All text and photos © Louise Marley unless otherwise stated Site Design: Seaweed Hut
Today I watched a great ship break upon the rocks in Rell Bay. She was a strange, sinister-looking vessel, with dark sails all torn and ragged.
The shore was busy with villagers who had come only to watch, so it was the fishermen who roped themselves together and hauled the drowning men onto the sand. It was greatly disheartening that not one of them survived.
As my father murmured a prayer for each departed soul, a shout went up. There was still one man alive, silhouetted by jagged lightning as he threw himself into the sea. We watched and prayed as he struggled against the tide but our prayers grew silent as at last he collapsed upon the sand, totally spent.
It was left to my father to wrap his own cloak around the man, for the fishermen would do nothing but stand and stare. I could not understand why this should be, for they are honest, hardworking men. Then I heard the words muttered amongst themselves.
“If only one man lives, surely he must be the Devil himself?”
From the journal of Lucienne Thirsa
The Rectory, Port Rell
The Present - May
He strode through the graveyard, ignoring the worn inscriptions on the tombs and the wild flowers he crushed beneath his boots. He did not pause to admire the pretty medieval church, which had long fallen into ruin, or even to regard the spectacular view. He did not stop until the ground ahead of him dropped away in a steep cliff. And then, of course, he had to.
The edge was not sheer but had collapsed in a series of rocky ledges. The first was only a few feet below. He dropped casually down onto it, stepping right to the very brink, determined to know what it felt like. He owed her that at least. Would it take his weight? He wasn’t even sure if he cared.
He closed his eyes against the sight of that dizzying drop, feeling the heat of the sun warming his face and the breeze tugging at his hair - almost as though she stood beside him, winding her fingers through its length and teasing him to get it cut.
“Sorry,” he whispered, but there was no answer. How could there be? So he opened his eyes, feeling foolish.
The whole of Port Rell could be seen from here; from the ancient oak trees of the King’s Forest stretching away behind him, to the quaint little harbour and sandy beach directly below. The local fishermen had not worked these waters for over a hundred years. Tourists now stretched out on the golden sand, their pallid English bodies turning pink beneath the blazing sun. There were teenagers from the local college, celebrating the end of their exams, drinking from an ever-increasing pile of cans. And younger children ran through the warm shallows of the sea, kicking up the surf and screaming joyously at their unaccustomed freedom.
He grimaced at the memory. Why the hell had he come back?
The ground shifted beneath his boots and self-preservation took over, even if his conscience might have had other ideas. He had an undignified scramble back to firmer ground as the ledge crumbled away in a shower of soil and pebbles. He watched it go, cursing beneath his breath. Then cursed again when he realised how easily someone else could have been hurt by his lack of sense.
There was an old chest tomb behind him - large, crooked and furred with bright yellow lichen. It had an unusual decoration of skulls and flowers carved into each side panel, but he paid it no more than a cursory glance before sitting upon it and taking a bottle of water from his satchel.
In this heat the water was no longer cold. He took a long drink all the same, returning it to the satchel when he’d finished. Some of those lasses on the beach were wearing the tiniest of bikinis; yet here he was, sweltering in jeans, boots and jacket. Definite proof of his insanity (if he needed it); he found himself smiling.
His last packet of cigarettes had become buried at the bottom of his bag and emerged slightly squashed. He lit one by striking a match against the side of the tomb, before sitting back to appreciate the view. He could not have chosen a better vantage point. He could see the little whitewashed cottages crowded around the ancient harbour, and the steady stream of boats, yachts and sailing dinghies swarming in and out between its walls. It was absolutely perfect.
The irony didn’t escape him, but he placed the cigarette between his lips and inhaled deeply, allowing the nicotine to calm him and his bitter memories to slide back into the past.
He could be in for a very long wait.
The interior of the Smuggler’s Inn was always dark and gloomy, particularly during the tourist season, when it was so packed Lainey Jennings could have danced naked on the table and no one would have noticed. Although if she did dance naked on the table, someone would probably swipe her chair; they’d certainly pinch her drink. It was that kind of place.
Tourists were an occupational hazard of living in Port Rell, but they were also her main source of income. Usually she hated that she could hardly turn round without tripping over one, or even make any kind of conversation over the din they brought to her favourite pub. But today she welcomed the chaos.
