“BEAUTIFUL SHIP,” Wesley said as they walked down the deck and into the enormous salon. Half the room was set up as what Wesley could only describe as a screening area, with a huge flat-screen TV and a half-dozen leather recliners that looked comfortable enough to sleep in. The other half was decorated with a comfortable sofa and love seat arranged around a small fireplace. Wesley had never seen a private boat with a separate dining room, but he caught a glimpse of a large table through one of the doorways. Entirely decadent but, Wesley supposed, not surprising given the Hollywood connection.
“Isn’t she?” Jeffrey beamed. “Not like the square riggers the pirates sailed. I bet the salon on this boat is bigger than all the living space on the Queen Anne’s Revenge put together.”
“You’d be right.” The old ships were a lot smaller than Hollywood portrayed them.
“I saw an exhibit about the wreck,” Jeffrey added as they descended a set of stairs. “You know, the one they found near Beaufort Inlet?”
Wesley nodded. He’d followed the archeologists’ work on the ship with interest. “Are you interested in pirate history?”
Jeffrey shrugged. “I do my homework. Not that it’s not interesting….”
“Jeffrey wants to be a producer,” Marnie put in as Jeffrey set the luggage down outside one of the cabins.
“I said someday.” Jeffrey put his hands on his hips and glared at her. “Nothing wrong with that, is there?”
“Nothing at all.” Marnie smiled knowingly. “By the way,” she added in a conspiratorial undertone, “word is that the producer’s coming to check out the set this week.”
Jeffrey’s eyes lit up. “He… he’s coming here? Cyrus?”
She caught Wesley’s eye and winked. “Gotta run.”
“But when is—?” Jeffrey began.
“Later.” Marnie waved and left Wesley with Jeffrey. “I’ve got a few errands to run. I’ll see you both on the island.”
“Thank you,” Wesley said.
“No problem!” She waved again and made her way back up the stairs.
Jeffrey gestured him through the doorway. Wesley had never seen a cabin as large. The king-size bed fit easily inside, and the flat-screen TV seemed bigger than the screens in some of the movie theaters at the multiplex near his apartment. The bathroom, with its tempered glass shower enclosure, sported two sinks, a closet, and drawers. The orchid on the dresser reminded Wesley of his own burgeoning collection.
A delicate Dendrobium bellatulum, with white petals and an orange center, it reminded him of one of the first orchids he’d received as a gift from his great-aunt. He’d eventually inherited her collection, and now the second bedroom in his apartment had barely enough room for a desk with all the plants he’d gathered over the years. Sam had always admired his ability to keep the delicate plants alive, and from time to time had added to Wesley’s collection. Wesley hoped the house sitter would take good care of all the plants while he was gone.
What would it be like to live aboard a boat like this, orchids and all? Wesley pushed the errant thought away. This was work, for all its luxurious trappings, and the last thing he wanted was to get used to the luxury. He needed to get out of his too hot jeans and into clothing better equipped to handle the humidity outside the air-conditioned room, and focus on the job at hand. He settled on a pair of pressed khaki shorts and a white polo, then slipped into a pair of boat shoes.
He pulled The Curious History of the Gentleman Pirate from his carry-on and flipped through it. He’d read it several times, and it had added nothing new to the mystery that was the subject of the film, the pirate Stede Bonnet, but rereading it relaxed him and helped him focus on the job instead of the boat. He’d been considering writing his own history of the Carolina pirates, including the most infamous of all, Blackbeard. Maybe this movie would give him the inspiration he needed to finally get around to it.
As he glanced through the pages of the book, pausing over some of the engravings, his mind wandered to Carl and Guatemala, and he wondered what Carl was up to. He’d canceled the reservation at the B&B on Nantucket where they’d planned to spend a romantic weekend celebrating the four-month anniversary of their first date. Now it looked as though the best he could hope for was a phone call.
Get over it. You’ll see him soon enough. Summers always flew by, didn’t they?
Giving up on the book, Wesley climbed the stairs to the deck and stopped for a moment to gaze out over the water. He’d done some research on the area where they’d be filming, and judging by the enormous container cranes at the edge of the water, he guessed they were making their way down the Cape Fear River, headed toward the Intracoastal Waterway. On a fast boat like this, they’d make it to the island in a few hours at the most.
In the distance, tall clouds dotted the sky. Rain, perhaps, although this time of year, localized afternoon thunderstorms were the norm. Wesley breathed deeply and caught the faint hint of salt on the breeze. He leaned back against the railing and looked up at the flybridge. He’d always wondered what it would feel like to pilot a boat like this from up top.
“Would you care for a drink, Professor?” Jeffrey said from behind him. “The cook has a lovely Waterbrook Sangiovese rosé. Not too sweet.”
“I’d love a glass, thank you.”
Jeffrey disappeared inside and returned a few minutes later with a bottle on ice and two wineglasses. “Enjoy,” he said as he filled the glass and handed it to Wesley.
