|Pub Date||November 2017|
|# Pages||272 pages|
|Cover Designer||Judith Fellows|
Marlee Nevins feared she was going to drown until a shark nudged her surfboard and bared its teeth.
“Holy shit! Holy fuck!” Marlee yanked her limbs out of the water as the great white circled then dove.
“You’re not getting me, you bastard!” She ripped off a neoprene bootie in desperation for a weapon to strike back if charged and clung to her board.
Marlee screamed as a jolt from beneath pushed her into the ocean in one big splash and left her defenseless. Disoriented, gasping for air, and nose burning from inhaling salty water, she broke surface a short distance from her overturned board. The shark was mangling it, allowing her a chance to back away with thrashing arms and hyperventilating curses. She started to swim for her life.
Marlee had been trapped in the water off the coast of New South Wales for over six hours, initially caught in a riptide then drifting farther out to sea after many futile attempts to make it back to shore. The solitude of the secluded morning beach had followed her into the far horizon where nothing was in sight, not even a seagull, until the shark showed up.
Marlee swam like hell. Heart-pounding tremors roared in her head as she raced against the waves. Marlee had never been this scared before. Her lungs about to collapse, she finally stopped to get her bearings.
Head thrashing from side to side, she scanned the rolling waves for other triangle fins. There were none. If she could keep in control and stay at the ready to wallop against an attack, maybe her grisly death could be put off for a little longer.
The shark swam around shreds of fiberglass floating on the surface. Marlee whimpered as she envisioned her horrific end. She struggled to keep her head above the waves, arms weakening and legs all but dead weights. Her bootless foot felt numb and her anxiety level peaked with the realization she was likely to die a painful death.
The shark dove, its dorsal fin disappearing beneath the surface and leaving no trace. Marlee held her breath, expecting an ambush from below that would remove her legs and redden the water. Heart pounding and head throbbing, Marlee squeezed her eyes shut and prepared to meet her end.
Hope all but lost, the roar of an approaching motor renewed Marlee’s determination to fight back. The blond ponytail of a female driver flapped in the wind as a speeding watercraft seemed to come out of nowhere and bounce across the waves. Was it for real or was she hallucinating?
“Help! Over here!” Marlee waved her arms, trying to flag down the driver just as the triangle fin resurfaced and started swimming toward her.
“Back off! Leave me alone or I’ll kill you, you motherfucker!” Marlee tried to look as large as possible in the water. Appearing bigger was supposed to help with warding off enraged black bears in the bush, and she desperately hoped it would be the same for an attacking shark in the ocean. Large teeth threatened and Marlee stared into the darkness of its dilated pupils. She had nothing to defend herself with other than her neoprene boot-covered fist. She kept her wide eyes focused on the dark orbs until they dipped below again.
A sputtering water scooter stopped behind Marlee and a woman’s voice called out. “Give me your hand.”
Marlee reached behind, keeping her eyes glued to where the shark went under until she felt someone grasp her arm. She swung around and grabbed onto the seat as the watercraft began to pull her away. The engine gave one final roar then choked and died.
“Damn,” the woman said. “We’re out of bloody petrol. You’ll have to climb on behind me. Hurry!”
Marlee mustered all her remaining strength, but it wasn’t enough to pull up out of the water and onto the seat. “I can’t.”
“You’re a woman?” The words came out in a screech of shock as she whipped around and stretched out both arms. “Grab onto me. I’ll help pull you up.”
Marlee seized the outstretched hands, and felt herself being raised as she struggled to kick her legs to get onto the watercraft. She managed to get her stomach slung over the seat then felt grasping arms scooping her legs out of the water.
“Oh shit, it’s coming at us,” the woman said. “You have to get all the way on and sit up. Hurry. Now.”
“Holy fuck!” Marlee felt the woman clawing at the back of her wetsuit as she struggled to get upright on the seat. Luckily the shark stopped just short of ramming them and began to circle.
The woman tried starting the engine, but it was futile. The tank was dry. “Where the hell are you, Josh?” She looked around; hyperventilating whimpers escaping her throat.
