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"Island Recess" by
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Island Romance Stories and Novels, Caribbean Romance Books
Online free. Tropical themed, sailing and beach oriented love stories.
Island Recess, Chapter 6.
Helena rubbed her temple with a moan as the smile on her face relaxed, and she
slumped against the door frame of the tiny classroom. Unaccustomed to the two
drinks consumed with Neil the night before, and a rapidly following celebratory
rum and coke chaser (or was that chasers?) poured upon arrival home, Helena’s
body was in revolt. Returning to her desk, Helena rifled through her drawers
until she found some aspirin. Locating the noxious brew that passed for coffee
in the teacher’s lounge, she filled a mug with the fluid and plenty of sugar and
speedily gulped the now-lukewarm beverage. While she adored her students, her
relief today when the clock struck 3:30 was palpable. Despite her attempts to
treat his attentions with the feigned casualness of the type of pouting-lipped,
serial dating women profiled in the popular fashion magazines, Helena found her
thoughts drifting with increasing frequency in the direction of Neil Streep.
Scolding herself repeatedly for what she perceived to be weakness, she recalled
that the invitation for dinner had come in the context of an expression of
gratitude and not of romantic interest. Still, there had been moments when their
eyes or flesh made contact during which she had been certain his intentions were
not strictly, well, honorable. How Victorian, she laughed to herself, to be
thinking of honor and virtue in the twenty-first century. Still, hard on the
heels of an ass like Karl, a little knightly chivalry would be welcome. Despite
the raging inferno that her hormones were becoming, Helena was rather glad that
Neil had immediately respected her desire to post-pone their date, at the same
time wondering if his interests weren’t lascivious after all. On the other hand,
maybe a true knight just didn’t assume that every woman was easy prey. Smiling
at the mixed metaphors of knights and jungles, she found herself humming lightly
as she returned to the classroom for her knapsack.
An hour later, Helena was tapping gently on the door to Ben’s apartment. Under
her free arm, she carried a bag containing two generously proportioned slices of
the popular local treat, bread pudding. Rather than the ill-favored dessert of
her childhood, this confection was a dense, moist cake, studded with raisins and
served in thick slices. Ben’s grin expanded into a maze of wrinkles as he spied
Helena through the crack in the door. Throwing the door open wide, he gripped
Helena’s elbow tightly, ushering her into the dimly lit apartment. In the
corner, the monitor of the computer seemed to beckon her with a screen-saver of
darting tropical fish.
“I’ve brought afternoon tea,” Helena teased, waggling the bag between them. Her
elderly landlord smiled with pleasure.
As if reading Helena’s mind, he then suggested, “You would like to use this
computer while I put on some coffee, or tea?” Peeping inside the bag that Helena
had handed over, he said with finality, “With bread pudding, always strong
coffee.” Then, he waved vaguely in the direction of the computer and shuffled
into the galley kitchen, clutching the bag in a weathered brown hand.
Pouncing immediately on the opportunity to check her e-mail, Helena seated
herself at the computer and quickly logged onto the Internet. She accessed her
e-mail account with practiced ease, and began scrolling through the messages,
discarding without reading, junk mail and chain letters. Reading the title,
“PLEASE READ THIS” and the author, Karl, she impulsively clicked beside the
delete key. Then, with a sinking feeling, she realized that her actions may have
been premature. The message following Karl’s was from Julie and read, “WATCH OUT
FOR PSYCHOS!” Clicking on the highlighted text, she read the following:
Hey there, Island Girl! Hope all is well and that you are managing to keep your
clothes on, at least at work. After hours, what you do with your clothing or
without it is your business! On a serious note, thought you should know that
Karl is still asking around about you. Your mom and I are playing the cat &
mouse game with: hinting you’ve left St. John and are off on a tour of the
Caribbean, etc. Still, he mentioned having a friend that works for one of the
major airlines who he says can check on outbound flights. The more I hear from
Karl, the more convinced I am (like I needed much, ha!) that you did the right
thing leaving him. Okay, re: Mystery Man. Helena, I think you need to know who
this guy is before you get too involved. Guys who are all mystery usually have
something to hide (girlfriends, wives, domineering mothers, etc.) I digress.
