Disclaimer: All the characters of in this story are of my own creation. Any
physical resemblance the people in this story may have to real people is
coincidental and no infringement on anyone’s rights is intended.
Subtext Disclaimer: This story contains references to physical relationships between consenting adults, who may happen to be of the same sex. If this offends you, or you are under 18 years of age, or you reside in an area where this type of material is illegal, read no more. There is plenty of general fanfic out there for you. Go find it.
Paradise Series #4.
Storyline: Hustle, bustle and headaches abound on a fictional Caribbean island as a recently, nearly completed resort is brought to life and we follow the lives of the people who are trying to make it happen. In the middle of it all is a closer look at two strangers, two women, who are thrown together by outside forces and struggle to contend with the problems they will have to share if the Paradise Beachside Resort is to open on time, and their own emotions as strange happenings make them question themselves, and each other.
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Enjoy, I hope.
WELCOME TO PARADISE
Written by FlyBigD
When Jennifer was safely inside the resort, she made a bee line for the first manager she could find to tattle what Holly had said to Teddy and then another and so on until the word had been sufficiently spread to her satisfaction. Now, for those who got the word that knew Teddy’s reputation, which was just about everybody, they all had similar reactions to Jennifer’s and those that weren’t so well acquainted with Ms. Cooper’s reputation got the gist of the situation by the way everyone else reacted. This set the stage for one agitated Teddy, capably carrying all her belongings without assistance or a trace of a limp, being given a wide berth as she stalked through the lobby on her way to Holly’s office to the sound of whispered speculation as to who their new boss was going to be once Holly’s funeral was over.
The knock on her door coming from somewhere near the bottom of it, hinting that it was being kicked, Holly smiled to herself as she sat behind her desk. “Come in.” She called out and picked up a pen and leaned forward to pretend to be doing some paperwork when Hurricane Teddy blew in. When the door opened, after some muffled grumbling, she glanced up at the brunette gale. “I thought we decided we weren’t going to put barracudas in the aquarium.”
Mouth open, ready to begin the verbal assault she’d prepared, Teddy hesitated with Holly’s statement. “What?” She frowned as she closed the door behind her.
“Barracudas.” Holly said again and put down the pen. “The blonde one you had reeled in, in the bar a few minutes ago.”
“Oh, Jenn.” Teddy smirked. “I didn’t reel her in. She just came by to thank me for putting her on to Jeff.” Shrugging off the woman as she shrugged off her backpack. “She’s harmless.”
“Harmless?” Brow knitted, Holly sat back in the chair. “That’s not what you said the other night. You had her as number three on the list of people I should watch out for.”
“I said you need to watch yourself around her.” Clarifying her previous statement, Teddy set her things on the floor, then sat in the chair across from Holly.
“What’s the difference?” She asked seriously.
Teddy sighed and crossed her legs. “Jenn isn’t out to cut you off at the knees, Holly. Jenn lives for the thrill of being too damned nosy for anybody’s good. She likes knowing everybody’s business and whatever goes in her ears, comes out her mouth, so you have to watch what you say around her.”
“Um, I see.” Holly nodded. “So why did she rank so high on your list if she’s just a gossip?”
“Because she’s also smart. Very smart.” She said with a smile. “I always told her she missed her calling by not being an investigative reporter. She’s good at putting people at ease, so they’ll talk more freely to her. That’s why you’ve got to watch yourself, Holly. Jenn can be very tricky when it comes to sniffing out information. She’ll throw dummies out there at ya, just to see if you’ll snap at them or not.”
Sighing, Holly shook her head. “And how am I supposed to tell the difference?”
“You’re smart. You’ll catch on to her ways and if you’re not sure about something, make her repeat herself or just pretend like you didn’t hear what she said. She hates both of those, but what she really despises is getting the brush off.” Teddy chuckled. “You pat her on the back and send her packing and she goes crazy.”
“I saw a some of that last night when you called. She didn’t seem too happy when I told her she could leave.” Smiling, she sat forward, resting her forearms on the desk. “I think she was waiting for me to mention the name of whom I was talking to.”
“That’s Jenn. Walking out empty handed probably kept her up all night.” Laughing quietly, Teddy rolled her eyes. “And you just had to go and make it up to her, didn’t you? You just had to show your butt right in front of the world’s biggest blabber mouth and where in the hell did Rolando come up with that story? A cover story I can understand. Rolando lives for smoke and mirrors as much as Jenn lives for gossip, but a twisted ankle? How lame is that? I’ve come to work with broken bones before.”
Holly scratched the back of her neck. “Weeell. We were pressed for time, you see and . . . “
“And you went with the first snotty little thought that popped into your head?” Teddy asked in wide-eyed accusation.
“Something like that.” Holly admitted with a guilty smile. “I’m new to the cloak and dagger business.” She said in her own defense.
“It shows.” She groaned. “Leave the counter-espionage to the professional next time, will ya?”
“Don’t throw me in anymore mud puddles and I won’t have to.” Rebounding, the throwee pointed a finger at the thrower. “You ruined my new tennis shoes.”
“I’ll buy ya another pair.” Teddy offered, arms spread in annoyance. “You want the bill for repainting my bumper?”
A frown on her face, Holly leaned further forward, holding out her hand. “Just . . . just give me those transfer requests. They were supposed to be in yesterday.”
“Are you sure? They’ve got little brown blotches on ‘em?” She asked, smirking.
“Teddy.” Holly glared.
Bobbing her head from side to side, Teddy chuckled and reached down for her clean briefcase. Uncrossing her legs, she laid it on her lap and opened it. Shuffling through the mess she’d made inside, she dug around to find the requests buried on the bottom of the stack. Pulling them out one by one, she handed them to Holly in the same way. “That’s one. That’s two. Here’s another . . .
