What Happens at the Beach... (37 page)

A big black dog came running out of the trees, right in the path of the other skier. The man was powerless to take evasive action and the two figures converged with an awful inevitability. She clearly heard a cry and a yelp as the skier smashed into the dog, sending both of them flying into the air. The dog landed several metres further down the slope, its body limp and lifeless like a rag doll. The man bounced, rolled, and finally ended up on his face, perilously close to the trees, one ski still attached, the other stuck upright in the soft snow at the side of the piste. As Annie looked on, he stirred, sat up and then, without making any effort to help the injured dog, pulled himself to his feet, clipped on his missing ski, and set off down the hill once more.

Annie was appalled.

She skied down to where the body of the dog lay motionless in the snow. She stepped out of her skis, sticking them into the snow in the form of a cross to warn any other skiers of the danger, and went over to the dog. He was a fine-looking black Labrador, but he was quite unconscious. She knelt closer and was relieved to see he was still alive; his white, steamy breath clearly visible in the frozen air. His tongue was hanging out and blood was running from his mouth into the snow. She sat down beside him, her hand resting on the dog's head, and debated what to do. Then she spotted a silver medallion attached to his collar. On it was a phone number. She pulled out her phone and dialled the number. It was answered almost immediately.

‘
Pronto.
' It was an old man's voice. He was speaking Italian, so she spoke to him in the same language.

‘Hello, I'm afraid there's been an accident.' Annie found she was panting and had to stop for breath before being able to carry on and give the man the story of what had happened. Luckily, both he and she were very familiar with the layout of the ski runs and he understood immediately when she described where the accident had happened.

‘Thank you very much for your kindness. Somebody'll be there in ten minutes. Can you wait?'

‘Of course.' Just at that moment, she saw a movement. The dog's eyes fluttered, and then opened. She was quick to relay the good news. ‘He's just opened his eyes. I think he's going to be all right.'

‘That's marvellous.' She couldn't miss the relief in the man's voice. ‘His name's Leo, by the way. Ten minutes.' He rang off.

Annie pushed her phone back into her pocket and bent down closer to Leo the dog. His eyes were rolling and he was panting for breath, but he was conscious. She reached out and cradled his big furry head in one arm, stroking his cheek with the other. Gradually, he began to come round. After a few minutes, he managed to turn his head towards her. Her eyes met his and her heart went out to him. He really was gorgeous; and all the more gorgeous for being so vulnerable.

‘How're you feeling, handsome?' She found she was speaking Italian to him. Remembering what his owner had told her, she tried his name, still in Italian, seeing as he was an Italian dog. ‘You okay, Leo? Are you all right, Leo?' This time there was a definite response from him. He stirred and tried, unsuccessfully, to pull himself to his feet. He struggled for a few moments before slumping back down again, exhausted by the effort. ‘You'll be all right, Leo. Good dog, Leo.' Annie was still talking to him some minutes later when she heard sounds behind her. She looked up as two men appeared; one wearing a bright blue jacket and the other a ski instructor, manhandling a metal stretcher sledge. She looked up and greeted them, naturally in Italian.

The man in the blue jacket gave her a big smile and murmured his thanks as he unclipped his skis and settled down beside the dog. He was probably around her age, mid or maybe late thirties, and looked very friendly, although he was clearly concerned for the dog.

‘Ciao, Leo
.
' He knelt beside the dog and ran his hands gently along the length of his body. Annie was delighted to see the end of the dog's tail wag weakly. She shifted slightly to one side, but left her arm supporting the big dog's head.

‘Are you all right?' The young ski instructor's accent was local, with a slight French inflexion. She was thankful he was speaking to her in Italian, rather than the local patois that she found almost incomprehensible. He sounded genuinely concerned for her well-being. She looked up and gave him a smile, answering in Italian that came quite naturally to her now after ten years in the country.

‘I'm fine, thanks. I've just got a cold bottom from sitting on the snow too long.' She glanced down at the dog and back up again. ‘What are you going to do with him?'

The man in the blue jacket looked across at her. His face was only a few feet from hers and she couldn't help noticing his brilliant blue eyes, the exact same colour as his jacket. ‘I don't think he's broken anything. He's let me touch him all over without jumping or yelping. We'll just have to hope he hasn't sustained any internal injuries. He's very groggy, but you said the impact knocked him out, didn't you?'

Annie nodded. ‘Out like a light for a few minutes, I'm afraid.'

‘That would explain his weak state. I think it should be okay to put him on the toboggan.' He glanced up at the other man. ‘Paul, we'll take him down to the car park and then I'll run him down to the vet in Santorso.' There was authority in his voice. His accent was northern Italian and well-educated. Annie found herself wondering just what it was he did up here.

‘Sure thing.' Paul nodded and slid the sledge as close as possible to the dog. The man in the blue jacket reached his arms underneath the Labrador and then, with Annie still cradling Leo's head, he straightened up and lifted the dog onto the sledge. Leo didn't make a sound. They wedged him in with a blanket and straps to stop him rolling off and then Paul didn't waste any time. He eased the sledge out onto the piste and slipped away down the hill. As he went, he gave Annie a big smile. ‘See you again, I hope.' Annie watched him with considerable admiration. The sledge was solid and heavy, and Paul was skiing without the use of sticks, just steering by hanging onto the handles, for all the world like skiing with a long wheelbarrow behind him.

The dog's owner stood up and held out his hand to Annie. She took it and he helped her to her feet. Only when she was standing did she realise how tall he was for an Italian, probably as tall as Matt. As for her, she hadn't been joking about her cold bottom. Not only was it cold, it felt as though her right buttock had gone to sleep. Surreptitiously, she hopped from one leg to the other to get the circulation flowing.

‘Thank you again, most warmly.' The man shook her by the hand and the bright blue eyes caught hers. ‘Really, thank you. Leo's my father's dog and dad lets him run free all over the place. Normally he manages to keep out of trouble, but not this time. My name's Alessandro, by the way.'

‘And I'm Annie.' For a moment, it looked as if he was going to make a comment but then, without any more ado, he stepped into his ski bindings and headed off down the slope in the wake of the stretcher, leaving her still wondering who he was.

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First published in Great Britain by Carina UK in 2016

Copyright © Trevor Williams 2016

Trevor Williams asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental

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Ebook Edition © July 2016 ISBN: 9780008196998

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