Read Hurricanes in Paradise Online
Authors: Denise Hildreth
Praise for Denise Hildreth
Hurricanes in Paradise
“Denise is one of my favorite storytellers. With all that charm, she draws me in and gets me laughing; then with a simple phrase or picture, she turns the screws and tightens the lines, touching me someplace tender. Nobody—and I mean
—knows or paints Southern women like Denise. This is a beautiful, moving story, tenderly told.”
Where the River Ends
“This book stole my time. But don’t blame the book and don’t blame the author! At times you will laugh out loud, and at other times you’ll have to push through the lump in your throat. Either way, you will
want this book to end.”
Eva Marie Everson
This Fine Life
“Oh, how I miss Denise’s many layered characters! They made me laugh and cry while challenging me to remember that people hide heartache behind a variety of facades. Bouquets of praise are due Denise Hildreth for leaving readers filled with hope that healing exists in every storm for all who believe . . . in Paradise.”
Shellie Rushing Tomlinson
TV and radio host of
All Things Southern
The Will of Wisteria
“A unique page-turner about the beauty of a place called Wisteria, the wild landscape of the heart, and how sometimes it’s only the miracle of a human touch that can lead someone home again.”
The Messenger of Magnolia Street
Flies on the Butter
“Hildreth’s latest shines with humanity and originality. . . . Keep tissues handy for the emotional conclusion.”
“[N]othing less than a spiritual odyssey of inner reckoning.”
“Beautifully portrays how looking back thoughtfully has the potential to powerfully transform one’s future.”
New York Times
The Savannah series
Savannah from Savannah
is] smart and witty.”
“Savannah is a new kind of spirited Southern belle. And Hildreth’s smart, quirky wit is positively addicting. I’m hooked!”
best-selling author of
Cry in the Night
Savannah Comes Undone
is like taking a virtual vacation. It’s a quirky, fun foray into life in the South. . . . You won’t be disappointed.”
Kathy L. Patrick
founder of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club
“An engaging read of real-life vignettes and relationships. I read it cover to cover. As Savannah discovers her beliefs, values, and passions, the reader will be looking into their own ‘mirror of truth.’”
Visit Tyndale’s exciting Web site at www.tyndale.com.
Visit Denise Hildreth’s Web site at www.denisehildreth.com.
and Tyndale’s quill logo are registered trademarks of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Hurricanes in Paradise
Copyright © 2010 by Denise Hildreth. All rights reserved.
Cover photo copyright © by Alloy/Veer. All rights reserved.
Back cover photo of sunglasses copyright © by Heather Down/iStockphoto. All rights reserved.
Cover designed by Julie Chen
Interior designed by Beth Sparkman
Edited by Kathryn S. Olson and Erin E. Smith
Published in association with the literary agency of Daniel Literary Group, Nashville, TN.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hildreth, Denise, date.
Hurricanes in paradise / Denise Hildreth.
ISBN 978-1-4143-3557-5 (pbk.)
1. Resorts—Fiction. 2. Hurricanes—Fiction. 3. Female friendship—Fiction.
4. Bahamas—Fiction. I. Title.
This book is dedicated to anyone who has ever walked through a hurricane . . . and survived.
Saturday morning . . .
The salt air of the Caribbean rushed through the open sliding-glass door with the force of a tropical storm gust and blew a picture frame on her coffee table to the floor, reminding Riley Sinclair that her second chance at life was just as fragile. Her bare feet stepped onto the warm concrete of the small balcony, and she leaned against the iron railing. Her pajama pants blew between the teal-painted slats as a soft curl swept in front of her face, its color as dark as the black tank top she wore.
She closed her eyes and breathed in, the oxygen traveling all the way to her toes. This was the smell she knew, the scent of her memories. She also knew the teasing dance that hurricanes played on the coastal waters. And this tropical paradise that she now resided in had avoided another close call in Hurricane Jesse. But rumor had it a new storm churned in the Atlantic. And though the Bahamas had avoided each storm this year, the mere chance was never good for business. She exhaled deliberately and released anything else that needed to go. The first prayer of the day was offered as the sun pressed its way through dissipating clouds.
When the discourse of her morning was over, she headed back inside to get some Dr Pepper, her new a.m. sugar kick of choice. The South knew how to grow its women proper, raise its boys to be gentlemen, and make its tea sweet. But Bahamians had no idea they were as southern as you could get, so sweet tea wasn’t a readily accessible commodity here. So she had switched to Dr Pepper.
She knew that amount of sugar probably wasn’t an ideal breakfast companion, but she figured if that was the only addiction she possessed after what she’d been through, she’d fared pretty well. She set her liquid sunshine down and turned the sleek silver shower handle upward to let the water heat up to just below scalding. When steam had taken over the shower door and made its way to the bathroom mirror, she entombed herself. As warm water cascaded over her, the low, melodic sounds of her hum reverberated through the stone bathroom. She closed her eyes and began to sing softly, letting the thickness of her alto voice take up the spaces the steam had left vacant.
