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Jade Castleton

The Resort of Starting Over

When the merlot arrived the girls stared, perplexed. No one had re-ordered. Cara-Kate, in front of whom the wine sat, raised a brow at the waitress. ‘I’m pretty sure this should have gone to one of them.’ She indicated the five girls around the table.

‘No, ma’am,’ the waitress responded politely. ‘You are the one with hair the colour of autumn leaves.’

Cara-Kate’s face transformed into the colour of autumn leaves. Someone had bought her a drink! No, not someone; she knew who. Ella asked the waitress the wine purchaser’s identity, but the waitress excused herself without reply. The girls gave Cara-Kate their full attention. She didn’t want it; her heart rocked in her chest enough without a quiz from her sister and friends and without eternal-belle-of-the-ball Ella’s why you stare. She preferred to hide in the background, as she’d done since her divorce. A hand squeezed one of her fists and made her jump. She glanced up to see her sister, Madeline, smiling. ‘Someone clearly thinks you haven’t drunk enough,’ she said.

Cara-Kate took a second to understand the humour and then smiled. ‘Clearly,’ she echoed.

The quip somehow distracted the girls from the possibility that Cara-Kate had a secret admirer, and within ten minutes they were talking about that evening’s Polynesian Night – a food feast followed by traditional island music and dance. Cara-Kate took a healthy part in the conversation because it kept the attention away from wine, secret admirers and hypotheses about why someone would buy her a drink. Except the waitress’s words echoed in her head. Autumn leaves, she thought and glanced around the table. Three blondes (one natural), one near black, one chestnut and apparently one autumn leaves. Cara-Kate had never distinguished her colour from Maddy’s chestnut, but now that the comparison had been made she thought that perhaps her hair did combine a greater colour variety. Furthermore, Maddy’s single bright hue currently hid in a messy bun under her straw hat.

Cara-Kate sipped from her original wine, accepted that no one else would have been mistaken for hair the colour of autumn leaves, and pink bloomed across her cheeks. She hadn’t come to the resort with any intention of doing anything that might be considered as seeking companionship, a date, or even a one-night-stand. In fact, Cara-Kate would have preferred the resort to be man-less; it was easier to cope that way. Well, it would also have been easier to not come to a beach-front resort with a bunch of girls, three of whom had been eyeing the resort’s male population since climbing from the boat.

With herself not among that number nor acting like she wanted to be, Cara-Kate felt disquieted by the fact that someone was interested in her. Did she convey NO too subtly or was she seen as a challenge? The latter possibility tightened already taut nerves. After the second time she’d noticed the man, Maddy had had to do a serious sell to keep her from fleeing to the mainland and boarding the next flight out.

And now the man had sent her a drink! Cara-Kate glanced at her sister. Maddy, who had been her rock during the last seven-odd months, was the only other one who could point out the supposed secret admirer. On the verge of calling him a stalker, Cara-Kate still moved onto his wine. Maddy caught the glance, grinned that her sister was actually imbibing the offering. ‘I need it,’ came the whisper.

Maddy hoped the extra alcohol would allow her to relax a little more. Cara-Kate had been timid the three days they’d been at the resort, even though no one could see the scars. Saying ‘No one knows you here, no one knows what happened’ seemed to reduce her confidence instead of increase it. Maddy had hoped being in a place far away from home and surrounded by friends would bring Cara-Kate out of her shell. But the blasted man acted like a giant wall.

In a normal world a secret admirer would have been flattering, especially one as handsome as Cara-Kate’s, but he had such bad timing it was naught short of a tragedy in the making. Maddy was that close to hunting the man down and confronting him – either introduce yourself properly or stay away, even though staying away might be somewhat difficult on a tiny single-resort island. She’d had to work hard to get Cara-Kate to even agree to the idea of a girls’ holiday let alone book and join in, and didn’t want the trip to be a miserable failure.

