(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Cutter was written by A.J. Downey.)
He sighed and looked out the porthole set behind and to the left of his ‘throne’, gazing absently out and to the left across sand to the distant lapping aquamarine waters. His hair hung midway down his back in a loose horsetail. Dividing the image of the giant orange octopus dragging the doomed ship below the waves in half. His cut was worn and dirty and had seen a lot of action, much like the man in it.
Kelly looked at the establishment before entering. It was humid here like the Author had told her it would be, but Kelly was used to humidity, so it didn’t bother her. She’d had a very long, hard day already and suspected what she would meet in there. She would be nice if possible but wasn’t in the mood for games.
With a sigh, she forced all the day’s activities from her mind, found a smile, and stepped into The Plank. Immediately she was met by a large man, and she wasn’t surprised but smiled at him. “You must be Tiny. I have an appointment with the Captain.” she said the exact words the Author told her to say.
Tiny looked the lithe woman over and chewed the corner of his lip thoughtfully. “Hey Captain! Woman says she’s here to see you.”
A voice called from an archway into the back.
“Let her in, Tiny and keep your fuckin’ hands to yourself.”
Kelly smiled at the words then nodded to Tiny. “Thank you.” And she headed past him in the general direction she heard the voice. It wasn’t very difficult to find this Cutter fellow. He was sitting on what looked to be an electric chair. As Kelly came to stand before him, she had to smile as a thought came to her mind. “I do truly hope that chair is decommissioned. Otherwise, first blast of lightning to the electric system here, and your hair would…well…” She gestured as a big ‘poof’ but then smiled at him. “I’m Kelly Blanchard. I’m assuming you’re Cutter. Thank you for meeting with me.”
Cutter eyed the woman plaintively and nodded thoughtfully to himself. His expression neutral, giving nothing away. “Something like a hundred and sixty-two dudes died in this thing. It is decommissioned though. No hook ups, no switch…what’s a pretty little thing like you doing in my town? Why’d you want to see me?”
Kelly raised her brows as she crossed her arms. “Why did I want to see you? You’re the one who volunteered to meet with me, so i should be asking you that.” She then smiled. “But as for why I’m here, I’m here to get to know you. I hear you’re quite a curious fellow. So who exactly are you?”
Cutter bowed his head and chuckled, his expression rueful. “That little bitch…” he uttered. He stood and thrusted his hands into the pockets of a worn pair of tan cargo shorts. He wore his cut over a colorfully tattooed and leanly muscled chest. “I’m Cutter,” he said simply and shrugged. His smile was almost charming with an edge of endearing to it. His rich brown eyes roving the woman in front of him from head to feet. He took a step off the dais the electric chair rests on and stopped a few feet in front of her. “Have a seat, Darlin’. Get comfortable. I might like to get to know you too.” He pulled out a chair for her and gestured for her to sit.
“No, thank you.” She shook her head. She had seen him looking at her, and she wasn’t stupid but decided to ignore it and focus on the questions, so she sat back in her chair. “And what was your life prior to being a Marine?”
“Hard working southern boy.” he said and leaned forward, bracing his forearms on his knees. “Enlisted right out of High School.”
Kelly raised her brows as she considered him. Being from deep in the country of Texas, she immediately tried to imagine him in cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. The image really wasn’t coming together too well, and it made her chuckle, but she went on with her questions. “Where from the south?”
“One of the Carolinas. What made you come all the way down here to my little kingdom by the sea on the word o’ that girl?” he asked her and his eyes held curiosity, even as his face was set in stone.
Kelly met his gaze then tilted her head as a smile played on her lips. He was going to try and play this game? “You volunteered, remember?” She arched an elegant brow. “So, are you the kind of guy who joined the Marines and left your past behind including your family and forged a new life? Or do you still have connections to your old life?”
“I talk to my parents every now and again. Sometimes my brother.” He shrugged nonchalantly, “Only family that really counts is the ones I got here though.” He swept a hand out taking in the bar and the men in similar cuts out front. “I was a black sheep, a wild child. Marines knocked some discipline and sense into me. When I got back, I was in rough shape. My folks didn’t need to see it. That’s about it on that. Not much else to say.” He reached out a finger and paused and quirked an eyebrow as if to ask permission. Hearing no denial, he tucked a loose strand of hair behind Kelly’s ear. Nothing overt about it, just a genuine desire to see her better. “You’re a pretty girl Ms..?”