Marlee collapsed against the woman’s back, arms wrapped around a firm waist and clinging for life as her cheek rested on the blond ponytail. When she noticed an approaching sailboat, she perked up and began to wave.
“Stay still.” The woman’s voice was stern. “He’ll be here in a minute, but we can’t let ourselves tip over before then. Be ready in case the shark rams us.”
Marlee lowered her arm and could have grabbed onto the triangle fin because the shark was so close. It brushed up against the side of the personal craft and the two women had to shuffle on the seat to keep from tipping.
“If it goes under, the bloody bastard could flip us,” the woman said. “Josh is almost here.”
“He’s my fourteen-year-old son.” She shook her head. “I thought for sure you were a boy not much older than him.”
Marlee was used to being in control during dangerous situations and felt ashamed at having to rely on the help of strangers. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s no time to feel sorry,” the woman said. “Pull yourself together and work with me.”
“Tell me what you need me to do.”
“Stay still and hold on to me. What’s your name and where are you from?”
“Marlee Nevins from Canada.”
“A stupid Canadian tourist.” She spoke over her shoulder. “That explains it. Does anyone know you’re here?”
“Yes, and no.” Marlee sighed.
“Don’t give me ambiguous answers.” Her lips quivered as she watched the circling shark. “Is it yes or no?”
“Nobody knows I’m out here,” Marlee said. “They just know I’m visiting Australia.”
“Anyone with half a mind should realize you never go out on the water without a buddy.” The woman groaned.
“Okay, it was my fucking mistake.” Marlee didn’t need this. “I got us into this so if it attacks anyone, it’ll be me.” Marlee held on and used her body to shield her rescuer against the shark.
“Just keep staring it down and don’t break eye contact,” the woman said. A wave rocked the scooter, almost knocking them over, and the shark went under. A sailboat edged up to them.
“Toss me a line, Josh. Now.”
“Hurry up, Mum. The shark’s still there.” He threw the rope.
The woman caught it and tugged to pull the water scooter to the small step at the rear of the craft. The wide blue eyes of a teen boy stared down at them as Marlee struggled to get on the vessel, her legs rubbery and feet numb. She wobbled onboard before collapsing into one of the seats in the cockpit.
Marlee watched her rescuer climb aboard and pull Josh into a firm hug “Thank you, darling. You saved our lives. I love you.”
“I love you, too,” he said. “Holy shit, did you see the size of its teeth?”
Marlee sat stone-faced as she tried to get her bearings. It appeared no else was on the boat and land beckoned in the distance.
“I’ll get us some towels.” The woman wrung water out of her ponytail as she looked at Marlee. “Are you all right? Do you need any medical attention?”
“No.” Marlee leaned back and flopped her head against the seat. “I’m okay.”
“Good. We’ll take you in.” She disappeared into the cabin.
“Who are you?” Josh’s baby blue eyes examined Marlee.
“Hi.” She offered a jittery hand. “I’m Marlee from Canada.”
“Hey.” He shook her hand.
“I’m so glad to meet you and your mom.” Marlee’s teeth were chattering and her body felt numb. “How did you find me?”
“I spotted you on the water with my drone.” He picked up the control and showed it to Marlee. “You were on your surfboard, then disappeared, and Mum noticed the shark. She freaked.”
“I bet.” Marlee shivered in the warm sun as her cold, wet body craved heat. “What’s your mother’s name?”
“Abigail. You should have seen her when she saw there was a shark about to attack you. She jumped on the water scooter even though it wasn’t safe.”
“She’s my hero,” Marlee said. “And so are you.”
Abigail returned and handed Marlee a towel. “We’ll head back in now.” She stood at the controls. “I’ll take us from here, Josh.”
“Sure.” He went into the cabin.
Marlee watched Abigail ensure the water scooter was properly tethered at the back of the boat then braced for an awkward ride back to shore. She struggled to lower the zipper on her wetsuit, hands shaking and teeth chattering as she stared at her feet.
“I lost one of my booties.” Marlee raised her naked foot. “I lost my new board too. I guess it’s a sign because I sure won’t be doing that again.”
“I hope not,” Abigail said.
