Steve still could not believe what he had witnessed that morning, the events that took place in this beautiful, lonely place. As he gazed down at the two naked men lying on the ground in a deep sleep, he shook his head and murmured, 'What a family!' Because they were a family.

The ruggedly handsome muscle god, Randy, his face and body cut and bruised from the beating he had taken, was cradling his sleeping boy, Pablo. His hands cupped Pablo's head protectively as it lay peacefully on his master's chest. Their breaths rose and fell in unison as their bodies pressed tightly together. Pablo's dog Billy lay at a distance on guard, his head resting on his paws, eyes half open.

Hours earlier the peaceful clearing by the lake had been a scene of savage brutality. Pablo was bound, helpless, and two beautiful alpha males, the swarthy demon Randy and the tall, muscular blonde Hans had fought a brutal battle for ownership of the boy.

Hans fought dirty and had given Randy the thrashing of his life. The broken bodybuilder, the magnificent man Steve called the King of the Gypsies, lay beaten senseless in the shallow water. But his protective instinct for Pablo had roused him to a terrible revenge and he had returned the beating, reducing Hans to a humiliated, shattered ruin.

Steve had watched the punishment in awe, as first Randy, then Pablo had fucked the naked giant, and finally they had all three soaked him in piss. Steve recalled Randy's parting words ...... 'If I ever lay eyes on you again, I'll kill you. I swear it.' ....... And the shattered, naked muscleman had stumbled away and disappeared through the trees.

Now the lake lay like mirror glass in the afternoon sun and the clearing was silent, except for the steady breathing of master and boy. Steve was sensitive enough to know that when they eventually woke from their healing sleep, the two men would need to be alone.

Steve stripped down to his shorts, climbed into the rowboat and pushed out into the lake. His mind was still reeling. These incredible men were capable of intense love and affection and playful good humor. But there was always an undercurrent of physical confrontation and pain that could erupt any time. Despite his confusion Steve knew one thing for sure. He never wanted to lose the friendship of Randy and his extraordinary group of men.

*****************

The ring of his cell phone intruded into Randy's deep sleep. Drowsily he reached into the pocket of his discarded jeans for the phone and looked at the screen. It was Mark. His memory flooded back. He remembered the call he had made to his buddy the cop just after Hans had stumbled away. He had asked Mark to make a call to his Highway Patrol pals in the National Forest area.

He had smiled as he said, 'Ask them to look out for a big, blonde, muscular guy on a motor bike .... German accent. He should be riding the Angeles Crest Highway in a few minutes. He'll be covered in bruises, have a sore ass, and stink of piss. They can probably arrest him for 'indecent exposure.' ...... Oh, didn't I mention that? He'll be butt naked.'

Randy flipped open the phone and heard Mark's deep reassuring voice. 'You sound like you're asleep. Sorry to wake you, man, but I thought you'd like to know that my Highway Patrol buddies had no problem finding that guy. Said they'd never seen anything like it, big, blonde stud riding naked on the highway. Turns out this Hans has a rap sheet as long as your arm ...... assault and battery, domestic violence, mayhem, you name it. Seems like our boy is one mean mother-fucker.'

Randy rubbed his bruised knuckles and growled, 'Yeah, I found that out the hard way. Still, I can be an even meaner son-of-a-bitch.'

'You and Pablo OK, buddy?'

'Sure, we're on the mend. No bones broken,'

'Say, maybe you could all use a breath of fresh sea air. What say that tomorrow morning you three come out to the Guadalupe dunes and spend the rest of the long weekend with Jamie and me. I could call Bob and have him bring Darius too. Be a reunion ...... barbecue on the beach, the works. What d'ya say, big guy?'

'We could sure use something festive right around now. Sounds terrific, man. God I love you, Mark. You always know just what to say. We'll leave first thing in the morning. Gotta go now. There's a young guy here needs my attention.'

Pablo had stirred when he heard Randy's voice. Randy snapped the phone shut and gazed into his boy's face. 'How you doing, kid?'

'Much better, sir. Was that Mark?'

'Yeah. Hans is in jail. And we are going to the ocean tomorrow, see Mark and Jamie.'

'Wow, that's awesome, sir.'

Randy gazed at his soft brown eyes. 'In the meantime, kid, I need to make sure all my systems are still in working order. I'm gonna make love to you, Pablo.'

