| It had been a crazy impulse to suggest a dive. They were almost at the reef and Jody was already regretting it. Lately, she had difficulty being at peace with any of her decisions. Her mind felt constantly restless and uncertain. Why the hell did people always say 'keep busy' when you were trying to get over someone? It wasn't as if she could automatically turn off her feelings. It didn't matter what she did, her thoughts were still with him; her married ex-lover who had finally, after a year of passion and promises, decided to give it another try with his wife. Jody closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, sucking the salty sea air into her lungs as the image of his sweaty body driving her to orgasm, played through her head. It set off a trigger deep in her belly and radiated out towards her pussy in waves of painful longing. Damn him. It was over, but it still hurt like hell. She swallowed the lump in her throat and peered over the side of the boat into the clear water while she angrily wiped away the beginning of a tear. Fuck that! She had vowed not to cry and she wouldn't. There was no looking back. It was forward all the way from here on. She glanced over at Chris who throttled back, bringing the engine to a spluttering halt. He was an experienced diver and she was going to have fun today.
"Here we are," Chris said as he heaved the anchor overboard. He checked Jody's equipment and tried to keep his eyes from wandering over the full swell of her breasts that were barely covered by her bikini top as she struggled into the black wetsuit. "Ok, we'll do a forty five foot dive for an hour, just keep your eye on the pressure gauge and, what's the most important rule in diving?"
Jody smiled, "Breathe normally at all times and never hold your breathe under water," she intoned like a student in school.
"That's right," he said seriously, "and remember, we do a really slow ascent to avoid damage to the lungs."
"Yes sir," Jody said with mock deference.
"I'll swim down and check that the anchor's set. Stay close." Jody positioned herself on the edge of the small motor boat and waited for Chris to give the signal, "Ok, lets go," he shouted and they both toppled backwards into the azure water.
Jody kicked down in a hard first descent. It was her first dive in ages and she had been nervous, but now wrapped by the warm ocean, she was already at home. To her left, Chris was swimming down toward the anchor to make sure that it was set firm on the bottom. He was so serious, so reliable in situations like this and he made her feel safe. She smiled inside the mask. He was attractive and she liked him, but he was too straightforward for her, too one dimensional, damn it, too young.
She scanned the surrounds wanting to enjoy every minute of her bottom time and, as always, the beauty of the reef astounded her. Since the breakup with her lover she had become cynical and had often mocked God's cruelty, however being surrounded by the rainbow of reality in the clear water, with the brilliant colors of tropical fish and the other marine life, it was impossible to doubt his existence. All about her was the evidence of some great creator. The breathtaking beauty could not be accidental. It had to have been designed by an architect who dealt only in perfection. The colors flowed into her mind and were made more vivid by the silent slow motion of the deep. Jody breathed steadily, showering out a cloud of bubbles as she sank gracefully to the ocean bottom.
The water was calm and gentle and she savored the sensation of it swathing warmly over her. She imagined it dampening her naked body and trickling between her thighs. The wetsuit clung to her like a second skin, accentuating the curves of her lithe body and keeping her snug and dry, but still, there was something deeply sensual about being caressed by water. She stretched her legs and arms and swam with the agility of a fish as small ripples of excitement flowed through her weightless body.
A shoal of yellow and black striped Sergeant Major fish swam alongside her followed closely by a couple of blue hamlets. Jody smiled when she spotted a beady eyed puffer fish. It gulped water to inflate itself and give the illusion of being much bigger than it actually was. It was early in the morning and there were no other divers about. There were no big fishes either, but in the distance she could see a large lone turtle swimming away. A conch shell, nestling against a piece of coral and brushed by the frond of a sea fern caught her attention. She reached for it and at once felt an arm on hers. Chris was at her elbow shaking his head and pointing towards the shell with a clenched fist; the universal diver's signal for danger. Jody looked carefully at the shell and its surroundings. What had she missed? A moray eel lurking nearby? A stingray camouflaged by sand that could react badly if startled? She splayed open her hands. 'Why danger?' she was asking. Chris reached for the slate around his neck and scribbled on it with a special pen. He handed it to Jody.
'Poisonous conch,' the message read.
