"The main thing to remember is that here at Moon Bay, we consider our dolphins our guests. When you're swimming with them, don't turn and stalk them, because, for one thing, they're faster than you can begin to imagine, and they'll disappear on you in seconds flat. And also, they hate it. Let them come to youand they will. They're here because they're social creatures. We never force them to interact with peoplethey want to. Any animal in the lagoon knows how to leave the playing arena. And when they choose to leave, we respect their desire to do so. When they come to you naturally, you're free to stroke them as they pass. Try to keep your hands forward of the dorsal fin. And just strokedon't pound or scratch, okay?"
Alex McCord's voice was smooth and normalor so she hopedas she spoke with the group of eight gathered before her. She had done a lot of smiling, while she first assured the two preteen girls and the teenage boy, who looked like a troublemaker, that she wasn't angry but they would follow the rules. A few of her other smiles had been genuine and directed at two of the five adults rounding out the dive, the father of the boy and the mother of the girls.
Then there were her forced smiles. Her face was beginning to hurt, those smiles were so forced.
Because she just couldn't believe who was here.
The world was filled with islands. And these days the world was even filled with islands that offered a dozen variations of the dolphin experience.
So what on earth was David Denham doing here, on her island, suddenly showing an extraordinary curiosity regarding her dolphins? Especially when his experiences must reduce her swims to a mom-and-pop outing, since he'd been swimming with great whites at the Great Barrier Reef, photographed whales in the Pacific, fed lemon sharks off Aruba and filmed ray encounters in Grand Cayman. So why was he here? It had been months since she'd seen him, heard from him or even bothered to read any of the news articles regarding him.
But here he was, the ultimate ocean man. Diver, photographer and salvage entrepreneur extraordinaire. Six-two, broad shoulders bronzed, perfect features weathered, deep blue gaze focused on her as if he were fascinated by her every word, even though his questions made it clear he knew as much about dolphins as she did.
She might not have minded so much, except that for once she had been looking forward to the company of another manan arresting and attractive man who apparently found her attractive, as well.
John Seymore, an ex-navy SEAL, was looking to set up a dive business in the Keys. Physically, he was like a blond version of David. And his eyes were green, a pleasant, easygoing, light green. Despite his credentials, he'd gone on her morning dive tour the day before, and she'd chatted with him at the Tiki Hut last night and found out that he'd signed on for the dolphin swim, as well. He'd admitted that he knew almost nothing about the creatures but loved them.
She'd had a couple of drinks
she'd danced. She'd gone so far as to imagine sex.
here was David. Distorting the image of a barely formed mirage before it could even begin to find focus. They were divorced. She had every right to envision a life with another man, so the concept of a simple date shouldn't make her feel squeamish. After all, she sincerely doubted that her ex-husband had been sitting around idle for a year.
"They're really the most extraordinary creatures in the world," Laurie Smith, one of Alex's four assistants, piped up. Had she simply stopped speaking, Alex wondered, forcing Laurie to chime in? Actually, Alex was glad Laurie had spoken up. Alex had been afraid that she was beginning to look like a bored tour guide, which wasn't the case at all. She had worked with a number of animals during her career. She had never found any as intelligent, clever and personable as dolphins. Dogs were great, and so were chimps, but dolphins were magical.
"You never feel guilty, as if the dolphins are scientific rats in a labexcept, of course, that entertaining tourists isn't exactly medical research."
That came from the last member of the group, the man to whom she needed to be giving the most serious attention. Hank Adamson. He wasn't as muscled or bronzed as David and John, but he was tall and lithe, wiry, sandy-haired, and wearing the most stylish sunglasses available. He was handsome in a smooth, sleek, electric way and could be the most polite human being on earth. He could also be cruel. He was a local columnist, and he also contributed to travel magazines and tour guides about the area. He could, if he thought it was justified, be savage, ripping apart motels, hotels, restaurants, theme parks and clubs. There was something humorous about his acidic style, which led to his articles being syndicated across the country. Alex found him an irritating bastard, but Jay Galway, manager of the entire Moon Bay facility, was desperate to get a good review from the man.
