luciaBarely missing a beat as Neville’s car disappeared amid the other cars parked on the narrow street. She turned around and blinked at the four men staring at her curiously. Flicking her eyes over to Francis, she placed a hand on her hips. “What brings you here, Chief?”

Francis blinked, dragging his forlorn gaze from the direction of his son’s fleeting car and gave Ameya a half-hearted smile. “Just in the neighborhood…” And before Ameya could prod further, he turned to the other men and mumbled his farewell before strolling past her.

Ameya stepped forward to the other three men, glancing over their shoulders as if looking for someone.

“Hapta had to go back,” Marcus replied, having caught the questioning look in her eyes. “There were things he had to take care of back home.”

Shrugging, Ameya turned to Warren who still studied her carefully. Rolling her eyes, she sighed and looked back at the two men. Judging from the reluctant looks on their faces, she had a feeling something had transpired while she was away. Pushing the inquisitive thoughts to the back of her mind, she gestured over their shoulders. “I’m parked down there. We should go.” With a silent farewell at Warren, she strode past the two men who had no choice but to follow her down the sloping sidewalk to where her tour van was parked.

“The weather’s nice today,” Ameya said as she climbed into her seat, reaching for the seatbelt. “So I’m sure there—“ she halted, gaping as Jonathan instead of Marcus climbed in beside her. Blinking as the quiet man situated himself in the passenger’s seat, her cheeks flamed when his gray eyes swept over her face and she averted her gaze. “Uh…” she said dumbly, having lost her train of thought.

Marcus hid back a smile. “Did you find a fisherman to show us around?” he offered, noticing her fumble when Jonathan took the front seat.

Ameya peered up at the rearview mirror and managed a smile, “Yeah, I found someone…” she said softly, turning on the ignition key. Within minutes, they were trudging down the sloping hill toward the pier. Her fingers grasped the steering wheel and loosened them in a swift motion, forcing her gaze ahead of her, except Jonathan’s gray eyes had seared her subconscious. She couldn’t believe how familiar his gaze felt, so curiously similar to that of her son’s.

“Can we turn on the air, Ameya?” Marcus asked from the back.

“Oh,” Ameya nodded. “Mr. Jonathan, you can adjust the air however you like.”

Jonathan silently reached over the dashboard and Ameya’s gaze curiously drifted over. His strong arm was dusted with freckles and blond hair, his long and slender fingers deftly manipulated the air conditioner dial. A warm, niggling shiver flitted at the pit of her stomach, rising slowly to her chest as she recalled her dream, her lips pressing lightly against the freckled, tanned arm. In the back of her mind, she wondered if Jonathan’s arm was as strong and warmly inviting as it looked.

“Hannah!” Marcus’ voice pushed through her wanton thoughts and Ameya’s gaze jarred back to the front. She inhaled sharply and slammed her foot on the brakes, wincing as the car’s wheels skidded and squealed beneath them. She gripped the wheel and closed her eyes tightly until the car jerked to a stop.

Heart racing, Ameya squinted one eye open and watched with her breath held as a young tourist couple shuffled across the street, peering curiously at the van. Only once they’d stepped onto the sidewalk did she heave a sigh of relief. Until she noticed Jonathan’s arm barring her from slamming into the steering wheel. Her gaze jerked back to his own, swallowing hard at the relief she saw in his intense gray eyes.

Then as quickly as she looked at him, Ameya turned away and eased the car into drive. Squeezing the steering wheel, Ameya laughed. “Sorry about that… Seems I’m still half-asleep.”

“Do you want to postpone it for another day?” Marcus asked, concern in his deep voice.

Ameya wrinkled her nose in protest. “No, I promised I’d show you the pier.” She lifted one hand, pushing back the plaits in her hair before glancing at the rearview mirror at Marcus. Next time he was going to sit in front. “How’s the writing coming, by the way?”

Marcus smiled kindly. “It’s fine… We’re making much progress, thanks to you.”

She smiled back, shy under his undeserved praise. “All I did was show you around.”

“Your company alone was enough,” Marcus replied and Ameya felt her cheeks warm. She laughed and so did he, winking at Jonathan who cut him a wary glare. “So tell me, how does the fishing tour work?” He folded his arms across his chest. “Did we tell you that Jonathan here’s an avid fisherman?”

Ameya smirked, not daring to look at Jonathan. “Yeah, you mentioned it. The fishing tour will be simple enough. Gill, the fisherman I found for you, is one of the best fishermen here and he’s nice enough to show you around.”

“Oh, so the others were too busy or flatly declined?” Marcus chortled.

“You don’t even want to know…” Ameya muttered in half-teasing. In fact, Old Man Jonas had been her first choice but he glared at her, saying he had no time to babysit two others. She shook her head in light mirth, pulling the car onto another sloping street.

