Part Two of Reluctant Companions. Continued from last Friday:
Undergrowth rustling, banana tree quaking, the ground cover had swallowed whoever it was that had survived the fall. A part of her didn’t want to stick around to see what emerged from the forest floor, but her sense of philanthropy held in check her initial urge to turn tail and run. The banana tree shook violently, large elliptical leaves bending and disappearing into the undergrowth as though some great herbivore were consuming them.
It took Chellie another indeterminate amount of time to realize her jaw was slack, she gaping at the commotion in dread and morbid anticipation. Like a newborn colt standing for the first time, a specter of a man emerged from the plants, body slick and smeared with russet earth, hair drenched spaghetti-like in wild abandon. His frame struggled to attain upright stature in a curious combination of strength, embarrassment and anger. Whites of his eyes glowing in the dusk, he continued his colourful diatribe.
“Bleedin’ vines…snarlin’ round the f*ckin’–” His eyes snagged on her, expression escalating from irritation to rage. “And who the bloody hell are you?” He evaluated her face, his expression morphing in realization.
Her eyes had dropped to inspect him…the whole of him…filthy, wet and…“Shite,” he rasped again, yanking the banana leaves he held at his sides to cover his salient bits. The image of him was of a Michelangelo statue run through the mud particially covered by a mutant fig leaf.
She clung to reason just long enough to see the humor in it. She also couldn’t help but notice that the man was spectacular. In the light of the ascending moon, his skin looked like polished marble slick with sweat and dirt, but undeniably sculpted. The muddied effigy of his face was worth the price of admission alone. He was the most extraordinary surreal mixture of anger, self-reprimand and pure animal magnetism.
She finally answered his query. “The owner of this private estate. So take your damn banana leaves and get out.” Struggling to maintain an expression worthy of being taken seriously, she feigned a sudden need to wipe something at the corner of her mouth.
“So you’re a squatter as well as a liar.” He looked up at her in irritation. “I’ve the keys to prove you a liar.”
“What keys? There’s not a door within twenty miles.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. I’ve the true owner’s jeep parked just the other side of the stream.” He nodded toward the far end of the bungalow.
She leaned further over the railing in growing indignation. “And that’s supposed to convince me of your authenticity. ‘Man with a four wheel drive must be bad ass dude… the only possible owner of such an isolated retreat.’” She mocked him with a condescending lilt.
He moved forward, making his way to the stairs. “I’ve me bleedin’ gear in the bedroom too–.” He stopped speaking and paused half way up the steps, rotating one of the banana leaves to cover his rear. “Why the hell do I owe you any explanation? I’ve been here three days now and have no intention of sharin’ the surroundin’s with some…some…woman.” The final word he emphasized in disgust.
She instinctually backed away. He presented a very large, threatening countenance. Reaching for a cylindrical shape on the lanai table, she kept her eyes on him. Grasping it by Braille, she raised it over her head like a nightstick.
His expression changed from angst to humor. “What ya goin’ ta do, spray me to death, woman?” He snorted, tension draining from his body like sand through a sieve.
She shot a glance to the object in her hand. Bug spray?…shit! Raising it higher over her head, she shrieked, “Back off, buddy.”
His abdomen contracted in mirth. “Unless you’ve been trained in the modern martial art of fumigation, I think I’m safe.”
“Fine, smart ass, but you’re gonna have to…” She slid her eyes to his groin and back in one lightning glance, “…drop your leaves to get away from me.”
He folded over in a spasm of laughter. She moved toward him. In a blink, he recovered full stature.
“It appears we’re at a stand off.” He pulled the leaves tighter against his body. “Let’s compromise. You put the insect repellant back in its place and I shall relieve you of the substantial burden of havin’ a naked man on the doorstep.”
She lowered the can. “Now you’re talking. Five minutes to get your stuff and hit the road.” Moving to the side she raised her arm in reluctant invitation. “Well?” She motioned with her eyes for him to pass.
“I think you’ve misunderstood. It’s I who need time in the solar shower. You need to remain here on the lanai until I’m properly attired.”
“And why the hell do I have to wait for you to have on clothes?” She sneered.
“You’ll have to wait and see.” He strode past her and into the bedroom.
