Caught by the Tide Ch. 01byevanslily©
The wonderful thing about wearing sunglasses is that people can't tell when you're watching them. Especially if, to all outward appearances, you seem to be doing something quite different. Like reading a book.
I adjusted the rolled-up sweater behind my neck and settled back down, my head supported by a beautifully-rounded, conveniently-located rock. The sun on my almost naked body was fierce, the soft sand beneath my burrowing toes warm. When I'd found this spot an hour ago, it'd felt pretty close to paradise, the beach deserted save for the couple with a toddler paddling at the water's edge and the occasional walker with accompanying sodden dog.
But that was the joy of a Cornish beach in early May. In August, it would be virtually impossible to move for sun-blotched bodies; the pervasive, sickly blend of more than a dozen varieties of sun tan lotion heavy in the air. So although a group of guys had arrived in the interim, immediately commencing a loud and boisterous game of football in the space between me and the ever-rolling waves, it hadn't really mattered at first. In fact, it had provided a welcome distraction from my novel. God only knew what had possessed me to bring a work of sappy romantic fiction along on this trip.
There were six of them playing three against three, their bags and discarded clothing acting as make-shift goalposts. And though they clearly weren't teenagers--at a guess, their average age was at least thirty years old--they were behaving as though they were, their constant banter and ribbing of each other audible on the breeze. But then even I could deduce that the tall, skinny bloke they called Tim wasn't exactly what you'd call a natural sportsman.
"Oh fucking hell, mate!" one of them cried as Tim fluffed yet another pass, sending the ball skimming down towards the water. "I hope to God you don't have this much trouble finding the goal on your wedding night."
"Fuck off!" Tim retaliated, attempting--yet failing, I thought with an inward smirk--to look unconcerned as he loped down to the shore to retrieve the ball. "When did you last have a shag, anyway?"
Another of the guys took up the call. "Yeah, Foster, when did you last have a shag?"
All eyes, mine included, turned on the stocky, broad-chested male wearing bright red board-shorts. "Ah, well now," he said, tapping his nose knowingly. "That's between me and the extremely satisfied woman I shagged." He snatched the ball from Tim amidst groans of disbelief, kicking it straight back into play. "Game on, you losers. We're here to party, remember? Show our boy here what he's giving up to marry his bird."
Wincing, I let my gaze drop back to my book. Just my luck. A group of blokes on a stag weekend. When exactly had it become de rigeur to have a stag weekend instead of a stag night anyway? Though of course Daniel had felt it necessary to have a stag week in Corfu. In all probability, if he'd chosen merely to have a stag night, I wouldn't be sitting there. A sobering thought indeed.
I closed my eyes, filtering out the sound of their voices and focussing instead on the crashing waves, wriggling downwards until my head was on the towel beneath me. Those who'd doubted the wisdom of my venturing to Cornwall at this time of year had made grim predictions of wind and rain but it was hot--gloriously hot. So some kind of justice had been handed me, even if only in the poetic sense. I knew I'd been right to pack my bikini.
This had been a good idea.
And lulled by the sound of the sea, the warmth of the mid-afternoon sun, I finally allowed my thoughts to drift away. I hadn't slept in days.
So when something hard, wet and cold thudded down on to my tummy, minutes, maybe even hours later, it came as a particularly nasty surprise...
"Jesus!" I screamed, my sunglasses sliding off my face as I scrambled upright. "What the hell--?"
By the time I'd found the offending weapon, a soggy brown leather football coated in sand, the stocky guy in the red shorts was looming over me, blocking the sun. "Whoops," he said with what he obviously hoped was a winning smile. "Sorry about that."
I glared at him, my midriff still stinging from the impact. "Well that's okay then, isn't it?"
"Whoa." Fixing me with a stare from astonishingly blue eyes, he tucked the ball under his arm and held up a hand. "I said I was sorry. There's no need to get your knickers in a twist."
"Oh great," I muttered, hearing the jeers of his mates as he jogged back to join them. "Brilliantly handled, Rebecca." I gazed down in dismay at my sand-covered belly, realising that nothing short of a shower or a dip in the sea was going to get rid of all of it. But I already knew the sea wasn't warm enough for that and it was much too early to go back to the hotel. With a sigh, I brushed off the worst, retrieved and re-donned my sunglasses and lay down again.
