“Hey! Hey, miss!”
“We have what you want!”
Lucy quickened her pace. She’d been wandering through Stone Town’s labyrinth of twisting alleys for the last few hours, and the constant shouts and catcalls were finally taking their toll on her.
This was supposed to be her safe place, her retreat from… everything.
And it was. This was her retreat. She’d been on the island for the last nine days, and while she’d never regretted her decision to come here, she’d discovered that sometimes, things in Zanzibar got a little intense.
She turned another corner—nearly identical to all the others, crumbling white walls on either side and bright-colored fabrics hanging from clotheslines—and forced herself to calm down.
She took a breath. Stop panicking.
There were tourists everywhere, and all the vendors really cared about was unloading some overpriced scarves on rich Americans. No one had followed her from Cape Town. No one from her old life was here.
It was okay.
She was safe.
“Hello, beautiful lady. Spices?”
She ignored the voice.
Stone Town was the core of Zanzibar City, a hub of constant activity and a destination for sightseers from all over the world. Because it was built during the times of sultans and trade routes, the city was a mishmash of Arabic, African, and European cultures. Windows and doorways had the gently pointed shapes of Arabian architecture, the walls were built from the powdery sandstone of the local beaches, and the markets themselves were splashed with the vivid colors of the mainland.
And the smells… God, the smells… Citrus, mango, curry, pepper, sea salt. The air was sweet and spicy, and every alley had a slightly different aroma.
As a small-town Afrikaner leaving South Africa for the very first time, the sensory overload made her head spin.
“Hey!” a single voice reached her ears. Somehow, amidst the hundreds of voices around her, this one stood out. Deep. Velvety. Somehow familiar? She wasn’t sure.
The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. Even in the hot, equatorial sun, goose bumps pebbled her skin. She paused, breathed slowly.
Zanzibar is safe. That is why you chose it.
Actually, she’d randomly chosen Zanzibar on the map, mostly because it was a place she’d never considered visiting before, somewhere Derick wouldn’t think to visit. A safe place.
She didn’t have much of a plan. She’d left in such a hurry that she couldn’t even go to the bank and take out more cash. There were ATMs on the island, but if she withdrew money here, then it wouldn’t take long for Derick to check her bank statement and track her down.
She couldn’t risk that.
Basically, Lucy planned to stay here a while, keep her head down, and wait for things to die down back home. Best case scenario: Derick would get arrested for doing something stupid. Or violent. It was only a matter of time.
“Hey,” that deep voice came again. It wasn’t loud, but it was confident.
Lucy spun around. She knew she shouldn’t respond to overzealous vendors, but she couldn’t help herself. Her body felt compelled to react to that voice.
It took her a moment to lock eyes on the man who was calling for her. There were so many people in the market, waving their hands and shouting out words in Swahili. But when she saw him—when her eyes finally met his—she knew he was different.
He stood behind a shelf covered with bags of spices, his lower body hidden by the merchandise. He was tall and muscled, with wide shoulders—their shape accentuated by the tight black T-shirt he wore.
His eyes—large and dark—were framed by thick lashes. His hair was jet black and wavy, not in tight curls like most of the locals. He smiled—an actual, genuine smile—and said, “Karibu.”
Welcome. That was pretty much the only Swahili word Lucy knew.
“Asante,” she replied. Thank you. Well, maybe there were two Swahili words that she knew.
“You are new to our little island.” He stepped out from behind the stall. He towered over her, even taller than she expected. And just like that, all the other people in the market disappeared. It was as if they were never there at all. All the shouting and haggling and arguing about anything and everything… it all faded away.
Right now, Lucy was alone with this stranger. He looked at her, his dark eyes revealing specks of gold, and waited for her to respond.
“Uh… yeah,” she said. In times like these, Lucy wasn’t exactly a stellar conversationalist. She often let her emotions carry her away, and right now her emotions were yelling at her—screaming at her—to do anything other than stare open-mouthed at this handsome stranger.
“Are you interested?” He was talking about the spices.
She looked around, left, then right, then left again, like she was crossing the street. There were dozens of spice sellers on either side of her. They were mainly men, young and eager. For the most part, their inventories were identical. The same bags of spices, arranged in the same order along their counters. And she said no to all of them.
But this man…
What made him so different?
“Sure,” she said. “What do you have?”
What was she doing? Hadn’t she learned her lesson back home? Don’t let your guard down, especially around handsome men. She reached up and touched the faded scar on the side of her neck, running a fingertip along the line of raised skin. She had gotten that scar because she hadn’t been careful, because she’d trusted the wrong man. She swore to herself that she’d never let that happen again. And now… here she was.
With a stranger.
A handsome, mysterious stranger who made her heart shimmy in her chest.
“For you, miss,” he said, “I have everything.”