This short story was written just for you! The last contest winners were able to select the main character and setting. Samara S. chose Edana Westbring, an outdoorsy woman afraid of fish for our heroine. Tammy E. chose Landlock Bay in Valdez, Alaska for our setting.
All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2013 Jacqueline Winters
Edana Westbring had one simple task that stood between her and ten thousand dollars. One that included an all-expenses-paid trip to Valdez, Alaska, and a handsome young man one signature away from inheriting ten million dollars. At least, Robert Carlson looked quite attractive in the one framed photo Edana had seen of him on her late boss’s desk. She refused to consider the possibility that he had grown fat and bald since that photo had been taken. It would dampen her fantasy.
Having never been to Alaska, she was disappointed that it wasn’t, well, a little more dazzling. She had expected enormous snow-capped mountains, waterfalls, hiking trails, and an abundance of wildlife. But from the moment she got off the tiny shoebox plane in Valdez, the landscape was smothered in a thick white fog. If there were mountains anywhere, Edana couldn’t see them.
“Best Western, please,” said Edana as she slipped into a cab and was hauled away a short drive to the hotel on the water. She hadn’t had much time to research Valdez, but she assumed the town would take to boating and fishing considering its coastal setting. Peering out the window of her hotel room, Edana knew she would be okay as long as those slimy, flailing fish stayed on the other side of the glass.
It was a silly fear, Edana knew. Most people were afraid of really scary things, like bears or drowning. But fish had always freaked Edana out, since she was five and her dad thought it would be fun to take his only daughter on a fishing trip. Her dad hadn’t wanted her to grow up a wimpy girl, and when she caught her first fish, Edana had been elated at the enormous smile on his face. That was before the slimy creature flapped like a wet bird desperately trying to take flight. Edana had been repeatedly slapped in the face by that slippery, floundering fish, and at last the vile creature bit her finger so hard it bled for an hour. Edana hated fish.
“Why couldn’t this man live in Fairbanks, away from large bodies of water?” muttered Edana as she unpacked her bag and laid out her hiking clothes. Fog or not, Edana planned to explore a little bit of Alaska before her plane took off the next morning. She loved the outdoors, as long as she kept her distance from pools of water and their disgusting finned creatures.
The town of Valdez was small enough that Edana decided to walk to Mr. Carlson’s house, choosing to leave her brown hair loose and don her hiking clothes after collecting his signature. If she showed up at his doorstep in yoga pants and a zipped sweatshirt, Mr. Carlson might not take her seriously.
The scent of the sea wafted in the air as Edana raised her hand to knock on the front door of Mr. Carlson’s rough-looking ranch home with a metal roof when a tall elderly man with a round belly, a handle-bar mustache, and a mop of white hair on his head hollered at her.
“You won’t find him here.”
“Do you know where I might find Mr. Carlson, then?” Edana had to hope that his neighbor would trust her enough to give up that information. She had twenty-four hours before her paid flight left Valdez. After that, it came out of her very empty pocket.
“You mean Rex?”
“Mr. Robert Carlson,” corrected Edana, certain the man had to understand she hadn’t knocked on someone’s door in search of a dog.
The man nearly doubled over in laughter. “I ain’t heard that name before, but if that’s Rex’s real name it’s no wonder he hasn’t shared it.”
Edana didn’t understand what was wrong with that name. It seemed like a perfectly suitable, proper name; a name matching his late father. Edana took a second look at the rickety structure the younger version called a home and considered that Junior and Senior might have gone a few years without speaking.
“Do you know where I might find Rex?”
“Lady, you are a little too proper for these parts!” The man continued to laugh with one hand on his belly, but he was more composed now. “Whereabouts are you from?”
The man cocked an eyebrow. “Midwest? I had you pegged for a New Yorker myself. What with that fancy pants suit and all.”
Edana didn’t want to be rude, but time was limited. If that dotted line didn’t have Robert “Rex” Carlson’s signature on it when the plane left tomorrow, she could forget her little trip to Italy to visit her grandmother. Without that bonus, Edana would have to work another decade to save that kind of money. And by that time it might be too late.
