Wreckers Island (romantic suspense)

BOOK: Wreckers Island (romantic suspense)
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WRECKERS ISLAND

 

By

 

L K Harcourt

 

 

Wreckers Island

 

Published by L K Harcourt: 2014

© L K Harcourt 2014

All words in this novel are copyright L K Harcourt

Photographs used as part of the cover design
reproduced under licence.

This edition: January 14th, 2014

 

 

 

ALSO BY L K HARCOURT:

 

And Then The  Sun Came Out (a
psychological thriller)

 

 

 

To my wife and children for their support and
patience

 

 

Chapter I

 

‘Here we are,’ said Louise, as she looped the rope through a
rusty iron ring fixed to the island’s jetty. She cut the engine to their motor
boat and stepped ashore. ‘Welcome to Wreckers Island!’

Emma Hardy climbed gingerly from the small,
bobbing boat. She was relieved to get back onto dry land, not that there was
much of it.

It was early June and she and three
classmates – language students at Oxford University – had finished their second
year exams the day before. They were embarking on a holiday in a lighthouse on
a tiny island off the Cornish coast.

It belonged to 20-year-old Louise Locksley’s
wealthy parents. The others thought she was joking when she offered them a
break there – ‘we’ll have the whole place to ourselves,’ Louise had told them,
‘it’s only small but it will be perfect for sunbathing and some peace and
quiet.’

It had taken a while to believe her but they
were so hard up that any prospect of free accommodation had to be taken
seriously, no matter how outlandish.

John Comstock and Daniel Delaurier, also 20,
passed her their rucksacks and other belongings before leaping out themselves. Louise’s
green eyes lit up beneath her fringe of dark brown hair to see her friends
safely docked on her little island which she mostly visited on her own. Even
for someone headstrong and confident like her, who enjoyed her own company, it could
be a lonely experience.

At 19, Emma was the youngest. She was a thin,
pretty girl with pale blonde hair and slightly nervous-looking pale blue eyes which
darted about anxiously.

Staying in a lighthouse was definitely not
her idea of suitable holiday accommodation. She would have much preferred a
luxury hotel with big rooms, four-poster beds and a jacuzzi in the en suite. But
beggars couldn’t be choosers and she was by far the most broke of them all. John,
Dan and Louise had found part-time jobs to help pay their way through college but
Emma couldn’t bring herself to take the employment on offer to students – low-paid,
anti-social bar work and waitressing shifts. Her debts were soaring and she worried
whether she could even afford to return for her final year.

As for her companions, they were a decent
enough bunch. Emma liked Louise although found her too wild and headstrong to
be entirely comfortable with. In truth, she was somewhat in awe of her. Emma
fancied John with his straw-coloured mop of hair, striking, cornflower blue
eyes, wide shoulders and easy grin. But she was also fond of slighter, quieter,
more studious-looking Dan.

She flinched as a huge wave crashed over the
rocks, spattering her with spray. The sea was choppy and Wreckers Island was a
good mile from the shore.

Louise noted her fear and gave her a cheery hug.
‘Come on,’ she said, ‘it’s fine. We’re going to have a great time!

‘Right,’ Louise added, pulling a big iron
key from her pocket. ‘Let’s get inside!’

They climbed the stone path to the great oak
door of the lighthouse. Its paintwork gleamed brilliant white in the June sun.
The key turned stiffly in the lock; it had been a long while since anyone had
used it. When everyone was inside, Louise pulled the door firmly shut. It was chilly
in the lighthouse so she got a log fire going.

‘This is a simply incredible place,’ enthused
John, looking around the quaint, circular living room with small oblong windows
in the rounded walls and rugs strewn across worn red quarry tiles.

‘You wait until you see the rest of it,’
said Louise, smiling. ‘Come on, I’ll show you around.’

They followed her up the spiral staircase in
the middle of the building. On the first storey were two bedrooms – John and
Dan were to share one and Louise and Emma the other.

Emma’s slightly worried relaxed as she
walked into her sleeping quarters. ‘What a fantastic view,’ she said, gazing through
the oblong window at the heaving, dark blue sea, capped with white crests.

‘It’s better still at the top!’ said Louise.
‘Prepare to be blown away – not literally, of course, unless you step out on
the balcony!’

Louise, Emma, John and Dan continued up the iron
staircase which wound its way to the lamp room. The huge lamp was still there. Until
a few years ago, it had flashed on and off every few seconds to warn ships away
from the rocks of Wreckers Island. It had since been superseded by a more
powerful version on the tip of the headland at the far end of the bay.

