It had been an unusually warm day for August. Finally tired of sunning himself, Steed swam out past the breakers, then turned and floated luxuriously on his back, feeling the undulation of the gentle waves that rolled under him on their way to dissolve on the shingle of the Sussex beach some twenty yards away. He gazed up at the late afternoon sky, the blue deepening with the beginning of sunset, the large, fluffy clouds faintly tinged with orange and gold. It was a good day to be alive.
And then something grabbed ahold of his right foot. Startled, Steed jumped and pulled his foot away from whatever it was, and found himself treading water face to face with a smiling Mrs Peel, sleek as an otter.
“Mrs Peel!” said Steed. “What a delightful surprise. What brings you here?”
“Hello, Steed. I finished my book, and I looked up and saw you bobbing out here like a lonely champagne cork, so thought I’d join you.”
Mrs Peel seemed to be looking over his shoulder at something, so Steed revolved in the water to face that direction. Mrs Peel gestured with her chin.
“Race you to that big rock over there!” she said, and then leapt forward in the water like an arrow shot from a bow. Steed grinned as he watched her go, then followed.
Even though Mrs Peel had a head start, Steed overtook her in no time, slicing through the water with a strong and fluid stroke. Swimming was one of the few things in which Steed could easily outstrip her. Not that she minded: having him in the lead meant that she could watch those broad shoulders and long arms power him almost effortlessly through the water, her delight in which was always at war with her competitiveness every time she challenged him to a race.
Steed reached the rock first, almost a length and a half in front of Emma who, try as she might, had not been able to make up any of the distance between them. He scrambled up and then turned to give her a hand. She allowed him to help her up to the top of the rock, where he took a seat facing the shore, one forearm resting on the knee that he had drawn up to his chest, the other dangling down into the water and drumming a slow and gentle tatoo on the side of the rock.
“Steed, I daresay you weren’t even trying,” Emma said, panting, as she settled next to him, shoulder to wet shoulder. “That’s not very sporting.”
“My dear Mrs Peel! I am a gentleman, and while friendly competition is certainly agreeable, no gentleman ever hands a lady a ringing defeat. It’s simply Not Done.”
Emma snorted, but her lips twitched in a smile.
They both sat in silence for a while, as the late summer light turned golden and their shadows lengthened out over the water. Along the top of the cliff in front of them they could see the tall, thin figure of a man, somewhat bowed with age and leaning on an Alpenstock. He made his way along the clifftop path, then turned to go inland and was soon lost from view. Emma noticed that Steed had been watching the man very intently.
“Steed, what is it? Do you know him?”
He relaxed, and smiled gently.
“No, probably not. He just reminded me of someone, that’s all.”
Emma nodded. Steed turned around and saw that the sun would be fully set in an hour or so.
“We probably should be heading back,” he said as he stood up on top of the rock. He paused for a moment and looked up at the cliff where the man had been walking, then turned to Mrs Peel with a mischievous grin.
“Mrs Peel, do remind me to tell you about the day I met Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps over dinner tonight?”
Emma didn’t have the chance to do more than a double-take before Steed launched himself into the water. She jumped in herself as he emerged some yards away, where he waited for her to catch up.
It wasn’t often that Steed told her stories about his past. This one promised to be the most intriguing yet.
Dinner was going to be interesting.
Some of you may have guessed that this crossover owes something to Laurie R King’s imagining of an older Sherlock Holmes who is married to one Mary Russell. You are indeed correct in that surmise. And the title also owes something to King’s work, namely the first book in the series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.