For years, Edana and her grandmother had exchanged letters, phone calls, and with modern technological advances, used Skype. But her grandmother was too weak to travel out of the country, and Edana never had the money to make the trek to Italy. It was her grandmother’s single wish that her granddaughter manage to make the trip before she was no longer there to visit.
“Rex is out on the water.”
“Oh,” said Edana, realizing that most people in Valdez had to have a boat. She decided that Rex should be back by dark and in the meantime she could go on a hike. “I think I’ll leave him a note to call me when he gets back tonight.”
The man laughed again and this time Edana was offended. “Have I said something stupid?”
“Rex just pulled up anchor this morning.”
“So he should reasonably be back by dark.” But Edana wasn’t as confident in her answer.
“Lady, it don’t get dark here in the summer.”
“My name is Edana Westbring.” She was tired of this ‘lady’ crap. “And of course it gets dark. The sun doesn’t just hover over the town of Valdez all summer long.” Edana looked up at the sky in question. “Does it?”
The man was a bit taken aback by her snippy attitude, but not enough to walk away. “Name’s Chip. And Alaska doesn’t really have a dark in the summer. The sun sets about eleven this time of year, but you won’t see the stars, even if the fog clears.” Chip cleared his throat. “And Rex left just this morning, meaning he will be out for at least a week.”
Edana wasn’t sure which bit of information was more alarming—the fact that it didn’t get dark or that Rex wouldn’t be reachable on land before her deadline lapsed. “Can he be called back to shore?”
“Well, I s’pose he can,” said Chip, running a couple fingers over the curl in his mustache. “If he’s at Landlock Bay, his phone should work.”
“Do you have a number for him?” Shifting uneasily, Edana added, “I’m not sure I have the right number. I mean, I’ve been calling one number and leaving messages, but…” Edana trailed off, realizing she sounded like an obsessed ex-girlfriend that refused to go away. How did one explain that her two messages a day were really regarding an inheritance? “I’m not—I mean, Mr. Carlson and I never—“
“Relax,” said Chip with a chuckle. “You’d call him Rex if you had.” Chip looked off in the distance, toward the ocean. “Why don’t you come inside and use my phone? Berta can fix you up a cup of coffee if you like.”
“The phone will do just fine,” said Edana. If this thing about it never getting dark was true, Edana had better lay off the coffee if she hoped to get any sleep tonight.
“So you see, I just need you to return to shore to sign these release documents and the money is all yours.”
“You never mentioned money in your messages,” said a gruff voice on the other end of the phone. In her photo-driven fantasy, Edana had always imagined his voice to be smooth and seductive, not so baritone and irritated.
“I wasn’t allowed to. But usually the word inheritance is sort of a tell.”
“That sounds like dear ol’ dad.”
Rex laughed, and in that deep rumble, Edana couldn’t help but recall that in the photo, he was standing near a boat in worn jeans and t-shirt that hugged defined muscles. The image made her heart skip an irrational beat.
“So you’ll head back to shore then?”
“No?! Why not?” Edana had to refocus; to force inappropriate illusions from her mind about Rex. She’d never been the type for a one-night stand, and when one only had one night, there weren’t a lot of other options at her disposal. Besides, she hadn’t expected Rex to be such a jerk about inheriting ten million dollars.
“I don’t want his money.”
“So there’s nothing I can do to convince you to sign the papers?” Edana couldn’t help the prick of disappointment stirring within her. Not only would she not get to meet the man in the photo to settle her curiosity once and for all, but her trip to Italy to meet her grandmother was looking grim at best.
“Maybe there is,” said Rex, a suggestive edge in his voice that Edana chose to ignore.
“You could deliver them to Landlock Bay. Then I might consider signing them.”
Edana was waiting for laughter, but there was none. “You’re serious.”
“Sure,” said Rex. “This signature of mine is obviously important to you. But I can’t turn around. We just dropped anchor a couple hours ago.”
“I see,” said Edana, slumping in her chair. There was no way she was going to chase this man down in a boat on her own. Did they make boat taxis? She doubted it. “Well, thank you anyway Mr. Carlson. I suppose I’ll just be on my way tomorrow. Too bad it’s a one-time offer.” She hoped that that last line would sway him.
