This is a continuation of the part memoir, part short story that I started on Tuesday.

He grinned at me again as he shifted effortlessly through the gears. Billy Squier was begging to be stroked, and I was in summer afternoon heaven.

The scenery flashed past as we drove to the bluff. Closer to town, silver-green gums lined creeks and dams, hectares of tall pines with their thick blanket of cones and needles sucked up water, and the odd banksia harboured native parrots, drunk and chatty on nectar. As we neared the bluff, the patchwork of farms and paddocks – wheat, lucerne, oats, hay – slowly knitted with the silver-grey of saltbush and the yellow of wattle. The beige-white sandhills hosted the dainty pink flowers of pig-face, their succulent leaves fat and bursting. White daisies socialised with other low-growing shrubs, a safe haven for small marsupials.

Russell and I didn’t speak much during the drive to the bluff, but we grinned a lot at each other as we sang along to Billy Squier, Phil Collins and The Cure, with me fluffing the lyrics most of the time. I must say that when he added Grace Jones to the mix, I was surprised by his musical taste. But Russell grinning at me and imploring someone, anyone – me? – to pull up to his bumper, baby, was beyond delicious. I channelled Serena and tried to ooze laid-back cool.

We pulled into the top carpark overlooking the bluff; Russell parked as near as he could to the path down to the beach. Each time I witnessed the wild beauty of this part of the coast, I was awed and humbled. Over the sandhills, a steep, rocky path cut its way down to the beach below. The beach was sheltered by sheer, granite cliffs, and sloped sharply into the ocean. Waves hammered the shore in a relentless rhythm, flinging pink and green and purple seaweed onto the sand. A few surfers, black dots in the ocean really, braved the choppy water and the chill. The wind reached us direct from the Antarctic, and even with the heat of the afternoon sun, the air was brisk.

We got out of the car, and walked around to the back, where his board was.

‘Cold?’

I nodded. ‘A little,’ I said. ‘But it’s so beautiful here. It always kinda takes my breath away.’

He smiled as he grabbed his board. ‘I know what you mean. C’mon. Let’s head down there.’

With his board under one arm, towel under another, he led the way down the steep path, careful with his footing. I followed, and he checked on me every so often to make sure I hadn’t tripped or sprained my ankle or both. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I was as sure-footed as a mountain goat. If Russell wanted to be my protector, who was I to challenge him? I could just hear Serena extolling the virtues of allowing men to be hunters and protectors, and I kept my mouth shut, other than to reward Russell with a toothy grin every time he turned around.

Once we reached the beach, I spread out my towel, slipped off my cover-up and slathered Reef Oil onto my bare arms and legs. Russell parked his board in the sand and sat down next to me.

‘Need some help with that?’

I nodded. ‘Yes. Please. Can’t quite reach.’

I giggled and handed him the bottle. He moved his position so he was behind me; I was now sitting between his legs, my back to him. I pulled my hair up off my neck, and I felt the Reef Oil drip down my back as Russell drizzled it from the top of my spine. The smell of coconut was overpowering, cloying, but I didn’t care. I was concentrating on Russell’s hands, warm and gentle, as they rubbed the oil into my skin. My breath caught in my throat, and I realised that for a few seconds, I had forgotten to breathe.

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