Love’s a Beach!
Melanie Sanders snapped another shot of Ffryes Beach. A butterfly fluttered into view and she laughed and carried on clicking. After posting the best shots to her social media accounts – #Ffryesbeach #solotravel #suffer – she tucked her phone into her rucksack.
Right, no more living behind her lens, this was a holiday, which was why she had deliberately kept her camera in her rucksack all day. And anyway, her social media followers were going to hate her enough already, for being here when they weren’t… Soaking up the rays, breathing in the sweet sultry air of Antigua in June and doing nothing but lying on the beach all day in between trips to Dennis’s Restaurant and bouts of snorkeling in water such a pure turquoise it was hard to believe it was real.
Slipping her sunglasses back on, Mel contemplated what to do next.
- Choice #1: Go for another snorkel?
- Choice #2: Re-dose her sunblock before she had another doze?
- Choice #4: Or head to Dennis’s to grab a table on the veranda ahead of the supper crowd?
Her stomach grumbled. Dennis’s was looking like a winner. But she needed more time to debate her menu options – Curried Goat or Jerk Chicken? She fished out her sunscreen, but as she flipped the cap, a sleek yacht, its sails billowing industriously, glided into view. She dropped the sunscreen as the yacht anchored off shore.
There was only one person on board. A guy.
Curious, she broke her own golden rule and fished her camera out, clicked in the telephoto lens, and stared into the viewfinder.
Wow. Not just a guy. A seriously hot guy wearing trunks, a ball cap pulled low over his features and not a lot else.
Voila! Choice #4. Objectify hot guy on boat.
Mel grinned as she settled in for the show.
He worked diligently and efficiently, as if he’d handled the rigging a thousands times. Even with the telephoto lens though it was impossible to make out his features, but it was still a great show.
Until he stopped, his head lifted and he stared directly at her.
Could he see her spying on him? Goosebumps rippled over her skin. Why did he seem vaguely familiar?
She lowered the camera – a bit freaked out. She didn’t want to get arrested for leisure stalking.
The guy disappeared below decks. She let out a breath. The tension easing out of her spine.
Mel frowned, surprised by the thrum of disappointment. She had not come on this holiday looking for romance, or even a no-strings hook-up. She was a successful fashion photographer, she didn’t need a guy in her life. And sex was overrated.
A flush rippled over her skin.
Okay, maybe not all sex was overrated. The first time she’d tried it, she’d enjoyed it, a lot, eventually, after getting past the awkward. But the guy himself had been a total jerk.
The name – if that was even his name – echoed across her consciousness unlocking the memories she’d shut away a decade ago.
But for the first time in a long time, she couldn’t seem to lock them down. Suddenly she wasn’t on a beach in Antigua but in Edinburgh University’s photolab on the Photography BA course’s open day.
She could feel his arm brushing against hers as they reached for the same Leica. See Jack’s firm sensual lips, his emerald-green eyes lit by that cute, wicked smile.
The lilt of a Calypso tune drifting down the beach was drowned out by the sound of Jack’s slow as molasses accent telling her he wasn’t a Yank, he was a Southern boy and there was a heap of difference.
She could taste the picnic they’d shared of Scotch Eggs and Iron Bru after killing themselves climbing Castle Rock. And the salty aroma of his skin in the budget motel where she’d been too embarrassed to tell him he was her first, until he’d told her she was his.
Mel shivered despite the June sunshine.
And like a dope, she’d believed him. Only to wake up the following morning next to an empty pillow with a note on it saying ‘Call Me’ above a fake number. And nothing else… Not even a surname.
The guy she’d loved for twenty-four wonderful hours, until he’d broken her heart.
Mel tried to shake the kaleidoscope of memories from her head. Why was she suddenly re-evaluating them now? Maybe she was getting sunstroke? Or relaxation fatigue?
She never thought about Jack the Jerk – or the naïve, too-eager girl she’d been then. That long-ago betrayal certainly had no place in her holiday of a lifetime.
She lifted her camera, staring through the lens to concentrate her wayward thoughts as she searched the boat deck again.
Come on, hot mystery muscle guy, where are you? I’m in dire need of a distraction so I don’t take another trip down Fake Memory Lane.
Suddenly the lens went black and a gruff Alabama accent which had every one of Mel’s freak-out sensors going from five to ninety in a heartbeat – said:
‘Why the heck are you taking pictures of me, ma’am?’
Mel dropped the camera, her fingers numb.
Her heartbeat accelerated into the danger zone as she blinked at the tall guy dripping onto her towel, his wet hair swept back off handsome features she could see all too clearly now.
‘Jack?’ she squealed, as her mind told her she had to be dreaming. Or having some weird out of body experience.
Unfortunately, the hot, glowing weight in her abdomen wasn’t buying it as it exploded across her nerve-endings.
* * *
‘Melly?’ Jack was so shocked to see the woman he’d dreamed about pretty much every damn day for a decade – her features as gorgeous as he’d tried not to remember them – her name came out on a girly squeak. He would have been embarrassed about that at another time, in another life, but the reaction battering his body was way too extreme for him to care.
