But you expect me to
Jump up on board with you
And ride off into your delusional sunset
"King of Anything," Sara Bareilles
Peace lasted for a grand total of the first three days of our honeymoon. The gigantic Presidential suite in this seriously stupendous hotel on a secluded Tahitian beach had definitely been selected with great thought given to privacy. For any other newlywed couple, "privacy" would refer to the ability to walk around naked for ten solid days and not have to worry about anyone but your new spouse seeing you.
Oh, and having hot, jungle sex without anyone hearing or seeing anything.
For River and me, the promise of privacy for the suite was to ensure that no one would hear us screaming obscenities at each other or worse. It's kind of sad how no one expected us to actually get along and thought the worst.
Yet, surprisingly, we made it through three days without speaking in tones higher than usual. Not that we spoke to each other more than letting the other know that they could use the shower or when we ordered room service for every meal, but still. It was an improvement.
I bet the hotel staff thought we were having the sexual marathon of our lives, since neither of us left the enormous suite.
In reality, I worked on my tan on the private beach, read as much trashy chick-lit as Luca had managed to stuff in my suitcase, and toyed with writing new songs for the band. River mostly slept, stared intently at his laptop, or wandered around on the beach, plugged into his iPod. Occasionally, I saw him sitting with a thick, well-worn notebook, scribbling away.
On the fourth day, though, I woke and realized that I was alone in the suite. On my way to the shower, I glanced out the window, expecting to see River on the beach and was surprised to find the entire area empty. Had he actually wandered into town without me? Wandered into town, where the possibility of lurking paparazzi existed? Wandered into town without his new bride when we were supposed to be on our honeymoon?
If he wasn't back by the time I got out of the shower, I was going to track him down, kill him, and bury his body in the ocean, tying it down with heavy bags of…something or other.
Sure enough, forty-five minutes later, River was still nowhere to be found. Steeling myself to find the idiot, I fluffed out my still-damp hair, slicked on lip gloss, slid into a comfy pair of flip-flops, and headed out of the suite. I hoped I wasn't giving off any I'm-going-to-murder-my-new-husband vibes and just the concerned new-bride-looking-for-her-husband vibes.
At least I looked fabulous with my new tan and the hints of sun-bleached blond in my usually dark hair.
Of course, as stealthy as I tried to be, I ran into hotel staff at every turn, and, somehow, all of them knew my name.
"Good morning, Mrs. Andrews! You look beautiful today! I hope you and your husband are enjoying your stay with us," every single maid, bellboy, and management official I ran into greeted me with. I was tempted to just ask them where River was, since there was no way he could've slipped by them without the same treatment. I didn't ask, though, since I knew, knew, that it would seem just a tad suspicious and end up being leaked to some gossip site.
I had no desire to hear Mr. Andrews' disappointed voice on the phone.
Sighing inwardly, I stepped out of the hotel and, waving aside the doorman's offer of a chauffeured car—hot damn, this was the life!—I ambled toward the brightly colored buildings down the street. The sun was shining in an unbelievably blue sky with no hints of clouds, and the green of the palm trees and tropical foliage was so brilliant it felt unreal. I'd never smelled flowers so strongly anywhere else, but the air was so rich with it that I felt like I was walking through clouds of sumptuous perfume. I could practically feel it seeping into every pore of my skin, and, if it wasn't for the fact that there were a ton of people in California that I loved, I would want to shirk all my duties and stay here forever.
Forgetting my primary, gruesome task, I hummed to myself, trailing my fingers over the bright flowers that speared up out of the green along the sidewalk. This honeymoon was turning out to be a lot better than I'd thought it would be, I mused. Maybe this marriage wouldn't be so bad after all. River and I would just pretend to be roommates in the big house that his parents had bought for us to live in.
Thinking that, I entered the bustling marketplace and was assaulted with dozens of scents and sounds—not to mention the sights. It didn't take too long for me to totally forget about River as I haggled with a shopkeeper over a hand-crafted necklace that I knew Dawn would love. Of course, I ended up paying more than I might have paid had I not been a silly American with zero bargaining skills, but the jewelry-maker probably deserved every cent because the necklace was a beauty.
After buying the necklace, I wandered some more, debating whether I should go for tropical fruit for breakfast or the delicious-looking pastries I'd seen another woman hawking.
Then, I saw the pearls. I could hear my heart go splat in my chest as I fell for them and then winced because I knew there was no way I could afford Tahitian pearls that had been plucked from the perfect clams found in the nearby ocean. Not unless I wanted to sell my soul.
So I stared at them, ran my fingers over them, nearly drooled, while the stall owner tried to sell them to me in broken English. He clearly thought I was a wealthy American, and I'm sure the extravagant wedding set on my left hand helped that assumption along. His wizened old face, dark from the sun and wrinkled with age, looked delighted, and I started to feel guilty for leading him on as I stroked my fingers over the beautiful pearls.
