~ The Promise ~
J M Dragon
© November 2001
Acknowlegement:As always my thanks go to my beta reader Alice.
Two souls meant to be together searching through the ages. Once they find each other, do they stay together forever or do they search with each lifetime? If so, what changes with that lifetime? Does fame, fortune, occupation, gender, appearance all change with each lifetime? Is there some telltale trait that always remains constant providing instant recognition? Madeline Smiths life took a sudden turn with a divorce. Christopher Andrews' life took a sudden turn with a grave illness. Was it too late for the souls to find each other? What happens after their lives are over? Are soulmates destined to be one for all time?
A Promise Fullfilled
With my last breath
I welcomed death.
There, in the white light,
Your face shown bright!
With a loving look
My hand, you gently took.
And in a whispered tone,
You said 'Welcome Home'.
You will have a wonderful time Chris, trust me darling. You need the rest anyway. The doctor said it would be good for you. Sophia Clarence kissed the rugged cheek of her friend and ex-lover, as she pushed his muscular frame towards the gangway.
Im going to get all the damn rest I need soon enough Sophia! Why cant you come with me anyway? Christopher Andrews asked dejectedly, if his last days were going to have some meaning, why not with the marvelously witty company of this beautiful woman at his side.
Darling you know Id love to Sebastian is in the Country, you know how that is. Sophia shrugged her elegant shoulders and the silk of her turquoise suit shimmered in the bright sunlight.
Chris laughed derisively, Yeah, I know how that goes but that doesnt make me feel any better. Isnt he some kind of European aristocrat?
Aristocrat? Really Chris! He is a Count with a gorgeous chateau and unlimited assets. None of us are getting any younger, you know Sophia trailed off, a look in the depths of her eyes indicating her sadness with the aging process.
You look as beautiful today as the day I first met you twenty years ago Sophia. Forget Sebastian and come with me please. This damn cruise will be so much more pleasurable.
Sophia winked at him and waved her hand towards the waiting ship. Darling you will have a marvelous time. If you give yourself half a chance, maybe you will meet someone special. If everything goes as I plan with Sebastian I might have some good news when you get back.
Excellent. I could do with some of that for a change of pace. The man put a large hand out to gently caress her cheek, and then turning abruptly made his way up the gangway onto the ship.
Sophia watched him walk swiftly into the dark recesses of the ship, sighing softly as a lone tear trailed down her cheek. She would miss him he had been a good friend over the years. The news of his declining health made her realize this was just a trial run for when he would no longer be around.
Madeline Smith peered over the railing of the ship as she waved to her friend. How she let Susan cajole her into the ten day luxury trip alone was still a mystery to her!
Here she was in her mid-forties feeling unattractive and unloved. Her only career profile for the last twenty years was as a housewife. Joe, her husband, left her for a younger woman after twenty-five years of marriage. Their only child, Richard, was as a pilot in the Air Force stationed in South Vietnam for the last year. Madeline hadnt heard from her son since he left but would write him letters in an attempt to feel close to him. Joe left her a week after Richard shipped out and although he denied it, she wondered if his timing was just another cruel scheme on his part.
What did you do when suddenly you became redundant to the ones you thought loved you? That was being harsh on Richard, he was pursuing his own career, he loved flying and she would never regret giving up her nursing career to nurture him along. Joe however, was a different situation altogether! Having gained an excellent reputation as a pediatrician, she suddenly became last years model, out of date, boring and no longer of interest to him. He simply traded her in for a younger, prettier woman. I want to enjoy life and have fun. Not pass into middle age gracefully as you have decided to do Madeline! The words hurt so much.
What a damn fool I was. She worked hard in the early days to help him through medical school and his internship. As difficult as it was they managed and did have fun, especially when the baby came along. Now when money was not an issue, he left her!
Susan, her best friend, helped her through the last year, particularly when she hit the bottle for a time. Once Joe filed for divorce, she knew he was gone for good and she slid into the twilight world of nothingness. For the first time in her life she had no one to care for other than herself and it was obvious she was worthless. How did you pick yourself up in this decade of change? It was overwhelming and frightening.
Two days ago, she opened her mail and out dropped the tickets for the cruise. At first, she considered it a practical joke but the travel agency confirmed she was booked on the liner. Calling Susan, she found out her friend arranged everything and billed it to Joe. "He deserves to spend some of his money on you Madeline, that bimbo he is with will more than likely suck him dry."
So here she was, alone again but this time afloat, amongst a crowd of strangers.
Chris watched with indifference as the fellow passengers made their way to their assigned tables. He had already been up for hours, his body clock refusing to take a holiday. Being career military left him with the propensity of waking at the crack of dawn, unable to sleep again.
So far, no one arrived to join him at the table, which suited him just fine. Unfortunately, the table had been set for six people so he suspected that at least four, perhaps five others would be joining him for the morning meal.
Good morning! a bellow of a greeting hit Chris ears as he glanced up sharply to see who had disturbed his peace.
Staring at him was a large man with laughter filled eyes and a smile that creased his face from ear to ear. Shaking his head a fraction, thinking that perhaps he might ask for a change of table tomorrow, my god, spending the next nine mornings with this guy will take some stamina. Hope I dont get him in the evening too!
Howdy neighbor, seems were going to be breakfast buddies for the trip. Im Lance Fredricks, you would be?
Christopher Andrews. Chris shook the mans hand briefly, refusing to admit his military title. Who the hell cared if he was a Lieutenant General anyway! Smiling slightly he picked up his menu again and concentrated on the selections available.
Lance Fredricks was a little upset that the man didnt appear to be the talkative type at breakfast, damn shame.
My good lady doesnt take to the early mornings too well. She loves the partying of the evening as compensation though.
Lance tried to strike up a conversation with the man opposite him who had the well groomed look of someone who took pride in his appearance. The muscles he saw through the pristine white shirt indicated he kept in shape too. He was handsome as well. Cassy is going to be sorry she missed breakfast this morning, when I described this guy to her.
Im sure she does, perhaps Ill meet her another time. Chris responded politely glancing over the room to find the waiter.
The waiter arrived with a young couple that seemed to be touching at every angle. Honeymooners probably.
The young man smiled boyishly at Chris and then Lance who bellowed his good morning once again. Chris had to smile if only briefly, as Lance introduced himself and Chris to the couple.
David Jackson and this is my wife Hilary. The young man grinned at his wife as he said the words, yep obviously honeymooners.
Chris tried to make eye contact with the waiter, who was now engrossed in a conversation with a woman, who could have benefited from a decent hairstyle and clothes sense. She wasnt plain but decidedly on the dowdy and homely looking side. Mind you, Sophia had spoiled him when he looked at women. He watched as the waiter saw him and he spoke a few more words to the woman before he ventured over to take his order.
As the waiter took the orders, Chris noticed the woman was hovering next to the chair closest to him clearly nervous and unsure as her fingers fidgeted on the chair back.
I think the waiter meant for you to sit here. Chris spoke briskly to the woman, irritated at her indecision. Anyway, it was better for her to sit as she was making the place look untidy, he thought cruelly.
Are you sure?
Thank you. Madeline quietly responded and virtually jumped back out of the chair as Lance Fredricks loudly welcomed her to the table.
Chris had to suppress a chuckle at the womans reaction, wondering if Mrs. Fredricks didnt have it right with ignoring breakfast. Lance managed to extract from the timid and dowdy woman that her name was Madeline Smith.
Madeline saw him first! I wonder if I can possibly walk past him without his noticing. The man had made it very clear that the passengers, who were to share his breakfast table, were of no interest to him at all. He barely spoke throughout the meal gazing out at sea for the most part.
She was certain he was very irritated with her, although it was a close run with the very friendly Lance Fredricks. Why would the man want to strike up a conversation or even acknowledge her? She was no pretty picture and after spending the last six hours exploring the liner, she knew there were plenty of younger and quite simply stunning women to keep him happy. Not that it was any of her business what the romantic inclinations of the man who shared her breakfast table were.
Having watched him discreetly over breakfast, she noticed the man was probably in his late forties maybe even early fifties impeccably turned out and very fit! He reminded her of her son, although obviously older, maybe he had been in the military as well. He looked the type. Confident but quietly so and his eyes held a razor edge that gave the impression you did not mess with the man in any way. He was handsome and he knew it.
Why, oh why had Susan talked me into this? It is a waste of money, even if it is Joes money. I am totally out of my depth here! Maybe I should just stay in my cabin for the next ten days.
Her mind so full of doubt, she continued to go forward only to find herself tripping over something in her preoccupation. Flailing arms tried to reach out to break her fall, her eyes closed shutting out the impending impact of the deck.
Strong arms amazingly settled on hers, stopping her descent. It was as if she was being held in limbo, sure her feet were not planted on the deck.
Tentatively opening her brown eyes, she gazed tremulously into the grey ones of the person who had saved her from an embarrassing and painful fall. Shocked, she found herself in the arms of the very man she was trying to avoid.
Oh no! Madeline failed to stop the words leave her lips as she remained in a state of uncertainty.
I guess you go from one end of the spectrum to the other in entrances Miss ? Chris had watched the woman walk towards him her head in the clouds her attention elsewhere. Problems perhaps guess we all have those.
Im so sorry, whatever must you think of me? Madeline gasped out her words flooding out in agitation at her predicament.
No problem, glad I could help. Funnily enough, he felt that way. This woman falling literally into his arms brought a smile and a bubble of laughter within him. Something he hadnt experienced genuinely for some time now.
Madeline saw the vestige of control slip in this man, as his eyes twinkled. For a split second, her heartbeat stopped and quickly restarted at a much faster tempo.
Mr ? She knew his name but wanted to gain her composure and it was the first thing she could think of.
Madeline had not moved as if they were locked in this position for eternity.
Christopher Andrews, at your service Miss ? He vaguely recalled her name but he was not entirely sure, better to ask. He maintained solid eye contact with the chocolate brown ones darting from side to side nervously above him.
Madeline Smith. Wanting to add primly Mrs. then deciding against it, after all she wasnt anymore. Well, in a weeks time she wouldnt be another reason Susan booked the cruise for her.
Chris grinned at her, for some reason he felt protective of this very timid and nervous woman. Probably a spinster who had never been in a mans arms before! Glancing down to her ring finger and noticed the white strip that indicated a ring had been worn there for sometime. Okay, so she had been or was married and this is a break for her.
Guess Ill put you back on your feet and you can go wherever you were heading. Chris wasnt quite sure what to make of his sudden feeling of anxiety if she went on her way. Ridiculous!
Madeline struggled out of his hold feverishly looking around for a place she could possibly have been heading for.
Seeing the indecision in her expressive features, Chris decided to do something he was unfamiliar with... act on impulse. This woman might not be in Sophias league but she does have an appeal. Perhaps it is the defenseless and unhappy ambiance she exhibits.
I was going to have afternoon tea it seems to be recommended. Would you care to join me? My god what is getting into me out in the real world? In my real world, I wouldnt be seen dead with this woman! I really should rescind this offer and let her go on her way.
Then he saw a faint smile hovering on her lips, as a warm glow began to grow inside him. Well, in his real world he was a cynical rake, not that interested in womens feelings only his own pleasures. Moving around in the military as he had made it easy for him to be self centered. Perhaps here for a short time he could be a regular nice guy... some hope of that! His only stab at marriage ended before it began with the only saving grace a child, a daughter. Not that he had seen her since the split, which was about twenty-five years ago now.
Thank you, thats really kind of you. I would love to join you. Do they serve cream teas? I would love a traditional cream tea with strawberries. Madeline giggled like a schoolgirl.
Traditional cream tea it is, with plenty of strawberries. Just so happens they are my favorite as well.
Really Lance, havent you yet learned how to keep a bow tie straight. Cassy Fredricks shrilled as they walked towards the dance area and bar. She had not risen until noon then spent most of the day ignoring her husbands continual chatter. Sleeping the morning through was a pre-requisite to having a wonderful evening of entertainment you never knew whom you might meet on this type of cruise ship.
Casting her discreet, all encompassing eye, around she didnt see anyone who might spark an interest. Lance was a great meal ticket but there were always other possibilities out there waiting to be caught in the trap. As she was about to turn back to her husband, she saw a magnificent specimen of manhood stride purposefully through the entrance. On his own, even better!
Darling, do you know who that is? Cassy asked her husband innocently, one of Lances strong points was his ability to strike up a conversation with anyone and glean information out of the most reticent. Which could under certain circumstances is quite helpful.
