The dark blue waters of the Caribbean lapped gently against the glistening white hull of the Samurai as she rocked, almost imperceptibly, on the gentle swell of the ebbing night tide. She was moored half a mile offshore from Bridgetown, the harbour lights twinkling like a row of jewels in the distance, the odd snatches of calypso music drifting out to the boat, carried on the lazy breath of breeze.
A summer night in the Caribbean. The full moon, suspended like a huge luminous disc in a midnight blue sky studded with stars, shed a soft, pale light over everything, silvering the tops of the silky waves and vesting the 150-foot cabin cruiser's hull with a soft lustre, the moonlight reflecting off the water casting a thousand stars of light in sparkling reflections off the gleaming paintwork of the magnificent craft.
The air was sultry, warm and heavy, redolent with the warm spicy scents of the Caribbean; coconut, cinnamon and cane sugar, edged with the acrid tang of sea salt.
On board, the sun deck was deserted, the table cleared and cleaned, the parasol neatly furled, the chairs clipped firmly to their places beneath the table. The highly varnished wooden deck was spotlessly clean, shining in the moonlight, everything stowed neatly away. All appeared quiet.
From the sun deck an open door and two shallow steps gave onto the main lounge cabin, a huge room with windows down each side. This beautiful room was carpeted in thick, soft, pure wool, in a delicate shade of raspberry, the walls panelled in rich Indian mahogany that glowed softly in the light cast from ships lanterns mounted in shining brass brackets. Framed, spot-lit prints of ancient marine charts adorned the walls and books bound in matching leather covers filled a small glass-fronted bookcase.
A small bar took up one corner of the main cabin; constructed in identical mahogany to the wall panels, the beaten copper bar top reflected the soft lights in large smudges of muted amber. Rows of sparkling glasses were neatly arranged on a glass fronted shelf above the bar, rows of bottles on the mirror-backed shelf behind it. The bar top contained a full brass ice-bucket, an opened bottle of champagne cognac, the corked top resting on its side beside the bottle and a crystal glass ashtray, reflecting yet more shards of light onto the copper beneath it.
There were two four-seater sofas and two large armchairs arranged in the main seating area, all upholstered in rich cream kid leather and piled with linen cushions in the same shade of raspberry as the carpet. A low, oval coffee table formed the centrepiece of the lounge area; a neat row of European and American glossy magazines and a slim Oriental porcelain vase containing an arrangement of orchids and ferns arranged on its highly polished top. A gift wrapped box of hand-made Belgian chocolates, bearing a small gold card tucked under the red ribbon, sat beside the vase.
Another corner of the main cabin contained a polished wood desk, a large brass desk lamp shedding a bright cone of light down onto a navigation chart of the Caribbean spread across the desks leather top. A crystal brandy snifter, a small amount of the five-star champagne cognac still remaining in its base, sat on top of the chart, together with a slim fountain pen and a Rolex wrist watch.
Soft music drifted from the state of the art stereo system, cleverly concealed behind the wood panelling of the cabin walls, the equipment and speakers invisible. The music was only just loud enough to mask the steady tick of the ship's clock mounted above the bar.
At the left hand side of the cabin a wide, shallow step gave onto the dining alcove, panelled and ceilinged in the same mahogany, but smaller and more intimate than the main cabin area. The white linen covered table was set for two, with sterling silver cutlery, a single red candle burning in a Dresden porcelain candlestick, a bottle of vintage champagne neck-deep in crushed ice, nestled in a Georgian silver bucket. The crockery was English bone china, edged with a single gold band; the linen Irish, plain white; the crystal Russian, flawless and sparkling, and the wine French. A silver dish of strawberries, dusted with caster sugar, sat on the server top, together with a crystal tantalus, a large, open box of assorted after dinner mints and a tray containing two coffee cups and a cafetiere. The door to the heated food cupboard was closed, but an aromatic air of herbs and red wine suffused the alcove.
The door at the rear of the main cabin, alongside the desk, was ajar, leading to a narrow passageway carpeted in the same raspberry as the louge. The first of eight identical mahogany doors that faced onto the corridor was open. The room beyond the door was large, two square windows and another door gave onto the deck. A huge circular bed, covered in a richly patterned maroon and gold Chinois silk throwover and piled with cream silk pillows, dwarfed everything else in the room. The wall panels in this cabin were Sumatran teak, polished to a rich, deep glow, reflecting the pink-tinged bulbs of the Art Deco style wall lights in rosy circles of muted light. The carpet was a deeper pile than the main cabin, in a dark Bordeaux red, scattered with rich cream rugs.
