Walking north on the beach for half an hour, Jared saw just ahead half a dozen loudmouthed hooligans, their beer bellies making them heavily clumsy. They were obviously already half-drunk, or still drunk from last night, and Jared decided to turn back. After a while, he noticed a woman walking toward him and, as they came closer, he recognized the woman from 1A. Intent on protecting her from the unwanted attentions of the beer bellies, he veered toward her.
"Good morning. Please forgive me for speaking to you, but I wanted to draw your attention to that bunch of loudmouths a little farther up the beach. You can see and hear them from here. Please don't risk being molested, or worse, by those creeps. Would you care to turn around and allow me to walk with you, in case they get the idea of roaming farther afield? I assure you I'm quite harmless."
Looking in surprise at the handsome stranger who approached her, Lucinda realized that his warning was not only well intentioned, but most serious.
She smiled. "Good morning to you, too. Thank you for your warning. I hate it when such people pollute the beach. And yes, thank you, I'd like us to walk together." She turned and began to walk back with Jared.
After a while, she overcame her natural shyness, and glanced at him. She liked what she saw; tall and lean, with a casual elegance that seemed natural rather than contrived, even in his brief blue swim trunks. She was impressed by his gorgeous all-over tan, and glanced up at his face, so handsome, if a little aloof, perhaps. At that moment, he returned her gaze. His voice sounding frosty, he said, "Are you by any chance trying to calculate the exact percentage of my Native American blood? I am one quarter Arapaho, if that is what you wished to know." He stopped walking, and she gazed at him, stricken and wide-eyed.
At last, she found her voice. Confused and bewildered, she faltered, "Oh no. I-I was merely admiring your beautiful all-over tan... I can't take the sun and am destined to be this awful pale colour, forever. That's why I have to walk the beach so early. Please forgive me, I meant no disrespect." Lucinda could not prevent her eyes filling with tears, adding, her voice a bit shaky, "Anyway, now I know why you have this gorgeous all-over tan..." She fell silent--certain that she had offended this very kind, handsome man, who had undoubtedly saved her from molestation by those loudmouths. And now he regarded her with disfavour--probably thought she was some kind of racist...
He had seen her sudden tears and was aghast. Oh God, what have I done? She must think me the most callous brute. How could I do that to her, be so aggressive, just because she looked at me so shyly. Oh, damn and blast. His voice far calmer than he felt, he apologized, "I do beg your pardon most sincerely. That was totally uncalled for and if you decided to walk away from me, I'd understand, and realize it is no more than I deserve. Although I hope you won't do that, and will give me a chance to make amends?" He glanced at her, wondering if she was likely to accept his apology. Her eyes serious, she was gazing at him. Well, at least she wasn't walking away...
He went on, "By way of explanation, although it is of course no excuse, I've just spent a week in New York, and experienced the occasional racist rudeness, mostly from men whose women tried to come on to me..." He caught himself, sure now that she must think him the most arrogant male on the planet. Nevertheless, he went on.
"Oh, dear God, I've just realized how arrogant I must sound. I didn't mean it that way. I guess these women, being so aggressive, made me most uncomfortable. Which, in turn, made their men unforgivably rude to me. Will you please forgive me, and allow me to see you again? I'd be so pleased if you'd let me make this up to you. My name is Jared Eagle, by the way."
While he was talking to her, she had regained her composure. Giving him a friendly, although somewhat tremulous smile, she said, "You're the playwright who is staying with Tom and Jeff. We're neighbours. I just bought the house next door to them. I'm Lucinda Kirkpatrick."
"Really?" he said, relieved at her willingness to forgive him his discourtesy. "I'm delighted to hear we're neighbours. I've heard of you--several times on the New York Times best-sellers list? Very impressive." They started walking again. He noticed that she blushed and shrugged shyly, her long lashes downcast.
He asked, "Would you perhaps give me the pleasure of dining with me tonight? To show me that you've forgiven me? I'll have to ask Tom for information about decent restaurants here, unless you are more familiar with Ocean Breeze than I am..."
Lucinda shook her head, finally looking up at him. "No, I just arrived on Sunday. Oh, I had been here briefly, to buy the house, but my lawyer in Phoenix and the realtor arranged it all. I was here only for a few days, and I went nowhere."
He smiled encouragingly at her. "Then we'll both have to entrust our palates and taste buds to Tom--he is sure to know every nook and cranny of the village. Will you come to dinner with me, please? What time would suit you?"
"Oh, any time convenient to you, whatever suits your writing habits..."
"How would it be if I called for you around six-thirty?" he suggested, trying to hide his delight behind a casually pleased manner. "We could have a drink somewhere we can look at the ocean, and then go to dinner?"
She smiled into his eyes. "Yes, thank you, I-I'd like that."
By this time they had reached the Beach Street access ramp, and stopped to brush the sand off their feet and put their slides back on. They walked on companionably. When they reached 1A she halted, turning to him.
"Thank you again for warning me against those hooligans, and for protecting me by walking with me. And thank you for inviting me to dinner." She smiled into his eyes, and thought she saw a spark of warmth in their black velvety depths. Then she thought she had probably imagined it.
He smiled back, suddenly lighthearted, taking her hand in his. The warmth of his touch flooded her senses. "And thank you for forgiving me, and for agreeing to have dinner with me. Lucinda, I promise, you will never again hear a single harsh word from me. Never. Until six-thirty."