Meranda Drake stood on her boat docked at the Crossroads Bay Marina and saluted the lighthouse on the hill as she’d done every morning since the accident.
“Big day, Pop.” She addressed the tall structure while hugging her arms. “I’m taking a whale watching tour out on the boat this morning. It’s a twenty-fifth wedding anniversary party. Remember how you loved those?”
Her dad, the romantic. So different from Mom who was stoic, solid, and no nonsense. Pop, however, had lived for adventure.
And that adventure took his life a year ago tomorrow. On her birthday. The phone call. Thirty candles melted down to pitiful, multi-colored pools of wax. She closed her eyes and swallowed the fatherless void that had lodged in her throat, not ready to think about the events that led to that day. Instead, through sheer will, happier times began to surface, slowly, like bubbles from a sea turtle. “Thank you for teaching me the trade, for sharing everything you knew about sailing.” Yes, seawater had run through Pop’s veins, and now Meranda felt the brine flowing through hers, as well.
She glanced at her watch. The catering crew was due in a few minutes. She needed to perform her last-minute checks before taking the boat out. Her deckhand would arrive shortly. Ethan, the young college kid she’d hired after Pop died knew boats like most people knew their phone numbers. He also interacted well with the passengers, which meant that Meranda didn’t have to.
She ducked her head to go below, but arrgh. . .arrgh. . .sounded from her duffel bag. She pulled it out and answered it, silencing the pirate ring tone. “Drake here.”
“Must you answer like a guy?”
“Hi, sis.” As she talked, she wandered to the side of the boat and leaned on the rail. “Good thing you caught me before I set sail. What’s up?”
“First of all, your name is Meranda, not Drake.” Rose lowered her voice like a man.
“Did you call to harass me?”
“No. I’m sorry. I just wanted to be sure you’re coming this evening.”
Blast! She forgot. “Of course! I have it all worked out.” Let’s see. The tour ends at four o’clock, quick shower. . .
“You have to be here. Mom is already driving me nuts.”
“You shouldn’t let her do that, Rose. It’s your wedding. Do what you want.”
“I wish I could just take to the sea when she rattles my nerves.” She paused. “Please come.”
“I was going to research the coins more tonight. Check out the interlibrary loan since I’ve exhausted ours.”
“The coins? Still? When are you going to give up on that myth?”
“It’s not a myth. Pop believed in them.”
The silence on the other end screamed, Pop was a fool.
Instead, Rose mercifully dropped the subject and got back to her present angst. “You know Mom. It’s not my wedding anymore. It’s turning into an event where I don’t even have to show up. I need you tonight for backup.”
“Is Steven’s mother going to be there, too?”
Meranda heard a long drawn out breath with a slight sob on the end. “Yes.”
“Then I can’t in good conscience let the sharks have you. I’ll be your buffer.”
“I’ll come, make some lame suggestions. Everyone will roll their eyes and look at me like they’ve never seen a tomboy before.”
“You’re the brother I never had, Mer. And I’m proud to call you sis.”
They said goodbye with more profuse thanks from Rose. Meranda glanced back at the lighthouse. “That was Rose, Pop.” The lighthouse stood straight, twinkling its one eye. “Your oldest is getting married. I don’t know if he’s right for her. Sure wish you were here to advise her. All Mom sees is good money. You know how she is.”
The light blinked once more, then stopped, the sensor sleeping now that the sun had pursued the last of night’s shadow toward the western horizon.
“She’s talkin’ to herself again.” The voice came from a neighboring boat.
Meranda frowned. And you’re as boneheaded as a backwards blowfish. Perhaps she should keep her phone to her ear while talking to the lighthouse. On a day as still as today, her voice drifted too easily to the other boats docked nearby.
“Looney as her old man.” An answering voice from a different boat.
Meranda looked at the lighthouse and whispered. “We’ll show ‘em, Pop. We’ll prove you weren’t crazy.”
“Hello on the boat.” A female voice lilted from the dock. “We’re the caterers. Permission to come aboard?”
Meranda raised her eyebrow. Good etiquette. She liked that. She waved at the young woman in black pants and white shirt, who boarded with gazelle-like movements. “I’m Jessie Kingston, Paul Godfrey’s assistant.” She motioned toward her van parked near the dock. A dark-haired man dressed the same as Jessie, tipped his head toward her, then disappeared inside the van. “Where would you like us to set up?”
She showed her the dining cabin then led her to the galley. “Have you ever catered on a boat before?”
