The Greenhouse Effect
copyright © 2009 Sally Rogers-Davidson
All rights reserved
copyright © 2009 Sally Rogers-Davidson
All rights reserved
On reflection Aster could see it was a mistake to continue with champagne after the toasts. She should have switched to something lighter but she was in the mood for drinking and the waiters kept topping up her glass. ‘So I’ll pay for it in the morning,’ she’d told herself – or someone sitting with her. ‘If it helps me get through this thing then I say it’s worth it. Anyway what’s the worst that can happen?’ It seemed like a plan until she woke with a killing headache and a stomach tossing like an ocean storm.
She needed the bathroom and quickly but when she tried to roll off the bed she found herself rolled right back on to it. She realised with a mixture of relief and panic that the nausea wasn’t quite as bad as she’d first thought. The bed was actually in violent motion. When she forced her eyelids open she saw that she was lying on a bunk inside the cabin of what she could only guess was some sort of yacht. She was alone. There was no sign of a Captain or anyone who could tell her what she was doing there.
‘This isn’t good,’ she moaned as she tried again without success to crawl off the bunk. She prayed the yacht was moored in some harbor but knew in her heart that she was out to sea. She clawed her way to the port-hole in the wall over the bunk but she could see only blackness and the splash of white foam as waves washed up over the hull. She lay back on the large bunk fighting down panic and nausea and tried to concentrate on remembering the wedding and the circumstances that had brought her here…
She would have avoided Jill’s wedding if she could. Her own engagement had ended badly a few months earlier and she was finding it hard to cope with being dumped. As thrilled as she was for Jill, it was hard to deal with her best friend’s happiness when she was so miserable. She hated to admit it even to herself, but what she really wished was that Jill had split up with Jack when she’d split up with Jack’s best friend Charlie. At least that would have saved her friendship with Jill. As it turned out she’d not only lost a boyfriend now she was losing her best girlfriend. She could cope with losing Charlie – to be honest the relationship had been more about convenience than knee-weakening passion, but losing her best friend really hurt.
They’d discovered Jack and Charlie at a work function the year before. Jill had fallen completely and immediately for Jack and Aster liked Charlie a lot. It had been so neat. Two couples: four best friends. They’d gone everywhere together. They’d even had their future all mapped out. They’d get married and live next door to each other. Their children would go to school together... but then Charlie met Charlotte and their convenient foursome crumbled. As if that wasn’t hurtful enough, it didn’t take long for Aster to realise that Jill and Jack had chosen convenient couple Charlie and Charlotte over sad and single Aster. She’d been dumped by three people, not just one. She didn’t fit in with their happy couple life. She’d been replaced. She was redundant; cast aside like a third boot.
Then the ultimate betrayal – Jill invited her to the wedding. She desperately hadn’t wanted to go but couldn’t come up with a reasonable excuse for missing it. She and Jill were still technically best friends even if they didn’t see each other outside of work any more and even if she had asked Charlotte to be her bridesmaid...
‘I knew you’d understand,’ Jill, her so-called best friend, had explained. ‘Of course I wanted you. But Charlie’s Jack’s best man and I knew how humiliating it would be for you if I insisted on having you in the wedding party.’
‘Of course I understand,’ Aster had said. But she hadn’t. She hadn’t understood at all...
So she’d gone to the wedding alone and sat at a table of strangers watching the happy wedding party from the shadows and trying not to acknowledge, even to herself, the bitter resentment she felt.
That’s why she’d drunk so much of the champagne. She needed something to keep her spirits up enough to carry off the act that she was completely unaffected by her replacement from the neat little foursome. She had her career. She’d find other friends. She just hadn’t realised how much she missed being a part of someone else’s life until she saw how happy Jill was with Jack.
But then she met someone at the party. What was his name? Tony? Toby? Something like that. She’d been feeling no pain by then, her usual inhibitions drowned in a sea of bubbles and she’d wanted so badly not to be alone. Tony was nice looking and seemed like fun. Did she remember him saying something about owning a yacht? Hadn’t he mentioned that he was sailing up the coast for the weekend?
