Chain, Chain, Chain…
Penn’s Landing Pier
“Of course I realize he’s your brother-in-law,” Dani said, grinning most maliciously as she dragged the chains across the deck to the mainmast. “In fact I’m counting on it as my express delivery system.” She wrapped a double length of chain around her waist. “My apologies for shamelessly exploiting you.”
“Seriously?” Julie laughed. “Trust me, I’ll try not to feel compromised.”
“Like me,” Dani said, hair as red as the sun, rising like a bloody blister over the Delaware. She yanked another length of chain around the mast. “But what can I do. I’m just a woman.”
“And I’m just a media whore,” Julie said. “And a bastard is a bastard is a bastard.” She nodded to her cameraman. “All righty, let’s do this.” Julie flexed her shoulders, leveling her gaze into the lens. “How far would you go to save your job?”
* * * * *
Two days later
L’hôtel Croisette Beach
Pineapple, Marcel Mercier deduced, drifting awake under the noonday sun. A woman’s scent was always the first thing he noticed, as in the subtle fragrance of her soap, her perfumed pulse points, the lingering vestiges of her shampoo.
Mon Dieu, how he loved women.
“Marcel,” he heard, feeling a silky slide of leg up his own.
He opened his eyes to his objet de l’affection for the last three days. “Bébé…” he growled, brushing his lips across hers as she curled into him.
“Marcel, mon amour,” she cooed, fairly beaming with joy. “Tu m’avez fait tellement heureuse.”
“What?” he said idly, nuzzling her neck. That pineapple was driving him insane.
She slid her hand between his legs. “I said you’ve made me very happy.” Then she smiled. No—beamed.
He froze, mid-nibble and looked up. Oh no. Oh no.
She kissed him, her eyes bright. “I don’t care what Paris says—I’m wearing my grand-mère’s Brussels lace to our wedding. You wouldn’t mind, would you?”
He stared at her. Christ—had he really gone and done what he swore he’d never do again? He really needed to lay off the absinthe cocktails. “Mirabel, I—”
“Why did you leave me last night?” She fell back against the chaise, breasts heaving beneath the tiny triangles of her bikini. “You left so fast the maids are still scrubbing scorch marks from the carpet.”
Merde, he really ought to get his sexe registered as a lethal weapon. “I had to take a call,” he said, his standard alibi, stretching as he sat up. He tossed her a glance. She really was quite the babe. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
All at once she went from pouting those gorgeously full lips to full-blown en garde as she shoved her face into his. “Really. More like you couldn’t wait to get away from me. And after last night? After what you asked me?” Her enormous breasts rose, fell, her eyes like razors as they sliced his gaze. “You said…You. Loved. Me.”
Christ. He really needed to diffuse this. Immediately he switched gears, summoning all his powers of seduction. “Mirabel. Cher…” He smiled—lethally he knew—nipping the corner of her mouth. “But that call turned into another then three, and before you knew it…” He traced his finger over the bloom of her breasts and down into their sweet, sweet cavern, his tongue edging her lip until she shivered like an ingénue. “You know damn well there’s only one way to wake a gorgeous girl like you.”
She swallowed hard. “You should’ve come back,” she said softly, a bit disarmed, though the edge still lingering in her voice. “You should have.” Barely breathing it.
“How, ma cher?” He licked the hollow behind her ear and when she jolted, Marcel nearly snickered in triumph. Watching women falling for him nearly outranked falling into them. “Should I have slipped under the door?” he said, feathering kisses across her jawline. “Or maybe climb up the balcony, calling Juliet? Juliet?”
She arched her neck and sighed, a deep blush staining her overflowing décolletage, and Marcel fought a rush of disappointment. Truly, they all were so predictable. A bit of adulatory stroking and it was like they performed on cue. She pressed against his chest as he tugged the bikini string at her hip, her mouth opening in a tiny gasp.
“Mar-cel…” she purred.
He sighed inwardly. It was almost too easy. And that was the scary part.
“Juliet…” He nipped at her collarbone. “Wherefore art thou Juliet?”
“Not Juliet. Julie.”
Marcel froze, mid-nibble. The tall shadow casting out the Rivieran sun and his mojo was none other than his directeur général délégué, Rex Renaud. And looking so out of place amid all that bronzed skin in his perennial business suit. He could’ve kissed him.
“Your timing is spot on,” Marcel opined, reaching past Mirabel for a cigarette.
