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Chapter 37

“Hurry up, Joseph,” Kristin said, taking his hand and running towards Captain Michael’s fishing boat, The Lusty Lady. “We’re part of the crew tonight and we can’t be late. It’s a New Year’s Eve crowd. Full house. Michael’s ready to leave the dock.”

They ran up the short gangway, Kristin dispensing with introductions to help winch the thick docking ropes into position. Minutes later the boat was headed out of John’s Pass into the Gulf of Mexico. The wind blew Kristin’s hair around her face as she emptied the bait lockers. Joseph looked delighted with the action.

“Close your eyes and put both hands out in front of you,” Kristin grinned.

“Am I supposed to trust you?”

Kristin laughed at Joseph’s mocking expression.

“Eyes closed, I said. That’s a court order.”

Kristin gazed up at him, holding on to the moment. He looked like an ancient Greek statue in full profile, eyes closed and hands outstretched. Something out of a museum, only not yet naked. Kristin blushed and was glad he didn’t see her.

“Okay, okay. I can’t stand here like this all night. Get on with it, Judge.”

Kristin reached down to the bucket at her feet and scooped two heaping gobs of cold, black squid pieces into her right hand. She held her cell phone in her other hand. She dropped the cold squid pieces into his hands while clicking away.

“Son of a bitch,” he screamed, scattering the squid on the boat deck, a second after she caught his surprise on camera.

“What the hell is that?” His eyes were wide open now, staring at the slimy pieces of fish bait.

“Its squid, you idiot. You’re Italian. You told me you liked squid.”

“Calamari, yes. At a restaurant, yes. Usually deep fried but maybe even marinated in onions, wine and olive oil. Not this stuff.”

Laughing, Kristin stood on tiptoes and ran her fingers through his tousled dark curls.

“Hey, you’ve got a few grey hairs already.”

“See what you’ve done? I didn’t have any before tonight.”

She handed him a clean bowl of water and towel with one hand and showed him his photo with the other. He groaned.

“I had to see your reaction. It was priceless, a Kodak moment. Once you agreed to go fishing with me, I couldn’t resist. Remember, a few nights ago you told me no one could rattle the fearless Detective Russo.”

“In the old days, gangsta days, Brooklyn days, they’d say ‘gimme the negatives.’ Doesn’t work with a cell phone,” he said, pushing against her. “So I’ll just have to take the whole damn phone.”

She held it above her head as she let him mold his body into hers. With her back against the railing, she wrapped one leg around his and drew him closer.

“So this is what I get for confessing my inner most thoughts to you,” he whispered in her ear.

He pulled away and flipped the towel over her head. Holding both ends, he pulled her face close to his and nuzzled her neck with his soft lips.

“Hmmm, smells a little fishy here,” he said, sniffing the air.

Looking around him, Kristin could see the first of the passengers lining up with their bait buckets. She pushed him away.

“What did you expect on a fishing boat? Let me show you around.”

Kristin gave him a quick tour of the boat before the first stop for fishing.

“God Dag,” Kristin said to a familiar young couple who recognized her. “Forstor du Norske? Vil du jeg skal hjelpe deg med a sette agn pa kroken?

The young man laughed. “Ja, jey forstor lite Norske.

“But we still need you to bait our hooks,” his girlfriend said. “Tom bought a Norwegian language tape so he can talk to you. We’ve never met any Norwegians before. You sound so happy when you speak, so lilting and musical, that we wanted to learn the language. Is this your husband?”

Kristin blushed as Joseph hugged her.

“Not yet,” he said. “But I agree with you that she is a joyous, fun loving person. Watch out for her practical jokes, though.” He finished wiping the squid from his hands and used the towel to pretend to cover his eyes from the sight of a teenage girl passing by in shorts that looked sprayed on tight. No fool, the girl flipped him off.

“Joseph!” Kristin hissed. “You’ll scare away the passengers. I’m starting to think that impersonating young girls on the internet all day is affecting your judgment.”

He looked a little sheepish, but then rolled the smelly towel into a ball and threw it over her head into an empty bait bucket.

“You win,” she laughed.

They spent the next few hours helping the passengers organize their gear, bait their hooks and land the larger fish. They had a big crowd on board, typical for the holiday week. It was a beautiful night. Calm seas, a full moon and a lot of action for the fishermen. Cool for Florida, actually quite welcome sweater weather.