Aster jumped out of the bunk and collapsed. Her head was spinning so badly she had to lie on the floor for moments before she could even see again. She felt like she was dying but she had to solve the mystery. She’d just go above and see Tony. This had to be Tony’s yacht. Obviously she’d agreed to go with him – she supposed she’d agreed. It was odd that she was still wearing her party dress. How drunk had she been to agree to go on a weekend sail and not even change into sensible clothes?
What if I’ve been abducted against my will? she thought. She knew nothing about this Tony person other than he was a friend of Jack’s and that was hardly a glowing recommendation. For all she knew he might be some psychotic-serial-rapist-killer-type. For all she knew nobody else was even aware she was with him. She’d be one of those people who just disappeared off the face of the earth...
But he might have been just as drunk as her and they’d gone off together as a lark. She had to speak to him, maybe then it would all come back to her?
But first she had to use the bathroom.
Her dress was wrapped around her legs awkwardly. She found it hard to move them apart enough to raise herself off the floor. She rolled onto her back to free up some of the fabric and tried again. This time she was able to bend her knees enough apart to get her feet up under her. She rolled on her side, straightened out the floor-side leg and continued onto her belly, bringing her arms and legs into a position where she could raise herself up onto her hands and knees. No sooner had she managed this than a massive wave rocked the boat so violently that she was rolled onto her back once more.
Three more unsuccessful attempts to stand had Aster crawling on her belly over to the door that she prayed was the bathroom. What do they call bathrooms in boats? She thought absently. It’s not bathroom... the term lay tantalizingly out of reach in her mind. She knew she’d heard it somewhere... she just couldn’t remember what it was. The kitchen’s called the galley... she remembered that much... What’s the bathroom?
She pulled herself up to the handle of the room she suspected she was misnaming the bathroom and pulled it down. She’d expected the door to swing inwards but it stayed firmly closed. For a moment she was gripped by the horror that it was locked, but then another radical axis shift sent the door flying open outwards and Aster found herself struggling to hold onto the handle so she wouldn’t go flying across the cabin. For a moment she could swear she was hanging vertically before the floor returned to its customary position and she slammed back down onto it. Before the horizon could shift again she summoned all her strength in a monumental effort to open the door and claw her way inside the tiny room.
Purging the contents of her troubled stomach proved to be a highly perilous activity in the midst of the unpredictable tossing and rolling of the waves. She tried flushing between heaves so that the contents of the bowl was less adhesive as it splashed back up into her face and hair. When the heaving no longer yielded anything but painful dry retching she flushed a final time and dragged herself up to the basin.
Aster screamed as she found herself staring into the face of some hideous Sea Hag that must have clawed its way up the outside of the boat and was staring in the porthole over the basin at her. It was a creature so grotesque that its hair dripped with yellow bile; black streaks ran down each cheek to a mouth that was nothing more than a red, deformed gash covering the lower half of its face. She screamed again as the Sea Hag screamed in concert with her – it’s every movement a parody of her own – and she realised that she wasn’t staring out of a porthole at all, that she was in fact staring into a mirror!
Running water into the basin she managed to splash enough of it over her face and hair to wash off most of the yellow bile. She found a flannel in the vanity unit behind the mirror and wiped off the Pollock-esque remains of her going-out makeup. Except for the green cast of its skin, the Sea Hag looked almost human again by the time she was ready to leave the cramped bathroom... water closet... John... what was that term?
Exiting was easier than entering had been, but no less painful. As she unlatched the door the rocking of the boat sent her skidding across the floor of the cabin and into the bunk opposite. Her knees took the brunt of the impact before her momentum sent her sprawling across the same bunk on which she’d awoken into this nightmare.
It was ages before she was well enough to climb the steps to the hatch, then when she opened it the sea swept in and soaked her to the skin. With an effort she closed the hatch and paused for a moment to think. She realised it would be dangerous to go on deck in a storm this bad but she had to check on Tony. If he felt even half as bad as she did he might need help. He must be exhausted up there. She had no idea how long they’d been out to sea in the storm but she thought it must be hours at the very least.
