"Sorry about that!" he called in a distinctive East Texas twang.
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, with 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 abdomen just below his navel. She could see 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. 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 masculine scrawl.
"I continue to be sorry about the volleyball, but I'm very glad I met you. I look forward to dinner. Cole."
Mara took a shower and ordered room service for lunch. She sat down to watch the ocean as she ate. Awed by the beauty and majesty of it, she couldn't get enough.
The day finally caught up with her, and she decided to take a nap. She set her alarm for two hours, closed the blinds, and lay down. The sun came through the drapes in a pale pink glow, making her think of bubble gum and cotton candy. With those images in her mind, she fell asleep.
When her alarm went off, she got up and decided to go shopping before dinner. She wanted something to reflect her mood and nothing to remind her of the city. There were several shops in the hotel, but she didn't like the looks of the merchandise—shoddy and overpriced. Instead, she headed for an open air market that was only a few blocks from the hotel. Her mother had given her specific directions, having been to the island many times. Booths and tables assaulted her eyes. Dozens of odors competed for her attention. There were fruits piled on rickety wagons, jewelry laid out on blankets, shoes, handbags, even bronze oil lamps.
She wanted a specific shop, one her mother had told her about. It sold beautiful, handmade dresses in a variety of colors and prints. Each one was covered in delicate embroidery. Mara found the shop just where her mother had told her, entering as if she knew the place. Her mother described it so specifically, Mara could have found her way around with her eyes closed. Racks of rainbows competed with one another for her attention, so she stood in the middle of the floor walking in a slow circle.
A lovely, bronze skinned woman appeared from behind a bead curtain at the back of the shop. She smiled warmly, extending her hands in greeting. "Welcome! I am Auria. May I help you?" Her voice was dark and rich like chocolate.
"Yes, please. I want a dress, a very specific type. My mother has brought me several after her visits."
"Can you describe them for me?" Auria's brow furrowed slightly as she concentrated.
"Gauzy, sheer material. They're brightly colored, full sleeves and lots of embroidery."
"Ah, yes! Come, I will show you. We keep those for special customers, those with better than tourist tastes. Who is your mother?"
"Rosaline Cross," she replied automatically, hardly expecting Auria to know her by name.
The woman turned happily, gasping as she took Mara's hands in hers. "You're Rosie's daughter? You must be Mara. You have your mother's eyes and her full lips. How's your mother and when is she coming to see Auria again?"
"Mom's doing great," Mara was surprised at the warmth of the greeting. "She's planning to come down in February, I think. Right now she's house sitting for me. I've got a couple of grumpy, old cats who don't do well in a kennel."
©2021 Dellani Oakes