Placing the can back on the table, she stood a moment collecting her thoughts. Solar shower? She took a few steps toward the rice paper room dividers then stopped. Turning heel, she paced back to the lanai. What was some strange man doing inhabiting Rachel’s ex-boyfriend’s secret hideaway?
“Nobody ever comes here but Marvin and his latest.” She thought out loud. “Nobody knows it exists. Even the locals.” Rachel’s face of absolute certainty as she’d relayed details of the bungalow had been undisputable.
Yeah, no one but her and now the cab driver who’d somehow managed to get her here using Rachel’s map scrawled on the back of a paper placemat from Pann’s Coffee Shop in West L.A. She started to feel like a real chump. Evidently all those hours in law school hadn’t sharpened her powers of deduction. Rachel had wanted her gone, pure and simple. And here she’d thought her a pillar of virtue, offering her ace in the hole…a week in the illusive love nest alone. Nobody ever got to go to Marvin Gray’s legendary love shack, certainly not someone who hadn’t slept with him–multiple times.
Chellie lowered to sit on the top step of the lanai, absently twisting a strand of soggy hair into its natural corkscrew. “Why would Marvin send a man?”…a gloriously built man. This was the abode of seduction, conceived, designed and executed for one purpose: romancing women. Rachel had told her that despite its isolated local and lack of access to modern utilities, it had all the luxuries of home ingeniously incorporate in a completely ‘green’ way. So the fact that a solar shower existed made sense.
What didn’t make sense was this man. Nobody was supposed to be here. It was in the strictest confidence that she’d been allowed access. Only Rachel could have convinced Marvin to allow her to—“Damn,” she exclaimed. Maybe Rachel hadn’t told him. Maybe she was here unrealized. Rachel was sneaky that way, conveniently employing selective memory when it came to getting what she wanted. She rose to her feet and began to pace the floorboards of the lanai.
Maybe he was some tourist that happened upon the bungalow out exploring private beach access. A surfer…yeah. Maybe that’s why he hadn’t killed himself in that fall she’d just witnessed. No one but an athlete could have managed such a tumble without so much as a scratch. He moved with confidence, the compact grace of a competitor and lord knows he’d the body of one. No amount of mud and sweat could hide the fact that the man was an Adonis.
She glanced at her wrist to check the time. “Ten minutes?” How long did it take someone to wash off a little muck?
An image flashed across her internal screen. She – pushed into tight quarters with him, behind a freestanding wood partition. Rain showerhead suspended above, running her hands down the smooth straight groove of his backbone. Up and over solid graceful shoulder, flat and square in breadth. He slowly turning to face her, the muscles of his face held in repose only broken to open dark blue eyes. With a questioning lift of the brow, he invites her to partake in so much more.
“Snap out of it!” she blurted, pushing herself to stand. What the hell was wrong with her? Just because she’d not had a man in– “Geez, if you have to count months.” It had been way too long.
“I don’t even know who this guy is, besides the fact he’s obviously a Brit.” She struggled to focus on something real. (But, God, he was so real) Peering to the right, she saw the curve of a hammock strung from one palm to its neighbor in clear silhouette against the sky. Rain clouds blown inland, the remnant glow of the sun bounced off their underbellies illuminating the forest in an eerie bath of reddish gray. It and the rising moon provided a blanket, as a shimmering floodlight on the sea, beach and forest. ….
What was that hanging from the hammock? She strolled down the steps, approaching the intricately macraméd swag some twenty feet from the lanai. Shorts?…no a man’s swim trunks. He had been here before deciding to go it au natural.
“I’ll take those.” His voice of command stunned her. She snapped around to look at him.
He stood at the top of the steps, clean and clothed in kaki trousers and a thin white linen shirt, sleeves rolled to his elbows, front placard open to mid chest. The soft silver light illuminated his features clearly. No longer smeared with mud, his identity was now clear.
“Cameron McClain.” His name shot out before she’d the chance to consider the wisdom of playing this card of recognition.
“Aye. You say it with such certainty, I’m sure it’s now I at the disadvantage.”
She reconstructed a posture of authority. “It doesn’t matter who I am. Just that I have the right to be here.”
