I wouldn't have noticed it if he hadn't pointed it out. The Peregrine seemed to me like any other fishing boat, painted white and battered by the ocean and its sun, salt and storms. We walked down the dock and boarded, and I found the deck and small enclosed cabin to be clean and well-maintained, although a bit dingy with wear.
"I know it's not much to look at," Cade said, "But I'm close to having her paid off and then I can look at growing my business a little."
"You mean more boats?"
He shrugged. "Maybe. I have a few options I'm considering. Haven't decided which way I intend to jump, though. Things could change, and I like to stay flexible."
For the next few minutes he showed me around, explaining the different screens and electronic equipment used for finding and tracking schools of fish.
"I thought only governments had these. I had no idea an ordinary guy could have his own sonar," I said.
"And echosounders." He grinned. "It's pretty standard in the industry, but if you haven't seen one before, it can seem kind of special."
"I suppose it's better than having to guess where the fish are. Or go to a lot of trouble to catch them only to find out they're not the right kind."
"Fishing has come a long way," Cade admitted. "There's a lot of science involved now. You still need to have an instinct for it, though. And you need to not mind being cold, wet and in danger. Lots of strange people in this business, too. No real vetting process. You could end up on a boat with just about anyone, and once you're out at sea, not much you can do about it. You learn a lot of tolerance out on the water."
"I would imagine so," I said. "There are a lot of strange people in my life too, but at least I don't have to live with them."
"It's an acquired skill," he assured me. "But there's no point acquiring it if you don't have to. Save your energy for more interesting things."
He showed me around the rest of his boat, including a small kitchen, cramped bunks that were rarely used for more than brief naps, and a vast hold where the catch had to be stored at just the right temperature and precise weight distribution so as not to tip the boat.
"If your cargo isn't balanced right, a storm or a rogue wave can tip you over just like that. and in the cold waters around here, you've got twenty minutes to live under optimal conditions. Most guys that happens to aren't so lucky."
Over the next half hour Cade told me more about fishing than I ever thought I'd want to know, but in his frank, unpolished way he made it seem, if not exactly fascinating, at least not dull. By the time he took a couple beers out of a fridge, I was feeling at home on the Peregrine and was content to sit with him near one of the windows and look out over the metallic gray water.
By now the sun was little more than a pale glow on the horizon. Sunsets aren't much to look at in Cold Harbor and I found myself longing for the vivid reds and golds of home instead of anemic silver. "Are the sunsets pretty in Maine?" I asked.
"Not as pretty as the sunrise, since the sun sets over land, not water." As if reading my mind, he added, "I miss home sometimes."
I didn't trust myself to answer, and only nodded.
"Maybe you'll let me show it to you someday."
I sat back, startled. "Maine?"
"Or just a pretty sunrise." He looked away, abashed. "Sorry if that was a little awkward. I don't spend much time around women. I'm out of the habit of knowing what's the right thing to say."
In that moment he looked so vulnerable that I forgot my worries, set my beer aside and scooted closer. "Offering to show me a pretty sunrise is just fine. I'm a little out of the habit of good manners myself."
He drew me into his arms and it felt like the most natural thing in the world to settle into the hollow of his body, warm and safe, watching the light fade from the sky while the boat gently bobbed with the waves. I wasn't prepared when he brushed his lips over my hair and then found the bare spot on my neck where my hair had fallen forward. The sensation was warm and electric. I froze for a moment, then felt his lips on my neck again, and a long-forgotten fire coursed through me. I turned and kissed him, my body and mind burning with a desire I had thought myself too jaded to feel any more. Cade pulled me to him, as hungry as I was, but then unbidden, Father Cash's warning repeated itself in my mind and brought me back to reality.
"I'm sorry." I pulled away and stood up, dizzy and weak in the knees. "I need to leave."
Cade reached for my hand. "I didn't mean for that to happen. Really. Please sit back down."
I shook my head. There was no way I could explain, so I gave the most classically lame excuse anyone has ever made for walking away. "It's not you, it's me." I grabbed my coat and headed out the door, but he followed me onto the deck.
"Let me at least walk you home, Judith."
"I'll be fine," I shouted, then I jumped onto the dock and started running. I ran through the docks, across the street, and into the warren of lanes and alleys full of fishing shops, chowder houses and pubs. Although I didn't hear any footsteps behind me, I kept going until I reached a familiar area. Brook Street and Gaslight Avenue weren't exactly the best part of town, but here I was on my own turf, and I slowed to a walk, trying to catch my breath.
What an idiot I had been. I had thought myself immune to men after going to bed with so many, but I was only fooling myself. From the moment I laid eyes on Cade at the dock, I had wanted him, and no amount of survival sex could change that.
But I wasn't the kind of girl Cade deserved. Father Cash was right about that. He was better off without me, and even friendship was a bad idea, since how could I just be friends when I wanted so much more?
As I walked the dingy streets toward home, my treacherous mind spun fantasies of what things could be like if only I were an ordinary waitress or bookkeeper, or better yet, if we had met before I had made so many costly mistakes with my life. Cade and I could travel the sea on his boat, or maybe get a little cottage together on the coast of Maine. We could be lighthouse keepers, supplementing our income with the revenue from a fleet of fishing boats. On sunny afternoons, I would sit outside and paint, and at night me and Cade—
"Hey, Judith. Been trying to reach you for the last hour. How come you're not answering your phone?"
I squinted at the darkness, scrambling to bring my mind back to reality as Arlo stepped out of the shadows.
"I got a job for you, if you want it. If not..." he shrugged.
So much for cottages in Maine. "Yeah, I want it," I said. The rent would soon be due and no amount of fantasizing was going to change my empty wallet. "Whatever you've got, I'm game."