Cara-Kate’s past two months had been spent hiding at their parents’ place. Resting, she called it but it was hiding, pure and simple. Maddy despaired her sister would become a crazy woman-child staying in the pink fairy room she’d inhabited as a little girl. It wasn’t so much the humiliation of a failed marriage and public divorce that kept Cara-Kate in her self-imposed exile, but the physical damage. That’s why Maddy called it hiding. The scars didn’t need to rest; they were as good as they were ever going to get, so the specialists had said. The scars were at least a year old but it wasn’t until the final months of the divorce going through that Cara-Kate had retreated from public view. Those final months when knowledge of the scars and the rough treatment became more public than just family and the closest of her friends. Until then, Cara-Kate had been stoic. Afterwards – now –  she was timid.

And that frustrated Maddy. The strength Cara-Kate displayed during the marriage had gone, and the freedom that had come with a signed and sealed divorce seemed to cow her. That’s why Maddy’d all but strong-armed a fortnight-long Tongan resort holiday. Away from home, away from the memories, Maddy wanted her sister to relax, to smile more, to stop being so timid in company (and that included men). But the dark-haired stranger who popped up nearly everywhere they did, who had just purchased Cara-Kate a drink, was ruining things because of his stalker-like actions!

On the other hand, her sister could be a little less defensive. Understandable, of course, if one knew the circumstances though nursing a broken heart had zero to do with it. The love in that marriage had rusted to nothing long ago. Maddy, happily married herself, sympathised that Cara-Kate had a lot to rebuild but she didn’t think it’d hurt to have a little bit of fun here. She was surrounded by friends and family who’d protect her if needed, and she’d never see any of these people again after the fortnight ended. Why not give herself a chance to have fun?

Maddy’s gaze slid over their surroundings – the sun-trapped deck, the sparkling aqua water not more than fifty feet from their table, the palms around them whispering in the soft breeze, the restaurant itself behind them. The secret admirer/stalker wasn’t visible but that didn’t mean he wasn’t here. She tapped a fingernail against her glass and wondered if she should encourage the man to be more direct.

‘Whatever you’re cooking up,’ Cara-Kate broke into her thoughts, ‘stop it.’

‘Huh?’ Maddy straightened, noticed that the number at the table had halved. Bex quirked a brow at her from behind a glass of wine.

‘You’ve got a look on your face that spells trouble,’ Cara-Kate told her sister.

Maddy observed the empty glass and chose to take her timid sibling by her curly autumn leaves. ‘He’s gorgeous, Katie, and he’s clearly interested. Why don’t you give him a chance?’

I’m not interested, Madeline,’ Cara-Kate responded stiffly.

‘You drank that entire wine.’

‘So?’

‘So, if he’s watching he’ll think you appreciated it,’ Maddy said, reasonably.

‘He’s not watching,’ Cara-Kate said.

‘Ah ha.’

Her sister leaned forward and Bex’s curious gaze shifted her way. Heat crept up Cara-Kate’s throat. ‘Not because I’ve been looking,’ she said in a hushed whisper.

‘Oh really,’ Maddy responded. ‘You’re intrigued. Why don’t you admit it?’

‘So,’ Bex drawled.

‘Don’t you start,’ Cara-Kate told her best friend.

‘Come on, sis, you’re completely free here,’ Maddy cajoled. ‘It’s a beautiful, peaceful resort with wonderful scenery and welcoming people. And the tourists are gorgeous. Think of it as the “resort of starting over”. Live a little.’

‘I don’t want to live a little.’ Cara-Kate scowled to ward off comments about her childishness. ‘You know what I mean.’

‘No, Katie, we don’t!’ Maddy pressed a finger into the table. ‘You had a bitch of a marriage and we know it’ll take a while to move on, but you don’t even act like you want to.’

Bex shifted, froze when the sisters looked at her. She supported her best friend but she also shared Maddy’s feelings. Bex wouldn’t have pushed out here in public but it was a conversation she’d thought about having. Her gaze moved wistfully to her empty wine glass.

Cara-Kate sucked at her lower lip. She wore the proof her marriage had been a bitch. She frowned at Maddy. ‘Why do you think I want to go there again?’

