I took a deep breath and swam out the short underwater tunnel, feeling the push and pull of the tide and quickly surfaced, swimming towards the catamaran. Rhys had already reached it and was on one of the hulls on the back of the deck. He was pacing to and fro, with his hand to his ear, obviously on the phone and deep in concentration.
I continued towards the boat until I was about to jump onto one of the ladders when I suddenly heard Rhys swear loudly above me, his thick Welsh accent emerging with his anger. I stilled my momentum up.
“For fuck’s sake, did Deian no tell ya? This shipment after the moon is our last for a while with that shite.”
I paused on the step ladder and slowly let myself back down into the water, hugging the bow underneath while I listened in.
“No, no. We will continue with the shipments of the Meth, and others, but no to the girls. They are more trouble than they’re worth since you take so long between delivery and pickup.” Rhys paused for a few, long moments and I bobbed up and down with the tide against the boat.
“What? That’s nearly double than usual….Naw, but it sure is fucking suspicious.” He was silent for a few more moments and I could practically hear his thoughts. Thinking of all the things he could buy with all that extra money from housing and transporting stolen women. My eyes welled with tears quickly swept away by the ocean.
I bobbed down and up in time enough to hear him grit out, “Fine, but if I so much smell anything foul, I’ll bury them all and won’t think twice about it.” Rhys grunted again before I heard the phone beep off the call.
I braced my arms locked against the bottom of the boat and pushed myself under, simply holding myself down in the water while my chest constricted.
I was so fucking stupid. I nearly fell for it, the good, loving guy act. Of course Rhys would continue trading those young girls like they were another cargo for buy and sell. As I thought of the heinousness of it, all the other inexcusable acts Soft Kelly had forgotten pushed their way to the surface. Nearly sexual assault on a hillside, threatening to kill Iona if I ran, telling me there was nowhere I could hide, almost taking pride in the history of Witch Fall cliff, and of course, the big old texas chainsaw massacre scene from his shed the night before.
No, Rhys Maddock was a modern day serial psychopath. Hiding behind good looks, sweet words, and charm to make me forget his true nature. He was no better than his father, maybe worse, because he tried to play on my emotions. Actions spoke louder than words, and his actions howled bloody murder.
Rhys definitely had to go.
Fevered late night kisses, romantic boat rides, erotic cave dalliances, all of it was at an end until the right opportunity presented itself. Oh, I would still play the naive new girl and potential partner, but it would only ever be an act now and I was going to make sure my hormones toed the line.
My breath was at the end. I let myself rise to the surface to take another deep breath and pushed myself off and away from the boat. Surfacing thirty or so feet away from it, Rhys was looking over the railing, towards the beach, not the cave and my direction. Making overarm strokes to be noticed, he finally spotted me and grinned.
“Brave the underwater tunnel, huh?”
I caught the ladder and climbed up, giving him a smile that didn’t reach my face.
“Piece of cake.”
He gave a flirtatious grin and looked my bare body over, and I instinctively covered my stomach with my arms, feigning cold. “Where’s that towel Aaron promised?” I looked over to him, now unfurling the main sail, and Rhys bent down inside the cabin to hand it over.
He watched me cover up, still holding that smirk on his face while I moved over to sit on top of the cabin and watch Aaron.
“How long will it take to get back with that thing?” Aaron looked up to the sail billowing and grinned, “we’ll be flying once we get into the crosswind, maybe half an hour?”
Nodding, I spread my towel and laid back, letting the midday sun attempt to dry my makeshift bathing suit, and closing my eyes to pretend I was tired. Rhys laid down beside me and stayed silent, presumably also enjoying the sun. Above, the wind hit the sheet and within minutes we had cleared the island and sailing back up the channel.
The rushing wind and sounds of waves hitting the boat weren’t loud enough to drown out the close presence of Rhys, laying there like Adonis in his damp white briefs. I steeled myself against the natural attraction I had to him, and forced myself to think of something else.
Sleek, smooth, dark skinned Will. Who’s smile had never scared me, but always sent warmth to my heart because it was caring and sincere. We for sure had ups and downs over our two months of knowing each other, and much shorter time actually ‘together’, but there was no doubt that every word and action from Will was genuine.
That was my light at the end of the tunnel. Spending a week, no drama, no deaths, no responsibilities with Will on the reservation. I grimaced at the thought that since our connection was broken, his feelings had probably changed. But it didn’t matter, that was my light. I had to hold onto it otherwise I had nothing.
With closed eyes, my senses were heightened to listening and feeling, and after a few minutes of the wind whipping up and through the boat, I noticed my right arm started to tingle. Thinking it must have gone to sleep, I shook it out, only to find the tingling had moved to my leg, and was growing. It didn’t hurt exactly, but felt...warm. I looked up and peered down the boat length for a reason and it loomed above me.
