An update and an apology for the awesome readers who have been looking forward to Scarlet Secrets – we’ve had a few hiccups in the file formatting process and so it cant be released today. I’m heading off to book events in American Samoa tomorrow so I wont be able to work on it till I get back. Will let you know as soon as its live on Amazon. Thank you for your patience!
In the meantime, enjoy the first chapter and check out this great cover from Talia Brown.
My phone rages its ringtone. It’s the most inopportune time for it to be talking to me.
Not while I’m pressed against the most beautiful man I’ve ever been fortunate enough to be pressed up against. And he’s kissing me. Like he’s only now discovered the wonderfulness of kissing. Tasting me. Like I’m a full-bodied wine and I must be savoured. Slowly. While he ponders the vibrant range of wonderfulness that is me.
He pauses, “Your phone is shouting at us.”
“Just ignore it,” I murmur against his lips as I try to be sly and slip my hands inside the waistband of his jeans. I’m on a mission. This man has blown my mind and shattered all my defences tonight – but insists on abiding by an (admirable) code of conduct which dictates a gentleman should not have sex with a (mildly) intoxicated woman. Even if aforementioned woman is doing her utmost best to convince him otherwise.
A growling kind of laugh as he captures my wannabe-skanky hands, “I think you better answer that.”
He walks us both to the still-open car door and waits while I grab my annoying phone. An involuntary shiver in the ocean breeze because thanks to Jackson’s determined efforts earlier to get inside my stubborn bustier, it’s in bedraggled tatters now and I’m effectively topless in the moonlight.
“You’re cold,” he says quiet and low as he wraps his arms around me, holding me close. “Come here.”
I love the feeling of being in his warm embrace so when I answer the phone my voice is floating in swirls of cream on a chocolate milkshake. “Hello?”
It’s Beyonce. “Girl, where are you?” she demands.
“Out. With Jackson. We went for a drive.” I’m trying – and failing – to hide my elation. I can’t wait to tell Beyonce all about my night…later. When Jackson isn’t listening to every word of our conversation of course.
But she’s not in the mood for happy buzz. “Naomi and her Princess crew were looking all over for you. She’s not happy you disappeared. And the Party Bus has left. Gone to take everyone home. Without you.”
This is bad. I say some swear words, and Jackson raises a curious eyebrow.
“Where does she think I went?” I ask Beyonce.
“I told her you went home. But then she called your house.”
This is getting worse. Much worse. “Did she wake up my mother?”
“I don’t know,” says Beyonce. “She talked to somebody. About you disappearing. And about you not being at home.”
More swear words. Now Jackson is looking really worried.
“That witch,” I exclaim. “Is she trying to get me in trouble?”
“All I know is she ain’t happy,” answers Beyonce. “Because you’re a kaea big sister and an even worse Maid of Honor who didn’t do her part for her Princess night.”
Just great. I guess our sister-bonding moment had been obliterated from Naomi’s memory in her rush to be mad that I had blitzed out of her hen’s night.
As soon as our phone conversation ends, I am rushing Jackson to get us out of there. “We gotta go. You have to take me home right now.”
I wave him over to the driver’s side as I leap in the passenger seat. “Naomi’s gone home without me. If my parents realize I’m not with her then all hell will break loose.”
I’m trying – and failing – to piece together the bodice of my octopus top and Jackson takes pity on me and gives me his shirt. “Here, put this on.”
I give him a grateful smile as he reverses and begins speeding back to town. A shirtless Jackson chauffeur is a beautiful thing…
“I don’t get it,” he says with his eyes on the road. “Why would it be a problem if you and your sister come home separately?”
My voice is muffled from inside the shirt as I tug it over my head. “It’s not that.” My face pops out and I pause to get a good sniff of Jackson’ness from the soft fabric. “It’s if I’m AWOL and alone, out at night, with a man, up to no good. Grounds for immediate termination for breach of chastity rules.”
“Aren’t you and your sisters a bit…adult for a curfew? Or for…” he hesitates, choosing his words carefully, “a parental chastity belt? I mean I’m sure Troy and Naomi have…been there, done that.”
I fake a scandalized tone. “How dare you even imply that! Of course my sister hasn’t done the wild thing with Troy. Or with any of her exes. According to family lore and all the aunties, Naomi’s untouched. Unblemished by the evil touch of the male species.” I can tell he’s confused, so I lose the sarcasm and add, “Or at least that’s the illusion we all adhere to. Not only for Naomi, but for any single woman in Samoa. And to maintain the status quo, you need to abide by certain codes of conduct. Which means you don’t let your family find out that you’ve gone for a drive in the dead of night with a man. Because then it puts them in the uncomfortable position of having to admit to themselves and more importantly – to the world – that their daughter, niece or sister, could be having sex. And liking it. Everybody would rather believe you’re a virgin. Unless if you get pregnant, then the illusion is ruined.”
