Hudson Godfrey lay wide-awake staring up at the swaying ceiling. The floor beneath him moved, which meant another boat was going by leaving a wave in its wake. He'd come all the way from Washington State to Fort Lauderdale to break up with his girlfriend, Laila Stewart. Yet four days into the trip, he still couldn't find the words. Guilt for what he was unable to do kept him up most nights.
"Why are you up?" Laila murmured, her voice heavy with sleep. She shifted onto her side, finding a more comfortable position.
"I just didn't want to miss out on another beautiful day in paradise," Hudson lied, hoping she'd go back to sleep.
Call him a coward, but how did you tell a woman who'd supported you through some of the toughest times of your life that you now wanted out? What did you say?
He'd rehearsed the words a time or two but somehow just couldn't get them to roll off his tongue. Laila was no one's fool and she'd sensed something was off between them. She'd brought up his jumpiness several times, giving him an opening, one he'd stepped away from. Telling her the truth seemed hurtful. He couldn't exactly say that his priorities lay elsewhere. She'd immediately assume there was another woman.
Laila's competition was a vineyard that Hudson and his partner, Jonathan Woods, had sunk their life savings into. It was an all-consuming business that had become a financial drain. If it weren't for their law practice they'd be bankrupt. He'd never imagined making wine could be such a demanding mistress.
Ever since meeting Laila, Hudson had been commuting back and forth from Washington State to Florida. He was feeling both the physical and financial toll. Over the past few months he'd come to the conclusion that he didn't have the time nor the funds a committed relationship required. Something would have to go. Unfortunately that something was Laila.
Hudson's mother had walked out on him and his father and sister when he was ten years old, never to be heard from again. She'd hated being married to a struggling artist and needed someone more stable, or so she'd said. Her abandonment of the family had left Hudson scarred. He'd promised himself to never get close to anyone. His brief marriage had been a debacle, ending with his wife running off with the next-door neighbor and taking most of their savings with her.
For a long time, Hudson had sworn off women in general, and then along came Laila. He'd met her on the beach when his and Jon's flight to Seattle had been canceled, leaving several passengers stranded. The airline had put them up at a hotel, and he'd decided that rather than fuss, he'd take a walk and explore Fort Lauderdale.
The object of his thoughts now stirred beneath him. Laila opened her eyes, which were golden in color and reminded him of the warm morning sunlight pouring through the window. Hudson's breath caught in his throat at the loveliness of her. Even at that hour Laila's smooth, coffee skin was unlined. The beauty of being twenty-eight years old, he supposed.
"Why are you up at this absurd hour?" she asked, wiping her eyes, the charm bracelet he'd given her jangling.
Rather than answer right off, he yawned. Hudson set his long, runner's legs on the floor that was still swaying. Laila's home was a houseboat on the New Rivera different setting for a woman who was very different. She was like no one he'd ever met, and from the very beginning he'd been captivated and madly in love with her, although at times he had difficulty showing it.
"I couldn't sleep, much as I tried," he said, smothering another yawn.
Laila's arms wrapped around his waist, and his stomach contracted. Who said only women got butterflies?
"That's because you're stressed," she said in her liquid-chocolate voice. "All you think about is that winery."
"Stressed" was putting it mildly. Hudson, a practicing attorney, had a couple of tough cases coming up. He also owned a business that demanded his blood, and on top of that he had a relationship that needed more attention than he was willing to give right now. Laila would definitely have to go.
Laila's dog, Mariner, nudged him with his nose, a signal that he wanted off the boat. Anticipating that, Laila was already up, running fingers through hair that billowed out around her face, fumbling through her underwear drawer to find fresh undies and stepping into the clothing he'd eagerly peeled from her body the evening before.
She flopped onto the bed and kissed the nape of his neck.
"Be right back, baby."
After Laila left, a million thoughts roiled around in Hudson's head. He would need to have the conversation today. He still hadn't told her he would be heading back to Washington tomorrow. Jon was alone running the vineyard and handling the law practice, way too much for one man.
Hudson stood, rotating his shoulders. He glanced at his Movado watch. There was a three-hour time difference from coast to coast. It was way too early to call Jon and find out what was going on.
He headed for the shower. Ten minutes later he was still standing there, eyes closed, immersing himself in cold water, hoping it would clear his head.
