*****Caught by the Tide****

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I adjusted the rolled-up sweater behind my neck and settled back down, my head supported by a beautifully-rounded, conveniently-located rock. The sun on my almost naked body was fierce, the soft sand beneath my burrowing toes warm. When I’d found this spot an hour ago, it’d felt pretty close to paradise, the beach deserted save for the couple with a toddler paddling at the water’s edge and the occasional walker with accompanying sodden dog.

But that was the joy of a Cornish beach in early May. In August, it would be virtually impossible to move for sun-blotched bodies, the pervasive, sickly blend of more than a dozen varieties of sun tan lotion heavy in the air. So although a group of guys had arrived in the interim, immediately commencing a loud and boisterous game of football in the space between me and the ever-rolling waves, it hadn’t really mattered at first.

God only knew what had possessed me to bring a work of sappy romantic fiction along on this trip. There were six of them playing three against three, their bags and discarded clothing acting as make-shift goalposts. And though they clearly weren’t teenagers–at a guess, their average age was at least thirty years old–they were behaving as though they were, their constant banter and ribbing of each other audible on the breeze.

But then even I could deduce that the tall, skinny bloke they called Tim wasn’t exactly what you’d call a natural sportsman. ‘Oh fucking hell, mate!’ one of them cried as Tim fluffed yet another pass, sending the ball skimming down towards the water. ‘I hope to God you don’t have this much trouble finding the goal on your wedding night.

‘ ‘Fuck off!’ Tim retaliated, attempting–yet failing, I thought with an inward smirk–to look unconcerned as he loped down to the shore to retrieve the ball. ‘When did you last have a shag, anyway?’ Another of the guys took up the call. ‘Yeah, Foster, when did you last have a shag?’ All eyes, mine included, turned on the stocky, broad-chested male wearing bright red board-shorts.

‘Ah, well now,’ he said, tapping his nose knowingly. ‘That’s between me and the extremely satisfied woman I shagged. ‘ He snatched the ball from Tim amidst groans of disbelief, kicking it straight back into play. ‘Game on, you losers.

We’re here to party, remember? Show our boy here what he’s giving up to marry his bird. ‘ Wincing, I let my gaze drop back to my book. Just my luck. A group of blokes on a stag weekend.

A sobering thought indeed. I closed my eyes, filtering out the sound of their voices and focussing instead on the crashing waves, wriggling downwards until my head was on the towel beneath me. Those who’d doubted the wisdom of my venturing to Cornwall at this time of year had made grim predictions of wind and rain but it was hot–gloriously hot.

So some kind of justice had been handed me, even if only in the poetic sense. I knew I’d been right to pack my bikini. This had been a good idea. And lulled by the sound of the sea, the warmth of the mid-afternoon sun, I finally allowed my thoughts to drift away.

I hadn’t slept in days. So when something hard, wet and cold thudded down on to my tummy, minutes, maybe even hours later, it came as a particularly nasty surprise. . .

‘Jesus!’ I screamed, my sunglasses sliding off my face as I scrambled upright. ‘What the hell–?’ By the time I’d found the offending weapon, a soggy brown leather football coated in sand, the stocky guy in the red shorts was looming over me, blocking the sun. ‘Whoops,’ he said with what he obviously hoped was a winning smile.

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