“Thank you, Abigail. Your son told me your name. You saved my life.” Marlee studied the attractive blonde at the controls. The bikini hugged Abigail in all the right places, highlighting firm round breasts and a tight bottom.
“You need to drink something.” Abigail leaned toward the cabin opening. “Josh, could you please toss me up a couple bottles of water and some fruit?”
Marlee accepted water and a banana for sustenance as her body trembled during the silent ride back. A relaxing respite from her stressful position as a sergeant with the Ottawa Police Service had turned into a nightmare. She had chosen Australia for her three-month personal leave because their summer was her winter and she’d always dreamed of visiting the land down under.
Marlee had planned to master surfing while in Australia. Learn how to ride the waves and find balance to become a stronger person. After a few lessons, she bought a surfboard and had been practicing on her own away from others so she could feel comfortable making mistakes.
Her number one rule on the job was to never let her guard down because an error in judgment could mean death. Dying was something Marlee had prepared herself for, as she took many calculated risks in her work. For her, dying young meant being a hero, risking her life to save someone else’s. Dying over some stupid stunt hadn’t been in the plans and she was ashamed. Especially since she’d also put this beautiful stranger in danger.
Marlee gulped three bottles of water, devoured two bananas, some cheese, and a slice of pizza on the cruise back into shore. She was parched and starving after over six hours adrift in the ocean. And she was impressed with Abigail, still looking out for her after the rescue.
Marlee looked for that type of behavior in a partner—someone who would risk dying for her and make sure she was okay. Her dangerous work required it. This had been dangerous play, however, and the parameters were totally different. Marlee owed this woman her life.
“We should probably take you to the hospital to get checked,” Abigail said as they lingered at the edge of the parking lot back at the marina.
Marlee stood on wobbly legs in bare feet, having removed her only bootie, and just wanted to get back to her place. “I’m okay so there’s no need to bother.” She looked around. “Is there a taxi stand nearby? I have to get back to my car.”
“We’ll give you a ride.” Abigail approached her vehicle, a dark brown Toyota Prado with blackened windows. Josh was already in the backseat.
Marlee was too exhausted to refuse. “Thank you. My car is in the parking lot on the other side of the bay.”
“I don’t think you should drive.” Abigail fastened her seatbelt. “I’ll take you to your place so you can rest for awhile. Will anyone be there because you shouldn’t be alone just yet?”
“I’ll be okay. Really.” Marlee gave Abigail directions to her apartment then leaned her head against the side window and closed her eyes. Her heart was pounding, head throbbing, and body twitching with every reminder of her near death at sea. She wanted to roll up into a ball and cry, but she also wanted to lash out and hit something. She was furious with herself for being so careless and burned with shame.
When they pulled up in front of Marlee’s low-rise apartment building, Abigail put down the windows then turned off the engine. “I’ll go in with you to make sure you’re going to be okay.”
“I’ll be fine.” Marlee unzipped the key pocket on her wetsuit and dug out the only two keys she had in this country—one for her rental car and the other for her apartment.
“I imagine you’ll be fine,” Abigail said, “but I want to make sure. Josh, can you wait here? I’ll only be a few minutes.”
“Okay.” He got into the front passenger seat, focused on a game on his phone as Marlee stood at the open door.
She squeezed his arm. “I owe you and your mother big time. I won’t forget this and want to find some way to thank the two of you.”
“Sure, whatever.” Josh smiled without looking up.
“Let’s get you inside,” Abigail said.
Marlee’s apartment was on the ground level of a neatly kept complex with large balconies, gardens of flowers and shrubs on the landscaped grounds, but no common space for residents. Most of the tenants were foreigners spending time along the warm coast while the winds of winter blew on the northern side of the equator. It was a pleasant place, not too expensive, practical, and quiet. So quiet, in fact, that Marlee had yet to get to know any of her neighbours beyond a few words or a wave.
“Come in,” Marlee said as she opened her door and stepped into the small entryway she feared she’d never set foot in again. The apartment was dark, as she’d left for the beach before dawn and she hadn’t bothered to open the curtains. She hadn’t put on the air conditioner or opened any windows either.
“Let’s get some light and fresh air in here.” Abigail pushed by her and started opening curtains and windows. “Don’t you have air conditioning?”
