Jonty stood on the swaying deck and took a last, longing glance at the shore. His stomach was already heaving and the Caroline, named after his mother, had only just left the shelter of the bay. The next three days at sea were going to be torment. He hated the annual family ritual that took him away from his painting, but his father insisted on it and, at twenty-five, Jonty still hadn’t found the courage to refuse him. Rex Trelawn, who headed a private bank when he wasn’t torturing his son, had given up on Jonty ever being a ‘proper’ sailor, so Jonty was consigned to the galley with orders to keep the rest of the family fed and watered. He dealt with supplies, stocked the cupboards and made sure the boat was ready for a short sea voyage. He was also responsible for reporting their position to the coastguard at regular intervals, which he managed between visits to the head where his stomach contents insisted on making unwelcome reappearances.
The Caroline was a forty-six footer and manageable with a crew of four. She was just big enough that Jonty could avoid his father for some, if not all, of the trip. Rex always took the wheel while Jonty’s mother and younger sister, Evie, managed ropes and sails with ease. Evie had a sturdy build and relished the challenges of sailing while Jonty favored his recently deceased grandfather, being slight and less than average height. They were a small family, just the four of them, and Jonty found it impossible to refuse the one outing of the year that brought them all together, much as he wanted to. Three days battling his father’s disappointment was not his idea of a fun time.
Jonty slipped below deck to the narrow, claustrophobic galley and began preparations for a light supper. Soup and bread, fruitcake and hot chocolate would suffice—not that he’d be able to eat any of it himself. Just the idea of food made his stomach flip over. The four of them would take breaks and sleep in shifts, sailing out past Land’s End and into the Atlantic during the night. It would be something of an endurance test but Jonty could cope with that. He kept strange hours when he painted, sometimes forgetting to sleep.
His father was first to descend into the cabin, brushing a hand through his windswept silver hair. He shed his waterproofs, hanging them on a peg before taking a seat at the table.
“Wind’s getting up, Jonathon. Be sure to check the shipping forecast later.”
“Yes, sir.” Jonty didn’t need the reminder, but said nothing. He ladled soup into a bowl then placed it in front of his father.
“Not eating?” The usual note of disapproval colored Rex Trelawn’s tone.
“No.” Jonty didn’t expand. His father knew full well that Jonty got seasick every time he sailed.
“Come and join me.”
Jonty held back a sigh. He wasn’t feeling up to defending himself yet again.
“Shaw tells me your earnings are exceptional for such a young artist. He wants more work from you.”
The sigh escaped. “Shaw has no business discussing my finances with you. He’s my agent, not yours.”
“I hope you’re investing well?” Rex waved a soup spoon at him, ignoring Jonty’s objection. “I’ll have to put the rent up on Cliff House.”
Jonty’s family, including his sister who was studying at King’s College, resided in London. Jonty chose to live at the family’s second home in Cornwall where the pure light was perfect for painting. He needed a place of his own where he could cut another tie to his domineering father but somehow he’d never gotten around to house hunting. He didn’t rise to Rex’s taunt. Housing discussions were preferable to those that questioned his ‘dubious lifestyle choices’. Rex Trelawn had never quite accepted his son’s sexual orientation and it was a topic best avoided. When Jonty came out at eighteen, Evie had shrugged, his mother had wept for a while then refreshed her makeup, hugged him then commenced trawling her copious address book for prospective boyfriends. Rex had given him the silent treatment for months until Jonty’s first gallery showing had sold out. He’d proved to have some worth, so they’d reached a truce of sorts.
“It’s time I found a place of my own,” he said. “Property is a good investment these days, isn’t it?”
Rex grunted. Checkmate had been reached. Rex wanted his son as a live-in caretaker for Cliff House, a place where he had a hold on him. Rex knew it and so did Jonty. “It’s time for the shipping forecast.”
Jonty switched on the radio then relaxed into the familiar litany of strange names and wind speeds, paying particular attention to Lundy and Sole.
“It’s brisker than I expected,” Rex muttered. “Bloody weather changes on the toss of a coin. We could be in for a bumpy ride.” He cut himself a slice of fruitcake, grinning.
Jonty’s stomach did a jig. He just made it to the head in time.
An unpleasant five minutes later, Jonty returned to the cabin to find Evie swapping places with their father at the table.
“Have you been worshiping the porcelain god again, big brother?”
“The boy has a weak constitution,” Rex grumbled, disappearing up the steps to the deck.