The shower was over when she was finished singing. She dried off, dressed, and released her hair from a large clip; it fell to the center of her back as she glanced at her reflection in the mirror.
There were days she could see it. This was one of them.
Life had come back into her almost-thirty-nine-year-old face. It was as if she got younger with each day that moved her farther from her past. And sometimes, like today, she could actually see it in her eyes. They were alive. Even her laughter had changed. Okay, come back. And every time it arrived, she could feel it travel from somewhere in her gut. It was real. And it was wonderful. Yet still slightly foreign. But she was so grateful for it. And if it brought new lines with it, that was a fair trade. She’d trade the aged face of stress for a new one streaked with laugh lines as willingly as the gamblers here traded dollars for chips.
She gave her reflection a smile and pulled the taupe silk top over her head, then readied her face for the day. Now she was ready to face the biggest challenge of her day: waking Gabby.
The distance from her bedroom to Gabby’s was three full steps. Though at five foot two, for her, it was more like five. Even though the condo was only a little over nine hundred square feet, she and Gabby didn’t require much; plus it was right on the Atlantis property and a blessing of a deal for this season in her life. And it was peaceful. She was more than willing to sacrifice her four thousand square feet of turmoil for nine hundred square feet of peace.
The twin bed gave slightly beneath her weight as she sat down and pushed the curls that hid Gabby’s tiny face. They brushed across the Cinderella nightgown and fell over her shoulder. Riley relished this brief moment without her mouth moving. Since Gabby had learned to talk, she hadn’t stopped. That’s why Gabriella had quickly been shortened to Gabby.
She leaned over and pressed her mouth against the soft skin of her little girl’s face. Her words swept past Gabby’s ear. “Time to get up, sunshine. You’ve got to get ready for school.”
The tiny frame wriggled beneath the white down comforter. Long black eyelashes tugged at each other before they finally broke free and revealed eyes that carried as much variety of blue as the Bahamian ocean. Even though Bahamian waters could be as unique as aquamarine, as taunting as turquoise, and as regal as royal blue, they were the only waters distinguishable from space. Gabby’s eyes were able to transform as well, but Riley could recognize them from space too.
Gabby rubbed her eyes with the backs of her fists. Her mouth opened wide as she yawned away some of her sleepiness. Then she rolled over.
“Come on, Gabby. You’ve got to get up.” Riley rubbed her back. “It’s a big day, remember?”
Gabby rolled over and forced her eyes open. “I’m going to the science museum today.”
Riley stood up from the bed. “That’s right. Are you still taking Ted?”
Gabby slipped quickly out of the bed, her tiny feet dotting the carpet as she ran toward her fishbowl, where Ted resided. “Yep. I’m taking Ted,” she stated matter-of-factly in her distinctly raspy little voice.
She lifted his bowl and spun it around the room. Ted jolted from the rock he had been sleeping on, his stubby turtle legs rapidly trying to regain their positioning. “Don’t you want the little boys and girls to see you today on our field trip, Ted?” she asked.
Ted didn’t respond. He was still trying to get back to his throne.
“Slip on your clothes, and Mommy will go make your breakfast,” Riley said as she laid out some khaki shorts and a white polo. She hadn’t told Gabby that they didn’t have to wear uniforms today because it was a Saturday field trip to celebrate the end of this semester and to begin their three-week break from year-round school. She thanked God for school uniforms. They removed one morning battle. Pink ballerina outfits weren’t the best attire for first grade.
Riley headed to the kitchen. “What are you hungry for, angel girl?”
“I’m thinking pancakes would be good!” Gabby called out.
Riley laughed as she opened the refrigerator door. She kept a flourless, sugarless pancake batter in the refrigerator most of the week. A friend had given her the recipe and Gabby had no idea they were healthy. Riley had no intention of telling her.
Gabby finally bounded into the kitchen and pulled out a barstool from beneath the black granite countertop. Riley turned over the last pancake and put it on Gabby’s plate next to her glass of orange juice. She picked up her own plate and sat down beside her.
Gabby held up her hand as if Riley was about to intrude on her prayer. “I’ll bless it, Mommy.”
“Go for it.”
Gabby folded her tiny hands, where pieces of her hot pink fingernail polish clung for dear life. “God is great and God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. By His hands we all are fed. Give us, Lord, our daily bread. Amen,” she announced with a bob of her head.
“Amen,” Riley echoed.
“Is Daddy coming to get me this week?” Gabby asked, half a piece of pancake hanging from her mouth.
