The pillared walkway from the house to the beach lay ahead. Silver light on the horizon lifted the marble pavilion out of the night. Yet the gray dawn brought out the greenness of the trees and grass, reds and purples of flowers, the white sand, painting everything a deeper hue.
A single figure in jodhpurs and shirt stood within the pavilion that jutted out on the rocks like the prow of a ship.
A woman stared out at the bay and the clouds that shrouded the rising sun.
Laine leaned against the pillar farthest out so that waves splashed upwards and soaked her. Was she a woman or a child? She had the best of both. As a child she’d always acted the bossy little woman that he’d found endearing. When he’d returned from Oxford and found she’d become a woman, he held her child-like enjoyment of everything under the sun equally endearing.
But the Laine standing in that pavilion was not a girl. She was a woman who’d seen as many atrocities as he had in the trenches. The tide had turned. And he fought against it. Dear God, help me fight against it.
He started to veer away when she saw him. A friend would raise their arm and hale the other. Neither of them did. If they couldn’t be lovers, married, then they couldn’t be friends. From childhood on they’d been meant for each other, two parts of one whole, and friendship could never fill the gap. He’d always known this, though she had not.
Laine took the steps down to the beach. Though he was standing, the sense of falling came over him.
The sky beyond her showed that strange color of clouds amassing above the ocean. Clouds with that greenish tint that meant a cyclone was on its way.
Her dark hair lay tousled on her shoulders. Her feet, bare. Those tea-colored eyes reflected the hunger of the growing clouds behind her. A wave crashed on the shore, sending up a spray while a kingfisher flitted out, flashing the blue of its wings. And a current of his former passion for her sluiced through him.
She stopped two feet from him, and they stared at each other, the moment stretching out forever until she lifted her hand in a helpless gesture of defeat. Her small indication of unhappiness crushed his heart.
He must be mad, but he took a step toward her and reached for her shoulders, and the next thing he knew she was in his arms.
She clung to him. For a moment he resisted. His mind clanged to stop this madness. But there was no resistance in Laine, only the warmth of a woman who always gave all. In a heartbeat they sought each other’s mouths, and he lost himself, a man parched with thirst savoring the sweetness of her lips. How could he have lived so long without...
She moaned against his mouth as his hand moved to the small of her back, and he drew her closer. Her hands wound their way along his shoulders, her fingers in his hair.
The ground beneath his feet became unsteady, and he lost all sensation of the world around him. All but Laine. Intoxicating Laine who drowned out his every thought, every shred of reason.
Their kisses turned slower, he felt her lips against his unshaven cheek and jaw, and he found her mouth again.
The oncoming tide swirled at their feet and ankles, soaking their trousers.
Dear God! What am I doing? He pulled his lips from hers and stared at the foam-flecked surf as it retreated.
She resisted as he removed her from him as gently as he could. Her face remained soft with the answering passion to his as the space between them grew.
He shook his head as he dropped his hands, and heard the quiver in his voice. “I’m sorry...I’m sorry, Laine. I shouldn’t have...”
Even in the gray dawn, the horrible pain of rejection robbed her face of all color. Her gaze fell, and those long dark lashes hid her eyes from him. She wouldn’t cry. Not Laine. But he knew her too well, and the pain in her shuttered eyes kicked him in the gut. He stood rigid, waiting for her to slap him as she should.
Her throat moved as she swallowed with difficulty. “You’re right, Adam, you shouldn’t have done that. Nor I.” Her words came out full-throated. Raw. “Because nothing has changed, has it?” Her gaze lifted to his.
“Nothing has changed. I’m—”
“Don’t say you’re sorry again. I couldn’t bear it. In fact, it’s best we both pretend this never happened. It didn’t happen. Do you understand? It just didn’t.” She turned from him and walked back the way she’d come. Not in a flurry of emotion, but with precise steps as if she were made of glass and would break with any jarring movement.
He didn’t follow her. Just stared at nothing and raised a trembling hand to his brow.