Last in my series of FREE CHAPTER READS. Keep reading to get to know Cade and Toby…
As promised, they arrived at the caves ten minutes later and the two men set about securing the boat and then getting into their dive gear, making sure to check that their primary and secondary dive lights attached to their helmets were in working order. Equipment check complete, they sat on the side of the boat.
“Okay, number one,” Toby began. “Stay close by me. Number two, be aware of your surroundings and remember as much as you can, because it’s going to be very different down there in the dark later. Number three…” he smiled. “Have fun.”
“Check and check,” Cade acknowledged Toby’s instructions. “And that last part won’t be a problem,” he smiled in return as both men put on their helmets and slipped over the side of the boat.
Toby led them just a short distance away from the Calypso, to the first cave, making sure Cade was sticking close beside him. Toby didn’t go deep, using the light from the setting sun shining down from the opening high above to guide them. He watched as Cade did as instructed, turning his head from side to side, taking in his surroundings, and also consulting his compass from time to time.
They swam for twenty minutes, through several interconnecting caves, watching as a new set of underwater creatures came to life as the sun went down. This time Toby indicated for them to ascend while still inside the cave. They broke the surface, treading water, their dive lights bouncing off the cavern walls.
“Well, what do you think?” Toby asked, removing his helmet, his voice echoing around them.
“Stunning,” Cade said simply, smiling widely. “Beautiful, Toby, just beautiful.”
“Knew you’d like it,” Toby replied, pleased. “Okay, let’s get back and enjoy the last of the sunset, take a break and then head back in,” he finished, then put his helmet back on and dropped back underwater, leading Cade out of the cave and back to the boat.
Cade sighed contentedly as he stretched out on the bench on one side of the stern, Toby adopting the same pose on the opposite bench, both men staring off at the horizon. Toby surreptitiously turned his head to just look at Cade, at his strong profile. The setting sun lit Cade’s skin in soft hues of pinks and yellows and oranges.Toby was mesmerized by the play of light and shadow as he let his eyes roam over Cade’s body. After a long minute he sighed internally and looked back out over the water. There was no denying any more that he was attracted to Cade. And it scared him that he liked these feelings that Cade kept stirring inside him, afraid that his resolve to not get involved was starting to crack.
And wondering if that was a bad thing.
They relaxed in comfortable silence until the last rays of the sun slipped below the horizon, then donned their wetsuits once again. Toby turned on the flashing strobe light on the top of the Calypso, easily marking their location for when they surfaced.
“Get ready for a whole new world,” Toby told Cade. “And watch out for the Creature from the Black Lagoon,” he winked, then dropped backwards into the water.
Night diving was both exhilarating and a bit scary at the same time. With only the beams from your dive lights, one minute you’re swimming along and the next there could be something right in front of you. As Cade found out rather quickly when several manta rays swam past on their nocturnal explorations, close enough to touch. Toby watched as Cade startled but then recovered quickly enough to reach out and brush one with his fingertips. Toby gave him a thumbs-up then indicated to go off to the left, to a special spot that he knew would put on quite a show for Cade. And he wasn’t disappointed. In this certain area of the caves were a large quantity of a single-celled organism called dinoflagelletes. They were invisible to the naked eye during the day, but at night they lit up the water with their bioluminescence. The effect was simply stunning. Like being surrounded by thousands of fireflies. Toby could see Cade’s eyes widen and his mouth drop open as they swam into the middle of the area, watched as he reached out in wonder as if to scoop up the glow in his hand, then turned himself around several times, trying to take it all in. His amazed laugh filled Toby’s helmet.
They enjoyed the underwater light show for several more minutes, then continued on deeper into the caves, Toby paying more attention to Cade than where they were actually swimming. Giving a quick check to his air gauge, he informed Cade that it was time to turn back, only to realize he was completely disorientated and had no idea where they were. And it stunned him into complete immobility. He’d been diving down here for half his life. It was simply not possible that he’d gotten them lost.
And yet that’s exactly what had happened.
Too professional of a diver to show any outward panic, especially in front of a student, Toby quickly shone his dive lights in both directions, hoping for a familiar landmark, at the same time consulting his compass. Before he could decide on a direction, Cade was right next to him, as if somehow knowing that Toby needed assistance.
“This way, right?” he asked Toby, pointing off to the left.
Swallowing down his pride, Toby nodded and swam after Cade, and damn if he didn’t lead them out of the caves with absolutely no hesitation, and to Toby’s complete chagrin. They popped up only a meter or so away from the Calypso and swam over. Once on board Toby pulled off his helmet and started shaking his head, intending to apologize to Cade for getting them lost.
“Cade, I don’t know – “
Cade clapped Toby on the shoulder, cutting him off. “You really know how to keep a guy on his toes, Toby! I wasn’t expecting another test tonight. Thanks for giving me the hint I needed to pay attention to where we were. I can see how easy it would be to get lost down there.”
Toby gaped at him for a moment, trying to figure out if Cade was serious or if he was letting Toby keep a modicum of his dignity, when he swore he saw the corners of Cade’s mouth twitch as he turned away to remove his fins.
Toby rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest. “Anyone ever tell you you’re a smartass?”
At that Cade finally let loose with his suppressed laughter. “I had you going there, though, didn’t I?” he smirked.
Toby waved his hand in dismissal. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll have you know that’s never happened to me before. I would’ve gotten us outta there. I just needed another minute…or two,” he finished with an embarrassed grin.
