She’s the last woman he’d want to be stuck with on a desert island.
Harry Reif is determined to make a success of himself. To his mind, it shouldn’t matter if he’s severely dyslexic and can’t read a word. But a string of bad luck leaves him stranded and without money in a sleepy island village. It’s even worse luck that also on the island is his sister’s best friend, stuffy literature professor Emily Shaw. Harry is convinced that Emily—the most reading of all reading people—must think he’s an idiot. Unfortunately, his only hope of making enough money to get home is by acting as her island tour guide.
Emily always knew Harry wasn’t attracted to her. He’s barely noticed her shy self over the years. But she hadn’t realized the man on whom she’s had a crush forever positively loathes her. She can tell he only agrees to guide her to Hargreave’s Cave, subject of her academic research on the island, in order to buy back his pride, lost by his current financially desperate circumstances.
They set off on what is supposed to be a one-day hike, after which they’ll never have to deal with each other again. It isn’t long before they discover that nothing is as it first appears—not each other or even themselves.
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The coin didn’t look like much, more like a dark rock than Spanish silver, but to Harry Reif, it was a crowning symbol of success.
Another one. With deep satisfaction, Harry gently loosened the coin from beneath the rock that had fallen on it unknown centuries before. Bubbles rose from his scuba tank as he stuffed the treasure into a pouch at his belt.
The coin from the Spanish wreck was worth more than the money Harry’d be able to fetch for it, though that would be considerable. The coin represented proof Harry could, in fact, make a go of something, even something as complex and seemingly overreaching as the solo treasure-hunting expedition he’d arranged to the Central American country of Canigua.
There’d been too many failures already in Harry’s thirty-one years of life. It was past time he proved the space he took up on the planet wasn’t wasted.
As he fingered the pouch containing the four-hundred-year-old coin, a smile spread under Harry’s diving mask. Wait until he told his sister and his two best friends that he had indeed managed to locate the remains of the Spanish trading vessel he’d theorized was resting on an underwater plateau off the coast of Canigua. Their reaction would be priceless when he brought back a small chest full of silver and other valuable artifacts. They’d all thought his plan crazy. None of them had believed he could pull it off, not even his sister who’d helped finance the expedition.
Admittedly, they all had good reason to have feared the worst. Harry had a long history of failed business ventures: the go-cart racetrack, the rabbit breeding enterprise, and an amusement park for handicapped kids. The most recent to go bust had been an organic vegetable farm.
Each business had looked so promising at first. And for a while, they’d done very well. Even the amusement park had attracted a number of serious investors. But then, somehow, things always went south. A partner would take a powder, a contract would sport a crucial loophole, or some other unforeseeable problem had thrown a monkey wrench into the situation.
Along with each business venture, there’d been a woman who’d hung out on the edges, someone to adore and then lose—along with the business.
Harry exemplified the phrase ‘can’t win for losing.’
He’d found the wreck and its treasure, and he done it all on his own. Okay, yes, his sister had provided some money, but that was it. Finding a treasure no one else had been able to locate in four hundred years—that was Harry’s achievement alone.
And he’d found it without a whiff of help from a single reading person. After all the years of feeling like a dope, Harry had proven he could succeed despite his severe dyslexia.
As he scanned the underwater muck, Harry felt eager to continue looking for more coins, but he knew he ought to surface. The air in his tanks was running low. Besides, it was good policy to go stash this coin in the safe place he’d stored the rest so he wouldn’t collect too many on his boat. This stretch of the coast was not the safest. Drug runners plied their trade here, and Harry had seen their fast motorboats.
So far, the drug runners had left him alone. But yesterday one of the motorboats had come within hailing distance of Harry. They’d clearly been scoping him out.
Harry probably should have taken a little time off today, left the area in order to lessen his profile. But he wasn’t sure how easy it would be to find this precise spot again, and he’d wanted at least another day to extract more of the treasures he’d uncovered.
Success was a heady mistress.