“I never put it on when I’m going to be out for the day.” Marlee dropped down onto her sofa.
“You need to get out of that wetsuit,” Abigail said. “A hot shower will do you good. I’ll wait here while you have one then take Josh home and come back to make sure you’re fine.”
“I’m okay.” Marlee struggled to stand up, touched by Abigail’s caring. “You’ve already done so much and I don’t want to hold you up anymore. I really want to thank you and Josh properly. Do you have an email or phone number where I can reach you?”
“Let’s not worry about that for now. Is there anyone you can call to come over right now?”
“No.” Marlee had been in Australia for almost seven weeks, but had kept mostly to herself.
“I’ll wait until you’re done in the shower.” Abigail crossed her arms.
“I’m sorry for ruining your day,” Marlee said. “I’ll be quick.”
“Just be careful,” Abigail said. “If you feel like you’re going to pass out, please sit down and call for me. I’ll be right here.” She sat on the couch.
Marlee refused to cry as warm water rinsed away the taste of salt and soothed her body. She put on her favorite T-shirt and a pair of clean cargo shorts then hurried back to the living room.
Abigail jumped off the couch and put her hands on her hips. “You’re a police officer?”
Fuck. Marlee had given no thought to putting on the T-shirt she’d gotten at an Ottawa Police charity event. She just wanted to wear something comfortable and familiar. Her plan had been to hide the fact she was a police officer in Canada, but she couldn’t lie to Abigail.
“Yes, but I’m on personal leave while visiting Australia.”
“A police officer should know better than to go out on the water alone without telling anyone.” Abigail shook her head.
“I screwed up, okay?” Marlee dropped to the couch and ran a hand through her short brown hair. “I feel like shit and I’m sorry.”
Abigail sat down and touched Marlee’s shoulder. “I’m sorry too. I shouldn’t have reacted like that. Are you going to be okay while I drop Josh off at home?”
“I’m fine.” Marlee peered into deep blue eyes and held them for a minute. Who was this tall, attractive woman with piercing eyes that felt so safe and warm? She had a sudden urge to hug her. Was there a husband waiting for her at home?
“Can I have your keys then?” Abigail got to her feet. “I think you should go for a nap and try to get some rest. I’ll come back within the hour and let myself in while you’re sleeping.”
“Really, I’m okay.” Marlee stayed sitting. Her knees were weak. “I’ve already troubled you enough and I’m sure you have other more important things to do.”
“You’re my priority right now.” Abigail grabbed Marlee’s keys from the table and folded them in her hand. “I’m responsible for you now that I’ve saved your life.”
“I think it should be the other way around,” Marlee said. “I owe you my life. How can I ever repay you?”
“That won’t be necessary.” Abigail was at the door, her hand on the knob. “Do you need help with anything before I leave?”
“Thanks, but no. Go ahead. I’m sure Josh is anxious to get home. You must be so proud of him.”
Abigail smiled. “He is special. I’ll see you later.”
As much as Marlee wanted to stay on the couch and wait for Abigail’s return, overwhelming fatigue set in. She mustered up her last bit of strength to get to the bedroom and climb between the covers before falling into a deep sleep.
Darkness was all around when Marlee awoke, crying and writhing against the sheets as though fighting for her life. She felt like she was suffocating and her arms met resistance as they flailed about.
That voice. Where was it coming from? Marlee drifted from the nightmare to a sluggish awakening with someone straddling her. “Where am I? What’s happening?”
“You’re in your bed,” Abigail said. “You’re safe now. Try to calm down.”
“Let me go.” Marlee pulled her arms out of the grip and struggled to sit up. Her eyes were starting to adjust to the grey of the room and Abigail’s silhouette in the light of her cell phone. “You came back.”
“I said I would.” Abigail climbed off the bed. “You were in a deep sleep when I returned and I eventually fell asleep on your couch until I heard your lamp crashing to the floor.”
“I dreamt I was back in the water, sinking to the bottom of the ocean.” Marlee rubbed her eyes. “You saved me again.”
“I just woke you up this time.” Abigail placed the lamp back on the table and turned it on, giving the room a soft glow.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” Marlee said. “You don’t even know me and you’re helping me again. I’m such a bother.”