“Blanchard,” she automatically filled in although she gave him this look because she had already told him that before, but she listened to what he had said and chose another question. “So you came back from the Marines and built this place?” She glimpsed around again before meeting his eyes. “How did you manage that?”
“Didn’t build it. Took it over from the President before me. Came up in the ranks just like any other brother.” He leaned back in his seat. “What’s your story? What do you do?”
Kelly laughed then leaned in to whispered. “You want to know what it is that I do? I pester people like you with questions.” She smirked as she sat back in her chair. That was the only answer she would give him. “So how did you get involved in all this?”
Cutter leaned in and gave her his best devil may care smile, “You want, I’ll show you. You trust me to take you somewhere, Darlin’?”
Kelly gave him a look as she crossed her arms. “And where exactly would you be talking me?”
“Just down to the marina, along the boulevard. Whole town’ll see you in case you’re wondering. Ain’t a safer place on the planet than with me. I can promise you that. Still… men don’t know how to treat women. It ain’t like it used to be, so I would understand if you wanted to decline.”
“I assure you I can take care of myself, so I will allow you to take me to this place, but know this, if you try anything funny, it will definitely not in your favor–as a few other men before you have learned.” She smiled, recalling the two antagonists that had tried to attack her in previous interviews and how surprised they were. “So…” she rose to her feet. “Lead the way, and as you do so, tell me about this place. What it used to be like.”
Cutter stood in one fluid motion and held out his hand for Kelly to take. When she does, he tucked it gently into the crook of his arm. A very old fashioned and gentlemanly gesture.
“Said you’re safe with me, Sugar and I meant it.” he said softly, tone gently, teasingly chiding as he leads her through the bar and into the bright Florida sun. He strolls with her up the line of bikes and stops at a gorgeous Indian motorcycle, the tank a glossy white and orange, the seat a rich brown leather.
“Let me explain a little somethin’ to you…” Cutter explained what he needs from a passenger as he stuffs his feet into a pair of boots from his saddle bag and laces them up. He straightened and winked and got on, starting the bike with a sharp roar, the engine settling into a chugging purr. He holds out a hand to Kelly to steady her as she gets on the back. “You got more than 10 grand in medical insurance, Sweet Heart?” he called over the idling bike.
Kelly had to laugh. She wasn’t a part of his reality. Nothing could hurt her here. She replied over the sound of the engine. “You really don’t know me at all.”
“Like to change that if you’re up for it… you got proof of insurance or not?”
Kelly thought of phasing her hand straight through his back and out his chest to prove to him what she could do. Of course it wouldn’t hurt him at all. The only reason he could touch her at all was because she allowed it. Otherwise, she wasn’t even solid in this reality, but she didn’t want to explain that to him. That was her insurance policy. “Let’s just say, you’re gonna have to trust me on that. Now, are you going to tell me somewhere or no?”
“Fair enough, your ticket anyways and you can’t be any safer than ridin’ with me except for maybe with my VP, Marlin. He’s a careful rider.” Cutter helped Kelly onto the back of his bike and put her arms around his waist, where they were comfortable.
“Hang on, lean with the bike, just like I told you. Here we go.” He took them out onto the road slowly, working the machine with practiced ease. He yelled back over the wind. “Took the club over from a guy named Mac! He died of cancer a ways back. Not much of the old guard left to be honest.”
Kelly smiled at the thrill of the ride. She’d ridden bikes before because her brother had one as did her brother-in-law, and a friend. She knew how to ride, and she knew Cutter wouldn’t do anything stupid to damage the ride.
She yelled over the engine. “And why’s that? Did they leave or something else?”
“Or something else!” he called back and revved the engine. They shot forward down the street, he slowed at the end and made a gentle turn onto the town’s main drag also known as the boulevard.
Kelly took in her surroundings. Even though Cutter said she was safe with him, she didn’t like new places, so her senses were on full alert although she remained on the conversation. “And who’s responsible for the ‘something else’? You?”
“Can’t tell you that. Y’see, there’s a code we live by, it ain’t the same as your civilian rules and laws. It just is what it is. We protect our own, tried and true, fierce…you feel me?”
“Sure. Okay, so can you tell me about your people? I mean, personality-wise, and maybe a bit of how you know them.”