Lance turned to look at who his wife found interesting. He knew of her roaming eye and her fickle nature. Although he loved his wife, he wasnt foolish enough to think that she loved him! He was twenty years her senior and not the best looking guy in the world. His financial assets spoke for him though. Ten years of marriage later, Cassy was still trying to trade him in for a younger version, but she wasnt getting any younger looking either and the opportunities were few and far between that could match his wealth. Where darling?
Chris Andrews had spent what he found to be the most boring dinner he ever experienced. That had to be saying something, having attended so many official dinners in the last ten years. Who would have thought listening to a pompous judge, a couple of executives so full of bullshit they would have been good for making manure. Not to mention the pretentious wives and he was certain mistress of one of them was going to be so boring. Although he had to admit Kate Lancaster had been beautiful to look at across the table and she was alone, appeared her father was some rich oilman.
Now to see if he could find a decent scotch and settle down quietly in a corner for an hour or so. The meds the doctors prescribed seemed to tire him out earlier than what he was used to.
Andrews, I want you to meet the wife. Lance Fredricks booming voice invaded his thoughts and inwardly he cringed at the comment.
Fredricks. Chris inclined his head politely at the bumptious man and then smiled briefly at the woman by his side. Fredricks wife was pretty and had a wonderful figure but she looked out of place by the large mans side.
Mrs. Fredricks pleased to meet you. Chris held out his hand for the woman to take, which she did vigorously smiling wryly as she held onto it longer than necessary.
Am I pleased to meet you too! I was beginning to think that all the handsome men had boycotted this voyage.
Cassy Fredricks voice had a little girl quality that was endearing to some men...not to him. Give him someone with character in his or her voice and he would listen intently. Madeline Smiths voice held that appeal for him after spending two hours together that afternoon; he had been amazed at how quickly the time had disappeared on them. All in all, the afternoon had been very pleasant and he would be quite happy to spend more time with the shy woman if the situation occurred.
Im sure they are all sitting at the bar Mrs. Fredericks. Chris informed her casually his eyes moving towards the bar and that long awaited scotch.
Then why dont we all have a drink together at the bar? Cassy quickly attached herself to the opportunity of being in this rather cynical but attractive mans company, it would give her an ideal chance to see how the land lay with him.
Chris couldnt think of anything to say that wouldnt be construed as being out and out rude if he declined the offer. Not that he normally cared about peoples feelings but he was trying to be a little friendlier after his session with Madeline Smith. About to agree to the invitation his eye caught the timid entrance of the woman he spent the afternoon with, once again looking out of place and nervous at her surroundings.
Looking up to the roof of the ship, he closed his eyes briefly. Thank you god.
Sorry, but I agreed to meet up with a fellow passenger for drinks. How about a rain check? Chris quickly replied moving away, noting the disappointed expression on Cassy Fredricks face and a rather relieved one on her husbands.
Sure Andrews, later. Lance Fredricks finally spoke up as he placed a hand on his wifes arm to guide her towards the bar.
Yes, later. Chris swiftly walked towards Madeline Smith, who having seen him approach, gave a shy smile.
As he arrived at her side, Kate Lancaster entered the room, immediately waving at him to draw his attention.
Hi Chris, want to join me for a drink? Kate asked laughing softly at his surprised expression; it was the swinging sixties after all!
Madeline watched the younger and very beautiful woman quickly make a claim on the man, who she thought was about to speak to her. Now that wouldnt happen she was no competition for the younger woman.
Kate, thats kind of you. How would you like to join Madeline and I instead? Chris moved closer to the astonished older woman at his side, his grey eyes captured her quizzical brown ones, hoping she would understand and not give him away with a refusal to his offer.
Madeline felt like she was under a microscope with this young womans regard. It is very disconcerting to be examined in such a way and for what?
Hello Kate, as Christopher said Im Madeline, Madeline Smith, pleased to meet you.
Kate smiled briefly at her then turned to dazzle the man, who was now between the two women, with a bright smile.
Lets go and have that drink shall we. Kate linked her arm in his and dragged him towards the bar.
Chris gave Madeline an apologetic glance as he turned slightly to ensure she followed them to the bar.
What could she do, she had by default accepted the invitation to be with Christopher if only for one drink, perhaps then she could leave and go back to her cabin, she really wasnt cut out for this kind of night life.
However, things hadnt quite transpired that way as two hours later she felt like a piece of the furniture. Now seated at a small table near the dance floor, waiting for the cabaret act to finish as Kate Lancaster monopolized the conversation clearly ignoring her. Although Christopher tried several times to include her, she didnt have the subject knowledge of what the younger woman was discussing. She wondered if the man looking attentively at Kate Lancaster understood any of it either. It is easy for him to nod his head and everything will be okay, he is a man!
Glancing around as the male singer finished his number to a thunder of applause, she tried to make out if anyone from her dinner table was there. Not that she had particularly struck up any friendships but one woman had been friendly. I doubt she would be here tonight, but you never know. Hell I'm here and who would have thought it?
Want another drink Madeline?
Madeline looked startled for she wasnt expecting anyone to ask her anything. Im a fine, thanks Christopher. Her voice sounded tired and forlorn.
Quirking an eyebrow of consternation at the tone he heard in the older womans voice, he snared her in a piercing gaze. Anything wrong?
No! No why would anything be wrong, guess Im tired. Shrugging her shoulders as she answered, not wanting to give anything away to the younger woman who looked her over, exasperated that her conversation was interrupted.
Tired huh? Okay, I can understand tired. Chris continued to trap her eyes in his, dismissing the obvious irritation of Kate Lancaster who was pulling on his arm for attention.
I think you should go to bed Madeline if youre tired. Kate replied quickly with a sweet smile that dripped acid rather than honey.
Madeline wanted to leave desperately but didnt want to be told to go to bed by this younger woman. Her pride wasnt totally dead and buried.
I will have another drink Christopher, thank you. Her voice held a bravado she didnt feel but who would know.
Chris Andrews smiled briefly at her and inclined his head acknowledging her request. Inside he was laughing silently and giving Madeline a pat on the back for her answer to Kates obvious attempt to get rid of her early.
Standing to go to the bar Kate Lancaster spoke to him. Chris darling what about my drink? The younger woman gave him a petulant look as she waved her hand towards the three quarter full glass in front of her.
It looks to me as if you have a drink Kate.
Darling by the time you get back Ill have drunk it, after all there wont be anyone for me to talk to until you come back, Ill need something to do.
Madeline shrunk back in her seat as the implied snubbing she had been receiving all evening from this woman was finally voiced in the open.
This is too much! I can do without this kind of treatment. I received enough of it from Joe, why should I put up with a strangers indifference too.
Chris expression changed from amenable to cold as ice, the words ringing around the table, the intent clear. He knew the young woman was selfish but hadnt realized that her Daddys money had provided the education of rudeness as well.
I think Ill take a rain check on the drink Christopher. Perhaps Ill see you at breakfast. Madeline stood up and with a quiet smile, she bid them both goodnight walking as quickly as possible to the first exit, allowing neither of them the opportunity to answer.
With a face like a thundercloud, Chris turned to the younger woman.
Who dragged you up? With a remark like that it must have been some school you were educated in.
Kate Lancaster saw the anger building and was annoyed at his defense of the older woman. What did it matter! She hadnt said more than three words in the last couple of hours and was as boring as hell. Now maybe they could have a little fun that was why she was here and the reason most were too. Except maybe Mrs. Conservative Smith, who knew why she was on the cruise. She certainly wasnt enjoying it if any of the sour expressions she saw cross the womans face were anything to go by.
Im sure she didnt take offense, if it makes you happy Ill apologize to her tomorrow.
Shaking his head and wanting to shake her too, gave her an infuriated glance as he left abruptly. Maybe I can catch Madeline before she goes to her cabin.
Chris wait! Kate shouted slightly embarrassed as several eyes gave her speculative glances.
Madeline missed breakfast not really wanting to see Christopher Andrews, since she was acutely embarrassed the evening before. Probably he wants to see me even less. Bolting out of the bar she ran along the deck towards her cabin area faster than the ship was sailing. Tears of frustration and her own pain over the past events in her life threatening to engulf her once again. Entering her cabin and throwing her purse in the corner of the room she slumped down on the small bed, her face crumbling with all her nervous emotions.
When will it all end?
A question she continued to ask herself repeatedly. This was a new age of enlightenment and all the old values she had been brought up to believe in were being spun around leaving her inadequately prepared for what was to come.
They were due to spend half a day at Freeport, Grand Bahamas. She decided it was better to go out and about than stay cooped up in her cabin, which would surely be the beginning of the end.
Therefore, here she was booking her seat on the launch due to leave in thirty minutes. Since she hadnt eaten breakfast she decided to grab a table and have coffee and a pastry before they set off. Turning to leave she cannoned into a solid wall of chest and wanted the deck to swallow her up. Timidly turning her eyes upwards to see whom she had to apologize to this morning, it was becoming a habit!
Seems you like to make physical welcomes Madeline Smith? Chris Andrews chuckled as his eyes crinkled, the laughter flooded out of them.
This was a stroke of luck for him, as he hadnt caught up with her last night. He arrived at breakfast early, staying until the latest possible moment without looking like an idiot for her to arrive, she hadnt.
Now fortune had been smiling on him as Madeline was literally in his arms again. This is becoming a habit, and one I must admit isnt unpleasant at all.
Oh no! How could life be so cruel as to have me walk into this man again? What a cruel stroke of luck.
Im sorry Mr. Andrews I wasnt looking where I was going.
Chris had to take pity on her as her expressive eyes filled with unshed tears. Hey, no problem. Mr. Andrews?
Madeline refused to look directly at him as she leveled her gaze towards the deck and the symmetry of the lines in the wooden floor. For the life of her she couldnt answer him, it had been a rather silly attempt at going back to the first day they had met and he didnt appear to want to know any of them at the breakfast table.
Chris contemplated the bent head, which came up to his shoulders. A feeling of tenderness began to increase as he felt her inability to answer him. I like Madeline Smith, not really sure why. Perhaps it is that I feel protective of her because of her nervousness. Whatever it is I want to get to know her a little more if that is possible.
Are you going to the Island?
Madeline looked up slowly and saw the genuine interest in his face as she nodded her head. Still incapable of speech what could she say, that she didnt want his company at any time when, if she confessed to herself, she wanted it badly. I like him. He isnt as he appeared at first glance. I wonder what getting to know him would be like.
Great! I am too. Want some company?
Chris waited with a gentle smile on his face as he let her scrutinize him, wondering if the question had been sincere.
I thought maybe you would already have a partner. Madeline finally found her voice and asked hoping that he would say no! She did not intend to be in the same company as Kate Lancaster again, ever!
Contemplating the question he knew what she was indicating, perhaps Kate was the significant other he hadnt asked her, in fact he hadnt gone back to the table. He had found a smaller bar on one of the upper decks and spent the next hour chatting about nothing in particular with a couple of guys whose wives had gone to bed early.
He didnt really care if he saw Kate Lancaster again, although he knew that was impossible as they shared the same table for Dinner.
No, not unless you agree to be my partner?
Madeline felt her spirits rise at the answer a warm glow began to trace itself through her body and she felt giddy, yeah giddy like a schoolgirl.
Id like that, thank you Christopher.
Excellent, tell you what how about a coffee before we go?
Suddenly from being lonely and sad, to happy and in good company, she decided to retract her original thought as she met up with Christopher. Life isnt so cruel after all.
Id like that.
Chris couldnt remember when he had such a good time as the trip to the island with Madeline. They had simply talked, talked and laughed at the same things pretty much all the time. Normally his years in the military tended to make him very somber company, somehow that all vanished when he was in the presence of Madeline. None of his friends would believe this was Lt. General Andrews of the Special Forces if they had seen him a few hours earlier.
Now looking at himself in the mirror he knew Sophia would be astonished but happy at his current up-beat mood. She was the only person with whom he discussed his current health problems. Right now he was on a forced leave after a particularly harrowing expedition into enemy territory. A visit to an independent doctor confirmed his suspicions about his declining health. When his yearly physical came due in three months his superiors would know. Should he even bother to apprise them earlier? No reason to, and they would only pension him off and what would he do then? Vegetate until the time came? On the other hand, he could simply decide to take the waiting into his own hands and finish it. Who would really care? Yeah Sophia, now she was involved elsewhere and he had a feeling that this time around it might just be the keeping type of involvement. Otherwise, he was alone! Shrugging his shoulders as he nodded at his reflection, immaculate as always.
