Laurie Ingram Sibley
“But I need a man,” Emma sang, Broadway-style, as they arrived back at their beach towels. “And my heart is set on him.”
Sherilynn turned her back on the—admittedly gorgeous—lifeguard. “You’ve already dragged me past him twice.”
“Third time’s the charm?”
“Sorry, Em. The waves are calling to me.” Emma might have come to the beach for the male population, but Sherilynn wanted to feel the power of the ocean.
Maybe she was part mermaid like her father had always claimed. Let me see your toes, he’d teased, tugging on a salt-stiff lock of her hair. Have they turned into a fishtail yet?
Now Emma squealed at the cold water, but Sherilynn plowed boldly through the crashing surf. She turned her back to a frothy wave as it thundered past and then continued out to where they were just beginning to curl. She dolphin-dove through another, feeling the silent rumble as it surged over her.
The ancient dance of moon and tides and ocean magic dragged her out a little deeper, and she began to swim. The wave rose over her and then rushed—with her cocooned inside—all the way back to shore.
“Ready for a stroll?” Emma called. Sherilynn laughed and raced back out.
Ever since her father’s death, she’d kept her heart clamped tightly shut, like a clamshell around a pearl. But something about being tossed by the whims of the ocean again had that clamshell loosening its grip. Maybe it was time to let God cradle her heart like a wave—the ride could be rough and wild, but it was filled with glory.
Twenty exhilarating minutes later, Sherilynn paused in the shallow water to check in with her friend. Emma grabbed her arm. “Is he looking at me? You’d be proud—I haven’t turned around to check once.”
Sherilynn raised her eyes to the beach to see that Emma had stationed herself squarely in front of the lifeguard stand. “Riiiight.”
“Okay, I glanced a few times.”
Sherilynn tilted her head, waiting for the rest of the story.
Emma propped a hand on her hip. “Fine. I tried sitting here looking relaxed and available, but a big wave attacked me, and I had to go back to my bag to comb my hair. But since then, I’ve just been standing here.”
“Come body surf with me. Have some fun!”
“This is fun,” Emma insisted. “Now, let’s think of a good way to get his attention!”
“How about we let him do his job and we—”
A searing pain like an electric shock suddenly stabbed through Sherilynn’s leg. She gasped and staggered, then sank down into the water.
“Ooh! Fake drowning!” Emma clapped. “Excellent plan! Should I call for help?”
Sherilynn groaned, clutching her calf.
A shadow fell across her, and a large, warm hand landed on her shoulder. “You all right?”
She turned her head and saw tan, muscular legs in red swimming trunks. Great. Such an attractive way to catch his eye.
“Jellyfish,” she bit out.
“Jellyfish?” Emma yanked one foot out of the water and then the other, hopping a few steps closer to the shore. “Is it on me—I mean, you? Can you walk?”
Before she could answer, the lifeguard placed one arm under her knees and the other behind her back. He lifted her easily, and if pain hadn’t been radiating through her leg with each beat of her heart, she might have enjoyed it. Actually, if the pain level was any indication, her heart did seem to be pulsing more energetically than before.
He carried her to her towel and set her down to study the raised, red, whiplike mark on her calf. He unclipped a radio from his trunks. “O’Keefe, can you cover Stand 8? And bring the jellyfish sting kit.”
Emma hovered. “What can I do?”
“Well, they say one thing helps better than anything else,” the lifeguard said, his face serious.
Emma’s face blanched, and Sherilynn grinned despite the throbbing in her calf.
“It takes a very special friend to pee on her friend’s leg,” he went on, eyes twinkling now.
Emma looked doubtful that she was that kind of friend.
The lifeguard rested his hand on Sherilynn’s knee. “The pain gets worse before it gets better, but it does get better.”
A rescue jeep pulled up to the lifeguard stand, and another man in red trunks hopped out. “Here you go, Ben.”
“One for each of us,” Emma mouthed over the first lifeguard’s—Ben’s—head, eyes widening. At Sherilynn’s nodding eyeroll, she trotted after the new guy.
Wry amusement flickered on Ben’s face.
“She’s easily sidetracked,” Sherilynn agreed.
He handed over ibuprofen and a water bottle and then pulled out a squirt bottle. “Vinegar to dull the pain.” He drizzled it slowly over the sting mark. “Beats urine any day. And baking soda.”
But instead of applying it to her leg, he scooped sand into a hill with a hole at the top. Surprised, Sherilynn watched him shake in some baking soda and shoot a stream of vinegar in after it. The sandy volcano erupted, rivulets of foam rushing down the sides.
Ben shrugged broad shoulders. “It distracts the little kids from the pain.”
“Works on big ones, too.”
“I couldn’t take my eyes off you out there.” Ben caught himself. “Uh, I mean, in case you had any trouble.”
“I guess it’s only fair. Since we were stalking you first.”
“Really, though. I haven’t seen someone truly enjoy the ocean like that in a long time. You must be part mermaid.”
Sherilynn’s heart rocked gently over an ocean swell. Ben was an even better diversion than his sand volcano.
He reached out to help her to her feet. “I’m on break in a bit.” He still clasped her hand. “I’d love to join you out there.”
“I’d like that.” She squeezed his fingers. “After all, we stalkers have to stick together.”
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