CHAPTER 13 | crimson tide

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Her curiosity piqued, she made her way towards him. "What is it?"

"Open it," he prompted as he held up his hand, palm face down so that she couldn't make out what he was holding.

She tentatively reached out and twisted his hand so that his palm was facing upward. The contact with his skin sent a warm feeling up her arm. As she looked down, she was startled at the perfectly intact Channelled Welk shell balanced on his hand. The stunning burnt orange colour of its surface was perfectly offset by the alternating light and dark brown in its spirals. It had been a while since she had seen such a perfect Welk without his passenger.

"It's beautiful," she breathed.

"I spotted it on the beach this morning," he explained, "and I thought you might like to add it to your collection."

She took the offered shell and inspected its contours in awe. "How did you know I collected them?" she asked, the confusion clear in her voice.

Ethan shrugged his shoulders and smiled apologetically as if caught out doing something he shouldn't have. "I noticed you had a reasonable amount under the glass lid of your coffee table."

Sydney beamed at him. "This one is perfect," she said as she reached out and squeezed his hand. "Thank you."

The initial awkwardness now over, Sydney relaxed and asked, "So what did you all get up to today?"

Dinner had been a success, Grace having outdone herself yet again had, much to Sydney's surprise even managed to keep Pauline from coming out with anything offensive throughout the duration of the meal. She had even managed to have a reasonable conversation with Mason's sister without having the desire to hit her over the head with a baseball bat or find rat poison to spike her drink.

Pauline's reasonableness, however, had not extended to assist with the dinner dishes. Both Mason and Ethan had offered to help, but Grace had insisted that they would be more helpful if they kept the others occupied and allow both Sydney and Grace to get the job done quickly.

"So what's going on with you and Mac?" asked Grace as she started to stack dishes in the dishwasher.

"Nothing," Sydney choked, "why would you think there's anything going on?"

Grace threw Sydney a disbelieving look. "You both were quite chatty over dinner - with each other. And I saw the way you were looking at him," Grace said slyly, "not to mention he was looking quite hungry, and not only about the food."

Instead of replying, Sydney turned back to the sink and continued to rinse. She was having difficulty understanding the range of emotions that were ricocheting through her body and mind.

By the time the dessert course was over, they were all full, ready to burst. After they had poured after dinner drinks, they had wandered out to the back deck and relaxed in the cool night air. Mason and Ethan, adamant that Victor had cigars hidden somewhere, disappeared into the house only to reappear jubilant a few moments later. After putting their feet up and attempting to outdo each other with their cigar smoke rings the conversation quickly turned to comical trips down memory lane. Both Mason and Ethan recounted stories from their university days where their attempts at besting each other had begun. Their captive audience were nearly in tears with each new escapade. Not to be outdone, Henry and Grace regaled the group with snippets from their own exploits from college that they'd rather their parents not know. Each story was funnier than the previous. Sydney was enjoying the friendly banter between Mason and Ethan. It was obvious they had a deep friendship that had stood the test of time. Even Henry was growing on her. Under his snobby exterior, he appeared to have some redeeming qualities.

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