Claire slept fitfully the remainder of the night. The kiss on the beach, followed by hours of erotic dreams, had aroused her to an extent she was ashamed to admit. Her imagination had not run so wild since adolescence—nor had she experienced a night so full of sweet release.
Now she sat inside her island cottage, terrified and debating her next move.
She had been alone too many days. Her fantasies were too real.
The dreams, the kiss, the illusions, it all was almost too much. She needed something to bring things back to normal...to make her sane again.
Home. She’d call home.
No. Mama is too ill to worry her. She’ll recognize the panic in my voice as soon as she hears me say hello.
Vicki? No, not her either. Her best friend would also sense something was off, and Claire would have to confess all. There was too much to explain. It was all too...involved right now.
They’d not spoken all week. It was probably a good idea to check-in. Rick had been her friend long before he became her lover. She was comfortable with him, but his behavior lately was rather obsessive.
That worried her.
Why didn’t he fight her on taking the week at the beach?
But as much as she hated to admit it, her own unsettled emotions startled her a lot more than Rick’s behavior. Perhaps her moody and atypical behavior had provoked the changes in him. Lately, her head was so full of lists and to-dos and meetings…
She picked up the landline phone and stared at it. Her mind raced. The numbers wouldn’t come. She’d turned off her cell phone and tucked it away in her luggage the moment she had arrived, not wanting to be bothered with work. Her mother, Rick, and Vicki knew the number at the cottage if there was an emergency, but the cell she didn’t want to deal with right now.
What is Rick’s number?
She should be able to remember his number, right? Even though it was on speed dial in the phone?
But she couldn’t.
She replaced the receiver in its cradle.
Glancing about the cottage, she decided to drive to the village, get that lunch Mr. Waters had suggested, and maybe check out the shops. Seeing and being around people might help to get her bearings straight and her emotions back on track. Then this afternoon, she’d shop, beach comb, and work on her tan.
Later, she’d think about the mystery man and his powerful kiss. This was her last night on the island. She was leaving early in the morning. She’d wait for him at midnight. She’d face him and ask him who he was, why he was here, and what he wanted from her. She’d find out tonight if he was a figment of her imagination, a ghostly image, or a living, breathing person.
One way or the other, she would know for sure.
Tonight, she would find out the truth. She couldn’t face the thought of leaving this place in the morning without knowing.
But first, lunch. And some much-needed interaction with people to ground her firmly back into reality.
The Pony Island Restaurant sat off the main road to the right as she traveled into the town of
. Upon entering
the fishing village, she wondered why she’d waited so long to drive down here. Her
light keeper’s cottage sat on a very secluded section along the northern part
of the island, a small patch of private beach that wasn’t National Seashore
land. She’d known the village was further south, had perused a few Internet
sites before she’d arrived, but once she’d landed at her beach cottage, she’d
lost her desire to venture out. Ocracoke
The quaint, laid-back village cried of yesteryear. It was a no stoplight town and the living was easy. The atmosphere was a little Bohemian as well, a fact that drew her into the mood of the town. As she parked her vehicle and walked toward the restaurant, she noticed that the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rule apparently didn’t apply here. The town was very much its own place, and it obviously wanted to remain that way. Small, lazy, and time-warped.
She ordered a crab cake sandwich, coleslaw, and a glass of sweet tea. The server who took her order guaranteed her with a wink and a smooth southern drawl that it would be the best damn crab cake sandwich she’d ever eaten. And she was right. The crab was fresh and chunky, while the creamy sauce served on the side held just the right amount of hot sauce. The sweet tea was a welcome balance to the rémoulade’s spicy flavor.
The ambiance of the place intrigued her the most. A different cadence to the locals’ dialect easily pulled her in as a listening voyeur to their conversations. She’d heard that the island’s longtime residents still clung to a hint of Elizabethan lilt, left over from the English who first settled in the area in the late 1500s.
“That storm’ll be comin’ soon, I tell ya. The waves off the shore are churnin’.”
“Naw. Tropical storm in the
Atlantic, movin’ fast. We’ll be battening down t’night,
ready for t’morrow.”
Mr. Waters had predicted it too. Perhaps she should figure out how to unhinge those shutters on the house. But she was leaving in the morning so she’d be long gone before the storm hit. Hopefully.
The sadness of that thought gave her pause. She didn’t want to think about leaving.
She passed on dessert, paid her check and drove a bit further into town to
, where the smell
of the sea hit her full-force again. The fishing vessels, the wharf, and the
harbor, lined by charming shops and more restaurants, called to her. She parked
there and for the rest of the afternoon, immersed herself in local color,
village lore and culture. Silver Lake
The uncanny longing settled over her again.
Near the end of an early afternoon of browsing, she wandered onto a smaller road off the harbor and stumbled into a shop called Blackbeard’s Treasure Chest. Obviously set up as a draw for tourists, the shop was chock-full of all things pirate, with a heavy dose of Blackbeard.