A teak dressing table, backed by a wall-mounted mirror, sat along one of the walls. containing an onyx tray of assorted cufflinks and tie studs, a leather backed brush and a short comb. A selection of Paris label aftershaves stood in a cluster at the back of the table - a solitary open bottle, its top alongside it, stood at the front. A small black leather wallet and some coins were scattered across the table surface.
There were two teak bedside tables, one either side of the arc of the bed nearest the wall. On one sat a telephone, with a notepad and pen beside it, on the other a single, dark red rose in a transparent box, topped with an intricate bow.
A jacket lay across the edge of the bed. The cabin was quiet, the soft music from the lounge did not penetrate the bulkhead walls. The only sound came in through the open windows; a gentle rhythmic lapping of waves against the hull of the boat. The shadier corners of the ceiling and walls danced with fluttering reflections of the moonlit water, refracted through the windows.
The door to the en-suite master bathroom opened, allowing a brief wisp of steam to escape and dissipate into the air, and he strode out, rubbing his hair with the cream towel that was draped around his shoulders. He threw the towel into an open laundry hamper beside the bathroom door, and walked across the carpeted floor to the built-in wardrobe. Opening the door he surveyed the row of shirts hanging inside, his expressive eyes narrowing a little as he scanned the contents of the cupboard. He was already wearing a pair of well-tailored trousers, and he thrust his hands into the pockets as he considered what should accompany them. Finally, he removed a black shirt and held the hanger at arms length, frowning slightly. He rejected it as too formal, replaced the hanger back on the rail and closed the door, opening the one next to it in almost the same movement. This cupboard contained shelves of folded sweaters and casual shirts and again, his eyes scanned the contents. He eventually selected a camel coloured summer weight sweater, with a deep V-neck, and pulled it over his head, pulling the long sleeves up to mid-forearm before turning to survey the effect in the full length mirror mounted on the back of the cupboard door.
A glowing, healthy sheen covered his skin, the camel sweater setting his natural skin tone off well. It was precisely the effect he wanted. Smart but casual. Nothing too formal or restricting. He was nervous enough, without fiddling with uncomfortable clothing. Smiling, he closed the door. Three strides took him to the dressing table, where he opened one of the small drawers and threw the wallet and loose change inside. Finally, he poured some of the opened aftershave into a cupped palm, rubbed his hands together first, then around his jaw and neck, closing his eyes at the astringent effect of the liquid on his freshly-shaved skin. He replaced the top on the bottle and placed it with the others at the back of the dressing table.
He turned, his gaze sweeping the room as if checking all were as it should be, then walked across to one of the small bedside cabinets. Opening the low level cupboard, he removed a tiny crystal flacon of French perfume enclosed in a gold carton, and a slim, flat, shiny black box embossed with a famous logo. He placed both articles carefully on the silk bed cover, together with the box containing the rose. He rearranged the items several times until he was satisfied with the effect. He smiled, visualizing her face when she found the gifts.
He checked the room again, smoothing a wrinkle from the throw-over with one hand, then gave a small nod of approval as he left the cabin, closing the door quietly behind him.
He was alone on the boat, at least for the moment. The crew were all ashore for tonight and had all been given the following day off only Nico, the longest-serving and most well-trusted of them would be returning briefly tonight, to bring her here in the launch. He wanted as little interference and intrusion as possible whilst she was here, and Nico could be relied upon to be completely discreet.
Walking to the desk in the main cabin, he picked up the brandy snifter, his eyes coming to rest on the framed photograph on the wall. He was in it, of course. Him and the others. Seven faces smiling at the camera, reflecting seven very different souls, all so diverse yet now so close those differences were unimportant just differing facets of a united whole. Seven pairs of eyes varying shades of blue, green and brown, whose expressions he knew as well, if not better, than his own. All of those eyes, he knew, contained secrets and past pain, including his own, but the combination of those seven unique individuals, their friendship, loyalty, courage and compassion had gone a long way to healing that pain. That and the laughter they all shared. He smiled at the picture in silent salute, remembering a conversation they had all had when trying to decide on a name for the boat.
"Should be somethin connected with seven "
"Days of the week?"
"Oh, outstanding a magnificent craft such as this, ennobled with the title The Lucky Dwarf."
"Hang on magnificent craft? How about the magnificent seven?"
"Based on a folk tale of seven samurai warriors."
"Yep noble fighters, legendary swordsmen, who travelled the country righting wrongs and defending the innocent soldiers of honour ."
