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Twenty One (Love by Numbers Book 2) by E.S. Carter (1)

Grief - keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.

 

We are all grieving.

It has been twenty one excruciatingly long hours since Jake left me at Agua Secreto.

Approximately one thousand, two hundred and sixty agonising minutes filled with despair, anguish and heartache.

He never made it back to the main shoreline.

Never came back for me.

 

I was rescued the following day by the coastguard.

Max, the owner of the boat Jake hired, was found on deck, his yacht just offshore, having suffered a massive heart attack that took his life.

The coastguard checked over his passenger logs and luckily for me, Max was a very diligent record keeper. They knew exactly where to come and find us but when they arrived, they only found me. I pleaded with them to leave me there to search for Jake, begged them to make sure he was safe and prayed to God he’d made it back.

My poor Spanish skills and frantic rambling didn’t help. They ignored my pleas, bundled me onto their boat and we sped off to return to the marina.

The entire journey back my eyes scoured the calm, Mediterranean Sea and any small bays we passed.

Shapes or shadows on the water caused my pulse to spike, my heart to pound and my throat to open ready to scream for Jake but they were just shadows.

Figments of my imagination and false profits of my hope.

 

All of Jake’s family were there waiting for us, their enthusiastic waving as the boat pulled in to dock was like a sucker punch to my solar plexus.

It was Liv’s face that fell first after taking in my forlorn appearance. Her eyes searched my weary and tear stained face and she broke away from Nate to gather me in her arms before my feet fully hit the deck.

I sobbed out words, my cries wracking my body in pain, my pleas escaping like a prayer.

“Liv, he’s gone. We have to find him, help me find him Liv? They won’t listen to me. We need to find him, make someone find him.”

She soothed me by gently stroking my hair while my body shook in her embrace, whispering promises, telling me everything would be alright.

Her promises fell on deaf ears. Nothing was alright. Not until Jake was found would anything be anywhere close to alright.

Her words didn’t calm me, they angered me.

I didn’t deserve her gentle touch, didn’t want her empty promises, I wanted Jake.

 

Forcing my way out of Liv’s arms I looked at the faces surrounding me.

Mr and Mrs Fox-Williams were grief stricken, both seemingly holding the other upright. Their faces were deathly white and fraught with worry.

I wanted to say something to ease their heartache but what could I say? I knew no more than they did. The simple fact was I returned to them, while their son had not.

He was still missing and we were all standing around doing nothing.

My focus was drawn to Nate; he was standing right in front of me, his face filled with the same rage that flowed through my veins.

 

Seeing my anger reflected in his stony eyes caused mine to pour from me.

“Why are you all standing here? Why aren’t you out looking for him? For Christ’s sake stop standing there and make someone FIND HIM!” the last words left me in a roar, shocking myself and those around me, into silence.

Nate’s face morphed into pure steel, his emotions locked tight behind an impenetrable door.

“We will find him Emma, you need to tell us everything that happened and then we will stop at nothing to bring him back.”

 

It didn’t take long for me to divulge the little information I had that might help.

Nate and his father immediately left us to speak to the Coastguard and Police, wanting to find out exactly what they were doing to find Jake.

They returned a few moments later flanked by the head of police and the search and rescue chief. Both men wore an air of authority like a second skin and both proceeded to question me on anything and everything to do with Jake, our trip and what state of mind he was in when he left me.

“What state of mind was he in?” I repeated disbelievingly. “If you are implying he left me to take his own life, you are wasting precious time in finding him and bringing him back to us. He was going to get help you bloody idiots, not going for a midnight swim.”

Liv was instantly by my side again, wrapping one arm across my shoulder to calm me.

“Sorry Miss Campbell, we have to investigate all possibilities.” The tall, tanned, police chief informed me, sympathy filling his dark brown eyes.

“Please let us escort you to the local hospital to be checked over, my men will make plans with the coastguard to begin searching for Mr Fox immediately.” He gestured towards a police car parked nearby. “Do you have someone that would come with you?”

