Authors: Olivia Claire High
The Black Feather
Olivia Claire High
Oxford, Florida 34484
Printed in the United States of America
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely fictitious.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, scanned, photocopied or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission of the author.
Copyright © 2015 by Olivia Claire High
For additional copies of this book, please visit:
Contact the author at:
To my husband, Joe,
With all my love,
to my friend and fellow author,
who never lets me give up.
Two months is all the time it took for Suzanne Conway’s life to unravel. Her fiancé jilted her for her cousin, her mother left for some fancy resort with a guy she met a week ago at a gym, and her father ran off to parts unknown with a great deal of money that didn’t belong to him. She felt like the Titanic with all the rats deserting leaving her to sink or swim, which wasn’t the most helpful analogy considering she was currently standing on an upper deck of a large cruise ship.
A tropical breeze, scented with the sea blew softly against her bare arms making her shiver despite its warmth. The coldness came from within. She hadn’t felt warm for weeks. She wanted to shake off the chill, embrace the future, but she didn’t know how. Not when the past continued to plague her like an aching tooth.
Early morning light highlighted her delicate features, emphasizing her paleness. Her hands gripped the wooden railing while she stared at the indigo ocean below. She watched as the ship’s hull sliced through the waves splitting the water into a wide vee, edged with bubbling white foam.
How would it feel to descend into the cobalt depths sinking down until darkness blocked out everything else? Probably like a deep sleep on an endless winter night until the cold and the pressure crushed the life out of you. The depressing thought made her shiver again.
“I wouldn’t if I were you. It’s a long way down.”
Suzanne spun around, startled by the deep masculine voice and almost bumped into a tall powerfully built man. Her short stature made her lean her head back to see his face.
“What did you say?”
“I said it’s a long way down. In case you’re thinking of jumping, that is.”
“Whatever gave you the idea I’d do something so drastic?”
“You look kind of sad.” He shrugged wide shoulders, straining the material of his sweat dampened tee shirt stretched across an impressively broad chest. “I’m a good listener if you need to talk.”
“I appreciate your concern, but I’m fine.”
“I hope so. This is the second day of a week-long cruise. It’d be a shame to waste it worrying about something.” He held out his hand. “My name’s Thad Novak if you change your mind about that talk.”
Long fingers engulfed her much smaller hand. Suzanne felt a pleasant jolt reminding her of the nice little buzz she usually got after a couple glasses of wine.
“I’m Suzanne Conway. I thought I’d be the only one up here this early.”
“I like to run at a pretty fast clip. Early is better when I don’t have people getting in my way.”
“I bet,” she said, thinking he looked like a guy who needed a lot of room. “Well, I’d better get back to my cabin before my roommate wakes up, sees that I’m gone, and calls out the Coast Guard.”
Surely he’d come looking for you first.”
“He is a she, and she’s the type to panic first and ask questions later.”
“Then you mustn’t let me keep you. Remember what I said about enjoying yourself.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks for the advice.”
Suzanne leaned back in a lounger trying to read the book in her hand without much success. The noisy distraction from swimmers in the nearby pool coupled with various conversations going on around her made it difficult to concentrate. Her friend and roommate, Heather Martin shifted restlessly on her own lounger and slid her sunglasses down her nose.
“Oh wow. Major hot man alert at 3:00 climbing out of the pool. Check him out, Suzie.”
Suzanne peeked over the rim of her book and felt her heart do a little jump at the sight of Thad in his black swim trunks. Hot man, indeed!
“I already have. His name is Thad Novak. We met this morning up on deck.”
Heather’s head jerked toward her.
“And you didn’t tell me? What kind of a friend are you?”
“One who’s reminding you that you’re a married woman.”
“Hey, I promised not to touch when I took my wedding vows, but there wasn’t anything about not looking. I’m not the only one ogling him in case you haven’t noticed. It appears every female between eight and eighty are getting an eyeful. Who can blame them? Just look at those linebacker shoulders and six pack abs. The guy’s one big mass of lean man flesh. I sure wouldn’t
mind smearing sunscreen over those hard rippling muscles or running my fingers through all that gorgeous chestnut hair. “
“Did anyone ever tell you that drooling is a very unattractive sight in an adult?”
“Are you going to lie there and tell me you didn’t salivate when you first saw him?”
“I had other things on my mind at the time.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Suzie.” She squeezed her arm. “I didn’t mean to sound so insensitive.”
“I know.” A long, frustrated sigh escaped her. “I need to work on crawling out of my pity pit. Thad advised me to try and forget about my troubles and enjoy the cruise. I’ve decided he’s right.”
“He said that? And you’re on first name basis? Just how long did you two talk to each other?”
“Not long. I guess he saw that I was looking kind of down and offered to let me vent.”
“Ya’ gotta give the guy points for a unique pickup approach line.”
“He wasn’t trying to pick up on me, Heather. He was just trying to be nice.”
“I like my version better. Oh. Oh!” She squeezed Susanne’s arm again. “It looks like he’s coming over here. Please nudge me if my slobbering becomes too noticeable.”
Thad stopped in front of them and smiled.
“Hello, again, Suzanne. I thought that was you
“Hi. Thad Novak, meet Heather Martin.”
“The roommate, I assume. It’s nice to meet you.”
“That would be me; nice to meet you, too.”
He turned back to Suzanne. “I’m glad you decided to come out and enjoy the sunshine.”
“Well, like you said, it’d be a shame to waste the rest of the cruise being in a blue funk. I’d ask you to join us, but as you can see there aren’t any empty loungers nearby.”