Anyway, Helena, I swear, if this one turns out to be another Godfather wanna-be,
you will be banned from dating forever. Your dregs will become mine! Anyway, I
called my cousin Alex in New York, you know, the one who works on the staff of
that big architectural magazine:- Blue Prints. He asked around and he couldn’t
find anyone who knew of a Neil Streep with a design or construction firm on the
East Coast. He did say he’d met a few Neil’s on a casual social basis (“A few
studs” was how he put it) but no one with a surname like Streep. That’s like
Meryl Streep, right? Alex said, if he could see a picture of Neil, that he would
show it around and see if anyone recognized him. After all, Alex knows everybody
who’s anybody in the business. Especially if they’re cute! Anyway, if he doesn’t
he’ll know someone who does. Can you possibly sneak a photo? If you can, and
have access to a scanner, send it on to me and I’ll see what I can do. And
Helena, for God’s sake, be c-a-r-e-f-u-l.. Love, Julie. P.S. Your mother said to
remind you about using sunscreen.
Helena frowned absent-mindedly as she quickly composed a response. Hearing Ben’s
slow steps behind her, she exited her e-mail account and rose to take her seat
beside him on the wicker settee. While she and Ben chatted lightly about the
events of the day, she found it more and more difficult to focus her attention
on the conversation. Several times, she found herself asking to have a question
repeated, or simply starting after a brief lull in what was becoming a monologue
on Ben’s part. While she knew she should be primarily concerned with the threat
of Karl’s potentially dangerous behavior, Helena found her thoughts increasingly
consumed by the mystery surrounding Neil. Although every iota of her logical
reasoning told her that Neil’s background could be as nefarious as Karl’s, her
heart was pumping out a bewildering series of rationalizations. Maybe his
business was too small for common knowledge. Maybe the local gossips were wrong
about his home, or his occupation. Did she even catch his last name correctly?
Was there any other way to spell “Streep?”
She had a date to keep and her body wouldn’t stop reminding her. Still, even the
prospect of a strings-free fling with a near-stranger had her on edge. She
needed to reassure herself that he was at least, “safe,” not a liar, not a
criminal, and not a distraction that would have her free-falling to complete
ruin. What she needed was the truth, and her investigative work, to date, had
been half-hearted and utterly lacking in sophistication. If only she had taken
some steps to investigate Karl’s background before their ill-fated alliance, her
life in Seattle would still be intact. If she really wanted to protect her
future interests, she was going to need to hone her detective skills.
Helena slumped in her chair with an involuntary moan. Ben frowned and looked at
her with consternation, shaking his head slowly.
“Girl, I don’t know what’s into you tonight, but I think you be needin’ some
early to bed. And don’t you be arguing with me, young lady.”
Helena put up a weak show of protest, secretly relieved that she would be able
to devote the remainder of the evening to pondering the enigma Neil Streep
appeared to present, and possibly to planning her date-night ensemble. With a
tight hug for Ben, she left the apartment. To his aging eyes, his young neighbor
seemed to dance up the stairs, taking each step with a light jump. He passed a
shaking hand across his smiling face, and quietly closed the door behind her.
Helena entered her apartment with the first warning prickles of excitement
sliding up the back of her neck. The doorknob still clenched in her hand, she
glanced about. Her backpack lay by the settee, a fistful of papers bursting
through the opening.
