Sun-Kissed Secret Baby by Leigh Jenkins

Chapter 6

With a mother-of-pearl-handled letter opener, Sam carefully slit the seal on the large box sitting on his desk. The tape gave a tiny, satisfying pop as he did so, and he folded back the lids, peering inside like a kid looking into a Christmas stocking.

The box was full of packing peanuts, but from beneath them rose a presence, a sense of the other, as if another being had joined him in the room. He didn’t bother to shake away the silly idea: instead, he embraced it.

Sliding both hands into the mass of white Styrofoam, he withdrew a bubble-wrapped item, and used the same knife to pluck at the tape holding the wrapping fixed. Then, he unrolled the dark wooden sculpture: the head and shoulders of an Afro-Caribbean woman, thick tight curls wound up on her head in elaborate cane-rows, bound by a bandana. Her gaze was steady, seeming to seek out his. Her nose broad, lips full and pensive. Throat a column of strength, sitting upon firm yet slender shoulders.

“I’ve got her, Dad,” he murmured in great satisfaction.

The sculpture was the creation of Anja Bauer, a German artist who had come to Sabina almost 40 years ago, fallen in love with the island and its people, and never returned home. She set up a small studio and began painting and sculpting the people of Sabina, favoring the people of Afro- and Indo-Caribbean descent, usually depicted in traditional wear. In short order she had become widely celebrated, with her works commanding a high price. And after her death a few years ago, her pieces had become collector’s items.

Sam’s father, Stanley Drummond, had been a fan of Anja’s work, visited every exhibition, and had even had Anja over for dinner at the Batali Beach Resort more than once. Sam suspected that Stanley’s fascination with her went beyond his appreciation for her art, as good as it was.

Stanley always marveled at how a white metropolitan woman had come to this small tropical island and fallen so deeply in love with its people that she could turn away from a lifestyle that was so much more sophisticated. It was clear to Sam that in his admiration, Stanley was comparing Anja to Sam’s own mother, a young white American teenager called Candy Kozinski, who’d fallen in love with Stanley and had his child… but hadn’t loved the island enough to stay. When Sam was a mere three weeks old, Candy had informed Sam with almost cruel honesty that she had no intention of wasting the rest of her life living on a rock, caring for a half-caste baby. Then she had fled the island, never to return.

Stanley never recovered from the brutality of her speech and actions, from that betrayal and rejection. He’d spent the rest of his life wondering how things would have been if only Candy had loved him, the island, and her own child enough to stay.

If Sam were honest about this—especially to himself—neither had he. He’d grown up feeling treasured and loved, the repository of all his father’s hopes, and yet the sting of being rejected by a mother he’d never known had burrowed itself deep in his soul.

His whole life, throughout his career as a singer, even at the height of his fame, he’d always battled with the niggling doubt that he wasn’t good enough. And even when he’d abandoned his own singing career to shape and nurture those of others, even when he’d applied his vision to his chain of resorts and other real estate ventures, building the kind of wealth he could never have dreamed of in his youth, it was always there: that voice that said, You will never be enough.

And that, sadly, brought him to Allie. Seeing her last night had been a shock, to say the least. Their brief encounter in the garden had brought to the roiling surface the emotions he’d spent years burying: that teenage puppy love, the hope that they could be together, that he could find the means to follow her to college in the States.

But, like Candy, Allie had had no time, no patience for a little island boy… even though his intent was to follow her into her world, not convince her to remain in his.

Her rejection had slashed him like a blade, and for a year or two, Sam had bled. But then the wounds had scabbed over and hardened. He was filled with a determination that coursed through his veins almost like venom. He would succeed. He would become everything she—and his mother—never thought he could.

Now she was back, unknowingly booking a cabin at a property he owned, with her lover or husband or whoever. Stirring shit up inside him again. He wondered if he’d be able to find peace in his soul as long as she was within his walls.

He returned to the task at hand. With satisfaction, Samuel lifted the wooden bust out of the box and set it on his desk. This evening, he would take it home, to take her place on a pedestal that had been awaiting her arrival. It had taken three years to get her: he’d put the word out through an agent that whenever such a piece turned up on the market, he wanted it, no matter the cost.

It was his second piece of Anja’s. The first was a full-sized carving out of Guyanese purple heart wood, which lent it a warm purple tone. A young Creole woman, dancing the traditional Bélé. She wore an elaborately knotted Madras headwrap with full matching skirt, holding aloft a handful of hem in each hand to reveal a frothy, voluminous underskirt. The detail on the fabric was so exquisite that it almost seemed to billow in the breeze. Pearls encircled her throat and hung from her earlobes, and one shapely, delicate bare foot stepped forward, poised in the air, toes pointed.

Stanley had adored her, called her Ma Belle Creole. She now stood watch over his grave.

Sam patted the cheek of the carving before him, as if stroking the warm flesh of a beautiful woman, and said softly, “Hey, there.”

There was a tapping at the door, startling him and making him spin around sharply. It was his personal assistant. She hovered uncertainly in the doorway, causing him to ask, “What is it?”

“There’s a guest who would like to have a word with you, sir.”

Sam felt a flash of irritation. He’d hired staff to deal with just these types of issues. “What’s the problem? If they have an issue, get someone to fix it. If you need to comp them, comp them. Why should I have to deal with a guest’s complaint?”

She shook her head. “I don’t think it’s a complaint. She says it’s… uh… a private matter.”

Sam knew exactly who it was.