Island Tango (Silver Goddess Series, Book One) (5 page)

BOOK: Island Tango (Silver Goddess Series, Book One)
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Herculea giggled, knowing that Kent did not mean to be condescending with his lecture, but was simply a natural-born professor who enjoyed sharing ideas and knowledge.  Of course, the hoaxes he mentioned had immediately crossed her mind when Pedro wove his yarn about the Silver Goddess.  She was far from convinced that such a woman actually existed.  But she
could not discount
the possibility.  Pedro had looked her square in the eyes the whole time he was talking about the Silver Goddess.  He had been unblinking, unflinching, and very persuasive.  The more Herculea replayed the conversation in her
head, the more inclined she was to believe Pedro.  The man carried with him a strange and inexplicable lure of magic.  If anyone
would know of
a mystical person like the Silver Goddess, it would certainly be Pedro.

“I have reason to believe that the Silver Goddess is not among the great schemes in anthropological history.  For one thing, why has no one ever heard of her?  People always talk about myths.  But a real woman would want to maintain her anonymity and
maybe
even close off the barriers to her private island.  I know if I found a Utopian habitat in the middle of the ocean, I’d want to keep it a secret too!” Hercu
lea
reasoned.

But
the more she talked about this topic, the darker the vibe she felt.  The tale of the Silver Goddess was just like spending an evenin
g with Pedro: exhilarating yet
terrifying.

“Very well.  Let’s suppose the Silver Goddess is real.  Where is this island, precisely?” Kent allowed, even though his scrunched up features betrayed his cynicism.

Herculea repeated the geographical facts that Pedro had given her.  “
I don’t know exactly.  But I’ve heard that the
Island of Vinova is very small, like a speck in the sea.”   Herculea hesitated before adding the next part. “Her
immortality supposedly comes from some sort of wine potion
.”

Kent shook his head disbelievingly.  “So she is more of a witch than a goddess, it would seem.” He mumbled.  “Herculea, you have a Ph.D. from an Ivy League university.  Do you really believe such hokus pokus?”

The man couldn’t be blamed for his skepticism.  He was right, of course.  The only thing that made Herculea believe such a fantastic tale is that it came from Pedro’s lips.  If anyone else had spun such a wild story, she would have acted even more dismissively than Kent was behaving.  Beyond that, Herculea felt butterflies in the pit of her stomach that compelled her to go to Vinova, yet urged her to stay away.  Herculea knew herself too well and was sure that she would not let the case of the Silver Goddess rest.  She would track her down, regardless of how crazy Kent or anyone else thought she was.

All of a sudden, she heard herself say, “Do you think you could go to
Rio
without me?  It’s not the assignment I want to pursue right now.”

Kent looked incredulous.  “Are you serious?  The
c
apoeira
trip has been in the works for months, and the dean already
arranged our entire
itineraries.”

“I know.” She stated in a distant voice.  “I’m going to fly into Rio de Janeiro as scheduled, but after that, I’m going to find the Island of Vinova and see if the Silver Goddess really exists.  Dean Walker won’t be disappointed if I come back with a story about her.  Many social scienti
sts have written about c
apoeira, but I could be the first person in the world to write about this goddess.”

Herculea spoke each word firmly, and from their years of close acquaintance, Kent knew that she could not be dissuaded.  She was massively stubborn when she got an idea in her head, and there was nothing he could say.

“Very well, Herculea.  I can’t say I’m happy about this decision.” His brain was reeling w
ith the news she had just broken
, but his tone remained calm.  Still, he couldn’t resist one further question: “Would you at least let me accompany you?  We’re flying into Rio together, so we might as well go on this expedition as two.  It would be a lot safer for you.”

Herculea was
taken aback
.  She had never had a man to protect her, and she wasn’t going to start now.  She lived for adventures like this, and she did not want to be coddled by an overly concerned friend.  As politely as she could, Herculea refused his offer.

“I appreciate your concern for me.  But I can handle this situation.  I have to get going now. 
I need to go home and relax
.”

Nothing had ever been truer.  She was mentally exhausted from puzzling over the case of the Silver Goddess, and she needed to get away from the office and back to her apartment to begin preparations for her upcoming
trip
.  She made a mental note to email Dean Walker and evasively inform him that there had been a change of plans.  She did not want to tell anyone else about her prospective
project
, and she already regretted telling Kent.  With her tenured status at the university, not to mention a long list of successful travels behind her, she felt confident that her boss would approve of her independent research, vague though it may be right now.

Half an hour later, inside her apartment, Herculea heaved an enormous sigh of relief.  But the relief to be home was fleeting.  Troubling questions climbed into her mind.  What had she just done?  She had cancelled a business trip that had been planned for months with a colleague she had known for years.  Even though Kent was too polite to ever admit it, Herculea was certain she had offended him.  Had she gone
loca
all of a sudden?  One tango and a dinner with Pedro and she was ready to fly clear across the world
to chase a preposterous legend!

Herculea sat down on the sofa and took out her cell phone from her purse.

It was Friday at 7:00 PM.  Exactly
twenty four
hours ago, her date with Pedro was just beginning.  The apartment had vibrated with an unidentifiable energy magnified by the haunting Spanish guitar recording.  Tonight, there was nothing but a disquieting stillness, leaving Herculea feeling very alone.  She mentally scolded herself, knowing she couldn’t expect to hear from Pedro so quickly after the date. 
For a split second, she was tempted to call Pedro.  But
Herculea’s natural warrior spirit rose up and demanded that she put the phone down and start to make serious preparations for this trip.  This wou
ld be no ordinary business trip;
it would be a
n expedition
.