Shit, she had forgotten that they could be poisonous. She smiled her gratitude and swam away from him toward the left. It was okay to have a guardian, and he had saved her from a painful rash, but she wanted to assert some independence too. It was a reflex action. She liked to lead.
Almost immediately a violent motion caught her eye. Twenty feet away, beyond a ridge she had just passed, a strange scene was unfolding. A skin diver, way too deep at forty five feet, was wrestling with something that was stuck in the coral. As Jody watched, he lost his grip and fell back suddenly. His shoulder sandpapered across a finger of razor-sharp coral and a cloud of crimson came away with it. At the same time, bubbles exploded from his mouth. From their quantity it was obvious that he had just lost a lungful of precious air. The man was clearly in danger. Alarm bells must be ringing in his brain, Jody thought as she reached for the spare regulator on her tank. Her legs threshed the ocean as she swam towards him. She was about to become the stranger's lifeline, embarking on a dangerous game of offering air to a drowning man. She hoped Chris would be close behind. He would probably play it by the book and the book said that diving buddies swam close together.
Fuck, Gareth Robins cursed as a fiery sting ripped through his shoulder. Sometimes he truly hated himself. What the fuck had he been trying to prove? That he had the balls to free dive forty five feet and the cool to don the breathing apparatus on the bottom of the ocean? The yellow air tank he'd thrown overboard shimmered in the sunbeams streaming through the sea. An overwhelming sense of annoyance filled him as his lungs burned and threatened to burst. It would have been easy enough to retrieve the tank, but he hadn't counted on his foot getting stuck in the fucking coral.
For a split second panic washed though him but he quickly pushed it aside. He'd never given a shit about danger before and he wasn't about to start now. That was a preoccupation of ordinary people with nine-to five jobs and mortgages. In fact, he thought grimly, if this was it; if his life was snuffed out now, then the struggle would be over for good. There would be no more battles with an empty page. Never again would he hear the accusing silence of the typewriter. The dammed–up words would be fragmented and scattered amid the plankton, buried in the bellies of the fishes, consumed, eventually by kids in the fish fingers of a thousand TV dinners. It would be a fitting end for a writer who fought the battle with words that he both loved and hated.
Locked in his own private desperate world, Gareth did not see Jody arrowing towards him. When she reached him, she stared at the brown eyes behind the mask and held up the mouthpiece. With her other hand she reached for his arm and drew him in towards her hoping that he was not a complete amateur and would know what to do. He did. His eyes widened as he jabbed down with his thumb on the 'clear' button to expel water from the mouthpiece and jammed it into his mouth sucking greedily at the air.
Jody glanced over his muscular body and tried to work out what the hell had happened. How had the tank got stuck in the coral and why had he taken it off in the first place? Where was his buddy? Skin diving at this depth was insane, but surely he hadn't been so foolish as to dive alone. Thinking back, she recalled seeing another boat on the surface with a dive flag flying when they had begun their descent. She peered closely at the man, searching for answers in the shadowy face behind the mask. It was difficult to see what he looked like. His dark hair streamed out in the water and the nosepiece of his mask hid most of his upper face. His eyes however, were clearly visible. They stared back at her. There was no fear in them, no gratitude either. Instead they flashed through the water in the way that angry eyes would and it was with shock that Jody realized they were signaling irritation. Gratitude, relief, even apology would have been appropriate emotions. Glaring anger however, was not what she had expected.
She made the 'Are you okay?' sign with her fingers. He didn't respond, instead he helped himself to another deep breath from her tank and bent down to free his foot.
Annoyance welled up in Jody. Damn this idiot and his stupid arrogance, she thought. Helping an air hungry stranger was a risky business at the best of times. Sometimes they were so freaked they fought you for your air. He hadn't done that, but without so much as a thank you, he was using up her precious bottom time. She toyed with the idea of snatching her spare breathing tube away and letting him struggle towards the surface on his own. Trailing a cloud of blood he would be a tempting shark target. Maybe a hammerhead's teeth sunk deep into his ass would teach him a thing or two about safety and manners. But even as the thoughts flooded her mind, Jody was aware of other emotions. The eyes that bore into hers demanded attention. They were fierce and furious eyes, the look emanating from them tortured. The intensity of his expression shone through the mask and the almost black hair flying free in the ocean emphasized the energy that flowed from him. For a single second she broke the cardinal rule of diving. She held her breath under water.