‘Oh come on,’ Maddy undertoned. She flagged a passing waiter and asked for three merlots. When he was out of earshot she said, ‘flirting with a stranger doesn’t mean anything more than flirting with a stranger. At the end of next week you’ll leave having had some harmless fun. You won’t have received another prison on your finger.’

Cara-Kate hid her hands in her lap before either girl could gaze at her empty left hand. ‘I’m not afraid I’ll end up married,’ she snapped. The lump in her throat burned but she swallowed defiantly. ‘Look, I’ll admit he is rather nice to look at, but I’m not interested. I need time on my own.’ And somehow it sounded lame even after the past couple of years, even as the scars seemed to crawl on her skin. She picked briefly at a crocheted sleeve.

Maddy released a sigh, glanced at Bex, then leaned to curve a hand around her sister’s nearest wrist. Cara-Kate raised her head. ‘I’m sorry to push,’ Maddy said softly. ‘I just want you to have some fun here, to relax. Bex and I would never let anyone hurt you.’

‘I know,’ Cara-Kate mouthed since a lump blocked her voice.

When the three wines were delivered, the girls fell upon them with haste.

‘So,’ Bex said again after a couple of sips. ‘There is a secret admirer.’

Cara-Kate stared into her wine glass. Bex aimed her gaze at Maddy who said, ‘well, she is the one with the autumn-leaf hair.’

They both observed the flush rise.

‘This resort isn’t that big!’ Bex straightened, looked about. ‘How have I not noticed a gorgeous man hanging around? Is there more than one?’

Maddy bit her lip, glanced side-long at Cara-Kate whose flush deepened. Hmm, she thought. ‘He hangs around from afar, Bex,’ Maddy said. ‘Well, as far as one can get on this island. And there is a bunch of them.’ She viewed the deck’s population again. ‘At least, he’s usually with a couple of blokes. Not here right now though.’

‘You do recall I’m single too,’ Bex said, with a fake pout.

‘Ha,’ Cara-Kate got out. She gave up trying to keep the smile under wraps.

Hmm, Maddy thought again. Then, ‘so where did the others go?’

‘Swimming,’ Cara-Kate said.

That explained her presence at the table. Maddy didn’t think her sister would swim again unless she availed herself of a full body suit. And here, in Tonga’s heat, she’d probably faint before she got half way to the water, and the water wasn’t that far away!

 

Later the three wandered down the beach to see if Ella’s bikini had reeled anyone in. Apparently not, since they found her under a large umbrella with Martine, both flipping through magazines. ‘Where’s Jane?’ Bex asked.

Ella smirked. ‘Got her toe grabbed by a crab.’

‘What?’ Cara-Kate exclaimed. ‘Is she okay?’

‘She’ll be no worse for wear once the embarrassment of screaming the beach down fades.’ Martine rolled upright. ‘She was taken back to the fale.’ She grinned. ‘You didn’t hear her from the deck then?’

‘God, she didn’t really?’ Maddy said.

Ella snorted, setting Martine off.

‘Guys, that’s not very nice,’ Maddy put on her adult tone.

‘Sorry,’ Martine gasped. ‘But it was so funny – Jane screaming and jumping around and tourists trying to calm her down.’

Maddy pursed her lips as she imagined the scene. Bex and her sister were smiling too. ‘How big was the crab?’

‘Pretty decent, I think,’ Ella said. ‘Last I heard they were going to cook it for her dinner.’ And that sent her and Martine back into giggling fits.

Cara-Kate eyed the basket they’d picked up from somewhere. One empty bottle of wine and another that wasn’t far off. She shook her head. They couldn’t have been gone from the table more than half an hour! ‘I’ll go check on her, see if she’s okay to join us for dinner.’

That sent Martine and Ella into more giggles. Cara-Kate had to fight off the smile as she walked away. Jane had a good set of lungs by dint of her operatic profession; she might have hit the high C. She bit her lip, she was in no position to laugh at someone’s misfortune. At the fale Jane shared with her giggling friends, Cara-Kate took a moment to compose herself. Last thing Jane probably needed was someone else to laugh at her. ‘Jane?’ she called as she entered.