Adamson had seemed to enjoy the dive-boat activities the day before. She'd been waiting for some kind of an assault, though, since he'd set foot on the island. And here it was.
"The lagoon offers the animals many choices, Mr. Adamson. They can play, or they can retire to their private area. Additionally, our dolphins were all born in captivity, except for Shania, and she was hurt so badly by a boat propeller that she wouldn't have survived in the open sea. We made one attempt to release her, and she came right back. Dolphins are incredibly intelligent creatures, and I believe that they're as interested in learning about our behavior as we are in theirs." She shifted focus to address the group at large. "Let's begin. Is there any particular behavior you've seen or experienced with the dolphins you'd like to try again?"
"I want to ride a dolphin," the boy, Zach, said.
"The fin ride. Sure, we can start with that. Would you like to go first?"
"Yeah, can I?"
She smiled. Maybe the kid wasn't a demon after all. Dolphins had a wonderful effect on people. Once, she'd been given a group of "incorrigibles" from a local "special" school. They'd teased and acted like idiots at first. Then they'd gotten into the water and become model citizens.
"Absolutely. One dolphin or two?"
"Two is really cool," David said quietly, offering a slight grin to the boy.
"Okay, in the water, front and center. Fins on, no masks or snorkels right now," Alex said.
The others waited as the boy went out into the lagoon and extended his arms as Alex indicated. She signaled to Katy and Sabra, and the two dolphins sleekly obeyed the command, like silver streaks of light sliding beneath the water's surface.
Zach was great, taking a firm hold of each fin and smiling like a two-year-old with an oversize lollipop as the mammals swam him through the water, finishing up by the floating dock, where they were rewarded as they dropped their passenger. Zach was still beaming.
"Better than any ride I've ever been on in my life!" he exclaimed.
"Can I go next?" one of the girls asked. Tess. Cute little thing, bright eyes, dark hair. Zach had been trying to impress her earlier. Tess opted for one dolphin, and Alex chose Jamie-Boy.
One by one, everyone got to try the fin ride. John Seymore was quieter than the kids, but obviously pleased. Even Hank Adamsonfor all his skepticism and the fact that he seemed to be looking for something to condemnenjoyed his swim.
Alex was afraid that David would either demurthis was pretty tame stuff for himor do something spectacular. God knew what he might whisper to a dolphin, and what a well-trained, social animal might do in response. But David was well-behaved, looking as smooth and sleek as the creatures themselves as he came out of the water. The only irritating thing was that he and John Seymore seemed to find a tremendous amount to talk about whenever she was busy with the others. Then, during the circle swim, David disappeared beneath the surface for so long that the two parents in the group began to worry that he had drowned.
"Are you sure he's all right?" Ally Conroy, Zach's mother, asked Alex.
"I know him," Alex told the woman, forcing another of those plastic smiles that threatened to break her face. "He can hold his breath almost as long as the dolphins."
David surfaced at last. Macy, the staff photographer, just shrugged at Alex. They made a lot of their research funding by selling people photos of their dolphin experiences, but Alex and Macy both knew David didn't need to buy any photos.
At that point, David and John began talking quietly in the background, as Alex got the others going on their chance for dolphin hugs and smooches. She couldn't hear what the two men were saying, but she was annoyed, and became more so when Hank Adamson joined the conversation. She found them distracting, but had a feeling she'd look foolish if she were to freak out and yell at the lot of them to shut up. It looked like a little testosterone party going. They were probably chatting about divingin a manly way, of course.
Why did it bother her so much? David was out of her life. No, David would never be out of her life.
The thought was galling. She had been able to see that the relationship wasn't working, that time wasn't going to change the facts about him, her or the situation. And they had split. She didn't regret the decision.
It's just that he was here again now, when she had a lovely minor flirtation going on, the most exciting thing she'd experienced since the divorce. And just because the object of her current affections seemed to be getting on with David as if they were long-lost friends.
"Hey," Zach whispered to her, his eyes alight, "those guys aren't paying any attention. The girls and I could sneak in and take their hugs, huh?"
She would have loved to agree. But no matter what it looked like Hank Adamson was doing, he was a reporter. One whose writing could influence the fate of Moon Bay. She had to play fair.