“Have a good trip home. Too bad you’re not heading out to Landlock Bay. You sound cute.” The phone clicked, a dial tone buzzing in Edana’s ear. She hung up the phone and stared at the table, unsure whether to feel disappointment or anger. The nerve!
“Rex is a stubborn one,” said Berta from the kitchen sink. “Maybe Chip can help you out.”
“I have the afternoon free,” said Chip looking up from a newspaper from across the table. “I could give you a lift out there.”
“You mean out to Mr. Carlson’s boat?”
“Sure,” said Chip. “I got the boat fueled. And the fog’s supposed to clear up soon.”
Edana wasn’t sure what she expected when she stepped onto the boat dock with Chip. He didn’t look like the kind of man that would own a fancy yacht. But she had hoped for something a little higher off the water. Seagulls soared above her head, screeching as they flew in aimless circles as Edana crawled into an enclosed cab with large windows on all sides that forced her to stare at either her hands in her lap or the swaying water. As the boat rocked, she sat stiff, waiting for a big old fish to jump out of the water and slap the window and stare her down with beady eyes.
“You don’t get seasick, do you?” asked Chip, a slight smile on his face. But his question was serious. He settled into a chair near the very ordinary looking steering wheel. Had Edana expected a helm and a bridge? She shook her head realizing how little she knew about boats.
“Don’t know,” said Edana. “We don’t have a lot of bodies of water where I come from.”
“Oh, that’s right. I imagine Nebraska doesn’t have a lot of good lakes for boats.” Chip ran a couple fingers over one curly edge of his mustache. “Well, there’s a bag in there,” said Chip, pointing to a metal bench with a padded seat. Edana lifted the pad and found a combination of things: lifejackets, a bundle of rope, the plastic bag she might very well need, and a bunch of items she couldn’t identify.
As soon as the harbor disappeared into the dissipating fog, Edana groaned. Was is too early to beg Chip to turn them around? Maybe if she closed her eyes she could take a nap until they reached Rex’s boat. But the mere thought how close those floundering fish could be swimming to the boat kept her awake and uneasy. Edana hated fish. And now she was probably mere feet from thousands.
Edana wasn’t certain what she had expected Rex’s boat to look like. Maybe she thought it would be a small intimate boat like Chip’s. But Rex wasn’t alone on his giant ship with at least two stories, maybe even a third lower deck for storage, and the name Catherine Marie printed on the front. Three men stood on the deck, and Edana knew right away which man was Robert “Rex” Carlson. Instead of the fat, bald man Edana had been fearing, she was irrationally pleased to see that he looked even better in person than in the photo.
“Chip!” Rex called out from above.
“Rex, I found you a date!” All the men laughed, including Chip who nudged Edana with his shoulder. “I’m just kiddin’ you know. Rex has a hard time getting a girlfriend or even a date since all he does is fish.”
Suddenly his blue eyes, dark hair, and muscular body weren’t as enticing. In fact, Edana could not get those papers signed quickly enough. The sooner Rex signed, the sooner she could get away from this crazy fisherman that probably smelled like fish too. Why hadn’t it occurred to her that he would be a fisherman? It wasn’t like a respectable business man in a suit would hang out in a fancy yacht for a week to conduct business.
“I was right, she is cute. Why don’t you two come aboard for a beer,” said Rex, sweeping his arm toward his boat.
Edana looked at a rickety metal ladder that would serve as their crossing into Rex’s bigger vessel—the one with an ocean gap. What if a fish jumped up out of the water and tried to nip at her ankle? “Why don’t you just hop on down here and sign the papers? Then we can be out of your hair.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Chip. “We’re not interrupting much with the tide out right now. Plus the water don’t move much here in the bay like it did in the sound on the way out here. Come on, I’ll keep an eye on you and make sure those men keep their meat claws off of you. And I think you could do with a beer. You look whiter than the snow on the mountain caps.”