After taking a nitrogen break halfway up the line tethered to his boat, Harry kicked the rest of the way up. He could see the outline of his hull above, a reassuring shadow. At the side of the ship, he grabbed the ladder and pulled himself out of the water.
As soon as his head rose to give him a view of the deck, Harry knew he had trouble. An intruder stood at the center table, a tall, Hispanic-looking man wearing a flowered Hawaiian shirt. One lock of dark hair fell over his forehead in a rakish manner, and he was regarding the maps Harry had left there.
The man looked over as Harry stood, frozen, on the ladder.
Several things then happened at once. Harry heard the sound of other men rooting around below deck and possibly on their way up the interior ladder. He recognized the man at his map station as Tomas Mendez, also known as El Diablo, the most feared drug lord in the region. Harry had seen Tomas’s picture back when Harry’s good friend Juan had been obsessed with capturing the criminal. Now Tomas met Harry’s eyes.
Then the drug lord did something odd. He moved his head slightly. Silently. Toward the edge of the boat against which Harry already stood.
Or at least, that’s what Harry thought he saw. Later, he wasn’t so sure. Perhaps he simply reacted to his own finely honed instincts. He dropped back down into the water. As he lowered, he saw the hatch fly open. Briefly, he heard the sound of men shouting excitedly, and then he was back underwater.
Using the remaining oxygen in his scuba tank, Harry swam down and away from his boat. Harry watched a ton of videos. In one of them, an experiment had demonstrated that bullets lost effectiveness the deeper they had to penetrate into the water.
The videos he’d watched to get his scuba certificate reminded him he had to calm down and slow his racing heart. The faster he breathed, the faster his oxygen would deplete.
Easier said than done.
The sound of a motor had Harry glancing up toward the surface. The propellers of his boat were churning the water. As he watched, it motored away. Of course it did. Harry hadn’t seen two hulls when he’d made his ascent. El Diablo had sent away his own boat, knowing he was going to keep Harry’s.
Harry’s heart sank. Running into El Diablo was exactly the outcome everyone had warned him about. He’d ignored every warning. He always ignored the naysayers.
The consequence today was that Harry had just lost his boat together with all of his topographical maps—in sum, everything he’d worked for over the past few months. And that was the bright side. It was ten miles or more to shore from this spot, and he only had a few more minutes of air left in his tanks.
Gritting his teeth, Harry started toward the coastline. He was a strong swimmer. Even after he had to ditch his tanks, there was a good chance he could pace himself and make the distance.
What he would do once he got there was another question. He had no boat, no money—not even his cell phone. He could only hope he’d make shore near a village and not near some drug runner’s outpost.
Despair and shame washed through him. Other than the coin now in his belt, Harry’s treasure hunt was over.
And he was a failure.
Along with the thought, a strong current seized Harry, sweeping him south.
It was windy on the main deck, and the smell of engine fuel was stronger than on her private deck off the small passenger area, but Emily forced herself to step from the ladder and onto the rough surface of the freighter’s main deck.
The whole point of this venture was to experience reality, right? She’d decided to ‘rough it’ and travel in person to the island where Thomas Hargreave had written his seminal poetry, the works on which Emily had based her research and whom she had to thank for her office and title at the university. By necessity, the trip had involved booking a passenger slot on a supply freighter, the only ship that traveled to the obscure Isla Olvidada. As it turned out, Emily was the only passenger on this particular voyage.
Keeping to her comfortable cabin above and the private deck leading off of it was not exactly experiencing the reality of the ten-day trip aboard the mid-sized cargo freighter. Hanging out up there was hardly different from sitting in her office at UCLA reading surrealist poetry. It wasn’t getting her out of her own head. It wasn’t going to save her career.
The noise of the engine was deafening on the main deck. Emily did her best to ignore the way it stimulated her customary anxiety as she made her way to the side railing. She’d wanted reality on this trip, but reality was turning out to be remarkably unpleasant.
