Authors: Lisa Ruff
Tags: #American Light Romantic Fiction, #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Man-woman relationships, #Pregnant women
“About time you showed up,” Patrick said by way of a greeting.
“I had to close a deal. This guy wanted to buy a Hummer,” Evan countered with a sly grin. “Who am I to refuse his money? Hey, Kate,” he greeted her. His tone was polite but cool. “Ready for the fun?”
Kate smiled slightly. “What
would that be?”
“Ah, that’s the surprise.” Evan went forward on the boat and began pulling lines at the mast.
“Just sit tight and I’ll explain in a minute,” Patrick said.
Before she could complete her sentence, Ian stepped out of the cockpit, avoiding her eyes as he went. Patrick disappeared down below. When he climbed back up into the cockpit, he slid behind the wheel, opening a small door built into the side of the boat. Kate was surprised to see a panel of buttons and instruments appear from what looked like a solid piece of wood. He fiddled with the instruments for a second and Kate felt a faint vibration. A hiss and splash of water sounded at the stern of the boat. She felt an instant of worry that quickly grew to fear.
“Ready when you are,” Patrick called to Ian and Evan.
To Kate’s horror, she saw the two men untie the lines holding the boat to the dock. Ian took a long pole and pushed the bow away from the pilings. Patrick manipulated a chrome handle on the wheel pedestal and Kate found herself in a boat leaving the safety of land.
“What are you doing?” She kept a tight rein on her fear and tried to pretend that they had not actually left the dock. “The boat’s not tested yet, is it?”
“You’re going to love this,” Patrick said, grinning widely. His eyes were on the water around them as he maneuvered the boat.
“Love what?” Kate gulped down her terror. “Patrick, I want to go back to the dock.”
“Hoist the mains’l,” Patrick called to Evan, then turned to her. “It’s a gorgeous day on the Chesapeake. I said I’d take you sailing sometime and I thought today would be the perfect day.”
As he spoke, a large sail rose over Kate’s head. The brilliant white cloth fluttered and flapped in the wind. Kate’s hands were white-knuckled, clinging to the edge of her seat. The shore was getting farther away. It was all she could do to keep herself from screaming.
“Patrick! We have to go back. Please, turn this boat around.”
At the same time the sail went up, the boat entered open water. Ian came back to the cockpit, yanked on a rope and the sail at the front of the boat—whatever it was called—unrolled like a window shade pulled out sideways. Evan dropped into the cockpit and pulled on yet another rope on the cabintop.
The boat was skating over the waves now. Patrick pushed the chrome handle again, then leaned over to push another button. The faint vibration she had felt disappeared as did the instrument panel. He had turned the engine off, she realized. Kate swallowed hard. She tried not to look around. She was on a boat completely surrounded by water.
She turned. Land already seemed very far away. The boat not only looked fast and felt fast, it
fast. Evan pulled on a smaller rope at the front of the cockpit and Ian started turning a crank on one of the big chrome drums across the cockpit from where she sat.
“Round her up, skipper,” Evan called back to Patrick. “Let’s see what this baby can do!”
At his words, Patrick spun the wheel over. Ian kept cranking, while Evan grabbed the end of the rope and pulled. Wind whipped across the sails and through Kate’s hair, sending tendrils flying around her head wildly. The bow plunged into a wave and seemed to almost bury itself into the water. Then salt spray flew back into Kate’s face. If she had thought they were going fast before, they were flying now. She braced herself and squeezed her eyes shut. The wind seemed to catch the boat and pick it up, tipping it over.
She opened her eyes and saw water. She was looking
at the water. The boat was about to tip all the way over. Too late to tell Patrick that she couldn’t swim. She was going to die. Her baby, too. Terror bubbled up and over. She couldn’t control it any longer. Tears welled in her eyes and spilled over as her fingers bit deeply into the fabric of the cushions. In total, mindless panic, she screamed.
The moment Kate shrieked in terror, Patrick sprang into action. “Ian, take the helm!”