“So, you see, I just need one signature on this release form,” said Edana. “And the money is yours.” She had been squeezed around a table with booth seating on three sides. It was no surprise that she ended up in the middle, sandwiched between Rex and thankfully Chip. As hesitant as she had been of Chip in the beginning, the man was turning out to be her saving grace.
“No,” said Rex before Edana could say anything further.
“Mr. Carlson, I don’t underst—“
“Let’s stop right there. Drop the formalities. You remind me too much of my father when you do that crap. It’s Rex.”
“Okay,” said Edana, noticing just how blue Rex’s eyes were, like the color of sea. She cleared her throat, looking away from his eyes and toward her hardly touched bottle of beer. Edana took a swig. She noted that Rex did not smell like fish. No, he smelled like a man was supposed to and it was making her stomach a little fluttery. She swallowed the beer and forced herself to refocus on the task at hand.
“No, say it.”
Edana didn’t get what the big deal was, but maybe if she played along she’d get him to sign the papers faster. “Okay, Rex.”
“That’s better. You’re not allowed to call me Mr. Carlson again or I throw those little papers of yours out to sea.”
Edana’s eyebrows rose. “You wouldn’t!”
“Well Sweetheart, you’re in control of that.”
Edana suddenly felt too close to Rex. She wanted to scoot away before she clawed him or something worse. What ungrateful lout of a son would turn down ten million dollars or act like it’s a joke? It was life changing money. Didn’t he understand that? “You could buy a bigger boat,” said Edana. “A… a nicer one.”
“This one isn’t so bad,” said Rex, leaning forward on the table, his arms folded. He widened his legs and one knee brushed against Edana’s black slack. Why had she worn her pants suit with its thin material? Her comfortable hiking clothes were nicely laid out on the bed in her hotel room. “Needs freshened up a bit, but she’s a good boat.”
Edana crinkled her nose, trying to ignore the scent of fish. Or maybe it was the sea. Either way it reminded her too much of fish. Edana blinked her eyes shut and tried to block all thoughts of slippery, squirming fish. “You could give this boat a facelift.” The boat itself was much cleaner than Edana would have expected, but the décor needed some updating.
Rex laughed, that laugh that made Edana nonsensical. “Maybe.”
Edana relaxed. Finally, they were getting somewhere. If she could just get his signature, she’d be on her way and too happy to get back to land where fish weren’t lurking under her feet.
Just as Edana was about to mention that very signature, Chip’s phone rang and he excused himself. “It’s the wife. Just be a minute. You fellows be nice now, you here?”
“We’ll be on our best behavior, won’t we boys?”
Moments after Rex stepped out onto the deck, the two men on either side of them excused themselves to check on the lines. Edana felt a momentary panic. Did she want to be alone with Rex? She didn’t know. The sensible part of her was telling her to step outside in the fresh air, away from such close proximity, fish be damned. But another heedless part of her longed to scoot closer and get a better look at those blue eyes and the light dusting of stubble on his chin so she could compare him some more to that framed photo. How many hours of her life had she wasted staring at that photo while answering phone calls and setting appointments on his father’s calendar, wondering what this man would be like in person?
Instead of doing either, Edana reached for her beer and emptied its contents in one gulp.
“Why did the ol’ man put you up to this anyway?” Rex asked, studying her with a little too much interest as he rolled the bottom of his mostly empty bottle of beer on the table, the neck secured between his fingers. “How did you know him?”
“I worked for him,” said Edana.
“Well I could have pegged that,” said Rex. “He’s not one to trust strangers with a task like this, dead or not.” Rex finished his beer and slid out of the booth. “I’ll grab you another one.”
Edana watched Rex walk across the cabin and dig in a cooler with a little too much interest in what might be beneath those clothes. She knew she should say no to another beer. She needed her senses about her if she had any hope of getting this paper signed.
“Edana, I have to make a quick trip,” said Chip, throwing the door open without grace. “There’s a little fishing vessel a few nautical miles from here and they need my help. There won’t be room for both of us. Do you mind staying here with Rex until I get back? Shouldn’t be more than a couple hours.”
“Everyone okay?” asked Rex. “Sure you don’t want us to go?”