Then his eyes tracked to the small picture frame standing on the bedside table and he smiled wryly. Yes, someone might care. However, would it be for all the wrong reasons?
Turning away from the picture his thoughts turned once more on the hours spent with Madeline Smith. Pity she wasnt on his table for dinner, he might actually enjoy the experience. Although he had arranged to meet her in a quiet piano bar after dinner, just the two of them this time, smiling slowly as he recalled the light in her eyes at the promise of it being just the two of them. She sure had a beautiful smile, a little shy to come out to play but once it did. Well, that was a mighty fine thing to see.
Grinning like a schoolboy he retrieved his wallet and opened his door to venture out to his second on-board evening experience, and this time he was going to make it a wonderful experience for Madeline, no way would she be running away from him early tonight.
Locking the door of his cabin behind him, his thoughts were full of a certain interesting woman called Madeline Smith.
Madeline contemplated the dresses she brought with her for the evening entertainment. It was formal for dinner, so her friend Susan persuaded her to go out and buy the appropriate wardrobe. Now looking over the garments she wasnt sure she had made the right choices, they looked so so modern! What did she know about the fashion of the decade? She had a rather serviceable kind of clothes sense and it showed in what she brought with her for general day to day wear. Here with these dresses she was totally out of her depth, Susan swore she looked good in everything. She was her friend and therefore it was a reasonable assumption to think that she might have exaggerated somewhat. Still, it was too late now, she had the dresses and she couldnt exactly turn up naked could she? That would be taking the liberated sixties attitude a little too much to heart. The thought did make her smile though as she picked up a salmon pink filmy number that felt soft and sensual to the touch.
Her thoughts went over her trip to the Island with Christopher Andrews or Chris as he insisted she call him. It was with some trepidation she agreed to accompany him, although her heart wouldnt stop racing all the time they were together. It was a very disconcerting but pleasant feeling.
They had laughed at the same things, something that amazed her. She couldnt remember the last time Joe laughed with her about anything. When she and Chris came across a group of children in ragged shorts, bare foot and certainly grubby looking but with happiness shinning in their faces she realized that some people needed very little to enjoy life. She turned to Chris catching a wistful expression cross his face as their glances held for a few moments, which seemed to Madeline as if the world had stopped turning around them.
That is kids for you they find pleasure in the smallest of things. He grinned at her and took her hand to walk towards the small main street in the hunt for the perfect souvenir.
An earlier discussion had brought about a challenge, which had delighted her and she wondered if what was actually happening was real!
Madeline well have a competition and at the end of the cruise we will decide on the winner, what do you say?
Whats the competition? Madeline was intrigued.
The perfect souvenir! Chris laughed at her perplexed features.
What do you mean? She whispered as the launch set off on its short expanse of sea to the Island harboring point.
There are several tours over the cruise and each time we go, we buy a souvenir that sums up the place weve been to. At the end of it, we get someone to judge, which is the perfect souvenir of the whole journey. As I said the perfect souvenir.
A bubble of laughter erupted within the woman at his side, as this time he gave her a quizzical look, seemed a reasonable idea to him.
Okay Chris. The hunt for the perfect souvenir is about to begin. Madeline wondered if Chris realized that he had in essence committed them to going on all the organized trips . The words made her feel warm in the pit of her stomach, creating a kernel of hope that they would go on each trip together like this one.
Looking at the object she bought it made her smile, as the market stall-holder had virtually pushed it at her to buy, saying it was the perfect gift for her. Those words alone sold her. Chris just shook his head at the rather ugly wooden carving as he glanced down at his mask that was supposed to hold magic powers. Not that he knew what the powers were but Madeline had chuckled as hed parted with hard currency for the item.
Her hands shook a little as she smoothed the dress down over her body. It really was quite revealing and certainly clung to her sleek curves. Fortunately, she never had a weight problem, most clothes looked good on her. However, when it came to above the shoulders she stalled at the fence.
She was actually looking forward to later this evening. Somewhere inside her, she could feel the excitement beginning to grow. Now she refused to analyze it any more than it was a good feeling and she hadnt felt this good for years!
Hey Andrews hows it going? Havent seem much of you except at breakfast. Lance Fredericks bellowed at the man who was seated at the small bistro table waiting for Madeline to arrive.
Its going well Fredericks what about yourself? Chris felt great today; primarily because of the last couple of days, hed spent with Madeline. Having entered into the spirit of their souvenir challenge, not to mention the time they spent onboard ship buoyed him tremendously, forgetting his problems if only for the length of the cruise.
Oh, Ive been on better cruises. Cassy isnt up to the mornings as I mentioned before. Although shes enjoying herself, last evening she didnt get back to the cabin before five a.m. I guess its working out. The man spoke quickly his tone one of resigned tolerance to his wifes excesses.
Sorry about that Fredericks, want to join us for coffee? Hed seen Madeline approaching and it created a quiver of expectation inside as he saw her wide smile, as she sought him out.
We? Lance asked quizzically dropping his heavyset frame into a chair opposite the other man.
Yes, we. Chris smiled readily as the we in question came close to the table.
Hi Chris, Mr. Fredricks. Madeline responded politely as she sat down in the chair next to Chris.
Lance Fredericks was puzzled that these two seemed to get along so well they appeared poles part. Over breakfast they were polite to each other with no evidence of a growing friendship. Frankly, that first evening he was sure as was Cassy that Andrews merely used this woman as an excuse to leave them, maybe that wasnt the case.
Why Madeline the names Lance. I thought wed gone through the formalities at breakfast. Nice to see you again, what do you think of the cruise so far?
Madeline had to admit the man certainly wasnt lost for words in any situation. Lance, Im enjoying the cruise thank you. Isnt your wife with you? Or is she resting on the sun deck as its such a beautiful day?
Chris watched the man opposite him and saw a fleeting look of sadness cross his face as he answered the question.
Oh no. Cassy doesnt get up much before noon and she was a little later than normal last night so maybe she wont be up until mid afternoon.
Doesnt that make it a little lonely for you in the morning?
Yeah a little, although theres always folks like you to talk to, so its not a bad life all in all.
I guess not. Madeline said quietly and wondered what it must be like to have a husband that understanding. Although she doubted that she would want to leave her husband alone that long if, she loved him.
Her thoughts becoming somber as she considered Joe and the impending final decree tomorrow.
A hand unexpectedly closed over her twitching nervous one, which was trying to shred the cloth on the table. The action soothed her immediately, as she turned surprised eyes up to find the warm grey ones, staring at her with a quiet question in their depths.
Squeezing the fingers that held hers, she was surprised that he didnt take his away, content to hold her hand loosely under the table.
Who wants coffee? Chris asked nonchalantly indicating for a waiter to take their orders.
An hour later Lance Fredricks finally left them alone, having seen someone who he had met the previous evening.
As he left them Madeline looked at her empty coffee cup in silence and a little pensively, or so Chris thought, as he watched her with a hooded expression.
Penny for your thoughts Madeline?
Oh I dont know that theyre even worth a penny Chris. She gave him a tentative smile. What could she say? That she was thinking of her final divorce decree tomorrow, they hadnt talked about their private affairs before.
Let me be the judge of that Madeline, please!
She heard the sincerity in his tone and made a swift decision.
My divorce becomes final tomorrow, I guess I was just she trailed off unable to voice what she was feeling right now.
Chris sat back in his chair as he considered how best to comment. Perhaps this was where all her sadness stemmed from; he hadnt really considered that her problems were this raw.
Moving forward slightly so he could look into her eyes, his crinkled with sympathy and understanding. Its always a tough time Madeline, if you need space to be alone, I understand.
Madeline turned her eyes up to meet his, hers sparkled with unshed tears. No! No, please Chris I dont want to be alone. Thats the point Ive hated being alone since Joe left me, so soon after our son left home as well. I guess it had been so long since I was alone, I found it hard to adjust.
Yeah. It must seem like that, how long were you together Madeline?
Thats a long time Madeline, not surprisingly you have found it difficult to come to terms with the situation. Do you see much of your son?
No it isnt his fault! Chris gave her a look of compassion as she exclaimed that her son hadnt abandoned her either. Mothers are all the same the world over!
I never said it was. How old is he?
Twenty-three. Hes a pilot in the military posted to the war zone a year ago.
Chris quirked an eyebrow at that, wondering if it would be prudent to ask which regiment. Then chose not to do so, it would serve little purpose now.
You must be proud of him, fighting for his country.
Madeline gave a resigned shrug of her shoulders. Ive never understood the purpose of this war! War in general I abhor, sometimes it becomes necessary to get involved as with the Second World War, I guess Im just not a military person.
You dont approve of the military?
Chris was interested in her reply, Hed joined up in 1943 and been sent to Europe immediately when his training was over. He had seen atrocities on both sides, even been part of them under orders, and found that he loved the adrenaline rush of danger. Primarily that was why hed been targeted for the Special Forces, never looking back career wise. He had never doubted his decision or the life he led. Covertly both professionally and personally, it was a way of life he understood.
No! Thats not what I meant Chris. I think they do a splendid job. I guess when its one of your own in the front line you tend to worry more and question the rightness of things. Madeline wanted to convey her feelings without being opinionated.
Im glad Madeline because Im career military myself.
She gazed at him in astonishment at first, and then gave him a wry smile. He looked like a military man always had to her, why was he here and not involved in the war effort?
Are your retired?
Retired! Do I look that old? He laughed heartily and placed an arm over her shoulders in a friendly gesture as he saw her cheeks beginning to turn pink in embarrassment.
No, not me Madeline. Im there until they have to physically throw me out of the barracks.
Why are you here then? Her curiosity was getting the better of her.
Long story. The simple version is a tough assignment, stress, vacation, then back to normal. The words clipped and formal just like the military.
I see. What more could she say, he obviously didnt want to talk about it. Although she knew there was more to it than he said, it was a gut feeling she had.
Are you have you been what Im trying to say is have you a family?
Oh yes! The military is my family I joined up when I was twenty-two a little old in some peoples eyes; my dad wanted me to follow him in the family business. Somehow, lumber jacking didnt have the same appeal once the war started for us. I worked on the old mans sense of loyalty for his country and well its all history after that.
Chris smiled as he recalled the numerous hints hed dropped to his dad at the time. Even now, the old man was still overseeing the day-to-day operations, although Jason his younger brother had gone into the family business. However, he was kinda dumb, loveable but dumb.
That wasnt what you wanted to know was it? Smiling engagingly at her, he continued.
I was married once, it was a long time ago. Annie was a great gal, loved the family home and didnt want to move away. She was my high school sweetheart, everyone expected us to marry and we did when we were both nineteen.
You were very young. Madeline was surprised.
I could say the same about you.
Touché. Madeline nodded for him to continue.
Everything appeared to be going well. I signed up and ourbabywas due two months before I was posted overseas. Although I missed Annie, something struck me, as right when I joined up, and when the war was over it was natural to stay. Of course Annie tried to settle down as a military wife that first year I came back home I guess she was a hometown girl and always would be. She left me and went back home with our daughter, end of story really. My Dad still thinks one day Im coming home to run the business, my brother and his wife hope I dont and thats about it really.
What is your daughters name? Do you see her? It was a natural question for a mother to ask.
Carina. Not really, she was four years old the first time I saw her and five when her mother left me. Shes twenty-five now, I would say Ive seen her twenty-five times the whole time shes been on this earth. Makes me a bad father I guess in your eyes?
Madeline looked at him and saw the question, which wasnt veiled in any mock regret. He accepted it as a fact of his life, the life he had chosen.
I wouldnt judge Chris, circumstances are different for everyone.
What about your husband, did he spend lots of time with your son?
Joe spent very little time with Richard the first ten years, he was too busy carving out a career in medicine. Hes a pediatrician, a very good one as it stands. When Richard went to high school Joe started to take an interest, mainly I think to see if he was going to follow his fathers footsteps. When he realized he wasnt, Joe lost interest again. I guess he was too busy following his own dreams.
The solemn words were not lost on Chris; the guy was obviously selfish. Okay things didnt work out between man and wife but the kid that was different.
What about your dreams?
I gave them up for the men in my life I guess, perhaps thats why Im here to find some of my own.
I hope so Madeline you deserve them. Why did Richard decide to go into the military?
Laughing softly, Madeline pondered the question for a moment before she answered.
Richard always wanted to learn to fly, his father wouldnt approve of it. However, I saw how my son looked at aircrafts. All the magazines he collected were out of my own personal savings then I bought lessons for him from the housekeeping budget. I sometimes wish that I hadnt, but it was in his blood the adventure of flying, he was my son what else could I do?
