Authors: Lisa Mondello
His words gave her some measure of comfort and, despite her fear, she felt a smile tug at her lips. When her feet hit the rough weathered boards of the dock, she said, “If I have to be doing this with someone, I'm glad it's you.”
Gil stopped and turned to her. “Are you sure?”
“Positive. Since I've been in Colombia, I've prayed to the Lord for safekeeping. I think He answered me by sending you.”
“Lest you forget, I'm the one that kept you from getting on the plane to Miami.”
“I'm not talking about the plane.”
She gazed up into his eyes and saw him grasp what she was trying to tell him. She felt a connection to him so powerful that it rivaled the force of a hurricane.
“Hey, we have Him on our side, too,” she said. “Between you and the Lord, how much more safe can a girl be?”
She felt his smile against her lips as he kissed her. It wasn't that quick, sharp kiss she'd given him at the airport when they'd been detained by the guards. This one was gentle, steeped with emotion that threatened to sweep her away and make her forget her reason. Just like the kiss they'd shared in the courtyard last night.
She knew she was safe following this man wherever he led.
onny's lips were as soft as he remembered. The warm air of the Caribbean Sea stirred her hair around her face as he kissed her. This felt good and right and where he wanted to be. Yet there was still so much uncertainty ahead of themâhe had to stay focused. So he reluctantly pulled away.
Finding his voice, he looked into her eyes. “We need to go. I want to be out at sea before first light. Far enough away so that we aren't visible from the shore.”
Sonny's eyes glowed from the moonlight. Her lips were moist from their kiss and he resisted the urge to touch them. He wanted to hold her in his arms. He loved the way she fit so perfectly against him. But this wasn't the right time.
“Okay,” she said, her voice as gentle as the warm breeze bathing him. “Let's do it.”
“You amaze me.”
“Your conviction that everything is going to be all right is so strong,” he said. “You don't waver at all. You're ready for anything.”
“Not anything. There are a lot of things I'm not ready to face. And I won't. That makes me a coward.”
He chuckled. “I don't think anyone would use the word
to describe you, Sonny Montgomery.”
He took her by the arm and led her down the quiet dock, unsure of what lay ahead of them.
Gil knew the Lord would be a guide for them and that her feelings of faith were strong. He just wasn't sure he was worthy of her faith in
Especially since he had no idea if they'd ever make it to Puerto Rico.
“You never mentioned anything about a kid and a woman when we talked,” Olof said to Gil as a way of introduction.
He was a man tall in height and short in small talk, Sonny decided as the wiry man stood on deck.
Olof stared at Sonny. His gaze didn't make her skin crawl but it filled her with enough uneasiness to put her on edge. Was this really a good idea?
“Didn't I?” Gil said. “I thought I had. Why? Is that going to be a problem?”
Olof hesitated, then said, “No, no problem. Except I don't have provisions for the little one. There's enough food here to last adults a month, though.”
“I brought baby food with me,” Sonny said.
“Hmm, well, that's good. We're going to have to think of a way to store those dirty diapers. Gets crowded in the cabin real fast and clean air is precious. But I think I have enough plastic bags to handle it for a few days.”
She bit her lip, her eyes shifting from Olof's skeptical face to the thirty-foot sailboat they were about to board. The
looked as if it had weathered many storms.
“Don't worry yourself about my girl. She may not seem like much of a boat, but she's seaworthy. Strong and steady,” Olof said in his Swedish accent, reading Sonny's mind.
“It's a beautiful boat,” she said. It wouldn't do her any good to offend her captain before they even set sail.
is named after my late wife. Her name means âfollower of Christ.'”
Sonny smiled, relaxing a bit. “That's lovely.”
“She was,” he said warmly.
“Do you maintain her yourself?” Gil asked.
“When I can. I know her inside and out. Don't you worry. She'll get you where you're going. Well, don't just stand there. Hop on board. We'll take care of business and then I'll show you around before we shove off.”