Ian lunged and grabbed the wheel as Patrick dove for Kate. He snatched her into his arms and pressed her to him, feeling the frenetic beat of her heart. Pulling away slightly to see her face, he removed her sunglasses. Her paper-white skin, dilated pupils, and the tears streaming down her cheeks made the bottom drop out of his stomach. He pulled her tightly against him once more.
“Katie, what’s wrong? Is it the baby?”
She was shaking like a leaf, clinging to him like a limpet. He felt her fingernails pierce his skin through his shirt.
Evan knelt beside them. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know.” Kate still had her face buried in Patrick’s neck. He tried to pull her away slightly, so he could see her face again, but she wouldn’t let go. “Please, sweetheart, tell me what’s wrong.”
“We’re going to drown.” Kate was crying into his shoulder.
“What?” Patrick didn’t think he had heard her right. “What do you mean?”
“The boat’s going to tip over.” Her words came out in staccato between gulping sobs.
A light dawned in Patrick’s head. His own fear subsided. “No, it won’t, Katie.” He ran a hand over her back, trying to soothe her. “It’s supposed to tip like this. We’re perfectly safe.”
“Especially with a scream that loud.” Evan snorted a laugh, shaking his head. “The Coast Guard station in Baltimore must have already heard it and sent out a rescue boat.”
“Shut up, will you, McKenzie.” Patrick glared at Evan. This was not the time for smart remarks. He pulled Kate tighter to him.
Evan rolled his eyes. “Relax, Kate,” he said impatiently. “This is great sailing. Enjoy it.”
Kate shuddered again as the wind gusted and the sailboat heeled over a bit farther. Patrick felt more tears soak his shirt.
“Make it stop!” she moaned.
“I’ll drown if we tip over, Patrick.” Kate finally lifted her head so he could see her face. Her brown eyes shone nearly black with panic. “Please don’t let my baby die.”
“We’re not tipping over and you’re not going to drown, I promise you.” He kissed her mouth and cheek. “Trust
You and the baby are safe.”
The boat shivered in the wind and she dove into the shelter of his arms again. “I can’t swim,” she wailed.
Patrick realized there was nothing he could say that would calm her. She was too frightened to understand that the boat was designed to sail on a heel. He looked over at Evan, still kneeling next to them.
“Drop the sails.”
“What? We just got out here. The wind’s—”
“Drop them,” Patrick ordered. “We’re going back.”
“Bring her up into the wind,” Patrick called out to his brother. “We’re going to drop the sails, turn on the engine and go back.”
“Is Kate okay?” Ian asked.
“She’s scared when the boat tips. She’s afraid of the water. If we head back under power, she’ll be fine.”
Ian immediately turned the boat and brought it dead into the wind. Evan pulled on the furler lines for the jib and it rolled up into a neat cylinder on the head-stay. Minutes later, he had the mains’l rolled into the boom and stowed. Patrick held Kate in his arms, stroking her back and murmuring soothing things into her ear. As soon as the boat leveled out, he felt a slight easing in her grip. The tremors that shook her subsided to random shivers.
He ignored Ian and Evan at first, concentrating on Kate. Then his brother caught his attention. Ian worked the throttle lever with one hand while pushing the start button with the other. From the look on his face, Patrick knew there was trouble.
He mouthed the question.
Ian shrugged. “Engine turns over fine, but won’t start.”
Kate raised her head. “We’re stuck out here?” Her voice carried a note of renewed panic.
Patrick swore to himself, then forced a smile to his face as he looked down at her. He dropped a kiss to her cheek and smoothed a hand over her hair again. “It’s all right, sweetheart. Don’t worry, we’ll get it fixed.” He turned to Ian. “Stub said there was an air bubble in the fuel line the other day that he had to bleed. He said he fixed it when they changed the filters, but maybe there’s a leak somewhere.”
Ian nodded and went below. Patrick turned to Evan. “Can you take the helm?”
“Sure, for all the good it will do.” Evan looked over the side. “We’re pretty much dead in the water.”
“Dead!” Kate’s voice rose in alarm.
“Don’t worry, Kate.” Patrick glared at Evan. “We’re safe. We’ll get this fixed and get underway.”