‘Oh thank god, someone who won’t laugh,’ came the response and Cara-Kate followed the sound to the back room where Jane stretched out on the bed, right foot stacked up on a pillow. Her foot was covered with a white towel with an ice pack under it.

Cara-Kate put a hand over her mouth and shook her head. ‘How on earth…’

‘Alright then, don’t hold it back,’ Jane said grumpily, but smiled.

‘I’m not laughing, it must really hurt.’ Cara-Kate drew in a deep breath to steady herself. She sat on the edge of the bed. ‘Is there much damage?’

Jane flushed. ‘Only to my pride. I’m sure the girls told you I screamed.’

The answering grin made her flush more. ‘What’s the ice pack for then?’

‘Get pinched by a bloody big crab and find out for yourself.’

‘Will you be coming to dinner? We’ll miss next week’s Night, you know.’

‘I’m sure I’ll be fine in an hour or so,’ Jane said. ‘I’m not going to miss the evening for anything.’

‘I would hate you to,’ Cara-Kate said. ‘Hey, do you need anything?’ She looked around. A bottle of water stood on the stand beside the bed and a fresh coconut was opened on a plate next to it. A brow raised. ‘You look pretty set up. Who were your saviours?’

‘Not those blondes I call friends,’ Jane grumped with a grin. ‘Some young men on the beach, and a couple of the locals. All Ella and Martine could do was laugh.’ A flush raced up her cheeks until she looked like a cherry. ‘I might have done some screaming but, hell, Cara-Kate, that crab was huge!’

‘No doubt if it had hooked Ella’s toe she’d still be screaming,’ Cara-Kate said diplomatically.

Jane laughed. ‘And flirting.’

Cara-Kate nodded. The girl was a natural-born flirt. No doubt, as Jane had been helped from the beach, Ella would have been more interested in the men helping her than in helping Jane herself. A mean thing to think but that was Ella. Give her an island resort in the Pacific Ocean with white beaches, aqua water, azure skies – the girl was in her element. Cara-Kate wasn’t sure she’d worn anything but a bikini since they’d got to Fafá Island Resort, except for a sarong when in the restaurant. Dangerous taking a girl like her to a place like this, dangerous for the men. And inexplicably Cara-Kate felt protective toward one man in particular. She bolted to her feet.

‘Holy crap, what?’ Jane jerked, searching for a giant crab coming for round two.

‘Sorry, nothing, I just…’ Cara-Kate shook her head, blushing. What on earth? ‘I better go report that you’re still among the living.’

Jane grinned wryly. ‘Thanks for dropping by.’

‘Do you want me to come back? Keep you company?’ Cara-Kate could easily sit here the rest of the afternoon.

‘No, don’t bother,’ Jane said. ‘I’ve a score to read, I’ll appreciate the solitude. Go and get some sun.’

Cara-Kate hesitated but Jane hadn’t been upbraiding her clothing choice or her tendency to hide. ‘See you later then.’

Jane gave a finger wave and leaned toward the coconut.

Cara-Kate hurried back toward the beach and the large umbrella. A second one had been set up alongside. Obviously they’d decided to camp here for the remainder of the afternoon.

‘Watch out!’

Cara-Kate instinctively ducked, falling to her knees, arms over her head. She heard a dull thud not too far off and someone running. She started to unfurl.

‘Holy heck, I’m sorry, that didn’t…’

The male voice cut off and Cara-Kate froze. The man had taken her arm to help to her upright, but once they’d seen each other he’d gone dumb and she’d gone statue. Stalker! Cara-Kate swallowed her heart back to its proper place. ‘Exc-cuse me,’ she croaked since he still had her arm.

‘Oh God, sorry.’ He let her go and she backed up a couple of steps.

And she flushed because she’d acted churlish. She looked at his face because she was afraid to look at the rest of him standing there in shorts and a t-shirt. She tugged her sleeve down just a little. ‘I’m sorry,’ she heard herself say. ‘I didn’t notice I was walking through your… game.’ She glanced at the ball that lay on the sand a couple of feet away. Baseball? No, they weren’t red like that.