Abigail sat on the edge of the bed. “Sometimes people have to rely on the help of strangers. And you’re no bother. I’m sure you would do the same.”
“What about your family? Josh. This would have been traumatic for him too. Where is he?”
“He’s with his father,” Abigail said. “He’s in good hands.”
“And you?” Marlee asked. “You could’ve died. You should be at home with your son and husband instead of looking after me.”
Abigail stood up. “Josh’s father and I are divorced. It’s the middle of the night. I think we should try to get some more sleep. Do you need anything before I go back to your sofa?”
“Please stay here,” Marlee said. “The couch isn’t comfortable and I could use the moral support. You make me feel safe.” Marlee shifted to the far side of the bed and laid down, closing her eyes with the touch of the pillow. “Please?”
Marlee lifted her eyelids halfway. “I owe you my life. The least I can do is share my bed.” She had been able to coax many women into her bed over the years, but this time it was different as the beautiful blond woman eased between the sheets.
“Thank you.” Abigail kept to her side of the mattress. “This is much more comfortable than your couch.”
“I’m glad,” Marlee said.
A faint fragrance of coconut shampoo and Abigail’s soft breathing brought Marlee a sense of comfort as she drifted back to sleep.
Daylight was squeezing through the closed blind when Marlee opened her eyes again. She raised her arms in a stretch and remembered how close she’d come to dying the day before. Her back was to the center of the bed and as she rolled over, Marlee was disappointed to realize Abigail was gone.
It wasn’t until she was out in the kitchen, gulping a full glass of water, when Marlee heard a key in her lock.
Abigail pushed open the door, juggling a cardboard tray. “Hi. I got us some coffee and breakfast.”
“How nice. Thank you.” Marlee cleared a space on the table, her heart palpitating. “It’s Monday morning. Shouldn’t you be at work?”
Abigail sat down. “I have some flexibility. How are you feeling this morning?”
“Like shit. And like a loser.”
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” Abigail’s stare was chastising. “You should be thankful you’re alive.”
“I am grateful, but I’m furious with myself for being such a stupid tourist.”
“I shouldn’t have called you that. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Marlee’s cheeks burned as she studied this attractive woman, her matching pink-painted fingernails and toenails very ladylike.
“I thought for sure you were some young guy out there, not much older than my son,” Abigail said.
“It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been confused for being a guy.” Marlee ran a hand through her hair.
“Do you have any kids?” Abigail sipped her coffee.
“No, it’s just me. I don’t even have a pet. But I do have lots of pet peeves.” Marlee’s tone turned macho, a defense against her waning confidence around this sophisticated woman.
“And what are some of your pet peeves?” Abigail stood up.
“The behavior of tourists, having one bare foot, and getting attacked by sharks.” Marlee grinned.
“I can see you’re feeling better.” Abigail smiled. “It’s time for me to get to work.”
“Yes, please do.” Marlee followed Abigail to the door and gave her a heartfelt hug. “How can I ever thank you for everything?”
“By surfing with a buddy next time.” Abigail reciprocated the embrace.
“I owe you and Josh big time and won’t forget. I know I’ll never be able to repay you, but I want to…”
“Stop right there.” Abigail stepped back. “We only did what every decent human being would do in the same situation. There’s no need to feel indebted to us.”
Marlee held her gaze. “You’re not going to get away with this without some kind of thanks from me. I’m a cop after all and don’t like to let people get away with things.”
“It’s really not necessary.” Abigail had the hint of a smile as she left.
Marlee was desperate to talk to someone, Kerry or Gabe, but her late morning was the middle of the night in Ottawa, and she didn’t want to wake them. Kerry would be fast asleep with Diane, her long-time female partner. Her big brother Gabriel would be in bed with his wife. Other than Kerry or Gabe, Marlee had no one else she could call. There wasn’t even an ex she could reach out to. There was no way she’d call Stacy after she’d left Marlee broke and broken.
A fluorescent blue sky and glistening sun did nothing to improve her mood that was better suited to dark clouds and rain. She made herself a grilled cheese sandwich and turned on the TV to watch the local news. There was no mention of a shark attack or near drowning of a stupid Canadian tourist. At least that was positive.