Chris heard the love and understanding for her sons dreams in the words.
Are you worried that he might not come home Madeline, and that you would blame yourself?
Yes! Joe would blame me and how could I not feel responsible?
You allowed your boy to follow his dream Madeline, what more could a parent do but that? I dont even know what Carina's dreams are let alone help her to achieve them.
Do you regret that? Madeline asked quietly, this was the most heartfelt conversation shed had in months. Yet, it seemed so natural to share it with Chris, almost as if they were connected in an intangible way.
Truthfully Madeline? No. She has never wanted for money, I wasnt there for her in the early stages and probably even if Annie had stayed with me, I would still have been an absent father figure. It was the life I had chosen, a family wasnt really part of it, Im brave or foolish enough to admit my selfishness in that to you.
He smiled wryly at her as he saw the intelligent eyes flicker over him, not that he could understand what the thoughtful gaze meant.
Thats my life story Madeline what about you?
My story? Oh, thats easy. I married young and repented at leisure. Her voice held a bitterness he hadnt heard before as he raised his eyebrows in question.
I hardly think any of us repent at leisure Madeline.
Okay lived to regret then! The tremor in her voice was evident as she replied.
Do you still love him? Chris was holding an invisible breath at the question, his heart hammering in his chest.
Of course I do! Chriss heart sank and he felt like a crippled sub that was hitting the bottom unable to surface again.
Of course I do, my son means everything to me. My husband on the other hand can go to hell! Madelines voice strong and confident, a decision had been made inside as she smiled at him.
Chris gave her a beaming smile in return, well in that case, its now a suitable drinking hour somewhere in the world, shall we celebrate?
Madeline giggled like a schoolgirl, with Chris she felt like her life was starting over again and nothing that had gone before mattered.
Yes I would like to celebrate. To casting off the old and looking forward to the new.
Ill drink to that Madeline.
He winked at her as he summoned the waiter.
Lance Fredricks tried to give discreet looks at the rather hung over couple opposite him, they both looked like they had been out all night maybe they had.
After I left you two anything exciting happen?
Chris could take his drink or could he! The medication he was taking had obviously severely reduced his tolerance, but Madeline looked worse than he did, which made him smile inwardly she was adorable.
No, nothing spectacular what about yourself? He heaved a silent sigh and made a wry smile, my friends wouldnt believe that a woman managed to out drink me.
No, Cassy might join us tomorrow. Then again depends on what time she finishes her nightlife.
Madeline, although hung over and she was, not enough though to miss the undercurrents in the mans tone.
Your wife loves the nightlife Lance?
Sure she does, and who can blame her shes still a youngster. Im an early to bed type of guy myself.
Know what you mean Lance, early is my middle name. Early to bed and early to rise was my Daddys stock in trade. Chris responded to the man who had spoken hesitantly.
Madeline turned to smile at Chris she could almost picture the scene of him being marched to bed early and then getting up at the crack of dawn it suited him. Not only that, it made her feel very maternal towards him. Strange really when you looked at him, he certainly wasnt the mothering kind of guy, far too masculine and rugged for that.
What she wasnt expecting was the grey eyes that seared hers in a grip that defined explanation setting all her nerves on fire. Then the familiar grin appeared and her heartbeat settled into a pattern that she had become used to around Chris, erratic but just controllable!
Pardon me mentioning it folks but you look like you both tied one on yesterday, celebrating anything in particular?
Lance was fascinated these two were like chalk and cheese. One cynically world weary,that was Chris Andrews and Madeline, well Madeline was shy, retiring and sweet, the girl next door type. They didnt fit together in any pattern hed ever seen before and yet they were like glue, stuck together without hope of ever being separated. He chuckled silently at that romantic thought better not let anyone know what he was thinking they would say he was losing his mind, especially his wife.
Chris looked down into his orange juice, and a small smile played on his lips before he looked up and answered. Hed noticed Madeline shift slightly in her chair; he was getting to know the signs when she didnt known what to say.
Actually, as it turns out we were celebrating Lance, kinda private though Im afraid.
Lance gave them a speculative glance, not going to share? We could get together over lunch and join you in celebration, what do you say?
Madeline gave the large man a startled glance. Surely, Chris knew that his ambiguous comment would set Fredricks off on the scent to find out what they had been celebrating. Strangely enough, she wondered what it was that Chris had in mind as her own damped down sense of humor ccame out to play.
Yes Chris why not share with Lance, after all we are out today at lunch we dock at Puerto Rico as you well know.
Well sure I know Madeline, just dont have the same enthusiasm you and Chris do for sight-seeing. Lance said self-consciously, he would have enjoyed going to some of the places if Cassy had gone with him but the absence of his wife on any expedition had a rather stifling effect on him.
Chris choked on his toast as Madeline asked him to explain, she was playful this morning.
I guess if Madeline doesnt mind. We were celebrating Chris turned to look at Madeline and grinned at her a glimmer of mischief in his gray eyes.
Yeah? Lance asked wanting desperately to know what they were celebrating.
We were celebrating becoming He saw Madeline give him a wide-eyed look of possibly shock, Engaged!
The stunned silence that went around the table even had the honeymoon couple that rarely did more than eat at speed and disappear back to wherever .
I dont believe it for one minute! Lance Fredricks was for once shocked at a lost for words even, wait until Cassy hears this!
Madeline gathered her own scattered wits as she captured Chris laughter filled eyes. He is certainly pushing the boat out in the teasing game.
No! No Lance Chris is joking we arent engaged, far from it! He was trying to be funny I think, a little too early for this type of joke I believe.
Lance laughed heartily at Madelines quick retraction of the statement, even if they werent engaged something was going on and he needed Cassy to work it out, more in her line.
Okay, I guess it would be sudden wouldnt it? He winked at Chris and smiled warmly at Madeline.
Yes it would. Madelines voice so low it was barely audible.
The honeymoon couple smiled at Chris and then to Madeline before they excused themselves and left the room.
Guess we frightened them away. Chris had a wide grin on his face, he wasnt sure how Madeline would take it but she looked calm enough.
Yeah guess you did, so what were you two celebrating? Lance still wanted to know and he wouldnt give up until he had the answer.
Oh yeah celebrations, new beginnings Lance, new beginnings. Chris replied as he poured himself another cup of coffee and pondered what it would be like to be engaged to Madeline Smith, then he mentally shook the thought out of his head, he was in no position to contemplate such an action should anyone want him anyway. The thought brought a melancholy feeling over him as his eyes stared into the depths of the coffee cup.
Madeline didnt know what to say and decided nothing was appropriate, she would talk with Chris later. Why he had pulled a stunt like that, she really didnt know it really wasnt very nice to make fun of Fredricks, even if he was a busybody. However, her mind wandered over the statement as she wondered what it would be like to be engaged to Chris Andrews. Then her wandering mind was severely curtailed, as she realized that no way would he contemplate being engaged to her, she wasnt his type. Contemplating the rim of her teacup, she lapsed into silence alongside Chris, words irrelevant at this moment.
Youve been somewhat like the Scarlet Pimpernel Chris, sneaking off after dinner every evening. It must be a wonderful place you go to, care to share with the rest of us?
Kate Lancaster was annoyed with the man, he was by far the most attractive on board and single too. He had been distinctly cold and un-welcoming whenever she was near him after that first night. Yet, she was only interested in his company.
Chris glanced around the table at the people he unfortunately had to spend the cruise having dinner with each evening. The most objectionable was this unbearable, pretentious young woman who seemed to appear whenever he was alone. Fortunately, as long as Madeline agreed to spend time with him that was not often.
Nowhere special, the piano bar is a good place if you want entertainment and a conversation as well. Not like the other three bars, I think they are all emulating the new groups like The Beatles.
He and Madeline booked an opera concert this evening, having found that they had a mutual regard for Enrico Caruso. He wasnt going to tell anyone at this table that though.
I like lots of music styles but my favorite has to be Jazz cant get enough of it. Judge Capriarti said as he tucked into his raw steak with relish.
Oh well you would enjoy Mickys bar Judge, lots of Jazz in the evening there. Kate gushingly pointed out to the Judge, much to the displeasure of his sour face wife, who gave Kate a warning look from her small beady green eyes.
For Chris that was the most entertainment he was going to get from this table at dinner, the possessiveness of the wives for their men whenever Kate was about. It was about the only time he felt sorry for Kate and that was only for a few seconds, for he was positive the younger woman would make mincemeat of the others if she wanted to do so.
I know I would my dear Kate, especially if I was in the company of such a beautiful woman as yourself. The Judge ignored the aggressive nudge he received from his wife, smiling, completely enchanted into Kates serene features.
Some people dont know when its prudent to keep quiet. Chris thought as he contemplated the chicken hed ordered for his main meal, pushing it around his plate he wasnt hungry never appeared to be lately.
How would it be if we accompanied Judge Capriarti and his wife to the Jazz club Chris? It could be entertaining for us all. Kate asked him directly, she was taking any advantage she could to make him accept a date with her.
Chris had to give it to the young woman if nothing else she was persistent, thank god, he had someplace else to be and someone he would rather be with. Yes, the bottom line was he wanted to be with Madeline, end of story.
Sorry I have another engagement.
The rejoinder making Chris smile, hed used the same word twice today in very different contexts both involving Madeline.
Kate felt the anger rising rapidly as he once again avoided any direct contact with her, damn the man he was made of iron surely he could see she was throwing herself at him.
Anywhere interesting or should I say with anyone? Kates voice sounded sweet and friendly, when in reality to Chris he heard the undertones. He hadnt spent years in the Special Forces not to identify the hidden message and Kate Lancaster was angry with him.
Oh now my dear Kate I can assure you that you wouldnt enjoy where Im going one bit.
Chris gave her a sharp look, she certainly didnt like to lose at all, another time he would have applauded that and given in to the beauty of the woman. Now he was content with the company he had chosen.
Ill hold you to that. Kate gave him a knowing look and then turned her attention to the man to her left, giving him her full attention.
Chris had to concede she was a great flirt, he wondered what she might be like in ten years time having gained some experience of the world. Then he smiled wryly; she would be just the same maybe even worse. His thoughts then drifted to Madeline and he felt the happiness the thought of her brought he didnt need anyone else.
May Derriman asked her question for the third time to the inattentive woman on her right.
Madeline how was the trip to shore today?
Madeline heard her the third time and gave her a tentative smile as she answered.
It was very beautiful and at the same time primitive, the Islanders appear not to notice the poverty, they enjoy life.
Yes thats one of the reasons I dont go ashore the natives do tend to beg so. May turned up an eyebrow depreciatingly at the thought of the dirty, smelly people on shore begging for her money.
Madeline was surprised she hadnt put May down as prejudice. The comment smacked of that and an arrogance she suspected was prevalent on the cruise ship generally. Wasnt she glad shed found Chris to share the adventure with, and it was certainly proving to be exactly that in more ways than one?
They didnt bother us.
Madeline turned a shade pink she hadnt meant to mention that she and Chris had once more gone ashore together, then again what did it matter! As of today she was a free agent her divorce would be final. Strangely, it didnt have the impact she was expecting, yesterday it had been worse until Chris had taken over and everything was a blur after that. An enjoyable blur, Chris had gauged her mood exactly and within an hour, she was laughing as if she didnt have a care in the world.
Yes, Chris Andrews and I decided to team up and go ashore together for company.
May Derriman shot a quick intense glance at her giving a knowing smile as she nodded her head.
Hes a very handsome man Madeline and I hear hes available too.
Im not looking for a husband!
Oh my dear I know, I know but stranger things have happened. Her laughter tinkled around the table as others looked at them in interest. Madeline declined to look up from her contemplation of the plate and the others carried on their conversation.
Whispering to Madeline, May said gently. I hope everything works out for you my dear and if it doesnt, well youre having a good time arent you?
Madeline peered at the older woman and wondered if she really meant that or was she just being a busybody. She decided on the former as she saw the sincerity in her eyes.
Yes, yes I am.
Madeline wondered if that was what other people were thinking, she was trying to find a husband. She wasnt, May was correct though she was enjoying Chriss company so very much. She dare not contemplate the end of the cruise, not yet anyway, she would savor every hour she had with him, and it felt so right.
It had been wonderful!