"A spiritual brotherhood bound by the code of bushido emphasizing the qualities of loyalty, bravery and endurance..."
"Samurai sounds kinda exotic "
And so the Samurai she had become.
He raised the glass to the picture, then drained it of the last few drops of cognac. He picked up the watch from the desk and carried both items across to the bar, where he placed the empty glass down on the counter and fastened the watch strap around his wrist. He checked the time, realizing that he was actually a little nervous. He smiled again, actually quite enjoying the sensation of butterflies in his stomach, the anticipation that made his heart rate increase slightly, fuelling his system with a buzz of adrenalin.
He sat down on one of the sofas, but almost instantly got up again, unable to relax or settle. He checked the time again, strolled to the desk and perched on the edge of it, lowering his eyes to the chart but not really looking at it. His thoughts were elsewhere. He was thinking about her.
He rose again, becoming more tense and expectant with each minute, and strode back across the cabin to the dining alcove, taking in every detail. Was it okay? Was everything ready? Why was he so nervous?
Back to the sofa, where he retrieved the remote control for the stereo system from the coffee table and increased the volume softly. She loved this music, she had told him so on many occasions, which was the main reason for choosing this particular disc for the player, but he had to admit it suited the atmosphere perfectly. He twisted the box of chocolates, first one way, then the other, finally back to their original position. Another little surprise for her, although the real gifts were somewhere more appropriate - the master cabin. Before he dared allow his thoughts to stray too far down that particular path, he checked his watch again, pointedly ignoring the thump of his pulse, willing the minutes away until she arrived, when he would be happy if time froze for ever.
Would she like the boat? His eyes scanned the room. Would she like the meal? He hoped he had remembered the various things she had mentioned that she enjoyed - he had tried to incorporate as many as possible into the meal, including the strawberries which, apparently, were best enjoyed with champagne. He smiled. Would she like the gifts? She was far from the first woman he had bought gifts for, but somehow it had never mattered quite as much as it did now. He had deliberated for a long time over the perfume and the contents of the designer box - the rose and chocolates had been an impulsive afterthought. He had wanted to buy her everything he could find that he thought she might like, but was apprehensive of appearing excessive. Suddenly he wondered if he had overdone it. This was a new experience for him - this sense of bewilderment and beguilement he felt around her. He was crazy about her and crazy for her - and he couldn't make up his mind which pleased him the most.
The soft humming throb of the launch engines intruded on his musings and his heart jumped. The launch! He gave the room one last thorough gaze, then walked towards the deck, pausing to check his appearance in the wall mounted mirror by the door. His clothes were clean and neat. He took a deep breath, trying to give himself the air of casual confidence he desperately wanted her to believe he possessed all the time, and gave himself an experimental smile in the mirror. It would do. It would have to. Trying to ignore the rising feeling of anticipation that suddenly made him feel light headed, he walked confidently out of the cabin door and onto the deck, walking to the handrail and bracing his weight on both arms, he leaned forward, watching the approach.
The launch chugged closer, the powerful engines almost idling as it nosed through the dark, silky water. She was sitting on the starboard side, looking towards him. Nico deftly manoeuvred the small craft alongside the steel steps up to the deck.
He left the handrail, walking down the steps to meet her, holding out his hand to help her from the launch. Something that felt like static electricity raced up his arm as their fingers touched, making him swallow. As soon as she was safely on the bottom step, he circled her shoulders with a protective arm, and guided her up the steps. Once on deck he paused, turning her towards him and taking her in both arms for a long, slow kiss, the implication of which was lost on neither of them, almost lifting her clean off the deck. It was a long time before they parted. He looked down at her sparkling eyes.
"Welcome aboard", he said with a smile.
She awoke slowly, blinking her eyes as the surroundings came into focus, the sounds gradually intruding on her dreams until her mind could sort reality from imagination.
The air was cool, fresh and carried the salt tang of the sea. The light was tinged with that early morning pinkish gold, as the day slowly emerged from the night. The rattan shutters were open, she could see the rich, opalescent blue sky and the palm fronds moving gently in the breath of breeze. She could hear their muted, whispered conversations with the waves that lapped up onto the beach. Nothing else. Just the sea and the palms.
She sighed, stretching and uncurling like a waking cat under the soft covers, her limbs boneless and languid.
The voice held a smile, even in that one word.
She rolled over.
He stood in the doorway, his left shoulder leaning casually against the frame. His left hand held a bunch of scarlet hibiscus flowers, plucked from the riot of blooms that shrouded the beach house - his right held a small bamboo tray containing a bottle of champagne and two glasses full of the sparkling liquid.