He was surprised when Pablo turned his face away. Randy cupped his chin and turned him back to face him. 'Hey, what's this? You don't want your master's dick in your sweet ass?'

Pablo frowned, hesitated. Randy smiled, 'Come on, kiddo. What's up? Level with me.'

Pablo took a deep breath and tried to explain. 'Sir, what happened earlier ..... that guy tying me up and working me over. Sir, it scared the hell out of me. I feel like a wimp being that frightened. Thing is, I love it when you do it ..... used to be my favorite thing. But I'm afraid I'll never be able to let anyone do that again ...... no matter how much I want it. I'll be too scared.'

Randy became serious. 'Now listen, kid. You know what they say you should do when you fall off a horse. Get right back up and start riding, otherwise you'll be scared for the rest of your life.'

Pablo's eyes shone, with the relief that his master understood him. 'That's it, sir. I need to conquer my fear. So I was wondering if you could ........'

' ..... tie you up, rough you up, fuck the shit out of you?'

'Yes please, sir. Use me, hurt me. I need that sir. But the real thing, no holding back.'

'Hey, kid, have you ever known me pull my punches?' Jesus, he thought, the kid's so much like me when I was his age. When something scared him as a boy his instinct was to tough it out, to confront his fears, not shrink from them. Later in life the remedy for a morning-after hangover was the hair of the dog that bit you ..... another drink, more of the same. Randy knew that only the real thing would work for Pablo. It had to be rough.

Randy leapt to his feet, reached down and dragged the boy upright. He grabbed the back of his neck and pushed him over to the same tree Hans had tied him to. His voice changed, became harsh, guttural. 'You think Hans was bad? This is me, now, your master. Look at me, boy. I play real rough. I can do anything I like to you. Anything! Is that clear?'

Stunned by the abrupt change in his master Pablo looked into the steel blue eyes set in the swarthy, bruised, ruggedly handsome face. 'Yes, sir,' he stammered. 'Please, sir.'

Randy scooped up the ropes that Hans had left lying on the ground and expertly bound the naked boy to the tree. His arms were stretched tightly behind him round the trunk, wrists securely bound. More rope wound round his body so he was immobile, and his ankles were also bound.

It was the memory of Hans that scared Pablo so much, so Randy wanted to duplicate the sensation. He grabbed his jeans from the ground, pulled them on, then put on his heavy boots. He was dressed just as Hans had been. Randy stood back to admire his work, to gaze at this beautiful, brave, defiant kid confronting his demons.

He knew just how to treat the boy. 'Just so you know how completely you're in my power, boy, try to get free.

Pablo tried to struggle but he was bound so tight he could barely move. His sturdy young muscles flexed and strained, his exotic face contorted and his head thrashed from side to side. But as Pablo struggled he realized how totally helpless he was. His mind flashed back to the image of Hans and a wave of panic swept over him. The look on Randy's face scared him. His master was serious. He really was going to hurt him. 'Sir, I'm not sure I want this,' he moaned in despair. 'I'm scared of you, sir. Really scared.'

Randy's eyes blazed. 'You fucking little wimp. I thought you were a tough guy. I thought you were my boy. You want me to let you go, let you go out of my life?'

A worse kind of panic seized Pablo. 'No, sir,' he shouted. 'I am your boy, sir. Please, don't let me go. I can take it, sir. I want you to work me over, sir. Hard!'

Randy hated himself for making the boy he loved suffer like this. But he knew it's what Pablo wanted, what he needed. It is what he himself would have wanted when he was a boy. Pablo desperately needed to prove his toughness, to prove he had conquered his fear.

'OK, kid, you asked for it.' Randy seized Pablo's nipples in his fingers and, with no pause, no build-up, he twisted them brutally. The handsome young face flew back, mouth wide open in a soundless scream. His chest was on fire, the pain was excruciating, but he was determined not to make a sound. Randy didn't let up. He applied even more pressure, twisting the nipples until it felt like they were being ripped off. Tears poured from the boy's eyes, but he gazed into his master's demon face with a look of defiance. And at that moment he knew he could take all the pain his master inflicted on him.

