Beyond the Ocean's Depths (Not an Average Shifter Romance)

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Chapter 63: The Cave

TOBIE

Torin rose to his feet, bending to help me up, while I sucked in air in retaliation to the pain as I put weight on my bad foot. His patrol unit should be in the vicinity soon, but we needed to move to the cave entrance to ensure that we could be easily seen. The relief I felt as Torin wrapped his strong arm around my waist, while I hooked my arm over his shoulders was enhanced by the fact that I would be hobbling away from the heap of rock representing Jimson’s grave. I wanted nothing more than to be clear from any view of that man’s dead limb.

But once we made it to the other side of the rubble we both froze with a new and terrible realization. The entire entrance had collapsed and the way out was blocked. “Oh no,” was all I could say as Torin silently spun around, careful not to jostle me.

I carefully hopped on my good foot, spinning around with him towards the center of the cave, sure there must be another exit as light was coming in from somewhere. For the first time I really concentrated on our surroundings though and my search for a way out was halted momentarily. High, dome-like walls rose about twenty feet above us as the most beautiful green-blue tide pool I’d ever seen covered the majority of the bottom. The craggy ground beneath our feet extended in a crescent shape around the pool, while a stream of muted sunlight from the cloudy sky above wafted in through an almost perfectly circular hole on the far side of the uppermost portion of the dome. It was gorgeous and for a moment we were both awed by the scene that lay before us.

“Crap,” Torin muttered under his breath as his eyes scanned the rest of the cavern. “We’re trapped. The only way out is through the hole in the roof and there’s no way to climb to it.”

“Of course we would have been inside the cave when the entrance collapsed,” I grimaced as I stood clutching onto Torin while my ankle throbbed with indifference to our situation. “But at least we’re out of the rain,” I offered in a hopeful reply, drawing on the fact that the light rain coming down through the skylight over the far side of the pool wasn’t able to reach us.

“Mmm,” Torin didn’t seem very happy, a scowl came across his face reminiscent of the unhappy man I knew for the first several weeks of our acquaintance.

“Now what?” I asked in a near whisper as we both took in the expanse of the cave in front of us. Even with Jimson dead, we weren’t really out of trouble yet. But, Jimson was dead. The horrible image of his death was still vivid in my mind, and probably adding to the shivers I felt even now. I leaned into Torin’s side heavily, feeling weaker by the second as my adrenaline began slowing. Deep breathes, Tobie. You can’t go into shock, not at this point in the game.

My sudden shift in weight brought him back to me. “Come on. Over here,” he softened his face, a slight hint of worry touching his eyes as he moved us to a step-like area that led to the back of our side of the cave. With his chin, he pointed. “Here. You can sit here.”

He helped me to settle on the rock, weathered flat by surely centuries of waves and I took in my new surroundings, trying to keep my mind alert. Up higher, a large cache of driftwood was piled in haphazard fashion, probably having been brought in and stranded during storms over time, but otherwise the den-like cave was barren except for rocks, sand, and water.

Patting his shirt down, he frowned. “Looks like my radio is at the bottom of the ocean. You don’t by chance still have your cell phone, do you?” he asked, as his hands went for his pocket probably in search of his own.

“Uh, no. Mine’s still in my purse at the house.”

“Ah ha!” he grinned, as he pulled the device from his back pocket. But his smile soon vanished as half of the glass fell off the front, while the rest dripped saltwater from his hand. “Damn,” he said as his face fell as well.

“Yeah, when they say they’re waterproof and military grade, I don’t think they had boat chases and fist fights on the rocks in mind,” I tried to lighten the mood again just before it dawned on me that we had no means of communicating with the outside world.

Worry was already back on Torin’s face though as he shook his head and semi-seriously replied. “No, I don’t suppose so.” Then perking up some as he tossed the remainder of his phone aside, he gave me a reassuring smile. “When patrol gets out this way, they’ll be bound to see the boat wreckage out there. And with that hole up top, we should be able to hear the motor from their boat.”