Marlee had reclined on the couch and was drifting off to asleep, but was revived by the sound of a light tapping then a key in her door.
“Hello.” Abigail’s head peeked around the entry.
“You’re back.” Marlee wobbled to the door and pulled it open.
Abigail, freshly dressed in a navy skirt and blazer outfit, stayed outside and paced. “I realized I forgot to return your keys.” She handed them to Marlee.
“You must think I’m such a nuisance.” Marlee felt Abigail’s warmth as she clutched the keys and grinned.
“I was the one who forgot to leave them. I’ll pop by again later this evening and we can fetch your car if you’re up to it.”
“I’m supposed to be the one who owes you,” Marlee said. “It’s very nice of you to offer, but I won’t let myself trouble you anymore.”
“Then be ready to go when I come by at seven.” Abigail swung around and left.
Marlee spent the remainder of the day lounging on the couch and puttering in her apartment, even folding some clothes to avoid thinking about her near disaster. She was at a loss for what she was going to do with the next part of her stay in Australia now that surfing, and anything to do with the ocean, was over. While tidying in the kitchen and periodically glancing at the TV in the living room, a breaking news item caught her attention.
“Abigail Taylor, founder and CEO of AbTay Biosystems, is accused of terrorist links. The world-renowned geneticist is suspected of tampering with company research to engineer bioweapons.”
Marlee dropped her tea towel and rushed over to the couch to watch a scrum of reporters swarm an approaching woman. She had a blond ponytail and was wearing a navy suit. It couldn’t be…
“Dr. Taylor, are these allegations true? Did you authorize work for the genetic engineering of bioweapons?” Abigail held her head high and didn’t flinch as she pushed her way through the cluster of journalists. She disappeared inside her office tower.
When the news moved on to the next item, Marlee rushed to her computer. It didn’t take long to get to the homepage of AbTay Biosystems with its technical divisions and ten-year-anniversary proclamation. There was a picture of Abigail, smiling and looking like a corporate spokesperson, along with a short biography. She had her PhD in Genetics and Genomics and was a renowned expert on DNA profiling. Her family situation only mentioned a son, Josh.
Marlee browsed the website, but it was so scientific and outside her sphere of knowledge that she left it to search what else the Internet might have on Abigail. She was considered a pioneer in her field, one of the richest women in New South Wales, and cherished her privacy.
An ex-husband, a dentist named Dr. Keith Hampton, was mentioned in a few hits. They had divorced over eleven years ago and there were no recent posts linking them except to say that they shared custody of Josh.
AbTay Biosystems had been founded six months after the divorce, experiencing exponential growth since inception. Abigail had built a multimillion-dollar corporation focused on developing products and technologies that were foreign to Marlee, with the exception of some work involving DNA profiling for forensics. Marlee wasn’t an expert in that area, but she recognized some of the terminology.
There were thousands of hits for Abigail Taylor and the top ones were the day’s accounts of the breaking scandal at her company. All major news organizations in Australia were covering it and sensationalizing the potential links to terrorism by bringing in experts to discuss threats of bioweapons. Crimes involving weapons like genetically modified viruses to target a specific population were so much more sophisticated than what Marlee was used to in her life as a local police officer. It scared her.
Marlee contemplated Abigail’s shocked reaction at discovering she was a cop. The way she’d jumped up off the couch and put her hands on her hips had seemed a little over the top. Maybe there was more to it than just letting on a police officer should have known better than to go surfing alone. After all, if there were any truth to the charges, a police officer would be the last person Abigail would want to be around, even one from Canada.
But why had she offered to bring Marlee to her car tonight? It didn’t make sense. Marlee wondered if Abigail thought she was an undercover officer on assignment with the Australian police and the rescue was staged.
Marlee felt jittery, wondering if she could be in for another life-or-death situation, and a sense of uneasiness grew. What had she gotten herself into? She owed this woman her life, but there was no way she was going to get involved with anything that could put her in a difficult situation. She hoped Abigail would agree and understand that while Marlee was indebted to her, she would have no part of any criminal activity. In the meantime, Marlee decided not to tell Abigail about seeing the news and act as if she was still a stupid tourist.
