“Are you scared?”
Phineas Moreland folded his hands together and stared at Daisy from across the table. Until that moment, her interview with the famous adventurer and survivalist had been going swimmingly. But his final question caught her off guard.
Daisy’s mind raced, wondering if it was a trick question. She was desperate to get this once-in-a-lifetime photography job, travelling with Phineas to a range of far-flung places, capturing images that highlighted the need to protect the environment.
She cleared her throat, which was dry and tight from nerves. “Yes, I’m scared. I’ve photographed jaguars in Belize, filmed from the summit of Everest, nearly died in the Sahara searching for rare snakes to take pictures of. I have always been scared.”
Phineas stared at her, his forest-green eyes unwavering.
She leaned forward, her chin held high. “But I have never given into fear. I have taken it, harnessed it, and found strength. That’s why you should pick me – because I know you’ve done the same.”
She caught her breath and held it for a second.
Phineas nodded, his eyes drifting over her. She hadn’t known what to wear to an interview with him, so she had just worn her usual jeans and a black shirt, the sleeves rolled up, her long blonde hair tied up in a ponytail. She wasn’t sure it was the right choice.
“Ok, thank you for coming in Ms Lomax,” Phineas said, standing up and extending a hand.
She shook it, noting the tattoos that studded his muscular forearms. She was familiar with Phineas from his many TV shows, most recently his work on Celebrity SOS in Alaska, but this was the first time she had ever met him. His usual beard was shaved off, revealing his firm jaw. His dark brown hair, almost black, was swept back off his forehead. He regarded her with polite indifference, and her heart sunk.
She walked out of the interview room crestfallen. She had blown it.
“Hold it there,” Daisy murmured, even though Phineas couldn’t hear her. He stood with his back to her, thigh-deep in the Pacific Ocean, as she held the camera to her eye and snapped away.
The Costa Rican air was hot and humid, and the shoreline was entirely deserted except for her and Phineas. An abundance of noisy wildlife cawed and cackled and shrieked from the jungle treeline that bordered the beach.
The deep blue of the ocean turned dark, reflecting the encroaching storm clouds that gathered swiftly overhead. The clouds pressed lower, sagging under the weight of the moisture they longed to release onto the earth.
Phineas stood, watching the waves, and she snapped away furtively while he ignored or couldn’t hear the clicking of her camera. He was shirtless in the midst of the storm and the glory of the ocean, lost in his thoughts, a private moment between man and the elements.
She still couldn’t believe he had given her the job. Since she arrived a few days ago they had barely spoken, but he was always polite, a glimmer of kindness in his eyes as he asked her if she needed anything. He seemed to need nothing and no one, just the clothes on his back, and Daisy was in awe of his calm presence as they explored the jungles at risk of deforestation. He seemed to her to be totally unflappable, as though he were not a man of flesh, but hewn out of rock. She felt totally safe in his presence, a peacefulness she hadn’t experienced on her previous travels.
A crack of lightening split the sky and Daisy jumped.
Phineas turned to her, as if shaken from his trance. “Time to go,” he grinned, and she nodded. He walked after her, picking up his t shirt but not putting it on, his shorts soaked through.
The rain began to sputter down and Daisy hid the camera underneath her t shirt. Fortunately their hotel was just off the beach. Well, it wasn’t really a hotel – it was a small hostel, with tiny rooms and no hot water, but it had the most gracious hosts, a porch right on the beach, handwoven hammocks and cold beer. It was perfect.
She and Phineas sat in companiable silence on the porch steps. They were sheltered from the burst of fierce rain that tumbled down from the clouds, but Daisy still felt damp from the moisture in the air. Her long blonde hair curled in the humidity, and she ran her fingers through it, trying to tame it.
They watched as the lightning danced and crackled over the ocean, the bright white lights throbbing through the clouds, a heavenly disco.
“This might be one of my favourite places I have ever been,” Daisy said, with a sigh, taking a sip of beer.
Phineas nodded. “Me too. I was raised by the ocean, so this reminds me of home.”
“Where would that be?” Daisy asked.
“I was born in Norfolk, but my parents moved to New Zealand when I was 8. I grew up by the beach.”
“Sounds nice,” Daisy said. “Do you ever go back to visit?”
Phineas shook his head, his voice low and gravelly in his throat. “No. There’s nothing there for me now.”
“Where’s home then?”
Phineas grinned. “One day Malaysia, the next day Borneo, Finland, Canada, Argentina. Anywhere I choose.”
“That’s nomadic,” Daisy remarked, but she could identify with Phineas’ rootlessness.
“Same.” Daisy said, raising the beer to her lips again, her fingers slippery with condensation and sunscreen.
Phineas raised his eyebrows and shot her an incredulous look. “What about your base though? Where do you go back to?”
“I don’t have one.”
“No flat, no boyfriend, no house, no car?” Phineas asked.
“Nope,” Daisy said. “My parents passed away when I was 21 and I’ve been travelling around ever since.” She held up her camera. “Just documenting the world as it comes my way.”
“Ah,” Phineas said. He paused before adding – “I’m sorry about your parents.”
Daisy shrugged. “Thanks,” she muttered, and they sat without talking for a while, the sound of the rain drumming on the tin roof and the occasional roar of the ever-decreasing thunder filling the silence.
Phineas took a long slow sip of beer and glanced at her thoughtfully. “It’s not a lifestyle many people understand,” he said.
Daisy smiled. “I don’t need understanding, I just need to go where my itchy feet tell me. I can’t stay anywhere for too long.”
Having a boyfriend was tricky when she never knew where she was going to be or for how long, but Daisy couldn’t stop, could never quite settle. She had an internal restlessness that never seemed satisfied, like driftwood looking for a place to land but always being pulled back by the currents.
“What are you trying to find?” Phineas asked.
“I don’t know,” Daisy admitted with a sigh. “I was hoping this would help me find what I was looking for,” she indicated to her camera. “I scour through the photos of the places and people I’ve seen. The most beautiful places on earth. The most dangerous. The poorest. The richest. But nothing has ever quite…”
“…made you feel complete.” Phineas added, finishing the thought for her.
She nodded. “Right.”
“Well, let me know when you find what you’re searching for. It might be what I need too.” He gave her a half-smile and leaned back to watch the storm.
Daisy flicked through her camera and came to land on a photo of Phineas, one of the most recent ones she had taken, the ones of him standing in the sea. Something inside her tumbled over like the waves in the ocean and a light of realisation flickered in her soul like a firefly.
Maybe she wasn’t looking for a place. Maybe she was looking for a person.
She looked up quickly and she found his gaze resting on her rather than the weather. Her eyes met his – the colour of the jungle, and slightly wild, dangerous, dark, and yearning. Daisy shivered even though she wasn’t cold, feeling as though a thousand volts were zipping through her, sparkling through every sinew, awakening every sense.
She had scaled mountains and zip-lined through forests, bungee jumped off bridges and held tarantulas with shaking hands, but nothing made her feel as alive as she did right now, sitting in the eye of a storm with him by her side.
He had a smile on his tanned face, a knowing curve upwards of his lips underneath his dark stubble, that seemed to tell her that he could feel it too, that the electricity in the air wasn’t just from the storm. His eyes searched hers, a mixture of hope and lust and longing.
“Let me know when your heart finds its home,” he said softly.
As Daisy looked at him, she wondered if she already had.
Phineas is one of the characters who appears in Celebrity SOS: Love Survives. It’s book 2 in the Spotlight Series but can be read as a standalone story.