The knot that was beginning to form in my stomach halted its twisting at this revelation. Changing topics, Torin lowered himself to another flattened rock, just below mine. “We need to check out your foot, alright?”

I nodded, hiking up my pant leg as he gently pulled my calf across his knees, then untied my shoe, careful not to cause me further pain. His years as a first responder became apparent as quickly fell into his element as he removed my tennis shoe and soggy sock to reveal one very swollen and nasty-looking foot.

“Ouch,” he voiced my own thoughts in a quiet tone as I held my breath, feeling the pressure that had been pressing on my foot easing some with the shoe removed.

I dug my fingers into the sand, biting my lip as he looked for signs of anything more than a sprain, pressing his fingers along my pained skin with a tender but expert touch. “I think you’re alright. There doesn’t seem to be a break anywhere.”

“That’s good,” I hissed through clenched teeth in return, having come to that conclusion on my own a long time ago, but not minding the attention, that is until it started hurting.

“We need to wrap it to keep it compressed properly,” he continued, looking around for something, his mind seeming to be going a hundred miles per hour. Then, setting my foot gently on the ground, he stood, quickly unbuttoning his uniform shirt, revealing his white t-shirt underneath. Quickly dropping his button-up aside, he peeled the wet t-shirt from his torso, revealing his nearly washboard abs. Despite my distraught mind--or perhaps because of my distraught mind--I had to admit he was sexy as hell.

The next thing I knew he was ripping his t-shirt up along the side seam, creating a large and long bandage. As if he wasn’t already hero-status in my mind, now he was donating the shirt off his sexy back to my cause. The part of me that uses humor to deal with stressful situations decided that now was the best time to come out, as I simultaneously tried to swallow back the indecent thoughts suddenly running through my mind.

“Seriously, Torin, we need to work on your hero skills. If this were a movie, that shirt would’ve come off back on the boat.”

He looked confused for a moment, before breaking out into the biggest smirk I think I’ve ever seen him wear, before his eyes darkened slightly.

Oh, oh…

“Oh, it would have, huh? And you would’ve liked that?” Riiippp, went the last of his shirt with a bit more force than before, sending my stomach in a titillating nosedive as the muscles in his shoulders flexed with the effort.

Oh dear, now I had done it. My heart was in my throat as a battle raged within my mind. My primal, physical side wanted to jump him here and now, my ankle be damned. But my logical, analytical side, the one who kept me from getting my heart hurt screamed at me to back off, and keep things at a nice, safe distance.

Deciding on a happy medium, I made an attempt to keep it lighthearted, but flirty, as I beamed back at his hunkiness. “I can neither confirm, nor deny any thoughts on the matter.” There, I answered without answering. Hell yeah, I would have liked to see him shirtless before now, but I wasn’t ready to tell him.

“Hmmm,” Torin appraised me with a bit more of a serious stare. “I guess I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’” There was a hint of teasing humor behind his tone. Then he brought himself closer to me, bent on one knee, and began wrapping my ankle like the professional law enforcement officer that he was. Thank God my ankle hurt, for the pain effectively hid the bright red flush I felt at not only his very correct assumption, but by the very real physical feelings he was awakening in my body and heart.

Once my foot was wrapped, there was nothing for us to do but wait for Torin’s Marine Patrol Unit to find the wrecked bass boat outside and rescue us. Without pain medication or ice to put on my ankle, the throbbing soon returned. Torin settled down next to me on the step-like rock formation, his atmosphere calm and reassuring as he began making small talk, and I wondered if he realized just how conflicted and nervous I felt about being flirty.

As time passed, the sky grew darker with the imminent rain approaching along with the evening and no sign of the police yet. A quiet, nervous tension began building as our conversation dwindled. Finally, as the sky opened up, pouring buckets of rain into the tidepool, Torin rose. “We need to build a fire. It’s getting too dark in here and it’ll be getting chilly soon.”

