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Sasha glanced at the chipped nail on her right index finger. As much as she hated to admit it, she was in desperate need of a manicure. And she didn't even want to think about the ingrown toenail on her left foot. She also needed a pedicure something terribly. Arriving in time for the spa day with the rest of the bridal party wouldn't be all bad. In fact, it would be a welcome treat considering she hadn't visited her manicurist in the shop around the corner from her East Marietta subdivision in quite some time.
As she leaned back against the seat, she responded to a few emails from her iPhone and then sent her assistant, Keira, a text message asking her to reschedule her afternoon appointments. She sighed as she took a sip of her half-caf Americano and allowed her body to sink farther into the seat. She was exhausted, having spent most of the night packingshe'd sipped a cup of international coffee and stuffed clothing into her luggage well into the wee hours of the morning. Before long she'd fallen asleep fully clothed. Thankfully, she'd remembered to set her alarm clock.
She'd rushed to take a hot shower, and just as she'd put the finishing touches on her makeup, her doorbell rang. Peeking through the blinds, she spotted the charcoal-gray Lincoln Town Car parked in front of her housethe driver, a middle-aged black man dressed in a black suit, stood on her doorstep. Embarrassingly, she'd fallen asleep right there on the backseat of the car and didn't wake up until the Lincoln pulled up in front of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
"We will now begin preboarding for Flight Number 1487 to Nassau, Bahamas
" The loud female voice shook Sasha back to reality.
After slipping her iPhone into a small compartment on the outside of her purse, she stood with her boarding pass in handit wouldn't be long after preboarding that first-class passengers would begin their ingression. She was anxious to get on the plane, because she knew that sleep would find her before the captain turned on the Fasten Your Seat Belts sign, and long before the flight attendants asked what she wanted to drink. She'd sleep through the entire flight and be refreshed when her little sister met her at the gate.
Her little sister was getting married, she thought and smiled. Little Bridget, who once wore French braids with colorful beads on the ends. She was the tenderhearted one who always cried during the hair-combing processshe always made such an unnecessary scene. Their mother would be so frustrated after dealing with Bridget that Sasha would end up with four cornrows down the center of her head instead of the French-braided love knot that she wanted so badly.
Bridget was definitely the baby of the family. She had their parents wrapped around her skinny little finger. Even now, as she insisted on a big wedding in the Bahamas instead of a quiet little ceremony at their family's church in Fayetteville, she'd far exceeded the budget that their father had set aside for her. And Sasha wondered if there'd be anything left for her in the event that she decided to get married someday. Although it seemed like a ridiculous thought at the moment, she hadn't completely ruled it out. However, she'd created a little nest egg of her own, just in case.
Soon she was on the plane, and as expected, slept through the entire trip. Next thing she knew, she'd arrived at her destination.
Nassau, with its arresting views of palm trees and clear blue skies, was exactly as Sasha had remembered it. Her family had vacationed there a few times and stayed at the same resort where Bridget's nuptials were scheduled to take place in the next day or two. She quickly gathered her luggage and stepped outside to look for her sister, who'd promised to meet her at baggage claim. Bridget was always fashionably late for everything, and Sasha often teased that she wouldn't make it to her own funeral on time. She glanced at her watch once more before pulling her iPhone out of her purse to give her sister a call.
"Hello, Sasha," a deep voice was saying, and when Sasha looked up she was staring into the deepest pair of brown eyes she'd ever seen. "I'm Vince. Vince Sullivan."
"Oh, yeah, Derrick's friend," said Sasha.
"I was sent by the bride and groom to pick you up and ensure your safe arrival to the resort." He grinned a beautiful set of white teeth. His dimples were like little chocolate valleys, and Sasha couldn't help but stare. "You're late," she said.
Towering almost two feet over Sasha's small frame, Vince smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry. I was asked at the last minute to pick you up as a favor to the bride. She had to rush off somewhere in a hurrysomething about shopping for women's undergarments."
"Great. She could've just told me to grab a cab." Sasha sighed. "You didn't have to come all this way."
"It's okay, really. It wasn't very far. This is an island," he chuckled.