Kristin had her back to Joseph as she bent over to help a little girl bait the hook. She felt his eyes on her, warming her all over. As she rose, she turned and looked at him, her lips opening into a smile that told him she knew he found her desirable.

With his brown wool cap pulled over his ears and a cream-colored Irish cable sweater, Joseph looked the part of a fisherman. God, he was handsome, Kristin thought again, and he seemed relaxed, like he was really enjoying himself.

Then he met Michael, captain of the ship.

Michael had taken so long to come over to greet them that Kristin thought he might have the night off, leaving his assistant in charge. But there he was, and Joseph eyed him up and down like a detective sizing up a suspect. Michael brought a cold beer for each of them and black coffee for himself.

Michael was gracious, eager to talk about the business of running a charter fishing boat and managing a small crew and a large assortment of passengers. Slowly, Joseph warmed up to him, Kristin saw. He dropped the detective bit. He was a good listener.

“Seems like a nice fellow,” Joseph said, pulling her close to him as Michael climbed the stairs to the bridge. “You know, I could get used to this kind of life, out at sea, watching people enjoying themselves in the fresh air, instead of listening to people shooting up and talking about raping kids, getting off by having phone sex with ten-year olds, or worse.”

Kristin rubbed his chin, feeling his trademark black stubble.

“I know,” she said. “That’s why I come here, to get away from the sad stories in the courtroom. Your job is even worse. I don’t see how you stand it.”

“Oh, there are some advantages to undercover sex,” he said, nibbling and sucking on her fingertips while staring deep into her eyes. She felt him becoming hard against her. Oh God, she thought. Could he get any sexier?”

“Actually, I quit the phone sex. My work with the FBI is full time beginning tomorrow. Germaine’s been laying low but that’s okay as the Feds haven’t identified the porn distributor yet. Lots of leads, but nothing definite. I appreciate your willingness to help. That meant a lot to me and, believe me, we will protect Mikayla.”

“You’re welcome,” she said. “I thought long and hard about Mikayla and the ‘favor’ you asked for. I wasn’t about to put Mikayla at any greater risk than she already is. I looked at the situation six ways from sideways. Finally, I decided you were right. She won’t give up Germaine. Putting him away for good is the goal, and it might take Mikayla to catch him.

“I’m still concerned about giving you information about her outside of a court proceeding, but that’s my problem and I’ll deal with it—or with Chief Judge Cruz—later.”

Kristin sighed and wondered why secrecy always found her? She was trying so hard to put the past behind her, keep her judgeship, which she loved, and settle down with a man who filled her dreams—maybe even Joseph. But here was another secret to complicate her life. One she had agreed not even to share with Mary.

Kristin shook away those thoughts, punching Joseph playfully. “Hey, without phone sex with young girls, where does that leave me?”

“Well,” he said. “You’re older, wiser, prettier, smarter and much more appealing to the real me, not the on-line huckster.” He placed her hand tight against his jeans. She groaned, and put her other hand around his neck, pulling him close for a long kiss. He surprised her by pulling her away and cupping her face in his hands. His eyes not breaking contact. “Just don’t believe everything you read in the papers,” he whispered. He kissed her hard, smothering her response.

On the return trip back to the dock, Michael leaned over the stairway from the bridge. “Hey you two. You get pretty messy handling all that bait and stuff. The rest of the crew can handle the disembarking. Be my guest and use my quarters to clean up. I won’t be back until tomorrow.”

Kristin looked up, giving Michael a grateful smile as she took Joseph’s hand.

“Here you go,” Michael said from above, and Kristin, well-practiced, caught the key to his cabin.

Ten minutes later she had tugged off her jeans and sweater, climbed on the bed and leaned against the polished teak headboard. She pulled the white sheet over her and sat in her sports bra and panties, waiting for Joseph to shower first. He’d suggested they shower together, but memories of Michael in this very same cabin were too recent for her.

“Hey,” she heard him shout. “I can’t get any hot water.”

“Be patient, Joseph. This is a fishing boat, not a Hilton hotel. It takes time.”

“I haven’t got time,” he yelled as he flung the door to the head open, took three giant steps and leaped spread eagle and naked into the bed on top of her.

Forget the shower, Kristin thought, as they rolled across the sheets together, trading laughter and wet kisses mixed with the strong smell of squid.

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