VIVIAN’S RETURN by Tracy Cooper-Posey
A Go Get ’em Women Story
Romantic Suspense Novel
Seven years ago she left, abruptly. Why is she now back?
For five years Vivian and Paul were together, constantly challenging each other to greater and more daring feats. Paul flew helicopters and often helped in sea searches and rescues. Vivian won championships in all the dangerous sports—windsurfing, scuba diving, rock climbing and flying. Through it all, Paul was right there beside her.
Until suddenly and without explanation, after a sea rescue that went horribly wrong, Vivian left town.
Seven years have passed and Vivian has returned. Why is she back? And what will happen when she meets Paul?
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EXCERPT FROM VIVIAN’S RETURN
COPYRIGHT © TRACY COOPER-POSEY 2012
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Geraldton, Western Australia. Today.
Against the vivid red and orange flames of Atlanta burning, Scarlett stood indignantly with her fists on her hips, watching a distant Tiger Moth plane fly out of her life. Gone With The Wings, the poster’s title proclaimed.
The mounted poster hung against an otherwise empty wall. The opposite wall was dominated by a clock with a five-foot diameter. The hands of the clock were old propeller wings and they both lay over the “1” mounted directly onto the wall.
Between the two walls lay a wide cool expanse of dark green linoleum, redolent with wax and good care. Two thirds of the room was divided by an old-fashioned wooden shop counter, complete with flap and swing door and behind the counter stood an eclectic collection of battered tin, steel and wood office furniture. Against one wall stood a scarred student desk, holding up an impressive array of state-of-the-art electronic radio equipment.
At one desk sat a man as old and knocked-about as the chair he slouched in. He was hunched over a newspaper, his chin resting on both fists. The pose was a familiar one.
Vivian shook her head. “Some things never change, do they?”
The grizzled head behind the chipped counter jerked up and the crinkled eyes focused on her, then widened. “Vivvy! Vivian Galloway…my little vixen.” Morris got to his feet, pushed aside the counter flap and crossed to where she stood by the door. “Come here and give me a hug, you gorgeous creature.”
Laughing, Vivian threw her arms around him, feeling bubbles of delight well up inside. Even if nothing else good came of it, her return to Geraldton would be worth it just for this moment. Morris was—had been—dear to her.
She stepped back and they both began talking at once, tripping over each other’s words, laughing at each other and trying to sort out who would talk first, babbling inanities. Finally they both became silent, smiling at each other.
Abruptly, Morris’ craggy face fell, shadowing as if the sun had slipped behind a cloud. “Hell’s bells,” he said softly. “Don’t tell me you’re the relief pilot they sent us?”
Vivian frowned. “No.” She looked over Morris’ shoulder, through the large observation window to where a five-seater helicopter sat on the helipad, the rotors bowed forlornly. It was a Gazelle. “You’re waiting for a pilot?”
Morris nodded and swore softly under his breath. “The damned man is late and we’ve got a situation on our hands…”
“So what’s new?” Vivian asked with a smile. “I can’t ever remember stepping in here when there wasn’t something happening. Is time critical?”
He nodded. “Everyone’s at lunch, I’m left to run the radio when all hell breaks loose. The Port Authority’s got a lost catamaran. It prob’ly got caught up in the trade winds and blown out to sea. They want us to go out and spot the damn thing before the people on it flip it trying to run against the wind.”
“I’ll go up and spot it for you,” she said, heading for the counter flap.
“You know Gazelles, then?” Morris asked calmly.
Vivian grinned at him over her shoulder. “I own one.” It was almost true. The bank still had a huge interest in it.
Morris grinned back at her. He crossed to the counter and reached over it for a key ring hooked on the peg board at the end of the counter. “They’ve been out of sight for thirty minutes now, so they’ll be well north. Can you remember your landmarks?”
“It’s only been seven years, Morris,” she chided, reaching for the key ring he held out.
“I’ll take those keys, thank you,” said a new, quiet voice.
They both turned toward the front door and the voice. Just inside the slowly shutting glass door stood a tall man, with blue-black hair. His black eyes were the most dominant feature, tending—as they were now—to stare without wavering or compromise. Sharp cheekbones marked the vertical plane of his cheeks and the smooth olive skin covered a square jaw every bit as daunting as the eyes.
He was staring at Vivian, his gaze boring into her.
The stare of a panther. Vivian had locked gazes with a black panther at the zoo, once and this man’s stare was every bit as intimidating as that one. There wasn’t a skerrick of compassion in his eyes.
“Hello, Paul,” she said softly, trying to still her heart as it fluttered under the impact of surprise. Get a grip, she told herself. She’d known she was going to see him sooner or later. It was just that he’d sneaked up on her, as she had done with Morris.
