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Catherine Cochran was too caught up in the sensuous beauty of ocean and sunset to realize that the tide was creeping up on her. Earlier, when the light had begun to slant and deepen into late afternoon, she had picked her way out on the rocky point below her house, set up her camera, and settled in to wait for the moment when the sun would set fire to the serene face of the sea.
She hadn't noticed that the tide was coming up as the sun was going down. The inward sweep of each deceptively smooth wave brought her an inch closer to real trouble. But each wave also brought her closer to the picture she had spent weeks trying to get.
Everything was perfect today. The tide was low, the sky was clear, the sun was setting, and the surface of the sea was a liquid gemstone shimmering with light. If she was patient, the moment she had been waiting for would finally come.
Behind Cat a ragged line of rocks thrust out of the water, gathering height and power until they finally became a headland braced against the seductive rush of waves. In front of her the ragged tongue of land dissolved into random rocks covered by thick beards of mussels and slick green water plants.
That was what held Cat's attention now. The textures of shells and seaweed, smooth waves and slanting light, were what had lured her out beyond the tide pools and slippery intertidal rocks to this spot midway between land and sea. She had been daring but not foolish in her quest for just the right photo; at low tide, the top of the rock she crouched on was dry and beyond the reach of all but the biggest waves.
The rocks behind and in front of Cat were below water mostof the time. Their rough, powerful faces emerged only during an unusually low tide. As soon as the balance of sea and moon shifted, the rugged rocks would sink again into the ocean's liquid embrace. Then the image she had worked so hard to capture on film would be beyond reach until the next time that tide, sun, and weather worked together again.
As the evening sea swept toward the outer rocks, Cat counted out the seconds between the rhythmic waves. When she sensed that the light and time and wave finally would be right, she braced herself more securely and let out her breath. At the exact instant the fluid curve of water met the rocks, she triggered the motor drive on her camera.
Well beyond the six-hundred-millimeter lens, wave met rock. Water exploded into creamy cataracts. Fountains of iridescent bubbles licked over black stone.
That was the moment she wanted to capture, the fragile caress of foam and the rock that had broken a billion waves...the rock that was itself being melted by rainbow bubbles until finally it would be one with the sea it had so long withstood.
Not defeat, but equality, for wave and rock defined each other. Without the wave, the rock would never know the power of surrender. Without the rock, the wave would spend itself quietly on the shore, never finding a way to transform its smooth perfection into a fierce explosion of beauty.
Cat lost count of the waves, of the times she triggered the camera, of the rolls of film she loaded into the Nikon's compact body. Her legs cramped, protesting their unnatural position. She ignored discomfort, Until the light was gone, she wouldn't allow anything to break her concentration on the changing images pouring through the long lens into her camera.
Beneath her practiced, calm motions, excitement threaded through Cat. Her trademark was the kind of photos that made the viewer stop, stare, and reassess reality. She knew the shots she was taking now would be some of her best work, combining stark light and shadow, elemental textures, and the changed perspective that was possible only with the use of a very long lens.
With no warning, water leaped up over Cat's perch. A cold diamond spray stung her legs. The cramps had been more painful, but hadn't threatened her camera equipment. Seawater did.
She raised her head, blinked, and focused for the first time on the world outside her camera lens. When she looked back toward shore, she knew that she had stayed too long on her rocky perch.
The thirty feet back to the beach might as well have been thirty miles.
The path to the shore was gone. What had been a tricky journey out beyond the tide line was now a witch's brew of surf, foam, and slick black rocks. To -keep from being swept off her feet by the powerful waves, she would have to cling to the rocks with teeth and fingernails. Yet she needed her hands to hold her expensive photographic gear beyond the reach of the sea.
Water foamed up toward Cat, then hissed down the hard rock. In the reflected glow of the dying sun, the wet stone looked like a primitive sculpture of hammered gold.
For once she didn't enjoy the rich light. She looked at the water with clear gray eyes and the cut-your-losses attitude of someone who had made a mistake and knew it.
Even if her hands had been free, she would be lucky to keep her feet underneath her on the trip back to the beach. But her hands wouldn't be free. She had thousands of dollars worth of equipment to carry, equipment she needed to earn her living.
Equipment she couldn't afford to replace.
Cat wasted no more time on curses or regrets. She measured the height of the water against the rocks she had used to scramble out to her present perch. Even in the troughs between waves, the water was well above her knees. Add more than three feet of wave onto that, and she was in trouble...