‘Okay, mate…’ Surfer boy must have seen it all before, because, though breathless himself, he was incredibly calm. ‘She knows she made a mistake. You did the right thing, letting the rip carry you,’ the boy reassured her as Zarios stood there silently fuming. ‘You can’t swim against it.’

Her breathing was slowing down now, delicious oxygen creeping into every exhausted cell. Each and every breath was like a refreshing glass of lemonade, and she relished each one.

A little posse had formed—mainly lean, bronzed surfer-types, and an elderly woman who was walking her dog, all standing around her as she shivered in her bra and panties and in her own misery. A blanket was produced from the surf shed, and Emma was grateful for its heavy, musty warmth as it was wrapped around her shoulders.

‘Did you take in a lot of water?’ the surfer asked.

‘No! I was just tiring. I’m fine now…’

‘Maybe we should get you looked at?’

Emma shook her head. ‘I just want to go home.’

She remembered to thank him, although Zarios actually remembered first, shaking his hand and then wrapping an arm around Emma’s shoulders before leading her up the stony path to her parents’ house. He even smiled and thanked the elderly lady when she rushed up, having retrieved Emma’s clothes.

‘Don’t tell Mum…’Her teeth were chattering so violently she could hardly get the words out. ‘I don’t want to ruin the weekend.’

‘You nearly took care of that…’ He stopped himself from ramming home the inevitable point. ‘Let’s just hope they’re not up yet…’ His voice faded again.

Despite the early hour the marquee was already being taken down. Lydia was trilling her orders, anxious to get the place in shape before the champagne breakfast.

‘What about in here…?’ He pushed open the doors of the summerhouse, a pretty white room where her mother read and her father escaped. Leading her to a daybed, he sat her down, then set about locating a towel, taking the musty blanket from her shoulders and wrapping her in its soft warmth. ‘We’ll get you dry, and then you can get dressed and back to the house…she won’t know.’

‘You won’t tell her?’

‘On one condition.’ He gripped her upper arms, his face stern and serious. ‘You have to promise me that you will never do anything like that again.’

‘I won’t.’

‘Christo, Emma…’ His eyes burnt into hers, anger creeping back in. ‘What possessed you?’ He was drenched, his black hair almost blue, droplets of water still on his wide shoulders.

‘I don’t know…’ She couldn’t give a sensible reason. She’d grown up by the beach—knew the rules. Knew, knew, knew…‘I just wanted to clear my head. I’m just worried…’

‘About what?’

She wanted to tell him so badly. In fact, she almost did, but even as she opened her mouth, she shook her head. Jake’s gambling and the filthy, complicated mess he had created were just too big and scary to face, let alone share.

‘I can’t say.’

‘You could.’

‘I can’t.’

‘Okay, don’t worry about it now…’ His hands were stroking her through the towel, moving to her back, drying her off, then moving down to her legs. The floor was littered with sand. ‘Let’s get you dressed and inside.’

And then it really seemed to hit him. Zarios paused mid-stroke, bemused eyes looking up to hers.

‘You could have died!’

Oh, there was no better warmth than his arms. Fiercely, he had pulled her from the daybed into his embrace, and kneeling he held her, held her, held her, as if checking that she was still there. And, Emma thought, being held was so much better than being told off—just feeling his heartbeat in her ear, his warmth imbuing her. For a full five minutes he held her, and whether it was adrenaline that propelled them, or just the sheer exhilaration of finding out just how sweet and precious life was, it felt entirely right that he kissed her.

It was the most thorough, expert and welcome kiss of her life. His mouth claimed hers, pressing hard into her shivering one, warming her as his body scooped her in. Kneeling, facing her, he devoured her with his mouth, kissing her harder and harder as though he still had to prove that she was really there, pausing for a second and then possessing her mouth again.

Just absolutely the best a kiss could be. Like a balm to her wounds. The horror that had consumed her simply faded. The soft stroke of his tongue, his taut body against hers, obliterated everything.