Her patience on the borderline of nonexistent, Holly took the requests in silence, then started looking through them when Teddy ceased the paper trail by closing her briefcase. “Are any of these people as good as you’re supposed to be?” She asked without looking up from the paperwork.
Torn between continuing to egg Holly on and giving an honest answer, Teddy backed off and went with an honest reply. “You won’t find any better than what you’ve got in your hands. I’ve worked with them all before and they know their way around a bar. They’re flamboyant, cocky and nuts, but once you get past that, you won’t be disappointed.”
The tempered assessment given, Holly arched an eyebrow to look at their fearless leader. “They’re what?”
“Bartenders are a breed apart.” She smiled proudly.
“So I’ve noticed.” Holly said solemnly. “Way apart.”
“Hey! I resemble that remark.”
To the managers’ surprise, Holly walked into the conference room unscathed from all outward appearances. No bloody lip. No hand prints around her neck. No black eye. Not even a scratch to feed the rumor mill could be seen, which only made those who ground out gossip all the more curious. Then a minute later, just when they had begun huddling in pairs for some serious speculation, a hush fell over the room as Rolando walked in followed by Teddy sporting a beet red right ear that looked like it had been rescued from a meat grinder a second too late. Holly’s miraculous survival quickly being linked to the painful looking appendage, all eyes were trained on Teddy as she walked the length of the table to take a seat at the end next to Rolando. Then all eyes including Holly’s, stared at Teddy in concerned astonishment until the woman sat down and opened her briefcase. At that time, the resort manager found herself sharing the spotlight as furtive glances shifted between her and her bar manager, as if the rest of the room were watching an old fashioned ‘High Noon’ show down in progress. The mounting tension lasted for as long as it took Teddy’s and Holly’s eyes to meet when a questioning glance was sent from green eyes to blue ones that rolled, then were diverted to the man sitting beside her. Rolando, playing the innocent by-stander, merely smiled at everyone who turned their eyes his way.
Wishing she could ask, but knowing she didn’t dare, Holly did what everyone else was forced to do. Get on with the meeting and find out what happened, later. She remained standing at her end of the table and made a point of making noise as she began removing two stacks of documents from her open briefcase. “Alright. Now that everyone is here, let’s get started.” Leaving one stack staying on the table, she split the other one into halves, handing each half to the closest person to her. “Hand those down, please.”
During the lull, Jennifer kicked Teddy’s foot under the table to get her attention. When she had it, she mouthed ‘what happened’ and snorted in irritation when Teddy shook her head. Rats.
Teddy tried to blend into the wood work as the first hand-out reached her. Business directly in front of her, her throbbing ear was making it difficult to concentrate, as was the new problem she had developed since leaving Holly’s office. Trying to explain to her boss that their plans to spend the day together tomorrow had changed to include two more people and another minor detail that she didn’t want to think about at that moment.
Holly waited until everyone had the hand-out before she sat down to drop a bomb. “Okay. As you all know, this resort will open for business to the public in two months, but my intention is to have it ready to go in one and I’m not talking about manpower and supplies. I’m talking about having it up and running, and fully functional from every aspect of operation. In one month I want this resort ready to receive guests.” Yep. She thought as seventeen pairs of eyes turned her way. I knew that would get their attention. “I know. I know. You don’t have to say it.” She said to stave off the multiple protests ready to be voiced from opened mouths. “It won’t be easy. We aren’t fully staffed and we don’t even have any beds yet, but it can be done and it will be done.”
Rolando nudged Teddy with his elbow and turned to give his friend a ‘what did you do to her’ gaze.
Teddy smiled and shook her head. I’ve created a monster.
Missing the exchange, the monster continued, undaunted by the looks she did get. “Now that outshipment problems are on the mend, the supplies we’ve been needing are starting to arrive left and right.” Holly said with a minuscule smile.
Jennifer kicked Teddy again to give her a wink.
“So we’ve got to start hustling.” Holly went on. “As it stands now, we’re at 42% of our required personnel strength. This means there is a lot to be done by not enough people, so we’re going to have to use our resources wisely. The people we do have will have to be used in and out of their fields to cover all areas until the remaining positions are filled, which brings me to the first item on the agenda. Training and cross training of personnel. Most, if not all of the personnel we have right now came from other Patterson resorts and they’re all expert in their respective fields. However, that’s going to change with the influx of new personnel from outside the corporation, including hire-ins from the local population, the surrounding areas and the States. Those people will need to be trained in their fields and those with experience in the resort industry, will need to be brought up to speed on how things are done at a Patterson resort. The standard set will remain intact and this is not a license to cut corners. We will open on time, but we will also open with the higher level of quality people expect from a Patterson resort.” That said, Holly paused to let it sink in and to give every person at the table a look that told them she wasn’t kidding. Serious expressions meeting her gaze, there were two exceptions. Teddy smiled at her and Rolando winked. Visual pats on the back taken to heart and in stride, she continued.
“This training will be handled on a departmental level. It will be your responsibility to make sure the personnel in your department are fully trained and until all of the positions are filled, I also expect everyone to be receptive to loaning out the people they do have to other departments when available, and where needed. This means the fully staffed accounting department may have to expand their horizons into the support community or where the need arises.” Spoken directly to David, the accounting manager, she saw him blanch and other’s smile, and chuckle. The loudest laugh came from Jennifer, so she made her the next target. “And operations department personnel may have to put some beds together or stock inventory, and I expect everyone to pitch in.”
Jennifer had a sudden panic attack and looked at her cherished, long polished finger nails. “Oh, my.”
“Don’t worry, Jenn.” Claire laughed. “They’ll grow back.”
“And Support will be expected to do some constructive placement of personnel in, oh let’s seeeee? Merchandising?” Holly smiled as Claire’s head went slowly down face first on the table. “Now, don’t get me wrong everybody.” She said after everyone had a good chuckle. “This is not meant as a form of punishment. It is a simple case of supply and demand, and it won’t last forever. Although you can consider it incentive to give manning, training and sharing a high priority.”