A few men were scattered about on the flat expanse of the deck; they were dressed in soiled coveralls and seemingly hard at work. Some used noisy machines on exposed metal fittings; others appeared to be working on some of the mysterious steel contraptions that dotted the deck here and there. Most of the men ignored her, but a few glanced her way, the sole passenger, a woman who was so blatantly out of place. Nobody leered—she didn’t inspire that sort of behavior from men—but she thought the gazes of those who did look at her were disapproving. They were working hard, after all. She’d never done much more in her life than read and write. The papers she’d published, awarded and lauded as they’d been, would hardly be considered valuable by these men who actually sweated in order to produce tangible results.
To avoid having to deal with further thoughts about the men on deck and their disapproval, Emily gazed out over the sea. A few hours ago, she’d conducted a far more directed search from her private upper deck. That’s when the freighter had been sailing past the Central American country of Canigua. Emily knew someone who was anchored off the coast of Canigua. That is, if knowing the man’s sister was knowing him—which it wasn’t. Emily’s best friend at the university, Helena Reif, had a twin brother, Harry. Harry had bought a small yacht and was currently plying it somewhere off the Caniguan coast in search of a four-hundred-year-old sunken Spanish ship. It was absurd of Emily to have thought she might spot Harry’s yacht from the deck of the freighter, which had to be at least a hundred miles off the coast, but she hadn’t been able to resist looking.
Harry was… Harry was… He was someone she couldn’t resist, she supposed. He was absolutely, one-hundred percent everything she was not. He was tall and alive, handsome and real. Oh, so real. If he was in the room, the very air vibrated with his presence.
Sighing, Emily set her elbow on the rail and her chin in her hand. And then she saw—something—way out on the horizon. She lifted her chin from her hand and frowned at the moving speck far out at sea. Was it a bird? No, it looked too big. Perhaps it was a seal. If they weren’t hundreds of miles from shore, she might have imagined it could be a human being. But no human would be swimming this far out from the coast.
Emily’s heart picked up speed as she squinted at the speck.
She had to admit it certainly looked human.
She glanced around, wondering if there was someone she could ask about the speck, but she doubted any of the crewmen on deck, should she brave enough to approach them, spoke English. They probably didn’t speak Greek or Latin or German, either, the useless languages she knew.
She whirled all the way about and glanced up toward the bridge. The captain— Oh, but the idea of approaching him again made her quail. The captain had already made it clear how little use he had for Emily and her many anxieties. No, the sound of the cargo shifting in their containers down below did not mean the ship was going to capsize, he’d assured her their second day out at sea. And no, the smell of fuel did not mean the vessel was about to explode, he’d snapped on the third day.
The last time she’d tried to speak to him, yesterday, about the fluid she’d seen leaking from the rear of the boat, he’d simply glared at her. Emily had backed away.
Though the freighter was outfitted for passengers, Emily doubted it often carried them. How many people would want to take the slow route to South America, stopping at sleepy ports like Isla Olvidada along the way? Even if Emily weren’t actually annoying, the captain probably would have considered her so.
She couldn’t go to the captain, then. Emily turned back to squint out over the water. The object was moving. She could see that now. Was that an arm, waving in the air?
Or was it all her over-active imagination?
Biting her lip, she knew she was going to have to point the object out to one of the crewmembers, stupid and annoying as that would make her. She was just gritting her teeth to force herself to walk over to the nearest crewman, when a man halfway down the deck pointed in the same direction she’d been gazing and shouted.
Most of the men on deck dropped what they were doing and ran toward the side rail. Much shouting and pointing ensued. Emily saw one of the men use a walkie-talkie, probably communicating with the bridge, for the ship then started to veer, turning slowly in the direction of the speck.
It had been a human being, after all, then, and not a figment of her imagination. Emily watched the speck slowly grow closer as the ship started toward it.
She wondered what poor soul could possibly have ended up lost out here in the middle of nowhere.
Undoubtedly someone even more lost than herself.
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