Aster wasn’t an experienced sailer. In fact she’d only been on boats a few times and she’d never been out to sea in one. She’d always secretly feared the ocean. That’s why she preferred to fly. She’d taken an overnight ferry ride once but the ocean had been so rough that she’d hated the trip. She couldn’t believe she’d agreed to sail in Tony’s yacht.
One thing was for sure before she ventured out of the comparative safety of the cabin again she’d be wearing a life jacket and safety line. She found the items in a compartment under a seat near the steps up to the hatch. There was a loop for the rope just outside the hatch and she managed to hook her line to it after a few tries. The air outside was freezing and her hands went stiff in moments.
She climbed the rest of the way onto the deck and slid the hatch shut to stop the waves splashing into the cabin. The rain was so heavy she could barely see to the ends of the yacht. If it hadn’t been for the light coming out of the cabin windows she wouldn’t have been able to see a thing. She strained her eyes trying to locate Tony. She didn’t know where he’d be sailing the yacht from. Was it the back? Was there some kind of steering wheel?
Crawling on all fours she managed to traverse the length of the deck and back again. She would have been swept over several times if she hadn’t thought to attach the line and that’s probably why she wasn’t completely surprised not to find Tony on deck.
As comprehension dawned on her she froze in fear, too terrified even to scream. She clung to the rail of the boat looking out helplessly at the blackness and the waves. As the boat crested the highest of the waves she could see a crack of dawn light on the horizon. The only crack in the rain-clouded sky. Rain mixed with the spray from the waves. The waves washed over the deck knocking Aster’s feet from under her. She clung to the rail screaming until her throat hurt but she couldn’t even hear her own cries over the thunder of the storm and the ocean.
Get back in the cabin, a voice inside her head ordered her. If you stay out here you’ll die!
‘I’ll die anyway!’
You’re only hope lies inside the cabin!
Aster fought her way back inside the relative safety of the cabin chanting all the while, ‘I’m going to die! I’m going to die,’ What could she do to save herself? She had no idea how to sail. She knew nothing about boats or the sea. What if it capsized or broke up in the mountainous waves? What if the storm swept her out of the shipping lanes into the middle of the ocean? Even if she survived the storm she might drift alone on the ocean for months before she was found. She might be swept right down to the antarctic and freeze to death.
‘Don’t be silly,’ she told herself, ‘I’ll die from hunger and thirst long before that happens...’ She started to scream again but all she achieved by that was a raw throat and hyper-tension.
‘Calm down!’ she told herself. ‘Panicking won’t get you anywhere and that’s for sure. If you’re going to get yourself out of this one you're going to have to think.’
She couldn’t believe her situation. How could Tony have been so stupid as to let himself get swept overboard? Wasn’t he an experienced sailor?
‘Think!’ she insisted to herself. ‘All that doesn’t matter now... all that matters is: how are you going to get yourself out of this predicament...?’
‘Well?’ she answered herself. ‘Obviously I need help. So how am I going to get help?’ She paced the floor until it occurred to her. ‘The radio! All yachts have a transmitter... I’ll call for help.’
‘But I’ve never used a transmitter...’
‘Well how hard can it be?’
She found the radio-transmitter by the telephone. With a thrill of renewed hope she thought: A telephone! I know how to use a telephone! Unfortunately the telephone didn’t seem to be working. She realised with a terrible stab of disappointment that the storm must be interfering with it somehow and turned once again to the transmitter.
When she switched it on it lit up. She took this as a good sign and fiddled with buttons. She had no idea if she was doing it right but she wasn’t going to let that stop her from trying.
‘Mayday. Mayday,’ she called remembering the word from movies she’d seen. ‘I need help. I’m on a yacht somewhere out to sea. I’m by myself – the captain’s gone overboard and I don’t know how to sail this thing. Please help me...’ she realised how completely futile it was to call for help. How could anyone come to help her in this weather? She broke into tears but she kept calling for help. It was the only thing she could do and she had to do something.
Devon was watching the storm from his bedroom window when he saw the light bobbing up and down in the waves offshore. He prayed it wasn’t a yacht. With all the rocks around the island it was hard enough navigating in good weather but in the dark and the severe storm the yacht didn’t have a chance.