Suddenly it stopped. Randy's hands left his chest and rose higher, his palms pressing the sides of Pablo's face. He leaned forward and clamped his mouth over the boy's, just as Hans had done, in a brutal, savage kiss. The pressure on his mouth, the teeth biting his lips, hurt him but this was not Hans. He had been nauseated by the savage blonde, but now he savored the taste, the smell, the essence of this other man, this glorious, powerful man he was proud to call master.

Randy pressed his body hard against the boy's, wrapping his big, brawny arms around the tree and squeezing the young body against it. Pablo was trapped, having the life squeezed out of him by the hard, sinewy body. He felt the muscular chest press against him, felt the rough denim rub his legs, felt the huge bulge in the crotch crushing his own cock.

The mouth continued to grind against his, the body press against him. He was suffocating, having the breath squeezed from him by this wild man. Fear shot through him again as he thought Randy had lost control, would really crush the life out of him. He couldn't breathe, he tried to pull away but he was trapped. He became dizzy, he thought he would pass out.

And then nothing. As quickly as the pain had begun, it stopped. He opened his eyes and saw his master, body heaving, a few feet away from him. The voice growled, 'What do you say, boy?'

Pablo nearly wept. 'Thank you, sir,' he whispered. Instantly he felt a stab of pain as the back of Randy's hand swiped against his chest.

'Louder, boy. I can't hear you.'

This time Pablo shouted. 'Thank you, sir. Thank you, master.' He sobbed in relief. 'God, I love you, sir. You are everything I need. You can hit me, sir, crush me, do anything. Don't stop, sir, please.'

'There is no stopping, boy. But I'm not gonna hit you, not gonna crush you. You know what comes next, boy.'

'I ...... I think so, sir.'

'I'm gonna fuck that sweet ass of yours, the ass I own. And you know how I fuck. I'm gonna fuck your ass raw, boy, rip you open. You're gonna feel your master's cock deep inside that pretty body.'

**************

It didn't take long. Soon Pablo was lying on the ground on his back. His arms were stretched sideways, each wrist roped to a tree on either side. He was trying to ease the pain in his arms but they were pulled rigid. He gazed up at the man towering over him and he knew what was coming.

Randy dropped to his knees, ripped open his pants and pulled out his huge, stiff cock. He spit in his palm and wiped it round his cock. In one swift move he grabbed his boy's ankles, pushed his legs back hard and gazed into his frightened eyes.

'Now, kid, if you can take this you really are a man. Forget Hans, forget your fear, this is me now. This is your master.'

He eased his hips forward, pressed the head of his dick on the hole. Pablo looked up at the handsome, stubbled face, the steel blue eyes, the incredible body of the muscle god he worshipped ..... and he waited.

Then it came ...... the agonizing shaft of pain as the thick rod pierced his ass, plunging agonizingly into the depths of his gut. His mouth opened to scream ..... but no sound came. Instead he gazed defiantly at his master and Randy was astonished to see a slight smile come to his lips.

'I can take it, sir. I'm not afraid any more. I'm your boy, sir. I can take anything. I want you to plough my ass, sir.'

Randy gazed in awe and admiration at this tough young kid, and the sight drove him wild. He pulled his cock back, then plunged it in again, loving the sight of the beautiful young face as it flew back in a frenzied mix of pain and pleasure. His fear had been exorcised, replaced by pure joy, by the exquisite satisfaction of pleasing his master.

The pounding was merciless. Never had Randy been so savage in fucking this perfect ass. All the strength in his magnificent body was concentrated on the boy's ass as his cock pistoned into it. Pablo pulled at his ropes, twisted his body as he instinctively tried to ease the worst of the pain, but in the end he had to submit to his master's power.

The brutal hammering continued for what seemed an eternity, as the two men entered a private world of their own, a world where master and boy were joined in a mutual need. Pablo needed this stunning man, needed to be used by him, to be hurt. He needed to become fearless. And Randy needed this boy, needed to love him, train him, help him overcome his fears. Most of all, he needed to fuck his beautiful ass.

Their orgasms were almost an afterthought. They were so enraptured with each other that they were only dimly aware of their approaching climax. Pablo suddenly felt the warmth in his ass as his master poured his juice into him, and Randy looked with mild surprise at the creamy white liquid pouring out of his boy's cock and over the beautiful, smooth brown body.