The early morning sun touched his blond hair, turning it into a halo of gold. Green eyes, full of laughter and wickedness, danced with hers, suffusing her body with a rush of warmth and want.
"Happy Valentines Day", he smiled, taking a few steps into the room, moving with that prowling glide that always reminded her of a lion - smooth, effortless and deliciously dangerous.
He put the tray and the flowers down on the nightstand. "Move over..." he said.
She stood motionless before the floor length window, feeling like a eagle hanging in the sky, gazing out at the panoramic view of the sweep down the mountain, the lights from the ski resort further down beginning to wink on in the deepening dusk, the first stars just starting to show in a darkening blue sky like bright diamonds over the mountain tops.
There were no lights on in the huge room, just the sunken circular fireplace in the center, the rich blaze it contained reflecting red/gold on the copper chimney hood that descended from the ceiling, and shedding a dancing, golden circle of light around it. Her feet sank into the rich red carpet, the floor length red velvet drapes framing the vista outside. There was a faint scent of cedar wood and pine and she breathed in, hugging the thick terry robe around her, although the room was deliciously warm.
She didnt hear him approach, didnt even catch his reflection in the window silent as a shadow, he stole up behind her, until two strong arms encircled her, a single red rose in his right hand.
"Happy Valentines Day", he said softly.
She smiled, now seeing his face reflected in the glass, those vibrant blue eyes and that wicked smile, framed by a wealth of long curls. His chin rested on her shoulder, their matching robes blending indistinguishably in the reflection. She could feel his warm breath on her cheek, the warmth of his arms around her.
"Ready for bed?" he whispered in her ear.
She couldn't ever remember seeing a night sky that colour - deep, rich purple, the stars just beginning to wink on, one by one. Within an hour, the purple would have darkened to strong, vibrant blue/black, and the stars would be spread across it like a glittering shower. The moon was out, silvering the dusty road in front of her, and turning the little clouds of dust scuffed up be her sandals to purest white.
She could hear the sea, faintly lapping onto the rocky beach far below her on her left, but there was almost no breeze. Ahead of her, the large white villa, shrouded in fragrant jasmine and vivid hibiscus, stood sentinel on the cliff-top. The wrought iron gate creaked a little as she opened it, the short path in front of her mottled with dark shadows and strong moonlight. Her footsteps were almost silent on the narrow path - the folds of her skirt swishing gently against the lush foliage of the garden on either side. The huge door stood open, a golden, elongated rectangle of light spilling out onto the tiled porch.
She stepped inside. A spiral staircase of white marble with a black wrought iron banister curled upwards in front of her. At its base stood a small round table containing a gift-wrapped box and a piece of card with an upward pointing arrow drawn on it. She smiled, picking up the box, and carried it with her up the stairs.
The faint sound of a Spanish guitar reached her ears from somewhere, carried on a warm breath of breeze. On the mosaic tiled landing, four lighted candles stood in a row on the dresser, their flames barely moving. Another small card, this one with an arrow pointing left, rested against the base of one of the candlesticks. Her smile grew wider.
She turned left, opening the heavy dark oak door, and took a single step into the room. The balcony doors directly opposite her stood open, framing a wonderful view of the night seascape, the moon a pale crescent just rising over the waves. The whole room shimmered in candlelight - they stood everywhere, tiny flames reflecting off the white walls and large mirrors, filling the room with warm light and rich, exotic scent.
She almost laughed out loud, turning at the sound of the voice. He was half-reclining on the enormous double bed, leaning casually against the headboard - long legs stretched out in front, crossed at the ankles. He was wearing a thick, white bathrobe and a confident, knowing smile, and holding a glass of red wine that sparkled in the candlelight like liquid rubies. His blond hair and green eyes caught the pinpoints of light and reflected them back at her - those all-knowing eyes - glittering and dancing with devilment.
He patted the bed beside him, and picked up another glass of wine. "You'd better come here and unwrap your birthday present", he smiled.
Authors Note: This was originally written as a birthday present for Nin!
The waiter knocked sharply on the large mahogany door, but was not surprised when no response was forthcoming. He waited a moment, then quietly opened the door to the Churchill Suite with his passkey, and pushed the breakfast trolley into the room, its casters noiseless on the thick pile carpet.
The heavy, navy blue drapes were drawn back, the bright sunlight streaming in through the balcony doors and tall, wide windows. The double-glazed doors muted all but the faintest drone of traffic noise, and their large size gave a stunning view of London's Hyde Park, looking it's best on this glorious April morning, the trees just bursting into bud, the grass a vibrant, lush green, dotted with vivid patches of daffodils and the softer yellow of primroses. The faintest traces of the early morning mist could still be seen between the trees, wraith-like tendrils that were fast disappearing in the sunlight.
