Thirty-three hours. Aya Daniels was actually counting down until
she could take her few belongings and sneak away to begin a very
different life. For she had said yes without reservation, even if it was
spoken so softly that she had to repeat it. And now she needed to act
quickly in order to be ready in time.
She took advantage of the noise her aunt and her aunt’s friends
were making, cackling like the hens they became when they got
together to gossip. Preoccupied as they were in their own dramas,
they would not come to investigate the shuffling sounds coming from
Aya’s dingy room.
She pulled her suitcase from the bottom of the wardrobe and
started sorting through her clothes. She was pleased to see that most
of them had become too big for her in the year since she had relocated
to the Caribbean. She took her most professional pieces and stylish
casuals as she wanted to make a good impression.
She packed the creams and ointments she kept in her wicker drawer
to treat her heat rash and unabating mosquito bites. Then she raised
her hands to place the tiny twists of her black shoulder-length locks
into a high ponytail to keep them out of her sweat-soaked face. She
wiped her brow and turned on the wall fan, which did little other than
blow the hot air around her confined quarters.
Aya looked at herself in the mirror above the wicker dresser. Would
she be able to live up to his expectations? She turned to the right to
review her profile from that angle. Her generous bosom was still perky
and much of the bloat of the previous years had left her midsection.
Her behind was a little flat, but she hadn’t known him to be like most
island men in that regard.
She moved in closer to scrutinize her face. She was almost thirty-six
years old, but she had yet to feel like her own woman. She plumped
her full lips, tipped her chin down, and smiled when she remembered
how often he complimented her on them. Observing how the relentless
sun had toasted her complexion to a healthy-looking caramel tone,
she was satisfied. She then squinted to examine the dark circles under
her expressive deep-set eyes. The climate had failed to hide the stress
and worry of the past couple of years.
Aya turned away from the mirror to examine her mail, which
consisted mostly of credit card bills with large balances. She slid the
envelopes into the front flap of her case and then sifted through what
remained in her drawer. Among the several articles about how to
write your first novel was a picture that hit her like a kick in the guts.
It was him.
Her aunt Bea walked by her bedroom on the way to the bathroom
next door and invited Aya out to join the meal she was serving her
friends. Aya held the picture to her breast, mumbled a curt refusal, and
lowered herself onto her twin bed. Her body tensed as she remembered
the end of a conversation she had overheard her aunt having with her
mother on the phone only the day before.
Bea had returned home from the grocery store, talking on her cell
with the speaker on as she unpacked and put away the groceries. She
didn’t realize Aya had come home early from work and was writing on
her laptop in her room.
“I don’t think she’s ready to come back to you in Canada yet, Pearl.”
“Why not? You can see she isn’t happy there,” her mother said
frankly. “She left her job, her few friends, and her family to get a fresh
start but is still doing the same nonsense. She’s not getting any younger
either. There’s no time to waste.”
“At least she has that good job I got her doing the accounts at the
hotel. And she’s taken off all of that weight.”
“I didn’t send my daughter to you to be shut up in her room
“Well, I try taking her out with me, but she always refuses. I introduce
her to all the young men I come across, but nothing ever comes
of that either. I can’t even get her to join me at church. I don’t know
what else to do.”
“I curse the day she ever met that blasted Bradley! Do you suppose
she’s still depressed?”
Bea took a moment to respond, breathing heavily as she lumbered
her wide body about the room. “She don’t say too much to me about
anything, really. She has a girlfriend from work who calls sometimes,
but they don’t do much together. I hoped Nicola would be here for her
until she up and went off to England to do her Master’s. I know Aya
was really counting on her cousin and very disappointed that when she
finally pack up and come, her closest relative up and leave.”
“Is she still overeating?”
“I told you, she’s slimmed down nicely. I doubt she can find half of
the junk she used to gorge on down here anyway.”
“She doesn’t talk much to me after I told her she needed to forget
a career as a writer since she has so much debt to pay off. I don’t know
why Nicola put that idea in her head. She’s not still shopping, is she? It
boggles my mind to think of all the money she wasted on rubbish that’s
now crammed into a storage unit.”
“No. No more mindless spending. She gets the bills you forward to
her, and after making the payments she doesn’t have funds to play with,
so she doesn’t go out much. I offer to help—”
“She can’t stay with you for free, Bea. I know you can afford it, but
I’ve told her time and again that she cannot spend her way out of a
“Well, I feel bad. She must be lonely, always stuck in that room.
I wish I knew how to help her. What do you expect her to go back to
Canada and do?”
At that moment, Aya’s cell had started ringing. She had stumbled
about trying to silence it while Bea had quickly ended the call.
Aya was incensed. They were always trying to run her life.