Cwymp Gwrach Cliff. Of course. I pulled myself up briefly to look. We were traveling up the left side of the channel and were much closer to Welsh side, and the coast. The rocks where witches died, or rather executed. And from the feel of it, it must have been hundreds. Enough to leave a residue of their power long after their deaths.
I shuddered again from the thought and laid on my side to avoid looking at the stones, now facing Rhys. He now propped himself up on his side and looked down at me sunning myself.
“How did you come by that perfume?’
I blinked my eyes open, the perfume he was referring to was actually an essential oil I had made myself.
“What do you mean? Where did I get it?”
He shook his head and smiled,
“No, I mean how did you choose it?”
I leaned up on my elbow, suddenly swarming with memories of Franny. It was still painful to talk about her, but oddly, if I refused to, it felt like I was smacking her in the face. I thought about her every time I spritzed myself with her smell, but hadn’t really spoken of her since her memorial in the garden since I had fallen down my rabbit hole.
“I, uh, lost my aunt about six months ago.” I paused, her decapitation flashing in front of my vision and I felt Rhys lean up more, now concerned. “She was very important to me since my parents died young.” Tears of self pity were now starting to come, and I sat up and subtly wiped them away and thought of a happy memory of my aunt.
“Anyway, Lavender was her favorite plant, and she would make these cookies with the leaves. And, it sounds like the weirdest combination, but she would add just the right amount of sugar, because sugar always makes things better, right?” I laughed at the memory of watching Franny add three cups of sugar to a recipe of two cups of flour,
“But she would bring these things out of the oven and, of course, because she had a sweet tooth, half of them would be gone in an hour, but the smell...the smell would permeate any clothes you were wearing that day.” I started to laugh, “For the first couple of years, I tried so hard to get that smell out of my clothes, sometimes I rubbed my hands raw at the laundry sink. And then I would overcompensate by dowsing myself in my mother’s vanilla perfume.”
I looked over to Rhys who wore a smile that was somewhere between pity and sorrow.
“I loved her so much, so now I spray her ‘smell’ on me, I guess in homage and to remember the better times. I guess it’s kind of my thing, smells and memories.”
Rhys bobbed his head and looked forward to the front of the boat, cleaving the water as it raced up the channel.
“Well, now it makes sense.”
We both fell quiet as the port of Fishguard came into view, the large ferry leaving the town on its way over to Ireland.
“Feel like a pub lunch after this?”
I snorted a laugh out at the distinct change in topics. How like a man, to go from the emotions of a dead aunt to lunch,
“You Maddocks are all romance, huh?” I laughed at him.
Rhys’ body stiffened and he sat up, now confused.
“What do you mean, ‘Maddocks’?”
I quickly looked away and down at my feet, biting my lip in consternation. Shit. I mean, I had no problem causing trouble between the father and son, but I’m not sure it was wise to be the reason for it. After a few moments of awkward silence, while I tried to think myself out of this, Rhys ground out between his teeth,
“Red… tell me.”
I looked out to the approaching coastline to avoid his eyes, but let out a long sigh in resignation.
“Your...your dad seemed to think that he and I should take advantage of our proximity in the castle, because he didn’t know ‘how easy it was going to be’ when I left it. A real Don Juan, huh?”
Rhys swore under his breath and he stood and walked to the railing, his knuckles turning white.
“That’s when he cornered you the first night.”
It wasn’t a question.
He said no more, but his mouth set a hard line as he glared out at the harbor we were quickly approaching. After a few minutes, he released the railing and looked back to me, putting a weary smile onto his face.
“Well, never mind him now. This was supposed to be a normal date, remember? Come on, Red, get dressed before these fishermen catch an eyeful to and I have to beat them off with a stick.”
He grabbed my hand to help me up and I went down to the interior of the cabin and got dressed. My bra was still too damp, so I took it off, and shucked on Rhys’ sweatshirt, stuffing the bra in my purse. I returned to find Rhys dressed, with damp patches showing through, and together we watched Aaron go through the docking procedures for the far side of the harbor.
Aaron eventually threw across his wooden plank for us to walk onto the pier, Rhys took my hand to lead.
Aaron gave a small wave as we said goodbye and thanked him, and we walked past Rhys’ truck and down the street to the pub. There was some street traffic as the lunch crowd seemed to be on their way back to work and we were squished up against the sidewalk as cars came down the little cobbled street that lined the harbor.
A crowd of fishermen was coming out of the doors as we approached and Rhys and I broke our handhold to let them through, while he entered first into the lobby. From inside the main bar area, someone called Rhys’ name in greeting and excitement, and he went in to meet them.
I was about to follow when from the stairwell up to the hotel rooms, someone with an American accent suddenly said with amazement.
I stopped short and slowly turned.
From the bottom of the stairwell was Jess Achran, looking at me like he had seen a ghost.
A moment passed and I opened my mouth to gawk at him, when the light and agile tread of his brother, Will Achran, probably the love of my life, came down the stairs and grabbed his brother by the shoulders.
Our eyes locked and my heart rammed itself into my throat.