I didn’t answer, but watched as he proceeded to gather some of the dry driftwood, piling it together, then shaving some of the wood into a tiny tinder ball with his pocket knife. He lit it easily enough, then I finally broke the silence between us. “That something they taught you in cop school?”

He blinked up at me, his focus on the small flame that was beginning to consume the driftwood interrupted, then shook his head, softening the concentrated look on his face. “Nah, we went camping a lot when I was a kid.”

He didn’t elaborate and I simply nodded. A low rumble of thunder sounded overhead as the rain picked up, water loudly coming down in waterfall-like streams into the tidepool. Had the circumstances been different, it would have been romantic, I thought, with the soft glow of the fire now piercing the dimming light and creating a warmth, not only physically, but atmospherically. With an apprehensive knot in my stomach, I finally broached the subject that had been hovering between us for the last hour. “What happens if they don’t find us soon? What if they don’t find us before it gets dark?”

Torin wiped his face with his hand, obviously not happy with the topic either, then regarded me, his expression going from drained and serious to thoughtful and I suddenly thought him to be extraordinarily handsome with his feelings so easily readable. “Why?” He asked with partial humor. “You got somewhere else to be?”

He leaned back with his elbows on the rock behind us, having the same place as me to be -- home -- but emanating with the understanding that we were helpless to get there on our own, but with the level-headedness to relax into the situation. His mood steadied my own resolve with the same realization that panicking or allowing worry to overwhelm me wouldn’t be helpful. We were pretty certain that Rhonda and the girls were okay at this point, so there was no point in adding stress to our situation by worrying about them.

“Actually,” my courage began building, “I have this date tomorrow night with this guy, and I need to be home in time to get cleaned up and all.”

His lips upturned a bit more as he twisted his body so that he was propped up on only one elbow and more squarely facing me as he answered with an air of genuine curiosity. “Must be some guy. Anybody I know?”

The ambiance shifted ever so slightly within my mind and I suddenly found myself wrapped in the romantic atmosphere I had previously pushed aside. Transposing my thought process, I realized that this was one of the most romantic situations I had ever been put in, despite the circumstances. The cave, the companionship, and our solitude. As my mind allowed for this revelation, my body responded in tandem, simultaneously warming and relaxing to his presence, despite the pain still emanating from my ankle.

“You might. He’s this marine cop and I think he’s the boss or something for the unit here in Navarro Beach. I work with his mom, who’s great, and his daughter is really nice. Our daughters are best friends.”

He nodded his head in interest, the effort to keep the sliver of a smile on his lips in check very much apparent. “Is that right? Well with a family like that he must be a pretty good guy himself.”

Rolling onto my hip so my bad foot was still straight, but so I was facing him, I also leaned my elbow on the rocky step just above us, feeling more relaxed about my tentative relationship with this man than I had ever before. Then leaning towards him just a tad, I spoke as though I were telling him a great secret. “He can be a bit rough around the edges, but once you get to know him, he’s a really good guy. And pretty good looking at that.”

His eyes roamed my face pleasantly, taking in my words from only about a foot away. He didn’t say anything, and I felt compelled to continue with only the sounds of the rain and fire filling the void. “Actually, he’s one of the sexiest guys I’ve ever known. And not just physically. He’s caring, and apologetic, and extremely brave. I’d like to believe that he has an immense amount of integrity and also loyalty to those he loves. And hands down, he’s the best kisser I’ve ever met.”

Something changed in him and his smile faded with an almost imperceptible quiver. But his eyes remained bright and gentle, yet bore into my soul as if to determine whether my words were spoken in truth. I thought he would say something; a witty comeback or heartfelt response. But instead, he smoothly and simply closed the gap between us, caressing his lips against mine in a tender and openhearted kiss.

At that moment, something inside me changed as well. My heart had finally unlocked and all the pushing against it stopped. I felt free and light. I wasn’t sure if this was love just yet, but I knew enough to know that it could most definitely turn into it. And for a change, I was ready.

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