Both Nate and Liv spoke at the same time, “Liv will go with her” – “I will go with you.”

I gave a small nod and allowed Liv to lead me to the vehicle, catching Liam’s eye as we walked past.

He didn’t speak or acknowledge me and his silence hurt more than I cared to admit.

“They will find him Em, if Nate has to charter all the boats in this marina, they will find him, I promise.” Liv believed in these words, her voice strong and resolute.

I attempted to allow her strength to seep into my pores, wanting, no needing to believe that Jake would be found soon.

 

Here we are, forty eight hours later and he has still not been found.

I got the all clear from the hospital after a quick check and Liv and I returned to my apartment to wait for news.

The only news we got that first day was via texts from Nate who kept in constant contact with Liv. He hired fifteen vessels of all shapes and sizes to aid the search but night time fell that first day without Jake and with no news of their success.

He, H & Liam refused to leave the search operation, each of them travelling on one of the hired boats, scouring the ocean and hidden bays all day and night.

They returned to us at lunchtime the next day, exhausted, drained and fast losing hope.

We all left my small apartment and joined the rest of Jake’s family, who had set up camp at Nate’s, to wait for news. The air in his plush apartment was thick with an anxiety so dense that I found it hard to breathe. My lungs fighting against the hope I refused to give up.

 

It was early evening when the phone calls started flooding in.

The UK press, having caught wind of Jake’s disappearance, had somehow got Nate’s phone number. He immediately blocked any calls that were not from the police and contacted Tina, Jake’s agent, to issue a press release.

She took over everything and soon after, the calls stopped.

I’m not sure if the silence is a good thing. We are all sitting here on edge, waiting for the damn phone to ring and for it to be good news.

It has to be good news.

The silence is excruciating and no-one seems to have the energy or will to break it.

We just wait.

 

I refuse to give up hope.

He promised to come back to me, he will come back to me and there is no other alternative.

 

Needing to escape the suffocating environment of Nate’s, I return to my apartment alone. Liv and H try to get me to stay but I convince them I need to get some sleep, so they reluctantly agree.

The truth is that every look from one of his family members feels like an accusation.

Any small glance pierces through my weak outer shell, feeling like a hundred poisoned arrows have hit me straight in the chest, grazing my desiccated heart.

I mention this to Liv who assures me it’s all in my head but how can they not blame me. It’s because of me their son and brother is missing and I am all too aware that sometimes being the survivor comes with consequences. My mother made sure that I would never forgot that lesson.

It will be forever etched onto my heart.

I leave quietly; softly spoken promises of returning soon leave my lips. Promises I will only keep when Jake is found.

 

The sun is scorching, beating down on me relentlessly; burning into my skin, singeing my soul with its fiery rays and making the ten minute walk to my apartment feel like days.

How will Jake survive out there in this?

I silently make deals with the universe, bargaining away myself and everything that I own, just to get him back. Offering to take his place if he is brought back to us unharmed and safe.

I pray that my pleas will not fall on deaf ears. Jake has so much to come back for, he has to come back.

 

Slipping quietly into my apartment, I decide I need to soak my weary muscles and try to wash away the despair that feels caked on my skin.

I haven’t showered since the day of my date with Jake because I didn’t want to risk being more than a few seconds away from a phone but weariness and a bone deep ache win out.

I need to get myself back to where hope is the strongest emotion I feel.

I need to be strong for Jake.

I hit play on my iPod and slip into the tepid bath water, allowing it to lap soothingly over my sun baked skin.

I close my eyes and let the subdued notes coming from the speakers wash over me.

Kodaline’s – All I want fills the silence of the bathroom and a quiet sob breaks free from my chest, releasing all my heartache into the steamy air.

Immediately visions of Jake scroll across my closed eyelids, a film reel of moments we shared together less than three days ago.

Blissful moments of emotion filled kisses, sacred moments of contented silence, precious moments of a connection I refuse to believe has been stolen.

I will not allow myself to believe that the last kiss we shared was Goodbye.

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