I had thought that I knew terror. That I knew fear. I had seen my mother lying in a pool of her own blood. That was fear. But seeing Woods out in that water going under and not coming up—that had been all-consuming terror. Nothing compared to that. Nothing.
Jace hadn’t come back up, though. My chest hurt so bad I couldn’t take deep breaths. Jace was gone. I had seen it happen, and the broken sobs coming from Bethy as Blaire held her on the sand only ripped through me harder. I couldn’t imagine that. That had almost been me. That could have been me on that sand, knowing the man I loved wasn’t coming back to me.
Woods’s body shuddered and reality started to hit me. The idea of losing him had been all I could think about. But he’d been out there for a reason. He had gone to save his best friend. He’d watched his best friend be pulled under, unable to save him.
I tightened my hold on him. How was he going to survive this?
Bethy continued to wail and Woods’s body went stiff. He was strung so tight he was trembling.
“Get her the fuck out of my sight!” he roared. I jumped back, startled by the angry hate that laced his words. His eyes were glaring and focused on someone behind me. I turned to see that he was looking at Bethy.
Blaire’s face went pale and Bethy cried harder.
“I said to get her selfish, trashy ass off my beach! Now!”
I swallowed hard and watched as Bethy looked up at him with big, pain-filled eyes.
Rush was behind Blaire, helping Bethy stand up. I heard him telling her they needed to take Bethy somewhere else. Woods was yelling at Bethy. He was blaming her.
“Woods?” I was almost afraid of the man in front of me. He swung his gaze to mine and there was an emptiness in them I couldn’t reach.
“She killed him,” he said simply.
Maybe she had. She had gone into the water and almost drowned. Jace had died saving her. But she had been drinking.
“She loved him,” I said.
Woods shook his head. “No. She didn’t love him. You don’t do what she did and call that love.”
I glanced back and saw Blaire lead Bethy up to the boardwalk. The cops would want to question her. She wouldn’t be able to go far.
“Woods, she lost him, too. We all did,” Thad said as he stood watching Woods, afraid to get too close.
“I lost him because he wanted me to save her worthless, drunk ass. I did what he wanted and I lost him.” Woods’s voice was cold and emotionless.
Headlights lit up the beach as ambulances and police cars arrived. Paramedics swarmed the stretch of sand and I watched as they were told by several of the people at the party what they had seen. A paramedic approached Woods.
“You were one of the people who were in the water?” he asked.
“Yes,” Woods replied.
“We need to check you out,” he said.
I watched as the paramedic started to argue and stepped between him and Woods. “He’s fine. If I think he needs medical attention I will make sure he gets it. Please, he needs to be left alone.”
The man looked up at Woods and then back at me. “Okay,” he said, then turned away.
“I’m not leaving until they’ve found him,” Woods said.
I turned around and reached for his hand. He laced his fingers through mine. “Okay,” I said. “We’ll stay right here.”
“You’ll stay with me?” he asked.
“I’m not leaving your side.”
We sat there for the next four hours. Rush had brought Woods a blanket from one of the ambulances to keep him from getting cold since he was soaking wet. He didn’t say anything, he just dropped it on his shoulders. Rush had been out there, too. He had been the reason Woods hadn’t drowned. They had both lived this nightmare.
After the police questioned Bethy, Darla came and took her home. Blaire took Nate and went home at Rush’s insistence. The crowd had thinned. Helicopters spotlighted the dark water and boats searched in vain. It was impossible to see in the dark.
Woods sat there beside me, not letting go of my hand and staring at the water. Watching them look for Jace. He wanted Jace’s body found. I understood that. He didn’t want to leave the beach until he knew Jace wasn’t out there alone.
Finally, the helicopters left. The boats went away. The paramedics packed up and drove off. A police officer tried to get us to leave but they weren’t going to argue with the owner of the Kerrington Club. They finally left us.
We weren’t alone, though. Rush stood off in the distance, his hands in the pockets of his jeans. At some point he’d changed clothes. He was staring off at the dark water, too. I kept thinking this was a dream I would wake up from, but it never ended. I glanced over to our left and Thad sat there on the sand with his arms wrapped around his legs and his knees bent, like a little boy who was lost.
They all hurt.
And there was nothing I could do. Nothing anyone could do.
The sound of the ocean crashing against the shore wasn’t soothing like it had once been. It now felt like a taunt. Reminding us that it was stronger. It was in control.
Someone else moved in the darkness and I watched as Grant came running down the boardwalk. He hadn’t been at the party. I never knew if he was in town or somewhere else. The guy never stayed in one place.
He stopped at Rush and Rush turned his eyes to look at him. They stood there for a moment, then Grant hung his head and dropped to his knees.
It was morning when the searchers found Jace’s body washed up one mile down the shore.