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Read an Excerpt
It’s Valentine’s Day.
I had big plans. I was going to lay on the couch in my underwear, eat a tub of double fudge brownie ice cream, and watch Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
That’s my annual tradition, started three years ago, after Theo and I broke up and I realized Valentine’s Day sucks when you’re single.
However, my tradition has been hijacked.
I wobble on my incredibly high, incredibly narrow wedge heels and readjust my gold sequin rose-colored sari. It’s Bollywood brunch on the beach at The Pier, an upscale beachfront restaurant that hosts extravagant themed Sunday brunches with champagne towers, free-flowing mimosas and lots of gourmet mini-bites.
Kate texted this morning. All it said was, “The Pier at eleven. Put some clothes on, you sad sack.”
Luckily, The Pier reuses themes, so I had a sari from the last eight Bollywood brunches we’ve been to. I walk down the sandy path to the beach. It’s shaded by a line of sea grapes and palms. There’s a slight breeze today, which carries the salty scent of the sea and the smell of grilled fish. I stop when I spy the white tent set up for brunch.
“Got it wrong, didn’t you?”
She’s best friends with me, Arya and Kate. Renee is half-Bajan, half-Trinidadian and a lawyer at one of the top international firms on the island. She works ninety hours every week and from what I can tell, she never sleeps. Every year, a young lawyer at her firm cracks under the pressure, and then Renee gets another promotion. She’s smart, Type A, and loves to argue. She’s also wearing a buttoned up white collared shirt that hits mid-thigh, white socks, a pair of black plastic sunglasses and nothing else.
“It’s the 80s Tom Cruise brunch? Not Bollywood?”
“Bollywood was last week.” She smirks at my sari.
Ugh. I wobble on my wedges. “Whatever. I’m Bollywood Nicole Kidman in Days of Thunder.”
Then we see Arya and Kate waving from a table near the champagne tower under The Pier’s white tent. The brunch is packed with people. The champagne has already started to flow and the band is playing Kokomo by the Beach Boys. I pull out a folding chair next to Kate and plop down.
Kate’s wearing the bathing suit Elisabeth Shue wore in Cocktail. She has two empty champagne glasses next to her and a plate full of half-melted chocolate truffles.
Arya is dressed in a bikini, aviator sunglasses and a pilot’s jacket. A subtle nod to Top Gun.
I’m the only one in the whole tent not paying tribute to 80s Tom Cruise.
“What are we talking about?” I ask.
“I broke up with Chet yesterday,” Arya says.
She takes off her sunglasses and rubs them clean on the lining of her coat. She doesn’t seem too broken up about the split.
“Why?” I ask her.
Arya is famous for breaking up for completely random reasons. For instance, she’s broken up with her last three boyfriends for the following reasons: his fingers were too long, his favorite book was Anna Karenina, and he was obsessed with flossing his teeth.
Renee sits down next to Arya and says, “It’s Valentine’s Day. Why would you break up the day before Valentine’s Day? You had a date. You like having dates.”
Arya levels Renee with a serious look. “He claimed cereal was soup.”
I think about this for a second. Then I decide I’m on Chet’s side. “Cereal is soup.”
“No. It’s not,” Arya says.
Renee leans forward, she smells an argument. “It is. Cereal has liquid and floaty bits. What else is soup but liquid and floaty bits?”
Arya’s disgusted with us. “Cereal is cold.”
“So is gazpacho,” Renee says.
We’re silent for a moment.
Then, Kate waves her hands. “It doesn’t matter. Chet made Arya cereal for a romantic dinner and called it soup. He expected some ‘romance’ in return.”
“Oh,” Renee says.
“Eww,” I say.
“Exactly.” Arya nods.
Well, that settles that.
I stare at the crowd around us and then wave over a waiter to grab a few mimosas for the table. The breeze from the sea is nice and the tent is cool from the shade, but even so, the glasses have condensation dripping down the sides. Part and parcel of living on a tropical island. It’s beautiful, but it’s hot.