“Holly, I have a question.” Rolando said with a hand raised.
“Yes, Rolando. What is it?” She said, giving him a warm smile.
“I don’t have any personnel to share, as yet. How may I be of assistance?” He asked brightly.
“Schmoozer.” Teddy coughed and lightly kicked his chair.
Two moves Holly’s green eyes didn’t miss, she also didn’t miss the fact that Teddy was the only other manager with no people in her department yet. “That’s very generous of you, Rolando. And Teddy? You don’t have any personnel yet either, do you?”
Teddy’s turn in the spot light, she didn’t like the look in Holly’s eyes. It was that damned mischievous one again. What are you up to? She asked herself of Holly, then kicked Rolando’s chair harder as she answered the question. “Not yet.” A non-committal response, it drew a general ooooooo from around the table that didn’t help Teddy’s mood at the moment. Frowning, she stared at Holly and waited for her sentence to be pronounced. Don’t you dare stick me with making beds. I don’t even make my own, dammit.
“Hmmmm.” Holly hummed in thought, then she smiled as something came to her. Something reasonable and to her personal liking. “I’ve got the tailor’s schedule to make up and coordinate, and some other things I could use some help on. Why don’t you two help me with what I’ve got to do before your personnel arrive?”
Flunky was thought around the table, with some of the managers snickering because they liked the idea of Teddy being reduced to gopher status.
The same thought passed through Teddy’s mind, though she didn’t find the idea such a lowly proposition. It could be used to a mutual advantage that would keep the gossip mongers off the scent for a little while. Nodding in agreement, she shrugged. “That’s doable.”
“That would please me greatly, Holly. I look forward to working with you.” Rolando agreed as well because he had been hoping for something along that line to have been the solution. With this, he could keep tabs on Teddy and Holly without having to keep a stockpile of clean shirts handy.
“Good.” Holly smiled in self-satisfaction. “Come to my office after the meeting and we’ll see about getting you started.”
“Ahem, ahem. Holly.” Jennifer interrupted with a wave of her hand. “You know with all this sharing going on, I’m going to be under staffed and up to my eyeballs with shipping schedules, and I could use some help too.”
Seeing a snowball at the top of the hill, Holly cut off the blonde’s excuse to have her share her newly acquired assistants, to keep from losing them all together and to keep Jennifer away from Teddy, though she didn’t know why doing that seemed so important to her. “I’m glad you brought that up, Jennifer. It helps me make a point here. I’m not expecting anyone to sacrifice their entire department or place themselves in a position where they can’t do their jobs. That’s defeating the purpose of the whole sharing process, which is that by sharing personnel, everything gets done. You don’t have to give up people you can’t spare and if you do end up in a bind, you can get the help you need from other departments. It is also to be on an as needed basis that can be addressed on a daily basis every morning, along with the other problems.”
“Daily basis?” Claire, the woman who had killed her alarm clock earlier that morning for waking her up so early, blinked. “You want to have a staff meeting every morning?”
“That’s correct.” Holly confirmed. “Starting today, there will be a staff meeting every morning during the week. That way all problems that arise can be addressed with the whole picture being seen by everyone and we can discuss the best way to distribute personnel. It will also serve to keep the lines of communications open between departments and to keep up to date on our progress.”
“Seven?” Teddy asked with a half smile.
“Six.” Holly smiled back. “So we’ll have the day’s plan worked out before the departmental personnel report for work.”
Claire hopped out of her seat to swat Teddy on the head with the hand-out. “Dummy. What did you have to ask a question like that for?”
“Hey.” Covering her head with her arms, Teddy laughed. “Lay off the midnight swims and you won’t have to worry about it.”
“You (swat) just (swat) worry (swat) about (swat) yourself, Teddy Cooper. (swat, swat, swat)”
“Ow, ow, ow.” Teddy cringed. “Rolando, get her off me.”
“Claire, that is not very lady like behavior.” Rolando said, coming to his friends’s defense.
(swat) “Who asked you?”
“Ow. Madam, please.”
Note to self. Holly thought. Put decaf in the coffee maker and bring lots of doughnuts.
The meeting continued with only a few more outbursts of physical violence and ended without bloodshed around nine o’clock. Considering it a success by what had been accomplished in between the outbursts, Holly went back to her office after it was over, feeling pretty good. She had put several plans into motion and managed to get her managers to agree on keeping the team spirit when personalities clashed. She had also managed to snag two assistants in the process, to help her with her own mountain of work, the two of whom soon brought her out of her revelry when they arrived at her door.
Teddy walked in and came to attention to give her boss a stiff salute. “Reporting as ordered, Ma’am.”
Holly smiled and rolled her eyes. “Would you just sit down.”
“Ma’am, yes ma’am.” Coming to with her salute, Teddy marched to the chair furthest from the door and sat down.
“Good morning, Holly.” Rolando chimed as he came in and sat down in the other chair, after closing the door.
“Morning, Rolando.” She said. Sitting back in her chair, Holly looked at them in turn and glimpsed Teddy’s ear that was still a rosy color. “What happened to your ear?” She got to ask at last.
Bright-eyed when she walked in, Teddy slumped with the question. “Oh, yea, that. Um . . . well . . . ya, see . . . somebody decided to bring their wife to work so they could corner me in the bar and . . . well . . . we’re gonna have some company tomorrow.” She mumbled while tugging on the offended appendage.
Holly’s eyebrows got closer together. “What?” She asked, turning her attention to Rolando.
Rolando cleared his throat. “Ahem, you see, Holly. My wife, Maria, is very fond of Theodora.”
“She’s got a funny way of showing it.” Teddy grumbled.
