to lunch,” he said. “I just thought I’d let you know that I’ve never stopped loving you.”

“What?” She gasped the word out, stunned.

“Never. Not for one second. You’re the first thing I think about when I wake in the morning, the last thing I think about before I drift off to sleep, and if that isn’t enough, you’re just about all that I dream about. It’s because of you that I did that commercial for Apple. The only reason I agreed to have them put my face put up all over the country was because I was hoping you’d see it, see the book in my hand and maybe buy it and read it. After you read it, I was hoping you’d call me.”

“You could have called me,” Sandra said weakly.

“I didn’t know where you were. I tried to find you. I even hired a private investigator and tracked down all the Stones in Ohio. But no luck. I couldn’t find out where your father retired to and I never knew your stepfathers last name, so I couldn’t find your mother. I didn’t have a lot to go on.”

“Denise said that, that you wrote the book for me.” Sandra was stunned. “She said that you were signing books at the mall on my birthday so that I’d go there.”

“She was right. I wrote the book for you, but the last part, about me picking a bookstore close to where you live on your birthday, that’s just a wonderful coincidence, but it must mean something, don’t you think?”

“I don’t know what to think or what to say.”

“Don’t think, just tell me you love me. Tell me you’ll let me make it all up to you and Amber. Tell me you’ll stay with me forever, you and Amber. Tell me we’re going to be a family.” He took her in his arms, pulled her into a deep, passionate kiss. “And tell me you’ll never let me go.”

“Oh, Jack.” She threw her arms around him and hugged him like she’d never hugged anything before.

By the time they got around to that lunch, those fajitas were awfully cold.



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