Biarritz Passion: A French Summer Novel

BOOK: Biarritz Passion: A French Summer Novel
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BIARRITZ PASSION

 

A FRENCH SUMMER NOVEL

 

LAURETTE LONG

 

Biarritz Passion Text Copyright © 2014 Laurette Long
All rights reserved
 
Cover Photo by "Mike" Michael L. Baird.
 
flickr.bairdphotos.com
 
flic.kr/p/7uRfja
under
 
Creative Commons Attribution and modified with permission
 
Cover photo ‘Biarritz Grand Plage’ Copyright Sylvain Mouney
Cover design Sylvain Mouney

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

Heartfelt thanks t
o Elizabeth Stromberg, dear friend and first reader. Mille mercis for your generous encouragement and enthusiasm. Without you, it would never have got to the last page. Thanks also to Andrew for his invaluable input for the cover.
Eternal gratitude to
‘the ladies’, Annie, Linda, Michèle, Miette and Prim, who not only organise lunches, but who have always been there to fall back on in times of trouble and to have fun with in times of joy. Thank you for putting on your ‘romantic fiction reader’ hats.
Thank you to family and friends for support and encouragement, you are rocks.
Thank you Mike Baird for permission to use the beautiful photograph of Lovers Embracing on the Beach at Sundown.
Last
, but not least, to Sylvain Mouney, who designed the cover but more importantly kept me sane and happy, and knows the right way to open a bottle of champagne, chapeau.
CHAPTER ONE. SUNDAY 18 JULY

 

‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Captain again. Some good news and some bad news I’m afraid. Bad news first
, there’s been a delay in finding us a replacement central power unit so I’m afraid we’re stuck here for longer than we thought, maybe another half hour or so, but the good news is that air traffic control tells us the storm seems to be clearing so we should be able to get under way as soon our technical problem is dealt with. Once again ladies and gentlemen, apologies on behalf of the airline, and rest assured that as soon as we get clearance and are in the air, the cabin crew will be coming round with complimentary refreshments as I know you’re all feeling very uncomfortable. That’s it for now, I’ll be back with you as soon as I have an update.’

There were more groans and derisory applause fr
om the passengers. The Boeing 737 had been stuck on the tarmac now for an hour and a half, in unbearable heat as the big storm from the Atlantic had pounded relentlessly against the metal structure of the plane. The problem had started as they had been pushing back, at first just a flicker of the cabin lights, causing some of the more experienced passengers to look up from their newspapers with narrowed eyes, then finally with a whine the electrics had cut out completely, leaving the plane stranded. They had been pushed back to the apron, informed by the Captain that ‘unfortunately there was a technical problem’ and from then on things had gone steadily downhill. The power unit had been removed, a replacement had been ‘on its way’ and ‘there shouldn’t be too much delay’.

That was before the purple clouds massing in the sky had been split by flashes of lightning and ea
r-shattering thunderclaps. The cabin crew had hastily closed the exit doors as the heavens opened, and the sweltering passengers had been forced to remain in their seats, fanning their sweaty faces and begging for water.

Caroline, sitting in a window seat in Row 7, felt misery settle like a solid lump in her stomach. She wiped her face again with the only Kleenex she had found in her bag, now a sodden scrap of tissue. The plane was packed with holiday makers returning from the beaches of the French Basque coast, Biarritz, Hossegor, St Jean de Luz. Children were whining, babies crying, the harried cabin crew pounding up and down the aisles with bottles of water and paper towels trying to deal with the various emergencies.

‘Would you like a drink?’

The man in the middle seat was holding out a small bottle of Evian. His teenage daughter was sitting in the aisle seat, eyes closed, foot tapping, headphones clamped to her ears. His wife was in the aisle seat of the row opposite, trying to keep the other children, two young boys, amused with books and games. Caroline caught her eye and exchanged a sympathetic grimace.

‘Thank you.’

She took a small sip from the bottle, grateful for the gesture. She had not paid much attention to her fellow passengers when they first boarded, and had turned to the window and closed her eyes as soon as the captain had announced the delay. She wouldn’t have believe
d it was possible to feel such...such what? Despair? Wretchedness? Shame? Exhaustion? She had dozed on and off, waking briefly at each new announcement, each flash of lightning.

‘Sorry?’

The man was speaking again, in careful English with a strong French accent.

‘You are travelling alone?’

‘Yes. Coming back from holiday.’

The last thing she wanted was to engage in a conversation, but politeness forced her to continue.

