Caught by the Tide Ch. 03byevanslily©
Apologies for how long this chapter's taken. For some reason I couldn't translate the pictures in my head into words for quite a while. I think I got there in the end :) Chapter 4 will definitely take longer though, I'm afraid, cos I've got a huge exam coming up in 7 weeks time. Please bear with me--I'll write when I can, I promise! Thanks as ever for reading me. Your comments and votes are greatly appreciated. Lily
Even though my legs no longer felt as though they belonged to the rest of my body, they somehow carried me down the rest of the stairs and over to the front desk.
"Hello," the receptionist said, giving me a friendly smile. "Can I help?"
"Er--" For a few seconds, I couldn't gather my thoughts enough to figure out why I was there. "Yes," I managed at last. "I need a taxi."
"Okay. That's no problem. I'll just--"
"What?" I heard Luke's puzzled voice behind me. "Forget that. She doesn't need a taxi." He caught my left hand, tugging me around to face him. "What are you doing? I told you I'd take you to the hospital."
"What am I doing?" I echoed weakly. "What were you doing?"
"Getting changed." He waved down at his denim shirt and jeans. "I'm sorry. I know it took a bit longer than--"
I shook my head in disbelief. "No, not that. I meant in the bar--just now. What was that?"
"Shit." At least he had the grace to look sheepish. "Look, I can explain--"
"You know what? I don't care. I don't want to know." I pulled away, turning back to the receptionist. "Listen, I really would like you to order me that taxi if you wouldn't mind--"
"Rebecca, stop it."
Now he was calling me Rebecca? "Leave me alone!"
The receptionist looked alarmed. "Is this man bothering you? Because I can call security--"
"That won't be necessary," Luke interrupted, tucking an arm around me, that compelling note of authority back in his tone. "She's got an injury that needs urgent medical attention and it's already been agreed that I'll take her to the hospital." And before I could protest, before the receptionist could say another word he was marching me across the foyer towards the main entrance.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" I muttered, furious at his high-handedness. "Do you really think I want you to take me--?"
"Go ahead and scream," he interjected calmly, guiding me down the steps. "Let everyone know I'm kidnapping you, why don't you?" When I didn't reply, he sent me a sidelong glance, his smile rather grim. "I don't hear anything."
"I was a bet?"
He heaved a sigh. "Not exactly."
He made a growling sound under his breath. "Not here," he said, meeting head-on the prying stares of the only couple remaining on the terrace, a part of me impressed at his ability to make them act as though they hadn't been watching us. "We'll talk about it in the car."
Letting go of me when we reached the bottom of the steps, he pushed me ahead of him along the narrow, hedge-bound path to the side of the hotel. It occurred to me that if I was going to run, this was the time to do it. Instead, I meekly waited for him to catch up then followed him across the car park.
The setting sun was casting long shadows across the tarmac, the dazzling blaze of red and gold reflected in the windows of the numerous parked cars. So it wasn't until Luke led me to the furthest corner, pulling keys out of his pocket, that I saw he was clicking open the doors of a black Mercedes.
"This is yours?" I blurted out. I didn't know much about cars, but I knew enough to know that this one was brand new--and expensive. It didn't fit with Luke's casual image at all.
He shot me a withering glance then bent to open the passenger door. "No," he said dryly. "It's my father's."
Unsure whether he was serious, I edged inside, sinking into the brown leather seat, its contours cradling my aching body to perfection. If I hadn't been so on edge, so uptight, it would've been easy just to close my eyes and slide away into dreamland. But right now, sleep wasn't an option. It seemed much more important to stay angry with Luke.
"So if I wasn't a bet, what was I?" I demanded as he climbed in beside me even before he'd closed the door.
He regarded me in silence for a moment. "You weren't the bet," he said at last, starting the ignition. "I was."
"You were?" I frowned. "But you said they knew you'd come looking for me. So they bet that you'd have sex with me if you found me, right?"
"Look, it wasn't even a serious bet--"
"Wasn't serious?" I exclaimed. "Luke, I saw the money they gave you. How much more serious could it get?"
"I swear that I didn't think for a moment it could happen, okay? It was more of a joke."
"I was a joke?" Somehow that seemed worse than being a bet.
"No--I'm the joke." He gave an exasperated sigh as we pulled up at the car park exit, squinting into the reddened sun as he checked the road for traffic. "I already told you it's been a long time since I was with a woman. Make that years."
