with vegetation; a beach protected on one side by a small rock-strewn promontory, and on the other by the ramshackle order of a fishing pier that was already showing signs of early morning activity. She watched as a lone fisherman busied himself with lines and bait, and a man wearing a green fleece and a black baseball cap tied an inflatable dinghy to one of the supporting pillars. Suddenly she wanted to be there too. She wanted to see Dolphin Key and her new home from a different perspective. She wanted to know what the fisherman hoped to catch. She wanted to get up close to the cluster of pelicans squabbling over a mess of spilt bait. Reclaiming her orange juice she gulped it down, left the empty glass on the table, and took the stairs to her bedroom two at a time. In moments she had pulled on her jeans, run cursory fingers through her hair, unearthed a cotton sweater and a pair of trainers from the bottom of one of her suitcases, and was ready to go. For a moment her hands hovered above her camera but then she turned away. Now was not the time. She needed to get a feel for the place first, learn all about it. There would be plenty of time for photos later.
* * *
The beach was deserted except for several sandpipers bobbing about at the tide line. Claire watched them for a moment before she scattered them by walking across the white sand to investigate the clumps of seaweed and shingle that had been washed in by the tide. Twenty minutes later, having trawled every inch of the tiny beach, and poked at every piece of flotsam, she climbed up onto the road and made her way across to the pier. It was busier now. A truck, with a trailer attached, was unloading a motorboat onto the slipway, and a few more fishermen had arrived and were standing in a group. Without pausing in their discussion, they nodded as she walked past them. Claire gave a shy smile. She wasn’t used to being acknowledged by complete strangers because in recent years she had chosen to be a city girl, not someone living somewhere as small as Dolphin Key. Less than a thousand inhabitants, Daniel had told her when he was filling in the details about the job. What else had he said? That its main income came from tourism; that it took ecology seriously; that it was an ideal place to get away from the pressures of life. And something else too! She paused in her stroll along the pier. Something about everybody knowing everybody else’s business. Something about it not just being the summer heat that was stifling. Then he had laughed and changed the subject, telling her to take no notice of him; saying it would be different for her because she hadn’t been brought up there. She leaned on the railing and stared across the bay to her new home, keen to see it from a new perspective. She noticed she had left the door to the balcony wide open and quickly dismissed it. At four stories up her apartment was hardly going to be a major attraction for any would be intruder. With a shrug she turned her attention to the building as a whole and immediately her face creased into a delighted smile. She was living in a wooden clapboard house, ON STILTS, for goodness sake! She guessed it was to protect it from flooding but it still felt as if she was living in a storybook…apart from the bit about being rescued by a handsome prince of course because, unfortunately, her particular handsome prince had made it very clear that other, far more important things, occupied him. She sighed. Whatever had got into her? This was the twenty-first century, and damsels, distressed or otherwise, had been looking out for themselves for a very long time.
* * *
“Good morning. Did you sleep well?” The voice and the question came from somewhere below her. Peering over the railing she saw Daniel smiling up at her from the stern of the dinghy she had noticed from her balcony. He was the man in the baseball cap, except that now he had