Sasha didn't find a bit of humor in his comment, nor did she find it cute that her sister had sent her fiance's best friend to fetch her from the airport. She tried with everything in her to be annoyed, but every time she caught a glance at those sexy brown eyes, she found herself mesmerized. He awakened things in her that she didn't even know were there, and it confused her. As an attorney, she took pride in being in control, but something about Vince made her anything but. His presence made her unsettled, a bit anxious. She couldn't understand it at all. What was wrong with her? She'd seen handsome men before. In fact, she'd met Vince beforeon a couple of occasions.
Their first meeting had been a nightmare for Sasha. She'd backed into his car while trying to parallel park along the street in front of Derrick's condo. She'd been apologetic, yet he'd made her feel as though she'd committed a crime. He'd accused her of being too preoccupied, and she thought he was making too big of a fuss over a small ding.
"You can barely see the scratch," she'd said.
"This is a custom paint job," he'd claimed, "Do you know how much this is going to cost to repair?"
"I have insurance," Sasha spat. "I'm sure they'll take care of it."
And they had taken care of it, sending her premium through the roof. She'd developed a strong opinion of Vince in the processhe was arrogant.
Today he seemed much taller, and way more gorgeous. And had he always owned that deep set of dimples? She couldn't, for the life of her, remember seeing them before. She was being ridiculous! Simply experiencing jet lag. And for that, she had the perfect remedya nice, long afternoon nap once she made it to her hotel quarters.
"Is this your only bag?" Vince was asking as he grabbed the handle of her suitcase.
"Yes," she replied and suddenly wished she'd gone to the restroom and freshened up a bit, checked her hair. She hoped it wasn't all over her head or smashed down in the back from the snooze she'd taken earlier.
She followed Vince to the silver Mercedes that was parked curbside with the flashers on. He popped the trunk and placed her bag inside.
"Can I take your smaller bag too?" he asked, pointing at her carry-on Coach bag. She handed it to him and he placed it in the trunk also. He moved around to the passenger's side of the car, which happened to be the opposite side of cars in the United States. He held the door open for her until she slid onto the leather seat. She watched as he took his place behind the wheel of his rented vehicle.
"Doesn't it confuse youdriving on the opposite side of the car?"
"I love a challenge." He grinned that mesmerizing grin again.
"It seems silly, especially when most car rental places offer cars that are created the right way."
"The right way?"
"Yes, with the steering wheel on the proper side of the car."
"Proper according to whom?" Vince asked. "According to car makers in the U.S. of A.," said Sasha.
"Last time I checked, we weren't in the U.S. of A." He maneuvered the car into traffic and spoke in his best Bahamian dialect. "Ve're in da islands of da Bahamas, with its clear blue skies, sandy beaches and da best conch fritters dis side of da hemisphere."
Sasha laughedshe couldn't help it. He sounded so ridiculous, yet he was cute in his own little way. And he had a sense of humor.
"Yeah, I wish I was on the other side of the hemispherein the U.S. of A. right now," she said.
"Instead of here
in the beautiful Bahamas?"
"Yes, this wedding couldn't have come at a worse time for me," Sasha complained.
"My office is hosting its annual retreat this weekend in Savannah, and I'm missing it. My sister's nuptials are putting a real damper on my schedule," she mumbled.
"Wow, you must be a workaholic," said Vince.
"I'm not a workaholic. My career is just very important to me."
"It's your sister's wedding. Isn't that important too?" Vince glanced over at Sasha and pierced her with those brown eyes.
"Of course it's important. It's just
well, it was just not a good time for me."
"Are you really that shallow?" Vince asked. "There's nothing more precious than family."
Had he just called her shallow?
"I beg your pardon. You don't know anything about me! And I'm not shallow."
"I'm sorry for calling you shallow. I meant to say that you made a shallow comment."
"I'm just saying
why couldn't she just do a simple little ceremony in Atlanta? Why fly to another country just to say 'I do'?"
"You should consider it an honor to stand up for your sister on such an important day."
"I have things going on in my life right now," Sasha retorted. "And this trip here, right now
this is inconvenient."
"That's too bad," said Vince. "You're completely missing it."
"Oh really?" Sasha asked. "So I guess you have it all figured out."
"I have a pretty good handle on things. I know what's important. In fact, when Derrick asked if I could fly to the Bahamas and be the best man at his wedding, I didn't give it a second thought. I knew I had to be here."