"I'm joining you," Laila called, pushing open the door to the shower stall and stepping under the water. She wrapped both arms around his neck, and her full breasts grazed his chest, the nipples already hardened.
Using the soapy washcloth, Hudson slid it down her toned back and then began making circles on her buttocks. Laila began to squirm. She pressed her body against his, making seductive noises that served to turn him on. It went clear out of Hudson's mind that he was supposed to be breaking up with her.
By the time they stepped from the shower stall they were almost prunes. Well-satisfied prunes, he might add.
Mariner, Laila's dog, patiently awaited them on the kitchen floor. Hudson got the coffee going while Laila went through her cupboards taking out stuff.
"What would you like for breakfast, baby?" she asked. "I can make pancakes, eggs, bacon or we can do the healthy Northwest thing and have granola."
"I'd like you," Hudson came back with, immediately wanting to bite his tongue. His admission made him feel even more guilty, especially in light of what he'd come to Fort Lauderdale to do. He did want Laila, but the timing was bad.
Laila's tawny eyes lit up. "You have me. I've got work to do, maybe later." She winked at him. "I have an anxious client who expected his copy yesterday, so I've got to tweak this sales letter and get it out. The sooner I deliver, the sooner I get paid."
"Okay, if you're going to be busy why don't we put breakfast on hold until later? I'll take a run before it gets too humid."
"I'd join you, but this is important," Laila said, pouring coffee into two mugs and handing him one.
Hudson took a couple of quick gulps and set the mug back on the counter.
"See you in an hour, babe."
Laila's attention was already on her computer monitor. She tore her eyes away to blow him a kiss.
"Have a good run. Take Mariner with you if you want."
Hudson whistled for the dog, who scampered to his feet, preceding him out of the door.
An hour later Hudson returned, bringing a tired Mariner with him. The dog sauntered up the gangway and into his houseboat home, heading immediately for his water dish.
"Jon wants you to call him," Laila shouted from a cubbyhole she'd converted into an office.
"Jon phoned at this hour?"
"Mmm-hmm. He said it was important."
Hudson retrieved his cell phone, stepped out onto the deck and climbed several winding stairs leading to the rooftop garden. He'd always thought the garden was a wonderful refuge with its huge pots of pink and red geraniums and trailing ferns. It was a colorful place to be to watch the boats go by. Hudson glanced at his watch. It wasn't quite six o'clock in Woodinville, but if Jon was calling, he had to assume it was urgent. He punched in his partner's number.
"Jon," Hudson said the moment the connection was made. "How come you're up at this ungodly hour?"
"How soon can you get back?" Jon countered, his toned controlled and even. It was the same tone he had when a witness pissed him off and he was barely containing his temper.
"Why?" Hudson dreaded hearing the answer.
"There's some kind of labor issue going ona staged sick out. I'm sinking, man, I need your help."
Jon was perfectly competent and resourceful, as well. If he was asking Hudson to cut his visit short, it meant he was at his wits' end.
Rather than continue to grill him, Hudson said, "I'll be on the next plane."
The conversation with Laila would have to be put on hold until another time. He'd been dreading it, anyway.
Thursday, January 10
Hey, it's me, Laila. It's wintertime in Fort Lauderdale and all the snowbirds come south. They clog up the highways and waterways, flock the grocery stores and take over all the good restaurants. The minute they move into their condos, they start complaining about the slow service down South. Yet every winter they come back. Go figure. But that's people for you.
Sun, fun and an easier life is what attracts them, I suppose. And that's what makes where I live with Mariner, my French Bordeaux, a sanctuary, because it's far away from the crowd.
Mariner is actually a mastiff and so ugly he's cute. Only I know he's an oversize sweetie pie and gentle as they come. He keeps me company and serves as my built-in security alarm sometimes, too. That dog wouldn't hurt a fly but he sure as heck can scare you to death.
Copy Right, the houseboat where I live, is moored on the New River, far enough away from the major tourist attractions so I can enjoy my privacy. People think I'm a loner and antisocial, at that. I've had my fill of sweet but confused seniors with sunblock on their noses. As for the wild spring-break crowd, that's an entirely different story.
In the five years I've owned Copy Right I've had little or no trouble sleeping. Others pop pills but I crash the moment my head hits the pillow. I love the smell of salt and there's nothing more seductive than the lull of waves to put an end to insomnia.