“My boys? Eh… I’d rather talk about you.” He guides the bike into another gentle turn, into a marina parking lot. Sail, sport and fishing boats bob gently in their berths.
“Not an option.” The smell of the marine filled Kelly’s nose, and she wrinkled her nose but then smoothed her features. “So do you basically run this town or something?”
“Ooooor something.” Cutter grinned and put down the kickstand on the bike, leaning it onto it. He held out a hand so Kelly could get off.
But Kelly didn’t dismount right away. Rather she crossed her arms. “Why are you dodging my questions?”
“Why you dodging mine?” Cutter looks back over his shoulder and raises an eyebrow, lips curled in a faintly amused smile.
“Because the terms of the agreement to even have this conversation in the first place is so I can ask you questions—not the other way around.” She gave him a firm look, refusing to back down.
Cutter smiled, “I don’t remember agreeing to anything, Darlin’, and it’s in the nature of a man like me to be suspicious. Can’t take nothin’ for granted. The really real world don’t work that way for us.”
“Real~ly?” Kelly dragged it out sarcastically, sending his Author a mental note that he wasn’t cooperating with her, but then she finally dismounted. “Well then, if you won’t answer any of my questions, then I will simply be on my way.”
“Suit yourself,” Cutter smiled and was perfectly prepared to let her walk away, if only he could watch her ass go.
“Fine. Have a good day, Sir.” Kelly gave him a curt nod then turned sharp on her heel and began to walk away.
Cutter sighed as she begins to walk away. Damn, she was fine. “Hold up, Sweetheart!” he called before she could go too far. He got off the bike. “Let’s try this again, let me get you a cold drink.” Cutter met Kelly’s eyes and jerked his head down the dock in the direction of the boats. “Ever think you might be asking the wrong questions?” he asked softly when she hesitated.
Kelly halted and willed herself to take a very deep breath. She had already put up with enough egotistic men. She thought for a moment then made up her mind, marched right up to him. “Listen, this has been a really, really, really bad day for me before I even came here. Why? Because of men like you. I have no patience for it, but I am trying my hardest to be sincere and nice.” She took a step back. “As for asking the wrong questions?” She spread her hands out. “I’m trying to figure out WHAT questions to ask you, but you won’t give me anything to even work with, so how am I supposed to know what to ask?” She crossed her arms as she glared at him.
“Ah, but you did just give me something. Right there.” He pulled her into a gentle hug. “I’m sorry you’ve had a bad day, Honey. Can’t resist me a damsel in distress. Just the way things are. You come into my joint asking all kinds of things that don’t mean anything to me…but this? This means something. Making you feel better, that means something.” He let her go and kept one hand in hers. “Come have a glass of wine…I came to Ft. Royal about six or seven years back. My buddy Pyro talked me into going into the salvage business with him. Maritime salvage mind you. I had experience with boating from back in Carolina, so it was something new…plus I had all the start up money. When I got here, the town was in rough shape. The Kraken, led by Mac, was squeezing the place dry with a protection racket but wasn’t doing much protecting. You catch my drift?”
Kelly yanked her hand out of his. “I know you’re trying to be nice, but do not touch me again. Understood? Thank you.” Then she took a deep breath and focused what he was saying. “Okay, so tell me more of this place.”
Cutter smirked, amused. “Kitten has teeth.” he commented dryly. “You know touch ain’t such a bad thing, right? Don’t mean nothin’ by it and there ain’t no ‘tryin” about it. I am being nice, Sugar.” He leads the way down the dock to his boat, the Mysteria Ann and held out a hand to help Kelly aboard, standing there patiently.
“This place was in rough shape. Just needed a little love and a firm hand. I provided both.”
Kelly still wasn’t sure what to really ask him. She already knew her time here was up and she needed to leave because she had another interview in an hour, but he was finally beginning to talk with her, so she allowed herself to to linger longer and took his hand to get on board. “Go on.”
Cutter smiled and helped her up. “Took a while to fix it, but we did. Starting with the club. Mac never intended it to get as bad as it did and when he knew the cancer was about to punch his ticket he asked for my help. I was voted Pres. after he died and it’s been me and my boys and keeping things straight around here ever since.”
“So what exactly is this place?” Kelly asked looking around.
“Tourist town. Some of the best beachfront in Florida.” Cutter shrugged. “White or red, Darlin’?”