“How’s work?” I ask.
Renee is the only lawyer in our group. Kate, a British ex-pat, is a luxury real estate agent and a sucker for any man that is bad for her. Arya’s parents are from India, but she grew up on the island. She works as a naturalist for the department of the environment.
“I spent all week cataloging boobies,” Arya says.
Renee smiles at her and lowers her black plastic sunglasses. “How many boobies?”
“Were they old boobies? Young boobies?” Renee asks.
“All ages, really.” Arya shrugs.
“Were there any perky boobies?”
“No. There were no perky or saggy boobies,” Arya frowns at Renee.
This never gets old for her. Arya studies the red-footed booby population in the Caribbean. She’s a scientist and doesn’t find the humor in it. However, Renee thinks making serious, science-y Arya say the word “booby” over and over is hilarious.
“My dad called this morning,” I say, interrupting the booby conversation.
Everyone looks at me. I steal one of Kate’s melting chocolate truffle balls and shove it in my mouth.
“How’d that go?” Renee asks.
“Well, he asked what assignment I was working on, so I told him I’m writing an article on the best brunch spots on the island.”
Kate’s eyes go wide and she cringes. She’s the only one of my friends who has met my parents. My dad is a Pulitzer prize-winning war correspondent and my mom is an anthropologist. They met in a war zone where my dad was reporting and my mom was studying the rights of passage in an isolated people’s group. My dad is from New York, and my mom is from the island. I live in the house she grew up in.
“What did he say?” asks Kate.
“Nothing. He was silent for about thirty seconds. Then he asked about the weather.”
My dad has never been shy in his disappointment over my career trajectory. He thought I’d be holding a microphone and dodging bullets by now, not reporting on things like brunch spots and the best places to catch a beautiful sunset.
“That’s fifteen seconds shorter than the last silence,” Arya says helpfully.
She’s not wrong.
“Can we talk about how we’re all dateless, sad sacking it at the 80s Tom Cruise Valentine’s Day brunch for singles?” asks Renee. “I need some stress relief, and I’m looking at him.”
She points to a late-twenties guy with a beer gut. He’s wearing a tropical shirt and short shorts, dancing on top of a table, pretending to mix drinks like Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail.
Renee doesn’t date, she “stress relieves” for a night or a weekend.
We all turn back to the table. There’s a pretty bouquet with a bird of paradise, some pink orchids, and a heart balloon as the centerpiece.
I grab another chocolate ball.
“I have news,” Kate says.
She flags down a waiter and we all grab a glass of champagne.
I shoo away a grackle, the little black birds that opportunistically try to grab food when you’re not looking. We don’t have any food except chocolate at our table. It hops away across the pink sand.
“What’s your news?” I ask, turning back to Kate.
She grins at us and spreads her arms wide. “There’s a billionaire on the island.” She says the word “billionaire” like you’d say “holy grail.”
We stare at her for a moment.
“What does that have to do with us?” asks Renee.
“He’s single,” Kate says with a great amount of relish.
“And?” I ask.
“And in his thirties.”
I sigh. “And?”
“And one of us is going to land him,” she ends with a flourish.
I shake my head. Why did I come today? Why didn’t I ignore the text and stay lounging in my undies eating buckets of ice cream?
“He probably clips his toenails at the dinner table,” Arya says.
We all stare at her, but she just shrugs. “I have a list of all the fatal flaws my boyfriends have had. The automatic breakup flaws. That one is the worst, but it comes up surprisingly often.”
“You’re too picky,” Kate says. “This guy is the white whale of dating and marriage. If he clipped his toenails at the dinner table and then sprinkled them on my food like parmesan cheese gratings I’d still marry him. I want one of us to catch him.”
“That’s disgusting,” I say. “Also, I’m leery of white whales. Didn’t Captain Ahab die trying to catch Moby #@%$? He died…trying to catch a #@%$. Think about that.”