“And she was very disappointed that she had not received a visit as yet. So, she brought me to work today to find out why she had not gotten that visit.” He smiled. “I tried to explain to her that Theodora was very busy and that she was tired from her travels, but Maria did not understand as thoroughly as I hoped.”
“Hoped my butt. Who cut off my escape, huh?” She asked with a well placed elbow to his ribcage.
Clearing his throat again, Rolando went on. “So, in return for her negligence, Theodora was kind enough to allow my wife and me to join you at her home tomorrow.”
“You talk too much.” Teddy butted in. “What he’s trying to say, is that Maria cornered me in the bar and twisted my ear until I told her I couldn’t go over to their house tomorrow, because you were coming over to mine. Then Ace here, got the bright idea to make his wife happy by suggesting they come too. I had to agree or walk around like Van Gogh for the rest of my life.”
“I hope this doesn’t displease you.” He said sincerely. “My wife has been looking forward to meeting you.”
“Just say yes and save yourself the trouble.” Teddy warned. “She’s nice to strangers.”
Holly had tried to envision what Rolando’s wife was like and after hearing the two versions of the story, and the way Teddy was acting, she knew this was a woman she just had to meet. “I’d love for you to join us. I’d like to meet your wife, too.”
“Ahhhh, it is a date.” Rolando said with a smile, then the word ‘date’ struck a chord in the back of his mind.
He had made the suggestion to join them to appease his wife, but it was to serve another purpose as well. When he discovered, by Teddy’s admittance under duress, that she had gone against his advice and invited Holly to her home again, he didn’t want to take any chances by giving Teddy time alone with Holly. The phone call the last time they had been alone up there and the glance he had seen them exchange in his presence had begun ringing alarm bells in his head. Then to find them wallowing in the mud the next morning had turned the bells into gongs because Teddy wasn’t acting like Teddy. Wallowing aside, it was what the activity inferred that disconcerted him. It insinuated a familiarity, an openness going beyond something you would expect of people who had only met the previous day. She was normally the soul of discretion where her personal life was concerned and here she was letting Holly in where few had been allowed, and in a very short period of time. No time really and then there was the Jennifer problem to take into account.
Along with himself and his wife, the operations manager was the only other person he knew of who knew Teddy was a lesbian. Information Jennifer had discovered at first hand. She and Teddy had had an on again off again relationship for several years, which Rolando wasn’t sure Jennifer was ready to give up on, though Teddy claimed it was over for good. A mistake to begin with, it had been difficult enough to weather, with the only positive contribution being Jennifer’s preference for a private private life like Teddy. Their relationship had never been known by the people they associated with and it was only Jennifer’s pride that had kept it from turning into a scandal when it ended badly. Jennifer had been too proud to make waves, because she had not been the one to terminate the relationship, though she did make every conceivable effort to make Teddy’s life hell after that. Teddy professed to having learned her lesson, and had proved it by looking beyond Patterson personnel for her wants, but he was having doubts about her resolve, and there was something else. Holly herself. According to what he had learned about her, Holly wasn’t being Holly either, wallowing included and the question of her sexual preference was still a question. This meant his friend could easily be setting herself up for a horrendous fall if the better part of valor could not be maintained with a clear head.
But, that’s why he was here. To keep a clear head and make sure Teddy didn’t lose hers. So, first things first. Eliminate the temptation for impropriety or make sure Holly didn’t spend the night again. Clearing his throat one more time, Rolando smiled somewhat guiltily at his boss. “Not to make another imposition on you, Holly, but would it possible for you to give my wife and me a ride tomorrow? My car is not suited for the terrain.”
“Get a real car, why don’t ya?” Teddy huffed and crossed her legs to turn her back on him, and grumble at the wall. “Pipsqueak piece of tin ain’t big enough to make a hubcap.”
Chuckling at Teddy, Holly nodded at Rolando. “Sure, it’s no problem. Catch me before I leave today and we’ll work out what time for me to pick you up.”
“Excellent. Thank you, Holly.”
“Ha! I’d hold off on that thanks till she gets you there in one piece, Rolando. You haven’t seen her drive yet. She hit my truck, ya know. Six times!”
“You’re welcome, Rolando and you . . . you’ve got to the count of three to get those order adjustments in my hand, miss hooky player. One . . . “
“Two . . . “
Phhhtttt. Open, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. “Here.” Slam.
“You’re not welcome.”
My, my, my. I do have my work cut out for me.
Rolando had been given the task of watching out for Teddy nearly two decades before by Max himself, when the gangly teen started working for her cousin. A sometimes difficult task over the years with her headstrong ways, he had grown into it and liked it as much as he liked Teddy. Their friendship had budded and grown, despite their age differences and he had enjoyed watching the young Teddy turn into the woman she was today with a sense of pride at having taken part in the process. He respected her, he admired her for her ability to overcome her lineage and he was having a hard time keeping up with her as she went on her missions that day.
Trying hard to keep his watchful eye, 007 was a little rusty when it came to shadowing the agile Madam Teddy and he gave it up shortly before noon because it was more to his purposes to watch his charge when she was with Holly. Pretending to be a disinterested third party to their interaction while watching every move they made, Mr. Bond ate his lunch at the same table with his suspects. Chatting with them, he noted the looks they shared, the ease with which they talked to each other as if they were more than recent acquaintances, the topics that were discussed and how many times they touched without letting on they were being keenly observed. If something of interest happened out of the corner of his eye, that is where it stayed. He didn’t turn to look at it, he didn’t say anything about it, he merely jotted it down in his mental notebook for continual analysis. Bits and pieces being skillfully detected by a master in the art of covert operations.