“You know, I really should report this to Hank,” Cade quipped as he finished removing his wetsuit. “But!” he held up his hand before Toby could say anything. “We can forget about the entire thing if…” he trailed off for a second and rummaged in his duffle bag, pulling out a bottle of Kentucky bourbon and showing it to Toby. “…you have a drink with me.” He shrugged one of his shoulders. “Since I couldn’t get you to a bar with me I thought I’d bring the bar to you.”
Toby paused. Alone, in the dark, sharing a few drinks. This wasn’t a good idea. He should politely decline and say they needed to start heading back. But his mouth was apparently not listening to his brain, because before he could stop himself…
A very pleased smile crossed Cade’s face and he reached over and squeezed Toby’s bare shoulder before turning back to the duffel bag and producing two plastic cups. A few minutes later they had donned their t-shirts and shorts and were relaxing on the bow, sitting close enough that their shoulders were almost touching. The clouds had dissipated, revealing millions of stars twinkling in the clear sky and a full moon reflecting on the water.
Cade took a swallow of bourbon and turned his head toward Toby. “I can’t get over what an amazing feeling it was, being down in those caves tonight.”
Toby took a drink as well. “Been through those caves ‘bout a hundred times. But like I said earlier, there’s something different every time. It never gets boring.”
Cade looked up toward the sky. “It’s like being out in the stars. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it.”
Toby couldn’t help his wistful, and envious, sigh. “Closest I’m probably ever gonna get to the stars is in one of the flight simulators.”
“From what I hear you’ve made some fabulous improvements to those simulators,” Cade said. “I wish I’d had you building and programming them when I was in flight school.”
Toby turned to look at him. “How did you know I was on the simulator team?”
Cade shrugged, took another drink. “After we met I took the liberty of looking into your Academy history.” He grinned. “I was curious as to who was going to be teaching me.” Cade shifted so that he was turned more fully toward Toby. “And I was damn impressed at what I read. You need to stop selling yourself short when it comes to your dream of working on the Gemini project. You’re in the top two percent of your class, Toby. Alliance Command is not going to overlook that when they hand out assignments next month.”
Toby shook his head. “Don’t you think they’d want someone older, more experienced, working on something as monumentally important as Earth’s first hyperdrive engine?”
“Just because you haven’t been in space doesn’t mean you’re not qualified to work on a starship engine. It’s about technical expertise, not flight time.”
Toby now turned to face Cade, a tinge of excitement in his voice. “Tell me about that. What’s it like up there? I’ve gotta admit that as much as I want to experience it for myself, it makes me kinda nervous, too.”
“It’s a lot like scuba diving, actually,” Cade began, then tipped his head up toward the sky, his voice gone quiet. “Surrounded by an endless sea of stars instead of water. It’s beautiful. And so serene. But there’s so much more out there to explore than in just our galaxy.”
Toby couldn’t help but smile at the passion and wonder in Cade’s voice. “You said we’re close to breaking barrier three?”
Cade nodded and finished off his drink, poured himself another and topped off Toby’s. “The engine tests we’ve been running are really promising. Captain Hoffman’s team is burning the midnight oil.”
“From what you told me last month it sounds like you are, too.”
Cade blew out a breath. “You know how badly you want in the Gemini program? That’s how badly I want to pilot that next barrier flight. It’s going to come down to myself, Logan Ramsey, Kenji Tran or Padma Singh. And they’re all damn good test pilots.”
“Well let me give you some sage advice that a friend of mine gave me,” Toby said with a grin. “Don’t sell yourself short.”
Cade gave him a look. “Now who’s the smartass?”
Toby just laughed and knocked his cup against Cade’s. He settled back to look up at the stars, and Cade did the same. They let the quiet of the open ocean surround them for several minutes, nothing but the sound of gentle waves against the hull.
“Does this place have a name?” Cade asked quietly.
“Not that I know of,” Toby answered.
“Then I think we should call it Dekker’s Cove.” He once again turned his head to look at Toby. “Thanks again for taking me out here. This is your spot and you didn’t have to share it with me.”
Toby turned his head to look back at Cade, his voice sincere. “I wanted to. I knew you’d appreciate how special it was.”
Cade pinned him with a gaze full of hope and desire. “There are a lot of things I’m finding are special down here.”
Toby’s breath caught in his throat. It would be so damn easy to give in to Cade’s flirtations. To say the hell with it and just reach over and touch him. Because Toby knew that’s all it would take. One touch. But then what? A summer fling, like they were teenagers away at camp? Toby just wasn’t wired like that, for one-time hook ups. Especially with someone like Cade. He knew he’d want more and he knew it’d never work. He just needed to keep reminding himself that it was Cade’s friendship that was most important, what he really wanted, was the only thing that would work between them. But it was getting harder and harder to do with each passing day he spent with Cade. His heart was warring with his head. And he honestly didn’t know which was going to win.
The moment stretched on between them, Toby knowing Cade was waiting for something from Toby, but he didn’t trust himself to speak.
Cade glanced away, then back. “Toby, I…”
And Toby’s stomach somersaulted, certain of what Cade was going to say next. He wasn’t ready for this…
“…I have to leave tomorrow.”
Toby blinked and released a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. “Wh-what?” he stuttered, completely caught off guard by Cade’s words, so far from what he had been expecting.
Cade sighed. “I’m needed back at Alliance HQ. I found out this morning but was putting off telling you.”
“That – that’s okay. I understand,” Toby replied, trying to hide his disappointment.
“I even brought a holo vid of a rugby match I was hoping to show you tomorrow,” Cade grinned and Toby chuckled. “Next month, okay?”
Toby nodded. “Next month.”
Next month. One last chance for Toby to sort out his feelings for Cade. And be able to live with that decision with no regrets. He had a sneaking suspicion that was going to be easier said than done.
CONTINUED IN AN ENDLESS SEA OF STARS