“And you’ve got trouble.” He turned to Mirabel with the suavest of smiles. “Will you excuse us a moment, bien-aimée?”
She sniffed, rolling over to expose her perfect derrière.
Rex took a glance back as he and Marcel retreated to the shade of a nearby palm. “Nice stern, that one.”
“You do realize you’re talking about the woman I love,” Marcel said as he snapped his lighter. “The future mother of my children.”
Rex regarded him blandly. “Oh no, don’t tell me. Not again.”
“Her father owns Titan Container.” Marcel shot a stream of smoke past his DGD. “And she’s not so bad at holding things herself.” He raked back his thick, dark hair. “I guess I went a little crazy.”
“Jesus,” Rex uttered. “Don’t you know by now you don’t have to marry them to fuck them?” He looked past Marcel. ”I think she wants you—oh look at that.” His mouth crooked, catching her outstretched finger. “She wants to fuck me, too. Ah, well. She’s taking her ass and leaving.”
“Is there a reason you’re here?” Marcel took an impatient drag, fully aware his chief operating officer and closest advisor wouldn’t have come from Marseille if there wasn’t. “Get to it. I’ve virgins to violate.”
“No doubt.” Rex pinched and traced his phone. “You know that Boston operation you were so hot on acquiring and I was so against? The one you said you could bring around to make a ten mil profit the first year? Well, PR brought this to my attention this morning.” He passed the phone to Marcel just as his own vibrated in his pocket. He silenced it without looking. “I’m on my way to the airport so I thought I’d share it with you before I go.”
Marcel winced, catching the video’s title as it started: Julie Knott’s Random Access, Occupy Esther Reed.
“Son of a bitch…” he breathed. “What did she do now?”
“How far would you go to save your job?” Marcel exhaled heavily. Julie Knott, his half-brother Andy Devine’s TV reporter wife, had a preference for stories that ran from misfits to loons. If Rex thought it worth seeing, it couldn’t bode well.
“Good morning everyone,” Julie continued. “It’s just past 5:30 a.m. here at Penn’s Landing, and as you can see from the red sky behind me, a thunderstorm’s on the way. Which makes where I am, outside, exposed and aboard the Esther Reed, a two-masted oyster schooner, not an ideal place to be. Even worse if you’re Dani Lloyd, the skipper of this tall ship. How’re you doing, Dani?”
“Unbelievable how good I’m doing, Julie,” Dani said almost gleefully.
“Oh, Christ…” Marcel scowled. She looked way too happy.
Ever the intrinsic connoisseur of women, he immediately went into assessment mode. This Dani’s hair was as red as the strawberries he’d just had with his champagne. But red hair was never good on a woman. Red-haired women always had issues. His phone buzzed again. All women had issues he thought, silencing it. Still, there was something intriguing in this one’s eyes that caught his attention. He wished he could see more of her, though the shot did end at some nice cleavage.
“…is the one and only female captain employed by Liberty Sail,” Julie said, “a tall ship charter company once headquartered in Center City. I say once because Liberty Sail was recently purchased by a private equity firm and subsequently flipped to a Boston-based subsidiary of Mercier Shipping, the French commercial and luxury cruise ship behemoth. So how’s all this fancy financial maneuvering affecting you, Dani?”
The camera pulled back. “Like this,” she said, holding up an overflow of shiny metal.
“Jesus!” Marcel leaned in. “She’s chained herself to the mast.”
Rex laughed softly. “Just watch. It gets worse, I promise.”
“You’re really enjoying this,” Marcel said, not a bit surprised.
“Impressive chains, Dani,” Julie remarked. “But what’s up with the drama?”
“Liberty Sail has eighty-five ships in twenty-eight ports from Savannah to Portsmouth, and next week all skippers are to report to Boston for evaluation. Rumor has it they’re planning on cutting the fleet by fifty percent, and since the Esther has a sister ship, the Penn Treaty—see it over there?” She pointed down the wharf. “That lessens my chances by half. Plus since this is only my second season—”
“’Only,’ she says,” Julie interjected, “I should mention that Dani, who hails from Bivalve, NJ, where her family’s been commercial fishermen for 150 years, practically grew up on the water. She also designed and ran the Waterkids summer camp aboard the schooner, Crest, out of Lewes for five seasons, and before this served as first mate on New Jersey’s official tall ship, the A.J. Meerwald. Isn’t that true, Dani?”