“Your mission, Helena, should you choose to accept it…” ran through her mind, as
she knelt down and sifted through the bag’s contents until she located her
old-fashioned camera. The telephoto lens was loose in the front pocket. Dumping
the papers out on the floor, Helena noted ruefully that the majority had not yet
been graded. If she hurried, she would be back in time to finish up her
paperwork and still catch a few hours’ sleep. With her pack now empty, she
replaced the camera and lens, and then waded through the papers to the tiny
closet where she kept her clothes. Quickly selecting, and then just as quickly
discarding wardrobe options, Helena soon had a small pile of clothing at her
feet. Near the bottom of the pile was her garment of choice, a loose-fitting
pair of khaki shorts with deep, buttoned cargo pockets at each side. Stripping
to her bra and panties, Helena donned the shorts and paired them with a
close-fitting tank top. Searching further, she was able to add a black ball-cap
to the ensemble. Surveying herself in the mirror, Helena laughed. Dressed for
her covert mission, she resembled a miscast guerilla in a B-grade action movie.
She tossed the hat back up onto the shelf, fluffed out her hair and tied it back
in a high ponytail.
Her heart was thudding against her chest as she took up her pack, slung it over
her shoulders and fastened the strap about her waist. To the camera equipment,
she added a light sweater, a notebook, and a hastily constructed sandwich of
left-over tuna. The notebook had been included with a fit of hysterical laughter
as Helena envisioned herself furiously scratching notes on the nocturnal
activities of Mr. Streep from an ill-concealed hill-top perch. First locking up
her apartment, Helena glanced about the hallway furtively before proceeding to
tiptoe guiltily down the back stairs and out onto the street. Helena prayed
fervently that Ben did not chance to glance out his window and witness her
attempt to flee the building without his notice. There would be no “early to
bed” for her this evening. Already racked with guilty feelings about abandoning
the visit with her landlord so prematurely, Helena craned her neck for a sign of
a passing cab. Seeing none, she began walking swiftly toward the trendy retail
area of town and its collection of coral-colored buildings. Then she stopped,
frowning in consternation. Where exactly was she heading? She couldn’t very well
duck her head in the window of the first available cab and ask to be taken to
the residence of the infamous Mr. Neil Streep, could she? Helena paused
momentarily, screwing up her forehead in a desperate attempt to recall the
pertinent details of their conversation over drinks. Neil lived on a boat, or so
he had said. A passing reference had been made to its name: something Greek, she
had thought at the time. Mentally, she kicked herself for not having paid closer
attention. That afternoon, it now seemed, she had been more intent on guarding
against drunken revelry than on investigating the mysterious background of
Friday’s dinner date. Taking a deep breath, Helena considered the possibilities
for mooring. The main anchorage, Cruz Bay, was also the terminal for the
inter-island ferries. Noisy and crowded, Cruz Bay would be an unlikely choice
for someone claiming to be seeking peace and solitude. Not to mention the fact
that the bar at which they had sat the previous night looked out onto the bay.
Surely, if his boat had been moored there, Neil would have taken pains to point
it out. Absent-mindedly, Helena nibbled her fingertip as she pondered. On one of
her bike rides around the island, she had stopped on a hill to snap a few
photographs of the island and ocean extending beyond. Sighting a number of
sailboats bobbing in the white-tipped waves, she had asked a passer-by the name
of the cove. What was it now? She frowned in concentration.
“Coral Bay!” Helena exclaimed in triumph, causing a matronly-looking tourist to
give her a wide berth and disdainful glance as she passed. Her heart began to
pound as she saw a vague plan beginning to gel into a more plausible one.
Hearing, rather than seeing the approach of a cab, heralded by the stereo
thudding within, Helena turned and waved it to a stop.
“Coral Bay, please,” Helena requested as she opened the rear door and slid
across the cracked vinyl bench to the opposite window. Despite her casual
interchange of pleasantries with the talkative cabbie, Helena’s mind was focused
on the task ahead. At a time when she often felt the abstinent life of a
spinster schoolmarm loomed ahead, she was surprised to find herself so consumed
by investigative exploits aimed at “clearing” possible lovers of possible
wrongdoings. She could only imagine what the Board of Education would think of
her decidedly un-teacherly conduct. Helena barely managed to suppress a snort of
laughter as she pictured the tabloid cover: “Visiting Teacher Turns Peeping
Hearing the moment of sudden laughter, the cabbie half-turned, then shook his
head and re-focused on the road. Helena’s face in the rear-view mirror was
flushed scarlet as she bit her lip to contain the nervous giggles. She could
only imagine the spectacle she presented to an onlooker.
