But will this newfound love survive the calm after the storm, when all debris is brought to light?
It all begins with a chance encounter at the moonlit shores of Carlyon Bay...
"Kat, it’s me. I won’t be coming to the party tonight. In my jammies and not in the mood to network. You have a blast for the both of us. I’ll see you for coffee in the morning.”
I hang up and thrust my cellphone into my silver clutch as I instruct the taxi driver, “Sorry, change of plans. Please continue past the hotel. I’ll tell you where to stop, thanks.”
He nods at me in the rearview mirror.
I shift in my seat. My dress, a figure-hugging, boat-neck dark blue delight, is becoming more constricting by the second. A shaky inhale is all I can manage. I rub the back of my bare neck and watch as we pass the Carlyon Bay Hotel; accounting for every passing second with the incessant tapping of my high heel against the taxi floor.
I reach into my clutch for the fare. “Here’s fine. Thank you.”
Reaching over the back of the seat, I hand the folded bill to the driver as the car comes to a stop.
“Keep the change,” I tell him and leap out of the cab, slamming the door behind me.
It’s not long before I locate the familiar path that leads to the beach. After a few unsteady steps forward, I reach down and yank my heels off my feet. My breath is coming in short, rapid bursts as unshed tears blur my vision.
The sob I’ve been holding in this whole time comes tumbling out when I reach the vast beach area with my shoes and clutch in hand. Empty miles of sand surround me, lit only by the soft light of the moon. The only sound I hear in the distance is the lapping of waves on the shore. I stand wrapped in darkness; the peace surrounding me a stark contrast to the turmoil raging within me.
My chest rises and falls, straining against the delicate fabric, as anger consumes me. Dropping everything in my hands, I start pulling at the many hidden pins holding my hair up in the elegant bun that took some doing. At last, my hair is free and falls down my back in waves. I raise my face to the open sky and take in a deep breath, hot tears of frustration now flowing unchecked. After several brisk swipes at my cheeks, I take determined steps towards the shore, hindered only by the tightness of my dress.
This overwhelming sense of defeat getting heavier by the minute, I let myself fall onto my knees. My head hangs low, too heavy to lift. A groan escapes from deep within, bringing with it a fresh onslaught of tears. The murmuring of the waves lulls me into a daze. I stare at the continuous back-and-forth of white-laced water, my thoughts completely jumbled. The salty breeze is a soothing caress as it weaves through my hair.
How can he be so selfish?
My shoulders rise and fall on a sharp, trembling inhale. Our lives keep unravelling at the seams since that miserable night. Even after an entire year, it still doesn’t seem real.
I still sense his presence.
I still expect him to pop in my room and pry into my affairs.
My pursed lips quiver as my eyes well up again. Suddenly, a white napkin cuts into my line of sight, wrenching me out of the desolate abyss I have been spiralling down. Alarmed, and blinking rapidly to focus my vision, I look up to find the shadowy figure of a man towering over me.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” His voice is gentle as he offers me his napkin. That’s when I notice he is wearing a suit with his white shirt unbuttoned at the collar. My attention is drawn to the tie he has wrapped around his fisted palm.
Mixed feelings of apprehension and shame for being discovered cause me to hesitate. This entire time I thought I was alone out here. But, not wanting to prolong the awkwardness, I reach for the napkin with an indistinct sound supposed to be ‘thank you’. While I dab at my soaked cheeks, he disappears only to return a moment later, placing my purse and shoes down beside me.
“You should keep these close,” he says.
I nod in a huff of embarrassment and clear my throat, struggling to find my voice. “Of course, thank you. I don’t—”
“Please. I understand.”
His interruption is reassuring. My eyes land on the most captivating blue eyes glowing in the moon’s light. There’s a palpable calm in their depths that pulls me in.
He clears his throat emphatically, lifting his gaze to look into the distance, asking, “Everything all right?”
Exhaling, I turn my attention to the napkin in my hands.
“I don’t mean to pry,” he adds.
Shaking my head, I reassure him, “I’m fine.”
The only two words I am able to voice before my throat constricts again. My focus remains on the napkin, hoping he would walk away.
When I hear him move, my eyes close in relief, but reopen when a jacket covers my shoulders, and he sits beside me. The heady, spicy fresh scent of his perfume surrounds me, smothering any attempt at a protest.
“I hope you don’t mind. I could use a brief escape myself.”
His sincere tone and the hint of playfulness in his eyes put me at ease.
My brain struggles to supply any coherent words, so instead I study him closely. My eyes having adjusted, I can now see him more clearly. His demeanour and posture ooze confidence, making him look so out-of-place sitting here in the sand. An executive desk seems a lot more fitting. Although he doesn’t look that old. My eyes travel from his wavy hair that has fallen onto his forehead, all the way to a pair of generous lips. Even in the dim light of the night, there is no mistaking he is handsome.