Depressed? She wasn’t depressed. She was in pain due to a festering
wound that had been rubbed raw for nearly a decade. She raised the
picture she was holding to her tearing eyes.
The photo was taken at a family picnic. The very striking Bradley
was smiling at the camera, his muscular arm draped around her shoulders.
Her face was beaming as she looked up at him. She had loved this
guy from afar for three years in university, where the popular athlete
had the run of all the girls on campus. A year after graduating, the new
financial advisor had crossed paths with Aya when she was working as
a teller at one of the top banks.
Aya thought it was a dream come true when they started dating and
thanked the heavens that love was still alive, which she had doubted
after living through her parents’ nasty divorce only a few years before.
She was deliriously happy with him for eight months, until he got his
first promotion. Once he started making a lot more money, he became
too busy with clients or company events to extend her an invitation.
Aya had already envisioned taking his name and planned their
entire future together when he started being seen with other women.
He became distant with her and would only make time for sexual
encounters. Aya was not prepared to have actual intercourse with
him unless he proposed. She excused his dalliances with other women
because she was silly enough to believe it was her he really wanted.
Their romance was off far more than on during their second year, but
Aya could not give him up. She was desperate to keep some semblance
of joy in her life, especially since her father was angry and distant while
her mother was manipulative and clinging. She remained hopeful that
the man she had fallen so deeply in love with would return. Until his
son was born to the girl he had gone steady with during most of those
university years. Then Aya had to face that she may never have had the
man at all.
She blamed herself for not giving in to him physically, no matter
how hot and heavy their sessions would get. Although not religious,
Aya could not find it in herself to be with a man who did not desire
her enough to make her his bride. She had gambled that holding out
would make him commit, and lost.
Aya crumpled up the picture and wiped her eyes. She would not
shed one more tear over Bradley Wentworth. Then a flash of memory
that she had long repressed came through. A moment from the night
her mother was out working and Aya thought she was home alone. She
had cried so hard over him that she wanted to end her pain and die
right there on the family room couch.
Unbeknownst to her, Mr. Franklyn, a long-time friend of the
family, was visiting and had fallen asleep in the basement TV room.
Aya was horrified to feel him lay his clean-shaven head next to hers
while she sobbed, but he continued to hold her when she tried to push
him away. Eventually, she grew weary and let him. Desmond Franklyn
could guess what had happened to devastate her so as he had cautioned
Aya several times over Bradley’s immature ways.
Once Aya was able to compose herself, the tall, dark, and handsome
man gently wiped her tears, stroked her face, and put his arm around
her hip as she leaned her head on his broad shoulders. They sat together,
saying nothing, and she relaxed under his caresses.
The jolting sound of the garage door opening brought them out of
their stupor and Aya abruptly sat up, getting ready to flee the room as
she did not want her mother to see her destroyed. Mr. Franklyn’s dark
lips smiled gently when he took her face in his hands and kissed her
fully on the mouth, his clipped goatee tickling her face until they heard
footsteps coming up from the basement. He got up and had kept Pearl
talking in the kitchen so that Aya could get into bed. They had never
spoken of it again.
Sweat rolled down Aya’s neck and she jumped up to get back to
the matter at hand. She reorganized her belongings so nothing looked
amiss and returned her case to the wardrobe. She would pack her toiletries
from the bathroom as soon as the coast was clear.
Now all she could do was wait. If only she had known that morning,
while waiting for the stifling, crammed bus she took to work, that it
would be her last day. He hadn’t asked her to resign, but she knew it
was expected, and she more than welcomed it.
She had stunned her supervisor when she informed him that she
was leaving. Her abrupt departure could hardly come as a surprise to
the ruddy British national, who knew that his escalating lust for her
was not lost on Aya, nor most of the people in the office. Someone
had spilled the beans to his venomous wife, who was making frequent
unannounced visits to thwart what she believed to be inevitable. Her
spies in the building were also fanning the flames and making Aya’s
life miserable. Her boss had made one last attempt, hoping that Aya
would relent and let him get at her now that she would no longer be
Aya found herself coming up against such experiences often, as
plenty of carnal attention was directed her way in this sizzling land
of libido, rum, and Carnival. She would have been flattered if the
advances were ever from anyone suitable. Unfortunately, they were
always either too old, married, or attached to any number of other
women. They looked at her parts with no thought or care for who she
really was as a person.
Not giving a damn anymore what people would say about her
decision, Aya squared her shoulders and scowled. For she was now
certain that she was doing the right thing. An opportunity that had
miraculously become available when she was beyond all hope. She was
leaving tomorrow evening to become Mrs. Desmond Franklyn, as she
had promised him she would.