Sun-Kissed Secret Baby by Leigh Jenkins

Chapter 5

In the light of morning, Half Moon Bay looked exactly as Allie would have expected: a strip of coast that curved in on itself like a croissant, embracing water the color of a swimming pool. The sand was nothing like Batali Beach, which, as far as Allie remembered, had been coarse and golden, like brown sugar. Here, on the north coast, it was a fine white powder, so brilliant that it dazzled in the morning sun.

It was dumb, she knew, the way the image of Batali Beach came to her mind so easily, but if she were honest with herself, she’d admit that the memory of that beach had haunted her over the years, coming unbidden to her in her dreams, both waking and sleeping.

“Woohoo!” Daria screeched in unbridled enthusiasm as she pelted past her mother, kicking off her shoes and making for the shoreline.

Allie had to break into a trot to catch up with her. “Hey! Not so fast! We talked about this, remember?” She looped an arm around Daria’s, barely managing to stop her from high-tailing it into the surf.

“Ugh!” Daria groaned, rolling her eyes. “Oh, Mooom! I wanna go look for Lauren!”

Yup,Allie thought in resignation. She’s made it to the eye-rolling stage. “You’ll see her in a minute. But first—”

“Whattt nowww?”

Allie brandished a bottle of sunblock. “You know the rules. Cover up before you do anything else.”

Daria held out her bare arms, turning them this way and that, to remind her mother of her darker, spice-colored skin, which she had decided was ample protection against the ravages of the Caribbean sun. “I don’t need it! See?”

Allie chuckled but began smearing Daria with generous amounts of the coconut-scented stuff anyway. “It’s skin, kiddo. Not a force-field. You’re wearing this, and that’s final.”

Looking at Daria this morning, tummy full of a hot breakfast, reenergized from sleeping off the traumas of a long flight and the oddness of getting used to a new location, Allie felt better. More secure in her decision to stay.

But leaving had never been an option, she knew. Breaking her child’s heart because she was too chicken would never fly. She was just going to have to suck it all up, and stay out of the garden at night.

“Good morning!” came a chirpy voice behind her.

Allie turned around to see a pretty young Asian woman in a turquoise shirt embroidered with the logo of the Half Moon Bay Resort, a pair of navy-blue shorts and sandals. She was carrying a clipboard.

“Hi!” Daria said, glad for any intervention that would distract her mother from glazing her all over like a donut.

“Hi. I’m Sue-Ann.” The young woman glanced down at her clipboard. “You must be Daria Muller, yeah?”


“‘Yes, ma’am’, not ‘yep’,” Allie corrected automatically.

Another eye-roll.

Sue-Ann gave Daria a ‘don’t worry I got ya’ wink. “And you’re joining us at Aqua Camp today, sugar-plum?”

It amused Allie how easily terms of endearment came to the lips of the people of Sabina; it was as if the sun warmed their temperaments as well.

“Yes, ma’am.” Daria threw her mother a look.

“Cool.” She made a little tick. “Can you swim, Daria?”

“I’m on the swim team at school!”

With a dozen competitive medals to her name,Allie wanted to add. Daria could cut through water like a sailfish. But she decided that being a boastful mama wasn’t the best way to start things off with the camp.

“Well, Daria, why don’t you join me for a moment so I can give you your welcome package—”

Daria began to bounce on her toes in excitement. “What’s in it?”

“Oh, you know, camp t-shirts, swim goggles, swim fins, that sort of stuff.”

She didn’t need to say anymore. Allie watched as her daughter happily trotted off to a beach cabana a couple hundred yards away, where a dozen kids were already swarming excitedly. She felt again that sense of awe and amazement that assailed her whenever she looked at her child, with that wild, impossible hair, a deep chestnut brown with golden tips, and her long straight legs, as graceful as a gazelle’s. At nine, Daria was already the tallest girl in her grade.

Every once in a while, Allie would spot her daughter from a distance, looking on at her almost as if she were a stranger, and admire how wonderful she was. Sometimes, it amazed her that Daria had come this far, had become so much her own person, after all that she had gone through when she was younger….

Allie turned away, confident that her child was in good hands, and walked down to the surf. The gentle water tickled her toes, with tiny bubbles frothing around her ankles as the sea withdrew and returned. She was glad for the moment of quiet because it would give her a chance to get a grip on the turmoil she’d struggled to hide from Daria since they’d woken up this morning.

Sam. Not just owning the resort, but living here, too.

How could she have been so stupid, so careless? How could she have let that information slip right by her? It wasn’t as if Sam was a nobody. For years his name had dominated the music scene, popping up in the press, not just as a singer but as an impresario and concert promoter. The little she knew about his property and holdings might have been limited to the impressive, seductive Indulgences website, but all she’d had to do was dig a little deeper.

Dammit, Allie.

She’d had a tough night, not just going over and over every single second of her conversation with Sam, but relentlessly quizzing herself as to her motivations for coming back to Sabina. There were aqua camps on other islands, and the fact that Daria had been begging to attend one since she was seven would have given her more than enough time to seek one in a less risky location. So why had she inexplicably been drawn here? Sabina had been a happy place for her, sure. She’d created memories here, visiting with her friends.