No kiss had ever moved her like this. She had thought last night’s effort wonderful, but it had only skimmed the surface of what his mouth could do. His touch seemed to flick a trigger, unleashing in her such want. He was pushing down the straps of her bra, his mouth still pressing on hers, his rough and unshaven and utterly delicious jaw rasping her cheek. His skilled fingers impatiently unhooked her bra and tossed it aside. Her frozen and exhausted body was warming and waking beneath hands that massaged her full breasts as still he kissed her.

‘I thought I’d lost you when you went under…’

He was talking as if he loved her, and her head was spinning with his words. He spoke as if they were, as if they had once been lovers. The world was spinning in a strange fast-forward, in recognition of some future time. Everything aligned as she knew, without it being said, that they were going to make love. The passion, the emotion that ripped through them, was inexplicable, almost, but utterly, utterly right. Kneeling still, they pressed so hard into each other it hurt—a hurt that reminded her she was alive!

As he kissed her cheeks, her ears, her eyelashes, and gently tugged at her panties, Emma remembered that she had nearly died. And nearly dying was a very, very good reason to start living, she told herself, as both of them stood just long enough to dispose of their few pieces of clothing.

And this was living!

She’d expected the frenzy to continue, but Zarios slowed things down. As they sank to their knees he rested on his heels, devouring every inch of her with hungry eyes, one single finger tracing the length of her body. She quivered under his scrutiny. Pathetically grateful she’d taken her panties off when she’d had a spray tan, Emma was agog with terror as she watched him harden to his full, impressive length. Her stomach curled inside as his fingers moved down and slowly stroked her damp blonde curls.

‘All night I thought of you.’ His knees parted hers, the dark hair on his legs scratching against her thighs, pushing them apart until he exposed her. He began to stroke her slowly.

Unable to stop herself, Emma admitted the same. ‘I thought of you, too.’

She was having trouble breathing for entirely different reasons now.

‘I thought of this.’ He slid a finger inside her, the nub of his thumb working her clitoris. ‘And then I thought of this…’ He lowered his head and suckled on her nipple, the rhythmic sucking matching his handiwork.

Her head arched back as he worked her, and in a moment of weakness again she admitted the same. ‘I thought of this, too.’

He was huge—worryingly so, excitingly so. Her head was back down, watching as her fingers instinctively reached for him as if they belonged to someone else. She began to stroke him in the same slow motion with which he was stroking her. She could see his mouth still suckling her breast, but she gazed down beyond it, one greedy finger taking the silver pearl of moisture from his tip and massaging it into the soft velvety skin that belied the strength beneath.

‘Attente!’ His voice was thick, the words spoken between greedy mouthfuls. ‘Be careful.’

And then he looked up, warning her, offering her an out. But her voice, when it came, was absolutely sure. ‘I don’t want to be careful!’

It was all the confirmation he needed to go on, and, oh, the bliss as he guided her onto the daybed. She braced herself for his weight, but it never came, his fingers instead working their magic, sliding deep inside her as his erection hovered at her entrance. She was a frenzy of sensation, a bleating mess of indecision, wanting him to go on, but wanting him to come in. She could hear the sounds of her own moisture as he massaged her deeply, as he made sure beyond doubt that her tight space was oiled and ready to accommodate him. And thank heavens he did, because even with his lavish attention, even with a body that was cooing and aching to be filled, she felt a sudden pain when he entered, a delicious hurt as he filled her. The heat was building as he pushed so hard inside her, so deep within her, she could feel the bruise of her cervix.

She was coming, biting his salty chest, wrapping her calves around his muscular back. Still he bucked inside her, the throb of her orgasm gripping him, but it didn’t match his strength because he pushed her on.

‘Zarios…’ She wanted him to stop, was almost scared that he might continue. Her twitching body was surely spent, but still she could feel him swell further, feel the more urgent, reckless staccato rhythm of his thrust, and she was coming again, her orgasm more intense than she could have ever dared to imagine it might be. Her hands were two balled fists of tension on his back. Unfurling her fingers was an impossible task as every muscle in her body twitched in spasm as she received him, felt a shudder of tension rip through him, and then the warm melt of him on her.

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