“My father loved the tropics,” Baker murmurs.

“Oh yeah?” Ayers says. “What did your father do?”

“I’m not really sure,” Russ says. “He was in business.”

Suddenly Baker hears a splash. He opens his eyes. Ayers has flipped off her raft into the water. Before Baker can blink, Ayers’s bikini top lands on the raft and another second later, her bikini bottom.

“Whoa,” Baker says. “Wait a minute.”

She swims away, leaving Baker to grab hold of her raft and glimpse the curves of her naked body beneath the surface. He scans the beach—no one around.

“Come back here!” he says.

She floats on her back so that her breasts break the surface of the water. They’re small and firm, her nipples hard. Baker is so aroused he aches. Her gorgeous wet breasts glisten in the sun; this is happening in real life—he can’t believe it, but he isn’t quite sure what to do. He decides to sacrifice the rafts; he’ll swim after them later. He flips off his raft, takes off his trunks underwater and enjoys the feel of being naked in the Caribbean. It’s liberating. He belongs here. He swims after Ayers. She treads water, waiting.

They kiss in the water for a while and then Ayers reaches down to stroke Baker; the sensation of her warm hand in the cool water is almost too much to bear, he’s about to pop, but no, he doesn’t want it to go this way.

“Let’s swim back to shore,” he says. He heads for the beach, hoping she’s following, but once he clambers out of the water onto the hot stones, he sees this is going to be a logistical nightmare. Why couldn’t she have picked a sandy beach? Probably because sandy beaches are populated, whereas stone beaches—nearly impossible to walk on and impossible to have sex on—are unpopulated.

Baker sits in one of the beach chairs and spins Ayers around to sit on his lap. She slides right down on him and the sensation is too amazing to describe. He has never more fully inhabited his body; every cell swells with desire, every nerve ending is shimmying.

“Don’t move,” he whispers. He reaches forward to gently touch her breasts. He pulls her down onto him and groans. She is a goddess. He wants her to crush him, to subsume him; he wants to become her.

She lifts herself an inch then slides back down, and Baker tries to control himself, to feel the sun on his back and neck, to move his hands down to the curve of her waist.

She is divine.

And then, without warning, the earth shakes, it slams up to meet them and Baker is thrown backward. There is pain, instant and rude.

The chair has broken under their weight. Ayers scrambles away, reaches for towels, tosses one to Baker. NO! he thinks. They can’t just stop. He feels nauseated. Ayers wraps herself up; her head is turned. Sure enough, another car has pulled into the small dirt lot.

“You stay here,” Ayers says. “I’m going to make a dash for it.” She walks to the water’s edge, drops her towel, and executes a shallow dive into the lapping waves. She swims for the rafts, which have drifted to the right side of the beach, out near the rocks.

Meanwhile, Baker secures a towel around his waist and fixes the chair, waving to the approaching couple, who are all decked out for snorkeling. Ayers has reached the floats; Baker watches her put her suit back on.

The couple is approaching him. “Beautiful day,” the man calls out. Baker has never hated anyone more in his life.

“Isn’t it?” he says.

Plan B: Baker and Ayers pack up and drive the short distance to Salt Pond.

“The good news is we can snorkel with the turtles!” Ayers says.

“Great,” Baker says, but he can’t conceal his crushing disappointment. Sex, he wants sex. The thirty or forty seconds inside her weren’t enough. But where can they go? Her truck isn’t an option; it’s way too small. Baker’s spirit sags as Ayers pulls into a different sandy parking lot, this one packed with cars.

“Let’s snorkel first,” Ayers says. “Then we’ll eat.” She seems unfazed by their reversal of fortune, and Baker tries to discern if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe she didn’t like the way it felt, maybe the position was uncomfortable, with her feet resting on burning rocks. Maybe she was so mortified by the collapse of the chair that her way of dealing with it is just to pretend it never happened. Baker is with her on this final option. They should reset, start over. Third time’s a charm. As soon as Baker gets to High Tide, he’s going to call Caneel and book a room.

