Cordelia stood. “She said you were all to meet at the beach. She went down early to get a head start.”
Juliet stood pushing back so hard her chair crashed to the floor. “She wouldn’t explore the caves alone, would she? It isn’t safe. The tide will be high soon and—” Emotion clogged her throat as she brought her hands to her mouth.
Dane stood too and he let out a loud curse. “Damn it, she might.” He looked to Rathmore. “She’s flagrantly disobedient and—”
“In danger,” Juliet said. “We have to go now. Every second counts.”
Then she turned and began to run.
She didn’t have to look back to know everyone followed. She could hear the thunder of their footsteps even though no one said a word.
As she hit the drive, she picked up speed, lifting her skirts as she started sprinting down the path. Dane took her hand and ran with her, his breath the only thing louder than her pounding heart. Rocks slid under her slippers as she nearly lost her balance twice, Dane catching her both times. She could hear the roar of the ocean and see that the water had eaten most of the beach.
“Are we too late?” Adrianna cried. “How will we get to her?”
Juliet spun back to look at them. “Break into teams. No one goes alone. We’ve got to find her first. Adrianna and Cordelia, check the upper caves on the ledge. Bianca, Ophelia, and Rathmore, check to the left. There’s more beach that way. Dane and I will go right. Everyone stay safe and move quickly. Watch the tide, don’t get closed in from the path by the rising water.”
Then she turned back, taking Dane’s hand again. “Let’s go,” she said as she started running again. “Is Charlie a good swimmer?”
“No,” he answered. “She doesn’t swim at all.”
Her breath caught. That made this worse but she wouldn’t be seized by worry now. She had to focus. “We have to find her before the water gets too high.”
“Juliet, I can’t lose Charlie. I’ve lost so much…I—”
She heard his voice catch and squeezed his hand. “No time for worry now.” She wanted to do the same, stop and cry into the sand but now was the moment for planning and action. “Most of the caves are lower and those are the ones I worry about. The faster we move, the more we can search.” The first one came into view and she yelled Charlie’s name but no one answered.
The beach was disappearing but she made it through three more caves, Dane just behind her as they both yelled.
Two hundred feet away, where the beach was gone, stood the entrance to the next cave and Juliet drew in a deep breath. “We’re going to have to get wet.”
“No way around it.”
She stepped into the water first and placed a hand on his arm. “Keep your hands on the cliff. It will keep the water from bashing you into the rocks.”
His eyes widened but he nodded his accent as he placed one hand on rough stone, his other holding onto her.
For the first fifty feet the water was only at their ankles, rising to their knees as waves crashed in, but soon the water reached their waists. With each wave that rolled in they got wetter and the ocean crept higher.
“What if she went the other way?” Dane called over the water.
“We have to check as many as we’re able,” she called back. She didn’t tell him there were two more caves beyond this that would flood at high tide. They’d never make it there. This cave was their last hope.
A large wave crashed in, lifting Juliet from her feet and smashing her against the rock, cutting her cheek. She cried out and Dane squeezed her hand. “I need to take you back.”
“No,” she answered, her gut clenching in fear and worry. “I’ll be fine. Just a bit further.”
And that was when a head popped out of the cave, now twenty feet away. Charlie.
* * *
Dane looked at the blood oozing down Juliet’s cheek, his fear sharpening, expanding. He couldn’t lose Charlie. But Juliet, in just a short time, was just as precious. He didn’t want to live this life without her.
The knowledge near knocked the wind out of him. Or perhaps that was the freezing water.
“Dane,” Charlie screamed. “Help.”
He turned in the direction of her voice and saw her head sticking out. “Hang on, we’re coming,” he yelled.