The door slapped freely behind her, and a small bell tickled the glass as she entered. The room was dark, and it took her eyes a moment to adjust, but within a few seconds her vision improved and she began meandering through the aisles.
A young girl rounded the corner. She wore a short denim skirt, tie-dyed tank, flip-flops, and had close-cropped black hair with a shock of hot pink. “May I help you?”
“No thanks, just looking around.” She smiled at the girl.
“Let me know if I can help you find anything.”
She set out on a slow amble around the shop. She fingered shells, poked at hermit crabs clinging to their cage walls, and browsed through a section of local books written about the area—many of them on the subject of the infamous pirate, Blackbeard. She saw pirate eye patches and Jolly Roger flags and toy swords and the like. Finally, she settled in a corner near the back of the shop where she browsed through an assortment of interesting artifacts.
A skull sitting atop a black velvet pedestal instantly gave her the creeps.
“It’s not real but it looks good, don’t it?” The deep voice came from her left. Out of the shadows walked a man who looked closer to being an actual pirate than anyone she’d ever seen in real life. Scruffy around the edges, timeworn face with weathered wrinkles, and a voice as gruff as sandpaper. He also happened to be a very large man. He reached to touch the skull with hands that had seen more than their share of sun and sea.
She edged back. “Yes. It does look real.”
He moved nearer, cautiously it seemed, and eyed her closely as he did so. “Blackbeard lost his head, you know, in a battle at sea. They never found it. Or so they say.”
The skull did look surprisingly real. “Um…I didn’t know that. Interesting.”
He nodded, caressing the skull’s smooth top. “Some say it’s still out there somewhere. Some people say it will wash up on the beach. Someday. Some say it already has.”
Claire looked up and took in the man’s far away stare and the upturned smirk of one corner of his mouth. Then he looked back at her. “What brings ya to the sea, lass?”
His deeply pronounced Elizabethan inflection drew her in to focus on him. A local, likely. Family generations old, she was certain. And the “lass” reference disturbed her for some reason. She wasn’t quite sure why.
Her gaze met his. “Just vacationing. Staying up the island a bit.”
He raked his fingers over the stubble of his chin and cocked his head to the left. “You’re at the old light keeper’s cottage?”
She nearly lied, finding no reason to tell this man where she was staying, but then she relaxed. Why lie? She would be gone tomorrow. And in this peaceful little town, she couldn’t imagine anything dangerous happening.
“Yes, that’s where I’m staying. I rather like it there.”
He chuckled. “Haven’t seen the likes of ol’ Jack, have you now?”
Claire froze, not sure she could find her voice. Could that be…is his name…? “Um… No.” She shook her head. “I haven’t seen much of anyone.”
A deep belly laugh escaped him then. “Lass, so you have seen him. I can tell by the look on your face. Thought he’d be about. It’s the moon, you know. It’s a blue one coming up. Second full moon this month. Seems to bring poor Jack’s spirit out looking for his Hannah about that time.”
He leaned closer. “Don’t worry. He won’t hurt you. He’s just looking for his dead wife. Been stalking that beach for a few hundred years now mourning her. All he wants is his Hannah back. Too bad your name ain’t Hannah ‘cause you’re a comely lass, and I bet he’d like you.”
She swallowed and bit her lower lip. She was momentarily lost in the depths of the man’s gaze. What did he know? Who was he?
She shook her head. “No. No, my name is Claire.”
He pulled back and squinted at her. “You’re sure, lass?”
Hastily, she nodded. “And I haven’t seen him. Really.” She backed away, suddenly very eager to get the hell out of that dark corner. “I need to be going now. Thank you for…”
For what? For scaring the shit out of her?
“Be safe, lass. Helluva storm coming in. Be safe.”
Storm. Everyone kept talking about the storm.
She had other, more important, things to worry about than a stupid storm. Like the fact that she might have kissed a ghost last night.
A ghost looking for his dead wife.
The waves roared in her ears as they crested and crashed to the shore, somewhat more intense than on previous nights—more untamed than she had ever experienced. They pounded the shore with enormous strength. This, evidently, was the storm brewing at sea that they’d been waiting for.
The ocean is a wild animal.
Claire recalled Mr. Waters’ words when she’d arrived at the cottage. You never know what to expect from her, he’d said. This night, she was inclined to agree, uncertain of the gift the sea had brought the past few nights.
A ghost? A man named Jack who was looking for his dead wife?
She looked up to see the full moon sitting behind the darkening clouds. She felt it an omen. A sign. He was not coming. No man would be out on a night like this, she reasoned. No ghost, either. Well, she could be wrong about that. But he had not yet shown himself. And she was a fool for standing alone in her nightgown, on the porch, in the middle of a brewing storm. Thankful there was no rain yet, she sank deep into the porch swing, drew her legs beneath her, and leaned back.
