His Horizon - Con Riley
Jude Anstey came home to Porthperrin months later than he’d promised, clutching the mast of the Aphrodite as she skimmed the Cornish coastline. Thirty metres of sleek sailing perfection, the yacht raced the dawn and sliced through waves far too fast for his liking.
He shouldn’t need to grip her mast so tightly, his knuckles bone-white like the beach his village was famed for, but Jude couldn’t make himself let go. He couldn’t see that familiar crescent of white sand either, only some harbour lights in the distance, blinking through patches of sea mist. His stomach lurched at how soon those lights drew close, time suddenly passing so much quicker than it had while he’d been away on his travels.
“Looking a bit green about the gills, Jude.” His skipper’s gruff laugh gusted from his place at the wheel. “Anyone would think you were the new hire, rather than a seasoned old hand. Maybe you should stay aboard for another few months. Grow a stronger pair of sea legs.” His teasing was a distraction from the brightening of the horizon. It coloured the sea mist soft pink, gauzy banners between him and the village he’d done his level best to escape.
“Pretty place.” His skipper called out as the mist dissipated. “Quaint.”
Jude nodded rather than speaking. Porthperrin would be at its best right now before the summer season started, deserted, when its cobbled alleys would soon be clogged with noisy tourists. They were the lifeblood of the village, their cash sustaining local business, but he couldn’t help preferring when Porthperrin was quiet.
The outline of slate-topped buildings grew steadily clearer, cottages seeming to tumble down the steep hill to pile around the harbour, the Anchor pub where he grew up nestled right at its centre.
The pub would have been a sight for sore eyes if his return wasn’t empty-handed.
His eyes stung with that fact. With no news to share with his sister—good, bad, or very ugly—he’d have to confess his failure. As the Aphrodite carried him towards that fate, Jude blinked to clear his vision.
“Yup. It’s a pretty-looking place, all right,” his skipper added, oblivious to Jude’s distress. “But not half as pretty as the Maldives, so how about I get rid of the new hire? I’ll make that cheeky sauce-pot walk the plank. Maybe he could help your sister run the Anchor for the summer instead of you. Then we can get back to somewhere warmer. I can still make that happen, Jude. All you have to do is ask me.”
It was a tempting prospect, but Jude made himself shake his head.
“No? Where’s your sense of adventure? I’ll promote you if you say yes.”
Jude pulled himself together, loosening his death grip on the mast. “Promote me to what, exactly?” His voice was a dry rasp after hours of silence. His skipper usually let him keep his own counsel, but now he seemed to need a verbal answer. “I’m already your cook and bottle washer, let alone a tour guide for your rich clients.” Jude slipped into autopilot as the harbour drew close, working in synchrony to berth her. “What’s left that I don’t do for you already?”
“What don’t you do for me, Jude?” The yacht slid into a free spot by the sea wall, his skipper making the manoeuvre look easy, his attention fully focussed on bringing Jude home safely. He sent the new hire ashore before replying. “I can think of a few new tasks I could assign.” He cast a line shoreside, his usual stoic expression troubled. “You could call me by my first name, for a start. It’s Tom, not Skip, now that you’re off the payroll. And you could…” He was indecisive for once, instead of his usual cool, calm and collected. Tom scrubbed a hand through silvering, sea-damp hair. “Well, there’s a lot you could do differently Jude, if you wanted. With me, I mean. Together.”
That was a lot to take in. Jude hadn’t seen the offer coming.
“What I’m saying,” Tom quickly added, “is that we work well together, professionally. We might work just as well personally if you stayed.” He busied himself coiling rope, his gaze fixed on it. “You’re a godsend in the galley—a top-notch chef as well as a born sailor. I like that you think before speaking.” His voice lowered. “We’ve built a good working relationship. Taking it further wouldn’t exactly be a hardship.”
“I have to leave.” As Jude spoke, a fishing boat chugged past. The Aphrodite bobbed in its wake, her deck rising and