Then lunch was over and it was time to use his skills elsewhere. Problems abounding, his missions were not easy ones, but he applied himself whole heartedly to their resolution because he liked solving problems and he liked helping Holly. Although he qualified her as possible trouble for Teddy, she was growing on his affections and he found himself falling into the same trap as Madam Teddy. He had trusted her without really knowing her and taken her into confidence with his care of Teddy. Two things that could spell disaster if she was not as true as she appeared to be, he got no hint to the contrary. Holly had taken up the cause without hesitation, playing along with the story about Teddy’s absence and as he continued to watch both of them, he saw only care taken on her part when she moved outside the trio they had formed. If there was more brewing in her thoughts about Teddy than business, she didn’t show it to others. Treating Teddy as she would any other of her staff, there were no references to a closer relationship, no slips of the tongue to give away the fact that she knew more than was common knowledge about Teddy. Holly was friendly without being weak, capable, though willing to learn, sharp, caring and most importantly, cognizant of the world around her. She was not floundering in her responsibilities, she was merely unschooled in some of the finer nuances of power management, but that was quickly falling by the wayside and if Rolando was correct, his friend Max had made a wise choice in the young lady. Now, the only problem was Teddy.
Max had developed his faith over years of watching Holly move up through the ranks, but Teddy was another matter. Max was invulnerable to falling prey to intrigue because one, he was at the very pinnacle and two, it was blatantly obvious that he was so in love with his wife, he was incapable of noticing other women with that type of interest. And for the greater part, Teddy was also impervious, but not entirely. As an employee, she was subject to the same rules and regulations that governed all Patterson personnel on all levels, the most lethal being fraternization. Though Max encouraged nepotism in his company, there were strict limitations. Husbands and wives could work together, but not for one another and so on with all immediate family members. If they were at different levels, they had to work in different departments so no charges of special treatment could be introduced and this also covered developing relationships. Corporate affairs were frowned upon, but tolerated as long as you stayed within the rules. You could fall in love, but it had to be with someone on the same level as you, or someone in another department if they weren’t. As with her affair with Jennifer, Teddy was in no real danger of retribution because they were both managers at the time. The only danger had been in revealing a side of herself she preferred not to share with the general public. However, Holly was Teddy’s boss and fraternization with a superior was professional suicide, punishable by immediate transfer or termination of employment.
This is why Rolando was so concerned. Teddy could place herself in a vulnerable position with Holly. A professional friendship was acceptable as long as nothing else could be read into it by others and there were those on the staff who were as perceptive as he was. The brief looks, the passing touches could all be discounted as friendly behavior when seen by someone who didn’t know Teddy’s preferences, but he wasn’t he only one at the resort who knew Teddy liked women. Jennifer knew it too and if his assessment of her not being entirely over their relationship proved true, it would be a double threat for Teddy and Holly if miss nosy picked up on what he suspected.
Three women on his plate to watch so far, Rolando finished his mission and went back for more to make sure the first two weren’t seen in a too friendly favor by the last one, with no relief in sight until the end of the day when his favorite female would come to carry him home for a brief respite, and then it would be Saturday with Teddy and Holly up on the mountain, and more covert observation operations. Such is the life of a secret agent.
“Holly! Welcome. Welcome.” Rolando greeted his boss at the front door of his home. Out of his normal dark blue pants and long sleeved white shirt, he wore a pair of khaki shorts with a light blue polo shirt.
“Hi. I’m so sorry I’m late.” Holly smiled apologetically. “I had a hard time getting the backseat in the truck.”
“Never to fear.” He reassured her as he moved to the side of the doorway to usher her inside. “Theodora isn’t going anywhere and she could use some extra time for domestic chores. Please come in.”
“Thank you.” She laughed. Walking through the doorway, she didn’t go far and looked around the living room as she waited for Rolando to close the door. “You have a very lovely home.” Holly nodded at the interior design. A comfortable decor, it lacked the typical tropical accessories that were so popular in the islands. No palm floral print couch and no wicker, to be put simply, it was decorated like any upper middle class home you would expect to find in the states with classic accents. “Did it take you long to remodel after you moved in?”
Rolando shook his head as he came up beside her. “We did not move in when I transferred. Maria and I have had this house for many years. We purchased it for a vacation home not long after Theodora purchased her property. Now it is our permanent residence.”
“Oooh.” Holly nodded again. “Am I the only one who didn’t know this island was here?” She asked and smiled up at him.
“You and Christopher Columbus.” He chuckled and guided her toward the couch. “But to my knowledge, Theodora and myself are the only resort employees who owned property on the island before you selected it. Please, have a seat and make yourself comfortable. Can I get you something to drink?”
“No, thank you.” She replied, sitting down as she spoke. Still looking up at him, she had a less than happy expression on her face when she asked her next question. “Did I ruin your secret hideaway?”
“Certainly not.” Smiling, Rolando sat down in a chair next to the couch. “This island does not belong to me and you have done an excellent job keeping it from getting ruined. I was very impressed with your commitment to maintaining the surrounding ecosystems.”
“It wasn’t just me.” Holly said in truth. “Big Daddy had a lot to do with the landscape staying the way it was. He gave me the support I needed to convince the contractors it was to their benefit to touch as little as possible.” Smiling to herself, she remembered how she had won the battle with the building contractors. “Nobody wanted to be the one to tell him it couldn’t be done.”
“Ahhh, yes.” He smiled in agreement. “Max does not like to be disappointed.”
“That’s what I kept telling them.” She said with a smirk and a soft chuckle.
“And did you mind your disappointment?” Rolando asked with some seriousness.
This brought Holly back to the present and she shook her head in confusion. “My disappointment?”
“Yes. I believe you had another location as your first choice?” He prompted with another smile.
Holly rolled her eyes. “Teddy.” She said in mild dissatisfaction. “You mean was I disappointed when I had to rename the Tropical Paradise Resort the Paradise Beachside Resort? I was more frustrated than disappointed.” Sighing, she smiled anyway. “It would have been nice if someone could have told me before I started banging my head against the wall.”