Their bodies heaving, pouring with sweat, they gazed at each other with a look of surprise, almost as if they were strangers. And in a way they were. They had reached unexplored depths of their feeling for each other and found someone new, someone even more worthy of their love than ever before. Master and boy, father and son. Their union was now truly indissoluble.

Randy smiled down at Pablo. 'It's not over, kid. Now you get your reward ...... something I've been meaning to give you for a long time.'

**************

In the warmth of the afternoon sun Steve lay back in the rowboat, drifting lazily in the lake, eyes closed. His mind was running on Randy and Pablo, imagining the tender love-making that was happening, calming them, healing their wounds. He was soon to discover how far off the mark he was.

'Hey, Steve. Get over here. I need your help.'

Shocked by the bellowing voice Steve sat bolt upright and instantly began rowing for shore. It must be Hans, he thought. Must have come back. Rowing with his back to the beach he grounded the boat, and turned round. The sight that met his eyes made him gasp.

Pablo lay on his back, tied between two trees. His chest was covered in sweat and pools of semen. Randy towered over him, his cock still dripping cum. When Randy turned round Steve saw an exhilaration on his face he had not seen before.

'Hey, buddy,' Randy laughed. 'Like what you see? We've just been getting re-acquainted. I've been helping this kid overcome his fears, to face his demons as you might say.'

Once again Steve was knocked sideways by this amazing man. 'Jesus,' he said. 'In all my years as a therapist I've never come across guys like you.'

'And never will,' Randy laughed. He turned to Pablo. 'OK, kiddo. Now for your reward. Can you guess?'

Pablo looked from Steve's face to Randy's ...... two beautiful, rugged men so alike they could be brothers. It was like seeing double. And then he knew. Double is what he was going to get.

'Sir, I know exactly what I want.'

'Yeah, me too, kid. You're not my son for nothing. OK, Steve. You first.'

And so continued one of the most incredible days in the young man's life. The sight of the young, bound boy gave Steve an instant erection. He dropped his shorts and knelt in front of him. He pushed his legs backward to the ground and soon he was fucking the boy's ass gently, gazing in wonder at his exotic young face. He caressed the ass, made love to it and just as he felt close to his orgasm he heard Randy's voice.

'OK, buddy, my turn.' The big man took Steve's place and without a second's hesitation thrust his big, thick cock into his boy's ass. He smiled down at him. 'Not so gentle, uh?'

'No, sir,' Pablo said with a grin. It was quite different from Steve. The men may look alike, but the feeling was not. Steve had been careful, tentative almost, but Randy was the boss and showed it. Even now, after all they had been through, he had a way of taking Pablo all the way to the edge of pain and then just over it. And, with all his fear gone, Pablo was in heaven.

And so the two glorious men took it in turns to use Pablo's sweet ass. The boy looked up and saw the two faces, like twins, above him, one inside his ass, the other watching lustfully. He was aware of the changing rhythm, first tender, then rough. And he loved them both.

Finally, though, when Steve's turn came next he could not hold back. As he smiled down at the beautiful boy his body flexed and jolted and he poured his load of cum into the boy's ass. Simultaneously Pablo felt heat rising from his groin, and his cock erupted in yet another orgasm.

Pablo looked up at Randy with regret. 'Sorry, sir. I wanted to save myself for you.'

'Yeah, sorry, man,' Steve said.

'Sorry for what?' Randy growled, kneeling on front of the boy. 'Watch this.' He threw Pablo's legs back, plunged his cock into his exposed ass and pounded it one last ferocious time. And one more time Pablo looked up at the sweating, muscular torso rising and falling above him. He marveled at the gypsy face, blazing eyes, the square, stubbled jaw, the tousled black hair falling over his brow. He was magnificent, omnipotent.

'OK, kid. Now I'm ordering you. Do it again. Cum again. Now!'

'Yes, sir.' Pablo couldn't believe that his cock erupted again, only minutes since his last orgasm. Juice streamed out of him as he felt his master's semen pouring into his ass. When they were both drained Randy pulled out and leapt to his feet in triumph. He and Steve looked down at the boy they had both fucked.

As Pablo gazed up at them his face shone, his eyes sparkling. He had been serially fucked by these two glorious men. He had conquered his fear, exorcised his demons. He was strong, he was a survivor. He was his master's boy. Still bound, he pulled proudly at his rope restraints and his sculpted young body gleamed, flowing with the juices of three orgasms.