His mood improves after the short hike to Salt Pond. He has always been a reasonably good sport, able to deal with pitfalls and move on, and today will be no exception. He’s carrying the chairs and his backpack; Ayers has the picnic and the snorkeling gear. She has a mask, snorkel, and fins for Baker, left behind when her ex-boyfriend moved out of her apartment. Baker is such a good sport he’s going to calmly accept the fact that he’s using Mick’s old snorkel equipment. He’s going to relish it, even. After all, it saves him from having to rent, and the fins fit.

Ayers wades into shallow water, secures her mask, and grins at Baker. Then she takes off swimming and Baker follows. He has used a mask before in swimming pools growing up but never in open water. (They were supposed to go snorkeling on a day trip in Anguilla, but Anna had nixed it.) If Cash snorkeled, then Baker can snorkel. Cash is the better skier, but Baker is a far better swimmer. He takes off after Ayers and soon is right by her side.

The water is clear; the bottom is white sand covered by a carpet of sea grass. They swim a little farther and Baker expects the scenery to change. Cash described “cities” of colorful coral and thousands of multicolored fish. Baker sees only sand and sea grass and Ayers’s body, which is sweeter than anything Jacques Cousteau could dream up.

And then he hears Ayers make a sound. She’s gesticulating wildly, pointing—and Baker will be damned: A few yards ahead of them, nibbling on the sea grass, is a turtle! A real turtle, one that looks exactly like Crush from Finding Nemo. That’s backward: Crush is a cartoon and this is nature—this is real! Floyd would… well, his little mind would be blown.

Ayers swims on and Baker follows, waving to Crush, studying the pattern on the back of his shell, watching the way his neck stretches as he feasts on the grass. Ayers finds a second turtle and this one has a baby turtle with him—Crush and Squirt! Floyd would love this! Ayers swims alongside the father-and-son turtles and soon Baker is, too. He is so close he could reach out and touch the back of the father’s shell, but he’s guessing that’s against the rules, like feeding the donkeys. He’s content to just glide along with the turtles and Ayers until the turtles dive to eat again and Ayers takes Baker’s hand. They both surface. Ayers lifts her mask and says, “Cool, huh?”

“So cool!” he says. “I can’t believe they’re just… hanging out.”

“This is where they live,” she says. She pulls Baker in to kiss him, which makes Baker very, very happy, and then she says, “I’ll race you back. I’m starving.”

They sit on a towel in the sun and eat their sandwiches—turkey with arugula for Ayers, rare roast beef with BBQ sauce for Baker. When she’s finished, Ayers lies back on her towel and says, “I’m going to take a nap. Then we should probably head out.”

Head out? Baker thinks. But she’s right: It’s quarter of two already. The day flew by and now their date is almost over, so he will have to ask her about Caneel on the way home. Tomorrow night, if she’s free.

Ayers closes her eyes and Baker props himself on his elbow and watches her sleep.

On the way home, Baker feels a leaden sense of melancholy. Despite the mishap with the chair, it was a great date and he doesn’t want it to end.

“Are you sure you can’t go to dinner tonight?” he asks.

“Positive,” she says.

“Because you have another date,” Baker says. “Just tell me one thing, is he bigger than me?”

Ayers’s laugh is musical, like a bell. He loves her laugh. He loves her smooth tan arms. He loves her jangling silver bracelets. There are five, all variations of the St. John hook, including one she had custom-made with an “8” and a hook because every February she runs a race called “8 Tuff Miles”—the length of the satanically hilly Centerline Road from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay. The race ends at Skinny Legs, hence the name of the bar. (Things here are finally starting to click for Baker.) He loves her blond curls, her sense of adventure, her taste in music, and her enthusiasm about the natural world.

“I have another commitment,” she says. “And I’m not telling you what it is, but you don’t have to feel threatened.”

“I do feel threatened,” Baker admits. “I don’t want to share you.”

“Hey now,” she says. “Aren’t things moving a little fast?”

“Sorry,” Baker says. “I just had a really good time today. I enjoy being with you.”

“I had a good time, too,” Ayers says. “But you’re a tourist, so we can’t get too serious. Let’s just have fun while you’re here, okay? Let’s not attach too many feelings to this.”

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