I could feel the forlorn expression growing on my face, and I turned to the man, ready to apologize and tell him that the pearls were exquisite but that I really couldn't buy them.
"Is that your best price?" a voice, tinged with a British accent, spoke from behind me, startling me, before I turned to find a rather attractive man smiling charmingly at me before he spoke to the pearl merchant rapidly in a language I couldn't decipher.
Too surprised to do anything else, I studied the stranger with windblown dark blond hair. His eyes were hidden by sunglasses, but he had a really nice smile and a pleasantly deep voice. He wore a dark green t-shirt that showed off a leanly muscled body—be still my heart!—and khaki shorts.
"Here," he said to me after several moments and passed me a velvet pouch. "Lovely pearls for a lovely woman."
I managed to keep my jaw from dropping as I cradled the incredibly expensive gift to me. "You—I—You shouldn't have," I sputtered as he cupped a hand under my elbow and led me away. "You don't even know me!"
"Aubrey Jennings, right?" Mystery man beamed the smile at me again, and I nearly melted before realizing he knew my name.
I eyed him suspiciously, yanking my elbow out of his grasp. "Excuse me? Are you a member of the rabid press? Were you lurking outside the hotel and followed me out here?"
He held up his hands, supposedly in peace. "Good lord, I don't remember you being this prickly." He slipped off the sunglasses, and his gray eyes met mine. "Aubrey, you really don't remember me?"
The eyes did it for me, and this time, when my knees wobbled, it had nothing to do with surprise. "Daniel," I whispered, even as the memories of the last time I'd seen him filled my head and threatened to make me burst into tears and crawl into a dark cave. "Oh, god. Daniel."
Clearly, he was fast on his feet because he slid an arm around my waist and guided me out of the market. It took a few minutes for him to find a spot that wasn't crowded, and we sat silently on a bench for several long moments while I worked on finding my composure again.
Of all the people that I never thought I'd see again, Daniel Templeton, and, really, any other member of the Templeton family, was top of the list. Because seeing him made me feel like I was regressing back to my junior year of college, complete with the accompanying feelings of despair, heartbreak, and grief, I straightened my shoulders and swallowed the lump in my throat.
"Of all the places in the world, Daniel," I began, keeping my voice as steady as possible, "what are you doing in Tahiti?"
He smiled, looking a bit relieved, probably, that I wasn't going to fall apart. "A little business, a little pleasure. We're having ourselves a Templeton family reunion here this week." He paused. "I'd stay away from the southwestern area of the island if I were you," he added grimly.
"Yeah, I'm sure your mother would shoot me on the spot," I muttered, wishing that didn't bother me.
Daniel opened his mouth to reply but was cut off.
"So I'm not allowed to run off with other women, but my wife can spend time with other men? And on our honeymoon, no less?"
I nearly groaned as I twisted my head to find River glancing between Daniel and me, displeasure clear across his face. "I'm not the one who left the suite without telling me."
"I didn't want to interrupt your beauty sleep. If I'd known I'd find you in secluded corners of the island with other men, I wouldn't have left at all." River's voice was remarkably easygoing, despite his words.
Daniel's expression was clearly confused, so I sighed a little, laying a hand on his arm. "Daniel, this is my, uh, husband, River Andrews. River, Daniel's an old" I stumbled for a second "-friend. From college."
"Pleasure." Daniel held out his hand. "Congratulations on marrying Aubrey. She's terrific, isn't she?"
River shook Daniel's hand, and his eyes flicked over to me for a moment. "Absolutely. You an ex of hers?"
"River!" I hissed and was surprised when Daniel chuckled.
"No, we really were just friends. I would've been incredibly lucky to date her, though. I suppose that's moot now that the two of you are married." Daniel stepped back and squeezed my shoulder slightly. "I should go, but it was lovely to see you again, Aubrey. I hope we'll meet again soon."
I couldn't quite help myself and yanked him into a hug, burrowing in when his arms held me close. "I'm sorry," I whispered into his ear. "I'm so sorry."
Daniel leaned back and tucked a piece of my hair behind my ear. "What for? It was out of any of our hands, Aubrey. He wouldn't want you to beat yourself up for it this long." He pressed his lips to my forehead lightly. "Be happy, Aubrey."
Then, releasing me, he nodded to River. "Enjoy the rest of your trip, and best wishes again to both of you."
When he was gone, River turned to me, eyes narrowed. "What aren't you telling me, Aubrey?"
"Nothing. Daniel's an old friend." Heart heavy, I started walking back in the direction of the hotel and wasn't surprised when River fell into step beside me and took my hand.
"That didn't look like nothing," he muttered.
I sighed and tried to find my temper. "Where did you go this morning?"
