Swallow hugged her knees to her chest trying to fill the hollow space. She had decided. It was for the best, before it was too late. The soft lapping of the waves soothed the nagging ache in her heart.
A tall shadow cast over her, reaching into the blue-green water. She inhaled a familiar scent, sandalwood and orange. Arms wrapped around her waist, strong, protective. Possessive. Enrique.
‘Why look so sad, my little Swallow?’ He turned her to face him, kissing her long and tenderly on the lips. She stroked the soft skin at the nape of his neck, but the ache returned, and she pulled away.
‘No, not sad, just thinking.’ She forced a smile and searched his eyes.
‘Life is too short for thinking. No?’ Enrique pulled her to her feet. She brushed the sand from her citrus coloured sarong and adjusted her bikini top. Her skin was the colour of a hazelnut, her hair reflecting the sandy tones of the beach.
‘Come we have a party to go to, we cannot be late! I want to show off my wonderful catch.’ His infectious laughter picked her up as he grabbed her hand and ran to the far end of the private cove. She had to tell him. Now. He stood in the water, next to a small speedboat that bobbed in anticipation. He was everything she wanted, yet…
‘But I haven’t anything to wear,’ she protested, struggling to find an excuse. Enrique bundled her on board and turned a key. Brushing his dark fringe from his eyes he squinted in the sunlight.
‘No matter. You are beautiful just as you are! And you are mine!’ he shouted over the roar of the engine. She toppled backwards as he accelerated, the nose of the boat slicing through the waves, the wind streaming through her hair so it fluttered like ribbons.
The surf bubbled and spat around them as he continued to pick up speed and Swallow gripped the seat. She turned back towards the cove, watching the tiny houses, the colours of Liquorice Allsorts, become even smaller.
Within minutes they approached a much bigger boat, decked with fairy lights which twinkled in the fading light. She tilted her head towards the tinkling of piano keys, the clinking of glasses and the low murmur of people chatting.
Swallow coughed, a ball of panic rising in her throat causing her to catch her breath.
‘Please, Enrique, I don’t want—’
‘My parents will love you. I love you and they agree with everything I do. So, what’s the problem?’ He beamed a bright smile exposing pearly white teeth and grabbed her arm. He bought her hand up to his mouth and kissed each fingertip.
‘Don’t worry, my darling. I have sorted everything.’ She believed that he had, but was it what she wanted?
A crew member dressed in white tuxedo and black tie stood waiting for them to board. He balanced a silver tray on one flat palm full of glasses. Tiny bubbles rose to the rim and popped as they reached the top. He nodded to Enrique who picked up a glass and offered it to Swallow.
‘Un Prosecco, mia cara? It is the finest and will help to calm your nerves.’ She shook her head, her eyes focused on the shiny, scrubbed wooden boards as he led her across the deck. They threaded their way through the other guests dressed in full evening wear, dripping in jewels which sparkled in the subdued light, and past a huge table decked with white linen full of plates piled high with food.
‘Enrique, please. Stop.’ A tall elegant couple waited at the far end of the boat. ‘I need the bathroom, please,’ she implored, her mouth dry.
‘Why, of course, my darling. On the lower deck. I can show you.’
Swallow shook her head. ‘No, don’t worry, I’ll find it.’
He kissed her, running a finger around her ear. ‘I will go and tell mother and father that you will not be long. Yes?’
She smiled weakly as she tripped down the steps. She hesitated, desperate to glance back and sighed before diving smoothly into the water.
The next morning, Swallow paddled in the shore along the private cove. No sign remained of the Enrique, the yacht and its twinkling lights. All that remained was the ache in her heart. A single tear rolled down her cheek. She couldn’t be caged like an exotic bird, no matter how much she loved him.