As he checked the contents of the breakfast trolley, the waiter's practiced eye took in the large room, with its navy leather Chesterfields and rosewood furniture.
A gentleman's jacket lay neatly folded on the back of one of the sofa's - Armani - he recognised the style. A gents gold Rolex and a bunch of car keys with a Jaguar key fob lay on the low coffee table, alongside a delicate ladies gold bangle. The items reflected the room, and no doubt its occupants, he thought with a small smile - rich, opulent, luxurious and tasteful. The faint scents of expensive after shave - Armani again, he thought - and a lighter, more feminine perfume, could just be detected in the warm room.
He swiftly cleared the two used glasses and empty wine bottle from the table, his smile widening slightly as the sounds of laughter and the running shower drifted out from the bathroom.
The waiter turned his head as the bathroom door opened and a man appeared, swathed in one of the hotel's navy blue terrycloth bathrobes.
"I thought I heard a knock", the man said with a pronounced American accent - definitely southern states, the waiter decided.
"Your breakfast, Sir" the waiter replied with a smile.
Brilliant green eyes surveyed him from beneath a neatly styled head of rich chestnut hair, still damp from the shower, almost curly, but not quite. The man reached into the pocket of the Armani jacket and withdrew a wallet, smoothly extracting a note and handing it to the waiter. "Much obliged ", he said, smiling.
The waiter accepted the tip with a polite dip of his head. "Thank you Sir - enjoy your meal." He withdrew from the suite, closing the door behind him soundlessly.
The brilliant green eyes redirected their gaze to the slightly open bathroom door. "Breakfast is here or are you still too hungry to eat?" he called softly.
The laugh he heard in response answered the question very effectively he thought, and left the trolley to the empty, sunlit room.
She was late.
Glancing at her wristwatch for what felt like the fiftieth time, she fidgeted restlessly on the back seat as the taxi nosed its way through the London rush-hour mayhem of traffic, noise and lights, like a black beetle through a firework display. Her taffeta dress rustled anxiously, and the cashmere stole kept slipping from her shoulders. Her new shoes pinched and her pinned-up hairstyle felt perilously close to collapse. The butterflies in her stomach made her feel slightly nauseous and her throat was dry as the Sahara.
What on earth was she doing here? She didnt know anything about opera, save that the tickets were horrendously expensive and the singing was usually in Italian. She took a deep breath, trying to calm her agitated nerves. She was going to make a complete fool of herself, and compound the felony by being late in the process.
The taxi turned left into Covent Garden and a solid throng of cars, and the golden-floodlit façade of the opera house filled the forward view, stark against the black sky. She almost gasped. She had passed it hundreds of times in daylight, but never really looked at it. At night the beautiful building came into its own, its Greco-Roman architecture reminding her of pictures of ancient temples.
Steady streams of people were moving up the wide, shallow steps, under the columns and into the open doors.
The taxi pulled to a halt and she climbed out, smiling nervously at the cabbie as she paid her fare.
"ave a nice evenin Miss", he grinned. She bestowed him with a glorious smile and he thought, not for the first time, how it was almost always the prettiest ones who were the most unaware of it.
Taking another deep breath of the chilly night air, she carefully lifted her long skirts so as not to trip over them, and made her way as quickly as she felt was elegant, up the steps, scanning the crowd with wide eyes.
He could see her. He had seen her cab pull up watched her step out, seen the eyes of a dozen or more people turn and gaze with frank admiration. He smiled. She couldnt see him yet. He waited until she was almost at the top of the steps, then stepped out from behind the pillar.
She stopped. Dead.
The black tuxedo made him look taller, if that were possible. Coupled with the brilliant white dress shirt and black water silk bow tie, the effect was startling. Her eyes widened.
He smiled again. She was slightly flushed, as if she had been rushing, her eyes round as saucers. The shimmering long gown made her look like Cinderella, he thought with a flash of humour. And every Cinderella deserved a Prince Charming.
"Im sorry Im late " she said in a rush.
The smile widened. "You look wonderful", he said as he took her hand, eyes holding hers.
The butterflies resettled calmly, the new shoes suddenly gave and the cashmere found its grip.
He had that effect on things, she thought.
The mass of people parted like the Red Sea, and they strolled into the foyer, aware of the mass of eyes upon them.
Suddenly, she didnt give a damn.
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