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New Partners, part I

      Isabelle shaded her eyes with her hand as they walked along the beach.  “I’ve just bought myself into the shipping business, Jack.”  Jack quirked an eyebrow in question.
       Isabelle laughed.  Subconsciously Jack noticed that she seemed genuinely happy.  “I’ve just become part owner of The Rattler with David and Mauriri.”
       Unsure how to respond, Jack went with what he hoped was the obvious.  “Congratulations.”
       Isabelle hooked her arm through his and guided him off the beach and back towards town.   “I’m so excited.  I’ll finally be able to learn more of the trade business.  I have so many ideas all swirling around in my head, I don’t know where to even begin.  But, that’s a side issue.  What I need you for is to help me with the stables.”  Before Jack could formulate a response she continued.  “I know, I know, you’re a seaman.  But, Jack, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought.  You’re a natural with the horses.  I know you hated working at the stables when you were a boy, but this would be different.  I mean, you’d still have to help muck out the stalls and such, but we could be partners.  Quit looking at me as if I’ve lost my mind.  I told you I’ve been thinking about this for a couple weeks now, since I got back from visiting William and Alea on Somoa.  I’d planned to ask even before this situation with The Rattler came up and I—”
       Jack came to a stand still, forcing Isabelle to stop, too.  It’s true he loved working with horses, had even as a child when he’d been forced to work such long hours at Lord Blackthorne’s estate.  He immediately shut down all memories of his painful childhood and turned to Isabelle.  “Why me?” he asked, genuinely curious.
       “Because you love horses.  Because, whether you know it or not, you need some direction in your life, Jack.  Because you’ll do a good job and we can help each other.  Because…because I can trust you.”
       Jack did not, as a rule, act impulsively. 
       So, he couldn’t precisely say why he’d answered yes without even a whole minute’s thought.  Isabelle shrieked with delight and threw her arms around him.  Unaware that Clare was watching them from the back door of the bar, he spun Isabelle around and they laughed like school children all the way to the stables. 
       They spent over an hour discussing the details.  Ever the savvy businesswoman, Isabelle had had a slew of legal documents already drawn up.  They headed over to the courthouse, dragging Paiku along as a witness.  A little over two hours after he’d left the bar, Jack was a full partner in the newly named Reed/McGonnigal Stables.

***

       Jack and Isabelle came back to the bar grinning from ear to ear.  He was eager to share his news with Clare.  He knew she’d be happy for him.  So, it came as quite a shock when she wouldn’t even listen.  He’d no sooner sat on one of the barstools than she muttered something he couldn’t quite make out under her breath and stalked off to the other side of the bar and off to take drink orders from a new batch of French sailors. 
       Lavinia, who’d been wondering what in the world was going on, shared an amused glance with Isabelle as she finally got a clue.  Seeing Lavinia’s smile, Jack glanced back over his shoulder to see his new business partner smiling the same I’ve-got-a-secret smile.  “What!?” he demanded angrily.
       “Oh, Jack.  Why didn’t you tell me you were sweet on Clare?” Lavinia asked.
       “It would take a blind man not to have seen it, Lavinia.” Isabelle scolded as she took the stool next to Jack’s.  “The real question is, why is Clare acting so smitten?”
       “Smitten?” Jack asked confused, “She’d not smitten, she’s mad at me about something.  I’d better go talk to her.”
       Isabelle’s hand on his shoulder stopped him.  “No, Jack.  You’d better let her stew a little longer.”  At his perplexed look she added, “Trust me.” 
       “Issy, I don’t know what you think is going here, but Clare and I are just friends.  I don’t want her to be mad at me.”
       “Issy?”  Lavinia asked flabbergasted that Isabelle hadn’t decked him for using the nickname.
       “Jack, trust me.  Whatever Clare’s feelings for you are, I can guarantee that she feels more than just friendship.”  Turning to Lavinia, she added “Right?”
       “I’m inclined to agree with Issy, Jack.”
       Isabelle grimaced.  “Next person who calls me that is going to be hurt.  Do I make myself clear?”  She looked at Jack, then Lavinia to be certain she’d gotten her point across.  “Now Lavinia, two glasses of your finest so we can make a toast.” 
       “To what?” Lavinia asked as she poured whiskey into two shot glasses.
       “To new partnerships.  Jack and I have just become partners in the horse business.”  Isabelle debated for a moment before deciding Lavinia was going to hear the news sooner or later.  Isabelle preferred she heard it now, so there’d be no more misunderstandings between them.  “And I’ve just become partners on The Rattler with Mauriri and David.”
       “You have” Lavinia set the whiskey down.  “How exactly did that happen?”
       Isabelle knew they’d never be close friends.  She liked Lavinia and did not want to hurt the woman, but she also did not want to have to walk on eggshells every time the subject of David Grief came up.  “Tell you what.  I’ll buy you dinner and tell you all about it.”
      “Now?” Lavinia indicated the bar full of patrons. 
       “What’s the point of owning your own business if you can’t take half an hour off to eat?” Isabelle retorted.
       In the end, Lavinia’s curiosity won out.  Jack declined their offer to join them and instead went home to brood over Clare.

***

       The next morning, Mauriri and Leani were awoken by a loud pounding noise.  Stumbling to the front of the house, Mo opened his front door to find an angry Isabelle, fist raised to pound some more. 
       “What?” 
       “It’s time to leave, Mauriri.  There’s a shipment of copra waiting for us on Tonga and we need to sail at first light.”
       “You have got to be kidding me.”
       “No, I’m very serious.”
       “Look, David told me you’d bailed his hide out with the bank.  That doesn’t mean the three of us are going to be partners.  You and he are welcome to do whatever, I’ll find another job.”
       “It doesn’t work that way, Mauriri.” Isabelle caught sight of Leani and smiled.  “Look, let’s both take a breath and calm down.  I made some payments on The Rattler.  Now all three of our names are on the loan documents.  I need you Mauriri.  Like it or not, you stuck with us.”
       “I don’t want to be partners with David anymore, Isabelle.  I can’t state it any simpler than that.”
       Leani gasped.  She’d known things were strained between her husband and his partner, but had not realized just how bad things had become.  She quickly shooed her husband away from the door and invited Isabelle inside.  After declining her offers of refreshment, Isabelle spoke again.  “Look, Mauriri.  I’m sorry about what David did.  That’s between you and him.  I didn’t make The Rattler payments for David’s sake.  I made them for yours.”  At his glare, she quickly added “And because I want to learn to trade on the South Seas.  David’s good, but you’re the heart and soul of the operation.  I need you for this to succeed.”
       “Foolish flattery will get you nowhere, Isabelle.”
       “Okay, how about this then.  You have a family to support.  Why don’t you ask Leani how she feels about throwing your livelihood away?”
       “That’s not your concern, Isabelle.”
       “Mauriri, help me in the kitchen for a moment please” Leani said, rising from her chair.  Her husband stomped toward the kitchen and Leani turned to her guest.  “He’ll be on the dock in fifteen minutes.”
       Isabelle smiled, relieved she’d sized the situation up correctly.  “Thank you, Leani.”
       “Yes, well you’re the one who will have to put up with them both.  Don’t think it will be this easy to get the two of them talking.”  On that sage piece of advice, she followed her husband into the kitchen. 

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