Mara Cross is a successful architect who never felt she had time for love. On vacation on a tropical island, love finds her in a most unusual way.
The beach filled gradually, but nothing bothered Mara who was used to the noises of the city. Her apartment was in a loft unit downtown. It had once been a warehouse, back in the Prohibition Era. The historical society prevented its destruction and her architectural firm redesigned it into apartments for young, upwardly mobile executives. She'd liked the results so well, she bought the top floor for herself.
"Miss?" It was Julio. He was bending over her looking slightly concerned. "It's been nearly an hour since you fell asleep. If you don't turn over soon, you're going to be burned on one side and blank on the other."
Grinning at him, Mara obediently rolled over and ordered another drink. Julio brought it gladly, smiling happily as she added a handsome tip to the bill.
"I go off duty in an hour. If you sleep again, shall I wake you before I go"
"Thanks, Julio, that would be great."
She was grateful for her olive toned skin. Had she been fair skinned, she'd already have been fried. She didn't fancy tending a burn for the first days of her vacation.
Mara tipped the chair up slightly and took out her book. It was a science fiction novel she'd been hoping to read for some time, but hadn't gotten past the first few pages. She flipped back to the beginning and started reading. She was just getting into the story when a volleyball landed heavily in her lap, dropped to the ground beside her and knocked over her drink.
Mara looked up angrily and saw a man waving to her apologetically. He was medium height and build, with medium length, medium brown hair. He trotted up the beach, hand extended.
"I'm so sorry," his tone was sincere with a hint of a Southern accent. "I guess my friend hit it harder than he needed to. We haven't played in years, but he still thinks that he's the king of the spike."
He pointed down the beach to a short, squat, freckled, redheaded man in orange swim trunks. He looked embarrassed and his face was so red, it rivaled his hair.
"Sorry about that!" He called. He had a distinctive West Texas drawl.
The man next to her picked up the volleyball in one hand. "Cole Bayard," he extend the hand not holding the ball.
"Mara Cross. Who's your pal?"
"He goes by Red Gilroy. Bet you can't guess why."
Mara chuckled, glancing at the man standing over her. He was better looking up close and had a firm chin and well toned physique. His navy blue swim trunks had big, white tropical flowers on them and rode low on his hips. What really caught her attention was the tattoo on his belly just below his navel.
All she could see were two brightly colored serpent's heads intertwined, facing one another. She wondered how low the tattoo went below the level of his shorts. Shaking her head slightly, she realized he was speaking to her again. Blinking, she looked up at him, trying hard to focus.
"I'm sorry. I guess I've got a little jet lag."
Cole grinned flashing even white teeth in his tanned face. "No problem, Miss Cross. I was just apologizing again for the volleyball. We didn't mean to interrupt."
"Not a problem. Call me Mara. Miss Cross sounds too much like work. I'm here to forget the office, not burrow deeper into it."
Cole bounced the ball back and forth absently as if he were trying to make up his mind about something. "Mara, would you like to join Red and me for dinner?"
"Oh, well... I don't know... It's just...."
"I know, it's abrupt, but we know some of the less traveled night spots. I'm here about six months out of the year and Red comes down fairly often. I sideline as a tour guide. It gives me something to do to take my mind off the office." He said with a completely straight face.
"I'd like that, actually," Mara decided. She was determined to enjoy herself. Dinner in a public place sounded harmless enough.
"Super! We'll pick you up at six o'clock. Dress casually, the fancy spots are for tourists." Grinning, he saluted her and ran back down to where Red was standing.
Cole moved with easy, unaffected grace, running effortlessly through the sand. When he got back to Red, he popped the ball hard over the net. It landed in his friend's outstretched hands. Mara watched them play until they went back into the hotel together.
It was nearly one when Mara finally left the beach and went back to her room. A note had been slipped under her door. She opened it and grinned. It was covered in a sloppy scrawl.
"I continue to be sorry about the volleyball, but I'm very glad I met you. I look forward to dinner. Cole."