Kerri-Ann was waiting for them in the club foyer. She was staring at the door and gripping her saclike bag tightly with both hands. Her voice was strained when she greeted Will and Cleo. ‘I’m not sure this is a good idea,’ she said.
‘It’ll be fine,’ Cleo said, with more confidence than she felt. Surely Hannah would finally see sense.
They signed in and were about to climb the stairs, when Ailsa and Martin arrived. ‘Kerri-Ann,’ Ailsa said, going straight to Kerri-Ann and hugging her. ‘I can’t thank you enough. I’m Nate’s mum,’ she explained to the puzzled girl.
Martin shook her hand. ‘Well done,’ he said.
‘Shall we?’ Will led the way upstairs, where they found a table large enough for all of them. The three others were still to arrive.
They had ordered drinks, and Ailsa was asking Kerri-Ann about her life as a marine biologist when Will said, ‘Here they are.’
Cleo looked up to see Hannah standing at the top of the stairs flanked by Owen and Nate. She looked as if she’d rather be anywhere but here. The three walked across to join them, Hannah gripping Nate’s hand tightly.
‘Hello, darling.’ Cleo stood up and gave her daughter a hug. ‘I’m so glad to see you. And you, Nate. I heard all about your lucky escape.’
‘Thanks, Mrs J. It was thanks to Kerri-Ann here.’ Nate nudged Hannah.
Still holding his hand tightly, Hannah moved toward where Kerri-Ann was seated. ‘Thanks for saving Nate,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry I’ve been such a pain. It’s been difficult for me to… But Iamgrateful.’ She threw Nate an affectionate glance, then looked around the table to see everyone watching her. ‘Okay, everyone. Show’s over.’
They were halfway through their meals when Nate laid down his cutlery, his eyes moving from Hannah to Kerri-Ann and back again. ‘I can’t get over how alike you two are,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘You couldn’t be anything but sisters.’
Cleo held her breath and gazed at Hannah. How would she react? She’d been so determined to deny any relationship.
Hannah forked up a piece of salmon and chewed it carefully before replying.
There was an awkward silence, then she said, ‘Half-sisters, I believe.’ Her voice was strained, as if she had uttered the words under duress. But she had said them.
Cleo felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Maybe now they could all move forward, although she knew her daughter. This wasn’t a total capitulation. But it was a start.
‘Zack has something to tell you.’ Ted Crawford was accompanied by his grandson as he joined Will on the beach.
‘Oh, yeah?’ Will paused in the process of loading boards into his van. Saturday had been a busy day for him with several groups of youngsters wanting to learn to surf, and a crowd of women on a hen weekend deciding to hire boards, along with the usual trickle of tourists.
‘Tell Will what you told me,’ Ted said to the boy.
Zack bounced from one foot to the other with excitement. ‘I was out with Dad on Nick’s yacht – he’s Dad’s friend and his boss. We were looking for dolphins in the bay off Dolphin Beach. Nick said that’s how it got its name. He’d seen them there and wanted to show me. He’s good like that.’ Zack grinned.
Will wished he’d get to the point. It had been a long day, and he was eager to get home, showered and changed. He’d promised to take Owen, Cleo and Kerri-Ann toThe Beach Housefor dinner and they were hoping Hannah and Nate would join them. The dinner was an attempt to bring his and Cleo’s families together and a subtle move by Cleo to link up Hannah and Kerri-Ann again. He knew Cleo wanted Hannah to make friends with her half-sister but, although she’d been polite to the girl at the surf club, she hadn’t made any effort to see her again.
‘Did you see the dolphins?’ he asked, trying to work out why Ted had brought the young boy to see him.
‘Not only dolphins,’ Zack whooped. ‘We saw dugongs!’
‘Dugongs?’ Will scratched his head. Dugongs were related to manatees, with a similar plump appearance. He hadn’t heard of them being seen around here. He looked over Zack’s head to see Ted was grinning, too. ‘Aren’t they…?’
‘Endangered? They are.’ Ted rubbed his hands together. ‘We may have found the answer we were looking for.’
‘You mean…?’ A bubble of excitement started to fizz up as Will tried to process what Ted meant.Could Ted be right? Could this really be the solution?‘That’s great, Zack,’ he said. ‘Let me get this straight. You saw dugongs in the bay… in the bay at Dolphin Beach?’
Zack nodded eagerly. ‘Nick was surprised. He said they were endangered and he’d never seen them there before. Grandad had told me about the development plan, so, as soon as we got back, I cycled over to tell him. Will it help stop them building there?’
‘It may. I’ll have to check out a few things.’ Will couldn’t remember exactly why the marine creatures were endangered – if it would help their cause. ‘But, well done, Zack. Thanks, Ted,’ he said to his friend. ‘You may have found the answer. I need to go now. I’ll be in touch.’
Will couldn’t get Zack’s news out of his mind. If what he said was true, it could make all the difference to their campaign. The protest had gone ahead the week before with all three of the young people taking part – four if you counted Kerri-Ann who Owen reported seeing there, but there appeared to be no further progress in the council’s decision-making process.