Randy threw his arm around Steve. 'Look at him, Steve. It doesn't get more beautiful than that. Now you understand us. Now you know why that's the boy I adopted, the boy I love body and soul.'

***************

The sun was finally beginning to set after what seemed like an endless day. Hans was a distant, dark memory, the only residual effect being their total exhaustion. They had a swim, to stretch their aching limbs and wash off the cum that had poured from their bodies. Then they had a quick, cold meal.

Randy stood up. 'OK, guys. We hit the road at dawn tomorrow. Now we sleep.' He pulled blankets from the truck and threw them on the ground. In a very few minutes they were all sound asleep. Pablo's head rested on Randy's chest, nestling in the safety of the muscular arms enfolding him. In his sleep he was dimly aware of the warm, hard body of his new friend Steve resting lightly against his back.

Billy lay only feet away. Several times in the night he growled softly as he caught the scent of coyotes on the breeze. Once he heard a noise in the bushes and got up to investigate, only to see a deer bounding away into the forest. After that the only sound was the breathing of three men and the lapping of the water against the shore.

**************

The drive was a long one ...... three hours. The boat had been stowed in the back of the truck and Randy drove fast through the Los Padres Forest headed for the coast road. Billy was in the back seat, and in the front Pablo sat happily between the two almost identical men. The mood was jubilant. They had all triumphed in their way. Randy had demolished Hans, Pablo had conquered his fears, and Steve had discovered the thrill of cumming inside the ass of a beautiful boy. He felt he was finally being accepted as part of this incredible group of men.

Steve and Randy threw their arms over Pablo's shoulders and Randy's hand rested lightly against the back of Steve's neck. Steve heaved a contented sigh. 'You know,' he said. 'Every time I go somewhere with you guys I feel like I'm starting a new adventure.'

'You are, buddy,' Randy grinned. 'You should know that by now.'

Mark's shack in the Guadalupe dunes was not easy to find. 'Jeez,' said Randy. 'He said it was a hideaway but this is way back of beyond.' Then they heard, rather than saw, their destination.

'They're here!' It was Jamie's voice and they saw the young bronzed body dancing on the top of one of the dunes. Bob and Darius had already arrived and the big reunion was a joyous one. And noisy! The three young guys had a lot to relate and, as usual, all spoke at once. Jamie talked of his night alone in the shack with the beautiful cop, his master, Mark. Darius spilled out to story of his incredible pool-boy fantasy Bob had taken him on. And Pablo thrilled them with the description of the big fight and his night with the two spectacular men.

Nobody noticed, away over to the side, the two figures holding each other in a tight embrace. Randy and Bob hadn't said a word. At first they had stood looking at each other, each surprised as always at the beauty of the man he loved. Then they had fallen into each other's arms and were breathing each other in. Randy murmured into his lover's ear, 'God, I always miss you like hell when I'm not with you.'

Bob pulled his face back and gazed into the pale blue eyes he knew so well. 'Me too, buddy. You know, whatever we do, and whoever it's with, it's always only you. It's you I long for, more than anything in my life.'

'You'll always have me, Bob. That's a solemn promise. You know that.'

Bob frowned. 'I can't believe Hans showed up again. You look pretty banged up. You sure you're OK?'

'Nothing that a little tender loving care from my favorite guy won't cure.'

Just then Mark came over and everyone crowded round. 'Hell, man,' Mark said. 'Looks like you took quite a beating.' Randy's reply was drowned out by the chorus of boys' voices.

'Yeah,' they shouted in unison, 'but you should see the other guy.' And they collapsed with laughter.

When finally they calmed down Randy addressed them all. 'OK, guys. We're all gonna have a blast here. But right now I'm taking Bob away from you. See you in a couple of hours. Enjoy!'

He went to the truck, pulled out a blanket and threw it over his shoulder. He threw his arm round Bob's neck and led him off down the beach. They walked for about two miles, in silence at first, re-bonding, getting the feel of each other again. Finally Randy spoke.

'God this feels great. Do you ever wish it was just the two of us, like before? Me just a laborer on a construction site and you an accountant. We should get away more often, just you and me.'