“No, but my dad owns one. So, I’m quite comfortable.”
This young woman with short brown hair and hazel eyes reminded Meranda of someone. “I need to test the generator before we sail. Do you need help here first?”
Jessie glanced around. “No, I think we’ve got it. It will be a simple set-up.”
“Okay, holler if you need me.”
She looked again at the woman’s hair, short and easily manageable in a stiff wind. Her fingers tugged the scarf on her own head—the only thing keeping her unruly curls from whipping her face. But Pop loved her long red hair, said she looked like Anne Bonny, a lady pirate who was wild and free.
Soon the anniversary party arrived, and from topside, Meranda watched Ethan help them board. The couple looked to be in their late forties, his hair dusted lightly with gray, hers a short, brown flip. Another man carrying a Bible followed, probably the minister to help them renew their vows. Behind them were a dozen men, women, and a couple of late teenaged girls. Daughters, perhaps?
Just before they weighed anchor, the caterer boarded, having let his assistant do most of the set-up inside.
Meranda stood on the bridge and took the helm, her heart rushing forward in the open air, creating its own wake. She never felt more alive than when the water slapped the boat as she cut her way through it.
The morning fog burned away to reveal gentle waters. Most spring days, the Oregon coast lay blanketed in haze, the occasional squall the only disturbance.
They reached the spot where she’d seen a pod of whales the day before. She cut the engines and called down to Ethan to inform the passengers to keep their eyes open.
Below were her private quarters where a tiny room held a table with two chairs on either side. A window over the table provided light and a chance for her to sit, have a cup of coffee, and keep watch of the changing Oregon weather.
Her laptop called to her, but she knew she couldn’t log on to research the coins this far out at sea. Her phone card only reached about a mile off the coast.
She shuffled through the papers she’d printed previously, but she held little hope. The illusive coins foiled her at every turn.
Besides the gentle lapping ocean against the wooden hull, she heard the drone of the minister near the bow. Let the renewing of the vows commence. And she heard gagging aft. She wrinkled her nose and went to the stern to investigate.
“Make it stop. . .Dear, God. . .Make it stop.” Paul Godfrey draped his body over the hull praying someone would end his misery and push him into the Pacific Ocean.
No career was worth this. No amount of money would ever prompt him to accept a catering job on a boat again. No grandmother, despite the rock-hard determination in her diminutive body, could ever again make him do something he knew he’d regret.
His stomach gurgled again and he clamped his lips together. Who was he kidding? He had about as much chance resisting his grandmother's will as he did controlling the upheaval in his abdomen.
Mama Lita hadn’t really retired from the restaurant business. She’d just found a new lackey.
“You okay there, Mr. Godfrey?”
Gentle hands pressed his back. He discreetly wiped his mouth with his handkerchief and turned to look into the most beautiful eyes he’d ever seen. Stormy gray, the color of the churning sea. He glanced over the side at the gentle rhythmic swell of the water that mocked him. Well, it should have been churning by the way he felt.
“Um, yeah.” He ordered his body to straighten and slipped the handkerchief into his pocket, trying to look as if his guts weren’t floating away on the tide. “Just enjoying the view.” Or rather, concentrating on the Crossroads Bay lighthouse on shore to the east. It was the only solid thing in his line of vision.
She narrowed those striking eyes. “Landlubber, eh?”
“Seasick medicine makes me comatose.”
“Come with me.” She walked away, a vision in tall black boots, blue form-fitting trousers, and a billowy blouse. Her russet hair escaped the black scarf tied around her head.
Laughter floated on the air from the anniversary party at the front of the boat. All seemed to enjoy his food and were unaffected by the fact that every plank beneath their feet was rocking to the waves. Granted, even the slightest movement on the water turned Paul into a nauseated mess. He drew in a deep breath, but when the fish-laced salt air invaded his nasal passages, he felt the familiar reflex in his jaw glands signaling another episode. He swallowed convulsively to keep it at bay and concentrated on the captain’s striking figure as she walked away. Mercifully, the nausea ebbed back to where it had originated. New plan. Keep eyes on the tall, beautiful skipper.
She turned and quirked her brow. “Coming? Or would you rather your customers see you upchucking? I don’t nurse every seasick landlubber who dares to come aboard my ship.”
He snapped-to, resisting the urge to salute, and willed his feet to follow her. She led him below deck, where he feared his condition would worsen.