I catch myself staring and avert my gaze, but not before noticing the corners of his lips lift in a small smile.
Desperate for something to say, I ask, “What are you escaping from?”
It’s the perfect diversion, but also something I am honestly curious to know.
He is lost in thought for a moment as he takes his time unwrapping the tie from around his palm. After releasing a heavy sigh, he confesses, “An incredibly frustrating phone call…”
“… Everything,” he concludes after an abrupt pause.
I can totally relate to that.
Silence reigns between us and I find myself being picked at, then assaulted, by my aggravating thoughts all over again.
“I’m afraid it’s the only one I have.”
I turn to him, confused.
“The napkin you’re attacking.” He nods towards my hands.
I force a smile and make a concentrated effort to stop the fidgeting that’s always been a part of my nature.
“I can only imagine what you must think of me,” I say, my words coming out a little thin.
“You have no idea,” he replies in a tone that almost sounds reverent.
He continues staring straight ahead at the open ocean.
Lost in this moment with this magnificently mysterious specimen of a man, I breathe in the courage to make a confession of my own, “Sometimes, I just feel… I feel like it’s just…”
“All. Too. Much.” he enunciates.
And just like that, he gives voice to my feelings with those three little words.
“Yes.” The word leaves my lips one letter at a time.
I find him leisurely studying my face. His pools of blue are holding me captive. They are deep wells with so much to tell, yet so much hidden. What a beautiful mystery he would be to unravel. I catch myself staring again, so I bring my attention back to the ocean in front of me, inhaling deeply.
“So what could possibly weigh down such a beauty?”
“Okay, I see.” I feel it all go flat. “You’re wasting your time.”
He frowns at my answer.
“Pickup lines… They…” I try to find the right word but then give up. “Anyway, I’m not exactly—”
“Believe me, that was no attempt at a pickup,” he smirks, his features contorting as he plays with the sand in front of him.
“Perfect…” My voice sounds hoarse to my ears as my cheeks radiate heat.
I try to stand while slipping his blazer off my shoulders, but his hand flies to cover mine. My nerves awaken from his fingers on my skin. This simple touch sends a bolt of light through my otherwise gloomy heart. My eyes dart to his and find unabashed yearning that robs me of breath. After what feels like an eternity, he backs away, raising both hands.
“Stay,” he implores without taking his eyes off mine. “I won’t even ask your name.”
I break away from his stare, grateful to have these waters to focus on as I try my hardest to reign in my flailing emotions.
We both say nothing for a while, letting the silence grow, until he asks, “Well then, who’s the jerk who upset you?”
“Jake.” The word rips at my heart as it comes out.
The blood rushes to my head just as quickly as the tears form in my eyes at the sound of his name. It’s been so long since I’ve said it out loud.
His eyes are on me now. I can feel them.
“It’s all a mess.” The words barely make it past my laboured breathing.
“Sorry,” he whispers.
I shrug. “It’s been that way for an entire year now. Things will never go back to the way they were. Ever.”
“That doesn’t mean in time they can’t be good again,” he struggles to tell me, as though even he is finding it hard to believe his own words.
“How? When there’ll be nobody left.” I feel the flames of frustration whipping at me again.
“I’m sorry I don’t quite follow.”
“Of course not!” I burst at him. “How could you? When I don’t even know how I just ended up being an after-thought in the matter… If even a thought at all!!”
My eyes widen with embarrassment, realising I just lashed out at a complete stranger.
“I’m so sorry.” My eyes squeeze shut as I hide my face in my hands.
I can hear him rise to his feet, and this time there is no misinterpreting him leaving.
“Walk with me.”
His words bring my face out from hiding, and it takes a good minute for his request to sink in.
“No. Trust me, you don’t want—”
“It’s not a request,” he states.
After draping his tie over my shoulders, he gathers my shoes and purse in one hand and extends his other one to me. Watching him stand there with my belongings in hand feels so familiar and oddly comforting.
“Come on,” he coaxes.
It could very well be this surreal moment playing tricks on my mind, but of all the hands I’ve held, this one feels different. This one holds the promise of belonging.
I thank him softly as I stand, my legs aching for the stretch. He seems to be in no hurry to let go, so I venture a glance at his face and find the most gentle smile waiting there for me. All air leaves my lungs at once as he lifts my hand to his mouth and places the most gentle kiss there. My wound up nerves send my heart leaping to my throat, yet he is a vision of calm and control, like it’s the most natural thing for him. The deep blush making its way down to my neck goes unnoticed in this blessed darkness.
He releases my hand with a light chuckle. “Shall we?”
As I adjust his blazer, pulling it closer. My fingers brush against the tie he has placed around my neck and I giggle.
“With so many of your things hanging on me, you leave me no choice but to follow.”
He throws his head back in laughter, and the sight makes me smile. A big, genuine smile this time.