He shrugged. "Exploring. I've never been to Tahiti, and I was sick of just seeing our suite and that small slice of the beach."
"Find anything interesting?" At the grin on his face, I rolled my eyes. "Besides the scantily clad women, River."
River smirked a little before giving me a charming, and slightly disarming, smile. "Oh, yeah. We're going to have ourselves an adventure this afternoon."
"You have got to be fucking kidding me."
River continued to allow the attendant to strap him into his safety harness and shot me a grin. "This is going to be awesome, Aubrey. Don't be such a Debbie Downer!"
I've done crazy things in my time, I've risked my limbs and life before…but this was one of those things that I had absolutely no desire to ever do in my life. Ever.
"Over my dead body am I putting on that contraption and getting into that water," I told him matter-of-factly. "You can go and risk getting mauled, but I will keep my nice and healthy body just that. Nice and healthy."
River flicked a glance over me, head to toe, and I resisted the urge hunch my shoulders. "Well, you've got that right, Aub. You do have a nice body."
"Shut up," I hissed low enough for only River to hear me.
"Look, I researched this already, okay?" He sat to tug flippers onto his feet. "Sharks in Tahitian waters aren't aggressive like sharks in other parts of the world. Nothing's going to happen to you." He looked up at me, blue eyes sincere. "I can't do this without a diving partner, Aub, so quit whining, put the damn suit on, and let's go."
I could see myself ignoring his little speech and walking away. I could just go back to the hotel, put on a bathing suit, and sun myself on our beach. Just me, the sun and surf, and a book or my songbook. I wouldn't have to worry about this being my last day on earth, wouldn't have to be concerned over whether a hammerhead shark would rip me to pieces.
Of course, I probably wouldn't hear the end of it from River, who would absolutely taunt me about being too scared to swim with the sharks.
Swearing under my breath, I snatched the wetsuit from the attendant who helpfully held one out to me. "I will get you back for this, River. Don't think I won't."
"You won't regret this, Aubrey. You'll see." He smirked at me and pushed a pair of goggles onto his head.
It was awkward to walk with flippers on my feet, but I stumbled my way aboard the little speedboat that would take us to shark-infested waters and then monitor us while we were swimming with the fishies and, hopefully, avoiding getting attacked. According to River, we could get close enough to the sharks to take pictures of them, which explained the water-proof camera he'd gone out and bought and was now hooking around his neck.
I was not-so-secretly hoping that he'd snap a picture and piss off a shark, ending our little thrill-seeking expedition early.
I shook my head at myself. I'd been having such negative thoughts all day, and that wasn't entirely like me. Not even when it involved River. I guess running into Daniel had left a dark stain on my mood, and I didn't appreciate the fact that my past mistakes were bleeding over into my present. Maybe this diving trip would work to shift my thoughts away from the darkness of the past. I glanced over at River, who was nearly peeing his pants from excitement.
Maybe there would be some bright sides to this idiotic idea of his.
When we were far enough out from the shore and in an area above a coral reef, we were given instructions and safety precautions for our dive. I'd been diving before, so it wasn't difficult for me to remember how to breathe properly with the scuba equipment. When we were deemed ready, River and I sat on the edge of the boat, flippers brushing over the water.
"Ready for this?" River's eyes danced gleefully behind his goggles, and I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Most women would kill to be in my place with this man, but that was just because they didn't know what kind of idiot he really was.
"You're going to owe me."
He waved it off. "Fine, fine. We can do something you want tomorrow and call it even."
I looked back down at the water. "You better have taken out plenty of insurance on this, pal."
I didn't receive a response. Instead, River grabbed my hand and dragged us both into the water.
Since he'd caught me by surprise, I hadn't prepared myself to breathe properly, so I sputtered for a few seconds before catching my breath and breathing in the oxygen from the supply on my back. River was already swimming happily through a school of colorful fish that was passing by, and he shot me a thumbs up. I responded by slashing a hand across my throat and pointing at him, eyes narrowed.
The jerk just shrugged and swam away, gesturing for me to follow. Grudgingly, I did.
It took me a few minutes, but the beauty of the coral reef won out over my annoyance with my husband. There were dozens of species of fish, all more colorful than the next, and none of them seemed overly bothered by the fact that we were swimming in their midst. I reached out a hand and cupped one as it scuttled by me. It seemed confused for a second before it wiggled off my hand and swam away.
Fun, I thought, grinning around the mouthpiece. River caught my eye and wiggled his brows. I ignored him. He'd probably be singing, "I told you so!" for the rest of the trip.
We'd been down there for about fifteen minutes when the first shark swam silently by, its dark shadow being the only thing alerting us to its presence. River scrambled to get a picture, while I tried to make myself as small and still as possible. I didn't care if these sharks supposedly weren't as aggressive as in other parts of the world. They still had sharp teeth and could rip me to pieces, right?