The cab slowed near the top of a hill sloping down toward the sea.
“Were you going down to the dock, Miss?” He inquired politely, but with a look
of wariness on his plump face.
“Um, not exactly,” replied Helena, without elaborating further. “If you could
just pull over around here, that would be great.”
All she needed at this point was a talkative cab driver revealing her bizarre
mission to someone acquainted with Neil. Having paid the fare, Helena stepped
out onto the roadside. The sidewalk ran down one side of the slope, which gave a
clear view of the bay. More than a dozen sailboats ranging from single-handed
jobs to luxury yachts swayed with the movement of the sea beneath them. Before
she could focus her attention on her target, she would need to determine which
boat belonged to Neil. She realized with a twinge of nervousness that she would
need to wait until dusk to move much closer without risking discovery. Glancing
to her right, she noticed a clutch of slender trees surrounded by low, lush
bushes. If she were to move in amongst the foliage, she would at least be able
to make use of her telephoto lens to sort out Neil’s boat from the others.
Cautiously, she moved toward the trees, feigning casualness as she slung her
pack onto both shoulders and proceeded to wade into the low brush. Ouch! She had
not counted on thistles. Helena glanced down ruefully at the prickles nestled in
her sock, and pushed on farther. Grabbing hold of the nearest tree trunk, she
pulled herself from the patch of thistles, and into a nest of wild grass. Here,
at least, was a place to sit down. Glancing back at the road through the minimal
cover of grass and brush, Helena realized that her hiding spot was an abysmal
one. She could only imagine herself, creeping forward through the undergrowth,
telephoto lens poised for action, and Neil slipping up behind her with innocence
in his eyes, and a “Helena, what a nice surprise!” on his lips. She shuddered
involuntarily. At least there was no law against taking photographs. And it was
a rather picturesque spot, after all. If cornered, she could always feign
ignorance. In fact, she thought she could feign it rather well, having not the
slightest clue who Neil Streep really was!
After several uncomfortable minutes passed in removing burrs from her socks and
shoes, Helena unzipped her backpack, reached in and extracted her camera.
Attaching the impressively proportioned telephoto lens, she adjusted the
viewfinder on the bay before her. The difficulty in determining which of the
vessels belonged to Neil was the fact that each of the boats riding the gentle
swells seemed to be pointing in a different direction. How would she be able to
read the name scripted on the hull if the bow and not the stern was facing her?
Her glance swept the bay, the late afternoon rays of the sun tilting off the
lens and making the surface of the water dance in sparkling waves. One of the
boats, moored slightly away from the others, caught Helena’s attention. It was
small and neat, its white trimmed with wood which gleamed in the sunlight. The
waves rocked it gently, making it difficult to read the calligraphy across the
stern. By training her lens on the boat, and trying to ignore the sickening
effects of the moving writing, Helena at last was able to read the name. Yes! It
was the one. Odyssey. She had thought the name was Greek, but only because it
reminded her of the mythical hero Odysseus. Then, she remembered how Neil had
explained the origin of the moniker: Homer’s Odyssey. Biting her lip with
excitement, Helena snapped a photo of the boat, then stood, moved a little to
her right, and snapped another, and another.
The sun was sinking lower on the horizon, and the sky was becoming suffused with
tinges of pink and mauve. She had seen no human movement on the Odyssey, and
decided to venture from her hiding spot to find another, closer to her target.
As she emerged from the prickly underbrush, she heard the rumble of an
approaching vehicle, followed quickly by the appearance of an ancient Jeep
rounding the corner. To Helena’s horror, the passenger seat was occupied by Neil
Streep. The vehicle began to slow as it headed toward the dock area.