‘You didn’t,’ he said and she finally realised he had a non-American accent. ‘That was wayward.’ He picked up the ball. ‘It didn’t hit you, did it?’ He looked her over and she struggled against a flush that wanted to rise.

Cara-Kate managed to shake her head. ‘No, I’m… I’m okay.’

‘Thankfully.’ Dimples showed when he smiled. ‘Or I’d say this beach was dangerous. We already rescued one distressed damsel today.’

‘Jane?’ Cara-Kate got out in surprise.

When the tall, dark-haired, foreign-accented, polite, tanned, god… stalker…. looked puzzled, Cara-Kate said, ‘my friend was snapped by a crab earlier.’

‘Oh,’ the man said, brows up. ‘Yeah, that was the lady.’ He appeared to bite back a grin. ‘It was a big crab.’

‘Your way of saying that her screaming equalled the cause?’

He just smiled. Then came a yell of, ‘Lee, are you playing, or what?’ And Cara-Kate knew she was the ‘what’. She reddened and backed up. ‘Sorry, I have to…’ She indicated vaguely down the beach and moved off. If he called after her she would pretend not to hear, but he didn’t. Momentary disappointment, before she got herself together and remembered that she wasn’t here to consort with the resort’s male population. She couldn’t.

A bit of relief too that the umbrellas were far enough away they wouldn’t be in danger of wayward balls. She flopped down in the shade and was handed a glass of juice. A glance at the hamper told her it had been refreshed.

‘How’s Jane?’ Maddy asked.

After a long sip, Cara-Kate said, ‘she’s okay. Pride mostly. She’ll be at dinner.’

‘Apparently her rescuers were hunks of the highest order,’ Bex said wryly.

Cara-Kate recalled her earlier thought about Ella being more interested in the men than in helping Jane. And somewhere in the pit of her stomach grew another pit – of fear that Ella had noticed her man. She swallowed back more juice. Not her man… But still, that fear lingered. She caught Maddy’s gaze, concerned how focused it was. Surely she hadn’t seen… She turned to Ella. ‘How come you weren’t out there getting your toe grabbed?’

Ella flicked hair over a tanned shoulder with one hand, while the other held a wine glass to her lips. She smiled. ‘I prefer to work in more subtle ways.’

Which didn’t erase Cara-Kate’s odd little pit of fear.

‘I’m sure you could have acted out Jane’s panic much more dramatically,’ Maddy said wryly.

Ella shrugged. ‘I’ve a second chance at dinner tonight.’

Cara-Kate set down her glass and rose. ‘I’m going to go lie down for a bit.’

Bex took her hand briefly. ‘You okay, hon? You look kind of pale.’

‘Just a little hot, that’s all.’ No one commented on the fact she wore a crocheted shrug over an ankle-length dress. It’s what she’d worn most days and they all knew why so it was a moot point.

‘Company?’ Bex asked.

Cara-Kate smiled. ‘No, I’m okay. You enjoy the wine, and don’t let any more toes be grabbed. We don’t want to look like a bunch of clumsy tourists tonight.’

Cara-Kate made her way north to avoid the game still going on to the umbrellas’ south and then doubled back to the fale she shared with Maddy and Bex. The fan whirred to life above the giant bed and she lay back. Heat aside, mostly Cara-Kate just needed to get away from Ella, to clear her thoughts. What right did she have feeling like Ella was going to cut in on her territory when she had made it clear she wasn’t here to look for territory? Why did she feel like she had to guard that man from her friend?

Cara-Kate screwed up her face. Why was she even thinking about him? Because he hadn’t been stalker-like just now. And because it was possible that their conversation might have had a little bit of flirting on her part. Not that she’d meant to, but he’d been so easy to talk to and bless Jane for giving them a common topic.

