Esme shivered in the cold breeze. The temperature only part of her concern as choppy waves pounded against the dock, reaching for her, pulling against her ankles.
She snuggled closer to Randolph's side. Propriety had become less important than safety as the storm clouds rolled in. Though with the force of roiling water pounding the dock, what could Randolph do should her fears be realized?
Refusing to look out over the black lake, she glanced up and down the waterwalk. Torches shot orange flames into the starless sky. Another breeze swept across the landscape and the fire undulated while icy water swept over her shoe.
Esme gripped Randolph's arm. "Please. May we go to land?"
He stared down at her, reading her expression and smiling the smile that told her that she was safe with him, silly girl. She didn't look away, but held his gaze and with a sigh, he put his arm around her and they began the walk toward the partiers on the shore.
With each step closer to firm footing, Esme's body relaxed.
A gentleman they passed in the crowd, bowed and tipped his hat, then stopped. "Randolph?"
The two men began bantering, sharing anecdotes, while Esme watched the ebony waves and the dancing flames.
A white capped curl of water, illuminated by the flickering light, rushed toward the walkway. She placed her trembling hand on Randolph's arm, interrupting his conversation. His anger could be dealt with later. "I feel ill. I'm returning to land."
Her shoes pounded against the wood, now slippery from the spray. She ignored the pinch of sadness as Randolph's words reached her ears. "She's in a mood. Skittish little filly."
The beach party headed out to the lake now, and she passed several loud and inebriated country club guests. Clomping heavy footfalls rocked the dock further, as she was forced to dodge the surge of oncoming bodies. Esme shoved her way through the crowd, eyes locked on the sand just beyond her reach.
Her last few steps were taken at a dead run as she squeezed through the wall of revelers. Finally, her foot crunched against sand and Esme slowed, bending slightly to take in more air.
Her heart began to beat in normal cadence and her fears seemed further away now that the waves could no longer reach her. Her mind dredged up guilt and she berated herself for her foolish panic as she scanned the beach for anyone who might have seen her escape. Mother would have much to say if she'd been there to witness the foolishness of her daughter, and even more if someone filled her in about the exploit later.
But even the hope of a proposal from Randolph wouldn't have kept her out there.
She paced and settled into her safety and then turned to watch the courageous or foolhardy partiers.
The water had become choppier in the wind which whipped her loose hair about her face. The flames danced with frenzied energy and the guests on the dock dodged full waves now. She alone stood on the beach.
A crack sounded from the heart of the churning lake. Distant thunder? Did someone have a pistol? Esme hesitated, watching and listening and resumed her pacing on the sand. Could she trust her ears? The activity on the dock didn't seem changed, people milled about, one couple danced right at the edge of the surging waves.
Another crack, followed by a shrill creak. Heart booming, Esme searched for the cause of the sound. Nothing appeared amiss. She hurried back toward the building. She'd find one of the waiters or better yet a manager. Maybe what she heard was a common occurrence. Surely the dock was of sturdy build.
As she reached the club house door, another crash was followed by a squeal and a great splash. As if the lake had opened up and swallowed. Her fear forced a scream from her throat. The dock, full of people just seconds before, listed, empty, and then disappeared.
The wind swallowed her cry as the water extinguished the flames.
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