Sun-Kissed Secret Baby by Leigh Jenkins

Sun-Kissed Secret Baby

A Sabina Island Romance

Chapter 1

The first thing Allie noticed as she stepped out of the main doors at Sabina International Airport was the sweet scent of the island air. She inhaled deeply, drinking in the perfume of exotic flowers and grasses, moist earth and sunshine. They were too far from the coast, she knew, but she was sure she could also sense the pervasive, seductive aroma of sand and salty water.

Which was probably more of a memory stirring inside her than anything else.

I’m back,she thought. After all these years, here I am again, in this magical place, where I—

“Mom!” Beside her, Daria yelped, hopping with excitement, eyes wide. “We’re here! We’re here! We’re here!”

Allie looked down indulgently at her daughter, who was practically vibrating with energy. It had been a long flight, first from Denver to Fort Lauderdale, and then across the sparkling azure Caribbean Sea to Sabina. They’d been flying since the first peek of dawn, and now it was late afternoon. But while Allie herself was exhausted… pushing thirty now, old girl… Daria had seemed to draw strength clear out of the sky, like some magical elemental being.

“Let’s go! Come on! Can we get a taxi?”

She shook her head. “The resort is sending a shuttle for us. We just need to look for the driver.” She led Daria away from the cluster of excited tourists, already gussied up in their colorful Hawaiian shirts and clam-diggers, Birkenstocks on their feet as if they expected to step directly from the plane onto sand.

As they made their way out to the parking lot, Allie noticed that the airport had fully embraced the Easter vibe: There were fluttering pennants in cheerful pastels, large pots filled with white and yellow Easter lilies and… several Easter Bunny mascots in white, brown, and black furry costumes, plastic buck-toothed smiles on their oversized heads, wandering cheerily through the crowd, handing out balloons to the kiddies and offering candy from baskets. Over the top - so many rabbits! So very Sabina Island.

Allie remembered with almost jarring force the moment of her first arrival at Sabina, stepping out on Carnival Friday and being swamped by a parade: soca music blasting from speakers, stilt-walking children dancing happily to the beat, costumed butterflies and bats. The island had pulsed with joyful energy, a promise of the bedlam that was to follow over the weekend, culminating in Mardi Gras, and events that had changed her life—

“Welcome to Sabina!” said a super-happy white bunny with floppy pink ears and a huge cotton-ball of a tail. She offered a balloon to Daria. “Would you like a balloon, sweetie-pie?”

Daria scoffed. “I’m too old for balloons. I’m nine!”

Allie hid a smile. How great it must be to be at a stage where nine felt worldly and all-knowing.

The bunny bowed graciously. “Apologies, my dear. Then maybe I can offer you a chocolate? They’re handmade from locally grown cocoa. Chocolate is one of our specialties, you know.” She pointed into her basket. “That’s almond… cashew… coconut… rum—oh, that one’s for your mommy.”

Mollified, Daria accepted a chocolate, as did Allie. And although the plastic bubble eyes on the bunny’s head were incapable of winking, she was sure the bunny threw her a conspiratorial wink anyway, woman to woman. The silent message was, Kids, eh?

Daria smiled back at her and nodded, and then the bunny hop-skipped away.

“Mom!” Daria pointed at a middle-aged, dark-skinned man in a knife-pleated pair of navy-blue pants and an aquamarine polo shirt bearing the logo of the Half Moon Bay Resort. If that wasn’t enough to identify him, he held up a sign that read: Half Moon Bay Resort Shuttle.

“That’s us!”

“Sure is,” Allie agreed. She grasped Daria’s hand and led her past the invasion of carrot-munchers.

The driver directed them to a brightly painted, branded minibus, in which a woman and young girl were already seated. The woman brightened as they entered. “Oh good! Company!” She patted the seat next to her, and although the bus seated twelve, Allie figured it was only polite to accept the invitation.