It had been an impromptu vacation, a prize trip Allie had won. She’d invited her best friend, Olivia, even though Liv’s family was wealthy and she could easily have bankrolled her trip herself. Saira and Fiona had immediately invited themselves along.

The experience had been life changing. Five short days in the midst of the island’s most colorful and exuberant event: Carnival. And the girls had thrown themselves into it, dancing, partying, flirting, expressing themselves throughout the festival, a time when anything goes and nobody asked any questions.

Thinking back, an unpleasant suspicion burrowed deep in Allie’s brain, needling at her: maybe she had orchestrated this… maybe her subconscious had decided it was time to force things to come to a head.

And if so, well, what next?

“Good morning.”

A deep voice made her turn around. It belonged to a large, muscular, dark-skinned man in a turquoise branded polo shirt. He appeared to be in his early thirties; head shaved clean, grin broad, dark eyes flashing from behind his sunglasses.

And Allie knew him immediately, felt a familiar, friendly rush. She gasped. “Charlie Brown?”

His eyes widened in recognition, and then he laughed. “Allie?”

“Yes!” She couldn’t believe it was really him, after all these years. His real name, of course, wasn’t Charlie Brown; that was a silly nickname given to him by his best friend… Sam.

With the same irrepressible personality she remembered him for, he grabbed her, lifted her in a bear hug and spun her around. When her feet were finally on terra firma again, he said, “Welcome back to Sabina! How are you? How are the other girls?”

“Oh,” Allie said with a tinge of regret. “We lost touch over time. You know how it is.”

He nodded. “So, no word from Fiona, huh?”

Allie giggled. The last time they’d been here, Charlie and Fi had discovered they had a lot in common—more precisely, that their liberal views on sex and partying made them compatible. “Not for a couple of years. I hear she’s in the hospitality business… something like that.”

“Good for her.” Then, almost cautiously, asked the question she was dreading, “Have you seen Sam?”

She took a deep breath. “I did. Yes.” She wasn’t sure she wanted to say anything more on that particular subject. She didn’t want to dwell on… or try to explain… the turmoil churning within her right now about their brief but earth-shattering encounter. Especially not to this man, who clearly still stood by his friend’s side.

Charlie said, “I don’t know if you have any idea of the effect you had on him. How much he changed after you left. He became driven, as if a monster was riding on his back. I don’t know what you said to him—”

“I didn’t say anything—” she began defensively. Charlie had been this frank and direct the last time they’d met, and still was, obviously. She wasn’t sure whether she liked it or not.

“He moved like a man possessed. Like he was desperate to prove himself. Threw himself into his music. He began saying things like, ‘do or die’, ‘win or perish’.”

She bristled. This wasn’t fair. “And you’re saying I did that? He always wanted to be a soca star—”

There was the sound of excited splashing, as if two large puppies had thrown themselves at the surf, and Daria was back again, accompanied by Lauren, who was flushed and grinning. A few yards off, Sadie stood in a flowing tie-dyed kaftan, waving her greeting.

Allie waved back, glad for the momentary distraction.

Both girls had a Half Moon Bay branded backpack slung around their shoulders and sparkles in their eyes. “It is sooo cool back there, Mom!” Daria announced.

Then she turned to Charlie, took in the writing on his shirt, and asked, with her usual spunkiness, “Are you the chief instructor?”

“Yes, I am, young lady.” Charlie turned to greet the newcomers with that same smile on his face… and then the smile faded.

Allie saw her daughter through this man’s eyes: the mass of stubborn brown curls, the jade-green eyes. The broad grin and cinnamon skin. The long legs, long arms, the body of a natural athlete.

And he knew.

And she knew that he knew.

“Hey, tell you what, little ladies. Why don’t y’all run over and join the other kids? We’ll be starting in a few.”

Daria and Lauren grasped hands and sped off. And then Allie and Charlie were alone.

Allie braced herself, knowing full well what was coming.

Charlie’s face was somber, grave, and hurt. “Allie, how could you do my brother like that?”

“Like what?” she asked stubbornly, even though she knew well like what.

“You didn’t tell him, did you? That he has a daughter?”

Busted,Allie thought. She almost felt relieved. Finally, after nearly ten years, her secret was out. The only other people who knew that Sam was Daria’s father were her parents, who, God bless them, had stood by her during her unexpected teen pregnancy. Not even Daria knew; in response to her childish questions about who or where her father was, Allie had merely fobbed her off with minimalist answers, and a promise to say more ‘when she was old enough.’

And now, she registered miserably, her time had run out.

“You have to say something,” Charlie said, every trace of the fun-loving, jovial guy she remembered disappearing. He was dead serious, and clearly angry on his friend’s behalf.

“I know,” she mumbled.

“When?” Charlie demanded.

Allie pursed her lips. When, indeed? Would she have the courage to face the inevitable hurricane of emotions?

Charlie seemed to think that enough was enough. It was time to decide for her. “You have 24 hours.”

She gaped at him. “What?”

“One day, Allie. One single day. Or else, so help me God, I will tell him myself.” He narrowed his black eyes, the sparkle was gone. “Because let me tell you something: Sam? He’s my horse, understand? He’s been at my side, had my back since—since always. And I’m not about to watch my brother go down like that.” He turned. “I’ve got to get to work.”

In silent affirmation of his ultimatum, he lifted a single finger: One day.