Evan sat behind the wheel and acted like he was steering the boat. They both knew there was nothing much he could do without propulsion. They were adrift, but Patrick didn’t want Kate to know it. She needed all the illusion of safety they could give her.
He turned to the woman he held in his arms. She was still pale, but she wasn’t crying anymore. “How are you doing?” He kept his voice soft as he captured her eyes with his own, trying to convey confident, calm serenity. Anything to ease her fear.
Kate swallowed and looked away. “Not so good. I can’t help—”
“I know you can’t.” Patrick stopped her words with a kiss. “I wouldn’t have brought you out here if I’d known you would be so frightened. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“When did I have the chance?” she snapped.
Patrick almost smiled at that. That was more like the Kate he knew. “Well, any time over the past hour.” He thought for a second. “Or back in February when we first met?”
“We were away from the dock before I could say anything,” Kate answered. “You told me you would just look at the boat, then we’d leave. Then you
me with this!” Her voice rose with each word until she was nearly shouting. Fury had replaced fear.
Ian stuck his head out of the companionway at that moment. He quickly shook his head at Patrick. “No go. We’re going to have to sail her in.”
Patrick closed his eyes for a moment.
What a mess.
He could check the engine himself, but even if he found something that Ian had overlooked, they had few tools or spares with them to do repairs. He opened his eyes. There was no use hiding reality from her any longer.
“We have to sail back, Katie.”
“It won’t be like it was before,” Ian added. “We’ll be going downwind, so the boat won’t tip so much.”
Kate looked at Ian, her eyes pleading. “Really?”
Ian nodded and patted her shoulder. “We’ll take it slow,” he said with a smile. He stood on one of the cockpit benches and surveyed the water around them. “And there’s not so much wind now. We’d better get going.” He shot a glance at Patrick.
Patrick read what his brother was thinking in a second. He saw Evan scan the water, too, and wince. The wind
dying. Fast. A typical July day on the Chesapeake. They needed to get going before it died out altogether.
Frustrated, Patrick watched as the other two men did all the work. He couldn’t let go of Kate. Or, rather, she wouldn’t let go of him. The idea of sailing—of tipping over—had her clinging to him again. The sails went up in a matter of minutes. The wind was now a mere breeze, but it was blowing the right direction. Evan took the helm.
Their slow passage through the water toward land eased Kate’s fears. She let loose her tight grip on Patrick’s arms and sat back a little. Ian offered her a handkerchief so she could wipe away her tears and blow her nose.
“Thank you,” she said. “I must be a mess.”
“I’ve seen worse,” Ian answered with a smile. “You should have been there when we got hit by a gale off Patagonia. Patty got doused by a wave when he went up to drop the jib. He swallowed at least two gallons of seawater. He looked like a drowned cat, and spent the next hour with his head over the side.” Ian chuckled. “
Kate managed a short laugh. “I guess it would be.”
“You should have filmed that,” Evan said.
Ian shook his head. “Too rough for the camera, but it would’ve been good footage.”
“Yeah, so you could embarrass me,” Patrick added acerbically.
“Of course,” Ian agreed. “Anything to keep you in your place.”
The three men laughed, then fell silent.
“It seems dangerous,” Kate finally said.
“What does?” Patrick asked.
“Not really. It has its thrilling moments, but it’s not that dangerous.”
“But the boat almost tipped over,” Kate protested. “And that boat you raced
go over on its side.”
“That was a different situation,” Patrick said. “What happened today was normal. It’s called heeling. The wind pushes the sails, but the weight in the bottom of the keel pushes back.” She looked skeptical and he brushed a finger over her cheek. “I can explain the aerodynamics of a sail and how that transfers power to the keel, if you want.”
She shook her head. “I’ll pass right now.”
“Sailing’s only dangerous when you forget to be careful,” Ian said.
“That’s right,” Evan piped up. “Remember Benny Stillson last season? The boat jibes, the boom hits him in the head and he’s dead like that.” He finished with a snap of his fingers.
Kate’s eyes widened and she gulped.
“Do you have to tell that story now?” Patrick ground out.