Swinging slowly in the night wind, she waited. The hour hand of her watch passed midnight, one o’clock, and then two. She waited. He didn’t come.
With eyelids growing heavy from the lack of a good night’s sleep all week, her head lolled to one side. Her body fell into the swinging motion made by the strong wind currents, and she felt drawn into a state of uncontrollable drowsiness.
Her eyes closed.
She rode the wind as her body rose up and then the wind let her glide safely down in perfect rhythm. The night wind whistled in her ears, lulling her deep into a chasm of wistful sleep. The soft salt air caressed her skin and massaged her tired muscles until she fell completely into a state of relaxation.
The sea-spray tickled her nose as she breathed deeper, drawing her further into the abyss of unconsciousness. And with one long and thorough sigh, her body slid into the cradle of the swing, gently rocking her back and forth until she slept.
Within her subconscious, she was an extension of the sea. Within her dreams, she rode the ocean winds, lifting her body with warm fingers and strong arms and the essence of salt, buoyant and free. The clouds swept away from the moon, and she felt wrapped in a cocoon of warmth and security. A feeling she could only describe as joy filled her as she elevated higher into the night air.
The pounding of the waves echoed the beating of her heart. The slap of the surf kept time with the rhythm of her pulse. The fierce night wind roared in her ears, but then suddenly, it stopped—everything stopped—to be replaced with a light breath of a whisper against her cheek and a soft featherweight touch of warmth against her ear.
The pungent bite of the ocean permeated her nostrils. Salt saturated her lips. The warmth wrapped around her until she felt cocooned with safeness, bathed with the veil of light from the moon.
A soft cushion cradled her back. Radiant heat encircled her body, teased and tempted, created urgency, desire, an eruption of passion that she felt quickly surging out of control. The center of her body longed to explode. Then, an incredible, wonderful heaviness lay across her.
A heaviness like that of a lover’s body pressed against her in the act of making love.
A lover. In the act of making love. To you. Now.
Claire’s eyes flashed open. Above her, their gazes connected and held for mere seconds.
Who are you?
I am your lifeblood.
Claire breathed hard and deep. Her chest rose and fell quickly. Breaking his gaze, she glanced past him. She was in her room at the cottage. Upstairs in her room. With him. Talking with the mystery man from the beach. Telepathically, it appeared.
Did you carry me up here?
She looked to him. He didn’t answer. His elbows rested on either side of her shoulders. His hands cradled her head, and his thumbs made soft caressing circles at her temples.
She closed her eyes and tried to breathe evenly, more deeply. When her chest expanded, she could feel her breasts rise against his bare chest, and then she knew that they both were naked.
Oh, God. We’re going to make love.
No. We are making love.
Her eyes snapped open and coupled with his.
Is this a dream?
No. ‘Tisn’t a dream. ‘Tis very, very real.
Claire was spellbound. Entranced.
She could not move, think, reason. And it didn’t matter.
She drew a deep, cleansing breath. As she slowly let the air glide out of her lungs, she sighed long. Then on impulse, her gaze still dancing with his, she reached up and touched his face.
His skin was firm and pliant beneath her fingertips. Not a ghost.
You are real.
Brushing back a few wisps of long hair, she caressed the tender area along his hairline and then tucked the silky strands behind his ear. Her gaze followed her fingers. She explored the jut of his cheek and the cleft of his chin. Perhaps a day’s growth of beard, she decided as she brushed her fingers over his cheek and around his lips. He seemed content to let her explore and held their gaze for a second more.
When her fingers dipped inside his mouth, his lips captured them and sucked, drawing them further into the wet recesses. His tongue curled around them, and her breathing suddenly came in short, shallow bursts. Her lower body arched forward against him.
Her fingers slid out of his mouth and she lunged upward. Their lips met and melded in frantic embrace. His arms moved around her back, clasping her to him. Hers grabbed and clawed, holding him and pulling him even closer into her body, if that were at all possible. They lowered against the soft pillows of the bed and their lips parted.
Oh, Hannah. How I’ve longed for you. How I’ve wanted to touch you once more. My dear Hannah....
Claire watched the play of emotions ride over his face. I think I’ve waited for you forever. But...who are you?
It is your Jack, m’ love. I’ve come to take you home.
He slithered lower. Claire threaded her fingers in his silky hair and held him to her breast. His hands were everywhere—on her breasts, kneading her belly, between her thighs. His mouth and tongue were everywhere his hands weren’t—her neck, underneath her breasts, dipping into her navel, and at her very center, tasting, caressing, exploring.
He moved over her and then entered her with long, firm and determined strokes. She opened herself to him body and soul, panting and bucking against him in wild abandon, answering him with every thrust. Their bodies continued the frenzy of intertwined passion and enraptured longing, united in splendor and graceful desire, satisfying a hunger denied.
Fanning a fire of long-smoldering embers.
Creating passion out of a dream.
Reaching beyond the possibilities of time.