Bob grinned. 'I wouldn't want to go any further than Room 14'

'Ah!' Randy's mind flew back to the shabby motel where they had first been together, in an extraordinary few days of sex and physical conflict. 'I'll take you back there anytime you like, buddy. In the meantime this will do.'

He pulled Bob away from the ocean, up into the dunes. They walked down into a hollow in the sand and Randy threw the blanket down.

'This is perfect,' he said. 'Come here.' He pulled Bob down onto the blanket and folded him in his arms. They gazed into each other's eyes. The only sound was the distance breaking of the waves and the breeze sighing through the dune grass. Bob stroked Randy's face, tracing the cuts and bruises left from the fight.

'Still handsome as a prince, though,' he smiled. 'Matter of fact, you look even more gorgeous when you're banged up a bit. It was rough, uh?'

'Yeah. That mother-fucker's a tough son of a bitch.'

'You wanna talk about it?'

'Nah, not Hans. The asshole's not worth it. Anyway, it was what came next that's important.'

'Let me guess ...... Pablo.'

Randy's eyes misted over. 'He lost his nerve, Bob. That swine mauled him so bad, scared the shit out of him so Pablo's demons all came back. That tough, brave young kid lost his nerve.'

'And you helped him find it again.'

'Yeah, I did.'

Bob smiled. 'Yeah, you'd be good at that.'

'I tied him up, worked him over, hurt him, fucked the shit out of him. He defied his demons and conquered his fear.'

'Of course he did, buddy. He was with you. He worships you.'

'God, I love the kid, Bob. I just didn't realize how much.' He looked deeper into Bob's eyes. 'And I realized something else. I want you to love him just as much. I want you two to be just as close. Hell you two are the most important things in my life ...... you first, of course, and then him. So I want him to think of himself as belonging to both of us. To love us as a couple. Hell, sounds dumb to say it, but I want us to be a family. Do you think that's possible?'

Bob smiled. 'Randy, this is you and me. Together we can do anything. It's all possible. And that boy will embrace us both, I promise. You've done your part. Now leave it to me.'

Randy relaxed. 'God, I love you man. But I already said that, didn't I?' Randy fell silent, thinking about the fight. 'You know, that mother-fucker almost beat me.'

'But he didn't, buddy. You won. You always win.'

'Yeah, but ...... maybe I'm losing my touch?'

'Let me be the judge of that,' Bob smiled and pulled him close. And for the next two hours they made love in the dunes.

***************

Back at the shack Mark had his hands full. The three boys were in a highly excitable mood, thrilled to be back together, and in such a beautiful place. They were unloading the rowboat from the truck and Jamie shouted to Mark.

'Sir, OK if we take the boat in the ocean?'

Mark was dubious. They were in such a hyped-up state that he questioned their judgment. Still there were three of them and the exercise would help to soak up their energy.

'OK, but not too far out. There can be rip tides out there, so stay close to shore.'

They pushed the boat into the small waves, Pablo threw Billy in and they all jumped in after him. Billy shook himself and drenched the boys who screamed with laughter. Mark watched them row a short way out, then turned to Steve.

The two men were alone now, for the first time since Steve had made the mistake of fucking Mark's boy Jamie and got brutally fucked himself as a punishment. There was an uneasy tension between them, neither being sure how to break the ice. Finally Mark smiled and held out his hand. Steve relaxed and shook it warmly.

'Truce?' said Mark. 'All that's in the past. Hell, man, you and I go back a long way. We shouldn't be enemies.'

'You know I've always admired you, Mark.'

'Mark grinned. 'Hope I didn't hurt your ass too much.'

'No ...... as a matter of fact .......' He trailed off.

'Steve?'

'Well, I probably shouldn't be saying this but, when you were fucking me ....... Jesus, it felt sensational. It was........' Again he was lost for words.

Mark gazed at him and put his hand on his arm. 'No need to explain, buddy. I felt it too. Hell, man, you were one great fuck! Pity about the circumstances. Still maybe we can get together again like that some time. If you would like to.'

Steve beamed. 'I'd love to, man. Just name the day.'

There was another awkward silence. Perhaps they had pushed intimacy a bit too far. Steve took a deep breath.

'Look, I'm gonna go for a run along the beach. You up for that?'