Swimming thirty feet behind Jody, Chris had seen it all. The guy in trouble was some macho novice who was diving alone and Chris felt his temper rise at the stranger's stupid behaviour which could have put Jody in danger. As he swam up to them he scribbled on his slate. 'Are you okay now?' The stranger peered at the words and nodded once.
'Where's your buddy?' Chris wrote, thrusting the slate at the diver.
He deigned to reach for it and wrote slowly in a beautiful round hand that was in stark contrast to Chris' untidy scrawl.
'I don't deal in buddies.'
Jody's eyes widened as she read his reply. She grabbed the slate incensed by the arrogance of the stranger.
'Do you deal in thank you's? They're usual when someone has saved your life,' she scribbled crossly.
He snatched the slate from her. 'You didn't save my life.' He pushed it back at her, the fury firing from his dark eyes.
'Can you really be such a stupid man?' She countered, shaking her head in disbelief.
Something snapped inside Gareth Robins. There had been terrible moments in the last twenty years, but he couldn't remember one like this. All his life he had known one fact, and it had pulled him through all the bad and the dark times. What he knew, was that he wasn't just clever. He was brilliant. The Pulitzer Prize said so. The reviewers said so. The publishers of his books said so. The readers in their thousands chanted the refrain. Now, at the bottom of the ocean, a woman with the hottest fucking body he'd ever seen was asking him if he was thick.
He stared in disgust at the slate then looked up at his wet suited savior. She was watching him, waiting for him to communicate. Her green eyes flashed hotly as if demanding his words. He glared at her, a hard cold look filling his eyes as he took a long final breath from her tank and dropped the mouthpiece. There was only one word in his head:
He bent both knees and pushed off from the bottom as if jumping for the moon.
"Aaaaaargh," he screamed in frustration as he shot forward up towards the surface.
Jody watched him go, bewildered by the intensity of their brief encounter.
'Fucking asshole,' Chris scratched furiously on his slate.
"Mmmm," Jody murmured nodding her head, but oddly in her heart she couldn't agree. Inside her chest, it was pumping hard and thudding against her ribs. The word 'thanks' hammered in her brain. Why had he not said it? And what was she to make of that look he had flashed her? The whole incident had been bizarre, but she found herself overlooking the diver's irresponsible behaviour. Instead, she was recalling the brightness of his eyes, his wounded shoulder and the desperateness of his abrupt departure.
Who was he? From what private hell had he summoned up the departing scream of the damned? She wanted to know. But she would never know. He had been a man in trouble at the bottom of the ocean. She had rescued him and she would never see him again.
Gareth Robins squinted into the bright sunlight and watched the gathering crowd who were wandering around the Earth Day Exhibition stands. He groaned inwardly at the task he was about to undertake and let his eyes flicker over the beautiful landscaped gardens that flanked the area. The Hotel resort, with its expansive views of the ocean and the nearby tropical forest, was the perfect venue to host the event but it was the last place on earth that Gareth Robins wanted to be. He was the ultimate loner; aloof and remote in his world of artistic isolation and events like this one made him feel distinctly out of place.
His latest mystery novel had a strong nature and environmental theme and was being hailed as one of the biggest contributions to the conservation movement. He'd never intended to attract the attention of the Green Peace Groups, nor the activists who protested against global warming, acid rain and the stinks of human and automotive waste, but he had. And now, he found himself committed to signing copies of his book and making a guest appearance at a fundraising lunch. Great media hype and promotion, his agent had enthused. Gareth cursed silently. Like he gave a fuck about publicity.
But it was the whispers amongst those in the know that had finally driven the scientist and writer to attend the dreaded event. Rumors were rife that 'Beyond the Hawaan Forest' was a serious contender for a Nobel Literature prize and judging from the interest and excitement at the Earth Day exhibition, it was destined for the Conservation Hall of Fame as well.