“Are you joining me?” Wesley said with a gesture to the remaining glass.
“Me?” Jeffrey appeared surprised. “Oh no. I’m on duty.”
“Then who…?” Wesley began, but Jeffrey had disappeared belowdecks once again. Wesley chuckled to himself and sipped his wine. “Delicious,” he said aloud. The entire scene was surreal. Gorgeous boat, beautiful scenery, good wine, and me by my lonesome. In the grand scheme of life, it certainly wasn’t the worst outcome. Still, he wished he wasn’t alone.
He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and tapped the preset for Carl. If they couldn’t be together, at least Wesley could describe for him the alternate universe he’d just stepped into.
It took a few seconds for the call to connect, and Wesley imagined the signal snaking its way down through Florida, then skimming the waves to the southwest, across the Gulf of Mexico, and over to Guatemala.
“This is Carl Stephens. I’m unavailable to take your call at the moment. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I’m able.”
Figures. Wesley shook his head and disconnected the call. He’d catch Carl another time. He didn’t want Carl to feel guilty about the change in plans. It wasn’t as if Wesley was suffering here in North Carolina anyhow. He replaced the phone in his pocket and glanced up at the flybridge again. Why not? He’d never been particularly shy, and he figured he’d feel more comfortable hanging out with the crew instead of pretending to be some pampered Hollywood celebrity. He refilled his glass and headed up the stairs.
Wesley took in the sleek flybridge with its state-of-the-art instrumentation, radio, and radar. The white seats and console shone like the rest of the yacht, and the panoramic view from high atop the ship had Wesley gasping for breath. The captain sat facing the console, only the top of his head visible over the high-backed leather chair.
“We aim to please,” the captain responded without turning around. His clipped British accent reminded Wesley of a young Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. “Are the accommodations to your liking?”
“You mean the presidential suite? I only wish I could spend a month or two sailing the Caribbean in accommodations like that.” He sighed.
“I might be able to arrange that.” The captain spun his chair around so he faced Wesley. Except he wasn’t a captain, and he wasn’t British at all—
Sam Carr—no, Sander Carson, Wesley reminded himself—grinned back at him. It was too easy to forget that the Sam he’d known no longer existed. “That would be me.” The British accent was gone, replaced by a hint of a soft southern drawl. Well, at least that was authentic.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
Sam appeared entirely unfazed. “Is that any way to say hello to your husband?”
“Ex-husband,” Wesley corrected.
“Not for another forty-six days and seven hours.” Sam leaned back in the captain’s chair, causing the thin fabric of his T-shirt to stretch tight over the muscles of his chest. He looked better than Wesley remembered. No doubt he had some expensive fitness coach he worked with every day to manage pecs like that. His bright blue eyes were as disarming as they’d always been, and the hint of stubble on his strong jaw only made him more attractive. Like a movie star. Which, of course, Sam—or Sander—was.
“You haven’t answered my question,” Wesley said, trying to ignore the jab to his gut at the reminder that their divorce would soon be final. “Why are you here?”
“I had a few days off from shooting, and I thought I’d take her out for a spin. They delivered her last week, and I haven’t had a chance to—”
“Wait a minute. You mean she… this is your boat?”
“Yep. Bought and paid for,” Sam said with pride. “Care to take the wheel?”
“I… no. Thanks,” Wesley lied.
The pieces began to fall into place. Marv leaving suddenly. The shoot in North Carolina. Sam wouldn’t have had anything to do with Carl’s boss’s change in plans, but he’d have known who to call to find out about Wesley’s plans. And Jeffrey. Shit, Wesley remembered where he’d heard that name before: Sam’s new personal assistant.
Wesley made a mental note to read his secretary the riot act when he got back to New York. Which would be very soon, if he had anything to say about it. Viv didn’t usually handle the details of his personal life, but she had access to his Outlook calendar. Come to think of it, she’d been asking him a lot of questions about his personal life lately. He’d thought it strange when she’d mentioned Sam had hired a new assistant. Stranger still when she’d mentioned his name and blushed. And she’d always loved Sam.
Everyone loves Sam.
“This isn’t going to happen, Sammy,” he told Sam. “I’m outta here.”
“Contract?” Sam said as Wesley turned to head downstairs.
“Contracts can be broken.”
“You never read the fine print, do you?” A gleeful grin lit Sam’s handsome face.
“What have you done?” Wesley glared at Sam.
“I didn’t do anything. The studio’s attorneys, though….”
“You set me up.” Stating the obvious. Sam was a hell of a lot smarter than he acted. And way more devious. “What do you want from me, Sam?”
Sam tilted his head to one side and rubbed his chin as if he were considering the question. “You haven’t figured that out yet?” he asked so sincerely it took Wesley by surprise.
Wesley wouldn’t dignify the question with a response.
“I want you, Wesley Warren Coolidge. What else?”