“Sure.” When Dani blushed Marcel fought the urge to laugh. “But—”
“AND in her spare time teaches a boating safety course for the New Jersey State Police. Not a bad resume for someone who’s just twenty-eight, eh, Dani?”
She shrugged, brushing a flame of hair from her eyes. “Not that any of it matters to Mercier.”
Julie shrugged, looking incredulous. “ Why would you think that?”
“Because I’m a woman.” Dani tossed her hand matter-of-factly. “And Mercier Shipping, especially their mack daddy of a CEO, is about as misogynistic as they get.”
“Really…” Marcel hissed, Rex having to grab Marcel’s arm before he hurled the phone into the bay.
Dani faced the camera. “So here’s the deal. Since only five percent of all senior crew positions with Mercier are occupied by women, and because the lease on this berth is almost up and hasn’t been renewed, I’m pretty darn sure my days as skipper are numbered. So.” She tugged on the chains and allowing herself some slack, slipped through the links a very heavy-duty-looking lock. “I’m occupying the Esther Reed. I’m occupying her because I know I’m a good captain. Maybe not the best, but pretty damn good, and even with Lilly Ledbetter—“
“Who’s Lilly Ledbetter?” Marcel said.
“More like what. Equal pay for equal work,” Rex said.
“—my chances of leaving Boston with a job are slim to none with so many men ahead of me.”
Another woman shoved her face into the camera. “Though I’m here to even up those odds a bit.”
“And you are…” Julie said, positioning the mic.
“Charlotte Andreko of the Philadelphia firm of Schwartz, Lido, Brown and…” She winked. “…Andreko. Employment law our specialty. And girlfriends, how I love to litigate.”
“You must be joking…” Marcel breathed.
Dani tugged on the chains, the bloody morning sun looming behind her. “So I’m occupying the Esther Reed. Not only for myself, but for all the women who are qualified or overqualified and who never get a fair shake, simply because they happen to occupy a vagina.”
“Here’s to vaginas,” Rex quipped.
“Oh shut up.” Marcel zeroed in on her eyes, jade against the sanguine sky. Suddenly he realized what it was he saw it them—determination. Stubborn, pig-headed, ground-into-the-deck determination.
“You hear that, Mercier? I’m occupying this ship!” Dani cried. “And if you want me off come on and make me! That is if you’ve got the vagina to do it!”
“Sacré fils d’ pute!” Marcel spat. “Who the hell does this woman think she is?”
“Maybe you’d better not see the rest then,” Rex said.
Rex sighed, taking the phone from him. “Remember the Occupy movement?”
“On Wall Street?” Marcel flipped his hand dismissively. “A bunch of basement dwellers gone above ground. That’s so over.”
“No, it morphed. About thirty women calling themselves ‘Occupy Vagina—’
“What?” Marcel cried.
Rex continued. “—joined her on the ship right after Julie’s story ran. By the end of the day the local chapter of NOW, that’s the National Organization for Women, started protesting on the wharf. And because Occupy and NOW are there, yesterday some Tea Partiers showed up protesting Mercier being a French company. Between those and the now national press, there’s about four hundred, and that’s not counting the gawkers. And Philadelphia’s none too happy as it’s the height of tourist season.”
Marcel scowled. “Why am I even hearing this? Why isn’t Boston handling it?”
“That would involve firing and arresting her, which they’re prepared to do. But with all the protests and talk of gender inequality, Boston’s concerned it might look, well…” He coughed. “You do have a bit of a reputation that’s just ripe for a lawsuit.”
Marcel glared at Rex. “I’ll bet this whole thing makes you hard, doesn’t it? You’re so dying to prove me wrong for buying Boston in the first place.”
Rex shrugged, smiling subtly. “Well, there is that.”
His phone buzzed again. He looked. A text: I’ll leave the door open. WIDE open. Marcel ground his cigarette into the sand. Rex was right—he didn’t have to marry them to fuck them. But neither should he get fucked to get what he wanted. It was time to put his mojo to work. “You’re on your way to You’re going to Washington, right?”
“Right..” Rex said warily. “A little schmoozing on the dredging bill. Why?”
Marcel met his gaze. “Then you’re dropping me in Philadelphia.”
“Are you insane? Do you realize how it’ll look if you show up on the dock?”