There was a little shuffling and the girls slid across the aisle to sit together, while Allie settled in next to the woman. Her seat-mate was a plumpish 40-something ginger with a mass of pale freckles, which Allie immediately knew would flourish exponentially under the Caribbean sun.

“I’m Sadie, and this my daughter, Lauren.”

Lauren looked to be about twelve, as red-headed and freckled as her mom.

“Where are you guys from?”

“Colorado,” Allie offered.

“We’re from Oklahoma,” Sadie responded cheerily. “Yup. Okie from Muskogee. That’s what I am. Yup, yup, yup.”

Allie knew from jump that this woman was going to be a talker.

As the bus pulled off, Sadie began a running commentary about everything that flew past in the window. The city architecture, an odd mix of old colonial buildings with fancy fretwork and wrought iron, and modern skyscrapers. As they left the capital of St. Cillian behind, the landscape changed from bustling towns to sprawling countryside, and Sadie oohed and ahhed about everything. She was even more voluble once Allie admitted that she’d been here before; the questions came at her fast.

As much as she instinctively liked this woman, Allie inwardly groaned. She’d kind of been hoping for a little quiet time on the way to the resort, to properly process her thoughts and feelings. To actually come to grips with the fact that she was here again, in Sabina.

No longer an eager teenager, here with her girlfriends to experience one of the world’s most colorful festivals, but a grown woman, one who was, quite frankly, a little bit jaded and worn out, hoping against hope that the feel of sand under her feet and the smell of beach air might fix it… whatever it was.

To make things worse, the driver had launched into tour-guide mode, and was patiently explaining Sabina’s storied history, its violent past as it was fought over by a succession of European nations, who all clearly saw the island’s potential due to its rich natural resources and strategic location for warfare, shipping, and commerce.

The girls, for their part, had discovered they were both registered for the Aqua Camp at Half Moon Bay Resort, and were eagerly trying to guess what activities they would enjoy the most.

“I can’t wait to kayak!” Daria announced.

“I want to sail, and snorkel,” Lauren said. “You can’t snorkel in Oklahoma….”

I guess you can’t,Allie thought.

“I’m looking forward to getting some sun, aren’t you?” Sadie looked down at her pale, freckled arms.

Allie couldn’t deny that she wouldn’t mind soaking up a few rays. She didn’t have a problem dismissing the specter of skin cancer long enough to put some color into her cheeks and legs. She glanced across at Daria. With her thick, curly mass of long hair to Allie’s bone-strait, mousy brown, and her darker, spice-colored skin, her looks were noticeably different to Allie’s. Daria would be glowing under the sun in no time, toasting to perfection.

Sadie was chirping again. “I’m looking forward to the shopping, aren’t you? I’m going to take back a suitcase full of souvenirs.” She looked at Allie, blue eyes flashing with excitement. “Did you bring lots of Carnival stuff back when you were here last time?”

Involuntarily, Allie glanced over at Daria, and then looked away. She’d brought back the souvenir to end all souvenirs, she thought. She nodded mutely and lapsed into silence, praying that Sadie would take the hint.

It was a dumb idea, she decided, to come back here. She’d come looking for peace, maybe a taste of joy or freedom—or, something—but so far, all she was finding were memories. She glanced out the window and noticed that the minibus had turned northward, towards the coast, and felt a little more relieved. At least the north coast was well away from Batali Beach, where she’d stayed the last time. Where she’d found love and walked away from it.

She also congratulated herself on being smart enough to stay clear of the massive resort complex called Indulgences, which in short order had become famous throughout the Caribbean as an eclectic, exquisite all-inclusive resort, with satellite branches in Jamaica, Aruba, Martinique, Barbados, and Tobago. The wild hounds of hell couldn’t have dragged her there, because there, she knew, she would find Sam.

At least at Half Moon Bay, the sweet, small, family-friendly place on the north coast, would be peaceful, tranquil, and, best of all, Samuel-free. At least here, her memories would be undisturbed, and her heart would be safe.