“But you understand the need for secrecy?” Sitting forward, Rolando gave her a very serious look this time.
“Teddy explained it to me and I can see where she’s coming from.” Nodding, Holly sighed once more. “I never really thought about it before then, but it has to be hard when everybody knows who you are. You’re a reputation instead of a person. I wouldn’t want to have to live like that.”
“Ummm. It is not a life I would choose either and perhaps not one if she had to choose over again.” He said softly. Drifting into a thoughtful mood, Rolando was brought out of it when a bullet came out of the hallway, headed straight for his lap. “Ho! Ho! Who is this?” He asked as he wrapped his arms around his daughter. “Who has come to see her Papa off on his adventure?”
Serena giggled as she curled snugly into his lap. Surrounded by strong arms, she eyed Holly from her safe spot.
“Hi.” Holly waved at the girl with a friendly smile and chuckled when she hid her face in Rolando’s neck. “Your youngest?” She asked Papa with a knowing smile.
“Yes.” Rolando said proudly, nudging his daughter with his finger to get her to turn around. “Serena, this is Holly. Holly, this is Serena my youngest daughter.”
“Hi, Serena. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She tried again and got the smallest of waves before the smiling face went back into hiding. Chuckling softly, she shook her head. “I think she likes you, Rolando.”
“Yes, she likes her Papa, eh?” Giving Serena a huge hug, he kissed her cheek. “Now, where is your Mama, hmmm?” He asked his giggling daughter. “She is going to make us very late.”
Serena dutifully pointed to the hallway from which she had come and as if on cue Maria walked into the living room carrying two small shoes.
“Your daughter is going to make us very late if she does not put on her shoes.” Maria said and offered the shoes up as evidence, before she stopped to look at blonde on the couch. “Hello. You must be Holly, our transportation to that very tardy Teddy Cooper’s residence.”
“Yes.” Rising to her feet, Holly was nearly knocked over by the stunning beauty of the woman who entered the room. Tall and slender, Rolando’s wife was a dead ringer for Sophia Loren. Her dark hair pulled back into a pony tail, she didn’t look a day over thirty-nine and Holly had no problem imagining her dragging Teddy around by the ear, with the no-nonsese aura she had about her. “Hi. Holly Curtis. It’s a pleasure to finally get to meet you.” Offering her hand in greeting, she marked a pace forward.
“Maria Gurerra. It is a pleasure as well.” Maria smiled as she put the shoes in one hand so she could take Holly’s with the other one. “Rolly has told me many good things about you, although he failed to announce your arrival.” She said and turned to her husband.
Rolando was already on his feet, holding Serena in his arms. “Holly has only just arrived, Maria.” He said in self defense. “She has not been waiting long.”
“Hmmmm.” She smiled speculatively, then handed the shoes to him. “Here. See if you can get those on those feet before they become filthy.” Taking a gentle swipe at her daughter’s bare foot, she gave her attention back to her guest. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“No, thank you. I’m fine.” Holly smiled and nodded at Rolly. “Rolando already offered.”
“Then please, have a seat while he tries to shoe our little tornado.” Sighing as she shook her head, Maria sat down beside Holly on the couch.
“She’s adorable.” Holly commented about the little girl who looked remarkably like her father with curly dark hair and twinkling dark blue eyes that she liked to keep hidden. “How old is she?”
“Too young for people our age.” Maria chuckled and shoved her husband’s foot with her own. “We have grandchildren as old as our daughter.”
Rolando smiled and played dumb. “Serena is eight and a half.”
“Grandchildren?” The blonde asked in surprise. “Rolando never said you had grandchildren.”
“No?” She asked in returned surprise. “Here, come with me. I’ll show you our family.” Getting to her feet, Maria left the living room for an adjoining room.
Following behind, Holly spotted a wall filled with framed photographs. “That’s a big family.”
“They are several generations here.” Maria explained and took a step closer to point an old, yellowed picture. “These are Rolly’s grandparents on his mother’s side and those,” moving to another photo, “those are his other grandparents, and these are mine.”
Taking a closer inspection, Holly smiled. “I can see the family resemblance.”
Moving up the family tree, Maria took a step sideways. “These are our parents.” Indicating two pictures side by side.
She nodded and glanced at the other picture. “They’re both very hansom couples.” Turning her head, she looked at Maria. “How did you and Rolando meet? If you don’t mind me asking.”
Maria laughed. “Do you want the truth or the story my husband tells?”
“Time to go!” Rolando shouted from the living room.
Both women burst into laughter at the sudden interruption.
Placing her hand on Holly’s arm, Maria whispered. “I’ll tell you later.”
“I can’t wait.” Holly whispered back.
“Theodora is waiting.” He came to the doorway to announce with a frown for his wife and his shoed daughter by the hand.
“Yes, Rolando.” Maria nodded and winked at Holly.
Holly just chuckled under her breath. I definitely can’t wait to hear this.
Serena was taken to the neighbor’s house before they left for Teddy’s. Rolando and Maria buckled securely into the back seat, Holly enjoyed having the couple along for the drive. Though it wasn’t really a long one, because the island wasn’t big enough for a really long dive, the light, casual conversation helped take her mind off the heavy climb to come and as the mountain began looming on the other side of her windshield, Holly hoped she would have better luck going up the path than she had coming down it. Taking measures to ensure this, as best she could, she did the same thing Teddy had done. Pulling off the road, she stopped to put the Land Rover in four wheel drive, then proceeded through the thick jungle in first gear keeping the pace steady and slow.
Halfway up and being rolled from side to side, Holly had a thought about her passengers. “If you don’t mind my asking.” She started tentatively. “If your car won’t make it up the mountain, how do you normally get to Teddy’s place?”
“We park at the bottom of the hill and walk up the path.” Rolando told her as he swayed hard to the right. “It’s a very nice stroll.”