“Just a man needs a ride to shore. He broke his leg but he’s awake. Don’t pull anchor for a broken bone. I’ve got it.”
Eyeing the two beers in Rex’s hand, Edana’s first reaction was to frown. Two whole hours with this thankless brat? But then Edana realized a second angle. If Rex felt obligated to occupy her, and she was certain Chip would make sure he would, maybe Edana could get him buzzed enough that he’d agree to sign the papers. “I hope I won’t be a burden?” She looked at Rex as he popped the tops off one bottle then the next.
“Not at all.” Rex winked at her and Edana’s cheeks turned red instantly.
“I’ll be quick about it,” said Chip. “And Rex? You behave yourself. I’d hate to do anything drastic.”
Rex saluted Chip. “I’ll be a gentleman. In fact, I might even put Ana here to work.”
“Edana.” Edana was proud of the family name and wouldn’t have some stubborn, senseless fisherman giving her any nicknames. But her resolve was wavering at his instant offer to help someone in need without asking questions, even if it meant pulling up his anchor and likely missing out on good fishing.
“Edana,” said Rex, correcting himself as he shoved a beer at her.
Chip gave Rex a warning look before he shut the door.
“What were we talking about?” asked Rex, sliding in the booth. But he wasn’t as close as the last time. Why was Edana disappointed about that? She studied her new bottle of beer and wondered if she had already had too much.
“Your father,” said Edana.
“Ah, yes, the wonderful old bastard.”
Biting her tongue to keep from throwing out a rash question that was more likely to anger Rex than anything else, Edana forced herself to answer his previous question. She could hear Chip’s boat buzzing away into the distance. “I was a personal assistant.”
“I don’t like what you’re implying.” Edana knew her face was turning a light shade of red, but she didn’t care. She wouldn’t be accused of anything of the sort. “I kept his calendar, picked up his dry cleaning, screened phone calls. That sort of thing and nothing more.”
“Whoa, whoa,” said Rex holding up his hands in surrender. “I’m just surprised is all. The man had a reputation. I figured if you came all this way that he had a chunk of change in it for you too. If you knew the man at all, you can’t blame me for jumping to my own conclusions.”
Edana considered confessing that she would get a check for this little errand, but she decided that Rex would only use it against her. “Maybe the suit gave you the wrong impression. Had I known I’d be on a fishing boat in the middle of the ocean, I would have changed.”
“It’s not really the middle of the ocean,” said Rex. “We’re in a bay. One, I might add, known for its wealth of fish. Do you like to fish, Edana?”
Rex’s laughter told her that she hadn’t managed to hide her disgusted reaction, so she shook her head in defeat. “Afraid I had a bad experience once.” Edana was about to reach into her bag for the papers when Rex jumped up.
“How about we fix that?”
“I’ll teach you to fish.”
“I—I—“ Oh this was too embarrassing!
“I’m afraid of fish.”
Rex began to laugh but quickly stopped. “You’re serious.”
“Of course I’m serious,” said Edana taking another swig of beer as Rex slid back into the booth, this time very close. Close enough that she nearly forgot what a fish even was.
“I told you,” said Edana. “I had a bad experience.” But that wouldn’t satisfy Rex, so Edana offered up more details about her five-year-old encounter. If she wasn’t mistaken, there was something like compassion in Rex’s eyes. She definitely wasn’t mistaken about the heat radiating off his toned body, layers of clothes or not.
“I’ll make you a deal,” said Rex. “You catch one fish, and I’ll sign your papers.”
“You make it sound so simple.” Edana slumped in her seat and threw her head into her folded arms on the table.
“Come on, it won’t be that bad,” said Rex, patting her on the back.
Edana looked up. “If you were afraid of anacondas, would your first instinct be to go and catch one?”
“The best way to conquer your fear is to face it head on,” said Rex. He brushed the bottom of her chin with his knuckle, tilting her head up so they locked eyes. “If you weren’t ready to face this fear Ana, then you came to the wrong town and the wrong man.”
Instead of correcting him about the nickname, Edana swallowed. It was silly to think that one finger sent a heat coursing through her entire body. “You’re sure you won’t just sign the papers now?” But Edana’s voice sounded small even to her.