That’s okay. I prefer spending time in the pool.” He looked at Heather. “Take care of your friend.”
“That’s the plan.”
He started to walk away and stopped.
“I don’t want to intrude,” he said, “but would you ladies like to join me for lunch? I’m on my own. I’d enjoy the company.”
“We’d love to,” Heather rushed to answer before Suzanne could say anything.
“Great. Which do you prefer, hamburgers on deck, the buffet, or the dining room?”
“Oh, I think the dining room sounds nice, don’t you, Suzie?”
“Food is food. Whatever you choose is okay with me.”
“The dining room it is, then. I’ll meet you at the entrance, say, 12:30.”
Heather flashed him another big smile.
“Thanks for the invite.”
He grinned in return, gave a two finger wave, and ambled back toward the pool.
“Jeez, Suzie. You might have tried to sound a little more enthusiastic.”
“I think you took care of that for both of us.”
“Well, why not. He sure is yummy looking. I wouldn’t mind having him for dessert.”
Suzanne snorted out a laugh.
“You’re incorrigible. Are you going to embarrass me by flirting?”
“Nope. Waste of time. I could see you’re the one he was interested in.”
“Stop trying to read something into his invitation. He’s probably just lonely.”
“I disagree. You don’t see it because your radar is off. There’s definitely a spark there.”
“Well please don’t go trying to fan it on my account because I’ve sworn off men.”
Suzanne may have sworn off men, but she wasn’t dead. She had to admit Thad looked way too handsome dressed in a pair of expertly tailored tan slacks and a long sleeved white collarless shirt, as he stood outside the dining room. He could easily make any woman’s blood pressure shoot off the charts, including hers if her racing pulse was any indication.
“Where’s your friend?” he smiled, glancing over her shoulder.
“She claims she has a stomachache. But I think it’s her not so subtle way of trying to see that we lunch alone, which is silly when we’ll probably be seated at a table with half a dozen other people.”
Thad took her by the elbow and led her into the large dining room.
“Then we mustn’t disappoint her,” he said and promptly told the maître d’ they preferred a table for two.
“You didn’t have to do this,” Suzanne said once they were settled with menus in their hands.
“Would you be more comfortable sitting with other people?”
“Not necessarily, but you may be. I haven’t been my usual chatty self lately.”
“My offer to listen still stands if you’ve changed your mind about sharing.”
Suzanne set her menu aside.
“Let’s just get it out of the way, then. My fiancé left me for my cousin, and my divorced parents each took off with people young enough to be their kids. End of tale.”
“Ouch! For what it’s worth, I think your fiancé is a fool.”
“Ex,” she reminded him. “For all you know he may not be. You don’t know me all that well.”
“True, but I’m hoping you’ll let me change that. Were you surprised by your parents?”
“Not really. But the fact that my dad left with a lot of money that didn’t belong to him came as a real shocker.” She wrinkled her nose. “I can’t believe I told you that. Talk about airing my family’s dirty laundry. Sorry.”
His dark eyes, with the ridiculously long lashes that Suzanne thought no male had a right to, opened very wide.
“Your father stole money?”
“That’s what the police said when they contacted me to see if I knew where he’d gone. He’s had his hand in the cookie jar at his job for quite a long time according to their investigation.”
“And here I am telling you to forget about your problems. Forgive me.”
“No need to apologize. I’m not responsible for what my parents do. Heaven knows they’ve pulled some really embarrassing dillies over the years. But this is the first time one of them has gotten mixed up in something so serious. It’s not like my dad. I suspect his latest paramour helped convince him to forget caution and go for the big E, as in embezzlement.”
Thad’s brows lifted.
She must be quite a woman.”
“I wouldn’t know. I’ve never met her.”
“Do you have any idea where he might be?”
“Not a clue; and neither does my mother. But I wouldn’t expect her to since she’s in La La Land most of the time, and especially right now with her latest conquest.”
“You must have had an interesting childhood.”
“That’s a nice way to put it.”
A bittersweet laugh escaped her.
“But even the circus gets to be too much after a while.”
“Do you have other family besides your man-stealing cousin? Siblings? Grandparents?”
“She’s not really my cousin. Her mother lived with my dad during one of his longer relationships. We thought it’d be fun to say we were related. I’m an only child. I never knew either set of grandparents. They cut ties with my parents long before I came along and their snub ended up extending to me.”
“Too bad they included you in their ban. That rejection must have been rough on you growing up.”
“They didn’t want me, so why should I want them? Besides, I’ve always had my Nanadoo.”
“What’s a Nanadoo?”
, not a
. Nanadoo is my childhood name for my godmother. She’s a wild, eccentric old lady. She’s been married more times than anyone can keep track of and done more things than any ten people. But I love her to bits, and I’ve never been in doubt of her love for me.”
“She sounds wonderful. I’m glad you have her.”
“So am I. Now I think it’s time we change the subject. I’ve gone on about my family long enough, and believe me, they are not my favorite subject at the moment.”
“Then we won’t talk about them. Why don’t we spend the rest of the cruise getting to know each other better and exploring the ports together?”
“What about Heather? I wouldn’t feel right deserting her.”
desertion necessary. She can join us. What do you say?”
“I’ll think about it.”
She picked up her menu again.
“What looks good?”
“You do,” he said making the menu tremble ever so slightly in Suzanne’s hands.
Heather pumped her fist in the air when Suzanne told her about Thad’s suggestion.