He leaned against the doorframe, folding his arms across his chest. “Funny, you don’t look a thing like Marvin.”
She tried to maintain an unruffled exterior. “I’m family.”
Cameron chortled. “The only family Marvin has are his law books, a well stocked bar and those horses of his in Malibu.”
Shit, this guy obviously had equal or greater knowledge. Out of her league. Better try something else. “He chooses his family carefully. Best way to do it…no blood ties.”
“So you’re his latest, eh?” He scrolled his eyes up and down her in suggestive evaluation.
“Stop what? miss, uh…miss flavour of the month.”
She stormed up the steps toward him. “I’ve never so much as–”
“Accepted expensive gifts without substantial payback, I expect.”
Eyes on fire, she broke into his personal space, fists clenched at her sides. “Look, bub. I’m not impressed or intimidated by celebrity. It certainly doesn’t give you license to be insulting. Now, do what you promised and get out.”
Unruffled, he gazed at her. “I believe you’ve misinterpreted again. I said I’d rid you of the naked man on your lanai, not vacate the premises.”
“Now you’re going to play semantics with me?”
Cameron pulled a mobile from his pocket. “Perhaps you’d rather I ring him.”
“Marvin. The real owner of this flat.”
Lunging for the phone, she intercepted his wrist. Clamping on, she reached to wedge the cell from his hand. He twisted, contorting her into a pretzel around him. She refused to let go.
Her body twisted over the top of his shoulder, her breasts slid across his back as he held onto his mobile for dear life. He hadn’t bargained on having the disruption of spectacular curves diminish his resolve to rid himself of this bothersome, if beautiful invader. The fact that the thin cotton of her dress clung to her like a second skin had already distracted, but physical contact was a little more than he had bargained. He released the tension in his grasp, lowering her back to the floor. A quick twist of the wrist and he’d broken her grip.
“Bully.” The epitaph shot from her like a rifle volley.
“Thief.” He countered, widening his eyes, raising brows in challenge.
“Why am I even trying to talk to you?” She stood in front of him, arms folding over succulent breasts. Visual stare down complete, she flapped her arms like some flustered foul and turned around in a circle. “Arrgh…men!”
A rumble of mirth exploded from him. Shit, now he’d blown it. She’d never take him seriously if he allowed her to get to him. He looked at the spidering melt of mascara that made the blue of her eyes mimic the colour of the sea. Wild cascade of dripping curls erupted from a knot haphazardly tied at her crown, the sleek slender curve of her shoulders made her look vulnerable and bird-like, the next moment strong and graceful as she puffed herself up in anger.
Folding arms across chest, he smothered the smirk he was sure leaked through his forced fury. Damn. He was losing it.
”Look,” he dropped his arms, leaning his weight on one leg. “It’s late, and you’re tired.”
“How the hell do you know that?” She ran index fingers under her eyes, further smearing the smudge of mascara. “Do I look that bad?’ She glanced around the room looking for something. A mirror?
“No. Quite enchanting, actually.” A smirk was definitely quirking the corner of his mouth now. “Look…I’ll even sleep on the bleedin’ futon for the night and drive you into town tomorrow. You can find a hotel room or book a flight back to—” He paused, watching her as she became suddenly self conscious. The water made her dress semitransparent, gossamer in effect; the small floral print pattern the only thing that saved it from being a complete expose of every line and curve. She jumped as though an electric current had shocked her. Grabbing the fabric at her chest, she waded it in tight fists, looking up into his eyes in mortification.
“Sorry…uh, let me get a towel for you.” He turned skirting the corner of the room divider. Yanking an edge of terrycloth from the open shelves, he hurried back to the lanai. Her back now to him, she was bent over, wringing the water from the ample material that comprising the skirt of her dress. “Sorry,” he said again, turning away before realizing he was not walking in on a naked woman.
She looked at him, hands returning to grasp the material at her chest. Lifting one arm tentatively toward him, her eyes beckoned. He tossed the towel to her.
“Thank you,” she said as a hotel guest might to a clerk. The expression on her face, reflected gratitude mixed with a dash of humor.
“I can offer you a shower, as well, if you like. Marvin’s seen to having quite a large solar storage unit out back–”
“How perceptive of you to notice that I need one.”