He clutched at the thick black fur of the massive Newfoundland dog that was lying beside him on the window seat. Bonkers, alerted to his master’s tension, lifted his head and looked out to sea. After a moment he saw the light as well and started up a wailing howl.
That was good enough for Devon. With Bonkers close on his heals, he ran to the tower and up its spiraling stair to the lookout. Through his telescope he confirmed that the light was indeed a yacht. He had to warn them that they were close to the shore.
He switched on his two-way radio and scanned across the bands trying to contact the yacht. There was so much static from the storm that he almost missed the panicked cry when he came to it. He turned up the volume and listened intently, just making out the words: ‘Help me somebody, please. Is there anybody out there? The captain’s gone overboard and I don’t know how to sail this thing. I’m here alone...’ The signal broke up completely with static.
Devon felt sick inside. He tried to contact the woman but couldn’t get through because she wouldn’t let up on the microphone – it was obvious she didn’t know what she was doing. He couldn’t believe the stupidity of people who went out sailing when they didn’t know the first thing about it. Still he had to warn her somehow.
‘To the bonfire Bonkers.’
Bonkers barked in excitement and ran ahead of him down through the house and out onto the cliff-top where a stack of wood and kindling was prepared for just this kind of emergency. Devon pulled the tarp from it and splashed it with petrol, lighting it quickly before the rain soaked it. It lit and burned but Devon didn’t hold out much hope of the woman seeing it, let alone knowing what to do about it. It didn’t take him long to realise that all he could do was run to the shore and wait to pick up the pieces when the yacht floundered on the rocks. With luck he and Bonkers might be able to save her from drowning.
He ran back inside to collect his life jacket and flare gun and made his way down the treacherously slippery cliff stairway to the rocky shore.
From this low down he couldn’t see the lights of the yacht but he knew it must be very close by now. Any moment it would hit the rocks. He scrambled back up the stairs a way and shot off a flare. In the eerie sulfurous light he saw the yacht a short distance out. It was indeed being swept ashore by the incoming tide. There was a terrible screeching as its hull scraped on the jagged rocks.
Bonkers was barking in a frenzied mania and although he knew she’d never hear him above the storm Devon screamed to the woman to abandon the yacht. Then he set off another flare in the hope that she’d see it and know rescue was at hand.
Aster thought the first flash outside was lightning but it lasted too long. In her panicked state it took her a while to realise it was a flare. By the time she ran to the window to look out the light had faded once again and she couldn’t see anything. Then she did see a light. It came into view as the hull lifted out of the waves and she thought it was a fire. With a thrill of relief she realised she must be close to land.
‘Thank God!’ she cried just as the boat jolted and there was a terrible tearing sound of wood on rock. Her relief turned to terror as she realised the yacht must have been swept onto rocks off-shore. She had to get out of it before it sank!
She ran up the stairs and frantically pulled at the hatch but it was stuck. She screamed in terror of being trapped in the cabin. She had to get on deck before the waves swept the yacht back off the rocks.
There had to be another way out of the cabin. She looked around for another hatch and saw that the windows above the kitchenette were the type that slid open. She pulled herself onto the bench and tore at the window. It was stiff but she managed to get it open wide enough to squirm through.
As she crawled out onto the deck there was another flash of light and she could see the yacht’s mast had fallen over the hatch. But that didn’t matter now – somehow she had to get to shore. She searched for the beacon so she could see which direction to swim and ran to that side of the boat. It took every ounce of courage she had to jump overboard but she knew there was no other way. As she plunged into the hostile waves freezing water flooded into her nose and mouth. She choked and struggled to find the surface but couldn’t even tell which direction was up until she felt the jagged rocks under her hands. She tried to push up and away from them but the undercurrent wouldn’t release her. As the last breath of air left her lungs a calm swept over her and she knew her struggles were over. She was drowning.
She was lying in a warm soft bed with sunlight on her eyelids and pain in her chest. Her head pounded and her mouth felt like she’d been chewing on fur balls She could hardly breathe with the pressure in her lungs. Aster guessed she wasn’t dead and almost wished she was.