But Renee has a bigger issue with Kate’s statement. “Why do you assume he’s looking for a woman? And why do you assume any of us want to get married?”
She has a point. I grab the last truffle ball. These things are delicious.
Kate gives us all a frustrated look. “It is a well-known fact that any single man with millions or billions of dollars desperately wants to get married.”
“That’s not logical,” Arya says.
Kate disagrees. “It’s completely logical. Once a man has amassed a fortune, he’s bored. Therefore he’s driven to get married, so he can then divorce, lose half his money in the divorce settlement and then have the motivation to make more money. Once he’s back on top and rich again, he’ll look for another wife to give half his money to all over again. It’s a cycle. Men like doing this.”
I stare at Kate, completely aghast. She takes a long sip of her champagne and gives us all a superior look. “Trust me, I’m British.”
I snort into my champagne glass.
Kate continues, “I saved the best news for last. He came with his friend, who also happens to be well-off. My mum called to let me know that Duchy said—”
Duchy is some duchess that Kate’s mom is bosom friends with. Kate, despite living in exile on Mariposa Island, is from a top-tier British family.
She was supposed to marry some titled guy, but instead she ran off with a professional jet-skier. Two months later she dumped the jet-skier and wanted to return to England, but her parents had already disowned her. So, she stayed on the island, became a realtor, and continued to make terrible dating decisions. Five years later, her mom talks to her on the phone, but her dad still refuses to acknowledge her existence.
“Duchy said that the billionaire Declan Fox was moving to the island, and his best friend Percy Oliver is coming along for a stay. My cousin went to Cambridge with Percy, he’s to inherit some title or other. I don’t know.” Kate waves it off as a non-issue. “The point is, one of us will land Declan, and another of us will land Percy.”
“I’m out,” Renee says. She leans back in her chair and shakes her head. “I’m not going to throw away my most productive career years on a man.”
Kate looks at me and Arya. “La-La?” she asks me. Technically, my name is Isla, but Kate likes to call me La-La. “Arya? Are you two in?”
“Why would I want to marry a billionaire? Or some stuffy aristocrat?” Arya asks.
“To avoid that matchmaker your mom keeps threatening to foist on you,” Kate says.
Arya considers this. Her parents are completely fine with her dating as many men as she likes, however, her mom is getting the grandmother itch, and she keeps threatening to hire a matchmaker. Arya’s parents met through a matchmaker, and so did her grandparents, so her mom is gung-ho about bringing Arya onto the matchmaking train.
“Right. I’m in,” Arya says.
I give Kate a pained look. “I just don’t get the point in chasing after a billionaire and his BFF.”
She levels her gaze on me. “La-La, you want to get married someday, right?”
“Sure. Of course I do.”
Granted, I haven’t dated anyone in three years, but it’s not for lack of wanting. Our little Caribbean island has a serious shortage of eligible men.
Back when I was younger, I thought I’d be married by now, maybe have a few kids. But that was when I was a bright-eyed, nubile, early-twenty-something optimist.
Now, I’d love to find the right guy to grow old with, someone kind, and good, and who accepts me exactly as I am. But that guy is surprisingly harder to find than I thought.
Kate claps her hands together. “Great. Since the four of us are going to marry someday—”
“The three of you,” Renee says.
Kate shrugs. “We can either choose to steer our boat toward toenail clipping, cereal/soup eaters, or we can navigate our boat towards billionaires. I’ve had enough dating disasters—”
“Here, here,” Arya lifts her champagne glass in a toast.
“I’m tired of steering myself toward relationships that go nowhere. When I was talking to my mum I realized that I’m going to fall in love again someday. But this time, I’m going to only allow myself to fall in love with an incredibly rich man.”
I look around the brunch tent. It’s getting rowdy. The champagne’s been flowing for more than two hours, the band is now playing a tropical version of Let’s Get it On, and some of the couples are cooling off in the calm azure sea water.
