“It doesn’t count if you’re already planning your defeat!” Kurt deliberately sat beside Shelly, and she forced herself to stay still, her heart pounding yet not with fear.
“You nearly threw your own life away”, said Kurt.
“I was upset”, she retorted.
“What’s your name? Tell me your name!”
She heard him mutter something and the tempo of paddles quickened.
“Come on look at me!”
All she wanted to do was sleep but his persistent voice kept buzzing at her like an annoying mosquito. Resentfully, she struggled to focus on him. And they finally reached the shore.
“Good! Come on help me get yourself out of here.”
She had to obey him, but she couldn’t even lift her legs to stand up. Pain began scorching her.
“I can’t carry you. Come on!”
Shelly sat listening. Her head was a chunk of pain.
“Move it!” The order jerked her into action. She half fell, half leaned as he lifted, but she was standing. “Arm around my shoulder. Let’s go.” She slumped against him. It was too hard, too painful.
“Lift your leg, now the next one. Right.” He was forcing her to walk, and she struggled against the excruciating motion.
“Come on. Concentrate! Walk!” If only he would stop, if only she could lie down, it would be a great relief. “I’m not letting you give up now! Use your legs. Keep awake!” He was domineering, pushing her straight when she faltered.
“Nearly there! Quick.” he went on. “Good!” He wiped her face. “You’ll feel crummy but you are recovering. “Your heartbeat is stronger.” She was so thirsty. If only he would leave her alone.
“Drink! Open your mouth.” He massaged her throat and jaw and she gulped. “Swallow, blast it!” She wanted to push the glass of water away but it was easier to make the effort to do as he said. If she obeyed him, he might let her sleep and stop yelling orders that kept pulling her back. His hand touched her throat and she realized dully that he was feeling for her pulse.
“Getting much stronger. You’re going to make it.”
Her thoughts were struggling to have a cotton wool wrapped around her but Kurt had wrapped her with his own self instead, holding her, giving her comfort. Was she imagining it? She shuddered uncontrollably, shivers and tremors raced through her as her muscles flexed and tightened and released.
As the pain lessened, her limbs felt as if they were part of her and not the stray belongings of some invisible puppeteer. Even the pins and needles prickling in her feet and hands became bearable. She experimented moving her fingers and soon she would open her eyes. A shiver ran through her as she remembered the cold water of the sea so she wriggled closely to the warmth. It felt so good, so safe, so protective. The tang of the sea mixed with a male scent and a subtle, spicy cologne teased her into full awareness. Realization that she was wrapped against a firm body made her eyelids fly open. Instinctively she struggled against his hold. The man from the sea release her and sat up, his hand adjusting the quilt around her shoulders.
“Relax, I’m only holding you to warm you and to stop you from hurting yourself. The pain was your body recovering sensation. Have some more of this soup. You’ll notice it’s barely lukewarm. I couldn’t risk diverting any heat from your core.”
There was no fight left in her to either ask questions or avoid the spoon. After several mouthfuls her teeth began chattering and the fluid spilled down her chin and on to the sheet. Ashamed of her own weakness, she was let down by the tears that fell.
“Didn’t I tell you I can’t stand crying females? It’s unfair emotional blackmail!” He was smiling as he mopped her face and she realized he was trying to cheer her. She tried to smile back.
“That’s a beautiful sight of the evening.”
His tone was like the tone of a superb bass, mellow rich and gentle. Shelly looked at him, startled by the changed from the autocrat whose voice had lashed her, demanded her obedience, forced her back, every word hard, crisp and incisive.
“What’s your name?”
“Shelly.” It was hard work to shape her name, but he nodded and fed her once more. She felt like a cuddled puppy.
“Just a little more and I’ll let you sleep, Shelly.” She felt his hand slip clinically against her skin and knew he was assessing her temperature. “Can I call someone to inform where you are?” Shelly kept silent. “Okay, let’s just talk about it in the morning”, Kurt muffled.
“Now if you’ll let me shift out of bed, I can let the wool blanket take over.” He slid out, leaving her feeling bereft, missing the comfort of his body.
“Don’t go”, she murmured, unable to lift her eyelids.
He left with a quick chuckle, his hand flicking some of her tight curls so she left them damp on her face. The pillow still smelt of him, warm and comforting. It was good to lie in her haven of warmth, without his constant orders. She was so tired.
A car starting its engine woke her. Befuddled, she rolled over, stretched, then gasped as pain cut the movement. Her fingers touched her ribcage and probe a long, nasty scratch, the source of the sudden pain when she had woken.
As she sat up, her chest knifed her and she began coughing. The spasm grew worse, the coughs tearing at her system. She felt ill.
“Just relax.” Strong hands held her, then began massaging her back. Pillows were adjusted behind her and she lay back exhausted, concentrating on the sheet effort of breathing.
“My friend’s gone to fetch for the ambulance. It will take a while to reach us, so I suggest you try to sleep again.” His words echoed in her mind. Ambulances meant hospital.