“Not a chance.”
“I must admit, you’re the first person I ever met that wore a suit on a fishing boat.” Edana was dressed in a pair of what Rex called clean coveralls and an oversized waterproof jacket that covered her pants suit.
“I wanted to make a good impression,” said Edana as Rex zipped up her jacket. She felt her heart pounding as his hand came incredibly close to her face again. How much had she had to drink? Edana looked over at the table and realized most of her second beer was still in the bottle. Soon she would not be able to blame the alcohol.
Edana knew the boat was rocking due to the gentle motion in the water, but to her it felt like an earthquake as she followed Rex onto the deck. “The first step is to make sure you pole is good to go.” Rex explained a couple things about fishing line and the reel, but Edana wasn’t really listening. She kept an eye on the edge of the boat, waiting in frightful anticipation for a fish to jump out of the water and onto the deck. “You can trust that this one is good because it’s mine.”
Looking at the opposite side of the boat, Edana noticed that both of the other men had several heavier poles that were locked into some kind of metal contraption on the side of the boat. The men were looking out at the few seagulls swimming on the top of the water, tossing scraps and watching them flock.
“Next we need to bait the circle hook.” Rex leaned down and reached into a cooler. When he stood back up, he held out his hand to Edana. There was a square piece of fish.
“You use fish to bait fish?!” Edana nearly screamed.
“Of course,” said Rex. “Halibut love herring.”
“I can’t touch that,” said Edana, looking around for gloves or a towel or anything that would prevent her fingers from touching a cold, slimy piece of fish.
“It can’t hurt you, Edana,” said Rex. “It’s not even a whole fish. Just a piece of one. Hold out your hand.”
Edana shook her head fiercely. The smell was making her stomach queasy.
Rex grabbed her hand in his free one, but Edana had her fingers bawled up in a fist. “Green eyes,” said Rex in a voice so quiet Edana barely heard him. “What’s in it for you?” he asked, staring into her eyes, his face way to close to hers. “Why do you care if I sign the papers?”
Instead of answering, Edana forced her palm open and closed her eyes. A second later after a quiet but deep laugh, a cold chunk of fish was dropped into her hand. Edana bit down on her lip to keep from screaming. It’s not alive. It’s not alive.
“Now, you’re going to weave it through so that it stays on the hook. No point in attaching bait so a fish can swipe it without getting hooked.”
Bravely, Edana held the block of fish between her thumb and fingers and reached it toward the swinging hook. But she didn’t really know what to do with it. The last time she had gone fishing, her dad had baited her hook for her with a worm; not a chunk of fish. After one weak effort, Rex wrapped his hand around hers and guided the bait onto the hook. “Like that. Good job.”
“That wasn’t so bad,” said Edana, a small smile breaking through. “Now what?”
“We cast,” said Rex, stepping behind her. He guided her movements and helped her toss the line in the water. “And now we wait.” Rex was still standing behind her, the words hot against her ear.
“Why does it matter that I have green eyes?” asked Edana.
“Just a superstition in my family. It’s not important.”
“Tell me,” said Edana, looking over her shoulder at Rex. “Please.”
“Women with green eyes tend to bewitch Carlson men,” said Rex. “Bewitch them and take advantage of them.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Edana. “I’m not trying to take advantage of you.” But Edana was afraid that Rex would bring up her motivation again and instead switched the conversation. “Why didn’t you and your father get along?”
“He thought he could solve all of his problems with money.”
Edana knew she would have to tell him the truth before he signed the papers, but he was making it harder as time went on.
“He thought he could buy a son,” said Rex. “He wanted me to work in the family business you know. Thought that commercial fishing was a joke compared to running a chain of restaurants from a big fancy office. He offered me half a million dollars and a new house just to move back to Omaha and wear a suit to work every day.”
For what little Edana knew about Robert Carlson Senior, she could see that there was some truth to what Rex was saying. The man solved most of his problems with money. But there was kindness in him too. “I don’t know if this matters to you,” said Edana, “but I was in charge of ensuring his charitable donations made their destination. He donated a considerable amount of money to charities to help families in poverty all over the country.”
