A damaged ballerina. A scarred swordsman. Folly Beach and Charleston, SC
|Caroline was a relevé away from becoming prima ballerina when, partly due to her own actions, she was damaged enough to never be allowed en pointe again. Returning to her hometown area, she finds a grittier dancing job and determines to land on top this time.
Dio hides away on his farm near Charleston, South Carolina, and ventures out only when he can be in disguise. He uses his swordsman skills to work out aggression and connect with others while he maintains distance. When the two collide on the beach in the glow of the lights from the pier, their personal scars push them away, and pull them in, just as the ebb and flow of the Atlantic.
Published 2013 under pen name Ella M. Kaye
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2013 Excerpt, was slightly edited and re-released in 2018.
Caroline curled the toes of her right foot in the sand and dug them in as far as she could. Her polish would scratch, she mused, only for a moment. As late as it was already, she didn’t want to go home and repaint her toenails. Still, she dug. The lights of the pier sparkled in the dark to her right: a long string of lights beckoning her to join the festivities under the pavilion. Soft streams of jazz floated over along the skimming waves and pulled at her soul.
Gripping the cold, damp sand firmly with her right toes, Caroline raised it up from its hole, extended her foot and leg behind her, let her body drift forward in balance. Balance was difficult in the sand. Still she managed a decent arabesque with her arms extended, one over her head, the other reaching up to the sky.
She should dance on the pier, she supposed. Normal dance. Not trained danced. Bringing her right leg and foot back to the ground, Caroline felt a long aching wail ready to stream forward from her tired soul. The soul that longed to dance. Trained dance. Not normal dance.
With a cleansing breath of ocean air, she decided it wouldn’t hurt to at least get close enough to the pier to hear voices. There was no reason to make the decision until morning. He’d given her that long.
Sand shifted under her feet and she moved closer to the water until waves brushed up over her toes, over her ankles, and deeper still until it splashed up onto her calves. Normally, she would never walk where she couldn’t see what her feet might find. Her feet were her lifeblood. Or they had been.
Now, she could walk where she pleased. Caroline did her best to convince herself the freedom would be worth it, it was the good side, where others had told her to focus. The good side. All in all, she would rather go back to watching every step. The good side had never been much of a friend, that she’d been able to tell.
A sting on her arch made her jump and she pulled her foot up to survey the damage. It was too dark to see whether there was blood or a protrusion. Rubbing her hand gently over the spot, she didn’t feel anything other than moisture and the pain felt only surface deep. A prick from a sea shell, Caroline guessed. Karma was, after, a true bitch.
Swishing her foot, her right foot, around in the water to soothe the pain, Caroline continued toward the lights, the music, the voices. She wouldn’t go up on the pier. That was far closer to people than she had any need to be. Instead, she stayed in the water and made her way to the large wooden posts holding the pier like three rows of silent sentries from high on the beach to far into the waves. Not terribly far, considering the size of the Atlantic and that the pier, huge compared to humans, was only a little speck of minor interruption of the ocean’s flow.
Couples walking hand-in-hand nearly made her turn back. She rolled her eyes. Wait until reality slaps in, little ones, she thought as she moved away from them, farther up the beach. She made her way to the path below the long pier where locals and tourists talked and laughed and stomped against the wood planks above her head. Time to go home. She had an interview in the morning. Her looks mattered; bags under her eyes wouldn’t do any more than would scratched toe nails.
Home. Caroline laughed at herself. The bed and breakfast barely off the beach wasn’t home. The three days she’d hidden inside didn’t make it hers. Especially since she sounded like a visitor to South Carolina, which used to be home. Her voice training had been worth the cost. Her accent was all but gone. If anyone guessed, they guessed she was Canadian. She refuted it but never said where she was from. Caroline from South Carolina was far too worn out to have to listen to it one more time.
She moved back down the beach, out from under the pier, still along the water splashing her ankles. Just before she turned off to head back to her room for the night, a flicker of light over the water caught her eye. It was a moving flicker, similar to the lighthouse off and on glow as it turned its continuous circles, but far smaller. And far closer. She headed that direction.Caroline had always been too curious. Her mother had told her she was many times. It killed the cat, so the story went. She figured she was safe enough since she wasn’t a cat. She’d gone well past her nine lives of curiosity and it hadn’t killed her yet.
As she got close enough to find the source of the flicker, out on the water but not too far out, she decided it might not be all that safe. A man. With a sword. On a small boat. Alone.
And mostly naked.
Her gut told her to turn away, to go back to her room, to shower and redo her toe nails and sleep, in case her answer would be yes. Although in all truth, she expected it not to be. She only wanted the option.
The flicker came from the sword as he twirled it around his body. Twirled wasn’t the right word. That was what Caroline did. Or what she used to do. It was a delicate, graceful movement. But then, so was this man. He was a delicate, graceful movement, if she could allow herself to stretch the definition of the word delicate. His precision was. As far as she could tell, the sword moved in exactly the same path, repeated, smooth, strong, graceful. It moved like a dancer, but more deadly.
Depending on its intent.
Caroline found herself wishing it was not quite so dark, that the moon was more than half full so she could see him better. He was dark haired. Tall. Broad-shouldered. Trim. Muscular. His dark shorts hugged his hips and thighs. His thighs were broad but toned. The rippled muscles were occasionally highlighted by the moon’s glint and the lights from the pier.
His face was washed out by shadows. Not even a glint. Odd.
The pattern changed, became faster, more intricate. His arm muscles surged and receded in imitation of the waves around him.
He stopped, chest expanding, shoulders circling, sword tip down.
Caroline stood in awe. His head was down. At rest.
When he raised it, she shrank back. He looked her direction, as far as she could tell. His head tilted. Slightly. Held still.
She shuffled backward, slowly. The knick on the bottom of her foot pinched. She curled her foot to take pressure off of it as she continued her slow creep away from the sword. He didn’t move. He watched her. Or she imagined he watched her. It was dark. She was too far away, in black calf-length leggings and a long dark gray lightweight short-sleeved tunic. He couldn’t see her.
To test her theory, she edged to the side, out of the water, still backward, away from the angle his face pointed.
His head followed.
Her stomach clenched and she turned quickly, near jogging up the beach toward the sidewalk that would take her back to her room. Caroline glanced back several times but no sign that he followed appeared. As far as she knew, he was still on that little boat, with his big sword resting its tip between his legs.
With her heartbeat calming again, she caught the whiff of Taco Boy near the Beachside Bed and Breakfast and detoured that direction. When had she last allowed herself greasy tacos? She didn’t remember.
Tonight, she would splurge.
Tomorrow, she would decide whether to audition for the job.
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