But it wasn't so easy to phase out the guys' voices now. They seemed louder somehow. Nearer. And after a few moments, I lifted myself up on my elbows to see exactly where they were. Big mistake.
This time, I was too stunned to swear...
"Oh shit!" I heard one of them shout as the rest of them dissolved into raucous laughter. "Whoops!"
I couldn't speak. My nose was throbbing, my mouth full of sand. It felt as though my sunglasses had been rammed into my skull.
"Hey, are you okay?" It was the bloke in red shorts again, crouching at my side. "I'm really sorry. Bloody Tim--he can't kick a ball for--"
"Just leave me alone," I gulped, gingerly wiping sand away from my face with the back of my hand. God, it hurt. So much so I wanted to cry--and that really wasn't an option with him sitting just there. "Please!"
"I promise we didn't do it on purpose," he said with what sounded like a genuine note of apology in his tone, though the others were still laughing. "Look, we'll move further down the beach--somewhere where we can't--"
"Don't bother," I murmured, longing to spit out the sand--to spit it all over him. "I'm going." With all the dignity I could manage, I shoved my book in my beach bag and snatched up my towel, sweater and flip flops. And knowing he was watching me--knowing they were all watching me, I padded away, horribly conscious of the fact I was wearing only a skimpy red bikini, the matching sarong tucked out of reach in the bag.
There was a narrow strip of sand between the sea and the rocks at the furthermost edge of the beach. Sensing a chance to escape without having to face the humiliation of passing them again, I headed towards it and rounded the bottom of the cliff. To my relief, there was another sandy cove, albeit a much smaller one--less than fifty feet across. Even better, it was completely deserted.
Dumping my things on a patch of dry sand, I went down to the shore and knelt in the surf, washing my face and tummy, the cold water making me shudder. Bastards. So much for thinking my luck had changed.
But then again, why shouldn't those guys have fun? As I trudged back up the beach, the wind further chilling my dripping body, I had to concede that getting married ought to be cause for celebration. Just because it hadn't exactly turned out to be a celebration for me was no reason to resent the joy of others.
I dried off the worst and shook out the towel so I could sit on it. Then reaching for my beach bag, I dug around inside for my mobile phone and checked the display. No messages. But then I hadn't seriously expected there would be.
It was just after four thirty. As I'd already guessed, too early to go back to the hotel. I'd never before appreciated what lonely places hotel rooms could be, even with the television switched on. Sighing, I stretched out full length on the towel, my mobile phone still in my hand. In another hour or so I'd go back, have a good long shower before going down to dinner. Then perhaps I'd order a bottle of wine and sit out on the terrace to read my book. Or pretend to read my book. People watching was much more fun.
Daniel was one of the few men I knew who liked people watching too. "Aye, aye," he'd murmur, nudging me as we sat in the garden of a pub somewhere. "There's trouble in paradise there." And he was usually right. Observing an English married couple trying not to argue in public was always entertaining. Far too much stiff upper lip going on, the words polite, the venom with which they were spoken the clue to their real intent. Not at all like the passionate screaming of their European counterparts in Spain or Italy--though that too was fascinating to watch.
I brought the mobile phone back in front of my face and stared at it. I'd changed the background on the display immediately. I couldn't bear to see his grinning face there. But there were other photos...
Biting my lip, I pressed the menu key and opened the images file. There he was. Tall. Blond. Fit. God, I'd thought I was so lucky. That he'd noticed me--that he'd wanted me--when he could have had any girl he liked. But then I'd played hard to get. I think he'd enjoyed the thrill of the chase. That I hadn't immediately succumbed to his many charms like all the rest appealed to his competitive nature. And even when I'd surrendered, I still didn't make it easy for him. I guess, deep down, I'd always known that keeping him would be the really tricky part. Though he'd been the one to suggest marriage.
I clicked the back button and returned to the menu. Messages. Inbox. Sarah...Rachel...Mum...Sarah...Sarah...Jayne...Mum... All variations on a theme of 'hi becky. r u ok?'. I had to scroll down about twenty messages before I reached the last one I'd received from Daniel. It contained just one word.
Grimacing, I pressed the scroll down key once more--then squeezed my eyes tightly shut. What the hell was I doing? Did I really want to re-read the text beneath that one? Torture myself--all over again? With a loud groan, I felt for my bag and stuffed the phone back inside, pulling out the bottle of suntan lotion instead.