“That just means the man knew how to play the tax game,” said Rex, looking out over the water.
For the first time, Edana noticed mountains now that the fog had lifted. They were glorious in size and made Edana feel so tiny. The mountains edged along the water, evergreen trees and rocks jutting out. And glistening against the peaking sunlight was the most beautiful waterfall Edana had ever seen. She was momentarily lost in a trance. But a slight jerk of the boat brought Edana back to reality.
Rex was staring blankly at the same waterfall, not seeing it the same way Edana had. “You might also be interested to know that one of his biggest donation checks, at least for the past four years that I worked for him, was to a charity designed to set up fishing trips for special needs children.”
At that information, Rex turned abruptly toward Edana, surprise in his eyes. “You’re serious?”
“Yes.” When Rex didn’t say anything else, Edana added, “He had a framed picture of you on his desk. I didn’t realize it until now, but your boat is in the background. It must have been taken at the boat dock. Who is Catherine Marie?” Edana expected him to mention a girlfriend or a fiancé.
Before Rex could explain further, Edana felt a strong tug on her pole. “I think I’ve caught something!” She wasn’t sure if she was excited or frightened. Now she would have to reel up a halibut, whatever that was, and take it off the hook. Visions of her first fishing experience were creeping into her head, despite her best efforts to block the slapping fish from her mind.
“Reel it in,” said Rex.
“I’m trying,” said Edana struggling. “It’s really pulling.”
“I wonder if you’re caught on a rock.”
“Why would I be caught on a rock? I’m fishing.” But Edana could hardly say anymore as the pole began to bend out of her line of sight, shuffling her planted feet toward the edge of the boat. Rex jumped in behind her, wrapping his body around hers as he helped her reel in her line. Had it not been for his assistance and strength, Edana was certain that the fish on the line would have pulled her into the water.
“She’s got a halibut!” said one of the other two men from across the boat in excitement, his body half bent over the side.
“Of course I’ve got a halibut. That’s what I’m fishing for, isn’t it?” Edana didn’t understand their surprise.
Seconds later, a flat diamond-shaped fish the size of a small border collie appeared above the edge of the boat and Edana screamed. “What is that?” It looked like a flat gray flailing monster.
“It’s a halibut,” said Rex, his voice gruff. Edana had nearly let go of the pole once she saw the giant flat fish flapping wildly in the air. The other two men rushed over and between the three of them they pulled the fish inside the boat. Then one man hit it over the head with a blunt object—a bat or a pipe? But Edana wasn’t sure because she had begun to faint.
“Here’s your papers,” said Rex as Edana’s eyes blinked open. Rex was sliding out of the booth and approaching Edana on a makeshift couch a few feet away. “A deal’s a deal.”
Edana felt a mixture of emotions as she saw the signed papers extended to her. She was elated that she would finally be able to afford that trip to Italy to visit her grandmother, but at the same time, she felt dirty and underhanded. “Wait.”
Rex cocked an eyebrow. “Wait? But this is what you’ve wanted for days now.”
“Why don’t you have a seat.”
Rex fell into a small spot on the couch next to Edana. There wasn’t room for space and Edana decided to enjoy the closeness before Rex tromped out of the cabin in a rage and waited for Chip to return on deck.
“You asked me earlier what was in this for me, and I think you deserve to know.”
“I’m listening.” Rex’s hand was thrown over the top of the couch and Edana found herself distracted, wondering what it would be like for Rex to cup her face and pull her in for a kiss. Her heart sank. Even if Rex didn’t hate her, Edana was on her way back to Omaha tomorrow morning. And even if she could postpone her return by a couple days, Rex would be out on his boat for at least a week.
“Once I turn that paper in,” said Edana, taking a deep breath. “I—I get…”
“How much?” She could see a furry building behind his eyes.
Edana was too afraid to look up. “Ten thousand.”
It was not the reaction Edana was expecting. “What do you mean that’s it? That’s a lot of money! It’s enough for me to go see—“ Edana stopped herself. It was silly to think Rex really cared.
“Enough to what?”