‘And you?’

She gestured to the family.

‘We are returning to London, it is where I work, I am with the BFCE, a French bank.’

She nodded.

‘It’s hard for the children, the delay.’

He threw out his hands and gave a typical Gallic shrug. For a moment Caroline was
too taken aback to reply. He looked just like Jean-Paul, eyes raised heavenwards, his favourite expression forming on his lips:


C’est la vie!

A wave of regret hit her so strongly she thought she might throw up.

‘Are you OK? You are very pale.’

The man was looking at her, concerned.

She managed to nod and accepted his offer of water again.

‘I’ll... maybe I’ll just close my eyes a minute.’

He nodded sympathetically and Caroline turned her face to the window again squeezing her eyes shut against the memories that came crowding in. Jean-Paul, ‘
c’est la vie’
, always clowning around, his thin brown face split by a grin, telling jokes on the terrace, creeping up behind his sister to drop ice cubes down her neck. Claudie leaping up with a shriek to chase her twin round the garden. The huge cedar whose branches sheltered them from the heat as they lay stretched out in its blue shade, sunbeams breaking obliquely through the dense needles, catching in the slender gold bracelet round her sister’s ankle. Julian bending over with a solicitous murmur: ‘Everything alright darling? Anything I can get you?’ Annabel’s sulky reply: ‘Oh Jules
do
leave me in peace, I was just dropping off.’ Behind them, the white house, with its Basque half-timbering, the paved terrace, the pots of scarlet geraniums.

And Edward, pushing through the screen door, carrying a tray and calling out:

‘Drinks everybody! Siesta’s over! Time to get in the mood for some serious fun!’

And the long hot sultry day would be turning into evening.

Sun and heat. It was one of those days when all you wanted to do was lie on the beach and melt. Caroline was face down, her shoulders blasted by the sun’s rays passing through the parasol, her body moulded to the sand. Through her headphones came the sensual exotic rhythms of the ‘Buena Vista Social Club’; somewhere beyond the sounds of Cuba she was aware of children laughing and screaming, of waves pounding on the shore, of the shrill cry of the beach vendors selling cold drinks, sugar-coated peanuts and doughnuts. ‘
Allez allez! Les
bons beignets!’

The song came to an end. She rolled over and sat up with an effort. Claudie was stretched out next to her on a huge green towel, motionless, her head
invisible under a gigantic straw hat. She looked around for the others and spotted Annabel and Julian perched on high stools at the beach bar, sipping cocktails from frosted glasses. For once they didn’t seem to be arguing, heads close together, Annabel’s hand on Julian’s knee. Edward and Jean-Paul were nowhere to be seen.

The sun’s rays were literally scorching her. Heaving herself to her feet, Caroline eyed the stretch of sand separating her towel from the wet band where the crashing waves foamed and ebbed. Could she make a dash for the water without blistering the soles of her feet? She hopped and skipped to the water’s edge, gasping as its coldness hit her legs, wading in cautiously, gazing out at the green Atlantic Ocean with its creamy-edged surf eternally rolling and breaking. How was it possible that water could be so cold when the air temperatures were in the nineties?

Moving in deeper, she felt the suck and pull of the receding tide each time a breaker spent itself on the sand. She bent and splashed cold water on her shoulders and stomach, gasping with shock, then, spotting a calm patch, she took a breath and dived in. Swimming underwater she came up on the other side of the breakers, in the turquoise swells. Flipping on to her back, she let herself be rocked and swayed by the surge of the ocean, feeling its mighty power, relaxing sensuously into its surface like a child in the arms of its mother. She floated for what seemed like hours, marvelling at this new sensation. See? she told herself. You weren’t really afraid of the water after all. Just lacking in confidence, as usual. It’s like Auntie Margaret always told you, you just need to take the plunge. Once more unto the breach dear girl. Oh Margaret if only you could see me now. But wait till I get back, then I’ll tell you all about it, you and Birdie, all about my wonderful amazing unbelievably fabulous holiday in Biarritz. All about the Villa Julia, the beautiful Villa Julia with its gleaming parquet floors and tall light-flooded windows. The garden, with its cedars and geraniums, the morning sun making rainbows through the sprinklers on the grass. All about the
feria
in Bayonne, the processions, the dancing, the excitement, all about those long, lazy evenings when I floated in the pool, Edward beside me, raising my fingers to his lips, gazing at me with those intense blue eyes.

