Beauty Queens

13,030
05.03.2019

“Let me help you with that.”

“I don’t need your help,” Adina called, but Duff was already wading into the water. This was the problem with men. They just assumed. They just took action. It was infuriating. And reductive. And slightly thrilling.

The wet clung to Duff’s pants as he strode into the surf, and she could see the curve of his ass. Man, he was fine.

“Stop it, Greenberg,” Adina said. She walked back to shore and busied herself with rearranging the HELP stones.

Duff took a deep breath and dove under. He was under for a count of ten, and Adina found herself worrying. Another few seconds went by and he popped up. “Got it! Give it a try!”

Adina tugged on the line and it moved easily. Duff trudged back through the waves. His body glistened in the sun. Why was her heart speeding up? It was an autonomic betrayal. Stop it, she told her senses. Stop being so dumb.

“All better?”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

“No problem.” He shook off the excess water like a big dog and sat down in the sand. “It’s brilliant here. Peaceful.”

“I’d trade it in a heartbeat for a night at a hotel with room service.”

“Understandable. But it is kind of romantic. Like the island version of Waiden Pond.”

“You’ve read Thoreau?” Adina managed.

“Surprised?” He gave her that smile, which was both sweet and a little dangerous. “I’ve been watching you. You’re not like the other girls, are you?”

Adina made a show of looking down at her body. “Really?”

“Oh. I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant that you don’t seem like the typical beauty queen type.”

“Gee. Thanks.”

“No! I didn’t mean … wow. I’m really striking out here.” He took a deep breath. “What I meant was that you don’t seem like someone who would go out for a Miss Teen Dream Pageant. You seem like someone who’d be, I don’t know, playing in a band, hauling your equipment to gigs.”

“I … I do play in a band,” Adina said, unable to keep her cool. “I’m the bass player.”

“Bass players are brilliant! John Paul Jones, Flea, John Entwistle, Tina Weymouth …”

“Seriously? You just named all my favorites in one breath.”

“I have more breath. I could try to say more things to make you like me.”

His eyes were very green. Adina got up to check the fishing lines even though she’d just checked them not five minutes before.

“So, rock-star pirate,” she said, with a bit of sneer. “What instrument do you play on the show?”

“Well, I don’t like to brag, but I am a virtuoso at the spoons.”

“Really.”

“Yes. My musical cutlery skills have landed me in the top concert halls of Europe. The Queen yelling out, ‘Spoon solo!’” Duff played a mock spoon solo against his thigh, then made crowd sounds. “Of course, there was that tragic spork incident at the Hollywood Bowl. We don’t talk about that.”

“You don’t play anything, do you?”

“Not a thing. I am completely and utterly useless.”

Adina could feel herself starting to warm to Duff. “So, what, they just hired you for your good looks?”

“You think I’m good-looking?”

He gave her a shy smile, and Adina’s cheeks pinkened.

“That’s usually a requirement for being on TV,” she said, dodging the question.

“Well. Maybe when we get back, you can teach me to play the bass.”

“If we can fix your ship, we can get out of here. Oh my God. Do you know what I would do for a burger and a bed?”

“Hey — you fancy a trip to the ship?” Duff laughed when Adina raised an eyebrow. “No. Nothing like that. There’s food on board. It’s mostly pretty naff — soy protein bars and freeze-dried noodles and whatnot. But it’s a change from coconut and fish for you.”

“It’s not a burger, but I’ll take it.”

When the morning fog burned off and the sun was high, the beauty queens and the accidental pirates trudged through the waters to the beached ship to assess the damage. She had taken on quite a bit of water and listed to one side. A big, jagged hole snaked along the starboard side near the bow.

“We’re going to have to drag her ashore if we have a hope of fixing her,” Ahmed said.

“How do we do that?” Nicole cast a glance upward at the tall sails.