Paul folded the sunglasses in his hand and slid them into the breast pocket of the charcoal gray jacket of his suit. “Vivian,” he acknowledged. His voice was still quiet. It was a cold quietness, not born of reticence but remoteness. She could sense steel behind the calm countenance, the way he held his body so still and kept his shoulders squared.
Well, she hadn’t expected him to fall all over her. Anger was just about what she deserved.
Behind him, the door opened again. “I told you they were under the seat—” a young, sweet voice began and stopped as the speaker stepped into the office and sensed that something out of the ordinary was happening.
Vivian glanced at the girl. Woman, she corrected but only just. She was a young and very pretty blonde, dressed in formal office attire. Vivian resisted the desire to pull at her own travel-creased shorts and T-shirt and squashed the impulse to pat at the thick bronzed braid of hair falling down between her shoulder blades. She had no need to feel inferior in her casual clothes. She had been driving all morning.
The blonde’s blue eyes glanced from Paul to Vivian, puzzled. Vivian could see she was alerted by Paul’s unnaturally still posture and had correctly attributed the change to Vivian. The blue eyes narrowed and she lowered the manila files she had been brandishing. “Hello,” she said. “Can we help you?”
Her words seemed to break the tension that had gripped the room. Paul stirred and looked at the blonde. “Jenny, this is…an acquaintance of mine—ours,” he corrected, glancing at Morris. “Vivian Galloway. Vivian, this is Jenny O’Connor, our receptionist and radio operator.”
Vivian painted a smile on her face. “Hello.”
Jenny’s eyes widened. After a small, hardly noticeable pause she nodded and smiled back. The smile was stiff and professional.
She recognizes my name, Vivian thought.
Morris spoke up. “Paul, the Port Authority wants us to go look for a missing catamaran. Vivian was about to take the Gazelle up for us.”
“So I gathered,” Paul replied in the same even, controlled voice. “Where’s the relief pilot?”
“He hasn’t shown up yet.”
“I don’t mind—” Vivian said quickly.
“I’ll go,” Paul decided, not even looking at her. He held one large hand out for the keys, which Morris tossed to him. “Morris, you keep looking for that relief pilot. Jenny…”
He turned to the girl, who hadn’t left his side. He picked up her hand. “Thank you for your company at lunch,” he said gently, looking into her eyes. “I’ll talk to you later, all right?”
Vivian forced herself to look away, a small dart of pain spearing her. Paul had always treated her like a lady too.
She felt a small movement of air around her bare legs as the counter flap was pushed aside and looked up, straight into Paul’s eyes. He stood, holding the flap aside with his leg, one hand on the counter, the key ring threaded onto the forefinger. His gaze flicked away from her, as if he couldn’t quite look her in the eye, then came back to settle firmly on her face. “Whatever the reason for your return, it will have to wait. Right now, I have an emergency to deal with.”
Then he was gone, striding out through the door that led onto the helipad and swinging himself up into the helicopter with the lithe grace she remembered so well.
Vivian watched the helicopter take off, Paul’s figure obscured behind the tinted glass of the cabin. She winced against the noise of the engine despite the muffling effects of double glazing, padded doors and thick insulation. When the helicopter had disappeared from sight behind one of the huge wheat silos on the wharf, she turned and caught Morris watching her.
“Well, he’s happy to see you,” he remarked.
Vivian grimaced. Morris didn’t need an answer. She glanced at Jenny, to check the girl’s reaction to what had just happened.
The blonde was sitting in front of the radio, wearing headphones and adjusting the set with a competence that surprised Vivian. She began speaking as Vivian watched, her voice soothing and pleasant.
Vivian turned away, unsettled. There were changes over seven years. She had expected that but not the differences she had found. Morris had grown old. Paul had grown remote. He had developed some polish too. The suit and the general air of success was an improvement over the man who’d spent his days in jeans and kept his long hair pulled out of the way with a leather thong.
Yet some things hadn’t changed at all. Paul was still dashing off on his mercy missions, forcing her to remain behind. He was still blinkered, his perception limited to his version of how life worked. Unlike Morris, Paul hadn’t for a moment thought that she might be the relief pilot for whom they were all anxiously awaiting. The possibility wouldn’t have occurred to him.
Vivian took a quick stock of her feelings. She had spent the last week wondering how she would feel when she saw Paul again. Now she had seen him. In what state had her feelings emerged from the encounter?
Thank goodness…I don’t love him like I used to. The thought was tinged with relief.
She turned to Morris and smiled. “Morris, is that old motel down on the Point still running? And where can I get scuba tanks refilled? Oh and is that Mexican restaurant on the wharf still doing takeaway? I haven’t had lunch yet and I’m starving.”