“I’m carrying your shoes and purse. I believe that makes us even.” He lifts his hand as proof.
Hearing myself laughing is something I didn’t think was in store for me tonight. Even more so, he is a pleasant surprise I didn’t think was in store for me tonight.
It must have been several minutes since we started walking along the shore, and the silence that has fallen between us is anything but awkward. The growing peace has succeeded at washing away all the turmoil I was harbouring earlier. The quiet presence of this extraordinarily cordial man has calmed me so much more than any exchange of words ever could. I can’t help but smile to myself as I breathe in the ocean breeze, relishing in the feeling of cool sand between my toes.
“You have a beautiful smile.”
My smile grows even bigger.
“Sorry for the whole pickup line thing. I’m not exactly myself tonight. So embarrassing, honestly,” I confess, shaking my head.
“I’m the one who invited myself to sit with you, remember?”
“It was… Really nice,” I express my appreciation, keeping my eyes on my toes that are sliding through the powdery softness.
He chuckles. “You wouldn’t be saying that if you were at the receiving end.”
“Oh, gosh! It was that terrible,” I mumble, using his blazer for cover.
“I’m joking.” He gently touches my shoulder, his chuckle turning into full on laughter.
“No. You’re absolutely right,” I come out from behind his blazer. “What I meant to say… It was nice to be the one just… Just letting it all out for a change.” I share with him something I’ve never even admitted to myself.
“A classic people pleaser.”
“Or some might say a very reliable individual.”
He only acknowledges my rebuttal with a slow, thoughtful nod.
“Either way, I have no choice in the matter.”
“I don’t believe that,” he is quick to answer.
A bit affronted, I stop in my tracks and turn to him. “Wow, a classic control freak.”
His eyes, glinting with amusement, are on me like a laser while he deliberately invades my personal space. The intensity of his sudden proximity almost makes me want to take a step backwards, but my brain shorts and my beating heart is all I can hear as his gaze entraps me.
With mere inches between us, I sense his warm breath as he tells me, “I’m always in control,”—his eyes linger on my lips—“and I happen to be damn good at it.”
I attempt to breathe but just end up inhaling more of his intoxicating scent. All sounds dissipate and I am left standing in a void with nothing but my amplified awareness of him and the electricity zapping between my nerves.
“I bet…” I reply, entranced.
He inches even closer to my face. I brace myself, knowing the slightest movement is sure to bring our lips together.
“Not here…” I murmur, but then catch myself right away. And with concentrated effort, I put enough distance between us to inhale some much needed air.
“I mean,”—I clear my throat—“you’re not from around here. Are you?”
“You sound disappointed.”
“I didn’t think New Yorkers cared to vacation in Cornwall, much less our little St. Austell.”
“I work at the hotel.” His smile is endearing.
“You no longer sound disappointed.” He steps up closer to me again.
“Not enough jobs in New York?” My voice breaks as my pathetic attempt at a joke crashes and burns under his unaffected stare.
It is incredible how present those crystal ocean eyes make me feel. My heart slams against my chest, certain this time our lips will meet. Instead, I feel the soft swoosh of air as he turns away abruptly. He lets my things fall to the sand as he runs his hands through his hair, shutting his eyes and taking in a long breath.
“Sorry.” His apology is barely audible.
My breathing erratic, I rush to the water, hoping to pull my calm from the vastness of the ocean before me.
He comes to stand beside me, but I’m still too numb to move or say anything. I catch sight of the sparkles of moonlight dancing on the dark, wavy surface and let the sound of incoming waves wash away all my thoughts. The gentle wind caresses my burning skin like a soothing balm.
“I love looking out onto the ocean. Makes me feel so small.” I hug his blazer tighter. “Makes everything seem… Insignificant.”
“Not everything,” he corrects, and I turn to find he has been looking at me this whole time.
I smile, dazzled by the moonlight softly lighting each of his beautiful features.
“What’s your story? Of all the hotels… Why all the way here?”
His eyes suddenly lose their spark and his shoulders lift in a slow shrug.
“Childhood is lost. The friends of your youth are gone. Your present is slipping away from you,” he recites, forlorn, looking straight into the darkness. “Nothing is ever the same.”
He officially has my full attention with his words that so eloquently describe my pain.
“Heraclitus, Greek Philosopher,” he points out. “These words of his keep replaying in my mind lately.”
A nod is all I offer, my mind still engrossed in this philosopher’s declaration.
“Does this have anything to do with the frustrating call?” I have this sudden urge to know more about him.
He breaks into a light chuckle as he rubs the back of his neck, still looking straight ahead.
“Don’t worry. You can trust me.”
“Trust?!” His entire demeanour suddenly changes. “Hate the word.”
“Hate…?” My question is barely a whisper, and it goes unheard.
“Trust got me into this fucking mess. Blind trust for people I believed love me unconditionally.”