“Oui. Like someone in this company has the balls to deal with the situation.” He pulled his phone from his trunks, dialing. “Mona, I’m leaving with Monsieur Renaud immediately. Call the hotel and check me out then have my bags sent right to the plane. And tell the pilot I need to be dropped at Philadelphia. Yes. That’s right.” He glanced to Rex, holding the phone against his chest. “If I’ve got the vagina to do it…” He laughed, eyes hooding. “I’ll show her how this Mercier occupies a vagina.”
“You heard that other woman, Marcel. Let the lawyers handle it. You’re Mercier’s président-directeur-général for Christ’s sake. You touch her and she can take us down.”
“As if I’d make the first move.” He glanced to Rex. “As if I’d have to. Because when she does? Oh mon frère…” His mouth crooked most wickedly. “She won’t have a beautiful leg to stand on.”
“And how do you propose to do that!” Rex cried.
“I don’t know. But what I do know is I’m not going to let you or anyone put the clamps on me.” He yelled back into the phone, “Mona!”
“Jesus…” Rex groaned. “Why did I come here?”
“To correct a gross misunderstanding. Imagine…me—a misogynist!” Marcel shook the phone. “Oh for Christ’s sake, Mona? Mona!”
* * * * *
Dani sunk to the deck in a clank of chains, resting her head against the mast. It was late, past the time the Delaware Avenue clubs closed and all around her, from the whoosh of traffic on I-95 to the random idling vessel on the river, it was quiet. Or as quiet as a city could be, especially to someone living outside in it.
She closed her eyes, the slap of river water against the hull as always, so soothing. Still, her panic eased only marginally. Because as quiet as the Esther seemed now, as most of the Occupiers were either below or sleeping on the bow, she knew that peace was a whole lot like the night itself, only temporary until daylight changed everything.
More than once in the last three days she questioned what the hell she was doing. Didn’t she hear what Julie Knott had said? She did have a hell of a resume. Sailing was in her blood, her genes. Anyone should be happy to have her if she got fired, as who’d doubt that now? She rammed the heel of her hand against her forehead. Stupid, stupid, stupid. As impressive as her resume was, this was the first decent-paying job she ever had, as great resume or not, non-profits paid squat. And now she wouldn’t even have that. After three days her hair hung in clumps, her clothes were sweaty and stained, her legs bruised from continually whipping herself with the chains. Plus as much as she slathered on sunscreen, her fair skin had turned into a mélange of freckles and sunburn. And she stunk. Christ almighty, did she ever. So badly she didn’t let anyone get within five feet of her but then again, when they stood downwind…
She’d never been fussy but she always demanded order. A scrubbed deck, taut sails, the hair out of her eyes—these were what mattered. And fairness above all. Her father taught her that, just the same as her brothers, the only difference being the size of their Topsiders, as on the inside they all filled them the same.
Not an easy truth to swallow outside of Bivalve in this Penis Club of a world.
So now what? Soon Occupy Vagina would get bored, and no doubt another picketed Planned Parenthood would call away NOW, and where would she be then? Left with the Tea Partiers, screaming for her to go eat some Freedom Fries. Dani cringed, flapping her sodden teeshirt. Talk about fairness. This wasn’t fair. She was a good skipper. Probably too good for this dumbass charter fleet. But she did love the Esther, and she was proud of her stewardship. Not that Mercier would care. Not when they let go their only two female first mates last week. Fired, more like it. If they fired those women, who probably should’ve been promoted over her, what chance did she have?
Bastards. She didn’t want to hate men, but Jesus! how she hated the way they rolled. Because really, Mercier Shipping was just a big ol’ sausage party. With a fancier-sounding name and better PR, but a boy’s club all the same. And that’s why she couldn’t let them win. She was good enough, and she was smart enough. And dammit, she thought as she hunkered down to the deck, no Frenchie player’s gonna get me off this boat without admitting to it.
* * * * *
“Wake up, cher. C’mon.”
Dani flinched, waving her arm. “Stop…” She groaned, punching the blanket under her head. “Go away.”
“Non. You go away. Now get up.”
Something—or someone was kicking her foot. “You c’mon!” And that someone was going to get that foot up their ass if they didn’t… She blinked. A man was bending over her, illuminated by the waxing moon.
And he was gorgeous.
“Ah, there she is. Sleeping Beauty.” He grasped her hands.
“Hey!” She yanked back. “Who are you?”
“Your mack daddy,” he said, pulling her to her feet. “Now get off my boat.”
© Copyright Gwen Jones 2014 All Rights Reserved.