And unless you have an abortion and everybody in the country finds out about it.
Jackson doesn’t look convinced. But he’s trying. “So the appearance of this certain kind of morality is more important than the actual practise of it.”
“For most people. The hardliners are people like my father who have made it their life’s work to preach this stuff and get people to practise it. Everybody else just cares that their family’s rep doesn’t get damaged by your skanky behaviour. And if their rep does get trashed, then they have to take public measures to atone for it.”
“Did you meet my cousin Tiana at the 21st birthday party? She’s the one who sang the Wind Beneath My Wings before they presented the gigantic wooden key.”
Jackson nods. “Oh yeah, that one. Great voice.”
“Notice her hair?”
“Hmm, no. What about it?”
“Cut real short like Halle Berry? Except not as chic as Halle Berry?”
“She had short hair. I remember that much.”
“It used to be long down to her waist. Her mother hacked it off with a kitchen knife while some of my aunties held her down. Happened the second day I got here. I didn’t see it. But I heard the yelling from their house next door.”
“They found out she’s got a boyfriend. A taxi driver who brings her lunch and they disappear for long drives.”
“But she’s not a child, or even a teenager. Is she?”
“She’s twenty-five and her pay cheque feeds half her family,” I say. It sounds bad when spoken out loud and seeing it through the eyes of a foreigner makes it look even worse. “But she lives at home, she’s unmarried and her actions reflect on her extended family. Cutting all her hair off is a public way for the aiga to brand her as a wrongdoer so that everyone knows the family doesn’t agree with her choices and they’re trying hard to be virtuous and good.”
I reach up as unobtrusively as possible and tug at my mane of bush woman hair. Reassurance. A mental flinch from the sharp remembrance of that long-ago day and a hair-cutting experience of my own.
“That’s Samoa for you,” I say in throwaway fashion, anxious to get away from a topic that has become my own personal minefield. “So I need to get home. I may be drunk but not enough to throw caution to the winds.”
Jackson’s frowning at the road ahead as we make the turn into my neighbourhood. “I don’t like to make judgements about somebody else’s culture.” A shrug. “Maybe it’s because I’m looking in from the outside and I need to learn more. But yeah, it doesn’t quite make sense to me.”
It’s my culture and it doesn’t make sense to me either.
We drive along in silence and then slow as we near my house. It looms tall and gleaming white in the darkness and our overly vigilant dogs start a raucous baying.
“Stop here. Turn off the car,” I say in a whisper. Even though nobody else can hear me anyway. “I’m gonna get out and walk the rest of the way.”
“No, wait up. It’s dark. Let me walk you,” he says as he jumps out of the car to come stand by my side.
“It’s better if you don’t,” I say in a furtive hush. “Go on. I’ll be fine. All I got to worry about is getting bit by my own dogs.”
“This is crazy,” says Jackson, frustration evident in his voice. “I’ll come in and talk to your family. Explain we went for a drive, got to talking, lost track of time, apologize for bringing you home late and making them worry…”
“Are you stupid!?” I hiss. Then I feel bad when I see how taken aback he is. Of course he’s not stupid. He’s just not Samoan. I try to tone down my aggression. “You’ll only make it worse. Trust me.” I try to crack a joke. Because what better time to joke then before you get ripped to shreds by your own relatives. “If they see you, my family will be forced to defend my honor – which is really their honor. They’ll wake up all my boy cousins sleeping in the back house and they’ll have to beat the crap outta you.”
I see his doubtful look in the light of the streetlamp. “You mean like Paulo and the other boys who went to the beach with us? Those cousins? The ones who are all in Troy’s readymade groomsmen pack?”
“They’re cool. We got along great at the beach. Paulo’s already asked for my shoes when I go. I don’t think he’s going to be beating the crap out of anybody. I’ll talk to them. It will be fine.”
He’s standing outside my parent’s house, shirtless and worrying about me. In that moment, as he’s dishing out rational thoughts that make no sense in my Samoan context, he’s so naïve. And so outrageously beautiful that it tugs at my insides.
I could be happy with this man. Like, really happy. I could make space for him in my messed up messy world. Share breakfast crepes and berries with him on a Sunday morning…we would read the newspaper in bed and do the crossword together. Then pop out to meander through the local craft market. Like palagi couples do in movies…
Dangerous thoughts require flippancy. I don’t want him to suspect I could be harbouring such deep and meaningful thoughts inspired by white people chick-flicks. “No. This holiday wedding sex flirt thing we got going on?” I say, “we don’t want anybody to know about it. It’ll be our Samoa fling secret, ok? Neither of us will tell anybody and neither of us will ever talk about it again.”