He dropped his shoulders. “Not what I meant. I’m just trying to be–”
“Hospitable? In my bungalow?”
He sighed in exasperation. “Can we leave that until tomorrow. I’ve been up since before dawn, running, swimming, doing work out back. I’m knackered.” He pointed toward the bedroom. “The facilities are five steps out the rear access. There are more towels along the wall on the shelf and there’s a bowl of fruit on the nightstand, if you’re hungry. I’m going to bed.” With that, he strode to the futon, unhitched it to flat and flopped down. Back to her, he stared at the bamboo wall. He closed his eyes, trying to make the feeling of her presence less vexing. She was indeed bothersome.
He heard her steps across the room, the rustling of something. Was that the bag she’d dropped to the floor? Lord, she must be peeling that soaked piece of cotton from her body. He punched the pillow under his head and ordered himself to stop thinking about it…about her. She was the damn intruder. So why did an image of her in scanty underwear appear before his closed eyes? He pressed his lids tighter. Nope, still there. Now she was running down the stretch of beach in front of the bungalow, long legs striding in graceful slow motion, skin bronzed and slick with water, breasts bouncing inside the flimsy constraints of that bra.
He opened his eyes. Yup, bamboo still there. At least the image of her was extinguished. Beads of sweat popped to his upper lip and hairline. The woman was definitely inspiring. His cock was hard as well. Go to sleep, you flippin’ div.
“Shit,” she hissed, reaching to grab her toe. She had not negotiated the edge of the ample oval platform bed as she strode around it headed for the exit.
“God damn man,” she held the throbbing digit in hand, hopping. Promptly losing her balance, she dropped in a heap on the bed.
Fine…now she was getting the sheets wet. I hate sleeping in a soggy bed. She pushed to her feet, toe still screaming. Limping for the doorway, her mind roiled. Chaotic thoughts ruled; anger at being bested by some egomaniacal actor, anger at stubbing her toe again, (Why couldn’t she ever learn to go around the corner of a piece of furniture unscathed?), anger at being isolated without being alone. Theme in common? Anger. Why was she so angry?
Stepping down the slippery wooden stairway, her bare foot touched the soft damp underbrush. The smell of rain-drenched foliage, floral bouquet, rich earthen loam intoxicated.The shadows were deep, every leaf gilded in the moonlight. Had she just stepped into the tropical equivalent of OZ?
A smile tugged at her mouth anger melting away. Now the intrepid explorer, she tiptoed her way toward the frond-covered structure that could only be the bathroom.
Stripping the sodden cotton from her body, she threw it over the top of one of the four screens assembled in a square? Hmmm…she wondered why one would need modesty screens, but then we were talking about Marvin Gray. He had to know that even the bimbos he brought here were, at the end of the day, women. And women need to have at least the illusion that they are partitioned from the prying, oft lecherous eyes of men.
Damn, she’d forgotten a towel. Too hard to get back into that dress. And he was asleep on the futon out in the living room. She’d be safe sneaking back in the way she came.
The night air was thick with humidity. She stepped over the soft cushion of plants, this time appreciating the feel of their coolness between her toes. Looking up into the canopy, silver light shining through the branches, she marveled at the disco mirror ball effect the breeze and the movement of leaves made as shadows shifted sprinkling tiny pools of light across the forest floor.
The whisper of leaves still muted by the heaviness of water, hummed in subtle accompaniment to the distant rumble of waves. She paused, drawing in the rich complexity of aromas carried on the scrubbed air.
“Grrrrrrr…—” split the serenity. Her breath caught, a sliver of ice sliding down her spine. “What the hell?” she whispered. The low rumble continued. It sounded like a dog the size of a four by four. No, it had to be bigger than that. A bear? Some wild animal, for sure. Her flesh went cold.
“chchchchchcoooo chchchcaaaaa” in throaty, Hebraic consonants, and at a volume so outrageous her ears seemed to crack into shards. ….
She bolted toward the doorway like a sprinter starting an Olympic event. Her impact against a large body just inside the shadow of the bungalow knocked her to the floor.
Part Three…Next Friday
Image by C London