Stroll? Holly asked herself. He calls this a stroll? No wonder he’s in such good shape for his age. Hell, he’s in good shape for any age. “Oh. I should try that sometime.” As training for a stroll up Mt.. Everest.
Thumbnail in her mouth, Teddy paced the length of the front deck as she listened to their approach. “Come on, Holly. You can do it. Just keep it slow and you’ll be fine.” Coaching her boss by proxy, she glanced at where they were supposed to come out, then shifted her gaze to where she thought they were. “Just a little bit further.” Hearing the sound of the engine change direction, she did too. Another pass down the deck, she followed their progress. “Coming up on the last turn. One more and then you’re home free.”
Bottom lip between her teeth, Holly manhandled the steering wheel for the last climbing turn and let out a sigh of relief when the house came into view. “Made it.”
“A lovely drive, Holly.” Maria smiled into the rear view mirror. “What is Teddy doing?” She asked when she spotted the woman jumping up and down at the top of the stairs with her hands held over her head.
“Celebrating, I think.” Holly smiled as she stopped in front of the garage. Pulling the parking brake, she never took her eyes off Teddy as the woman came bounding down the stairs. “Screw the sidewalk.” She told her when she came up to the door. “Put in a road.”
Phhhtttt. “It’s a breeze once you get used to it.” Teddy smiled as she opened the door. Moving out of the way, she held her hand out to help Holly out.
Shaking her head, Holly put her hand in Teddy’s as she slid out of the seat. “Right. That’s right at the top of my list of things to do.” She lied with a rueful chuckle. “It isn’t supposed to rain today, is it?”
“Nope. No mud monster for you.” Teddy chirped and let go of Holly’s hand to move past her. Still ignoring her other guests, she continued to smile at Holly as she folded the front forward. “You’ll have to wear your own clothes today.”
“Good. I don’t think I look good in clothes by Omar, anyway.” She teased and tugged on the hem of Teddy’s wrinkled t-shirt.
Slapping the hand, Teddy straightened, turning her back on Rolando and Maria. “Oh, I don’t know. You might start to like the big, baggy, wrinkled look.” She said and put her hands on her hips.
The forgotten couple in the back seat exchanged a glance, then they rolled their eyes and Rolando spoke up rather loudly. “You know, my love. It is such a nice day, I think we should stay right where we are.”
“Yes.” Maria agreed. “The view is wonderful from here.”
Teddy hadn’t forgotten about her other guests, though, now that she was on her home turf, she did intend to let them know where they stood in the hierarchy. Glancing over her shoulder at the couple, she made the show of looking around before she spoke. “Did you bring Serena?”
“Not this trip.” Mama smiled.
“Huh.” One side of her mouth cocked up in a disappointed smirk, Teddy sighed. “Too bad.” She said and closed the door on them. “Come on, Holly. I found my fish book.” One hand on Holly’s arm, the rest of Teddy’s body shook with silent laughter.
Holly covered her eyes, a smile showing beneath it as she was led away.
“Theodora Adele Cooper!” Rolando bellowed.
“Holly, did you hear something?” Teddy asked, looking around in mock confusion.
“Adele?” Was Holly’s response.
Ignoring that one, Teddy put one hand behind the ear Maria had punished the day before and turned half around toward the truck. “I’m sorry. What did you say?” She said apologetically. “You’ll have to speak up. I don’t hear so well with this ear no more.”
“Rolly, I would like to get out now.” Maria said quietly.
“Yes, my love.” He answered, reaching for the door handle.
“Holly.” Teddy said quietly.
“What?” Holly asked, looking up at the brunette.
“Run for your life.” Practicing what she preached, Teddy took off for the stairs as Maria was being helped out of the truck.
Eyes going very wide, Holly listened to the voice of wisdom when she got a good look at the expression on Maria’s face. Spinning on her heels, she bolted after Teddy. “Wait for me!”
“Very well done, Maria.” Rolando complimented his wife as she took his hand.
“Thank you, Rolando.” Kissing her husband’s cheek, Maria closed the door. “Shall we?”
“Let the party begin, as they say.” He winked.
The party began after Maria stalked Teddy around the inside of the house for about ten minutes, to the theme of Jaws Rolando appropriately played over and over again on the stereo, while Teddy used an uncooperative, unprotected Holly as a human shield. The amenities concluded with desperate promises of playing nice from now on. The four relaxed into a lighter, friendlier mood without damaged appendages around Teddy’s encyclopedia of tropical fish for a lengthy discussion on choices for her aquarium. Opinions on species varying, clashing and sometimes agreeing, this brought another subject to Holly’s mind, which was how Teddy intended to get the water, the fish and just as importantly, the food for the fish into the tank, since for all intents and purposes, as far as she could see, it was sealed at the top. Teddy’s coup-de-gras, as she called it, she took Holly into the attic via a ladder in her bedroom closet, where Holly discovered the top of the tank was open. Looking like a deep, narrow swimming pool from that perspective, she studied it from above, asking the same questions she had before. A delighted Teddy ready to be of service, explained the answers using show and tell. Pointing out a small automatic feeder still in it’s box, she went into detail as to how it was to be mounted and operated, then the water was explained by a copper pipe running across the floor of the attic with a valve on it. The spicket nozzle went into the top of the tank for filling it and the last problem, the one about getting the fish in the tank, was to be completed with simple manual labor. Teddy would simply carry the bags or containers into the attic by hand.
An interested, but not that interested Rolando and Maria listened to the conversation from the comfort of the living room until the questions continued with cleaning concerns and dead fish retrieval. Seeing they would not be joined again for some time, the couple retired to the rear deck to enjoy the beautiful weather and scenery for the duration of the attic adventure.
“Alright.” Holly said. Sweat pouring out of her from the extreme heat inside the attic, hands on hips and all her other questions answered, she gave Teddy a serious look for the last, ultimate one. “Now tell me. How did you get this thing up here?”