She opened her eyes and found herself in a masculine bedroom decorated in dark wood and tartan. There were fox hunting paintings on the walls and a man’s clothes draped over a chair by the window. The bed was a large four-poster with tartan drapes and quilt.
Aster closed her eyes and wondered about the usual occupant of the room. She assumed he was her savior of the night before and was grateful to him, whoever he was. Not only had he plucked her from the drowning waves, he’d given up his bed to her. She hoped he hadn’t spent too uncomfortable a night.
As she recalled the events of the day before she marvelled at how lucky she’d been to come through in one piece – she assumed she’d come through in one piece – it didn’t feel like she was missing anything. She could move her arms and legs so nothing seemed to be broken, though she was painfully stiff and when she lifted her arms out from under the covers they were bruised and scratched. She raised the covers to see if the rest of her had fared any better and found she was naked. On her chest between her breasts there was bruising and tenderness like she’d been pounded there. The last thing she remembered was going under the waves. Maybe she had died? Not only had her unknown rescuer plucked her unconscious from the ocean, it seemed he’d also resuscitated her.
She imagined his heroic effort. He must have heard her call for help, set a fire on the shore and shot off the flares. Then he’d risked his own life diving into the stormy sea. Dragged her dead body to the shore and breathed life into her, pounding on her heart to start it up again. Then he’d carried her up to his house stripped, off her soaking wet clothes, dried her and put her into his bed.
In spite of the fact that he’d saved her life in doing so, she couldn’t help blushing at the thought of some strange man seeing her naked like that – not that she would have been an attractive sight – unconscious and blue from the cold. But it was still embarrassing, especially when it occurred to her to wonder what method he’d used to reverse the hypothermia? He would have been hypothermic himself by then and she’d seen enough survival movies to know that the best way to overcome hypothermia was to share body heat. She imagined him lying naked in bed with her. A man she hadn’t even been introduced to...
‘Don’t be such a prude!’ she scolded herself. If he had then he’d done it with only the noblest of motives. Besides it wasn’t like they were out in the wilderness. He’d probably thrown her in a hot bath or put the electric blanket on to warm her… Except there didn’t seem to be an electric blanket and she did have a vague memory of a large warm body lying next to her during the night... maybe it was just a dream…
It was then that her anonymous savior finally made an appearance. Aster blushed furiously at the sight of him and not only because of what she’d been thinking. He was quite possibly the most attractive man she’d ever seen. He was tall and powerfully built but not heavy set. His hair was a wavy black mop that fell almost to his shoulders and his eyes were emerald green. They were so brilliant and piercing they were almost unreal. They might have made him beautiful if his other features hadn’t been so masculine, with a wide shapely mouth, a firm jaw and a strong nose. Aster thought she’d swoon. If she could have made her own man to order she would have made him. She blinked in disbelief... there had to be some higher power working here. It must be providence that had brought her to him. This was the man she’d been searching for. This was the man she would spend the rest of her life with.
Unfortunately he didn’t see it that way.
‘You’re awake then,’ he said and Aster’s fantasies took a nose-dive. There was a coldness in his voice that put her humiliatingly in her place. He looked at her like she was the worst kind of nuisance. Far from seeming pleased by the sight of her recovery Aster wondered if he would have been happier to see her gone.
She had to stop herself from asking why he’d bothered to pluck her out of the ocean if she was such a nuisance to him? Instead she stuck to safe ground and asked, ‘Where am I?’
‘You’re in my home.’ It was more an accusation than an answer. And what’s more it wasn’t any kind of answer. Grateful as she was to him for saving her life Aster was angered by his attitude.
‘Oh?’ she said. ‘I thought it was some quaint hotel. I didn’t think I remembered checking in.’
In spite of himself Devon smirked. ‘You’re feeling better then.’
Emboldened by his slight display of humanity Aster said, ‘I wouldn’t quite describe my condition as better. My head’s about to split open and my chest feels like an elephant stomped on it but I guess I’m better than I was last night when you plucked me out of the ocean… I assume that was you?’