I was here to party too, I told myself, slathering myself liberally with cream, though I doubted that the spring sunshine was strong enough to do much damage to my skin at this time of day. I was here to celebrate my lucky escape. And though there was no one to party with--Mum had offered to come but I'd refused her generous offer--that's what I was going to do. Have some me time, re-charge my batteries, generate some new priorities.
Yes, I decided as I lay down again, this had been a good idea. To come here on my own had been a really good idea...
The breeze felt wonderful on my newly-warmed skin, the fresh, tangy aroma of the sea filling my nostrils, making it easier to breathe somehow. And still the waves continued to turn against the shore, rhythmical and relentless, soothing me, displacing my thoughts, growing louder and louder until my mind was filled with the sound, as though I was becoming one with the ocean...
"O-o-oh!" I gasped, waking up with a start as chilly water swirled around me, leaving a dragging sensation in its wake as it receded. Struggling to sit up, the wet sand holding my outstretched hands and feet under suction, I saw that the narrow strip of sand at the edge of the cove had vanished, along with most of the rocks I'd walked around. Both were now submerged beneath the heaving swell of the incoming tide, my sweater and beach bag floating away.
"Oh God! Oh fuck!" As I scrambled to my feet, I realised there were perhaps a few feet of sand behind me that the tide had yet to reach, behind that a wall of sheer granite. "No. No, no, no..." I dashed forward, plunging into the waves, my gaze fixed on one thing and one thing alone. My bag... I had to get my bag...
It was freezing. And deep--I hadn't appreciated how steeply the sand shelved. Already the water was up to my knees, my bag still several feet away. By the time I reached it, I was up to my waist, each wave threatening to knock me flying. I staggered back to the shallows and rummaged inside, frantically searching for my mobile phone. Who the hell were you supposed to contact in a situation like this? The coastguard, wasn't it? What number did you have to use? I had no idea--calling the coastguard was something I'd never thought I'd need to do.
But as I stared at the phone, I realised that not knowing what number to call was the least of my worries. It was dead. Of course it was dead. No phone could survive that much salt water.
Panic-stricken, I turned to look at the waves, much bigger now. Was I a strong enough swimmer? Was there any chance I could make it around to the next cove? I looked back at the ever-narrowing strip of unwashed beach behind me. Was there any chance I'd make it if I didn't?
I was going to have to try. Dropping the phone back in the bag, I slid my arms through the straps and hoisted it on to my back. But before I'd taken more than two steps, I thought I heard a shout. With a rush of hope, I whirled around, only to lose my footing and crash sidelong into the surf, a wave sweeping over my head. My mouth and nose awash with brine, I turned on to my hands and knees, coughing and spluttering as I heaved myself out of the water.
"Hey! Up here!"
This time there was no doubt the male voice was real, but scared of falling again, I took care to plant my feet firmly before looking for its owner. And there, to the side of me, high on the rocks, I finally made out a figure.
"What the fuck are you still doing there?"
"What?" I yelled back, gazing up at him in stunned disbelief. Did it look like I wanted to be there? "I'm trapped down here! I was going to swim for it."
"Are you crazy?" His groan was audible even above the waves. "You'll kill yourself! There's one hell of a rip."
"One hell of a what?" I couldn't believe I was asking. The tide was coming in. Fast. This was hardly the time for discussion. But suddenly, I realised where I'd heard that voice before...
"A rip current--never mind, it doesn't matter. Go back!" And when he straightened up, waving across at the cliffs, I knew there was no question about who he was.
"I can't!" This couldn't be happening. Not him... "There's nowhere to go!"
"Yes there is! Go back! I'll meet you there."
I stared at the place where he'd been standing, but the guy in red board-shorts--and now a vibrant orange T-shirt--had vanished, leaving me with no choice but to trust him. Hitching up my bag, I turned around and began to wade back to shore--what was left of it.
"Here!" I heard him shout when I reached the base of the cliff, casting a nervous glance at the water licking at my heels. And following the direction of the sound, I saw where he intended me to go. Up the rocks to the side, a steep, but not impossible climb for someone wearing stout shoes. A rope would've been handy too. But I had neither-- the sea had even taken my flip flops.