Carla Thomas sat with the phone glued to her ear, deep in conversation, and gestured for Jody to enter the office. Jody plopped herself down on the chair opposite her best friend's desk and glanced at the mountains of paper and brochures that littered it. She was always amazed at how Carla managed to balance her busy job as Senior Public Relations Officer for the prestigious resort, and still have time for her friends and family. Jody smiled warmly at her, grateful that Carla had been able to convince her to spend a few days at the resort to chill out. It had been a good idea; she was feeling a whole lot better. A publicity photograph amid the piles of paper caught her attention and she peered at it closely. There was something about the man in the photograph. She didn't recognize him, but there was something oddly familiar about him.
"Who's this?" she asked when Carla replaced the receiver.
"Gareth Robins, the writer. You know of him?"
"I've heard the name, but not read his work. He just looks so familiar..."
"Well, I don't know much about him except they say he's gifted and moody, like all these damn celebrities," Carla said. "He's signing his latest novel at the exhibition today, and there's a lunch for him tomorrow."
Jody was drawn back to the deep eyes in the photograph. That's what was familiar, she realized as a shiver shot up her spine. It wasn't the aquiline features or the jutting angle of his jaw that had captured her attention. It was the eyes. Could it be him? The diver who she'd not been able to get out of her mind for days? She took a deep breath. "Is he staying here at the resort?"
"No," Carla said shaking her head. "Apparently he has a cottage down at the beach. His agent said he'd drive in each day." She stared openly at Jody and smiled, "But why the sudden interest in him?"
Jody shrugged her shoulders, "Don't know," she lied. "I saw the picture, just curiosity I guess."
The line moved slowly as Jody waited her turn, grasping a copy of 'Beyond the Hawaan Forest.' It was swelteringly hot and she wished she'd worn something cooler than the plain white tee shirt that ended just above the waistband of her jeans and showed a hint of her tanned stomach. Her long chestnut hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she donned a pair of tinted sunglasses.
Ahead of her, a man placed his book reverently before the author. Jody was close enough to hear snippets of the conversation.
"To whom should I dedicate it?" Gareth Robin's voice was modulated, locked behind bars of self control.
'To Linda," said the man.
Gareth's felt pen raced across the page.
"No... yes... I mean, to Jake and Linda," the man said, changing his mind.
"Can't it be to Linda and Jake?" Gareth's lips were pursed.
"Jake and Linda would be better. I'm a bit old fashioned." The man laughed apologetically.
"But I've already written to Linda..." Irritation dripped from his words.
The impression lingered that he would rather throw the book than autograph it. Jody felt the butterflies take off in her stomach. It was him. She just knew it! Tension clung to Gareth Robins like an aura. It was exciting ten feet from him.
"Are you old fashioned enough to buy another book?" Gareth asked in an icy voice.
The man shifted nervously and Jody held her breath at what was unfolding. Drama seemed to follow Gareth Robins like a shadow, she thought as her eyes roamed over him. For an author he was physically fit and well tanned. Inexplicably she felt her nipples harden as she recalled the memory of his hard muscular body and broad shoulders as he struggled underwater. The sea breeze ruffled his unruly hair and his brown eyes darted towards the man, his features twisting in an outward demonstration of his inner emotions.
"Uh... yeah, I suppose Linda and Jake will be fine," spluttered the man.
Gareth winced. It was clear he hated pretension. His lips curled at the corners in an almost-smile as he completed the signing.
Jody struggled to contain herself and laughed out aloud. Immediately Gareth's eyes swiveled. They zeroed in on her and his features softened the moment he saw her. Across the short distance that separated them, her laughing face melted his hard one. She saw it happen. She felt it happen. Her beauty flowed over him like surf on a beach, washing away his irritation. He smiled at her.
Her heart leapt to her throat as she set the book down in front of him. Her nipples were still erect, but now, being this close to him had set up a dull throb in her pussy. He fixed his dark eyes on her and smiled again. "Who should I dedicate it to?"
Jody swallowed hard and removed her sunglasses.
"A dive buddy." Her voice was low and husky.
Gareth's head snapped back at her words. He glared at her. Those green eyes were unmistakable. Christ, how the fuck had she found him?