Because when Carl unexpectedly took her hands in his, looked deep into her eyes and said, “When are we going to get married?” at least she could be certain that she was the only person who’d heard him.
“Married?” she spluttered.
He smiled; a slow, deliberately sexy smile, although she could tell from the way his grey eyes were crinkling at the corners that he was not entirely sincere.
“We could have the ceremony on the beach,” he said. “You could wear that black bikini.”
“You’re winding me up!”
“Well, we have been going out for three months. I need to know if your intentions are honourable.”
“Not in the slightest,” she said. “I’m pretty sure that’s why you like me so much!”
“Good,” he said. “So move in with me instead.”
Now his eyes were no longer crinkling with good humour but staring unwaveringly into hers. There was a slight frown creasing his otherwise smooth, tanned forehead and his mouth held no hint of a smile.
Now he was deadly serious.
When he looked at her like that she was in severe danger of saying ‘yes’, and what a disaster that would be. She was only twenty-four; she had so much more she wanted to do with her life. Crazy and outlandish things; like ice diving in Alaska, exploring the underwater caves in Mexico, maybe even search for the lost city of Atlantis. Stay in Port Rell forever? Talk about purgatory.
But she could hardly tell him that.
“Lainey?” he prompted, with only the slightest edge to his voice.
She eased her hands from his, picked up her spoon and resumed her chase around her plate for the last profiterole. “Come on, Carl. You know I’d drive you crazy after a week.”
“You do that already, it’s why I love you.”
Love? After three months?
“We hardly know each other,” she said, trying to quell that familiar sense of panic.
He took away her spoon and laid it back on her plate.
“What’s to know?” he asked her. “I’m twenty-six, devilishly handsome and, apart from eating cold baked beans for breakfast, and leaving a tide mark of stubble around the sink when I shave, I don’t think I have any really disgusting habits. Quit stalling and tell me what the real problem is.”
The perils of dating a police officer; they could always tell when you were fibbing.
“There is no problem,” she said, adding without thinking: “It’s me.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Where have I heard that before? Oh yes, I remember. I would use the very same line whenever I wanted to dump a girl with the minimum of hassle. I guess it serves me right that one day someone should be using it on me.” He mimicked her earnest tone: “‘It’s not you, it’s me’; ‘I need space’; ‘I’m too busy with work to commit to a relationship’; and, my own personal favourite: ‘I have to learn to live with myself before I can live with someone else’.”
“Carl, I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Surely you must feel something for me?”
“I’m certainly not in the habit of sleeping with men I don’t like!”
“So what have I done wrong?”
He hadn’t done anything wrong. That was the problem. He was a great guy: funny, friendly, warm and kind.
When they had first met, she had been recovering from the whole wedding-from-hell fiasco and he had been tired of girlfriends who left jewellers’ catalogues lying around whenever they stayed over. They had been honest with each other from the start. Their relationship would be based purely on fun. No exclusivity, no emotional ties, no picking out curtains. He’d always been upfront about his phobia on commitment, and the whole village knew about her track record as Port Rell’s own runaway bride.
When had the rules changed?
“Why can’t we stay as we are?” she prevaricated. “We’re happy, aren’t we? Why spoil it?”
“Why would taking our relationship to the next level spoil anything? I can’t carry on like this - meeting up for lunch and dinner twice a week, practically on the dot. It’s almost like a business arrangement. I want to have you around all the time. If you love me, I can’t understand why you don’t want this too?”
He paused, as though the answer had just occurred to him. Lainey felt a horrible squirmy sensation in her stomach. Because she knew what was coming next.
“This is to do with your mother.”
“Carl, this isn’t the - ”
“Your mother got married because she was pregnant, then the first chance she got she ran off with someone else. You think it’s going to happen to you. You think once you commit yourself to me, your life will be over. You’ll feel trapped, have an overwhelming desire to escape and either run away or end up resenting me forever.”
This was pretty much what everyone else had said, right after she had jilted Eddie at the altar, and she was heartily tired of it. Did it ever occur to anyone that maybe she hadn’t found the right person yet? Yes, her parents’ divorce had affected her, but only to convince her that she really had to be sure before she said that final ‘I do’.