There are a few single guys here, most of them are in a group chugging mimosas. The one guy dressed in the tropical shirt that Renee pointed out is still dancing on the table pretending to make cocktails.
“Are you in, La-La?” Kate asks. “We can do this. By the end of the year, two of us will be married. One to a billionaire, the other to his well-off aristo friend. I guarantee it.”
I’m a little tipsy from the champagne and the heat. I’m not really looking to land a white whale, but I have to admit, I am looking for someone.
“Alright.” There’s no harm in agreeing. It’s not like we’ll actually run into these guys.
“Excellent,” Kate says, like it’s all settled and she can start planning the weddings.
Even Arya looks excited. Apparently, she’s really sick of the guys she’s been dating.
“I’m going to go grab more truffle balls,” I say. “Anyone want anything?”
No one does.
I stumble across the sand toward the food spread. It’s never a good idea to wear high heels on the beach, you think I would’ve learned that after living here for years. But no.
I grab a plate and pick up a pair of silver tongs. There’s a two-foot-tall pyramid of chocolate truffle balls sitting in a bowl of ice. I think about how many I should take.
Three? Five? Twelve?
I start loading some on my plate. Then I notice there are two men standing nearby.
They’re handsome in that upright, British sort of way. The taller one has black hair, green eyes and wide shoulders. He looks like he could’ve been a boxer. He’s magnetically attractive.
The shorter one is blond, with blue eyes and a slender frame. He sort of reminds me of a golden retriever, happy and friendly and approachable. They’re both dressed in tropical shirts à laCocktail.
“There’s no need to leave. We’re here to have a bit of fun. Mix with the locals,” the golden retriever one says. His accent is posh British, similar to Kate’s.
“I’d rather not,” the boxer says stiffly. His tone is at complete odds with the ridiculous outfit he’s wearing.
The golden retriever slaps him on the back. “Mixing is the best way to forget Vicky. There are plenty of good-looking women here to talk to.”
The boxer looks around the tent aloofly. “You’re right, there are plenty of women here, but I don’t see any good-looking ones. At least, not good enough for me.”
Wow. I take the magnetically attractive designation back. I’d rather date one of Arya’s toenail clipping exes than this man.
The golden retriever laughs. “Loosen up. Look, right there at the dessert table. That woman there. She’s good-looking.”
My ears go hot and prickly when I realize he’s talking about me.
I keep dishing truffle balls onto my plate and glance at the men from the corner of my eyes.
The boxer scoffs. “I’ll pass. She’s average at best. And then there’s her face.”
I stiffen. What’s wrong with my face?
I have a nice face, thank you very much. It shows the whole mixed bag of my ancestors, perfect for the daughter of an anthropologist. My mom always said I have the kind of face that could visit nearly any country in the world and people would assume I was a local.
The golden retriever laughs again and shoves his friend toward me. He trips over his feet and stumbles to a stop in front of me. I look up, clear my throat and smile tightly at him.
Pretend you didn’t hear him, I tell myself.
“Err, hello,” he says. He straightens up and adjust his flowered shirt.
“Hi,” I say.
He looks around the tent awkwardly and then back to me. “Nice day.”
I nod, then hold the tongs out to him. “Did you want some truffle balls?”
He glances at the tongs in my hand and then back up to me. He’s taller than I thought. Even in my heels, he still has a few inches on me. But he’s also stiffer than I thought. I have no idea how a man in a tropical shirt and shorts can look pompous, but he’s managing just fine. He gives the silver tongs a supercilious look.
“The truffle balls look good, don’t they?” I ask.
Why am I still talking to this man? Why?
His mouth turns down and he looks like he wishes he were anywhere but here, in this tent next to the turquoise sea, talking to me.
“I don’t ever eat balls, but…”
He sniffs, and it sounds like a restrained scoff. “I’ll bet,” he says.
Oh jeez. Did I just tell this man I never eat balls?
