“Poor baby,” she murmured. “I’m so sorry.”

Delphine merely looked serenely back at her seemingly without judgment.

Other than the faded scars, Delphine appeared healthy. And fat, he thought with a smile.

“So, you’re having a baby,” Carson said to Delphine. “I guess we were both pregnant last summer. Only you kept your baby. Good for you.”

Atticus pursed his lips and shifted his weight on his board. He hadn’t known that Carson and Blake had lost a baby.

Delphine started making staccato nasal noises and hitting the water with her rostrum.

Carson turned her head to him. “She doesn’t understand why I don’t pet her.” Carson’s expression showed she clearly ached for the contact. “She’s my best friend. She helped me through some of my worst moments.” Carson reached out her hand. Then stopped midair. “No. I mustn’t touch her. She’s wild.”

But Delphine had other plans. She rose in the water to deliberately bump her rostrum against Carson’s hand.

Carson laughed despite herself. “I didn’t do it. She did!”

Atticus didn’t know much about dolphin interactions, but it seemed to him Carson was splitting hairs. He watched uneasily as the dolphin swam slowly past Carson’s unmoving hand projected out over the water, swam so close the dolphin’s skin glided across the hand. Atticus had to admit he was jealous. He would love to feel the dolphin’s rubbery skin against his palm, but again, this was a wild dolphin, and even he knew it wasn’t good.

Carson withdrew her hand. For a minute she stared at its emptiness. Then she tucked her arms under her head. At first the dolphin seemed piqued. She splashed the water with her rostrum and made several nasal eh eh eh calls. Then the dolphin made a shallow dive to push a wave of water with her tail directly at the board. Carson leaned back against the deluge and laughed, coughing with surprise.

“Delphine is pitching a hissy fit!” she called to Atticus.

“She sure is. But you know what’s best for her.”

Carson stared at him, hard. Then she nodded in agreement. Slowly, she rose to her feet. A slump-shouldered surrender was in her movements. It was, he knew, a moment of reckoning for her.

She looked at Delphine. “Go on and join your friend.” Carson stretched out her arm and pointed to the harbor. “Go on now. Go feed your baby.”

Delphine flipped water into the air with her rostrum.

Carson pointed again and said more firmly, “Go.”

Delphine backed away in the water, then dove, disappearing in the depths. Carson and Atticus scanned the still water. A few minutes later they spotted Delphine much farther off, swimming with speed toward the second dolphin.

“We should get back,” Carson called to him. “Make good our escape. I don’t want Delphine to follow me back to the dock.”

“Sounds good to me.”

Once again Atticus put his back to the work, stroking hard to gain speed against the current. He was out of shape, he realized with chagrin. Sweat formed at his brow but he didn’t slow down. They both knew that Delphine could effortlessly cross this distance in no time at all.

By the time they reached Sea Breeze and climbed onto the lower dock, he was sweating inside his wet suit. He wasn’t too proud to admit he was glad to see that Carson was winded, too. He helped her pull the eleven-foot boards from the water and carried both of them to the upper dock. They set them in a safe spot, then grabbed towels. Carson’s long braid fell over her shoulder as she bent to unzip the wet-suit jacket. She dried her face, then let the towel drop to a bench.

“So, tell me about what happened to Delphine,” Atticus said, drying his head with the towel. “How she got those scars.”

Carson turned to look out over the Cove for a moment before she said, “That dolphin saved my life. I was surfing and that girl T-boned a shark that was after me. Delphine saved me from a shark attack. I’d heard of things like that happening, but it suddenly became real for me.” Carson’s voice revealed her affection for the dolphin. “Later, she recognized me out here in the Cove while I was paddleboarding. She’s that kind of smart. We bonded.” Carson raised her hand over her eyes. “Oh, Atticus, I did everything wrong. I named her, fed her at the dock, swam with her. I had fun—but Delphine suffered the consequences. There was a huge accident last summer. Delphine got caught in fishing lines. It was awful.”

“That’s how she got the scars?”

Carson nodded, her face bleak at the memory. “Yeah. Blake flew her to Florida for rehabilitation. He saved her life. Anyway, that explains the scars you saw. Blake and I nearly broke up over it. He was so angry at me. Disappointed. Rightfully so.”

“Is that why you didn’t want him to know about you coming out to see her?”

“No. I wanted to see Delphine again for the first time without Blake watching. I needed to know if I was strong enough to do the right thing.” She laughed harshly. “I didn’t quite make it, did I?”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. I think you did.”

“Do you think I broke my word to Blake?”

“That’s between you and Blake. What I think doesn’t matter.”

“Why should I tell him?” She looked away. “What would I gain? I don’t want trouble between us. I know what I have to do now and that I’m strong enough to do it.”

“So why not tell him that?”

She looked at Atticus. “Haven’t you ever kept a small secret to yourself? For the good of someone you loved?”

Atticus blanched and looked out over the water. In keeping his own secret, he felt like a hypocrite. “Many times,” he confessed. “To my mother, mostly. When I was in high school I lied to her whenever I went out drinking with friends and I told her I was out studying. Or the times I told her I didn’t know what happened to missing bottles of alcohol.” He laughed without humor. “Once I replaced her bottle of gin with water. She found out during a party when she served very weak martinis.”

Carson laughed. “You did not.”

“I did.” His smiled faded. “And those were the easy lies. The later ones were harder. More serious. Though at the time I blew them off. Trips to the police station for underage drinking. A few fender benders. My father bailed me out, punished me. We decided to keep the truth from her. For her sake.”

Tags: Mary Alice Monroe Lowcountry Summer Romance
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