The opera had been a mix of people of all ages and full too, fortunately Chris had made reservations and they had front row seats. Although all the singers were good, the star of the show was the lead tenor whose portrayal as Rudolph from La Bohemia was the highlight or so Chris thought. As he waited patiently for the waiter to take their orders in the piano bar, it was becoming their favorite evening haunt.
Looking at the woman who was delving into her purse for something, he had an inkling that Madeline had enjoyed that part too, her eyes sparkled with unshed tears as she was transported to another dimension, at least he suspected she had anyway.
A scotch and a white wine, David.
The waiter, who was also becoming a familiar fixture to them to the point that they called him by name, smiled as he wrote down the order and went on his way.
Madeline placed her purse on the table and looked up into amused grey eyes, Chris had been watching her. Normally she would have been embarrassed and turned a bright shade of pink, now she smiled at him and rolled her eyes.
I wanted to show you a photo of Richard, guess Ive misplaced it.
We still have several days left of the cruise Madeline Im sure you will find it by then.
He was surprised but pleasantly so that she trusted him enough to show him her sons picture. Today was another milestone for Madeline she was now free to make her own way in life again without the encumbrance of an indifferent husband; she deserved so much more.
Yes I know. We have one hundred and six hours. Damn why had she admitted she knew to the hour, it sounded so pathetic?
Chris chuckled, I must say Im impressed. Of course that means we must make the most of all of them, what do you say?
Madeline felt her heart rate increase, her blood ran through her veins like a flood threatening to burst its banks, as her breathing became shallow. Why did Chris make her feel this way? Joe never had in all the time they were together not even when they were first courting.
Yes we must.
Chris continued to ensnare Madelines eyes with his, his pulse was way out of control and he could feel himself becoming hot under the collar. He had never experienced this kind of emotion before, maybe close to it on one of the more dangerous missions hed carried out but never with another person, ever!
How about we drink to new beginnings and new friends.
The waiter fortunately brought their drinks at that moment otherwise they would have had to carry out the toast with invisible glasses and that idea wasnt out of the ballpark either.
They both picked up their glasses and Madeline replied softly.
To new beginnings, friends and love.
Chriss eyes crinkled in the corners, as Madeline expelled the breath she had held with her addition to the toast, would it be a welcome addition?
Ill drink to that. Their
glasses chinked as they made the toast eventually, to break what was becoming a very
sensually charged atmosphere between them. Chris then remarked amiably about the concert
they had seen earlier and the tension was diffused.
May we join you? Lance Fredricks voice boomed out as Madeline looked up startled, and then gave him a grin.
I dont think youve met my wife. Cassy this is Madeline.
Cassy Fredricks looked over the older woman, gave her a small smile, and shook her hand briefly. At least she wasnt any competition.
No we havent met, pleased to meet you Cassy. Madeline knew she was being scrutinized and it made her smile inwardly. Sometimes she wondered if she had ever been conscious of her appearance and others as much as some appeared to be on this cruise.
Seating opposite Madeline, Lance glanced around and then gave her a quizzical look. No Chris today?
Why were people so nosy?
Obviously not. Madeline informed him quietly, she had to admit so far today Chris hadnt shown up and she was worried. Hed intimated they would have coffee together as they had done for the past couple of days but he hadnt shown.
I had breakfast with him this morning but he didnt say much, kind of gray around the gills, figured hed had another good night.
Whos looking gray around the gills? Kate Lancaster sat down next to Madeline without invitation, the woman didnt care that she eavesdropped or wasnt particularly wanted.
Chris. Lance didnt notice the particularly cool welcome from Madeline and Cassy. Then he felt the kick under the table and he knew he was in trouble.
I see, maybe it was his secret rendezvous last night, and hes still enjoying the fruits of his labors. Kate turned her saccharine smile on Madeline as she spoke, and the barb wasnt lost on Cassy either, who looked at them contemplatively. No love lost there!
Good for Chris, he might as well sow some wild oats while hes on board, makes for an interesting voyage Id say.
And you would know? Cassy responded to her husbands remake sarcastically.
Lance glanced at Cassy as his face held a hangdog expression. Not me darling, Im faithful to the end.
Lance placed a loving arm around his wife who looked distinctly uncomfortable by the show of public emotion. Mores the pity. her voice so low it couldnt be heard by anyone.
Madeline, how are you enjoying the cruise and is this your first?
Madeline was grateful for Cassy Fredricks intervention, she really didnt want to converse with the young woman at her side. She made her feel inadequate and as gauche as a schoolgirl, when in fact it should be the other way around.
Yes its my first cruise, and Im having a great time. Ive met some really nice people.
Im sure you have. Kate interjected as she gave Madeline a shrewd gaze.
Im more the social evening type myself, and this must be our fifth cruise isnt it Lance?
Yeah fifth. He was now preoccupied with reading the lunch menu, safer by far than conversing with a gaggle of women.
What about you Kate? Cassy had met the woman on several occasions over the cruise, although they didnt particularly mix, it was evident they were both interested in the same thing men!
Oh, this is my first alone, otherwise Ive been on a cruise every year with family since I was three.
Oh not many then. Cassy replied and gave the woman a sweet smile.
Madeline wanted to burst out laughing, as Cassy didnt hide her bitchy remark about the womans age, indicating she was barely more than a child.
Kate Lancaster had wanted to quiz the nondescript Madeline Smith and find out about her and Chris Andrews; the Fredricks woman wasnt going to give her a chance. Standing up she gave them all a forced smile.
Ive just seen some of my evening friends, perhaps Ill join you all for lunch another time. Leaving immediately, ignoring Lances protestations that they were sorry she was leaving.
Well I say good riddance, I dont know about you Madeline.
Madeline saw the twinkle in the eye of the other woman and grinned, whatever faults Cassy Fredricks had as a wife she had certainly come to her rescue today.
Yes I agree, thanks.
Cassy grinned back at her and winked. Self preservation my dear, I cant have such a young beautiful woman as that within a mile of me. Believe me it was a selfish deed.
Be that as it may, I thank you anyway.
Madeline actually was warming to the woman opposite her; she was at least honest regarding her own faults. How many could you say that of, could she of herself?
Youre welcome. Now Madeline whats this I hear, that you and the rather handsome Chris Andrews are an item?
Madeline choked on her ice water, she was sure shed swallowed an ice cube the remark catching her off guard.
An item? The words squeaked out.
Sure, Lancy here told me all about it, now I want the real version, not his romantic wanderings.
The waiter chose that moment to appear saving Madeline an explanation at least for a short time. By then, she could surely think of something to say.
Where was he?
Madeline was worried now, hadnt Lance mentioned that Chris looked pale, perhaps he was ill? Should she go to his cabin and inquire? She didnt want to appear overly possessive, they had agreed from that very first day they shared the surprise afternoon tea and strawberries together, that they would do so until the end of the cruise.
Where was he?
She noticed that she had crumpled up one of the napkins that had been neatly laid out on their table. Not exactly theirs but they usually sat here everyday, and the waiter even brought her tea as she waited, without asking.
Mr. Andrews not with you today Mrs. Smith?
No, not at the moment Saul. He must have another engagement.
The waiter gave her a long look and noticed her nervous state. Over the past ten years on this ship, he had seen it all, or at least he suspected he had. The laughter, tears, happiness and sadness not to mention love and hate that ran the gamut onboard each cruise. Some he could read like a book and know exactly how it would end up by the end of the cruise. He knew there was the odd occasion when two people came together and they were meant to last a lifetime, he had that feeling about this couple.
Well, take it from an old sailor Mrs. Smith, Id maybe check. You never know he might be indisposed and need a little TLC.
Madeline glanced up at the man and saw his genuine smile, along with the friendly warmth in his brown eyes. Thank you Saul, I think I will check on him.
As she stood up to leave, the waiter quickly retrieved something from his trolley and handed it to her.
She was surprised but grinned in appreciation, as he placed a dish of succulent strawberries into her hand. Winking as he turned to another table of passengers.
Madeline was deeply touched at his gesture, quickly walking over to the area of the deck that would take her to the bank of elevators that led to Chris cabin.
As she neared his door her thoughts cascaded around her, what if she was being foolish and he wasnt ill but had wanted a break from her? They had been in each others company for most of the cruise so far.
Then her heart began to pound as she conjured up Chris image and the connection she felt certain they had. The logic of her mind and reasserted itself in her heart as she knocked on the door.
At first she wasnt sure anyone had heard her, then a faint noise could be heard inside, and her smile grew as the door opened.
What she dreaded the most appeared as the door swung open and she came face to face with Kate Lancaster.
Madeline how nice. The sickly sweet voice made Madeline angry and confused, why was she in Chris room?
I was looking for Chris.
The nerves taking over as her voice trembled, what is she doing here? This is the reason why Chris isnt with me. He wants to be with Kate Lancaster! What a fool I am to think that what, what do I think? He is too good for me, only a beautiful woman like the Kate Lancasters of this world would ever win a guy like Chris over. Oh God what do I do now?
Ill get him for you shall I? The words were softly spoken with the inference she was disturbing them clear in her tone.
No! No please its okay. She turned away just as the door was wrenched open by Chris.
Madeline turned back to look at him; he was wearing only trousers, his chest naked. It was his quizzical eyes that she captured for a moment, failing to see the weariness in them.
Didnt you want to speak with me?
Is that desperation in his voice? Then she noticed Kates hand on his bare arm, trailing her fingers over the flesh, Chris appeared not to notice the caress, and her heart dropped like a stone.
Ill catch up with you later.
Refusing him the time to reply, she sped off down the corridor and reached the bank of elevators. Fortunately for her, the one she had just gotten off of was still there.
Chris was shocked at Madelines swift departure without allowing him a chance to explain. He had been woken from a drug-induced sleep by a persistent knocking on the door hoping that it was Madeline looking for him.
Hed quickly dragged on some trousers and opened the door with a wide smile, expecting to see Madeline. He was in for a surprise as Kate Lancaster stood outside his door.
Why Chris dont tell me you have joined the decadent society and sleep in until late afternoon? Her tinkling laugh grated on him.
No. What can I do for you Kate?
I was hoping to have a few words if you can spare them.
He stood hands on hips little realizing that his upper body naked was an enticing proposition for the younger woman.
Are you going to invite me in? Kate was arrogant enough to think that getting him inside the cabin might just have the desired effect, and did she desire, oh boy did she!
Okay, a few minutes Ill find a shirt.
Kate slipped past him so closely she brushed up against his body and was sure he must be attracted to her and not the mousy Madeline Smith! Who wouldnt be she thought arrogantly.
Chris had to laugh silently at her egotistical attitude; damn she was a confident youngster. He had to wonder if his own daughter who was older that this little Miss in his cabin was anything like her, he hoped not.
As he left her in the small lounge area to disappear into the bedroom to get his shirt, he heard another knock on the door and groaned. It was becoming like a railway station, as he reached for a shirt he heard the door open.
Oh thats all I need Kate giving the wrong impression. Dropping the shirt on the bed he left the room, went to the open door, and wondered about cruel fate, he really did.
So now what did he do? First thing was to get rid of little Miss Temptress.
Did you know that Madeline was on her way to see me? He asked angrily as he strode past her and quickly retrieved his shirt and pulled it on hurriedly.
Why no, how would I? Kate gave him an innocent affronted look as she pouted at his comment.
How indeed. Kate I need to go, if you want to talk lets do so over dinner. He gave her a steely glance as he held open the door for her.
Rain check then? Would you join me after dinner for a drink? Kate was desperate, every time she thought she was making headway Madeline Smith would be there to thwart it, damn the woman.
Ill let you know at dinner. He watched her walk away, head held high along the corridor. As he turned to find his wallet and jacket, the most important thing now was to see Madeline, wherever she might have gone.
She wasnt going to answer his repeated knocking on her door and even the valet for this part of the deck had asked him what the problem was. No problem, insisting on continuing knocking on the door.
Maybe Mrs. Smith is out, have you considered that possibility? The young man asked him quietly.
I know she isnt. Chris rounded on him angrily.
Okay Sir, why not leave it for a couple of hours and then come back? Perhaps Mrs. Smith will be back then. His voice indicating that it wasnt a question but a request.
Pushing his fingers through his hair, Chris was now totally distracted as to how to solve this problem. Madeline obviously had the wrong idea about him and Kate Lancaster. Why would it matter so much to her?
Then his own internal voice answered him, would it matter to you?
Oh, god would it. I would have been devastated! As he thought that, he realized he had more than friendly feelings towards Madeline and if he was honest he always had. Something had connected when they first met and it had been growing at enormous leaps and bounds ever since.
Okay, Ill be back.