My eyes widen. Out of the corner of my eye I see the man’s friend gesturing that he should ask me to dance. The boxer sees him too, he glares at him and sharply jerks his head no.
The friend walks over and pulls him to the side.
“Ask her to dance,” he cajoles.
“No,” the boxer replies.
“I will not. I won’t dance with some sad single woman, who self-pityingly overstuffs herself with chocolates on Valentine’s Day and wears inappropriate outfits to beach brunches. I will not.”
I drop the tongs to the table. They hit the edge of the ice bowl with a loud clatter. The man and his friend glance up. The dark-haired boxer looks irritated, the golden retriever looks embarrassed.
I smile at them and as serenely as possible I walk back to my table. I don’t look back.
When I sit down my friends stare.
“What?” I ask.
They all lean forward.
Kate whispers, “That was Declan Fox. You were talking to Declan Fox.” She holds up her cell phone so I can see a picture of him from the internet. “You’ve done it. You’ve already landed the white whale.”
Arya looks at me with awe.
I can’t help it, I snort and then I start to laugh.
“What?” Kate asks.
“Why are you laughing?” Arya asks.
“I would rather date a toad,” I say. “I’m out. I’m definitely out.”
Declan Fox is notthe man for me.
“What’d he say?” asks Renee.
“Hmm. Let me think…” I put on his disdainful, deep voice, “I would never dance with some sad, single woman, who self-pityingly overindulges on chocolates…”
Arya gasps. “Fatal flaw. He’s an a-hole.”
I continue in an imitation of his voice, “She’s average looking at best. And then there’s her face.”
“He did not,” Renee hisses.
“He did.” I smile at them, and even though his comment stung a little, I cross my eyes, stick out my tongue and say, “Look at my face! Look at me, I’m hideous!”
My friends shriek with laughter. Some of the Tom Cruise devotees at the brunch stop and stare, but most just keep on dancing or drinking.
Finally, Arya wipes her eyes. She was laughing so hard she started to cry. “Isla, we really should’ve told you…” She blushes and looks down.
Arya doesn’t answer.
I look at Kate and Renee. Kate crinkles her eyes and holds back a smile, but she doesn’t say anything.
“What?” I turn to Renee. She’ll tell me. She’s a straight shooter.
Renee smirks and then brushes her cheek. “You’ve got a little something. Right here.”
I reach up. There’s a sticky substance on my cheek. I look at my finger. It’s chocolate.
“And right here,” says Renee. She dabs her nose.
“Are you kidding?” I ask.
“And here,” says Kate. She touches her chin.
I yank out my phone and flip the camera to look at myself. My face is completely smeared with melted chocolate. I drop my phone and stare at my friends in horror.
“You jerks! You let me go up there smothered in chocolate.”
They all start laughing. “It was funny,” Kate protests.
“Funny until the face police called me a sad, self-pitying singleton,” I say.
But then, I can’t help myself, I start to laugh too. Because I look ridiculous, and the billionaire turned out to be a real Moby #@%$, and my friends are awesome, and coming to this brunch was way more fun than sitting at home eating ice cream in my underwear.
“Question,” says Kate.
“Are we still planning to land the billionaire and his friend?”
I shake my head. No way. No how. “I’m out.”
“Good woman,” Renee says.
“I’m in,” Arya says.
I give her a look.
“What? His friend could be nice.”
I shrug. He could be.
“Well, it’s not for me. I’d rather end up a sad, self-pitying single old lady gorging myself on chocolate then marry that pompous, tropical shirt-wearing toad.”
“Too bad,” Kate says. “He’s practically begging you to marry him and then divorce him so you can take half his fortune.”
I choke on a laugh and then shake my head. “No. Not even for that. I have standards to keep. I promise you, I’ll never, ever date or marry that pompous, pretentious man. And that’s the end of that.”
This may be a small island, but if there’s any luck in the world, I’ll never have to see him again.
My latest beach romance book
released May 24, 2022.
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