‘Is it actually you?’ he managed at last as he searched her stunned expression.
Damn, but she was still so beautiful – her long limbs and high breasts in that excuse for a bikini having a predictable effect. He struggled to ignore it, the heat making him feel exposed and needy… And a damn fool.
He’d dived off the starboard side of the yacht and swum to shore so he could catch his mystery stalker. And rip her a new one, before he threatened her with an injunction and confiscated her camera equipment. He’d assumed she was a journalist, or a paparazzi. Invasions of his privacy were his trigger ever since Travel Trails’ stock flotation had turned him into a billionaire five years back.
What he hadn’t been prepared for was to have his past slap him in the face.
‘I… Yes,’ she stuttered. ‘Am I dreaming?’ she whispered, her voice so low and shaky he wasn’t sure she was talking to him.
Okay, she looked more stunned than he did. Her turquoise eyes – which still reminded him of the sea off this very beach – had gone glassy and opaque, as if she was struggling to stay conscious.
‘Please tell me I’m dreaming?’ she said.
The plea made his heart stumble and his ribs become tight and achy – the same way they had for days, weeks, hell even months ten years back when he’d waited for her call and it had never come.
He rubbed his chest, the ache getting worse.
‘You’re not dreaming, it’s me,’ he said, and forced himself to drop his fist. He didn’t want her to see she could still make him ache.
What was with that anyway? He’d gotten over her, a long time ago.
But even as he tried to persuade himself, she stood up and he noticed the tremble in her fingers as she thrust her wild chestnut hair behind her ear and the tremor in her knees as she straightened. The pang of regret shot through him and he knew it wasn’t true.
Despite everything, despite all this time, he wasn’t over her at all.
Was that why he’d always been compelled to anchor his yacht The Scottish Lady off Ffryes Beach in June – around the time they’d met. Why he’d given the boat that name? Because he’d never been able to forget her, or one of the many conversations they’d had that day when he’d told her about this beach, and her eyes – which he’d been too embarrassed to tell her were the exact same colour as the water here – had lit up and she’d told him she’d love to visit.
Had he believed somewhere in his subconscious that when he hadn’t been able to track her down in Edinburgh, he might find her here?
The question that had burned inside him for so long rose to his lips… And he couldn’t swallow it down, no matter how exposed it made him feel.
‘Why didn’t you ever call?’
The glassy look cleared from her eyes, and a sharp frown flattened her brows. Anger, and resentment leapt into the deep blue depths, but behind it was something else. The same crushing hurt he had felt for so long.
‘Why didn’t I…?’ She sputtered, outraged. ‘I called you a hundred times. But you gave me a fake number, you jerk!’
* * *
Mel was so upset she could hardly breathe. She was in shock, trying to get her knees to lock and her mind to engage was a major struggle. Given that the only man she had ever loved had just appeared from the Caribbean sea like a merman – the hard muscles and sinews of his body even hotter than before – and accused her of not calling him, was it any surprise she was hyperventilating?
‘What number did I give you?’ he said.
She reeled off the number, surprised she still knew it by heart.
‘Oh… Hell.’ His voice broke. ‘That’s… The wrong number.’
‘I know,’ she replied, the breathlessness getting worse at the look of horror on his face.
‘Jeeze, Mel I’m so sorry. I screwed up. I was freaking out, because of my dad, my Mom had texted me to tell me he’d had a stroke and it was so dark in that room.’ Something was happening to her heart as he spoke, the concrete it had been encased in for so long cracking open, and letting hope flood in. ‘Plus I’ve always been kinda dyslexic.’
‘You didn’t do it deliberately?’ She whispered. ‘…Because you never wanted to see me again?’
‘Are you kidding me? No way!’
At last he touched her, his hands chilled from the sea gripping her upper arms to drag her into his embrace. He tucked her unresisting body against his chest, holding her the way he had that night so long ago.
‘Melly, I’m so sorry. I had to go. I didn’t want to wake you. But when you didn’t call me, I figured I’d imagined the connection between us.’ He was rambling, stumbling over the words.
She wrapped her arms around him, trying to soothe him, not easy when the conflagration in her heart was bursting over her body like fireworks.
He hadn’t tricked her. He hadn’t used her. Every single thing that had happened that day had been real.
He framed her face in unsteady hands. ‘Please tell me, there isn’t anyone else?’
She shook her head, too choked to talk.
He flushed. ‘You wanna go for a sail? Or to Dennis’s – it’s the restaurant on the beach, remember I told you about it?’
Good grief, yes he had.
The conversation came flooding back, so raw and real and vivid.
Was that why she’d chosen to come to Antigua? Why she’d gravitated towards Ffryes Beach? Because of his comments about this place so long ago that she’d forced herself to forget? It had to be.
‘I’d love to go for a sail,’ she said.
The grin that spread across his features made her heart sing with the same joyous beat as one of Dennis’s Soca tunes.