In
the middle of her reverie, she suddenly felt something pass beneath her, a cold current of water. The ocean’s surface warmth began to ebb, giving way to a chillier feel, a more ominous cold. How long had she been out here? It was probably time to head back, the others would be wondering where she was. Blinking the sea spray from her lashes, Caroline turned and began to swim towards the beach. A small breeze had begun to whip the surface of the water into little wavelets and she swam for a while with eyes closed against its sting. When she opened them she felt a tremor of alarm. The beach, instead of getting closer, seemed to be receding. She shook her head, trod water and looked around. There was no one nearby, the crowds of bathers all looked far away. Further still, in miniature, was the crowded beach with its crush of bodies and brightly coloured parasols. She took a breath, put her head down and launched into a crawl, cutting through the water with strong steady strokes, just as Jean-Paul had taught her. She could only catch glimpses of where she was going, but again, pausing to take a rest, she had the impression that although she was in sight of the beach she was making no headway at getting nearer. The feeling of alarm gave way to something closer to panic as she became aware of the snake-like current, and its inexorable pull toward the side of the bay and the open water beyond. Her breathing quickened. Keep calm, she told herself, just keep calm. It was simply a question of changing her course slightly, going with the flow. She set off again, this time angling her strokes in an oblique path parallel to, but gradually nearing, the beach. That’s it, she told herself, just keep going, good, good, you’re getting there. But the effort had begun to take its toll, she could feel her arms tiring, the water seemed much colder now. The little breeze was whipping up strength, becoming a stronger, meaner wind which slapped waves into her face and made her eyes burn. Damn, she thought, I ought to have at least put on goggles. Too late. She’d look like the hound of the Baskervilles when they went out tonight. Eyedrops. Maybe Claudie had some eyedrops. She bent her head and ploughed on, fighting against the mounting panic, concentrating on making headway, on edging nearer and nearer to the beach. Her lungs were beginning to burn, her arms felt leaden but she didn’t dare pause to tread water, too frightened now that the unseen current would snatch at her again and carry her even further out. In between the slap of the waves she could dimly see that there was a commotion at the water’s edge, people shouting and pointing. She wondered tiredly if she was in serious trouble. Would the life guards be able to reach her? She had seen them going out in the fast little Zodiac boat, corralling stray swimmers and bringing them back to shore. Oh no, she thought, please don’t let them be pointing at me, don’t let me have to be rescued and hauled ashore like an idiot tourist in front of crowds of sunbathers, shaking their heads and tut-tutting.

The quality of the water was changing. She felt another powerful pull, this time towards the beach, and realised she was being lifted by a breaker. Thankfully she put her head down and let herself be carried on the surge. But the wave broke quite a way offshore, and as she bobbed to the surface Caroline could see that there was still a fair distance to go. She was getting closer and closer to the side of the bay where jagged rocks fringed the beach. She felt another movement behind her, then a lift and she was once more borne upwards and onwards, swimming madly as the wave broke and she tried to resist the tug of the after-tow. Come on girl, just a little bit further, just a bit more effort, once more into the breach.
She concentrated on feeling the sway and pull of the water, trying to use its force in one sense and resist it in another. Was there another wave coming? She risked a quick glance behind her and her blood chilled. A big one, coming in fast. A surfer’s wave. It advanced with astonishing rapidity, a green mountain rising up, blocking out the sky. She barely had time to turn her head, close her eyes and take a huge breath before it hit her. She was pulled under, down down down, felt her head smack against the seabed, felt the water churning and whirling and grinding her against the sand. She wanted to open her mouth, to scream, she was going to die, her lungs would burst any minute. She hung on desperately, mouth and eyes squeezed shut, a limp thing now, rolled and pounded by the wave’s mighty force.

And then she was floating, i
n limbo, the fury all spent. As her eyes opened, she saw green and white translucent water all around her, like an aquarium, and then a sudden flash of blue. It was the sky, the sky just above her. With a last desperate effort she kicked upwards, and burst through the surface. Her mouth flew open, she drew huge sobbing gasps of air into her burning lungs, tears mingling with the salt water and her entire being concentrated on that one idea, to breathe, and not to go under, not again, into that maelstrom of foam and sand and bubbles.

She coughed and floundered, her vision blurred. She couldn’t see, but she could feel
. There was a presence nearby in the water, something coming up behind her. She tried to twist round, face whatever was coming after her. The thing brushed against her. As she was grabbed round the waist, she screamed and kicked with all her might, heart pumping with terror.

BOOK: Biarritz Passion: A French Summer Novel
9.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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