"I'd love to give them to you and the girls, but it wouldn't be right."
"Zach, you can take my place."
She hadn't known that David had broken away from his conversation.
She stared at him. "The girls would want an equal op portunity."
"Hey, I'll give up my time." That, amazingly, came from Hank Adamson. He grinned at Alex. "It's cool watching the kids have fun. Don't worryyou're getting a good write-up."
"I'll give up my hug, too," John Seymore told her, shrugging, a dimple going deep.
"Another round for the youngest members of the group, then," she said.
Finally the time was up. Alex went through her spiel about returning flippers, masks, and snorkels, telling the group where they could rinse off the brine and find further information on dolphins before heading off for whatever their next adventure might be.
John gave her a special smile as he stopped to thank her. "I was figuring I'd do it again, maybe check out a time when the groups weren't full. I don't have a thing in the world against hugs. Even from a dolphin."
She smiled in return, nodding.
"I think I have an in with the dolphin keeper," he added softly.
"You do," she assured him.
He turned, walking off. David had been right behind him. He'd undoubtedly heard every word. Now his dark blue eyes were on her enigmatically. She wished he wasn't even more appealing soaking wet, that thatch of impossibly dark hair over his forehead, bronzed shoulders gleaming. She wished there wasn't such an irresistibly subtle, too-familiar scent about him. Soap, cologne, his natural essence, mingled with the sea and salty air.
"Nice program you've got going," he said. "Thanks." Then he walked away. He didn't even shake her hand, as the others had. He didn't touch her. She felt burned.
"Thanks," she returned, though he was already too far away to hear her.
Alex whirled. Laurie was watching her worriedly.
"So hunky-dory I could spit," Alex assured her, causing Laurie to smile.
Then her friend cocked her head, set her hands on her hips and sighed. "Poor baby. Two of the most attractive men I've seen in a long time angling for your attention, and you look as if you've been caught in a bees' nest."
"Trust me, David is not angling for my attention."
"You should have seen the way he was looking at you."
"You were reading it wrong, I guarantee you."
Laurie frowned. "I thought the divorce went smoothly."
"Very smoothly. I don't think he even noticed," Alex told her ruefully. She lifted a hand in vague explanation. "He was in the Caribbean on a boat somewhere when I filed the papers. He didn't call, didn't protest
just sent his attorney with the clear message to let me do whatever I wanted, have whatever I wanted
. I was married, then I wasn't, and it was all so fast, my head was spinning."
"Well, that certainly didn't mean he hated you."
"I never said he hated me."
"Well.. want my advice?"
Laurie grinned. "That's because you've never been to a place like Date Tournament."
"I told you I was going the other day," Laurie said impatiently. "It's that new club in Key Largo. They've been doing it all over the country. You go, and you keep changing tables, chatting with different people for about ten minutes each. The idea isn't bad. I mean, there are nice guys out there, not just jerks. Some are heartbrokenlike me. And some are just looking. Imagine, the perfect person for me could walk by me in a mall, but we'd never talk. We never see someone and just walk up and say, 'Hey, you're good-looking, the right age, are you straight? Attached? Do you have kids? Do you like the water? We wouldn't last a day if you didn't.' So at Date Tournament, you at least get to meet people who are looking for people. Sexual preference and marital status are all straightened out before you start. You're not stuck believing some jerk in a bar who says he's single, gets more out of the night than a girl set out to give, then apologizes because he has to get home before his wife catches him."
Alex stared at her blankly for a minute. Laurie was beautiful, a natural platinum blonde with a gorgeous smile, charm and spontaneity. It had never really occurred to Alex that her friend had the least difficulty dating. Living at Moon Bay seemed perfect for Alex. She had her own small but atmospheric little cottage, surrounded by subtropical growthand daily maid service. There was the Tiki Hut off the lagoons for laid-back evenings, buffets in the main house for every meal, a small but well-run bookstore and every cable channel known to man. She thought ruefully that just because she had been nursing a wounded heart all this time, she'd had no reason to think the others were all as happy with celibacy as she was.
--This text refers to an alternate
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