He gave another sigh. "Long story. Not one I'm getting into right now."
"Oh come on," I sneered, my anger increasing. "You can tell me. Because they know, right? Your friends must know why--"
"Actually, they don't," he interrupted. "All they know is that I used to be a serial womaniser and now I'm a monk. Well." He shot me a glance. "I was a monk until about an hour or so ago, anyway. So if you think I had any intention of having sex with you when I found you, I can assure you, you're wrong. It was the last thing on my mind."
"Oh." I wasn't sure what to make of that either. If he was telling the truth--and right now that seemed a big if, should I take it as some kind of back-handed compliment that we had been intimate? "So it was just a joke?" I muttered, sneaking another look at him. There was that stony look of determination again, his gaze wholly focussed on the narrow, twisting road ahead of us.
He grimaced. "As in, 'ten pounds says that if Luke finds that bird, he won't have the guts to shag her'."
"Nice." I swallowed hard. "Beautifully worded."
He groaned softly. "Becks, they weren't being serious. Put it this way, if we hadn't had sex, I wouldn't have expected to have paid them each ten pounds instead."
"So that makes it okay then?" I regarded him with disbelief. "You see, I don't think it does. You wouldn't have paid them, but you expected them to pay you?"
"No, I didn't expect them to pay me--"
"Liar!" My voice had risen in pitch again and I knew I sounded hysterical. "You told them, Luke. Why else would you tell them?"
"I didn't tell them. Tim guessed. All I told him was that we'd waited up on the ledge for the tide to go back out, like we'd done when we were kids. He guessed the rest."
"You could've told him he was wrong!"
Taking advantage of the fact we'd reached a junction, Luke turned to face me. "Why would you want me to deny it?" His eyes narrowed. "Oh, I see. Second thoughts, Rebecca? Do you wish we hadn't done it now? But you were the one who wanted 'meaningless sex'."
Oh God. I'd said that, hadn't I? I'd used those very words. Heat rising into my face, I turned away as we pulled out on to the main road, staring straight ahead as though I was admiring the view before us, yet in reality seeing nothing at all.
Because it hadn't been meaningless. Not for me, anyway.
The shock of realisation caused a sharp ache right in the middle of my stomach. Was I going crazy? Insane? Because the thoughts I was having, the emotions I was experiencing made no sense at all. I was just on the rebound, I reasoned, sliding lower in my chair and closing my eyes. I was over-reacting, misinterpreting the intimacy we'd shared for something more significant. And no doubt a part of me wanted it to be significant--the part of me that was scared of being twenty-seven and single, the part of me that feared I might get left on the shelf--but this wasn't real.
Although--it hadn't just been the sex, had it?
Those soul-stealing kisses. The way he'd held me when I cried. The way he'd listened when I told him about Daniel, the look in his eyes as he'd helped me down from the rocks...
No, no, no, I chastised myself, the tension inside me coiling tighter and tighter, my injured arm throbbing now, every bone in my body aching from weariness. I was imagining all of it. Wanting there to be more, when in reality there was nothing. He'd felt guilty that a game of football had driven me on to the other beach, he'd known it was possible to get caught by the tide--that was the only reason he'd come to get me. He'd said so himself. I'd offered him meaningless sex and he'd accepted. It wasn't any more complicated than that...
"Rebecca." Luke's voice penetrated my thoughts, his hand landing on my shoulder. "We're here."
I gazed at him in bewilderment, my eyes gritty and sore. "Wh-where?"
"At the hospital." He was frowning. "You fell asleep again, didn't you?"
I must've done. I'd got that horrible jet-lagged feeling, the one where nausea and fatigue battle for supremacy. "Sorry," I murmured, heaving myself upright and scrabbling for the door handle. "I don't know what's wrong with me--"
"Just wait," he ordered, pushing me back again and opening his own door. "I'm coming round to get you."
I didn't argue. There seemed little point. I felt awful. And when he helped me out of the car I discovered my legs were very unsteady indeed.
"Oh dear God." He caught me around the waist as I swayed, shooting me another stern look. "Do I need to carry you?"
"No." The idea was mortifying. "I'm sure--I'm sure I'll be all right in a m-moment--"
To my surprise, he tugged me into his arms, forcing me to rest against him. "Take some big, deep breaths," he ordered, his voice right beside my ear. "In... out... That's it. Good girl. And again..."