“And he could eat roadkill on a rollercoaster without retching,” Jonty sniped. “You want soup, sis?”
“Only if you haven’t thrown up in it.” Despite her words, Evie’s smile was sympathetic.
“There’s nothing left in my stomach. Besides, you’re like Dad. You’ll eat anything.” Jonty did his duty with the soup then watched as Evie demolished the entire bowl and two sizeable chunks of bread.
“Hungry work out there.” She grinned. “Dad been giving you grief again?”
“Same as usual.” Jonty shrugged. “He won’t change.”
“Next year when he proposes this trip, tell him to go take a running jump off the nearest pier.”
“So says the favored child.”
“I’m straight, gorgeous, I love sport and will provide him with grandchildren. You are not straight, far too pretty for a man, refuse to cut your hair, you hate sport and you have a talent he doesn’t, which will no doubt make you richer than him. Of course he loves me best.” She raised her mug of hot chocolate in a toast.
Jonty couldn’t help but laugh. “Love you, sis.”
“You too. Now get back to work, galley slave. Mum will be down here next expecting five-star service.”
“Okay. You be careful up there. The forecast isn’t great.”
“Nice and bouncy. Just the way I like it.”
Jonty groaned. Sometimes he wondered if he and Evie were actually related or if he’d been swapped at birth. He got a fifteen-minute respite before his mother showed up, dripping wet.
“It’s getting a bit brisk out there.” She shook out her wet outerwear. “I’m starving.”
A violent swell threw Jonty from one side of the galley to the other. He banged his hip but managed to save the pan of soup, slamming the lid on. “In your language, ‘a bit brisk’ translates as blowing a gale. I hope no one wants hot food later. If this keeps up I won’t be able to use the stove.”
“You’re looking a bit green, sweetheart.” His mother took the spot Evie had vacated. She chugged down the soup, dunking bread to mop up every drop. “Mmm, fruitcake too, you’re spoiling us! Have you eaten?”
“What do you think?” Jonty put a flask of hot chocolate on the table then wedged himself onto the bench.
“Found a nice boy yet?”
Jonty felt giddy. His mother switched from one topic to another more often than she changed her designer shoes. “I’m too busy and, besides, Cornwall is hardly a hotspot on the gay scene.”
“Come up to London, then. There’s this club I’ve heard about called The Underground…and another place called Secrets…”
“Mother! Those are BDSM clubs. Your internet history must be fascinating.”
“I just thought… The Underground is in a very nice area. Westminster. Probably full of kinky MPs.”
“We are not having this conversation. No. Just no.” Jonty hid his face in his hands.
“Interesting that you already know what kind of clubs they are.” His mother gave him a sly grin.
“I… Eat your fruitcake.”
“If you weren’t so green, I’m sure you’d be bright red. I’m your mother, not a nun. You and your sister are evidence that I have had sex at some point.”
“I think I’m going to be sick again.” Jonty ran for the shelter of the head where he slammed the door, grateful for the escape. “My own mother thinks I need to join the leather scene. Oh God, could this nightmare get any worse?” It wasn’t that he’d discounted a possible visit to The Underground, which did appeal to him. It just wasn’t a topic he wanted to discuss with his mother of all people. The boat lurched to one side then the floor seemed to drop from beneath his feet. Jonty staggered, trying to get his balance in the confined space. A need for air overwhelmed him. He burst back into the cabin to find himself alone.
The swell had increased so Jonty spent a few frantic minutes stowing everything that wasn’t nailed down, gaining more than a few bruises in the process. He used the intercom to get an accurate map reference for their position from his father before reporting into the coastguard who warned him of increasingly heavy seas.
“No shit.” Jonty grabbed the edge of the table to steady himself. He relayed the information to his father. “Do you think we should turn back?”
“No, of course not. We can ride it out. It’s just a squall.”
“I think it’s a bit more than that,” Jonty argued.
“Get some sleep, Jonathon. I’ll wake you in six hours. It will all be over then and we’ll be wishing for more wind, not less.”
“I… Yes, sir.” At sea, the captain’s word was law and there was no room for dissension. Although with his father that applied at all times, not only onboard the Caroline, so Jonty knew he was fighting a losing battle. He did a quick tidy round then rolled into his bunk in the miniscule sleeping cabin, staying fully clothed. He drifted into an uncomfortable doze, rocking from side to side with the motion of the waves, his dreams filled with shipwrecks and towering seas.