The three men stood in stoic silence, their gazes probing hers while Warren eyed her curiously, waiting for her to accept or decline the request of these seemingly-humble men. She knew better than to just simply accept their request, recalling the trouble they’d caused her earlier. With a smirk tucked in her cheek, Ameya turned her full attention to her boss. “How much?”

Warren’s lips widened into a full grin. “It’s up to you and these fine gentlemen to discuss the terms.” He gestured to one of the men standing by his side now, a burly man with a full beard that covered his square chin and probing dark eyes. “Why don’t you introduce yourself—”

“We’ve met before already…” Ameya muttered, raising a brow at the silent men watching her. She frowned at their intense staring and cleared her throat. “Why did you request for me? There are many other tour guides that could easily do what you request?”

The dark-skinned man with the full beard nodded and took a step toward her. Ameya shifted back instinctively and frowned. He held up a hand to still her anxious thoughts. “Allow me to explain, Ameya…” His voice was gentle and had a hint of an accent that seemed familiar but she couldn’t quite place where she’d heard it before. He smiled, revealing a slight gap in between his teeth. “I am Marcus and this guy behind me is Hapta. The man behind you is my brother, Jonathan.”

Ameya surveyed the red-haired man called Hapta who regarded her with a bored expression but didn’t turn around to the silent, tanned man towering over her.  Something about his gray eyes staring down at her so intently was settling and she didn’t like the feeling of her body trembling at the sight of him.

Shifting a step away from him and consequently closer to the burly man who didn’t give her the shivers, she managed a nod for him to continue.

Marcus nodded. “You see, my brother Jonathan is an aspiring novelist and we’re here to help him research and write his first novel…” His eyes swept over her face and over her head to where Jonathan undoubtedly stood in silence. “Based on a true story.”

To say that her interest was piqued would’ve been an understatement. For some reason, she didn’t find it surprising that the silent man behind her had a penchant for the pen since most of the reserved people in the island were poetic souls. Still Ameya maintained her poker face and nodded. “So how can I possibly help with this?”

“Research,” Hapta piped in and stepped forward as well. “We need someone who knows this island from top to bottom, and can offer us the needed expertise to research for the novel appropriately.” He nodded in Marcus’ direction and the burly, dark man nodded in reply.

Warren who still stood by Ameya’s side kept quiet, merely watching the two talking men with a smile. He had his arms folded, waiting for Ameya’s curiosity of their request to be satisfied.

Ameya raised a brow, not completely convinced. “There are other guides that can offer as much expert advice, more so than I can…”

“Not true,” Warren finally spoke and all three men plus Ameya turned to face him. “Although you are my most difficult employee, Ameya…” he paused with a smile when she wrinkled her nose at him and chuckled before continuing. “You are one of the tourists’ favorite guides. They always talk about your interesting anecdotes when exploring the island.” He shrugged. “Even with all the inconvenient scheduling conflicts, they like you.” He glanced over Ameya’s shoulder at the man standing behind her. “I’m sure you will be of much help to Mr. Jonathan.”

Again, as if she could see this Mr. Jonathan staring down her back, warm shivers skittered up her spine. Ameya straightened her back and squared her jaw as the two men in front of her smiled warmly at Warren. She cleared her throat to get their attention. “I will have to think some more about it,” Ameya said once their gazes were focused on her again.

Hapta’s smile disappeared completely and Marcus’ dark brow lifted inquisitively. “How much time?” the red-haired man started to ask but halted when Marcus discreetly cleared his throat.

Ameya raised a brow when Hapta rolled his eyes heavenward before she turned to face Marcus, the less intimidating and annoying of the three men. “How much are you offering to pay?”

Marcus started to smile. “How much do you require?”

“Twenty US dollars an hour.”

Warren choked in laughter and shook his head. “Now, Ameya…”

Ameya didn’t bother looking at him. “To compensate for cancelling my other gig.”

“Is that all?” Marcus asked, his voice tinted with amusement.

“Be careful what you ask this one,” Warren warned in half-mirth, clucking his tongue at Ameya as if she was his trouble child.