Chris turned dejectedly towards the elevators cursing his misfortune. His illness had perhaps put another nail in his coffin by allowing a situation to occur that might prevent him from enjoying at least a few more days of this special womans company.
Madeline thought she cried copious tears when Joe left her and asked for the divorce but this this was worse!
How she didnt know, and why that was a mystery or was it?
She knew deep down that she had been falling for Chris and his charm. He had a way of making her special when she had felt so ordinary in this world. Over the last couple of days, they shared thoughts and although not dreams exactly, she felt they both had been considering the future in a tentative way different to when they both started the cruise. Had it all been her over active imagination? Perhaps. After all that Lancaster woman had been in his cabin! Wasnt that enough evidence for her to realize that he wanted her has a friend, and when it came to his sexual needs he wanted a younger more, a much more beautiful woman?
The tears flooded once more as she reached for her handkerchief and felt it wringing wet with previous tears. Then the knocking on the door started and she knew it was him!
Hed asked her, no entreated her to open the door and speak to him she couldnt! How could she? She was in love with him and he would see that and feel sorry for her, pity her and maybe even laugh at her foolishness.
Several minutes passed as she heard the knocking, interspersed with a muffled conversation.
Then the sound ceased and she felt the silence echo all around her, suddenly hitting home, she was alone!
Only this time she felt it like a spear being driven into her heart, the pain so acute. Her previous loneliness paled into insignificance with the emotion that engulfed her.
She stared at the mirror on the dressing table, will I ever be able to smile again?
Lance had watched the man before him become more and more morose over the last couple of days. Not only that he had seen him hitting the bottle as early as ten in the morning. What was also noticeable was the disappearance of Madeline Smith, kind of coincidental. When hed mentioned it to Cassy last night she had looked at him in despair and shook her head.
Why Lance you are so dense.
I am not! Why do you say such a thing?
Cassy looked at the man she had married and wondered what she had seen in him oh yes his money. Funny thing was she loved the thrill of the chase but was always faithful to him. Glancing at him now she had to wonder why and then smiled, she knew all right, over the years she had simply grown used to him and the older she was getting she considered the old saying better the devil you know.
Because my dear Lancy it is as clear as the nose on your face that Madeline is in love with Chris, and although I havent really had much contact with the man, maybe hes in love with her and they have had a disagreement.
Lance was stunned at Cassys supposition and pondered it for a few minutes. His face lit up as he finally decided she could be right.
How to help that is the question?
Going ashore today Chris?
Chris Andrews looked up at the large man who had the audacity to bring him out of his wallowing in self-pity to answer a question.
Lance saw the glower he had been given and as they were the only two at the table so far, he thought in for a penny in for a pound.
Oh I thought you and Madeline went ashore each time we docked.
Chris turned the glower into a severe scowl and muttered under his breath. No!
Havent seen Madeline around for the past couple of days, is she sick?
How the hell would I know? She wont speak to me! The words tumbled out angrily and Lance had his answer, as always Cassy was right about these things.
Glancing up out of red-rimmed eyes Chris heard the sincerity in his voice, unable to continue to take it out on him or anyone else for that matter anymore. He had to resolve it with Madeline.
Yeah, want to join me for a drink later?
Sure what time? Lance hoped it wasnt too early he wasnt much good after an afternoon session of drinking.
Noon, we can have a snack at the bar. Chris smiled at the man seeing his hesitation having forgotten that he was married for a moment.
Hey I forgot your wife, no prob .
No, no its fine Chris Ill be there. Cassy doesnt surface until after two. Lance grinned at him and selected his breakfast, wondering what else he might find out today. Cassy might be proud of him if he found out the true nature of the problem on his own.
Great. He didnt feel great, at the end of the day his time on this planet was limited, why not at least drink himself to his early grave.
Shes accepted my invitation.
Cassy Fredricks shouted to her husband who was trying desperately to sober up after his afternoon drinking session with Chris Andrews. He had planned to stick around until two and then wake Cassy as he always did; alas, that was one plan that never materialized.
Hed finally realized the time around four and unsteadily left Chris to finish his drink as he slowly made his way back to the cabin.
Cassy was still asleep in bed, she really wasnt much of a day person and it reminded him of the early days of their marriage and how he had often joined her in bed during the day. Over the years that had declined to never, and somehow their relationship had simply slipped into a close loving friendship rather than a loving sexual one.
As he neared the bed, his mind worked overtime as he knelt on her side of the bed.
Youve been drinking Lance? Cassys voice startled him as her green eyes caught his, strangely enough without any recrimination.
Ive news Cassy, you would be proud of me. Lance quickly spurted out not wanting to face the wrath of his wife, she had a mean temper some days of the month.
Tell me then. Her voice filled with laughter, it had been years since she had seen this boyish enthusiasm in her husband, and she missed it.
He related the details hed gleaned at breakfast and over the drinks and gave her a forlorn expression as he finished.
Cassy laughed at his face; he did have such an expressive face. She had been correct in her assumption... Andrews and Smith were in love.
Guess we better do something to help then hadnt we?
Really Cassy? You want to help them?
He was surprised but happily so, it wasnt often she involved herself with other people's romances, well never to the best of his knowledge.
Yeah, I think they both need a break. Now dont go asking me why just a gut feeling okay.
Lance caught her eyes with his and the smoldering look he often gave her that she usually ignored was for once reciprocated, as she pulled him towards her on the bed.
I think well rekindle a little of our own romance Lance, then Ill go speak with Madeline Smith.
Lance didnt need to be asked twice as he sank into the bed beside his wife.
Great darling, did she accept easily? He spluttered as soap bubbles slipped into his mouth.
Not really, but I convinced her that spending her last couple of nights stuck in that cabin was a waste. Personally, I think she wanted an excuse to come out of hiding. Guess well see later wont we.
Madeline wasnt quite sure why she accepted the invitation from Cassy Fredricks to have drinks after dinner with her and Lance. She really wasnt feeling great company right now, quite the opposite inside, feeling hollow and bereft of an integral part of her. Nevertheless here she was listening to Lance regale her and his wife about a new company he was going to take-over once they went home.
Staring around the bar, which fortunately wasnt the one she and Chris Chris how that name brought fresh tears to her eyes, and the feeling of desolation increased a thousand-fold.
It is his voice but is it purely in my mind or real?
Turning anxious eyes towards the voice she gasped as hers were captured by serious grey ones, the face etched with a sadness she felt acutely.
Lance immediately saw the opportunity, although hed manufactured it with Cassy to a degree he asked him to take a seat and have a drink.
Thanks I will, if you dont mind that is? His eyes continued to hold Madelines, it was her permission and hers only he wanted... no needed.
Yes its okay. Madeline was trapped by his gaze the messages she was receiving silently made her heart rate increase her soul relaxing for the first time since the incidence at his cabin.
Scrapping back the chair quickly, he grinned as he settled down next to Madeline. Their eyes never leaving the others for fear that the apparition would disappear.
Did you go How did the shore Both started to ask a question simultaneously.
For the first time in two days they both laughed, Lance, and Cassy Fredricks applauded themselves on how easy this had been. Then Cassy looked over to the entrance to the bar and what she saw there made her blood boil.
Kate Lancaster was casting her eyes around the room, as a wicked speculative expression came over her as she saw Chris Andrews. She was used to that look, shed used it often enough herself and it meant mischief with a capital M.
Lance and I need to disappear for a few minutes, well be back though. Cassy dragged her husband out of his seat as he looked at her in surprise, what is going on?
Madeline and Chris looked startled as they made a quick exit, however only enough to murmur a quick bye as they turned back to each other.
Cassy made for the entrance and it became clear to Lance what was going on as they were heading off Kate Lancaster as she advanced towards their table.
Ive missed you Madeline.
I know, Ive missed you too Chris.
Deciding that the sooner the problem was in the open and cleared up the sooner they could overcome whatever perceived hurt there was, within them both.
Madeline why wouldnt you talk to me?
Swallowing hard Madeline was finding it difficult not to cut and run, except the part of her that felt the extreme sadness and loneliness without him, cried out for her to answer.
I thought you were busy.
Chris shook his head and then gave her an apologetic and sympathetic look.
If you mean Kate? She had arrived about two minutes before you did.
Her eyes hurt as she gave him an intense glance, Chris felt it was boring into the very heart of him and he would be branded for life.
Wasnt that the truth!
I I thought she, that is I thought you and she oh god I didnt know what to think. The unshed tears that had glimmered in Madelines eyes now cascaded down her cheeks. Chris felt a lump form in his throat as he watched them gently trail down her pale cheeks. It made him feel very humble and unsure as to what to say and do next.
Finally making a decision, he dragged his chair closer, as he stretched out a hand and tenderly traced the tears that she found impossible to stop. Madeline stared into his eyes, she saw there all the answer she needed, as it held the warmth she had always seen there and now it made sense to her.
I was a fool wasnt I? She gulped back her tears as Chris answered her.
Giving her a rueful smile, he leaned in closer and whispered into her ear. Yeah but youre my fool, so I guess thats okay.
Im sorry, for being such a bear with a sore head. Madelines tears stopped as he continued to hold her gaze they were in a world of their own where no one else was allowed inside.
No Madeline, Im sorry for not leaving a message for you that I was indisposed that morning. Maybe you would have checked on me sooner?
Madeline was deliriously happy at this moment; she felt as if her world was spinning so fast she might fall, except this man was beside her holding her tight and secure. Together they would see the journey to the end, be it only the cruise, or the rest of their lives.
I would have Chris, I was worried about you. And I guess if I think about it Kate being there was my fault, or at least in part anyway.
How so? Chris was puzzled at the admission, he didnt see Kate and Madeline passing the time of day together, never mind discussing him with any depth to the conversation.
Shamefaced she turned her eyes away and looked over his shoulder, gasping slightly as she saw Kate and the Fredricks together. Oh No! not again!
Chris heard her sharp intake of breath and the fear that carried into her eyes. Something had disturbed her as he turned to look in the direction she was gazing, seeing the object of the fearful look.
Standing up he held out his hand to Madeline and she took it gratefully.
I think a quiet stroll on deck would be nice, and we can discuss everything at length watching the setting sun.
Madeline did not hesitate and took the proffered hand in hers as they quickly vacated the room at the opposite end to the where their friends and Kate were.
Cassy Fredricks bee-lined Kate Lancaster and walked up to her confidently, as the woman looked past her to Chris Andrews seated by the dowdy Mrs. Smith.
Oh Kate, are you going to join Lance and I for a drink at the bar? You did leave rather abruptly at lunch today and it would be that rain-check now wouldnt it?
Lance felt uncomfortable as he saw the younger woman give his wife a look that would kill, which to give Cassy her due she ignored completely. Then taking possession of the womans arm, she steered her away from her quarry and towards the bar.
But I I was going to see Chris. We had a tentative arrangement. Kate pouted petulantly as she felt herself being taken along by the older woman.
Oh my dear Kate dont be a spoilsport we both know that hes not your type.
Kate stared at Cassy with a look of pure hatred as she saw Chris and that, that woman leave the bar! Damn, I lost him again!
Yes Kate come on let your hair down Im sure theyre some other guys who would really welcome the attention. Lance laughed as he went the other side of her closing in on the bar.
Kate knew the woman had thwarted her from her task...well two can play at that game.
Want to let me into your secret attraction to the opposite sex Cassy. I heard you are like the queen bee to all those sex starved married guys out for a one-night stand.
Cassy sucked in a breath at the bitchy comment and saw her husband pale visibly at the comment. It was one thing for her to make hurtful comments to her husband, quite another for anyone else.
Oh my dear Kate, why I was going to ask you the same thing. Your reputation goes before you.
Lance decided at this moment it was prudent to order drinks and let the women battle it out, he might not comment about his wifes activities, although he was aware of her wandering eye and he suspected that was all it was, for now anyway.
Chris had his arm around Madeline as they stood besides the railing watching the moons reflection on the dark blue sea below them. It was wonderfully calm water this evening, and if he had a pebble, he was sure he could skim it across the surface.
Having Madeline this close to him made his heart beat erratically, it was like a piece of a long lost puzzle clicking into place and finally the whole picture could be revealed. He felt that he had finally come home. The life hed led before was only a sham until hed met this woman. What he had perceived to be his true path in life was in fact just a way station until she came and took him on that final leg to paradise.
He was forty-eight years old, and had been given the most disabling news of all, that he was going to die within the year...certainly, he would not see his fiftieth birthday. He had taken it well, to him it was another mission to see through and that mission when it finally came would not see him return home. Now he cursed the fates that had given him so little time with this very special woman at his side.
