Read an Excerpt
Black and blood-warm water slammed into Anna's back, rushing over her shoulders and down the front of her shirt. Closing her eyes against the salt sting, she clung to the turtle's carapace and concentrated on keeping her footing as the wave dragged against her legs, sucked the sand from beneath her sneakers.
The loggerhead wouldn't be washed unwillingly back into the Atlantic. There was little the turtle couldn't handle in the sea. It was land, that unfamiliar and ever-changing universe, that had baffled her. For miles she'd swum from God knew where to lay her eggs on the beach of Cumberland Island, one of the Golden Isles off the coast of Georgia. In her tiny brain -- or perhaps her great heart -- instinct had programmed a map with such precision that out of thousands of miles of coastline she'd found her way back to this narrow ribbon of sand.
Anna ducked as another wave broke across her shoulders, and embraced the animal hard against her. The ripples of the loggerhead's armored back, nearly a yard across, dug into her cheek where flesh thinned over bone. She could feel the powerful scrape of the creature's back flipper against the sodden fabric of her trousered thigh.
Water flooded around her, warmer on the back of her neck than the mild summer air, and Anna wondered how turtles thought, how this turtle thought. On the chart that instinct tattooed on her soul, was there a picture? In whatever passed for a loggerhead's mind's eye, had she seen, remembered the flat welcoming beaches?
"Sorry, old girl," Anna muttered as she heaved against several hundred pounds of sea beast. A capricious tide had trenched out a four-foot-highsand and shell escarpment along fifty yards of ocean front. A week ago the sand had been flat; two weeks hence it would be again. Tonight it was proving impassable. Still, with the eternal patience that seemed endemic to turtles, rocks, and other long-lived, slow-moving creatures, the loggerhead had beached herself and started her trek inland.
Loggerheads coming ashore north and south of the ephemeral cliff were making their appointed rounds. Between drenchings, Anna could hear the delighted cries of park rangers, volunteers, and researchers celebrating the renewed cycle of this threatened species.
Over the past hour, since she'd been drafted into the turtle-midwifing business, Anna had received a crash course in the reproductive habits of the loggerhead. In an ideal world, they made their way up onto the beach, above high tide, dug a nest, laid the eggs, and buried them. Their role in the universe completed, they returned to the sea, and, it was presumed, never looked back until four or five years rolled by and they again felt the urge to come home to nest.
The turtle Anna danced with in the crashing surf could not negotiate the sand cliff and was exhausting herself with the effort. Too tired to fight any longer, she was giving up.
"Dear Lord, she's laying. Give me your hat," came an exasperated cry near Anna's ear. The words were carried on a gust of foul smelling air. For an instant Anna thought she'd shoved her face too near the east end of the westbound turtle. When she realized it was Marty Schlessinger's breath, she began to believe the rumors that the biologist ate roadkill.
The Atlantic drew back and the full weight of the loggerhead was laid again in Anna's and Marty's arms. "Don't hurt her," the biologist warned as Anna felt the little muscles in her sacroiliac stretch and complain.
"Fat chance," she grumbled, but she braced herself, forearms on thighs, shoulder against shell, and held on.
In a sudden peace left behind by the receding waters, the moon pushed over an inky horizon to paint a path in silver over the ocean and onto the back of turtle under Anna's chin.
By the clear light she could see Marty Schlessinger's face inches from her own. Thirty-four years of beachside living were etched in the lines of determination carved on either side of an uncompromising mouth set in a lean face. Long hair, worn in pigtails like Willie Nelson in his heyday, fell in thin ropes across the loggerhead's shell.
The returning ocean forced Anna to her knees. Her thigh was wedged against the turtle's carapace, the animal's flipper hard against the outside of her leg.
"Hat, hat, hat," Schlessinger growled.
Anna snatched off her baseball cap and poked it into the biologists groping fingers.
"Hold her," Schlessinger ordered.
"Christ!" Anna breathed as the man relinquished his grip on the turtle to gather the eggs.
Unlike many sea turtles, the loggerhead's egg-laying machinery was recessed beneath the rear of its shell, and Anna could not see the eggs. By the ecstatic groans from the biologist, she guessed the laying was a success.
"No!" Schlessinger cried suddenly. Such was the pain in his voice that Anna was unpleasantly reminded that the coast of Georgia was the breeding grounds for the great white shark.
"What?" she demanded.
"Lost a baby."
Anna was relieved but had the good sense to keep quiet. Schlessinger would consider the loss of a ranger's leg somewhat less heartrending than that of an embryonic loggerhead.
Minutes ticked by. Waves banged at Anna's back, tried to buckle her knees. Sand gritted between her teeth and salt sealed her eyes. The muscles in her arms and shoulders had progressed from ache, to jelly, to constant torturous throb. All sense of glamour and adventure was long since gone.
"This is getting to be work," she grunted.
"Quiet," Marty said.<%END%>