Jonathan watched with sorrowful silence at the ease of Marcus and Ameya’s conversation, feeling like he was an intruder. The cold and dismissive way she regarded him was more than disheartening but for her to easily speak and communicate with Marcus suddenly made him even more insecure. He squelched down the anxiety within and just kept his eyes focused on her squared shoulders.

Ameya harrumphed at Warren’s open jesting. “I have some stipulations…”

“Go on,” Marcus said patiently while Hapta steeled himself from scoffing aloud.

“I pick the times and the dates that I will show you the island,” Ameya began, folding her arms across her chest. She could see Warren’s brows lifting at her stern tone and knew she was probably pushing her boundaries. Still she persisted. “If I take this job, I will allow you to suggest and request places of interest for the tour. However, if I deem the place of interest as unfruitful or a waste of my time—“

Marcus, who all this time had maintained his cool, suddenly spurted laughter from his tight lips, Ameya paused in speech. Hapta quickly glanced over to his friend, surprised also. Warren merely grinned and Ameya knew the silent man behind her was probably gaping at a now giggling Marcus.

She narrowed her eyes at him and once he managed to swallow a laugh, Ameya cleared her throat. “Did I say something funny?”

He shook his head, pinching his mouth with two fingers. “I’m sorry…” Straightening his face, he steadied his gaze on her. “We completely understand. Right guys?” He glanced over her head, his brows lifted inquisitively.

Figuring Marcus was silently imploring to the man behind her, Ameya steeled herself for another bout of shivers and turned to face the man behind her. He blinked in surprise and so did she, the words hanging off her tongue but she couldn’t articulate it, having forgotten to breathe.

The solemnity in his slate-gray eyes stirred something in her, the warm shivers down her spine now stronger than ever but she couldn’t turn her face away. Something about the emotions displayed so plainly in his eyes reminded her of something… of someone.

 —-

It wasn’t until they left not long after agreeing to her odd stipulations before she completely shook off the strange feeling. Now standing in the middle of Warren’s small but airy office room, Ameya realized that she’d been daydreaming. Blinking, she noticed Warren staring at her oddly and sighed heavily. “Was I too harsh?”

He smirked, leaning back in his squeaking chair. “What do you think?”

Ameya shrugged. “Well, you should’ve talked with me first,” she muttered like a petulant child.

Warren chuckled lowly. “You’re welcome…” He shook his head incredulously. “As far as I am concerned, you got yourself a pay increase.”

“Not much thanks to you, by the way.” With a smile, she walked over to the chair opposite him and perched on the arm, folding her arms. “In honesty, do you believe their story?”

He tilted his head at her. “You don’t?”

“Three American men come to St. Lucia to write a novel…” She wrinkled her nose. “It is hard to believe that type of story.”

“Are you hesitating because they borrowed your car?”

Ameya scowled disapprovingly. “Stole it, and no I will not hesitate… I will take the job.”

Warren nodded approvingly. “You would be a fool not to.” He eyed her as she rose to her feet and straightened her work shirt. “When should I tell them you have agreed?”

She glanced down at the table, twisting her lips in deep thought.

“Ameya…” he urged softly. When she looked back at him, Warren raised his brows.

With a sigh, she pushed back the thick tendrils of hair from her face as a sign of pent-up frustration with her thoughts. “I will tell them myself. Give me their hotel address.” She held out a hand.

—-

Once Ameya convinced both herself and Warren that she would begin her new job as tour guide to the American men, Warren watched with a smile on his face as she strolled out of his office five minutes later. Waiting until the front door of the building slammed after her, he then reached for the phone resting on his desk and quickly dialed a number.

Propping the phone with his shoulder pressed to his ear, Warren pulled out a folder buried underneath the stack of papers and flipped the top. The dial tone stopped and a deep voice answered inaudibly. Warren’s smile widened. “It’s me… Yes, they just left.”

He flipped a blank page as the voice replied in muffled tones on the other end, and he reached for a printed photograph of four people standing together, two couples; the men flanking their identical female companions. He could pick out three familiar faces out of the four and grinned even wider at his discovery. “It’s them, I’m sure of it,” he said softly, nodding his head affirmatively.

<<Chapter 11 || Chapter 13>>

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