Years of police training reminded Marlee she needed to let someone know Abigail would be picking her up. She was getting ready to contact Kerry when her neighbour in the next unit walked by the kitchen window. Although they’d only exchanged names and the occasional greeting, Marlee was desperate to trust him. A flight attendant for one of the major airlines, Tyler Bennet had a rolling suitcase in tow as he stopped to unlock his door.
Marlee stepped into the hot sun. “Welcome back.”
“Hey.” Tyler pushed his door open and put his hands in his pockets.
She assumed each realized the other was gay and because of it, shared a collegial view of life. At least that’s what Marlee hoped as she struck up a conversation.
“You’ve been gone for a while. Where’d you go this time?”
“I took the long haul,” Tyler said. “Sydney to LA. It was good to spend a few days there. I even took in a hockey game.” The way he said game rhymed with dime. “I saw some of your family because the Kings were playing the Canadiens.”
“I doubt it,” Marlee said, “but if it had been a women’s team, I may have had a few sisters on it.”
Tyler laughed. “I’m starving. I just ordered a pizza for dinner and it should be here soon. Why don’t you join me, especially if you have some cold beers you could share? My fridge is empty and I forgot to pick some up.”
“Sure, why not?” Marlee said. “I do have a few cold ones, as it happens.”
“Good on you, mate.” Tyler hit his hands together. “I’ll get settled in and you can pop to my unit as soon as the pizza arrives.”
It was almost five when Marlee grabbed four chilled beers and headed next door. She would have less than two hours to chat up Tyler and gauge if he could be trusted as a confidante.
“How long are you here for?” Tyler asked. They were sitting out back, sipping beer for dessert.
“About another five weeks.” Marlee hadn’t yet told Tyler much about herself as she tried to keep the focus of the conversation on him and details of his latest travels.
“Where are you headed after this?” Tyler asked.
“Back to Canada. And you?” It was Marlee’s understanding that all the apartments were short-term rentals. “What’s your story?”
“You don’t want to hear my sorry story,” Tyler said. “The short of it is I needed a place in a hurry to get away from a controlling ex. I haven’t told many people that I’m here because I don’t want him to find out where I’m staying.”
“Was it that bad?” Marlee asked.
“Worse. I sure hope you don’t tell any of your surfing buddies I’m here because they might know my ex.” Tyler tilted his head back and drained his bottle of beer.
“I don’t have any surfing buddies.” Marlee’s beer was still more than half full. “Besides, I’ve given up surfing.”
“No kidding. I thought you loved it, especially with the fancy board I saw you hauling around.”
“Well I won’t be lugging it around anymore. I got myself into a fancy mess with it and the board is history.”
“That’s too bad. I noticed your car wasn’t in the lot. Did you get into a bingle?”
“More of a pickle,” Marlee said, unsure of what he meant, but thinking it sounded similar. “Let’s just say I lost it at sea.”
“Did it get swiped?”
“Sort of.” Marlee was conscious of the time and starting to feel comfortable with Tyler, so decided to wade in with the hope he could be trusted. “Did you see the news about Abigail Taylor?”
“Who hasn’t?” Tyler said. “I thought we were talking about your board. Did she steal it or what?”
“She spent the night at my place.” Marlee hadn’t meant for it to come out like that.
“No shit?” Tyler’s green eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. “You scored with the test tube lady?”
“No, of course not.” Marlee had seen various references to Abigail being brilliant and reclusive, and acting as though she lived in whatever test tube she was studying. “I kind of ran into some problems on the water yesterday and she was out on her sailboat with her son. They rescued me. I had no idea who she was. Now she’s coming to pick me up in less than an hour so I can get my car because I wasn’t able to drive it home yesterday.”
“You’re jiving me, aren’t you?”
“No, and please don’t tell anyone about this. I wanted to let someone know. Just in case.”
Tyler’s jaw had fallen even further. “Do you know how private she is? People have been trying for years to find out more about Abigail Taylor, but she’s very guarded on her personal life. I can’t believe she’s coming to pick you up. Are you sure it was her?”