‘Then I owe you my life.’
Devon shrugged and holding her in his piercing gaze said, ‘What were you thinking of going out in a boat on such a night?’
Aster couldn’t quite bring herself to admit the truth. Instead she said, ‘You still haven’t answered my question. Where am I?’
‘You’re on my island, uninvited.’
Aster could feel the colour rising in her face. How dare he be so mean to her after all she’d been through? What kind of rude arrogant SOB was he? She decided she wasn’t going to stand for it. ‘And who the hell are you?’ she demanded.
‘Devon McLeod,’ he answered coldly. They stared each other in the eye, neither willing to back down. But lying naked in bed Aster had to concede she was at a disadvantage so she decided to put him off guard.
‘Well Devon McLeod, I’m Aster Bloom. Pleased to meet you.’ She held out her hand to him but he just looked at it so she let it drop. ‘I must say you don’t seem very pleased to see me.’
He seemed to relent a little. ‘I came here to be alone,’ he said. ‘Just how far does one have to go to be left alone these days?’
Aster felt a touch repentant herself. Obviously he had some reason for wanting his privacy... she could see where he might be put out by her appearance. With a grin she said, ‘You can run but you can’t hide.’ She was only trying to lighten the situation with her wittiness but he gave her such a suspicious look that she wondered if she’d inadvertently said the wrong thing. Maybe he was on the run. He might think she was some kind of detective or hit-woman or something and do something desperate. How could she convince him she was nothing of the kind?
‘You said the captain went overboard,’ he asked suspiciously.
The thought of Tony gave Aster mixed feelings. She was sad for him of course but she was also angered by his stupidity. ‘I assume that’s what happened,’ she said. ‘To be honest I don’t remember much about it. I was asleep in the cabin. Do you think there’s any chance he could still be alive out there?’
‘In these waters? At this time of year?’ Devon shook his head. ‘No chance at all.’
Aster felt regret. She wished she could feel more but she barely even remembered him. It wasn’t like she even knew him. ‘But we should still notify someone – we should at least try to rescue him shouldn’t we? What if he is alive out there?’ Aster imagined how frightened he would be all alone in the middle of the ocean, freezing cold, being circled by sharks... ‘Maybe he was picked up by another boat?’ She felt the need to cling to some straw of hope – she was at least partly responsible – if she hadn’t been with him he might not have sailed off in the middle of the night in a storm. If that was what happened.
‘There’s no one who could help your friend now,’ Devon insisted.
‘But we have to contact the authorities. They might already be out looking for us.’ Aster doubted this. It was more likely that no one even knew they were gone. She wouldn’t be missed until Monday when she didn’t turn up for work. But if Jill did know she’d gone off with Tony in his yacht she’d be terribly worried by now. ‘I have to call my friend. Can I use your phone?’
‘I don’t have a phone.’
‘Your radio then. Or better still can you help me get back?’ Aster went silent when she saw Devon’s expression.
‘I can’t help you. The radio’s out. It was damaged in the storm last night.’
‘But there must be other radios on the island?’
‘It’s a private island. I’m the only one here.’
This wasn’t sounding good. ‘You must have a boat,’ she said.
‘It’s far too dangerous to risk in these waters at this time of year, besides, the engine blew up last month.’
Aster was growing panicky. ‘Well why haven’t you got a telephone!’ she said angrily.
‘I came here to get away from telephones.’
‘What about emergencies?’
‘I usually have a radio.’
‘Can you fix it?’
‘Yes I can fix the radio.’
‘Well then what’s the problem?’
‘The problem’s with the antenna.’
‘What about the antenna?’
‘It blew away in the storm.’
Aster moaned in frustration. He wasn’t making this any easier for her. ‘Well then how am I going to tell everyone that I’m okay?’
‘You can tell them in person.’
Aster was suddenly relieved. He’d only been teasing her... there was a way after all. ‘Can I really? There’s a way to get off the island then?’
‘Yes certainly. You can catch a ride with the supply boat when it comes in a month.’
‘What? A month!’ Aster was horrified. ‘I can’t wait that long. They’ll have me dead and buried in a month.’