Jonathan peered out the window, seeing the cerulean blue sea peeking from the trees. In companionable silence, Ameya pulled the van in front of the sandy, makeshift boardwalk. “Welcome to the fishing village,” she said, grandly sweeping her hand in front of her.

The men silently took in the houses stacked together, with narrow aisles leading to the pier where the colorful boats and their lounging fishermen. Ameya stepped out of the car and the men followed her down the soft sandy path between two red-roof houses. Two dark men casually dressed in sagging shorts and thin shirts with holes in them, lifted their heads and beamed up at her. She smiled back, waving as she continued on her path.

Jonathan noticed how their gazes followed her and tamped down the protective urge to glare them down. He had to remind himself that in St. Lucia, Hannah was still Ameya, a single mother. Shaking his head, he trudged onward to catch up with Ameya’s light gait, not slowing down despite the bouncy sand beneath their feet.

Ameya squinted into the distance and smiled when she noticed a dark-skinned man bent over a green painted boat anchored near the edge of the bank. “Gill!” she cupped her hand around her mouth to call out to him, picking up the pace as he looked up, a weathered face that had spent much time under the sun and rain. With a grin, Ameya reached him. “I’ve brought them,” she announced when he looked at her expectantly. She peered over her shoulder and watched as the two men closed the distance between them. “These are the men I told you about, Mr. Jonathan and Mr. Marcus. From America.”

“Ah yes,” Gill nodded, his face wrinkling further as he smiled to receive them. “Welcome to St. Lucia,” he said, in perfect English.

Jonathan nodded and Marcus smiled back. “Thank you for doing this for my brother here.” He slapped a firm hand on Jonathan’s shoulder, nudging him gently. “He enjoys fishing.”

Gill’s salt-and-pepper brow lifted. “Oh really? Where have you fished?”

“Martinique…” Jonathan said hesitantly, peeking over at Ameya who blank-stared back at him. He pulled his eyes back to the inquisitive yet amiable fisherman. “It’s been a while since I did island fishing though…”

“Ah don’t worry,” Gill waved him off with a low chuckle. “There’s nothing to it.” He then turned to Ameya, both brows raised. “Old Jonas is increasingly cranky today…”

Ameya rolled her eyes, shoving her hands into her jeans pockets. “No surprise there.”

The two men beside them exchanged silent looks but neither prodded.

“Perhaps since he’s been forced to babysit your son, he’s acting tied down and annoyed,” Gill said in amusement and not at all perturbed by Old Jonas’ surly persona.

The men did not miss the shock that flickered on Ameya’s face upon hearing Gill’s casual words. Then she scowled openly, teeth clenched. “Where are they?” When Gill silently pointed to his left, Ameya pushed forward, stomping down the bank to find Old Man Jonas and Tomas.

Jonathan and Marcus exchanged glances and Gill shook his head in mirth. “That girl has her hands full with the two of them…” He turned to the men and smirked. “If you want, we can go see about them first before we start the tour?”

Ameya was annoyed. No, she was more than angry. Livid was a better term to describe how she felt as she stormed up the sandy hill to the canopy where she could already see two lone figures. Her heart skipped a beat when her son lifted his head from the old fisherman’s net that Old Man Jonas had undoubtedly given the young child to keep him busy. She pursed her lips, pausing to smoothen her son’s hair before rounding the wooden table to glare down at Old Man Jonas who frowned in concentration over another one of his torn nets.

“Why is my son down here?” Ameya started in a tight voice, trying to still control her frustration with this man. “Didn’t you hear when I said on no circumstances should he be down here.” When Old Man Jonas didn’t reply, a needle stuck between his teeth, her glare narrowed at him. “If you didn’t want to look after him, you should’ve just told me!” She winced when Tomas flinched at her raised voice. Forcing out a breath, she focused her glare back on Old Man Jonas’ face. “Are you listening to me?”

Jonathan and Marcus could hear Ameya before they could see her, climbing up the inclined path to where the fisherman’s lounge sat, a simple canopy with old rickety chairs and fisherman nets draped on poles posted around the shaded area. Gill clucked his tongue as Ameya openly scolded the old man. “He’s stubborn. I don’t know why she keeps trying to change him…”

Jonathan’s gaze shifted up the path and it naturally fell on a small body sitting cross-legged at the old fisherman’s feet. Like a punch in the gut, he felt the wind get knocked out of him as he stared at the light-skinned boy with his wavy, sandy-haired head bent while his small hands fiddled with a blanket of fishing net. For a moment, Jonathan couldn’t breathe as he stared at the boy Ameya named Tomas, her son.

<<Part 24 || Part 26>>