Matteo was terrified of the water.
This was a great bafflement to Benedick. Alexander and Patricia, while perfectly indifferent to swimming, had taken to the sea like fish. Orlando had been swimming before he could walk, and Adriana…. Well, they had all they could do to keep her out of the water. (Benedick dreaded the day she discovered midnight skinny dipping. He knew it was only a matter of time. She certainly had the imagination for it.)
But then there was Matt. In most other regards he took after his father with alarming accuracy. “My stars, he even has your sense of style,” Beatrice had once lamented. Matt had been two at the time and Beatrice still hesitated to let him choose his own “for the general public” attire.
But Matt hated the sea.
“Come now,” Benedick soothed, “I want you to at least know how to swim. It’s past time you could manage that.”
Behind him, a couple of Hero and Claudio’s brood squealed as their father did something horrendous to their sandcastle.
Matteo’s face was red with the effort of holding back tears. Alex and Tricia had been banished to the far end of their stretch of beach to preserve some of their little brother’s dignity. Adriana would have been sent, too, but she was currently bobbing out past the sandbar.
Matt saw where his father’s eyes were fixed. He crossed his arms, only to fling them out wide a second later to balance against a gentle wave. He tried for obstinance. “I don’t want to!”
Benedick crossed his arms as well and bent his knees against the next wave. “That doesn’t factor into it. Now come—”
There was so much terror in the tone that Benedick found himself tallying up his children before he’d spun completely toward the beach. All safe. Beatrice had gone back up to the house. The sandcastle had been abandoned mid-destruction, but its two architects were still crouched beside it.
It was Hero. She knelt up the beach with little Rosie in her arms, Claudio hovering uselessly nearby. Even over the waves Benedick could hear the noise of the little girl choking.
He snatched up Matt—if you left him alone the slightest wave could bowl him over—and bolted for Hero.
“What is it?” he called before he’d reached them. Matt wriggled out of his grasp and planted himself in the sand. Benedick left him there.
Hero was babbling incoherently, trying to check Rosie’s mouth. An assortment of plastic beach toys lay scattered around them. Rose’s face was almost blue.
Shoving Claudio out of the way, Benedick caught up the girl and turned her onto her stomach across his knee, reciting procedures under his breath. Rosie wasn’t choking loudly anymore, only gagging weakly. He hit her back with the heel of his hand several times.
And just as quickly as it’d started, it was over. Whatever Rosie had managed to shove into her mouth came loose and she started wailing instantly.
Benedick handed her off to her mother and bent over, hands on knees, to catch his own breath.
“Best get her up to the house,” he said.
Mutely, Hero nodded and started that way. As soon as she was out of earshot, Benedick straightened and shoved Claudio in the chest.
That shook him out of his shock. “Hey!”
“Where’s your head!” Benedick snapped. “You should know what to do, same as I.” A small part of his mind told him to be gentle, but adrenaline overpowered that voice. “You and Hero both, come to think of it.”
Goodness sake, Benedick and Beatrice had taken refresher courses before each of their children had been born. Even Alex knew what to do. Benedick looked across at Claudio’s older daughters, who had gone back to repairing their sandcastle with Matteo’s help. Maybe he should make sure they knew how to swim, too.
“Thank you,” Claudio whispered.
Benedick scowled at him and heaved a sigh, but he nodded. “Don’t let her play with those toys. You know how she is about putting things in her mouth.” He left Claudio in the sand and went to check on Adriana.