‘It’s the best I can do.’
‘Do you really mean to say that there’s absolutely no other way that I can either contact my friends or get back to the mainland for an entire month?’
‘Hopefully a month. If the weather’s too bad the boat may not make the trip.’ Far from being sympathetic Devon seemed to derive some sort of sadistic amusement from her predicament.
‘But they’ll all be terribly worried!’
‘You should have thought of that before you risked your life going off in a boat on a stormy night.’
‘But it wasn’t like that!’
‘Then what was it like? No let me guess. You were wearing a party frock when I fished you out of the ocean – not the sort of thing one wears to go sailing on a cold winter’s night. You said you were asleep in the cabin when your companion went overboard – I’ll assume alcohol or drugs were involved…’
‘I don’t do drugs,’ Aster denied.
‘Alcohol then? Am I right? You were messing about on the boat and decided to take it out for a sail but you were both too drunk to know what the hell you were doing.’ His words were positively dripping contempt and Aster could fully understand why. It obviously was an incredibly stupid thing they’d done and the fact that she couldn’t remember any of it didn’t make her any less guilty. She was already on the verge of tears when he topped off his speech with his coup-de-gras. ‘And then of course I had to risk my own life to save you from your own stupidity!’
His words were like a knife in her belly. She felt so humiliated and remorseful the tears that had been welling up burst from her in a torrent and all she could say in her defence was, ‘I don’t remember!’
Like most men Devon didn’t know how to deal with a woman’s tears. ‘Oh don’t cry!’ He said in exasperation. He guessed he’d been too hard on her. She had nearly died and she was far from recovered from her trauma. Her friend was almost certainly dead. She’d already paid in full for her stupidity. He supposed he should give her a break. He moved towards the bed and sitting down next to her he put his arm on her shoulder and said more gently, ‘Don’t cry. It’s okay now.’
Aster hadn’t realised how desperate for reassurance she was until she felt his hand on her shoulder. She needed human contact no matter how unsympathetic he really was. She threw herself into his reluctant embrace, wrapping her arms around him desperately and burying her face in his broad chest.
It was a long time since Devon had given comfort to a distressed female. It was a long time since he’d had any intimate human contact. In spite of his unease he found his defences weakening. Last night when he’d held her close to him in bed she’d been nothing more than an injured creature in need of care... she’d been unconscious and half dead... it hadn’t been a problem for him to keep a clinical detachment... but now he’d seen her cheeks rosy with life and her eyes sparkling with animation and the sight of her in his bed had stirred up memories that he’d come to the island to escape. Now the feel of her warm naked body in his arms reawakened feelings inside him that had been repressed and dormant for so long that he felt his self control breaking down. He wanted her. He wanted to lay her back on the bed and…
He couldn’t let himself think like that. He had to keep his distance. Somehow he had to avoid growing attached. Like an injured sea-bird she would leave him when she could without a backward glance and he had to be able to let her go. He couldn’t go through it all again. He’d suffered enough loss already.
She’d stopped crying now. He pulled away from her and escaped the bed, turning away so he wouldn’t see any more of her than was safe. Keeping his eyes on the door he said, ‘Get some rest now. I’ll bring you some food in a while.’ Then before he left the room he went to his tall-boy, fished out a clean T-shirt and threw it to her. ‘Put this on. You don’t want a chill.’
Aster watched Devon go, shocked and confused. For a moment he’d been so kind. She’d felt safe in his arms. She liked the feel of him. She’d wanted him to kiss her and she’d almost thought he would, but then he’d pulled away. She’d groped for the quilt to cover her nakedness but he hadn’t looked back at her, even when he threw her his T-shirt. Her heart was pounding as she slipped it on. She felt… she didn’t know what... just weird.
She lay back stunned, replaying the encounter in her head. Who was this man Devon McLeod? Why did he behave so oddly? And why had he exiled himself to this desolate island? Why had the fates thrown them together? The thought of being stuck alone with him for a month or more was disturbing but also rather thrilling. One thing was for sure, since they were stuck with each other Aster was going to make the most of it.