"I don't think I can!"
"Yes you can." He was moving towards me, carefully manoeuvring around one rock at a time until his arms were just a few lengths from mine. "You can do this. Come on."
The next wave rather forced my decision. Shrieking as the surf washed around my ankles I lurched towards the rocks, clambering up the lower boulders as fast as I could. But it wasn't easy, the stone hard and unyielding beneath my bare feet, my fingers scrabbling to find deep enough holds. And the higher I climbed the more difficult it became; the granite there flatter and more slippery with much sharper edges.
"Come on," he called encouragingly at intervals, his arms still outstretched towards mine. "You're doing it. You're doing so well."
It was hard to believe. This then was the very definition of three steps forward and two steps back, I thought as I slid downwards yet again, experiencing a sharp flash of pain along my forearm as I brushed against an adjacent rock. "I'm not!" I cried, clinging on for dear life as I gazed back at the water swirling below me. "I'm going to fall!"
"Don't look down. You're nearly there. Nearly there. Just one more step."
And incredibly, one more step really was enough, his hands coming down to seize my wrists, hauling me up towards him.
"Oh my God!" I gasped, landing on the ledge beside him, shaking with exertion as I wrenched my bag off my back, my arms and legs feeling ridiculously weak. "I thought I was going to die."
"Not today." He pulled a striped blue and yellow beach towel from the bag beside him and wrapped it snugly around my shoulders, his expression grim. "But what the hell were you thinking? Surely you knew the tide was coming in?"
"What?" I glared at him, my relief instantly giving way to resentment. "I wouldn't have been down there at all if it hadn't been for you and your buddies, kicking your bloody football at me every five seconds."
"Oh come on," he shot back. "Every five seconds is a bit of an exaggeration, don't you--?"
"You had the whole fucking beach! But no, you have to set up your goalposts right in front of me--"
"Look, we didn't even see you there until the ball hit you the first time. And I told you we were sorry. It wasn't as though it was deliberate."
"No, not the first time," I retorted. "But the second time was, wasn't it?"
"What?" He looked pained. "Oh, this is just great. I come back to make sure you're all right and this is the thanks--"
"Oh don't give me that!" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. He'd really come back to make sure I was okay? "Of course it was deliberate. You couldn't wait to do it again. You couldn't help yourselves--oh my God!" I yelped, finally glimpsing what awaited us on the other side of the ledge.
"Just great," he repeated as though he hadn't heard. "I rescue you, and this is what I get."
"Rescue me?" I gave a snort of derision. "You call this rescuing? Okay, tell me this. How the fuck do we get down?"
Because although the climb down the rocks to the other cove definitely appeared less challenging than the climb I'd just made, the tide was rolling in apace, the surf rolling up the beach, the place where I'd laid my towel--where the guys had played football--already under water.
"What?" I tore my gaze away from the beach below to stare at him. And despite myself, I couldn't help but notice his eyes were exactly the same shade as the sea, a stark contrast to his curly dark hair. "We wait? But haven't you got a mobile phone?"
For the first time he grinned. "Why, who d'you want to call?"
"Well, doh." I pulled my hand out from under the towel and slapped my forehead, Homer Simpson-style. "The coastguard?"
His eyes narrowed for a moment then his grin returned. "You want to call the coastguard?"
"Yes!" Was this man incredibly stupid? "I think it might be a good idea."
"Really?" He looked amused. "So you'd like them to scramble a helicopter, get four men to risk their lives while they winch you up into the air--high, high into the air--"
Shit, he'd guessed I was scared of heights...
"--and then drop you back down on to the beach, with the world and his wife watching their every move--your every move? 'Cos that kind of thing tends to draw quite a crowd."
I gazed at him speechlessly.
"Or, we can wait a couple of hours--wait for the tide to go back out again--then get you down and get you to hospital."
"Hospital?" I gave a choke of puzzled laughter. "But I don't need to go to hospital."
"Oh, I think you do. That's going to need stitches."
"What?" It was only when I glanced down at myself that I saw what he was staring at. "Fuck!"
I'd never seen anything like it in real life, only on television and in films. The whole of my right forearm was scarlet and dripping--literally dripping--with blood... "No..." I breathed, only realising how much it hurt as I looked at it. "Oh no..."