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The Best Of Me
By Tina Wainscott
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Lucy Donovan pulled her luggage beneath the arched, faded sign that read, Sonny's Marine Park - See Randy the Dolphin! She took a deep breath and stared at the first word because Sonny wouldn't be there. Her father had died, leaving the daughter he'd hardly spoken with in twelve years his park in Nassau, Bahamas. She felt silly at the sting of tears behind her eyes, at the deep sense of loss. She'd hardly known him.
According to her mother, Sonny was a lazy, good-for-nothing bum. To Lucy, he was a free spirit, an explorer, maybe even a pirate. Though her life reflected her mother's values, somewhere in Lucy's soul flowed the blood of the great adventurer she imagined him to be.
She swiped at her eyes and forged on. The ticket booth doubled as a gift shop with displays of key chains and shells. A young man with brown hair nodded as she approached.
"Hi, I'm Lucy Donovan, Sonny's daughter. I'm supposed to see a Bailey."
His face broke into a smile that combined relief and welcome. "Boy, are we glad to see you, Lucy, and welcome to Sonny's. I'm Bill. Bailey's in the office over there."
"Thanks, Bill." She paused just inside the gate, finding it hard to believe she owned this park right on the ocean. To her left, several in-ground pools sparkled in the sunshine, one with a group of peopleclustered around it. A sign announced a square tank of water as the Touching Tank. People picked up conch shells and crabs and examined the creatures with wonder. Everyone made her feel overdressed, even though she'd taken off her linen jacket the moment she'd stepped off the plane and succumbed to the muggy heat.
She headed to a small building snugged next to a larger one with a sign over its gaping entrance that read Aquariums. Inside the office, a thin black man stood by a battered desk, rubbing his temples and clutching the phone. The desk and shelves were cluttered with papers and seashells.
The man picked up a letter. "But dere has to be some mistake, mon. Yah, I see the man's signature, but ... so I cannot even shoot him? Okay, okay. No, I won't shoot him, I promise." The lyrical way he spoke made her smile despite his annoyance. He dropped the phone into the cradle.
She stepped forward, her hand extended. "You must be Bailey. I'm Lucy Donovan, Sonny's -"
"A yu, Miss Lucy! Yah, I see Sonny in you, same brown eyes and hair, same length, too." She touched her shoulder-length hair, but he rambled on. "Am I glad to see you, yes I am. We have a problem, a big problem. The man out dere is tiefing da big fish. A wicked man, dat one. He come dis morning and say he taking our fish. Nobody will come to da park if dere's no big fish, and without people you got no money, no money means no park, and no park means no job, no job means no food. I got five childrens to feed, an' t'ree goats." He took a deep breath. "Miss Lucy, you got to kick the wicked man outta here."
Cleaning out her father's place and deciding what to do about the park she now owned was part of her agenda. So was finding out what her father was really like at the risk of her fanciful dreams. Kicking out some wicked man was not on the list of things she wanted to tackle.
"You said a man was tiefing?"
"Tiefing. Stealing. He be taking our main fish, Randy. Come, I show you."
"Wait a minute," she said, but he kept walking. "How can someone steal a fish?"
She followed him toward the cluster of people. All she knew about fish was to make sure it was fresh and thoroughly cooked. This knowledge probably wasn't going to help much. But she did know subordinate workers.
She slipped on her jacket, effecting her boss persona, and asked Bailey, "Does anyone else work here?"
"No, jus' me, Bill, and Big Sonny, him being in da past tense of course."
The crowd mumbled and grumbled. "Hey, we paid to see a perr-formin' dolphin," a large man drawled. "That guy says we can't go near him. What kind of deal is this, anyway?"
"Yeah, I want my money back," another chimed in. "Me, too! I heard about these island rip-off artists."
"Nooo, no rip artists here, mon." Bailey turned to give her a woeful look, then raised his palms and turned back to the crowd. "We're working on da problem, mon. Go play wit' da conchs and crabs in da Touching Tank, and we get da big show ready. Go, go," he said, wiggling his fingers.
They moved away, but didn't leave. Obviously they thought a better show was about to be performed. Lucy's throat went dry, but anger prickled through her at the thought of some man stealing the main attraction. What nerve. She pushed back her sleeves and stepped up to the knee-high fence that surrounded all the pools.
The man standing in chest-deep water on a platform paid absolutely no attention to anything but the large form circling in the pool with him. He was probably in his early thirties, with blond hair burnished gold by the sun. His curls grazed the tops of strong, tan shoulders. Quite possibly he had one of the nicest chins she'd ever seen, strong and perfectly shaped. Something warm tickled through her. He could be an attraction himself: See Gorgeous Guy in Pool!
Bailey nudged her, and she blinked in disbelief. Good grief, she was supposed to kick the man out, not ogle him!
"Excuse me," she said, leaning over the fence. "Man in the pool."
The man pulled a fish out of a bucket. The big fish moved closer and popped its head out of the water. Oh, it was a dolphin like Flipper! Ridges of tiny teeth lined its open mouth, and for a moment she worried about the man's long fingers. The big fish caught its supper in midair, landing with a graceful splash. The crowd clapped sporadically, but the man didn't even glance up.
"Excuse me," she said, louder this time. "Please get out of the pool so we can discuss this."
He glanced up at her then, insolence in vivid eyes the color of the sparkling ocean beyond him. She felt her stomach twist. Before she could even admonish herself for getting caught up in his eyes, he'd turned back to the dolphin.
The pattern in the concrete made her heels a little shaky, but she stepped over the gate and the sign he'd obviously put up that said Keep Out, and walked to the edge. No one ignored Lucy Donovan. Running her own advertising company had given her an edge of authority, and if she could get past those eyes, she'd have him bowing in acquiescence in no time. The thought of him bowing in front of her also did strange things to her stomach.
She planted her hands on her hips, and in her best bosslike tone, said, "Out of the pool now, mister."
"Lady, if you're not careful, you're going to end up in the pool. Some of the tiles around the edge are loose."
"You think you can scare me away with a few loose tiles?" She glanced back at the crowd that probably thought this was some kind of skit. "Who are you and what right do you have to be in this pool? This is private property." Her private property.
The dolphin popped out of the water and caught the fish again. The crowd clapped. Anger surged. Forget his eyes! This guy is wicked, she thought, walking around to the side behind the dolphin.
"I want an answer or I'm calling the authorities."
"I already explained everything to that guy," the man said, waving vaguely toward Bailey but not looking at anyone but the big fish.
She crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Since I'm the owner, why don't you explain it to me?"
The strength from her last statement trickled away when he turned those eyes on her, and she saw disgust. "You're the owner?"
Her shoulders stiffened. "Yes. And I want to know why you're molesting my fish."
Excerpted from The Best Of Me by Tina Wainscott Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.