"How noble of you," Sasha said sarcastically and then stared out the window at the palm trees as they rushed past. She was done talking to this man.
An awkward silence suddenly resonated through the car, and Vince adjusted the volume on the stereo. As the sound of Caribbean rhythms filled the air, Sasha pulled her iPhone out of her purse and checked her email. The music wasn't very successful at drowning the silence, and the short drive seemed so much longer than it really was. Sasha wished her sister hadn't sent Vince to pick her up from the airport. She'd have been more comfortable taking a taxi. At least the driver would've kept his opinions to himself.
"I have to make a quick stop along the way," Vince said. "I hope you don't mind."
"You've got to be kidding."
"Not at all. Won't take but a sec."
Soon Vince pulled into Potter's Cay, the island's fish market and fruit stand tucked away under the Paradise Island Bridge. Potter's Cay, a place where Bahamians shopped for the fresh catch of the day and the freshest produce on the island, was an attraction that Sasha and her family had visited on occasion.
"What are we doing here?"
"I'm in the mood for fresh snapper."
"There's nothing like it." Vince smiled as he turned off the engine and removed the keys from the ignition.
"It's pretty hot, and you'll roast in the car without air-conditioning." He smiled but still seemed adamant that she get out of the car.
She immediately caught the smell of conch fritters and fried fish. She and Vince strolled along the sidewalk, taking in the eclectic stalls where food vendors sold their freshly cooked items. Friendly female vendors sat placidly in front of fruit and produce stalls bursting with bananas, plantains, papaya, red peppers, tomatoes and yams. In front of many stalls were cages of swarming black crabs and other seafood. Fishermen in rubber boots hoisted giant bags of fresh fish and cleaned the catch of the day with sharp knives right there as customers looked on.
Interspersed among the row of stalls serving cooked food were several stands selling fresh fish. The constant calls of "fresh fish, fresh fish," were heeded by car after car of customers who pulled up next to the street-side stall for plastic bags filled with fresh snapper.
Vince stepped up to a fresh fish vendor and said, "I'd like a pound of snapper, please."
"Some fresh conch salad too, sir?"
"Yes!" he exclaimed and gave the brown Bahamian woman a warm smile. "I love it."
"What about you, my lady?" The woman smiled at Sasha. "Fresh conch salad or a conch fritter?"
"No, thank you."
"What? You have to have one or the other," said Vince.
I don't eat that."
"I'll have conch salad," said Vince, "and one for the lady too."
"I said I didn't want any," Sasha said, but Vince wasn't listening.
The Bahamian woman handed each Vince and Sasha a bowl of the native fare. Sasha reluctantly took hers, wondering who Vince thought he wasordering for her like that and insisting that she taste something she wasn't accustomed to eating. He was presumptuous and arrogant, she thought. But she tasted it, and it was delightful against her tongue. She'd never tried it before; the name conch just didn't appeal to her. She'd always wondered how something with such an ugly name could possibly taste good.
Not wanting Vince to know that she was enjoying her salad, she toyed with the fork a bit, picking over the food. They moved down the sidewalk to a fresh produce stand, where Vince purchased tomatoes, bell peppers and onions. He seemed to know his way around the island and carried himself as a native. If it weren't for the crisp slacks, polo shirt and shined shoes that he wore, he could've easily been mistaken for an islander. The precision haircut and carefully manicured nails were a dead giveaway also. She immediately admired his confidence, although she hated to admit it. "So, obviously you cook," Sasha stated.
"I do," Vince said. "What about you?"
"I dabble a little. I always said that if I didn't make it as a lawyer, I'd become a chef."
"What's your specialty?" he asked.
"Deep-dish pizza," she boasted, "and I make my own crust."
"Really? That's impressive," he said. "Are you part Italian?"
"No," she answered with a laugh. "What's your specialty?"
"Fried chicken, fried fish, fried pork chops."
"Don't you know that fried foods are bad for your health? That's why everyone in the black community suffers with high blood pressure."
"I know, but it's so darn good," he admitted. "My arteries are probably already clogged with fried fish grease."
"You should try baking your chicken, fish and pork chops," Sasha said. "It's much healthier."
"I'll consider that," he said. "Maybe you can show me how it's done."
Sasha realized that she'd let her guard down and needed to put her wall of resistance back up. She said,
"I doubt it."