Should I tell her?
Madeline felt whole for the first time in her forty-five years. As she felt the strong arm of Chris hold her tightly to him, as they watched silently the beauty of the moon glowing on the sea below. She always loved sunsets and the many colors and patterns that were strewn across the sky each evening. Sometimes it was virtually impossible to see any change, then others it was like the sky was lit with an array of fireworks. That was what she felt with Chris, sometimes it was a quiet restful time where they hardly talked but enjoyed the companionship, others it was a mass of emotions, discussions and the adventure of getting to know each other. She was in love with this man, as she had never experienced in her life before. The feelings a thousand times more powerful than with Joe, and if he walked out of her life now, she could accept it and thank god she had met him her soulmate for even a short length of time.
Should I tell him?
Chris I want to say something Madeline we need to talk about something they both burst out laughing as they turned to each other.
Quizzical expressions changed to ones of intensity as they looked into each others eyes, the kiss that followed joined them finally together. Preventing any further thought of words as they clung to each other.
Kisses slow and easy developed into deep, long and passionate kisses, which they both gave. It was not a one sided situation both parties were set on devouring the other. The initial spark had ignited the cord that was traveling through their bodies at great speed.
Feverishly Chris placed his hands in her silky hair, lacing his fingers to touch her scalp, which only proved another area of sensual excitement. I love you, I love you Madeline dont leave me.
Madeline clung to the broad back of the man who was sending corporeal messages to every fiber of her being. Gripping his shoulders, as she kissed him with a ferocity she never knew she had.
I love you Chris, Ive missed you all my life.
Words of love tumbled from each of them until they finally came up for air, both sets of eyes sparkling with joy and anticipation of what would come next.
Placing his forehead on hers, they smiled slowly at each other as Chris placed small delicate kisses all over her face. Madeline was powerless to do anything but accept with alacrity his attentions. She felt that if she died tomorrow it wouldnt matter everything in the world was right with her now.
What would you like to do now Madeline?
Madeline knew he wasnt expecting her to go to bed with him, however she knew it was right if they did. They had one more night together before they went their separate ways. The very thought produced a sinking feeling in her stomach. It would be so easy to go to his or her cabin and spend the night in each others arms and everything would be still okay tomorrow.
Why not walk me to my cabin Chris?
Chris felt the heat in his loins fire up once more as he gave her a small smile, she had to make the decision, he knew it was right and he would never want to hurt her. If all they did, was kiss then that was fine with him, they would consummate the relationship if that was what the good old cosmic tumblers had in store for them, if not then that was okay too.
It would be my pleasure Maam. He held out his arm for her to take as they strolled slowly along the deck towards her cabin area of the deck.
They found words were unnecessary as they walked along, occasionally stopping to reach for a kiss and hold each other. What should have been a relatively short stroll to the cabin maybe five minutes tops, turned out to be half an hour. As they neared the cabin door, they looked into each other eyes for confirmation of what they felt mirroring in the others.
There was no doubt...it was what was meant to be, it was simply right!
Madeline theres a message on the door. Chris peered at the note that hung on the door it was marked urgent.
Madeline looked at it and wondered if she could ignore it until the morning. That would smack of being selfish and she wasnt that type of person. Maybe it was just Joe grousing that he had foot the bill for the cruise.
Taking the message off the door she read it quickly, an urgent telegraph was waiting for her at the communication office.
She crumpled the paper in her fist after showing Chris the contents, why now?
I think a visit to the communications room might be a pleasant stroll what do you say?
Madeline grinned at him and loved him even more for his understanding, as they retreated up the corridor to collect the message.
Hey you left early, did you have a better invitation? Lance Fredricks roared out at the breakfast table, as Chris looked up from the papers he had in front of him.
Yeah, sorry about that something came up. Chris answered rather abstractly, as his attention went back to the papers he had before him.
Lance knew that the man was not going to impart anything to him of his date he was kinda looking intense though for a man who might have had a good time with the love of his life.
Anything interesting in those papers?
Chris sighed heavily as he looked up again.
Well, thats debatable but they hold significant information.
Wouldnt be inside knowledge on share dealing would it by any chance?
Okay, only asking.
I thought maybe Madeline might be with here with us this morning.
She had some bad news last night, I dont think she will be socializing again for the rest of the cruise.
I know you will call me a meddler but whats the problem? Lance liked Madeline Smith and hoped it wasnt too bad of news.
Chris looked up and gave him a shrewd glance.
Her son has been lost behind enemy lines, feared captured or dead.
Lance looked aghast at the news, she had mentioned that her son was a pilot and posted overseas in the war zone.
Im sorry is there anything I can do?
Well, if you can get me transport off this crate quicker than twenty-fours time I might be able to help him.
Chris was astonished at the next words from the brash man.
What do you need?
You can help?
Sure, helicopter could be on the deck in say he looked at his watch and pondered it a second. Two hours if I call now.
You would do that?
Sure I would. Hey, Im a patriot, and I have the money and the resources. What can you do?
Chris smiled at him, a bubble of laughter set free, as he heaved a sigh of relief...he could now do something.
Im a military man myself, I have contacts I well find him if hes alive.
Lance had often wondered what this man did for a living, and now he knew it was military he considered it suited him.
Standing up Lance held out his hand to Chris, Good luck and bring him back safe.
Chris watched as the man strode purposefully out of the room to make the call that would have his transport here shortly. My god how you could have all your preconceived ideas about a person shot to pieces by one act. No in the Fredericks case, it was two, they might not look a match made in heaven but they sure were angels from where he was standing.
Now to apprise Madeline of his plan, for he had one and that only needed selling to his superiors. Not an easy thing to do in the circumstance, but if he put his life on the line how could they refuse.
I cant let you do that Chris!
Chris was walking up and down the small cabin. As he tried to convince Madeline that his plan should at least be allowed consultation by his superiors.
You can let me try Madeline, what have we to lose?
Madeline hadnt stopped crying since shed received the short sharp direct telegraph message from her ex-husband, stating that their son had been lost behind enemy lines feared dead. It was just like Joe to advise her of such tragic news when she had no means of getting back to shore, not that she could do anything but wait had she been there.
You might have everything to lose Chris. Why would they let you carry out such a dangerous plan for one soldier? Thousands have been lost in this way, nothing was done for them.
Chris stopped his pacing and went over to the bed and sat down on its edge as he looked into the tear drenched eyes of the woman he loved, and he did love her with every fiber of her being. That meant that he loved her child too. No second measures here he wanted what would make her happy, having her son found and safe would make her happy. On the other hand, if he hadnt survived, then knowing for sure that was the case. In his eyes it was surely more compassionate than having the years roll by with that glimmer of forlorn hope he might one-day turn up on the doorstep. Hed seen it far too often, and wasnt going to have this inflicted on the woman he loved if he could do something about it.
Perhaps now its time we did do something about it. Im prepared to try, why not let me?
He knew it didnt matter if she said yes or no, because although he had only considered the plan for her son, it held merit for others too. It might be his grand finale, a good way to leave the service.
However he wanted her blessing too it was important to him, no it was more than that he needed that peace inside knowing she understood, whatever the outcome for himself on such a mission.
His gentle yet authoritative taking over of the situation the previous evening had astonished Madeline. Taking her back to her cabin, holding her close as she cried and recriminated herself for having let her son have the lessons that led him to this event in his life. He had simply held her tightly and whispered soothing words as he stroked her hair and told her everything would be all right, he would see to it. When she had eventually dropped into an exhausted sleep, he had continued to hold her as they lay on the bed together. All thoughts of consummating their relationship now trampled into the dust, how could she think of herself and her feelings for this man, her son was held captive or worse dead, it wouldnt have been right.
He looked at her with warmth that helped muster her inner strength for the events ahead. As she gave him a small watery smile, reaching over tracing her finger down his rugged jaw, the stubble of the previous hours feeling coarse and harsh against her flesh.
You want my permission dont you?
The words echoed softly around the small room, so tentative were the words, and yet he now knew that Madeline understood him, probably had always understood him throughout time! Oh god what fanciful imagination was he into now, is this what love did to you scrambled all the grey matter?
Yes, I need you to understand and give me your blessing Madeline it is very important to my peace of mind. I would go ahead anyway darling but I need to know you support me. Just knowing you were there backing me up, I would feel like an army on my own.
His eyes never left hers as he saw the tears shimmering and the understanding shine out of them. You do what you think will help Chris, you have my blessing, my heart and my soul will travel with you always.
They smiled briefly as the words settled around them. A bond meant that they would always be together, no matter what.
Ill find him for you Madeline, rely on me. His declaration firm as he clasped her hands within his larger ones, relishing the prospect of having this woman in his life, for as long as he had left. Now that was something they hadnt discussed yet, when he came back that would be soon enough.
Chris youre just one man though and although you say you have contacts surely it would need a general or a senator to help us. Madeline spoke haltingly as her fingers entwined in his, seeking the comfort and love he so freely gave.
I have resources Madeline thats all I can tell you at the moment.
He pulled her closer holding her against his shoulder, feeling her shiver as she burrowed further into him. As they settled together on the bed side by side again for the time left alone before the transport Lance Fredricks had arranged arrived.
Chris as its your idea will you have to go too?
Wanting to lie to her and save her more pain. He couldnt, she would need the truth and he never wanted to keep things from her, ever!
Yes darling, I will have to go too! Ill come back to you though thats a promise.
Are you sure you want to give that promise? Madeline lifted expressive eyes to stare into his.
Chris looked at her exchanging glance for glance, her tear streaked face, making it blotchy and even plainer than normal. Not to him though, never to him!
Ive waited all my life for you Madeline Smith. To hold you in my arms, to whisper words of love, to keep you from hurt, to share in your joy, to live with you until I take my last breath. Darling I want to give that promise and more, I love you inside me. Ive always loved you.
She tried but it was impossible to stem the flow of the tears that now washed over her and Chris at his heartfelt words. Who said men couldnt be as sensitive as women when it came to someone they loved.
I love you Chris, beyond expectations, and reason. I feel my life has been lonely until you entered it and suddenly there you are to ignite the flame of my waning light. You have given to me a freedom beyond words filling my heart with joy, my soul has finally found its other half.
Chris bent slowly to kiss her gently, their lips met once more sending shock waves through their bodies, creating an excitement that craved more and would always do so.
The knocking on the cabin door had Fredricks voice shouting that the helicopter arrived, breaking them apart.
It will be okay darling, I promised you remember? He saw the fearful look travel quickly over her features and hoped she understood.
I know and I believe you. There is nothing on this earth that can prevent it my love, I know that now.
I have to go. Chris kissed her tenderly and stroked her cheek fleetingly with his fingers.
I know you do.
Madeline moved off the bed and couldnt help it as he moved towards the door to acknowledge Lance Fredricks, quickly flinging her arms around him, hugged him tight, whispering fiercely.
Dont ever leave me!
Chris glanced down and placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head, he loved her so. He even felt the tears building up in him and he couldnt allow that, not now, later when they were together again!
I wont ever leave you Madeline. You are a part of me as I am you, we will never be alone again, either of us.
He disengaged the arms carefully and gave her a grin, like a Boy Scout off on a great adventure. How could she do anything but smile as he left her.
Ill call you when you get home tomorrow, trust me darling Ill take care of everything.
He opened the door to a solemn Lance Fredricks and left her standing in the middle of the room. Her thoughts now centered, for she knew he would, her whispered words lost as he closed the door.
Take care of yourself too Chris, I want
you to come home safe to me as well!
Reflections Of A Promise
Madeline stared out of the window of her room, overlooking a small play area for the children of the relatives who visited the residents of the nursing home she was now a resident of.
Her hand traced the rather worn leather tooled binder of the volume on her lap. Smiling as she opened the first page of the personal journal, it was such a wonderful friend to her for many reasons.
In it, she had chronicled the last forty years of her life. Prior to that, she ruefully admitted she hadnt lived, contrary to her forty-five years on the planet at that time.
She had seen so much in that time, and made some really unusual and lasting friendships that would never have been possible had it not been for her husband leaving her. The unexpected cruise had been the turning point in her life. So much, so that she countered the hysterical accusations from her ex-husband about their son so well on her return, he wondered if she was the same person. Their son having gone missing in action in Vietnam created a chasm between her and Joe that lasted well for the rest of their lives.
The highlight of her change had been the total surrender to a love that she thought only existed in the minds of writers of romances or poetry.