 

That evening Cara-Kate worked magic on herself; kicked out some silly fears and brought in a sense of anticipation instead. She’d recalled over and over what Maddy had said about a little harmless flirting, that whatever might happen on the island would stay there. The man’s accent led her to believe he wouldn’t be flying ‘home’ to the US any time soon and that helped chase away the niggle that he’d become a fully-fledged stalker. She still wore long sleeves. Flirting was one thing, displaying the scars on her left arm quite another.

As the sun rippled and melted into the horizon it sent a molten gold glow across the water, bathing the beach and its patrons in red and gold hues, bronzing even Martine’s alabaster skin. Cara-Kate’s hair showed off its riot of chestnut and brown as if in an ad for the best colour of the year.

The admirer sat a few tables away with the group of men he’d been with on the beach. Cara-Kate, for all her ‘live a little’ anticipation, avoided looking that way and had chosen the chair that mostly faced away from him. She really didn’t know how to flirt these days and hoped he might do something to start. And if he didn’t – entirely possible – then at least she wouldn’t look like she’d been waiting. Baby steps.

Except baby steps weren’t the best option when your party included Ella Cornish. She hadn’t graced the table in a bikini but her dress didn’t cover much more. Ella practised the easy-going personality that stemmed from the knowledge of one’s beauty, and had already passed the men’s table at least twice on her way to and from the restaurant. She’d chatted, flirted and reported back to her own table-mates that the boys would be quite willing to act as dance partners later on.

Fear fought to re-establish itself. Cara-Kate hadn’t danced in a long time; dancing meant someone had to be close, maybe even touching. She wasn’t sure she was quite that ready. On the other hand, Cara-Kate was trying to live a little. A dance wouldn’t mean anything; the touching innocent. Maddy caught her eye and smiled.

 

With the meal nearing its end, musicians started to beat out music from the traditional drums. The dancers – the men in grass skirts, the girls in sarong-like skirts and coconut-shell bras – shimmied onto the sand stage and for the next half hour wowed the audience with their dancing and singing. They grabbed up a few people from the crowd and Ella jumped up almost before someone came toward her. One of the men from the table behind Cara-Kate was also encouraged up and she felt an odd sense of relief it wasn’t her admirer.

The next song had a dancer approach her and she shook her head, one hand gripped into the table as if to anchor herself should the dancer attempt to pull her.

‘I’ll do it,’ Maddy said, rising.

Cara-Kate smiled gratefully.

‘I’m with you, sister,’ Jane said across the table.

Cara-Kate swallowed the snort. Jane’s limp gave her a great excuse! They watched in silence a few minutes then Jane said, ‘I bet Ella’s lining up where to get her own set of those shells.’

A genuine smile curved Cara-Kate’s lips. Ella was having the time of her life. Maddy, too, by the grin on her face.

As the music stopped this time round, Cara-Kate got up to get some juice for the table to avoid another embarrassing refusal. When she returned, Ella and Maddy were with Jane while Bex and Martine took their turn out on the dance sand.

‘I’ve a feeling if I asked you to dance, you’d refuse.’

Cara-Kate nearly spilt the jug of juice. Her stalker-come-admirer stood next to her, wry smile on his face. All she managed was ‘uh ah.’ She almost bolted when he took the jug from her and set it on the table in front of her jaw-dropped sister and friends.

‘Will you join me?’ he asked, inclining his head.

‘Um, I…’ Cara-Kate drew breath. This is it, she thought, live a little. You can…

‘Of course she won’t.’ Ella rose. ‘But I will.’ She came around the table, side-stepping Maddy’s stretched hand, and delivered a drop-dead flirt of a smile.

The man displayed surprise a second, then focused on to Cara-Kate. A flush raced up her cheeks. Say something. ‘I…’

‘Come on, Katie,’ Ella drawled. ‘You know you can’t dance. He’ll have to touch you and you’ll freak out he’ll see your scars. Why don’t…’

Ella.’ Maddy wrapped a hand around Ella’s arm and hauled her back.

Too late. Cara-Kate went numb with horror and then hot with mortification, and she ran before she could take any sort of control of herself. Well, she might not have been able to. That scoffing from a friend sent her back to the pink-fairy room in her head, and she wanted to bolt the door closed and never come out. What a mistake it had been to come to this resort, to think that she’d cope. What a mistake to think that she was ready to live a little.

