Alison Roberts

A Mother for His Family

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right and it was her attitude that was at fault. It wasn’t the kind of thought conducive to a happy holiday, however, so Sarah tried to make a joke about it.

      ‘I only do that to save time,’ she said. ‘And pride. If I wait too long, they end up dumping me.’

      ‘Maybe that’s because they think you don’t trust them.’

      ‘I don’t trust them.’

      Tori reached out to touch Sarah’s hand. ‘I know you had some awful stuff to deal with when you were a kid and I know you’ve never wanted to talk about it—’

      ‘It’s in the past,’ Sarah interrupted. ‘I’m over it.’

      Tori’s blue eyes had darkened in the fading light. ‘It might still be doing damage, you know. All men aren’t really bastards, Sas. There’s some really good ones out there, too.’

      ‘I know that.’

      ‘I want you to find one.’

      ‘I will. One day.’

      ‘I worry about you.’

      ‘There’s no need. Honestly. I’m fine.’

      Tori sighed, her gaze on the horizon again. ‘Mum always said that out of all the kids she fostered after Dad died, you were the one that had the most special place in her heart. She said it was you that made us into a whole family, not her.’

      Sarah had to swallow the lump in her throat. She was going to miss Carol so much.

      ‘A wee while ago,’ Tori continued softly, ‘while Mum could still talk, she told me to watch out for you. To try and help you find the person who could help you create a family of your own. She said you had so much love to share it would be a terrible waste if you shut yourself away again.’

      The sunset was forgotten, too blurred by tears to be enjoyed any more. Tori squeezed Sarah’s hand and they sat there in silence until the crimson faded to a soft peach and then pearl grey before the swift descent of darkness.

      ‘I love it here,’ Sarah said finally. By mutual consent they started walking back towards their bure. Their closeness allowed them to move on from a sad topic and cheer each other up with a perfect understanding of what had been shared and acknowledged. ‘It’s like stepping into a postcard. A little bit of fantasy.’

      ‘Speaking of fantasy...’ Tori smiled. ‘Haven’t yours ever included someone like Ben?’

      ‘Of course they have.’

      ‘Ooh. Do tell.’

      ‘No way. Fantasies are strictly private. And they’re never real...they can’t be.’

      ‘They could be,’ Tori said persuasively.

      Sarah shook her head. ‘Reality never measures up. Sex is overrated.’

      ‘You’ve never been in love properly, that’s all.’

      ‘Nobody ever hangs around long enough for that to happen.’

      It was Tori’s turn to do the head-shaking. ‘If you have to wait that long, or try and force it, then it’s not going to happen. You’re trying the wrong person. I think it—or at least the definite possibility of it—happens right from the first moment you see them.’

      ‘Like Ben?’

      ‘Oh, yes. He’d be very easy to fall in love with. That’s why I think he’d be good for you.’

      ‘Why would I want to fall in love with someone I’m only going to be around for a week?’

      ‘Practice.’ Tori grinned. ‘That way, when you get those funny butterfly flutters in your tummy next time, you’ll recognise them.’

      Sarah laughed. ‘It would take a darn sight more than a twinge of lust to convince me. If you want to play with Dr Dawson, you go right ahead. Just leave me out of it.’

      ‘But he’s expecting you to come on this visit to the village tomorrow. He was most insistent that I persuade you to come with us.’

      ‘He’ll get over it.’

      ‘But what are you going to do while I’m gone?’

      ‘Swim,’ Sarah said decisively. ‘A real swim, not just splashing around on the shoreline. I might head for one of the other islands. Some of them are only a kilometre or two away.’

      ‘But what about sharks?’

      ‘I’ll try not to bleed in the water and attract them.’

      Tori shuddered visibly. ‘Rather you than me. I’d stay close enough to the shore to get to safety if I were you.’

      ‘You’re not me. That’s the whole point. While you’re away doing something you want to do, I can do things I want to do that don’t interest you. It’s perfect. We’ll both enjoy ourselves. And we’ll both survive, I promise.’

      Tori turned, her face a picture of enlightenment. ‘Ben is your shark,’ she said. ‘Isn’t he?’

      Sarah just smiled. ‘Shall we have a quick swim in the dark before we go to bed?’

      ‘You can’t see sharks in the dark.’

      ‘We’ll stay very close to the shore.’

      Tori giggled. ‘And we won’t bleed.’

      ‘Definitely not.’

      ‘OK. On one condition.’

      ‘What’s that?’

      ‘If I’m prepared to risk my shark then you have to risk yours. The next time Ben asks you to spend some time with him, you have to say yes.’

      ‘Not tomorrow. I really want a proper swim.’

      ‘The time after that, then.’

      ‘Sure.’ It was a safe enough agreement. Sarah would bet Ben Dawson had more than enough experience to know where any pay-off was likely to be. After she refused to accompany them to the village tomorrow, he would get the message she wasn’t interested and focus on Tori. And that way Sarah would be free to focus on enjoying every moment of the paradise she was discovering.

      * * *

      It just didn’t get any better than this.

      The sea was calm enough to be masquerading as the world’s biggest swimming pool. Cool enough to be refreshing and allow the best physical workout Sarah had had in a long time. Treading water for a minute, Sarah shaded her eyes over the snorkelling mask she was wearing and took her bearings again to make sure she was still heading in the right direction.

      It was just as well she had discussed her intentions with Nasoya, the man who looked after the diving equipment at the resort, when she had gone to borrow a mask and flippers. Her first choice of island was out of bounds, being the ‘honeymoon’ island. A tiny dot in the Pacific Ocean, it boasted an acre of palm forest and a single beach. Honeymooners could be dropped off, along with a luxury picnic, to spend the day in total privacy on an island of their own, and no one else could visit when it was being used.

      So Sarah was heading for a larger island a little further away. This had a small village on it that supported itself growing sugar cane, and while Nasoya was impressed with Sarah’s energy he was much happier knowing that there would be a boat available to bring her back if she changed her mind about swimming. He would let the village know she was coming, he told her, and she could have something to eat and drink there if she wished.

      The invitation was becoming more attractive after the effort of nearly an hour’s swimming. Sarah could see waves breaking near the entrance to the lagoon of the new island. There were fishing boats dotted sparsely nearby and Sarah could finally see the white strip of sand that marked her finishing point. A rest in the sun and maybe a fresh coconut with the top lopped off so she could drink the milk would be heaven.

      The small, canoe-like boat with three children on board was on the sea side of the lagoon entrance and Sarah watched the boy in charge gauging which wave to catch to carry them through. He looked about nine or ten years old and seemed far too young for such a responsibility,