Home > A Love Like This

A Love Like This
Author: Diana Palmer

CHAPTER ONE


   NIKKI BLAKE FOLLOWED the other four tourists out of the creamy gray walls of Fort Charlotte, touching the weatherworn smooth stone with her fingertips. It was like touching history.

   Her eyes darted around the high walls of the massive fort on the edge of Nassau, to the solid cannon sighting over them, to the chains where the “bad boys” once were anchored. The guide had told them that, with a twinkle in his dark eyes. He’d taken them down below, down carved stone steps far below the cannon to a smothering hot underground room, where kerosene lanterns provided the only scant light. He’d plugged in a trouble light in that small room to disclose a rack with a dummy on it, and one beside it—the tortured and the torturer. Nikki had claustrophobia at the best of times, and the underground room had been trying. When she got back to the surface, she dragged air into her lungs as if it had suddenly gone precious, drinking in the thick, flower-scented subtropical air like a beached swimmer.

   She barely heard the guide wishing them farewell as she held on to the cold stone as they went back through the tunnel and out over the moat. It had been an exciting experience, one of many during the two days she’d been on New Providence. She’d needed this vacation badly, but if her aunt and uncle hadn’t pushed, she’d probably still be in Ashton having nightmares about that last big story she’d covered for her weekly paper.

   “Where to next?” she asked the pleasant tour guide, a mountain of a man in a beautifully colored tropical shirt, as he held the jitney’s sliding door open for his party.

   “The botanical gardens and the flamingos,” he told her with a smile. “The flamingo is our national bird, you know.”

   She did, but the gardens weren’t on her part of the tour. She’d opted for the two-hour city tour, not the four-hour one, thinking that the heat would probably smother her if she had to endure that much of it all at once. Besides, she wanted to go back down Bay Street and wander along the straw market and Prince George Wharf, where the passenger ships docked and tourists in colorful holiday clothes decorated the view everywhere the eye wandered.

   “You’re coming, aren’t you?” the lady from Chicago asked with a smile. “You’ll love the flamingos. And the flowers...gorgeous!”

   “We’ve looked forward to it all day,” the couple from New Jersey added. “It’s going to be great fun.”

   “I’ve got some shopping to do,” Nikki said reluctantly. She’d enjoyed the group so much. They were all pleasant people, very friendly, not a complainer in the bunch. They’d been good company on the winding tour along the narrow paved roads that led them past stone fences behind which island cattle had once been kept, the governor-general’s imposing home and the neatly walled little houses out in the country surrounded by tall casuarina pines, hibiscus, breadfruit, banana, golden palm and silk cotton trees.

   The island had been an incredible experience from Nikki’s viewpoint. A native of Georgia, Nikki lived in a medium-sized town south of Atlanta, and the vegetation there, mostly hardwoods like oaks and flowering trees like magnolias and lots of pine trees, was a far cry from these exotic fruit trees.

   This was the first holiday she’d taken in the two years she’d worked full-time for her uncle’s newspaper. It had been a necessary trip, not really a luxury: an escape from the nightmares that haunted her, from the sight of Leda’s mud-covered body in the pile of debris the tragic flood had left in its foaming path.

   Oddly enough the Caribbean didn’t bother her, while the sound of running water back home had brought on horrific nightmares. Perhaps it was the very difference of the place that had begun to soothe her.

   Nassau itself was quite exciting, from its busy streets to the fantastic jewel-colored water and coral beaches. Her pale green eyes had misted at her first glimpse of Cable Beach, on the way from the airport to the hotel. She’d never dreamed there could be anything as beautiful as the sudden shock of that turquoise water and the white beaches beyond the stand of sea grape and casuarina pines in the foreground. It had literally brought tears to her eyes as she held on to the seat while the rushing jitney swayed to and fro on its winding paved road to the towering white Steel Nassau Inn, a chain hotel overlooking the harbor and one of Nassau’s best. Callaway Steel’s hotel empire had acquired it several years ago and done extensive renovations.

   Everything about the city fascinated her, from the statue of Woodes Rogers and the old cannon at the entrance of a nearby hotel to the story behind them. The people on the busy streets, in the shops, in the hotel itself, were gracious, friendly, proud of their island and their culture. They savored it like aged wine, something impatient tourists had to be taught to do. The first lesson Nikki learned was that in Nassau nobody was in a hurry. Perhaps the subtropical atmosphere had curved time, but the minutes seemed to actually slow and lengthen. Time lost its meaning. The Bahamians moved at a slower pace, took the opportunity to enjoy life a minute at a time, not a day all at once. After the first six hours she spent in Nassau, Nikki put her wristwatch into her suitcase and left it there.

   When the jitney let her out at the door of the hotel, she went up to her room and changed into her one-piece white bathing suit with a flowing caftan cover-up in shades of green. The long, carpeted hall was deserted when she opened her door and went back out, with one of the hotel’s spotless white towels thrown over one arm. Hotel rules forbade taking towels from the rooms, but Nikki had been too excited to stop and read the signs.

   She locked the door behind her and started toward the elevator with the key clutched tightly in one hand.

   When she rounded the corner at the elevator, with its huge green palm leaves painted on the metallic walls, the doors were just beginning to close.

   “Oh, wait, please!” she called to the solitary occupant, a big, imposing man with faintly waving thick dark hair and eyes that were equally dark and hostile.

   He hit the button with a huge fist and stood waiting impatiently for her to get in. She got a brief glimpse of hard features and a square jaw above a very expensive beige suit before she looked away, clutching the forbidden towel tightly against her as she murmured, “Lobby, please.”

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