“It’s not a story,” Evan shot back. “It’s fact. And there are lots of other instances like that one.”
“He was a good sailor. I never understood how he missed that call,” Ian said.
“One too many beers, is my guess,” Evan answered.
“Benny didn’t drink.”
Evan shrugged. “Who knows? It was an accident then. Happens to the best of them.”
Patrick could see the horror on Kate’s face as she listened to the exchange.
“That’s right,” he said. “It was an
They happen all the time, even on boats.”
“Yeah, they do, so you can’t say sailing isn’t dangerous,” Evan argued.
“I didn’t say it wasn’t dangerous.”
“Yes, you did.” The protest was made in triplicate.
dangerous.” Patrick was annoyed that his brother and best friend were hurting his case with Kate. “How many people die in car accidents every day?” Patrick looked at Kate as he spoke. “Accidents happen whether you’re on land or at sea. You walk across the street and get hit by a car. Or some idiot crosses the line on a narrow road and there’s a head-on collision. Or you slip in the bathroom and crack your head on the tub. Is walking across the street dangerous? Is driving dangerous? Taking a bath? No, of course not. Sometimes accidents just happen.”
“But you expose yourself to unnecessary dangers on the ocean,” Kate said. “And what if you fall off the boat? Or get hit by the boom, like Evan said? A thousand miles from nowhere, there’s no one to help you.” She paused, searching his eyes. “And you
to be out there.”
“Things like that rarely happen, Kate. We’re harnessed in, tethered to the boat, and there’s a full crew to help anyone who is injured. You should worry more about me when I get in my truck and drive to the grocery store. Or when I walk down the stairs at your house.”
“But you’re less likely to die in one of those accidents than you are on a boat on the ocean.”
“That’s not true,” Patrick said in frustration. “What do I—”
The crew all looked over to starboard. A small power-boat pulled up alongside and Ian jumped up to grab its rail. A skinny runt of a man stood grinning at them.
“Youse all look like you might be wantin’ a tow.”
“Yeah, Stub,” Ian said. “That would be nice, since it’s your fault we’re stuck out here.”
“My fault! How’s that?”
“The fuel line is fouled and we couldn’t get the engine started.”
“Well, you the fools taking out a boat when I ain’t finished workin’ on her engine yet. Course, I thought I got ’er all cleared.” Stub scratched his head. “I guess I’ll have to take another peek. Toss me a line, Ian.”
Ian and Evan scrambled to get the sails down and some towlines rigged. Patrick shifted Kate to one side and lifted the cushion to get into the locker beneath their seat. He pulled out three fat white fenders and passed them to Ian. Once they were secure alongside the launch, Stub put the engine in gear and guided them back to the marina.
Kate was silent on the return trip. Patrick watched her closely, but she refused to meet his eyes. She seemed calm, but her fingers were wound together tightly. Stub maneuvered them into the dock carefully. All three men jumped off and secured the boat in her slip. With a wave, their rescuer left them, shouting that he would look at the engine later that day.
“Hey, they’re calling for winds up to twenty knots on Thursday,” Evan said. “You want to try this again?”
“Get lost, McKenzie,” Patrick snarled at him.
“What’d I say?” Evan was the picture of wounded innocence, his green eyes wide and guileless.
“What didn’t you say?” Patrick began then, checking to see that Kate could not overhear, whispered, “Would it have killed you to help me out a little?”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s pissed because you told Kate about Benny,” Ian said.
“So, she’s terrified out of her mind and you tell her about some guy dying on a sailboat,” Patrick hissed. “How big of an idiot are you?”
“Well, it’s the truth. I—”
“I’d like to go home, Patrick,” Kate said quietly.
Patrick spun around to see her standing on the side-deck right behind them. She held out a hand that he ignored. Instead, he reached up and grasped her by the waist, gently lifting her down to the dock. He held her steady as she slipped into her sandals, then put on his own shoes.
“I’ll see you guys around,” she said to Ian and Evan.
“You feel better?” Ian asked.
She smiled. “I will once I get to shore.”
Patrick walked with her up the dock and to his truck. He helped her inside, went around the hood and got in the cab.