Sprinting to her bedroom, Herculea retrieved
floral
luggage from the walk-in closet.  She smirked as she looked at the lavender and rose print painted over the entire duffel bag.  Who said women can’t be tough and feminine?  Yanking open her dresser drawers, Herculea selected some basic cotton
tee-shirts
in a rainbow of shades, as well as jeans to protect her legs from insect bites.  The ritual of packing took the surreal aspect out of her
upcoming trip and filled her with anticipation.  Soon, the bag was full and could not hold one more item if it was going to fit overhead as a carry-on.

Satisfied that she had packed all the essentials, Herculea set the luggage aside and went to the kitchen to fix herself a hot cup of orange ginger tea.  With a
buttered
raisin scone on the side.  Of course.

Chapter 4

 

Fidgeting impatiently in her shoebox of a seat, Herculea tried to compose herself.  The plane had been grounded for nearly an hour at San Francisco International Airport.  As the pilot tried to appease the passengers with promises of a momentary takeoff, Herculea groaned, thinking of how her journey had not even begun.  First, she had to make a connecting flight at New York’s JFK Airport.  Assuming that transition went
smoothly, it would be another ten
hours of flying before she finally landed in Brazil.  Herculea glanced over at the passenger next to her, a lanky older gentleman in a business suit.  Poor man.  She bit her lower lip to keep from laughing as she observed the tall man’s knees pressed uncomfortably in
to
his chest.  It was times like these that Herculea really appreciated her petite stature.

As the plane finally began to taxi towards the runway, Herculea lifted up the flap on her window seat and watched the perpetual Northern California rain pour down.  She wondered how Kent was doing.  The university’s travel department had not been able to purchase side by side seats for the colleagues, and for that she was grateful.  She had endured a curt encounter with Kent at the gate before he boarded the plane to sit in the next to last row.  Kent had appeared
perturbed with her
.  Herculea felt a twinge of regret for having bailed out on their assignment, but it was not because she doubted her purpose.  No, it was because the long standing friendship between her and Kent seemed to be threatened now, and she did not want to lose him.

The jet became louder as it rapidly picked up speed before ascending into the murky sky.  The voices of her fellow passengers were drowned out by the raucous propulsion of the plane, and Herculea found herself alone with her thoughts.  Pedro had not contacted her at all since their date.  She had tried not to be too dejected, but it had seemed so clear that they were mutually attracted to each other.  Their bodies had fit so well together when they danced, and that kiss…oh, that kiss.

Herculea tingled deliciously at the memory, but the grin on her face quickly turned to a sulk as she reminded herself that five days had passed without a word from him.  In man language, that meant that he most likely would not call at all.  Still, Herculea clung to a thread of hope that there could be a message from him when she turned her phone on again at JFK Airport.  This thought carried
her
across the
country as she closed her eyes.

 

*****

Herculea felt like a zombie
as she sleepily made her way through the frenetic JFK Airport
.  She calculated that she had just enough time to stop at one of the concessions and buy a much needed chocolate bar and bottle of spring water.  Moving swiftly, Herculea reached for her phone and took a deep breath as she switched it on.  The welcome screen
lit up, and she rushed to check both voicemail and text messages.  There were no messages at all.  Herculea resisted the compulsion to buy two candy bars to ease her disappointment.  Instead, she made a healthier choice, foregoing the chocolate altogether in favor of a packet of dried pineapples and apricots.  She munched her way through the airport, pausing as she heard a breathless voice calling behind her.

“Hercule
a, wait up!” Kent exclaimed.

S
he whirled around to face him.  He was wheeling his suitcase towards her and giving her a sheepish smile.

“Damn, I must have been the last person to get off that flight!  The school should pay me extra for having to sit in the worst seat on that bloody aircraft.” He sounded mildly angry, mainly humorous.

“I know!  I felt so bad that you were stuck back there.  Welcome to the land of the living.” She joked.

“What a horrid flight it was.” He commented, shaking his head.  “I
need
to talk to you before
we catch our layover. 
I want you to know that my offer as a chaperone still stands.  I won’t get in the way of your research, just stand by you.”

Herculea’s heart swelled
,
and she felt a strange tightness in her throat.  It had occurred so infrequently in her life that a man offered
to take care of her
.

“Kent, you are so sweet. 
And such a gentleman. 
I’m so sorry
for turning our research plans upside down at the last minute.  But I do feel that I can handle this on my own.  But thank you so much, and I mean that.” She looked directly into his sparkling turquoise eyes as she spoke to him.

“Again, you don’t surprise me, Herculea.  But the offer still stands.  We both have our cell phones, and if you need me at all during this trip, just call me, and I’ll be there.”

Kent reached over and gave her hand a firm squeeze.  His hands felt warm, and for a moment she caught herself staring at his arms.  His shirt sleeves were pulled up to his elbows, and the forearms revealed looked strong and comforting, covered in dark golden hair.  Herculea squeezed his hand back and thought how it had been far too long since she had been with a man.  A
kiss from
Pedro and a brief touch from Kent?  Was that all it took to make her heart flutter these days?

“I will definitely take you up on that offer if the need arises.” Herculea
assured him.

A
nd it was true. 
Admittedly stubborn,
Herculea was not foolish. She would not let her pride prevent her from reaching out to a trustworthy friend if the situation were truly dire.  In a comfortable silence, the friends walked towards the gate of their next departure.

The delay in San Francisco made for a close call, and by the time they reached the gate, final boarding had just begun.  Herculea found her aisle seat near the wing of the plane.  Over the din, she asked Kent where he was seated.

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