Kelly looked at him then tilted her head. “Would you like me to be honest or polite?”
“Can’t you do both?”
“Depends on your definition of ‘polite’, but then she shook her head at the offered wine. “I don’t drink.” She wasn’t about to tell him about her brother’s addiction that had killed him, and she swore never to touch any alcohol since. “But you may if you wish. I will continue to listen. So, what’s your favorite thing about this place?”
“Eh?” Cutter watched the ghost of sorrow cross Kelly’s face. “The water, how close we are to the Keys…can I get you a glass of sweet tea?” Cutter trailed his vision over her features. “Sweetheart, I gotta say, you keep looking like that I’m not gonna be able to keep myself from hugging you again.” He sighed. “Just trying to be both polite and honest.” He smiled. Kelly was totally breaking his heart. Cutter resisted every urge to hold her and promise to chase the bad thoughts, the hurt and the ache away.
“Hug me again, and I will stab you.” That’s all she said before finally heaving a heavy sigh. “Listen, I know I’m being difficult. Only fair because you were being difficult too, so that wasn’t helping. I appreciate your…concern, but I am fine. I mean, if you have a punching bag around here somewhere, I’d love to give it a few solid punches.” She then lifted her hand and gave him a look. “I’m joking.” Partly. She did want to go home and punch something.
Then smoothing her face, Kelly looked across the water. “What is your favorite memory of this place?”
“Ah…bittersweet that one. About a year or so back this dude from a club up north rode into town with this sweet Li’l Bit of a thing on the back of his bike. I got lucky and managed to hook up with them for a night. She’s somethin’ special that one.”
“And where is she now?”
“Legit, I’m sorry you’re hurting and if it makes you feel better, I been shot before and getting stabbed ain’t no thing…I might be willing to risk it.” Cutter sucked it up when he saw the question won’t be evaded. “She’s back up north, with her man. You missed ’em by a couple of weeks.”
Wondering if she finally touched upon something close to him that he might open up, Kelly continued, “Honorable that you let them go, but I bet you weren’t too happy about that.” She glanced at him.
“Hurt like an ever loving son of a bitch but Reave is a good man.” He walked to the stern and dropped onto one of the padded benches.
“How come you don’t like to be touched?”
“Personal preference,” Kelly answered dryly as she walked to one side of the boat to look across the water before glancing back at Cutter. “So, this girl’s gone. What are you doing with your life now?”
“Waitin’ for another one to show up.” he said with a lazy shrug.
“You said you were shot. Care to elaborate? Or is that something you’d rather not talk about?” Now she was beginning to pace. It helped her think and listen.
“My unit kicked in a door at the sand trap, me and my buddy were the first to follow the breach…I took a couple to my body armor but one found a chink…my buddy took one to his face. He died, I didn’t. How’s that for candid?” Now Cutter was the one who looked withdrawn and haunted. “Should have been me.”
Kelly halted and looked at him. She recognized that look on his face and respected it. “I’m sorry. That must have been very hard. However, if you had died, then we wouldn’t be talking right now.” She shrugged and resumed her pacing. “And unfortunately my time here is up, and I need to leave, but before I go…” She halted in front of him, her arms crossed still. “Is there anything further you think I should know about you? Anything you’d like to tell me?”
“Just how much I’d like to kiss you once before you go.” he winked up at her.
Kelly’s face merely hardened. She wasn’t amused. “Well then, I appreciate your time and all you have told me, and I apologize for my harshness.” She bowed her head to him briefly before looking at him once more. “I will take my leave now. May you have a wonderful evening.”
“You’re a strange chick, Ms. Blanchard, but suit yourself. You find yourself remembering what regret tastes like, you know where to find me. I’ll have a cool drink of water waitin’ for you.”
She had to smile then shook her head. “Once again, you’ve proven just how much you don’t know me at all. Take care.” With that she turned to walk but a question caught her mind and she looked back at him, “Do you have any moral standards?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe…they’re just different than the average Joe’s.” Cutter looked at her plaintively. “You take care of yourself, Sugar.”
She stared at him, curious to know exactly what he meant, but then nodded. “Thank you again. Goodbye.” And with that, she turned but didn’t even step off the boat before she vanished.
“What the…?” Cutter shook his head in disbelief.
Note: AJ Downey’s book ‘Cutter’s Hope’ is slated for release in January 2016. Follow her on social media for more updates!
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