If this was what she had to do, Sonny was up for it. She'd seen it this far, she'd see it the rest of the way. No matter how rickety the boat felt beneath her feet when she climbed on deck.
“So, you're headed to Puerto Rico, huh? Ever been there?”
“Yes,” Gil answered, extending his hand to shake Olof's in greeting. “When I was in the military. I was stationed there for about six months.”
“So have I,” Olof said, gripping Gil's hand in turn. “It's a pretty island. So long as I'm not bringing fugitives into the country, we're fine. I like my freedom to come and go. Don't want the U.S. to suddenly ban me from their borders. You know what I mean?”
“We have a boat from the U.S. meeting us halfway,” Sonny said. “We know you don't want to take us the whole way in.”
Olof motioned to the bag Gil was holding. It was filled with baby essentials for the next few days.
“I don't mean to be suspicious or anything, but there were a lot of soldiers crawling that wall through the afternoon. Do you mind if I take a look in your bag? You know, just to make sure?”
Gil unzipped the overnight suitcase. “Go right ahead. We don't have anything to hide.”
Olof scrutinized the bag, moving various sundries around to view the full contents. Satisfied, he zipped the bag shut.
He shrugged as if embarrassed. “You can never be too careful. I don't want any drugs on my boat. Don't need that kind of trouble.”
“I understand completely and I agree.” Gil reached into a zippered pocket on the bag and pulled out an envelope. “Here's half the money. When the other boat meets us midway in the Caribbean Sea at the coordinates we've agreed on, you'll get the rest.”
With a quick check of the bills in the envelope, Olof nodded. “Much appreciated. It'll go a long way toward my journey back home.”
“I'm just glad you were available to help us,” Sonny said.
“As long as the boat meets us at the right coordinates, we should have an uneventful trip. You can sit back and let yourself enjoy the beautiful Caribbean Sea. I hope you brought your sunscreen,” he said, turning to Sonny. “The sun's reflection off the water will give you sunburn like you've never had before. Make sure you keep the baby covered up. Don't want the little one to get a burn.”
He pocketed the envelope and turned toward the stairway leading down to the cabin. “Let's get you settled. I cleaned out the front bunk, figuring you could use it since you're the paying guest. Oftentimes I sleep in the bow. The seat cushions there convert into a bed.”
When he got to the bottom of the stairs he turned and squinted his eyes as Gil descended the stairs. “I barely make it in there myself and I'm about your size. I'm not sure if the lot of you are going to fit.”
“Give the bunk to my wife and the baby,” Gil said, looking at Sonny.
Olof shrugged. “There's plenty of room in the main cabin to make another bed. The
sleeps five people fairly comfortably.” Glancing at the baby he added with a chuckle, “It can handle three and a half when they're this small.”
He smiled and the unrest that Sonny had felt before boarding seemed to wash away.
“Don't know why you didn't decide to just take a plane back to the U.S. Cartagena has a nice airport. Miami is only a two-and-a-half-hour flight. Much quicker than sailing.”
“I haven't quite conquered my fear of flying,” Sonny said, holding back a grimace at her fib. “I just barely made it through the flight down.”
That much was true, she thought, recalling how nerve-racking her flight to Colombia had been in anticipation of what she was about to do.
“Just barely,” Gil chimed in, as if to give credence to her story and appease the curiosity of their captain. “I still have the fingernail marks in my arm to prove it.”
Olof laughed loud. “Women.”
Sonny bristled inside. She hated blanket comments aimed to put down women. If he only knew the truth, he'd think differently. But he never would know because she wasn't about to tell him.
“You'll be comfortable in that front bunk. Holler if you need anything.”
“Is it safe to sail at night?” Sonny asked.
Olof looked at Gil and then Sonny. “You're not nervous about sailing, are you?”
Olof moved aside to let Sonny pass. “Good. To make the kind of time you want to make and meet the other boat on time, we'll need to do some night sailing. Don't you worry, though. I've been sailing since before you were born.”
Sonny took in the bunk at the front of the ship. She had no idea if it was starboard, port or bow since she didn't know what those terms meant. But it didn't really matter. The bunk was private and gave her plenty of room to sleep with Ellie right beside her.