Turning swiftly in the direction of the treed grove, Helena put her hand to her
forehead, shading her eyes and feigning great interest in the scenery beyond.
Staring intently into the distance, she was certain that she was striking a
ridiculous pose. The vehicle and its passengers seemed not to notice, however,
and passed by with no give-away toot of the horn or friendly call. Helena
exhaled deeply in relief, and then took a step back from the walkway as she
continued to observe the actions of Neil and the driver. Raising her camera
again to her eyes, Helena watched as Neil jumped from the vehicle and reached
into his pocket. With a quick hand, he extricated a small package and handed it
to the driver, who received it with a nod and a flash of white teeth. After a
moment, the driver, whose features were obscured by a close-fitting black cap,
then handed Neil what appeared to be folded bills held between extended fingers.
The two waved briefly as the jeep made a tight right turn, and with a roar of
the engine, returned back up the slope to the main road.
Behind the protruding lens, Helena’s eyes widened. She blinked several times, as
if to verify what she had just witnessed. A package and what appeared to be
money had changed hands. What was in the package? Helena’s mind reeled with
possibilities. This certainly was an odd place to conduct legitimate business.
Her skin prickled with a chill of apprehension.
The sun had dipped low against the horizon. Helena knew she was unwise to linger
much longer, but against her better judgment, she was determined to have her
suspicions confirmed, or erased. She watched as Neill strolled toward a small
dock to which several dinghies were tied. Approaching the nearest, he deftly
untied the knot securing the vessel to a plank of the dock, stepped into a
wooden rowboat and dipped a pair of oars into the waves. Under Neil’s powerful
strokes, the dinghy pulled away from the dock and headed in the direction of the
Odyssey, leaving a v-shaped swath in its wake. Helena waited nervously, the back
of her neck tingling with anticipation as Neil reached the Odyssey, tied his
dinghy to the side, and clamored aboard. Within minutes, he had disappeared from
Lowering her head, Helena emerged onto the sidewalk, feigning absorption in the
camera she clutched in her hands. She kept her steps toward the water’s edge
casual but determined. If asked her purpose by a passer-by, Helena intended to
indicate a photo-journalistic endeavor. Hands shaking, Helena had difficulty
maintaining her grip on the camera. Reaching the wooden dock, Helena glanced
casually in the direction of the Odyssey. She wished fervently for the cover of
the hat she had recklessly tossed aside back at the apartment. Having seen the
driver of the Jeep in a similar model, Helena supposed that these were
considered fashionable island gear for the shadier element. Quivering with
nervous tension, Helena lowered herself casually to the dock, dipping her tanned
legs in the warm water. The Odyssey was now no more than 100 meters away. Gazing
in the direction opposite to Neil’s boat, she snapped a few photos, pretending
to take great care with the composition of each shot. Then, ever so slightly,
she eased her lens back toward the Odyssey. What she saw, nearly made her drop
the camera. Neil Streep was standing at the stern of the boat, apparently
shampooing his hair with the aid of a bucket of water. He was, undeniably, stark
naked, brown as a berry, and gleaming impressively in the rays of the setting
sun. The camera lens whirred as Helena desperately clicked off several photos.
Just as she prepared to take a final shot of his lean, tanned body, Neil Streep
turned to face the camera and looked straight at Helena. Pulling her legs from
the water, Helena struggled to her feet. Flushing crimson, she turned and made
an awkward lunge toward the dock’s edge, missed her footing, and fell flat. Her
camera landed, uninjured in the dirt beyond. Scrambling to gather the expensive
equipment and replace it around her neck. Helena fumbled her retreat further.
Finally, equipped with her belongings, she began a graceless lope back up toward
the road. She could almost hear the phantom laughter dogging her footsteps.
Reaching the main road, Helena paused momentarily to catch the breath that
surged raggedly through her lungs. On a perverse impulse, she turned back for a
final glimpse of the Odyssey and its occupant. In the last dying rays of
sunlight, she caught the unmistakable glint of a pair of binoculars. They were
trained in her direction.