'Nah, you go. I'll stay here and keep an eye on the boys. I'm a bit concerned about them. They were acting kinda crazy. Enjoy.'

Steve took off and was soon a speck in the distance. Mark sat in a chair, in just his gym shorts, put his hands behind his head and raised his face to the sun. God he felt good. Everyone back together, peace restored, and his boy Jamie secure and happy.

He heard distant voices and put on his sunglasses. He gazed out to sea and saw the kids standing up in the boat, horsing around, dancing, screaming with laughter. He was concerned that they had gone out too far and he stood up to wave at them to come back closer. He saw them jousting with the oars and was about to shout when he saw the oars clash ...... and fall over the side. They leaned over the side ....... but it looked to Mark as if the oars were lost.

They would be helpless without oars. Then Mark saw to his horror that the boat was drifting quite fast parallel with the shore. They had picked up a rip tide. 'Jesus Christ,' he murmured and sped down to the water. He launched his long, muscular body into the waves and began to swim out with swift, powerful strokes. He could feel the tide already and it was hard for him to keep the boat in sight. He poured all his strength into his battle with the waves and, as he crested on a swell, saw with relief that he was close to the boat.

The guys were standing up yelling at him and, when he was within hailing distance he shouted, 'Sit down! All of you! Don't move. You'll capsize the boat.' They did as he instructed and soon he swam alongside and grabbed the side of the boat. He looked around but there was no sign of the oars. He fought to regain his breath until he was able to speak.

'We're in the riptide,' he shouted. 'There's nothing you can do. Leave it to me. It's vital that you stay calm and still. If the boat upsets we're all lost. Pablo, hold tight to Billy. Darius, fling me the mooring rope attached to the prow.'

Darius threw the long rope out to Mark who treaded water and tied the end securely round his chest. 'Now I'm gonna try and tow you in. But for now we'll have to go with the tide, parallel to the shore. Don't panic. Just stay still.'

And so began Mark's long, desperate, agonizing swim, towing the boat behind him. At first it wasn't so bad as he let the rip tide carry him and the boat, and he concentrated on not being carried further out to sea. The boys were all scared but were reassured by the sight of the muscles rippling in the broad back and arms cutting through the waves.

After a few miles Mark felt the tide weaken and he knew the time had come to head to shore. And this is where the real struggle began as he fought the current, dragging the heavy boat behind him. He was a strong swimmer but this was muscle-breaking work. He tried to keep his breathing even and not swallow water. He kicked his legs and pulled on his powerful arms, moving yard by painful yard.

It seemed like an eternity. He knew he was making headway but felt his body weaken. His muscles screamed with pain and he willed himself to keep going until he could feel his feet touch bottom. The boys watched in awe as the muscle god powered through the waves, but they could see he was flagging. Mark knew he was near the end of his strength, near the end of consciousness. And then his feet touched sand. 'The bottom,' he groaned weakly before passing out.

The boys jumped out of the boat and realized they were chest high in the water. Their main task was to keep Mark's sagging head out of the water, to stop him drowning. To lose him now, after all his stupendous effort would be a tragedy. But the waves kept curling over them and they were losing the fight. Then they heard a deep voice.

'Hold on!'

They looked up and could not believe their eyes. Striding from the shore through the surf was the most incredible sight. A tall black man, in tattered old shorts, with a magnificent muscular physique and strong, chiseled features. It was as if he were carved in ebony. His smooth, dark black skin gleamed in the spray as he strode powerfully through the waves. When he reached them he bent down and bodily lifted the unconscious man, throwing him effortlessly over his broad shoulder and carrying him to shore.

The boys struggled to follow, towing the boat carrying a wild-barking Billy, behind them. When they reached the shore the man had already laid Mark gently on the sand. He checked that his breathing was steady, lightly slapped his face and watched as Mark began to cough and spit up mouthfuls of water. As he regained consciousness Mark looked up into a pair of stunning, pale gray eyes set in a square-jawed ebony face.

The man spoke again. 'He'll be fine now. Take good care of him. He saved your lives.'

And before they could respond the man turned and ran back along the beach in easy, powerful strides. He was already disappearing into the distance as Darius gasped,

'Who in the hell was that?'

****************

TO BE CONTINUED in 'A Trial Of Strength - Part 67'

 

Rob Williams

[email protected]

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