Gil poked his head inside. “Why don't you try to get some rest. It's been a long day.” He dropped the bag on the mattress. “Are you okay?” he asked quietly.
“I'm just eager to get out to sea. I want to get home.”
He reached up and traced his fingers along her jaw, caressing her cheek with his thumb. Her head grew light and she leaned into his touch.
“We'll be home soon. You can sleep easy tonight.”
Gil rolled out the blankets Olof had left for him on the cushions. He felt better sleeping on the other side of the wall from Sonny and Ellie. Call it his overprotective nature, but he wanted to be right there in case Sonny called for him.
Although they'd chosen to sail during the night, they couldn't sail at a fast clip. They had to be careful. In the Caribbean, most charter companies forbid sailing at night, but since Olof owned his own vessel and was an experienced sailor, they kept the jib up.
Gil punched the pillow and looked out the porthole toward the shoreline. Lights were still visible in the city. In a matter of time they'd fade in the distance. By the time they woke up tomorrow morning, Cartagena would be a distant memory.
It would be a two-and-a-half-day sail to the coordinates he'd given Olof. With any luck, they'd be meeting either Marco or Sonny's father with another boat that would bring them the rest of the way to Ponce, Puerto Rico. The total trip would take four to five days if they didn't hit a snag.
And if they did, they could always call the U.S. Coast Guard in Puerto Rico to help. He only hoped there wouldn't be a need for that.
He stretched out on the bed and pulled the light blanket over him. Four or five days was all he had left with Sonny before the reality of their lives crashed down around them. It seemed too short a time and yet the amount of time they'd already spent together was half that. Given how much he felt for her, it didn't seem possible.
He glanced at the closed door to the bunk. Sonny and Ellie were sleeping soundly inside. At least he hoped Sonny was sleeping. It would be good if at least one of them had a good night's sleep. Gil had the feeling he wouldn't truly rest at all until they set foot on the sands of Ponce.
Sonny bent down and blew a raspberry on Ellie's stomach. The baby responded by giggling loudly and kicking her legs wildly as if she was doing top-speed aerobics.
“I think you've grown an inch in the last few days! I must be feeding you well.”
The smile on Sonny's face wilted just a little. If Sonny could see the change after just a few days, she knew Serena would see an enormous change in her daughter. And Cash wouldn't even recognize Ellie.
What had Ellie beenâbarely a month oldâwhen she was taken? Now at almost five months old, she'd changed so drastically from the picture Serena had given her that Ellie looked like a different baby.
Sonny watched her wiggling and squealing, almost begging Sonny to kiss her belly again. No, Cash would recognize Ellie. How could he not? She looked just like their mother.
She heard Olof and Gil on the deck of the boat. At first, it just sounded like they were talking. But Sonny realized that Gil's voice was raised in what sounded like anger.
Sonny grabbed Ellie, leaning her against the blanket on her shoulder, and climbed the stairs carefully, holding one hand on the baby and one on the railing.
“What's going on?” she asked when she made it on deck.
“We've got company,” Gil said, eyeing Olof.
Sonny's heart leaped. “My father?”
“No,” Gil said, staring out at the small pebble-sized boat in the distance. He grabbed the binoculars and looked in the direction of the small boat.
Sonny pulled the small blanket over Ellie's head to protect her from the sun. “How do you know?”
“I can't get them to answer on the radio,” Gil said.
“It still could be my father,” she said, feeling hopeful. “Maybe he's just being cautious.” She knew her father would move mountains to get to her if he could.
It had been four days since they'd left Cartagena. They should have met her father yesterday afternoonâthat is, if Marco had been able to get in touch with him. The wind hadn't been on their side during the trip, slowing down their progress. Even so, they should have connected with her father by now.
“And maybe it's someone who doesn't want us to know they're coming,” Gil said.
“You're overreacting. It's probably just a charter boat with a novice captain,” Olof insisted. “It's nothing.”