The view was magnificent. The Cornish
coastline stretched out like a shimmering line of gold in the distance. All
around them was an expanse of blue, flecked with white. Seabirds soared into the
sky above and cried mournfully over the roar of the ocean.

‘Think what it was like to live here alone
for months on end as lighthouse keepers used to in the old days,’ said Emma,
shivering slightly.

Louise gave her arm a rub. ‘Sometimes it’s
nice though to come here and enjoy the solitude and get away from the hustle
and bustle of the world. I find it a spiritual experience to be here alone,’ she
said softly.

Emma glanced at her. Those words seemed
strangely mature and philosophical coming from feisty, brash Louise, as if
there was a side to her she had not seen before. Louise, a strikingly
attractive young woman, looked beautiful melancholy as she stared wistfully out
to sea. The four of them fell silent and several minutes passed without a word
spoken as they watched the waves rise and fall and the little sailing boats bob
on their moorings in the bay.

Eventually, Louise broke the spell. ‘Come
on,’ she said. ‘Let’s go back downstairs and get the kettle on – how about a
nice mug of hot chocolate or something? It always seems like the right kind of
drink in a place like this.’

The four trod their way carefully down the
steep staircase to the ground floor and into the little kitchen. Pure fresh
water poured out of the tap when Louise turned it – a clever network of
guttering collected the rain which ran into a storage tank.

‘I’m afraid there’s no hot running water,’
said Louise. ‘We will have to boil saucepans and kettles on the little gas
stove when we need to for washing.’

‘But what about having a bath or a shower?,’
asked Emma, in dismay, ‘and, erm, going to the toilet?’

‘There’s an old-fashioned tin bath which we
can use,’ replied Louise, ‘but when the tide goes out it leaves big rock pools
which we can bathe in – when the sun is shining they get lovely and warm. As
for the loo, we have a teensy one near the front door with a tiny sink. We’re
lucky, there was only an outside loo in the old days.’

‘Sounds fine to me,’ said John, chuckling.
‘We haven’t come here for luxury have we?’

Emma looked horrified but at least, to her
relief, the gas stove worked efficiently and they could eat hot food. They had
brought plenty of tinned supplies with them.

With steaming mugs of hot chocolate all
round, Louise and her friends went into the living room and flopped on the
comfy sofa and armchairs.

‘My first ever holiday marooned in a
lighthouse on a desert island!’ said Dan, as he sipped his chocolate. Like
Emma, he had been feeling uneasy – but the hot drink was raising his morale. ‘Think
what the rest of them will say when we go back and tell them next term. They’ll
never believe us!’

‘You didn’t believe me either at first,’
Louise reminded him. ‘You said it was the sort of thing that happens in books –
only this is real. Maybe we’ll have an adventure like they do in novels. They
do say that fact can be stranger than fiction!’

 

Chapter II

 

The four students got themselves a fun lunch based on
heated-up tins accompanied by crusty bread and mugs of pure rainwater. The June
sun was climbing higher in the sky. It was a perfect afternoon for a sunbathe.
They disappeared to their bedrooms to get changed.

‘I can’t wait to see the girls in their
swimwear, it’s the only reason I’ve come,’ joked John, pulling on his swimming
trunks. ‘Especially Louise – I’ve been ogling her all term.’

Dan smiled and made a ‘shush’ sign. ‘Careful
they don’t hear you!,’ he said as he pulled his on too. Although a smaller
build than John, he had a light golden complexion which would bronze nicely in
the summer heat. John’s torso was broad and muscular but he was fair-skinned
and had to slather on high factor sun tan lotion to stop himself from burning.

They grabbed their towels and a can each of
lager from the fridge. Electrical appliances could, just about, be used thanks
to solar panels and a small, gas-powered generator – but Louise had warned them
not to be surprised by power cuts. Plenty of oil lamps were at the ready.

They went outside and were pleased to find a
pleasant grassy patch in front of the lighthouse largely sheltered from sea
breezes by a rectangular perimeter wall. From here they could look directly at
the Cornish coast to which they had so often travelled in the past on holiday.

‘What a simply wonderful view,’ mused Dan.

‘Looks like the view’s about to get better,’
whispered John with a wink. The girls, who had taken longer to get ready,
emerged also armed with towels and cans of lager. Louise wore a pale blue
bikini and Emma, a white, one-piece swimming costume. John’s gaze flickered
over their bodies and Emma, catching his eye, flushed and held her towel a
little defensively in front of her.