Over the next several minutes, I stuck close to River's side as six more sharks of various kinds threaded through the waters we were in. I recognized a hammerhead but wasn't really sure what the others were. River just snapped picture after picture, seemingly in heaven.
What was the deal with men and danger anyway? It must be a testosterone thing, I mused.
Our two hours underwater were coming to an end soon, and, when a few minutes had passed without a shark sighting, I drifted away from River to examine the reef and its assortment of underwater plants, which were pretty cool. My hand brushed over a feathery purple plant and grinned when tiny fish scattered out of its leaves. I'd never seen fish smaller than goldfish before, and I could reluctantly admit—to myself, not to River—that this had been a fun idea. The water was gorgeous and clear, and the wildlife under the sea was not to be missed.
I wasn't sure what made me look up, but I turned my head in River's direction and saw his panicked expression. Frowning, I began to swim closer to him, wondering what was making him wave his arms like crazy, his eyes wild with fear as he swam frantically towards me, too.
Before I could reach out a hand to him, pain slashed through me in a jagged lightning bolt of sensation. I lost my breath and stared in dull horror at the spear sticking out of my shoulder. Blood turned the water around me into a crimson haze, and I felt River grip my waist, the expression in his eyes one that I'd never seen before.
When I felt the spear begin to slide hideously out of me, I gagged, the mouthpiece falling away from my lips. I inhaled seawater, and everything went black.
I smelled the flowers first. It was dark, and I smelled flowers and had no idea where I was. Of course, I also wasn't fully awake and had yet to open my eyes.
Then, I felt the pain in my shoulder. It was throbbing—dully, not the sharp pain I'd felt when…
I remembered what had happened. My eyes flew open and, if it hadn't been for the pain, I would've jerked up in shock.
Instead, I found myself lying on fluffy pillows in a large, comfortable bed that was clearly not the one from my hotel suite. My eyes scanned the room frantically, and I noted the IV drip next to the bed, the dozens of bouquets around the room, and my husband, slumped in a chair next to me.
I don't know if I whimpered from the pain or not, but River's eyes popped open, and he practically glued himself to the bed.
"You're awake! Hang on, hang on. I'm going to get a doctor!" He patted my hand awkwardly and rushed away.
So I was in a hospital, I realized before I couldn't think over the pain anymore. It felt like my shoulder had been ripped open and a chunk of skin and muscle had been gored out of me. Thinking back, I supposed that was basically what had happened.
I squeezed my eyes shut and clenched my fists as if to strangle the pain out of me. I heard the door open again, and River's voice as well as a woman's much more calm one speaking.
"…pain…give her something!" River sounded more worried than I'd ever heard him sound. It was probably guilt. Good. He'd better feel guilty for putting me in this mess.
Someone fiddled with the catheter on the inside of my elbow, and, suddenly, it felt like a blissful numbness started spreading through my arm on my injured side. Soon, breathing became easier, and I opened my eyes and looked into River's worried ones.
"Don't worry," I told him. "You can't get rid of me that easily, you know."
He shut his eyes for a moment before opening them again. This time, his expression was lighter. "Damn. That's too bad. Guess I'll just have to try again, huh?" But the look on his face faltered, and he pinched the bridge of his nose. "Holy crap, Aubrey. Holy crap. I nearly had a heart attack when that swordfish speared you. Fucking fish. I thought you were going to die."
I was surprised by his concern and turned the hand he was holding over to link my fingers with his and squeezed his hand. "So it was a swordfish? All I saw was the thing sticking out of my shoulder." I glanced down at where bandages peeked out from under the sleeve and neck of the hospital gown. "How bad is the damage? How long was I out?"
River sighed, running a hand through his hair wearily. "You were unconscious for almost eighteen hours. The doctors said something about how it was to be expected because you lost a lot of blood. You're going to have stitches for a few weeks," he added. "It did some damage to your shoulder muscle, so that's going to be weak for a while and possibly need some physical therapy."
"All because you needed your thrill-seeking, testosterone-filled adventure, huh?" I tried to tease him, but, for once, his expression remained serious.
"I am so sorry, Aubrey. This really was all my fault. Just tell me what I can do to make it up to you. Seriously. Anything."
Usually, this is would be an irresistible offer from my enemy numero uno, but I just couldn't do that when it looked like he'd been ripping himself apart and beating himself up for it already.
"I'm starving. Like, 'I need a giant hamburger' starving." I managed a smile for him. "Think you can make that happen?"
"Give me ten minutes," he promised.
AN: So a 5 month break between updates is better than two years, right? Right? I really am trying to find time in between grad school, work, and life in general to work on this story because I really do love its premise, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE all of you who review, even though I'm the bitch writer who has a hard time responding to reviews. Just know that I do appreciate every single review or not, since I love all of my lurkers, too! Thanks for sticking with this story even after all of this time!