Sun-Kissed Secret Baby by Leigh Jenkins

Chapter 2

Online check-in had been expedient, and there was little need for formalities once they arrived at the place that would be their home for the next three weeks.

Half Moon Bay was a sprawling property, well fenced and gated, manned by uniformed, efficient-looking security and staff. There was a central building, which, as Allie remembered from her internet sleuthing, housed the offices, dining room, breakfast nook, entertainment areas, and bar. Spreading outward in a semi-circle was a collection of smaller buildings, which she guessed were residential cabins.

Her mind flashed back to that afternoon ten years ago, when they’d first arrived at Batali Beach Resort out on the east coast. She, her best friend Olivia, Fiona, and Saira, had been a bunch of excited high-schoolers eager to embrace life. The buildings there had been folksy, laid out almost haphazardly, with tropical plants encroaching enthusiastically upon slightly overgrown pathways that led to the treacherous Atlantic.

Half Moon Bay Resort had an air of deliberate, studied beauty, its architecture precise, its sprawling lawns and gardens looking as if the gardeners got down on their knees and trimmed each individual blade of grass with tiny clippers. It was welcoming, relaxing, and pretty as a picture book.

A smiling hostess met the new arrivals. She wore the same turquoise and navy uniform they were seeing everywhere. “Good evening! Welcome to the Half Moon Bay Resort.” Her accent was as musical as the sound of the wind in the coconut trees.

“My name is Princess—”

Daria gaped. “Are you really a princess?”

The young woman shook her head, still smiling. “Well, Princess is the name my momma actually gave me, but I’ve decided to act like one, too.” She twirled. “Can you see my crown?”

The girls grinned and agreed that they certainly could.

Princess led them to their respective cabins, which, to the girls’ excitement, were close to each other. As Sadie and Lauren said their ‘see-you-laters,’ Allie and Daria followed Princess to their place. She opened the door for them with a flourish.

It was certainly beautiful. A small sitting area with comfy-looking overstuffed armchairs led to a kitchenette and two bedrooms. The walls were a cheery pastel, festooned with paintings of tropical scenes, and floral-patterned curtains fluttered at the wide windows. As Princess led them through, clicking on the air conditioning and pointing out things like the TV remote and microwave, Daria stared around in awe. This was her first time in a hotel, and Allie felt a twinge of guilt at never having the time to take her anywhere, not even for a weekend. It wasn’t that she’d never wanted to, it was just that life had a pesky habit of intervening.

“All of this is for us?” Daria gasped, looking around almost nervously, as if fearing that it would all be taken away.

“Sure it is, doux-doux,” Princess answered cheerily.

Daria gave her mother a scandalized look, and hissed in a stage whisper, “Did she just call me doo-doo?”

Princess heard, of course, and laughed. “No, honey-child. Doux is French. It means ‘my sweet.’ Because you are such a little darling.”

“Oh.” Daria looked soothed. Another question occurred to her. “Why are you speaking French?”

“The French occupied this island for more than 120 years,” Princess explained. “So most of us know at least a couple of words in French Creole.” Then she winked and added, “But don’t worry. Eventually, we sent them packing.”

Allie thanked Princess as she left. As much as she appreciated the warmth of the welcome, she was relieved to be alone again with her daughter. It had been a long day, and even though they’d been on their way to an adventure, travelling by air with all its red tape and hyper-security measures, was taxing.

She allowed Daria to pick a room, smiling when she naturally chose the one that looked out onto the bay. As the sun went down, tinging everything with pink, the view was magnificent.

A quick shower and a change of clothes later, it became clear to her that Daria was too bushed to eat dinner. Her head was lolling around even as she struggled to keep her eyes open. Before long, Daria flopped into bed like a rag doll.

Allie sat on the bed next to her and gave her a tight hug. “Are you okay, my doux-doux?”

Daria made a face. “It doesn’t sound as nice when you say it.”

Allie agreed. “Probably because I have a boring old Colorado accent, and not a pretty Sabina one. So how about I skip the French and just call you my snookie-buns?”

Daria rolled her eyes and groaned. “How about you just call me Daria?”

“We can do that.” She paused. “Hey, I think you need to get some sleep. I’ll slip out to the main building awhile, get a look around. Maybe bring back a snack for later, okay?” She added comfortingly, “You’ll be safe and snug in here. The grounds are fenced and gated, and the place is crawling with security—”

Daria’s eyes were drooping. “I know I’ll be safe, Mom. You worry too much.”

Allie was about to protest that she certainly did not worry too much, but Daria was out cold. She waited a few more minutes, struggling with her guilt at leaving, but the lure of the night air was too much for her. She slid out quietly, locking the door and slipping the key card into her pocket.

She followed soft, muted sounds of lounge music back to the main building, and found her way to the outdoor dining area, where several guests were already enjoying an early dinner. She discovered that she was too tired to eat much, so she ordered a light corn soup with garlic bread, and a cold local beer.

Here I am,she thought, idly spooning her soup and letting it fall into the bowl again. It looked delicious, but a few sips were all she could manage. It was as though her body felt heavy, like a weight she carried around with her rather than an entity inhabited by her soul. She wasn’t yet out of her twenties, she thought. How did she get so tired?

The soft strains of a guitar drew her attention to the tiny stage near the front, and Allie looked up, attracted as always by the sound of music. A young man was strolling on; tall, long-limbed, with cinnamon skin and dreadlocks that caressed his jaw.

Allie stared.

He was holding an acoustic guitar, and with supreme confidence, he stepped to the microphone and began to sing soca music, vibrant, energetic, imbued with the spirit of the islands. His voice filled the air, reaching out and snatching the attention of everyone there as surely as if it was a physical being.

She felt her heartbeat speed up, tripping into sync with the beat. Felt her body answer. It was as if this young man had sent his spirit out to possess hers, drag her back toward him, back to the past.

That’s Sam,she thought. He’s here.

But it couldn’t be. It wasn’t. This man was tall, as Sam had been. Long-limbed, golden-skinned, with locks she could almost feel once again, springy and soft under her fingers.

She dropped her spoon as if it was hot.

His voice had a powerful timbre, infused with the captivating cadence of soca done right… as Sam’s had been.

Not him,she reminded herself. This isn’t Sam. The Sam she had known… loved… was the same age as this kid, but that had been ten years ago. Sam would be thirty, a man, not a kid.

She knew for sure that his voice was deeper, his locks longer. In her moments of weakness, of insanity, she’d found herself Googling Sam, following his meteoric musical career and his rise to the level of soca superstar just a year or two after she’d left Sabina. Yes, okay, she had downloaded a few of his tracks, listened to them, and then deleted them quickly when her heart couldn’t bear to listen. She also knew that he had suddenly stopped singing, fallen off the charts and out of sight.

And though she didn’t know why, she knew for sure that there was no way this international superstar would return to a stage barely 20 feet wide, in a little family resort across the island, on another coast from the one on which he lived.

This wasn’t Sam, merely a specter of Sam sent to taunt her. Tease her, remind her of what she had given up. And she wasn’t having it. Abruptly, she got up, tossing her napkin onto the table.