“It’s not important.”
“Yes, it is,” said Rex, staring her down without relent, drawing her chin up with his fingers.
“I’m going to use the money to meet my grandmother in Italy.” In a quick synopsis, Edana explained how they had been communicating back and forth since she was a little girl but they had never met. And time was running short.
Rex laughed, his deep seductive laugh.
“What’s so funny?”
“You’re really something, you know that?”
Edana held her breath. Was he going to tear the papers up in front of her and make her feel the agony of watching her dreams being shredded?
“I can’t believe that cheap bastard found someone willing to fly all the way to Valdez for a lousy ten grand.”
Edana took a deep breath, forcing tears to stay back. “All I’ve ever wanted was to meet my grandmother. If you decide not to tear up the papers, this is really my only chance. But don’t do it for me. You’ve got to want the money.”
“It doesn’t matter if I want the money,” said Rex. “I see what my old man did here. He put me in quite the predicament. If I say no, you lose out on your trip to Italy. If I say yes, then I accept him trying to buy my love even after he’s dead.”
“Then what will you do?” Edana hadn’t known a tear was hiding in the corner of her eyes until it fell. Rex reached up to brush it away.
“Take the money of course.”
“Maybe I’ll give it to charity or something. After I give the boat a facelift.”
Edana couldn’t help herself in that moment. She leapt into Rex’s arms and kissed him before she knew what she had done. Much to her surprise, Rex kissed her back with fervor and a passion that made her stomach fill with butterflies and her body ache for more. She reached for the top button on his shirt.
“Dammit Rex, I told you to behave yourself!” But Chip was smiling beneath his mustache.
Edana’s hands were frozen on the second button of his shirt. She felt like a teenager caught by her parents with a boy on the living room couch.
“It was all her,” said Rex with a goofy smile. “I’m innocent!”
“I’ll give you two five minutes. But if we don’t get headin’ back to shore soon, Ma will not be happy. She expects me home for dinner you know.”
“What do you think you’ll do with all that money?” asked Edana, curled up in Rex’s arms that night. She refused to face that tomorrow morning would take her away from Valdez and what that would mean. Rex had left his men in charge for the one night she was still in town and that had to mean something. Fishermen didn’t abandon their boats for a one-night stand, did they?
“I’m still thinking on it,” said Rex, kissing Edana’s forehead. “But I think I should stop in Omaha and check on the company. Even if I don’t plan on taking it over, I should make sure they’re in good hands.” Rex began to run his fingertips over Edana’s bare arm. “I owe my old man a visit, even if I missed the funeral.” His warm fingertips moved to her collarbone, driving Edana crazier with want by the second. “Plus I should probably visit my mother in Omaha. I’m overdue.”
Edana felt her heart swim. His mother was in Omaha? Maybe they could make this work after all. But Edana wasn’t going to get ahead of herself.
“What about you?” Rex asked Edana, unbuttoning her blouse and exposing her skin. “What are you going to do now that your employer has passed on? Will you stay at the company?” Rex trailed kisses down her neck and collarbone.
“I haven’t decided,” admitted Edana, realizing for the first time in her life she had options to go anywhere she wanted and start over. All her life she had lived in Omaha and had never considered leaving because the money wasn’t there to do so. But Italy wouldn’t use the entire ten thousand. She would have enough left over to move anywhere she wanted. But if Rex didn’t stop undressing her, she wouldn’t be able to tell him that coherently.
“No ideas?” asked Rex between soft trailed kisses.
Edana shirt’s was on the floor and she was about to lose those pesky black suit pants.
“I have to consider all my options,” said Edana.
Edana’s eyes had been closed, but the second Rex stopped touching her they opened. Before her was the most glorious man she had ever seen without a shirt. Even if he was a fisherman.
Edana was admiring his defined muscles beneath light chest hair when he asked, “What options are you considering?”
But Edana couldn’t think straight anymore. Not with all the clothes she was losing by the second. “I don’t know.” But there was one option she had already begun to consider, even if she hadn’t realized it. As Rex’s body covered hers, she said in a weak breath, “Maybe Alaska.”