They lay on the grass, kept short by the
regular attentions of rabbits. There had at one point been sheep on Wreckers
Island, said Louise, but they had long gone now.

‘Why is it called Wreckers Island?’ asked
Emma. ‘Did wreckers actually use this island?’

‘Yes, from what I know,’ said Louise.
‘That’s where it gets its name from. Ships used to get wrecked on the treacherous
rocks around here, especially at low tide and that’s why they built the
lighthouse. Before that, a great oil lamp was lit off the headland – over there
I think,’ she pointed to a rocky outcrop on the shore. ‘But the wreckers used
to move it to another part of the coast, to trick ships into coming in too
close, then guiding them onto the rocks.

‘They would hold their lanterns aloft and
follow narrow paths to the shore, rub their hands and wait for the wreckage to
wash up on an incoming tide and loot whatever they could find – gold, silver,
cases of whisky – all sorts of things, some of it was bootleg goods destined to
be smuggled through the little-known coves of the Cornish coast. Many of the
people on these ships were themselves crooks, but they perished at the hands of
men far worse.’

The others shivered. They looked in awe at
the jagged coastline with its hidden rocks and reflected on the terror those
crewmen must have felt when their vessels ploughed into them, their wooden
hulls ripped apart. The lonely mewing of a gull overhead sounded like a scream
from centuries past. For a moment, the sun disappeared behind a cloud and the
sea looked grey and cold.

‘It’s in the distant past now though,’
continued Louise. ‘Once this lighthouse was built it spelt the end of the
wreckers’ evil trade. Now the big one over there can be seen for miles and
miles around. All boats these days have satellite navigation and charts showing
the danger spots, of course.

‘Now does anyone fancy a bath, because the tide
is out and the rock pools the other side of the lighthouse should be nice and
warm.’

‘I would,’ said Emma, who was beginning to
feel hot and sticky.

‘Right,’ said Louise. ‘Girls get to go first
– and no peeking, ok boys?’

John and Dan nodded in agreement and Louise
and Emma picked up their towels and disappeared into the lighthouse to fetch
some soap and shampoo. Louise was right, the trapped sea water had warmed
nicely in the sun and the deep, hollowed-out fissures in the rocks made for surprisingly
luxurious, roomy bath tubs.

‘You see Emma,’ said Louise, triumphantly, as
she slipped into the water, ‘this is even better than you’d get in a five-star
hotel.’

 

That evening, as the setting sun sent forth a
golden finger rippling across darkening, purplish waters surrounding Wreckers
Island, a fire blazed in the hearth and the four undergraduates, glasses of
wine in their hands, chatted as they dined on a meal cooked by Emma. Despite
the fairly primitive surroundings, she was pleased to find that she could
actually knock up quite a creditable plateful of pan-fried chicken in a creamy,
white wine sauce, served with some surprisingly good croutons.

If she was still worried about being stuck
on this island with its basic washing and toilet facilities, she didn’t show
it. The four of them had an enjoyable time, with plenty of good wine to wash
down Emma’s excellent food.

‘I would love to know,’ said John, sprawling
out over the sofa after they had finished eating, and slurring his words
slightly, ‘I would love to know about the history of this stretch of coast. I
wonder what happened to the wreckers’ loot, all their ill-gotten gains. I
suppose they turned it into hard cash and got drunk on the proceeds.’

‘I only wish I knew more,’ said Louise.
‘There was talk of some of the goods being hoarded in the underground caves you
get round here but no-one ever knew for sure where. No doubt if the wreckers
did leave any loot behind, someone will have been along to lay their hands on
it – another villain probably.’

‘All the same,’ said John, ‘it would be fun
to go and search the caves in our little boat.’

‘Sounds good to me if the weather holds,’
replied Louise.

 

Emma went to bed earlier than the others
that night – she wasn’t one for late nights and excessive partying. Louise, on
the other hand, was happy to stay up drinking with the boys. In some ways, she
was more of a ‘lad’ than the likes of Dan. When he also headed up the spiral
staircase, she and John bantered and joked under the flickering light of oil
lamps and a hearty fire until the small hours.

When tiredness did finally catch up with
her, Louise tiptoed into the bedroom anxious not to wake her roommate. There
were no actual beds but both had a mattress, a duvet, a couple of sheets and
several blankets each. It could get quite nippy in the lighthouse at night.

Ghostly moonlight filtering through the oblong
window revealed which side of the room Emma had chosen. Louise found a nice
spot on the other side and crawled gratefully under her covers, pulling them
tightly around her.

 

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