When she thought she’d gone far enough from the festivities Cara-Kate sank to her knees and sobbed over them. Dumb, dumb, dumb. She’d actually be working up to say she’d dance. She still should have said it but she’d run; now she’d never be able to face the man again. And since the island was so small that meant she’d have to hide in the fale for the rest of the holiday. Dragging in a long breath, Cara-Kate straightened. The hush hush of the gentle waves against the sand soothed her nerves.

‘Gosh, I hope you’re not hurt. I can’t carry you.’

Cara-Kate yelped and launched herself sideways, and her admirer quickly apologised. Then he said, ‘well, you’re on your feet. That’s good.’

Cara-Kate couldn’t help her perplexed stare. The man grinned. ‘Sorry, I’m making a hash of this, aren’t I? And I’ve been a bit of a stalker, I know. I didn’t mean to be. My name’s Lee.’ And he held out his hand.

Cara-Kate stood frozen, unsure what to do. Then she stepped forward and clasped the man’s hand. ‘Cara-Kate,’ she whispered. And, before she could stop herself, she said, ‘I thought you helped Jane today but…’ She trailed off, flushing.

Lee chuckled. ‘Not in carrying mode. I broke my back earlier this year. I can’t carry heavy things – not that I mean you’re heavy,’ he ended quickly.

A smile flickered across Cara-Kate’s face. She felt shy and also relieved that he’d come after her instead of taking Ella to the dance floor. She sucked at her lips. Maybe… ‘You’re Australian,’ she blurted, suddenly clicking on the accent.

Lee went blank and then he laughed. ‘Actually I’m a kiwi.’

Cara-Kate blinked. ‘Like the fruit?’

He grinned. ‘Like the bird. Though now I’ve heard both I’m not sure which is better. I’m from New Zealand. Wellington.’

Another blink. Before he could comment Cara-Kate admitted to being a geographical dunce. ‘Though I have heard of New Zealand,’ she said quickly.

The man just smiled. He glanced around; they were on their own on this part of the beach. None of the other girls had come to check on Cara-Kate but that might have been because they were having words with the blonde. In fact, the one doing most of the ticking-off had waved him away with a ‘hurry up’ in his ears. Cara-Kate’s sister, he believed. He looked back at the petite girl in front of him, her hair simply dark without the sun but still beautiful. Scars, the other girl had said. Physical ones he presumed, and on her arms he guessed since even in the midday heat she’d worn long sleeves. Lee didn’t volunteer that he also bore an impressive set of scars, thought that the origins of his weren’t so painful as hers.

‘There’s no music,’ he said suddenly, ‘but would you like to dance? We don’t have to touch,’ he added when the girl stiffened a little.

Cara-Kate swallowed. ‘It’s good there’s no music,’ she murmured. ‘I have no rhythm.’ She held her hand out.

Lee hesitated a second then took her hand and stepped to bring them almost toe to toe. ‘Neither do I, so we’ll be good for each other.’ He set his hand at Cara-Kate’s waist, lifted off in concern when she flinched and appeared to pull back. ‘What? Did I…’

‘Nothing,’ Cara-Kate breathed out, willing herself calm. ‘It’s nothing, sorry… you can…’

He paused but she didn’t move away. He made sure his hand at her waist was light; she didn’t flinch this time but he was aware of her nerves. ‘You’re not that much of a dance slouch,’ he offered.

‘We’re not exactly moving much,’ came the amused response. ‘Even I can’t stuff that up.’

He chuckled and drew her just that little bit closer, hand slipping round to her back. He heard her soft in-drawn breath but she didn’t fight him.

Cara-Kate did her best not to start crying. All of a sudden her whole world became this tiny patch of sand on a tiny patch of an island. The arm around her was protective not destructive. No matter what happened now, she thought she could stop living in the pink fairy room of her youth. Maybe this really was the Resort of Starting Over?

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