“Sit.” She motioned to a chair at the small table strewn with maps and other papers. He obeyed and she sat across from him. “Hold your hands out, wrists up.”
“Are you going to scuttle me?”
“You scuttle a ship, not a wrist.” As her lashes lifted, he noticed a faintly green hue in her irises that had not been there before. Intriguing. Perhaps the seaweed-green walls surrounding them had something to do with it.
She took both of her thumbs and placed them on his veins where they formed a V. As she applied gentle pressure he felt the nausea recede.
“Thanks. I’m feeling better. An old sea captain’s remedy?”
“No, I think they used ale for most every complaint.”
“Ah. The drunker the sailor, the less he feels.”
She offered a half-smile and those gray-green eyes actually twinkled. “Something like that.”
The papers under his arms drew his attention. They looked like printouts from the Internet. Some with pictures of old coins, others with maps, still others with drawings of old ships with sails.
She must have noticed him looking at them, because she let his wrists go and started straightening them up. “That should help you for a moment.”
“Only a moment?”
Excusing herself, she stood and walked out, then returned a few seconds later with a can of lemon-lime soda. “This will help, too. It’s not ale, though. Sorry.”
“That’s okay, I’m not a drinker.” He popped open the tab and sipped, allowing the sweet bubbles to soothe his stomach. “I’m sorry. I don’t know you’re name.”
She sat across from him once more and held out her hand. “Meranda Drake.”
“Paul Godfrey, of Tapas Mediterranean Delights. But you knew that.”
Her grip felt as solid as the woman herself, contrasting the gentle pressure she’d just applied to his wrists. In his line of work, he often met frilly females wanting to either gain an advantage over their rich friends, or prove their social status. Not that he minded. They were his bread and butter. This woman, however, clearly danced to her own tune. And he suspected that tune came from a hornpipe.
Excited voices above drew his attention. The room suddenly dipped to the right. He gripped the chair. “What’s happening?”
Her gaze darted up the short steps leading to the deck. “They must have seen a whale spout and all rushed starboard to look at it. You want to join them?”
He wrapped one foot around the leg of the chair. “No, thank you. I’ve seen spouts from shore. I prefer it that way.”
She frowned. “Why did you take this job, then?”
The question challenged his professional integrity. “My catering business comes before my personal needs.” Plus Mama Lita made me.
A knock sounded from the stairs and Jessie ducked her head into the opening. “Excuse me,” she said as her eyes adjusted to the dimmer light. “Is Paul in here? Oh, there you are.” She grimaced. “You don’t look so good.”
“I’m fine, Jessie. What do you need?”
“The couple wants you to make an appearance so they can thank you personally for the food.”
“Uh, do you want me to say you can’t make it right now?” Jessie’s face fell.
Ever since Paul had hired the young sous chef, she’d practically idolized him. Following him around the kitchen, learning every tiny detail of the business.
“I’m coming. Just give me a moment.”
Jessie looked from Paul to Meranda, lingering on the captain for just an instant. “Okay.” She then disappeared back through the rectangular opening.
He turned back to Meranda. “Just out of cooking school.”
She nodded, but he could tell she wasn’t interested.
“I think I can do this.” He pushed himself from the chair.
She cocked an eyebrow. “Are you sure?”
His knees wobbled but held his weight. “We’ll soon see.” He gingerly crept up the stairs into the bright sunlight. Before allowing his gaze to drift toward the bobbing horizon, he closed his eyes and felt the sun’s rays on his face. He thanked God for the beautiful day. It could have been a wet, miserable voyage. But God smiled down and delivered. Now, if He could just freeze the ocean so the boat would stop rocking. . .
Meranda shook her head. Seasick passengers were nothing new, but she’d never invited one to her cabin before. What was wrong with her? Was she getting soft?
She turned her attention to the papers on the table. Now, where are you? She rifled through the printouts as she tried to unravel clues. Her fingers lit on a printed sheet of the coins. This clue was her first in believing they were real. The ring on a chain around her neck held the same image as one side of the coins. Two pillars that looked like rooks on a chessboard with ocean waves between them, as if someone had captured a photo on a stormy day from shore. But unfortunately, that had also been the last clue she had unearthed. Looking for sixteenth century gold coins in several countries and oceans and time periods was worse than looking for buried treasure. No X marked the spot.
A gagging sound interrupted her thoughts. Not again.
She raced up the stairs to see Paul hanging over the side of the boat. He turned his head when he noticed her. “They said they liked the salmon puffs.”