For her it had been real, so very real in one Christopher Andrews.
The single tear his name and presence brought to mind had always been a source of much ribbing from her friends and family. Never in ridicule, she felt in bewilderment, that this one person had such a profound effect on her.
As her fingers turned the pages, she smiled at the various entries, especially the early ones
Its been a week since Chris left on the mission as he called it. He was so sparked up and ready for the assignment, I can even see his expression it would be the same as when he left me on the ship, the boyscout look.
He said he would be back soon, I hope so I
miss him dreadfully.
A Week Later
Still no word from Chris! The waiting is horrendous and to make matters worse Joe is being a pain. Im glad that Chris is my strength, even though hes not here beside me physically. Inside hes right there holding me as he did the last time we were together on the ship. I felt so warm and secure in his love it was how my soul remembered it from long ago.
Three Months Later
I cant believe it hes here
The entry brought further tears slipping slowly down her paper-thin skin over her cheekbones. Her mind retreated down memory lane re-enacting the scene as if it was yesterday.
Madeline was walking in the yard watching the birds eat the seeds shed placed on the bird table for them that morning. Her thoughts immediately straying to one of the Island tours she and Chris had ventured onto in their quest for the perfect souvenir. They had seen some of the most marvelous colors and varieties of birds it was quite a treat for her. Especially when Chris arranged for her to have a large, and it was large or gigantic might be the better description, parrot placed on her arm. He and the birds owner had watched, with laughter filled faces, her differing expressions. At the time she thought it would peck her but it was very tame and such a beauty. Now she was feeling that loneliness invade her as she pondered the last three months without him, had they only known each other for mere days when he left? No! They had known each other for several lifetimes and they had loved deeply, she didnt need facts she felt it in her soul.
A voice she thought she might never hear again rang out in the morning stillness, was she dreaming and it was a figment of her imagination? Turning with a slow dream-like quality she blinked several times before being engulfed in a bear hug.
Mom, its so good to see you and come home.
Richard swung her around several times laughing at her shock and giving her indulgent glances as she cried with relief at the sight of her missing son.
Darling, how? When? Why didnt they tell me?
Madeline couldnt believe it! Here he was her son Chris had done it! He had brought her boy home, now where was he?
Mom, mom it was a surprise, hopefully a good one. Richard winked at her as he placed her firmly on the ground and placed his arm about her shoulders as they walked towards the house.
Placing her arms around his waist, she held onto him fiercely.
A surprise! Of course, it is a surprise. Did someone put you up to this? Chuckling as she thought that it would be just like Chris to make this a homecoming to remember.
I was sent home as soon as my transport hit the States, kinda strange but I didnt care. Who had the powerful friends or pulled strings, Dad or maybe ? He didnt complete the sentence as he smiled at her warmly.
Richard recalled the other transit personnel had to be de-briefed but he was astonished when told by his commanding officer that wouldnt be necessary. He could go home on leave for a couple of weeks and then return for de-briefing and re-assignment.
Oh I suspect it might have been your father.
Madeline supposed that Chris might have had to keep things quiet and she wasnt going to say anything to jeopardize that position, after all, it didnt matter as long as Richard was safe. When Chris came home, they could discuss it later.
Mom I have something for you?
Pulling his mother towards the kitchen where he had deposited his bags. Madelines heart was beating madly could it be a message from Chris? Better yet could it be Chris and Richard was being evasive, that would be the kind of thing Chris would do as well, tease her.
Okay, okay Im right with you.
Madeline glanced around the room but couldnt see anyone else inside the room and there wasnt any evidence of someone else in the house.
Richard opened one of his duffels and reached inside to pull out a small package wrapped in brown serviceable paper, on the front simply Madeline.
Glancing at his mother quizzically, he handed her the package. She held it as if it were a newborn child so very tenderly. Her fingers felt numb as she felt the weight of the package it certainly wasnt just a letter.
General Andrews, asked me to give you this.
The words echoed solemnly around the room, they held such finality to them that she looked up in surprise and saw the serious expression in his eyes.
Fingering the package, once more she wanted to open it alone, as she whispered.
I I didnt know he was a General, he was just Chris to me.
The words plaintive and made her son bow his head for a second, as he contemplated that the man who had given this package. Clearly he was very important to his mother, it was in her eyes and the way she spoke.
He wasnt until two months ago. He was awarded his fourth star when his first daring rescue mission to rescue captives was a great success.
First rescue mission? So that was why he wasnt here with Richard, his new promotion meant that he had to oversee more rescues.
Yeah he was a very brave man, wed heard crazy stories about him and his men before, but having seen first hand his work we knew he was a credit to his country.
One word that Richard used sent her stomach to the darkest pit and refused to surface again! WAS
Was a credit Richard, surely he is would be a better term?
Her fingers clutched the package tightly as she waited for her son to explain. His features were strained he had been so caught up in how he pictured the General that he forgot that his mother knew him and might not know .
Mom, how well did you know him?
Does it matter? That wasnt the answer to my question.
I know Mom and Ill answer how about you sit down. He steered her to the nearest chair and then sat opposite her as he caught her pensive eyes. He loved his mother he didnt want to hurt her but he felt that this news was going to do that, possibly even more than if it had been about him.
Im now seated Richard, why not tell me what you know.
Clearing his throat, which had become dry and felt like scratch paper. How did you tell this kind of news? Then he looked at his mother and knew it had to be straight talk. That was the way she was and had always been.
General Andrews wasnt the type of guy to sit and command, he was one to pit his wits in the thick of things. Especially if it was one of his plans and this one was, no one else wanted it they called it a suicide mission.
Madeline didnt move she waited for the whole story her breath held in stasis.
He proved them all wrong when he got us out, thirty of us and we took one causality in it all, only minor too. They had been taken by surprise and couldnt handle Andrews crack team. We arrived back to the nearest base of operation in the interior and waited for the flight to take us out to safe ground within the week. That was when I met him for the first time face to face.
Richard stopped as his face mirrored the awe he felt at that meeting. He was even more surprised when the General signaled all the others to leave them for a few minutes. As he placed the package on the table in front of him, he had been so overwhelmed by the Generals presence that he couldnt speak never mind look at what was in front of him.
He asked me if I was okay, how I was doing and if I would take a personal package to someone very special to him. Richard saw the glazed look that overcame his mother as he spoke, could she have been in love with the General? Surely not! Could they have ever met? He was noted for being a playboy and only had eyes for the prettiest and youngest of women. As much as he loved his mother, she certainly didnt fit that bill. Maybe they were cousins or something.
I said of course it would be a pleasure to do something for the General. He got up to leave and his last words were, make her proud soldier shes the best.
He meant you didnt he Mom?
Madeline wasnt to be re-directed, go on Richard, please.
Next day we heard that there were twenty of our boys being held prisoner on the other side of the area. He didnt waste any time he regrouped and left. I remember how he looked Mom so dignified and he had the expression like a boy-scout on a great adventure.
That tore at Madeline as she heard that picturing it clearly herself, her Boy Scout.
He didnt come back did he? the words tripped out so softly Richard was sure that was what she said, as he reached across and placed his warm hand on hers in compassion.
They met heavy resistance, seems the information was suspect but it was too late by then they had committed themselves to the task at hand. Only two men out of the seven survived and they both died within forty-eight hours, I guess they made it home to tell the story.
General Andrews held off a barrage when seriously injured himself to allow the two men to escape. They said he was a hero and I dont think anyone would doubt that not if they had ever known him.
Madeline felt the solitary tear slowly roll down her cheek as she realized that the gut ache she had been experiencing for over a month now, thinking it to be Richard was in fact Chris, he was dead, he hadnt kept his promise to her.
Then she looked up into the grave expression of her son and she gave a small wry smile. Chris had done exactly what he had said he would do...he had brought her son home to her and safe too!
Tearing open the package she felt rather than saw her son stand and leave her, understanding that she would need to do this alone.
Inside revealed a velvet box and a letter. Placing the box gently on the table she ripped open the last communication she was going to receive in this life from Chris, the thought shattered her heart as she stared at the contents.
My Dearest Madeline,
I love you! You knew that of course but always good to remind my girl.
Here he is my love, home safe just as we planned. Oh, okay as I planned but you were with me every step of the way. It couldnt have happened without your strength inside me, willing me along.
I can see him from my position as I write this to you and I can see some of your mannerisms in him that bring you so very close to me darling. It makes me crave to have you in my arms again. I cant seem to get that out of my mind it is such a precious memory for me, and one so very dear to my heart.
I want and need you so much that it takes my breath away to think about it, and watching your son I realize how close and yet so far apart, we are.
Okay Im rambling but this above all else you must remember Madeline, Our promise.
I will come back to you darling, if not this lifetime the next. Ill wait for you whatever it takes, but please dont take so long next time.
I wanted you to have these they were the best part of my life until I met you.
Tears now flooded her cheeks and rolled down her neck soaking her skin and the shirt she wore, as her fingers clutched the box prizing open the catch.
Inside were several medals for differing commendations and the telegraph telling him of his appointment to General.
Now she knew he was gone physically but always he would be there with her in spirit as he always had been and always would be.
Whispering to the empty room.
Ill hold you to that Chris, be waiting for me when its my time.
Now her fingers traveled over several entries as her tears still refused to subside, it was like watching a movie but this was her life she was watching.
Entries about Lance and Cassy Fredricks, strangely enough they had remained friends to the point she had moved closer to them and when Richard left the Air Force and moved to the area too.
Over the years things changed and she went through the motions, a part of her had died with Chris but the other part of her still wanted to experience life for them both. She had too he would expect no less, surprising her and her friends.
Richard had help in raising finances from Lance, to open a small commercial airfield. He had even fallen for and managed to tie down the wayward pilot he inherited from the old airfield owner. Jenny Plato wasnt the marrying kind until she met Richard, and suddenly her wayward ways curtailed dramatically and they had three children over the years. Madison the youngest at twenty-eight was due to see her today. She always came over twice a week to see her when she was in town. Madison loved to listen to the stories of the old days, though Madeline suspected she had a soft spot for the romance between her and Chris.
One of the entries reminded her of the visit she made to Chris hometown. It was a small town and when she had asked about the Andrews' lumberyard, some of the older folks remembered and gave her a small history of the family. At the end of the day Chris father died six months after he had, some say of a broken heart, as his eldest son wasnt ever going to follow in his footsteps. Jason almost bankrupted the company before it was taken over by a larger company. She had inquired about Chris daughter discreetly but the old folks loved to talk, and recalled her as a lonely child who always appeared out of place, she had left home at eighteen and hadnt been seen since. Not even her mother who remarried and had a couple of other children knew where she was. Over the years, shed tried to find out the whereabouts of Chris daughter but she had drawn a blank, some people didn't want to be found.
Then she stopped at another interesting entry it was the day she met Chris friend and ex-lover Sophia Clarence.
The door to her room opened and in stepped her granddaughter, who looked more like a schoolgirl than a mature woman.
Darling you are late.
Madeline smiled at the child who reminded her of Chris in so many ways, his serious side tempered with great compassion and she planned everything down to a fine detail. Jenny wanted her only daughter to take up the piloting business but she refused, going to college and then dramatically joining the army. Interestingly enough no one knew exactly what branch she entered as she never discussed her works as she called it.
Sorry Gran but Dan had a package he wanted delivered in town and I was out this way so you know what big brothers are like, especially Dan.
The soft chuckle warmed Madeline as it touched her heart. Madison seemed to touch her very soul from the day she was born. As she grew they became closer perhaps even more so than the relationship with her parents.
No problem you are here now. Madeline placed a hand on the chair back indicating for Madison to sit but the young woman ignored the gesture and stared out of the window.
I have to go back to my unit on Friday Gran, something has come up.
Madison turned startled eyes to her grandmother and then chuckled softly.
Yeah of course you do, you always have. What are you reading?
Madeline had always been able to read this child like a book and at times she wondered if Chris spirit wasnt reborn in her granddaughter so that they could be together. It always made her smile self-consciously at that thought...she must be getting senile thinking that way.
Well, my journals the early ones.
Oh great theyre the best! Want to tell me where you are up to?
Madeline grinned at the exuberance from the child, it was quite at odds with her career choice and yet it did remind her of Chris.
Okay young lady Ill tell you about the first time I met Sophia Clarence shall I .
Continued in part two
This is copyrighted material, all rights reserved. It may be reproduced, duplicated or printed for personal use only. For all other uses, please email@example.com
Return to The Bard's Corner