And then I’m striding as quietly and as quickly as I can in my ridiculous heels, without a backward glance. Can’t worry about him right now. Not when there could be an irate force of religious wrath waiting for me inside. Thinking of that possibility makes me wince and I look back at where Jackson is standing. He’s watching me go with a careful frown on his face.
A hushed whisper as he calls out, “Message me when everything’s okay in there. I’m not going to drive away until I hear from you.”
Inside the house, Aunty Filomena is waiting up for me. “Oka Scar, I worried about you!” Seeing the question written on my face, she rushes to add, “Leai. Your parents didn’t wake up. I answer the phone when Naomi call. Then when she get here, I help take her upstairs.”
Of course. Naomi wouldn’t have wanted the parents to catch her wasted. I wilt with relief. The rocket fuel cocktails had saved me.
“She sleeping,” says Aunty Filomena. “And I wait and wait for you and I scared where you are. Soon I wake up Paulo to go look for you. I think to myself, what if you are hurt? What if some bad man take you?”
She doesn’t berate me, demand to know where I’ve been and who I’ve been with. She’s the one aunt who wouldn’t leap to the immediate conclusion that I was out being a pa’umuku. The one aunt who instead worries I’ve been abducted or attacked. The concern in her eyes fills me with guilt. I hug her. “I’m sorry I made you worry. But you shouldn’t. I’m all grown up. I’ll be alright.”
She pats my back awkwardly and sighs, “Oi aue Scar, you a good girl.”
Words she’s said to me a hundred times over as we were growing up. Words I never paid much attention to. But here in the dim quiet of the kitchen, I see them for what they are and what they always have been. A precious affirmation of her unconditional love.
You a good girl. You be a good girl.
Her way of saying, I love you. Her way of telling me she believed in me. Hoped the best for me. The realization stuns me in the way that only 3am half-drunken clarity can.
I’m a good girl. Worthy of love. Worthy of happiness.
Words I haven’t believed in for a long time now.
“Hurry. You go bed,” she urges me. “Don’t make noise. I will lock the house.”
I look at this diminutive woman who was a quiet constant presence in my childhood and I want to say something. Lots of things. Like, I love you. Like, thank you for loving me the way my own mother couldn’t. Didn’t. Thank you for running to pick me up when I fell out of the vi tree and broke my arm, thank you for not telling me off for climbing the tree in the first place. Thank you for bringing your mat and sheet to the hospital so you could sleep on the floor by my bed, so I wouldn’t be scared, so I didn’t have to go to the dirty toilets by myself. Thank you for making frangipani ula and being the only person in my family to come to my school prize-giving when I got second to Dux in grade school and had to dance a siva in front of everybody with the girl who came first. Thank you for making my favorite flying saucer spaghetti sandwiches so I could look forward to the after school snack everyday. Thank you for crying when Mother hit me with the salu. Thank you for always smiling delightedly when Mother dressed me in a new outfit, for clapping your hands and saying, ‘Oka! Very nice. Very pretty.’ Even if I wasn’t.
But I don’t say anything because it would probably embarrass her. Make us both uncomfortable. That’s what palagi people do. Bluster and blubber about their feelings while we eat ours. Or shout them out loud when we’ve had too much Vailima. Or show them with fat envelopes at funerals when the person is dead and can’t hear you anyway.
So instead, I go upstairs to my room. Naomi’s already asleep so I tiptoe into the bathroom and message Jackson - All good here. Thanx.
He messages back immediately – Which one is your room?
Me – Why?
Him – So I know where to address my Romeo speech.
I laugh in the quiet – Don’t you dare. Our pack of killer dogs will get you.
Him – I hath charms to soothe the savage beast.
Me – Oooh you know Shakespeare! (plagiarist)
Him – If Shakespeare doesn’t work, I know Terminator: If it bleeds, we can kill it.
Me – Ha that’s not Terminator. It’s Arnold in Predator.
Him – I was testing you.
Me – Why?
Him – I only have holiday sex flirt flings with women who can quote Schwarzenegger correctly.
Me – So did I pass the test?
Him – Yes. But there’s a problem.
Me – What?
Him – I don’t want to have a holiday sex flirt fling with you.
Reading that is like someone kicked me. Before I can process his message fully, the phone vibrates with another message.
Him – I want more.
I want to type, WTF??? But I don’t. I message him nothing.
There’s the sound of a car starting up. I go to the window and peer out, in time to see Jackson drive away.
He wants more? What the hell does that mean? More what? More cake? More Oliver Twist soup? More of who? More when? Why would he – or anyone – want more from me? With me?
I tumble into bed, groggy thoughts still trying to untangle meaning from his words and from the whole night, start to finish. My last thought before sleep hits me – Do I even have more to give? Am I capable of more?
If you haven’t read book one in the Scarlet Series, get it now from Amaon, only $2.99 for the ebook. SCARLET LIES