“Yes, positive,” Marlee said. “She dropped off my keys this morning and then I saw her on the news wearing the same business suit.”
“Wow, you’ve already given her your keys. I didn’t think she was a lesbian. She is gorgeous though.”
“Nothing happened, really,” Marlee said. “I never touch straight women. We hardly even talked to each other. She just wanted to make sure I was okay, but she was a bit taken aback when she found out that I’m a cop.”
“A cop. Wow. Do you think she’s guilty of having terrorist links?”
“I don’t know and I don’t want to know. Abigail Taylor saved my life and I owe her everything.”
“That’s sounds pretty dramatic. What really happened to your board?”
“Let’s just say I went out on the water without backup and I should have known better.” Marlee wanted to forget about it.
“What’s this with words like backup and wanting to let someone know, just in case? You’re making me nervous.” Tyler ran a hand through his short, neatly coiffed light brown hair.
“There’s nothing to be nervous about,” Marlee said. “Being prepared is in my blood, or at least I thought it was, and I just wanted to tell someone where I’m going. I should have known better yesterday.”
“Are you here on assignment to bring down AbTay Biosystems?” Tyler leaned forward, elbows on his knees.
Marlee straightened up. “No, not at all. I would never do anything to hurt her. I owe her.”
“I suggest you don’t say that to her. According to the tabloids, she has a reputation for having high expectations and being hard on staff who don’t meet them.”
“I can believe that,” Marlee said. “She scolded me for not having a buddy out on the water yesterday.”
“She was right on that one. Surfers should always go with someone.”
“I can’t imagine why she insisted on bringing me to get my car tonight of all nights, when she has so much else going on in her life right now.”
“Do you want me to go with you?” Tyler asked. “If I hadn’t just had three of your beers, I’d offer to take you myself.”
“Thanks, but I’m okay.” Marlee stood up. “I should get going because she’ll be here soon. Please don’t tell anyone about this. I want to watch out for myself, but I owe this woman and if there’s anything I can do to help her...”
“My lips are sealed.” Tyler slid fingers over his mouth, as though closing a zipper.
Marlee’s stomach churned as she stood out front and waited for Abigail. She was nervous, but there was also some excitement and a bit of adrenaline mixed in. She could have just taken a cab to get her car, but she was curious. The trauma of her near death the day before had been overridden by the shock of realizing she’d been rescued by Abigail Taylor.
A late-model white hatchback Volkswagen Golf pulled into the lot. Marlee was watching for the dark luxury SUV they’d driven in the day before, and was surprised when the vehicle came to a stop in front of her. The driver’s darkened window eased down and an emotionless Abigail waved her over.
“You seem to be doing much better,” Abigail said as Marlee buckled herself in.
Abigail wore a snug white T-shirt and beige mid-length shorts, her ponytail fed through the back of a white ball cap. Her feet sported delicate slip-on sandals and balanced on the pedals of what would have been the passenger side of a car in Canada. Even dressed in casual clothes, Abigail had an air of sophistication that awed Marlee.
“I am, thank you.” Marlee felt sloppy in her baggy T-shirt, comfortable cargo shorts, and well-worn sports sandals. “How was your day?” She could hardly imagine.
“Hectic.” Abigail eased her foot off the clutch as they merged into traffic. “It’s good that I had an excuse to leave or I’d still be at the office.”
“What kind of office do you work in?” Marlee let on she hadn’t seen the news.
“A busy one.” Abigail stared at the road as she geared down for a roundabout. “What did you get up to today?”
They drove the rest of the way in silence. When they got to Marlee’s subcompact rental car, Abigail pulled up beside it and parked then also got out.
“Thank you so much for everything,” Marlee said. “I owe you my life and will never forget it.” She wrapped her arms around Abigail and squeezed. There wasn’t much of a hug returned so Marlee pulled away. “I’d like to take you and Josh out for dinner.”
“That isn’t necessary,” Abigail said. “I’m sure you would have done the same for us.” She got back into her car and put down the window. “Take care of yourself and enjoy the rest of your visit in Australia.”
Marlee watched the white car disappear in traffic and wondered if she’d ever talk to this bizarre woman again.
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