I closed my eyes, continuing to breathe with him, each lungful of chilly air making me feel slightly less sick, slightly more alert, until I felt a fraud for remaining there in his embrace. But the truth was, I didn't want to be anywhere else...
"This is just a thought," he murmured, one hand now slowly circling my back beneath my cardigan, "but is there any chance you could be pregnant?"
"What? No!" Horrified, I tried to pull away but he wouldn't let me, pushing my head back down on his shoulder. "You--we used a condom--"
"Not with my baby, you dope."
"Oh." Of course that hadn't been what he meant. "I don't think so. I'm on the pill. And we used condoms as well--Daniel was paranoid about getting me --" I shook my head, suddenly uncertain. "No. I couldn't be."
Could I? Was it possible? My sister Sarah was pregnant. Enormously so--the baby was due next month. Now I remembered that one of the first signs of her pregnancy had been just how tired she felt... And, oh God, I felt nauseous. I hadn't felt much like eating at all lately...
"It's okay, don't panic. It doesn't sound very likely. Like I said, it was just a thought." He released me, dropping his hand into mine. "Come on. Let's go."
"Doesn't sound very likely?" I repeated as he led me across the almost deserted car park towards the hospital building. I was still frantically trying to calculate when I'd last had a period. "So now you're an expert on pregnancy?"
He grimaced. "I wouldn't say that."
"Then what would you say?" Aggravated by his answer, I gave up trying to count the days. "Because it seems to me you know a lot about everything. You certainly know a lot about me. But I don't know anything about you."
"That's because you don't need to know."
"The hell I don't." I stopped abruptly, trying to pull my hand out of his. "Who are you, Luke Foster? What's the big secret?"
"Leave it, Becks. This isn't the time. That arm needs--"
"No." Even I couldn't understand why I needed to know, only that it suddenly seemed the most important thing in the world. "I don't get why you won't tell me. What is it? Are you married? Were you married? Do you have children?" I was watching his face for clues so when he winced slightly, I pounced. "Ah, so you do! How many? One? Two?"
"I said, leave it."
I ignored the iciness of his tone. "More than that? Who with?" And then I felt my eyes widen. "You had sex with all those women... Just how many did you get up the duff? Is that why you're an expert on pregnancy--?"
"Rebecca, I swear, if you weren't--" He broke off with an exasperated sigh, tightening his grip on my hand and jerking me forward again towards the entrance of the Minor Injuries Unit.
"Weren't what?" I yelped, struggling to free myself. "Weren't hurt? Weren't a woman--?"
"Yes to both of those," he shot back, practically dragging me now. "I don't deserve this," he added in a mutter. "I should've left you there on that beach and just called the coastguard."
"Then why didn't you? Oh yes, now I remember." I swung around to glare at him, finally managing to wrench my fingers free just as we drew up outside the automatic doors. "You'd have lost your bet."
His face remained impassive. "Inside. Now."
I gave my name to the rather dour-looking woman at the reception window and joined Luke in the waiting area. "You don't need to stay," I told him, picking up a battered magazine from the table in the corner and flicking through it so I had an excuse not to look at him. "Go back to the hotel--back to your friends. I'll be fine. I'll get--"
"Just shut up and sit down," he said, tugging me down beside him. "I'm not going anywhere."
"But I could be waiting here for hours."
"I don't think so." He gestured around at the mostly empty chairs. Apart from us, there was an elderly couple and a middle-aged man with a badly bruised eye. "This isn't your average Accident and Emergency department. Besides, they close at ten. I hardly think there's going to be a last-minute rush."
"What if I don't want you here?"
He gave a disbelieving snort of laughter. "Babe, you do want me here."
I stared at him, irritated. "Oh, really?"
He nodded. "It's obvious."
"How is it obvious?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "I said I didn't need you to come with me. I told you I'd get a taxi here--"
"Ah, but there's a difference between 'want' and 'need'. Sure, you didn't need me to bring you here, but you sure as hell wanted me to."
"That's bollocks!" I spat back, my rage increasing. "I never wanted--"
"Hi there," a cheery voice interrupted, causing me to jolt in surprise. A pretty blonde nurse was standing in front of us, clipboard in hand. "Are you Rebecca? My name's Jane. I hear you've cut your arm and you think it may need stitches?"
"Y-yes," I managed at last, stumbling to my feet.