Sweating as well, Teddy was too hot to give Holly the run around. Shrugging off a few droplets of moisture, she smiled. “I had it flown in by helicopter.”
The answer simple, honest, believable, yet somehow uncomprehensible, Holly stared. “You what?”
Another shrug and Teddy held out her hands. “It was the only way.” She explained. “I tried hauling the glass up in the truck, but the road was too narrow and I broke two pieces trying. Then I thought about putting it together and hauling the whole thing up on a trailer, but that lasted until I started up the hill, so it was either give up on the idea or have it flown in. I went with having it flown in. It was a little pricey, “ she admitted with a sigh, “but I think it was worth it.” Smiling, Teddy looked down at the tank. “It’s gonna be great.”
Holly couldn’t disagree with that. “I can’t wait to see it.” Giving Teddy a broad smile, she tilted her head to the side, as if thinking of something.
Having another prickly skin moment, Teddy brushed off the sensation with a layer of sweat as she wiped her forehead. “Damn.” She said when she saw how much moisture she had removed. “Why is it, when I’m with you, I always end up soaked?”
The smile fell and Holly arched a disdained, damp eyebrow at the allegation. “Funny. I was just getting ready to ask you the same thing.” Taking hold of the front of her shirt, she pulled it outward, peeling the material off her skin as she smirked her way to the hatch.
Teddy made a face at the back of Holly’s head, sticking out her tongue as her own head was bounced back and forth in an extensive lack of amusement.
With the end of the Q & A period, it was out onto the deck for Holly and Teddy to cool off in the shade of the arbor after a deviation en route for four large glasses of ice water for everyone. Too easy to enjoy. Too hard to resist a cloudless sun-filled sky above their leafy canopy, four contented faces turned into a warm tropical breeze filled with herbal aromas and the barest allusion to the sea below. The transient lull in activity abiding, random tinkles of frozen cubes interfused with nature’s songs. Insects buzzed in search of a mid morning delight and birds called to their mates as gentle green fingers fluttered amidst a rainbow harvest of bright hued blossom smiles.
“Anybody hungry yet?” Teddy asked brightly.
“Shhhhhhhh!” Three voices echoed in unison.
His partner in all things, Maria was Rolando’s wife, his love, his advisor, his confidant and his best agent in the art of covert observation. Recruited at an early age, she had honed her skills on their five less than blameless children with imaginative minds when it came to unquestionable alibis. Keen of eye and intuitive, her prowess lay in seeing beyond what was presented as the truth. Maria called it womanly intuition sprinkled with a generous amount of motherly instincts. Rolando called it what it was. The stuff legends are made of. Maria was well versed at interpreting the subtleties of body language, reading between the lines of what was said and getting to the heart of matters often left obscured to the observed. She had known when their two sons had fallen in love before they had. She had pointed out the bums vying for two of their daughters’ hearts and made correct assessments when the Mr. Rights had come along, though they hadn’t appeared as such to Rolando. This is why she had joined him on the Teddy/Holly case. If there was one person he trusted above all others to determine what the situation was and its potential, it was Maria. If there was nothing more than camaraderie and friendship afoot, she would see it and if there was something more, she would see that also. Even if Teddy and Holly didn’t and, he noted with a supplicant admittance, she would only see what was there, rather than look for a villain in every shadow as he was often accused of doing. To which he often replied. “That’s what secret agents are supposed to do.”
To her credit, Maria was perhaps better prepared for the mission than her husband because she had seen it coming for a long time. Two separate threads in a loom, she had watched Teddy and Holly weave different paths in the Patterson empire at different times with interest. Without ever catching a glimpse of the other, they had passed on many occasions, sometimes walking the same halls a day or merely hours later, yet both aware of the other’s existence. Through her association with her husband and a personal relationship with Teddy, Maria was privy to the inside information of corporate goings on and once Holly’s name started being mentioned she had watched the young woman’s movements, detecting significant similarities between the woman she knew and the one she didn’t. Different paths with the same destination, Teddy and Holly had used similar techniques to reach the same goal. Achieving their life’s dream with time to spare to enjoy it. Using force when necessary, they both were a testament to their determination for success by surviving the slings and arrows of nay sayers and self-inflicted wounds with the same ‘learn from the past, but don’t dwell in it’ attitude. Neither held grudges. Neither let others hold them back. Neither cared what others thought of them, though they learned who had the knowledge they sought very quickly. Both worked for what they received. Both went out of their way to stand on their own. Both were trail blazers in different arenas, challenging the status quo with a shared desire for being nothing less than what they wanted to be. They were driven by their own expectations in their careers and had gotten to the top by their own devices. The cream rising to the top did so in the Patterson empire as well and it was a very tight knit circle that fluctuated together and apart according to what was best for the corporation. For Maria, this meant that, though timing and their careers had kept them apart, it could only have been a matter of time before it finally brought them together for her to see if their similarities she had witnessed in business extended beyond working hours.
This noted, Maria began her mission ahead of the game by having taken an interest in both women before hand and by knowing Teddy like one of her own daughters, and caring for her in the same way, but she didn’t let her knowledge or her affection cloud her judgment. Coming at the assignment with an open mind, she concentrated her observations on interaction alone, leaving what she knew Teddy’s preferences were out of the equation. However, observation wasn’t her only tool on this mission. Maria had a complete arsenal of behavioral gauges at her disposal, again gained from the necessity of raising four children to adulthood with number five well on her way. In her experience, what was not said was as important as what was and how someone reacted to what you said could end up being the key to the truth, as well as the questions they asked of you. So, locked and loaded, and ready to rock and roll, Maria pried herself from her husband’s arms to do some field work in the kitchen with Holly, while Rolando plied his alter ego on Teddy and the rusty grill.
To be continued -- Part 5
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