“I understand you’re frightened of making a mistake that’s going to haunt you for the rest of your life,” he said, squeezing her fingers. “I used to feel that way myself. You have to learn to let go. Living together is not marriage. If we decide we hate each other, we can go our separate ways. No bad feelings, no vows broken - ”
“No!” she snatched her hand away. He hadn’t got a clue. She’d witnessed first-hand what happened when love went wrong: the blank disbelief, the rage, despair and finally the wretched bitterness that soured the rest of your life. Relive the disaster that had been her parents’ marriage? Never.
Then she saw his expression. He had realised his mistake and was getting up, ready to come around the table and take her in his arms.
“I’m sorry,” she said, standing quickly, sending the legs of her chair scraping over the wooden floorboards. “I really am.”
He frowned. “What for?”
“Wasting the last three months of your life.”
“I don’t understand … ”
“I’m really sorry,” she repeated, neatly tucking the chair beneath the table. “I don’t think we should meet up anymore. I think that would be for the best.”
“Lainey?” At last he seemed to realise something was seriously wrong. “What’s the matter? Where are you going?”
“It’s getting late. I should be at work.” She scooped up her bag and slung it over her shoulder. “I’m really sorry to leave you like this but I’ve got to go now.”
“You don’t need to get in a strop. We’ll carry on as we did before - ”
“No, I don’t think we can. Believe me, it’ll be better this way.”
“For whom?” His hands slammed down on the table, making her jump. Finally those at the nearby tables paused in their conversations to stop and stare. “For you? So you don’t have to deal with all this nasty, emotional stuff? You can’t go through life running out on people all the time. Are you really that dysfunctional - or do you get some kind of evil thrill from seeing me destroyed?”
“Of course I don’t! But you have to accept I’m not the right girl for you - you’ll meet someone else, I know you will.”
“I don’t want anyone else!”
As she turned away, she heard him shout her name. The entire restaurant went silent and everyone turned their heads to watch her progress towards the staircase and the exit.
She could see his reflection in the large mirror over the stairs. He was still standing beside their table, one hand resting upon it, as though he could not make up his mind whether to follow her. He was a proud man, but would his pride dictate that he sat back down and pretended that nothing had happened, or that he came charging after her?
She took consolation in the fact that his six foot, broad-shouldered bulk was far too large to force his way through the tightly packed tables as she was doing, and he would have to walk round the outside of the room instead. If he did decide to follow her, by the time he reached ground level she would be long gone.
She didn’t hang around to make certain. She slung her bag over her shoulder and ran down the staircase, launching herself into the crowd of people around the bar below and using her elbows to force a path between them.
The door to the Smuggler’s Inn was centuries old and incredibly solid. As there was the usual strong breeze bowling along the harbour, she really had to struggle to open the door and force her slender figure through the gap.
The door slammed sharply behind her, causing the quaint leaded windows to rattle. For a moment she just stood there, blinking in the strong sunlight, feeling the despair rise up within her. The breeze, teasing her short, dark hair on end, was scented with seaweed and salt water, mixed with the fried onions wafting from the beach cafés. There were children swinging on the railings that divided the harbour from the road. A couple of girls in bikinis were heading along the path to the beach, watched by a group of sports divers who had just parked their van beside the pub. Their driver had switched off the engine but had not bothered to turn off his radio, so the sound of Wiley rapping about a heatwave could be heard right across the harbour.
Port Rell, in all its loud, vibrant chaos.
How much longer could she stand it?
Nothing ever happens in the seaside village of Port Rell, which is why Lainey Jennings
is so keen to leave it. She’s only twenty-four, there’s so much more she wants to
do with her life. Crazy and outlandish things; like ice diving in Alaska, explore
the underwater caves in Mexico, maybe even search for the lost city of Atlantis.
Stay in Port Rell forever? Talk about purgatory!
Since the death of her father, she’s struggled to keep the family diving business from bankruptcy. There’s just one thing that keeps her going. Her dream that one day she’ll discover the lost wreck that her father was so obsessed with, the legendary Mary Eliza - responsible for destroying Port Rell almost four hundred years ago.
When an old, unknown wreck is discovered in the bay, sleepy Port Rell is under siege once more. This time it’s from the media, including a team from the Wreck Raiders TV show, led by handsome archaeologist Zac Nelson. The villagers are quick to cash in on their unexpected popularity. But ancient wrecks aren’t the only things waiting to be discovered.
Because someone in Port Rell has a secret.