“Not going, I’m fine”, Shelly panted. “I’ll go home.”
“You’re a mess.” A frown ceased his deep brown eyes. “If you tell me your home phone number, I’ll notify your family. They’re probably been worrying about you, although they may be used to your crazy behavior.”
His crisp words stung Shelly, but she was too sick to protest.
“Sean’s away,” she coughed.
“Sean’s your husband? No?” His hand picked-up her long-fingered hand. “No wedding ring, the hospital can let your relatives know, just so as long no one’s out searching for you.”
He left while Shelly fumed, knowing that if she tried to explain that Sean was her brother her lungs would again protest, breathing was difficult enough without risking speech. Her head hurt, so she closed her eyes again to shut out the light, concentrating on the warmth and comfort of the bed.
“The ambulance… I’ll open the door. Goodbye Shelly.” The ambulance staff took charge.
Shelly checked her watched and decided to get up, the sunshine glowing through the window’s an encouragement. Friends had called but visits had been limited. Outside, her dog Maru welcomed her, followed her around and pranced like a puppy, stopping his play to gaze at her with sympathetic eyes when occasional coughing attacked her.
“He missed you.” Sean joined her. Together they made their way back to the farmhouse.
“How I wish I made a good angle of my red-vented cockatoos as an entry for the competition. I’d really love to have a good make-over of our farmhouse,” Shelly whispered with disappointment.
“You still have ample of time accomplishing it,” Sean retorted.
“I’d like to visit my rescuer today,” Shelly said.
“John Medina was acting on behalf of his client, Kurt Martin, who specifically requested privacy. Why didn’t he introduce himself anyway? I think our new neighbor has something to hide.”
Shelly managed a laugh. “You make him sound like a shady character, and he’s not! I know he can be trusted.”
“Wait and see.” Sean checked his watch, “I’ll go check my email.”
Shelly had a quick shower and went her way to her rescuer’s house. She noticed that Kurt had managed to build a high fence around his property and even installed an electronic operated gate at his entrance. She made a couple of knocks on the gate and it opened.
Kurt’s standing at his doorway, “You seem to get recovered fast, Shelly.”
“Yes. I came to thank my rescuer and maybe ask for a lunch.”
“Are you a good cook? If so, I might accept your invitation.”
“Okay then. I’d rather get myself back home, see you at lunch.”
Shelly was about to finish preparing the table outside the house when Kurt arrived. Shelly introduced his brother to Kurt and everything went well with their lunch. Kurt decided to stay a bit longer and had a little talk with Shelly.
“What a silly idea to be doing a photography in a cliff? Don’t you think it’s unsafe? What were you thinking woman? You’re lucky enough I was observing you at my canoe.”
Shelly admitted her mistake. “It’s just that I was really obsess to capture something exceptional that would place me gold for the competition. I’m looking for a good angle for the pair of red-vented cockatoo when I suddenly heard a gunshot, my compose didn’t go well which made me fumble and had caused me slipped.”
“Pinning the gold was the only way in my mind to help my brother manage the farm we have inherited from our parents. We have been down in managing it because of the frequent typhoons in our place.”
“The next time you plan to go places like that, give me a ring and I would gladly tug myself along with you,” Kurt grinned.
“Thank you but I’d manage to take extra care next time. I don’t want to bother anyone with my mission.”
Dressed in warm clothes in the pre-dawn, Shelly set up for her cameras. The red-vented cockatoos proved ridiculously difficult to photograph. She had been spying on them and she had found out where the couple have been nestling. Shelly had found a good spot to capture a great angle for them, there she would have a good chance of a well-lit picture. Almost without a thought she took the picture just after the strife of light. The photographs of the birds moving in the light had shown the beauty of their nuptial cloaks and she was able to take every shot of it. Their tenderness enchanted her. She sat unmoving until the male cockatoo flopped his wings to soar. Shelly clicked the shutter repeatedly. The bird was perfectly lit, the sea giving a natural background. If she had stood directing it, she could not have asked for a more cooperative model.
“Shelly, lunchtime!” Sean called as he came into the studio. “You’ve been shut away all morning. Your cockatoos post at the right moment?”
Shelly gave his brother a wide smile, “Yes, definitely!” showing him the prints.
“Look at that flop it was so gorgeous!
“There’s a clearer one of it on the enlargement wall,” she told him.
“These are impressive shots, Shelly.”
She had clipped up a dozen enlargement in sequence, and Sean surveyed the display. “Technically they’re all good,” he murmured. “The second might be the one you like – romantic. Reminds me of a painting, sunrise, dawn light and the sea mist.”
“That’s what I thought!” Shelly was delighted. Her brother’s artistic sense was sharp. “I’m entering it in the Romance Category of the National Guild Competition.”
Soon as they finished lunch, Shelly dressed-up and find her way to submit her entries to the competition. With all the faiths and hopes she could gather to pin the gold.