Souvenirs (Chapter 2)
By David, United KingdomEditor's Note: Chapter 1 of this romantic novel appeared in last month's issue of Sweet Designs Magazine. The story continues next month.
There were five men. They were similarly dressed, in smart pants and shoes, and collared shirts unbuttoned against the heat of the day. All looked to be a little older that the girls, in their early thirties perhaps. Three of them began heaving the boat a little further up on to the beach, so that it couldn't drift out to sea. The other two walked directly towards the nurses.
Lily was suddenly aware that the girls' pile of clothing was between them and the oncoming men. At the moment, the girls were closer to it ... it would be better to get their clothes now, and get dressed. She hesitated, like her friends aware that whoever stood up would attract the undivided attention of the invaders. She was intensely conscious of wearing her underwear instead of proper beachwear. The other two girls were just as scantily clad, but even so it made her feel much more vulnerable, as if she had been somehow caught out. Her bra and panties, chosen for coolness under the heavy uniform, now seemed no more than skin-tight black ornaments.
And then it was too late - the men were stepping past the heap of belongings. Usually she was capable of making split-second decisions, and now Lily had the infuriating feeling that her hesitation had been a crucial mistake. Still sitting on the sand, all three girls huddled a little closer to each other.
"Relax," one of the men smiled. His accent wasn't local. "We come in peace."
He was tall, and as a youth he must have been devastatingly handsome, though years and good living were beginning to coarsen and fill out his features. Even so, Lily admitted grudgingly to herself that most women would still consider him well worth a second look.
"Nice beach you've got here," the other man remarked.
"We like it," Lily answered. "It's usually private." She placed a heavy emphasis on the last word.
The handsome one laughed. "Hey, maybe the natives are hostile! Just as well we've got reinforcements." Sure enough, they were joined by the other three men, casually completing the barrier between the nurses and their clothing. "Now we're all here, better do the introductions. I'm Paul, and this is Steve, Nick, Andy, and Gunner."
"Don't worry about me and Andy, ladies," Nick said. "You're safe with us, we're happily married men. It's these other three villains you need to watch out for. Divorced, footloose and fancy-free."
"We're not." Rachel lifted her hand to display her engagement ring as she spoke.
But Lily doubted if the one called Steve had even heard the words. He was the biggest built of the men, though his physique was clearly down to heredity, training, and hard manual work; he didn't have the grotesque bloated look of a steroid user. His obvious interest in Rachel was clearly the attraction of opposites; apart from being well-groomed, he could have been a Viking - blond and blue eyed.
"Did the boat sink? Have we died and gone to heaven?" Steve spoke to his friends but he didn't take his eyes off the dark beauty. Paul seemed similarly enchanted by Claire. For a moment, Lily couldn't help feeling grateful that she had escaped such close attention, but then she realised that the man they called Gunner was staring directly at her.
Her first thought was that he was older than the other men. Then she saw that his hair, which must once have been curly black, was prematurely graying. It didn't make him look any less tough. He wasn't a big man - he was certainly less than six feet tall - but he was the hardest looking of them all, including the massive Steve. Broad shoulders and a ruddy, roughly handsome, gipsy-looking face gave him the look of a bare knuckle boxer. His eyes were somehow surprising; they should have been cold grey, the eyes of an assassin or a gangster. In fact they were a delicate flecked hazel. It made his gaze somehow mocking, but no less formidable, as it met Lily's.
"Aren't you going to tell us your names?" It wasn't a question. She wanted to tell him to go to hell.
"I'm Lily, that's Claire and Rachel."
"Rachel." Steve repeated the words as if he were in a restaurant, ordering unfamiliar exotic food.
"So you on holiday then?" Paul asked. "No, come to think of it, that was a nurse's uniform on top of your kit. And nurses tend to be friends with other nurses - the hours they work and so on. I guess you all work at the local hospital?"
Lily was dismayed at his correct reasoning. The British male was convinced that nurses were quite sexy and available. It wasn't often true - these three girls, for instance, were assertive and highly selective in their choice of boyfriends. But it would certainly be no discouragement to the intruders.
"Yes, we do," she said coldly. "You tourists tend to stay on the main beach. There's more for you there."
"We're businessmen, not tourists," Paul answered. "You're looking at the management board of Primefive Industries. You know, there's a sales conference in the town? We came down for that. We're in construction. And doing ok, recession or no recession."
"That's fascinating, but if you'll excuse us, we were having a private conversation."
"Hey, don't be like that!" Paul protested jokingly. "Andy needs a nurse. Look at that bruise on his face. Mind you, the other guys came off a lot worse."
"That's what you get for fighting," Claire said, trying to sound nonchalant.
"We didn't start it. We were having a quiet drink in our hotel - the Golden Horizon, plush place - and some local pond life came in looking for trouble."
"The Golden Horizon? It was you?" Lily asked. "The five of you beat Kevin Smith and his gang?"
"The four of us. Nick was upstairs phoning his wife and missed all the fun."
Lily was taken aback. Smith was feared in the town, but these men had taken him and his gang apart, and there was hardly a mark on any of them. Clearly they were something very different from the local men, a force to be reckoned with.
Steve took up the story. "Anyway, the sales stuff finished today, so we thought we'd hire a boat and do a spot of sea fishing before we went back home."
"All the fish are out there." Claire pointed at the sea. "You won't catch anything on this beach."
"Maybe we already have," Paul said, and Claire's face suddenly matched the red of her bikini.