"Okay then. If you'd like to follow me." She cast a doubtful glance at Luke as he too began to rise and I realised she must've heard at least part of our conversation. "Did you want your other half to come along as well?"
Infuriated by Luke's sudden smile I shook my head. "He's not my other half."
"Oh, I'm sorry." She flushed bright pink. "I just assumed you two--"
"No," I interrupted, glaring at Luke. "We just had meaningless sex."
The smile vanished.
"Right," the nurse murmured, looking from me to Luke and then back at me again. "Well. If you'd like to--er--come this way."
I trailed after the nurse, my heart thumping loudly in my ears. Oh, I'd wanted to shock, I'd wanted to hurt him, but I hadn't anticipated that those words, innocent in my head, would sound so damning when spoken aloud. And to my horror, when I finally plucked up the courage to look back over my shoulder I saw that he was gone.
"No," I whispered, swivelling around and glimpsing his back just as the main entrance doors slid closed behind him, swallowing him into the darkness beyond. "Oh God..."
I didn't realise I'd spoken aloud until the nurse gave me an odd look, ushering me through a door into a treatment room.
"Slip that cardigan off and take a seat on the couch," she said briskly, moving across to the sink to wash her hands. "Do you want to make a start on removing that bandage?"
I fumbled at the tape with suddenly trembling fingers. He'd left me there. He'd done exactly what I'd asked him to do and I should've been relieved. Instead, I felt utterly bereft.
I hated hospitals. The antiseptic smell, the sight of the neatly-labelled white cupboards, the boxes of gloves, the trays of medical supplies containing packets of gauze and syringes and vials of fluid. They'd brought me to a place just like this after the accident, to a room full of people who'd prodded and poked at me while I cried for my parents, not knowing I'd never see my father again...
"Oh yes, that needs stitches," the nurse pronounced, my arm finally bared to her gaze. "I just need to fill in some paperwork first."
I answered her questions on auto-pilot, watching as she filled in my answers on what appeared to me to be a needlessly long form. Then she went to summon the doctor, leaving me alone with my uncomfortable thoughts.
He'd been right, I thought, blinking back tears. I hadn't needed him, but I'd certainly wanted him there. Whether that was because he was the only person I knew in Cornwall or whether there was some deeper reason, I wasn't sure. Either way, when the doctor arrived--a young man who hardly appeared old enough to drive, let alone be a qualified medic--I wanted Luke more than I'd ever wanted anyone.
It seemed to take an age for the baby-faced doctor to make his preparations. Still perching on the edge of the couch, I watched with mounting unease as he pushed a small metal trolley around the room, randomly opening cupboards as though he wasn't quite sure where the supplies were kept. And when he finally settled on the stool in front of me his nervous smile did nothing to increase my confidence.
"I'm afraid this'll sting a little bit," he said apologetically, picking up a syringe containing what I hoped was local anaesthetic. My arm was now so sore I was just about ready to gnaw the whole thing off. I gave a reluctant nod, wishing the thought of getting away from everything for a few days had never crossed my mind and squeezing my eyes tightly shut as I felt the needle pierce my skin.
"It wasn't meaningless, okay?"
My eyes flew open at the sound of the deeply irritated voice, the gasp that left my throat at the sight of Luke standing in the doorway turning to a shocked whimper as the liquid anaesthesia began to burn into my flesh. Oh God... Sting a little bit?
He frowned, moving towards me. "Though I really don't understand why it wasn't, because it damn well should've been," he went on, peering over the doctor's shoulder as he drew level. "And--oh dear God, what the fuck do you think you're doing?"
It was another moment before I realised he wasn't talking to me and when he reached in to snatch the syringe away, I yelped in disbelief.
"Hey! That's a sterile field!" the doctor exclaimed then stared helplessly at Luke as he positioned the syringe between finger and thumb and threw it like a dart at the opposite wall, the needle embedding itself into the woodwork. "You can't do that!"
"Really?" Luke snarled back, glowering at the younger man like a predatory tiger. I thought I'd seen him angry but now I realised I hadn't seen anything... "Believe me, my breaching of your sterile field is the least of your worries. This--" I squeaked again as he caught my hand and lifted my arm "--is an open wound. She's in enough pain already. Why on earth are you injecting local into intact skin? Who the hell taught you to do that? And what the fuck is this?" He lunged towards the dressing trolley laid up by the doctor and plucked up a loop of thread. "This is no good! Have you been to a suturing class in your life?"