“That’s pretty.” Riley laughed.
Gabby snickered and chewed wildly.
“No, he’s coming next Saturday. You’re going to spend the first part of your break with Mommy and the last part with Daddy.” Gabby smiled wildly; then Riley saw the light slowly dim behind Gabby’s eyes. For six, her mind worked way too hard. “Whatcha thinking?”
“That you’ll be by yourself. I don’t like you being by yourself, Mommy.”
Gabby could still get her in the deep place. Riley set her fork down. “Angel girl, you don’t have to worry about Mommy. I love it that you get to go see Daddy. And you need to spend that time enjoying him and Amanda, not worrying about me, okay? I’ve got a lot of things to keep me busy and I want you to have fun. That’s what matters to Mommy. Okay?”
Gabby had stopped chewing and begun talking, her Southern accent as thick as pluff mud, keeping Charleston always before her. “But now we have to fly to get to you. Used to, you could just drive.”
Riley placed her hand on Gabby’s exposed knee that stuck out from her shorts. “But Mommy can get to you at any time if I need to. So you just know that. Mommy’s not going anywhere. Got it? Not ever again. You can get to me anytime and I can get to you anytime.”
Gabby’s voice was solemn. “Anytime?”
Riley gave her a reassuring smile and wished for a six-year-old instead of a thirty-year-old. “Anytime. Now eat up. You and Ted have a busy day.”
Gabby jammed her fork into a piece of pancake and stuck it in her mouth. Her muffled tones came through anyway. “Ted’s going to be a hit!”
“A surefire hit.”
* * *
When Gabby’s form disappeared through the front door of St. Andrew’s School, the International School of the Bahamas, Riley could finally deal with the heaviness that Gabby’s words had blanketed over her heart. She had spent the last few years climbing out of heavy moments that were as boggy and stinky as Charleston’s marshes. Thankfully, she handled them much differently now than she had in the past. Now she plowed through them when they swept over her. She didn’t avoid them. Nor did she stay in them. She simply put her head down and didn’t look up until she got to the other side.
The second prayer of the day was made on the way to the hotel. And by the time she got there, one more moment had been experienced, grieved, and left. She was through existing. Even if living meant fording through pain, that was a journey worth taking. To her, living meant no longer hiding. Hiding had robbed her of years with Gabby, of her marriage, and almost of herself. No, there would be no more hiding.
Riley parked her car in the employee parking lot and headed toward The Cove, one of the exclusive properties on the Atlantis complex. This place took her breath away. She couldn’t imagine a day that it wouldn’t.
Towering palm trees swayed slowly with the subtle breeze of the tropical morning as she stepped into the porte cochere that welcomed guests at The Cove.
She passed a young valet. “Hey, Bart.” They had become friends on her first day.
“Hello, Miss Riley. You and Gabby enjoying your weekend?”
She smiled. “So far, so good.”
“So is this our week?” he said with his thick Bahamian accent, an accent that could move with such a quick cadence, she sometimes had to make him repeat himself.
“I’m thinking Friday would be great.”
His huge white smile took over his black face. “Well, that’s what I was thinking.” The pitch of his voice rose. “I’ll meet you at the end of the aisle.”
“Don’t be late,” she chided at their little joke. Then laughed from deep inside. He had been proposing marriage since she’d arrived, even though he was probably twenty years younger than she was. But now he no longer proposed marriage, only the wedding date.
She headed into the Nave, the open-air lobby of The Cove, with its thirty-five-foot teak ceiling and magnificent sculptured lines. This six-hundred-suite tower was her responsibility. Her small heels clicked on the stone flooring as she walked through the expansive walkway, then softened when they met the deep wood that encased the stone. She walked into the glassed-in guest services offices directly across the hall from guest registration.
“Hello, Mia,” she said to the newest staff member and her top assistant. Mia had arrived two weeks ago from Australia. The staff was as much a melting pot as were the guests who stayed in their rooms.
“Hello, Riley.” Her face lit up as Riley walked by. “Busy week, I hear.”
“Yes. A few special guests this week.”
Mia’s long blonde locks fell across her shoulder as she pulled a leather portfolio from her black Chanel bag. With the straw market at the port in Nassau where the cruise ships came in, Riley knew that fake designer handbags ruled in most of the Bahamas. But not so much here. Fake handbags were as scorned in this luxurious environment as husbands with laptops, but both sneaked in every now and then.
She followed behind as Riley walked into her office. Mia’s long, lean legs bridged the chasm quickly. “So who are our VIPs this week?”
Riley looked down at the large desktop calendar to the names written in red ink. Three women arrived today. Three women whose arrivals had been preceded by slightly panicked phone calls: one from a detailed agent, one from a concerned parent, and one conference call from three loving and determined children.