Thursday morning Claudia stood at the open back of Jupiter, a forty-eight-foot luxury craft, fishing rod in hand. She usually preferred fishing on the open deck of a boat, but Jupiter offered the cool shade of the cabin, a cushioned wicker chair, a glass of grapefruit juice at her elbow. She watched a heavy Gulf shrimper chug away from them, its wake now colored with the pool of chum Ben had poured overboard.

Ben hoisted himself up the ladder from the swim platform. He washed his hands of brownish film at the sink. ‘You ready to fish the buffet?’

Claudia smiled. ‘Am I ever.’

‘Sort of glad my brother didn’t tag along.’ Ben sat down next to her, relaxed, grinning. ‘I’m not sure what a third wheel is on a boat.’

‘Sweet of him to let us use the boat.’

‘Stoney’s too busy to play with his toys. I’m glad I’m not. Summer vacation.’ Ben leaned over and kissed her, easy. ‘That’s for luck.’

She cast her line into the spreading heart of gore, nailing its center. He cast after her, his line hitting the edges of the chum smear.

‘You don’t need any coaching.’

‘I just need someone to vouch for my unbelievable fish stories if I end up not catching a thing,’ she said.

‘We each caught a whale, right?’ Ben sipped at his soda.

Claudia watched sleek figures dart and turn beneath the bloody cloud. Within seconds a thick-bodied yellow-fin hit her line. She jerked once, setting the hook, and then let the monofilament line spin out as the yellowfin raced away, revving along for a hundred and fifty feet. The tug and play went on for ten minutes, and soon the strength at the other end of the line faded. Claudia reeled her prize in and carefully held the bullet- shaped yellowfin aloft for inspection.

‘A real beauty. You’re gonna outfish me, aren’t you?’

‘The day is young.’ Claudia eased the heavy yellowfin into the customized live well in the salon’s corner and cast her line out again.

But her luck didn’t hold. Her next cast caught a fight-filled bonito that tired after ten minutes. As Claudia reeled the bonito toward the boat a dark shape flashed beneath the faded slick of chum and her line went slack.

Ben pointed into the murk. ‘Shark. Grabbed your fish for lunch.’

Claudia watched a ten-foot silky rocket underneath the boat. Sharks. An odd tickle touched the base of her spine. ‘I hope he enjoys the lunch I caught him.’

‘Let’s find less crowded waters.’ Ben went up to the flying bridge and steered Jupiter away from the shrimpers’ wakes, moving far out past a weather buoy marking seventy-five miles from the Texas coast. They spent the next hour or so hooking king mackerel and ling.

Ben pulled up a big ling, inspected it, let it go. The fish hit the water and dove down into the hard blue dark. ‘Best catches I’ve had lately. That kiss worked.’

‘All mine do,’ she said. ‘So I got a question. Why’d you call me, Ben, after all these years?’

He cast his line again, let it settle. ‘You aren’t with David anymore.’

‘It’s funny. Now I actually never feel I was with him.’

‘You didn’t love him?’

‘I did. But not the way you’re supposed to.’

‘There’s a recipe?’

‘There’s a minimum requirement. He and I were comfortable together. But comfort wasn’t quite enough.’

‘Did you ever think of me when you were married?’

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘A few times. But if you had shown up on my doorstep all you would have gotten was a friendly hug and a cup of coffee. I took my marriage seriously, Ben.’

‘I’m sure you did.’ Ben took her hand. ‘I never told you this, but you were my first, Claudia.’ He grinned. ‘I had to get you out in the middle of the Gulf to confess that. No danger of anyone overhearing.’

‘I suspected as much, if I remember.’

‘Couldn’t admit it to you. The guy can never be the virgin.’

She squeezed his hand. ‘Well, I forgive you, Ben.’

He leaned over, kissed her, soft and gentle but not tentative. Not the lips of the boy she had kissed at seventeen, not the boy she had given her own virginity to, but a man surer and wiser with his touch. He broke the kiss first, kissed her closed eyelids.

‘Now I’m really glad Stoney didn’t come. Plus his girlfriends are all idiots.’

She wondered what it would be like to make love on the deck of the boat, out here in the middle of nowhere, the sun their only blanket.

‘I’ll fix us sandwiches, open a nice wine,’ he said.

‘You made lunch yesterday. I’ll do it.’

‘Naw. You’re my guest. Just relax. I’ll be back in a sec.’

Claudia nestled deeper in the lounge chair, letting the breeze of the Gulf hum over her. Really happy to be with Ben. And, she thought with a degree of rationality about love she rarely allowed, Ben Vaughn was a known quantity. The kind of guy her family would embrace even though they had adored David. Her mother, who considered being over twenty-five and single a sign of social leprosy, would surgically attach Claudia to Ben to bolster the chances of marriage.

But do you like Ben or just the idea of Ben? Are you just lonely and he’s familiar, someone you know won’t hurt you?

Ben brought homemade chicken salad sandwiches on thick sourdough bread, potato chips, and sliced fruit.

‘You slaved over this,’ she said.

‘Yeah, opening containers. Stoney’s housekeeper stocks the boat when we take it out. I was thinking maybe we could cruise over into Port Aransas later, eat at the Tarpon Inn if you like.’ But Ben didn’t give her a chance to answer the invitation, his gaze going past her, his eyes crinkling.

‘That boat’s in trouble,’ he said.

Along the wave-broken cobalt of the waters Claudia spotted a Bertram sportfisher in the distance, a single man at the bow, waving a red blanket like a flag.

‘Dumb ass,’ Ben said. ‘seventy-five miles out and he doesn’t bother with enough fuel.’

‘Maybe that’s not the problem.’ Claudia waved back at the man. He was now hoisting a baseball cap, bright red.

‘We’ll see.’ Ben hurried up to the flying bridge, tried to call the boat on standard Channel 16. No response. Ben whipped the wheel about hard and closed the distance between Jupiter and the drifting boat. Claudia stood on the deck in front of the bridge as Ben steered toward the Bertram.

Within minutes they pulled close to the sportfisher; its name, Miss Catherine, was written in faded blue script on its stern, with New Orleans LA beneath in smaller letters. Claudia moved up to the bow, smoothing her wind-whipped hair.

The man standing at the bow of Miss Catherine was in his forties, a little heavy and rosy-cheeked, his skin tanned. He wore dark sunglasses and a baggy white T-shirt with a Tampa Bay Buccaneers logo on the front and faded orange shorts. He gave Claudia a sun-squinted smile full of straight teeth.

‘Hello the boat,’ Claudia called. ‘You in trouble?’

‘My alternator’s busted. Lost power for the engines and the radio.’

‘You’re a ways from New Orleans,’ Ben called.

‘Oh, that’s old. I live in Copano now,’ the man said. ‘This is what I get for hauling around my mother. She’s down in the galley bitching a blue streak at me.’ He shrugged, tossed the red blanket down. ‘I’m Danny.’

‘I suppose you need a tow?’ Ben sounded polite but unenthusiastic. Copano was ten miles up coast from Port Leo and Claudia knew giving a tow would mean no candlelit dinner in Port Aransas.

‘We’d be happy to take you in,’ Claudia said.

‘If I could just borrow your radio, I can summon my tow service.’ Danny gave Claudia another apologetic

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