His Horizon - Con Riley Page 0,1

falling as if nodding in agreement. “I promised my sister I’d come home. I promised that months ago.”

Tom followed Jude as he jumped from the gunwale onto the sea wall steps, the granite gritty underfoot compared to the smooth teak of the yacht’s deck. He spoke quietly once they both stood shoreside, perhaps aware that the nosy new hire listened. “I know you promised to come home, Jude, but please listen to me. Take some advice from someone older.” He rubbed at his glinting stubble. “Finding someone you can work with so well, who knows what you need before you do, and who shoulders half of your load without asking….” His low chuckle was rueful. “Well, when you find someone like that who’s easy to look at as well, you’d be a damn fool to let them walk away without trying hard to keep them.”

“I… I didn’t know. Why didn’t you—?”

“Say something earlier?” Tom grasped his wrist, like Jude had clutched the mast only minutes before, his grip a squeeze of rope-roughened fingers. “Do you remember what you were like when I hired you?”

Jude thought and then nodded, that sick lurch of earlier returning.

“You were a wreck, Jude. Exhausted. How long had you been travelling for, by then?”

Searching. He’d been searching for months rather than travelling for fun, or island-hopping, like so many people his age. He hadn’t gone sightseeing in the Seychelles or snorkelled in warm Goan shallows. Instead, he’d scoured the Indian Ocean in search of news to bring home to his sister.

“Jude, it took a long time before you got your head straight.” Tom squared his shoulders and broached a subject Jude had only voiced once, drunk with grief and tiredness. “Your parents were lost at sea—”

“You don’t know that,” Jude snapped. No one did, for certain.

Tom’s nod was reluctant. “Okay. They were likely lost at sea, and you were grieving about that. I get that. I do. It took a lot for you to keep looking, despite the chances of them surviving being…” He winced before finishing. “…slim-to-none.”

Regret was a noose around Jude’s neck. It tightened with each reminder.

“A yacht the size of the Aphrodite can weather bad storms,” Tom said. “You know that. But a vessel the size of your father’s caught in the worst typhoon for decades, and him the only experienced sailor aboard….”

Jude’s throat constricted even further. Knowing all of that had been hard to live with during his first months crewing for Tom, his focus split between work and scanning each new horizon for a sign of his parents. Later, with Tom’s steadiness to ground him, Jude had found some plainer mental sailing, even if he still searched every port for a boat called the One for Luck that his dad had spent years building.

“I had to come home sometime,” Jude just about managed to get out, wishing he was anywhere else rather than home, right then. “I promised Louise.”

“Jude, you said that before, then you changed your mind.”

“It…it seemed too soon to give up,” he said. That was only a few months after the police had arrived midway through dinner service at the London restaurant where he’d worked. They’d told him news that had been life-changing, and from that moment onwards, Jude had been committed to proving them wrong. Coming home empty-handed like this though….

Tom released Jude’s wrist very gradually. “You can’t blame yourself for not finding them, Jude. Or for not finding any wreckage when you didn’t exactly know where to look for it. And you can’t blame me either for hoping all the way here that you’d change your mind one more time.” Jude shook his head instead of replying, so Tom continued softly. “I only want you to be sure. Really sure. You’re how old? Somewhere in your twenties? You’ll be racing through your forties before you know it, like me, with half the world left to explore. Just because you feel some family obligation to shackle yourself to a failing business—”

Anger let loose more words than Jude would usually spare. “I’m not shackling myself to anything. I promised I’d come back, that’s all, to help get the pub set up for the summer. And it’s not a failing business.” Okay, his sister’s messages hadn’t exactly been positive for a while that winter, but she’d sounded brighter whenever he called home lately. “The pub has always done okay in the past. Once the summer tourists arrive, it’ll be business as usual,” apart from his parents not being behind