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Melody stared out the Island Hopper’s window. The helicopter provided a fast scenic ride from the Nadi Airport on the main island of Viti Levu to Taveuni, the third largest island in Fiji. She sucked in her breath at the beauty below. The island sparkled like a magnificent gem. The beach—a golden bronze—lay in contrast to the glistening blue of the Pacific Ocean. This was a long way from her small rural hometown. She felt the need to pinch herself to prove this all wasn’t just a dream.

Sugar squeezed her hand, her mouth open in awe. “I’ve never seen nothing like this.”

“Ladies, you’re about to enter paradise,” the pilot said with a smile.

A few minutes later, the helicopter set down on the crosshairs of a landing pad. The huge, thumping rotors kicked up a storm of dust before they slowed enough for Melody and Sugar to hop out. A car waited at the airport. Not a limo, but a nice, clean sedan that would carry them to Malaku, the sixty-acre resort where Dream Girl would be filmed.

They traveled a dirt road, passing a traditional Fijian village set amongst the deep vegetation of the jungle, before reaching their destination. Despite the heat, Melody shivered as her imagination conjured up images of cannibals hiding within the dark, green foliage.

She remembered Ann telling her from the travelogue that Malaku had once been a coconut plantation and that was evidenced by the rows of lush trees they passed. Up ahead, Melody spotted a large grouping of thatched roof huts. A beautiful woman with long, straight blue-black hair waved to their car. Her grass skirt swayed around her hips as she stepped back so the sedan could park along the curb. Colorful leis made from native island flowers hung from her arms, and when Melody and Sugar stepped out of the car, she draped one around each of their necks.

Sugar held the fragrant petals of the lei up to her nose, inhaled deeply, then sneezed. “I hope I’m not allergic,” she said between sniffles.

Melody ran her thumb over the velvety flowers. “You probably got nectar up your nose, that’s all,” she said, not wanting to add to Sugar’s drama.

“Ni Sa Bula.” The native woman smiled, exposing teeth as white as pearls. “Greetings.”

“Ni Sa Bula,” Melody and Sugar replied.

“If you’ll come with me, I’ll show you to your bures.” She must have noticed their puzzled expressions. “Your houses,” she explained.

“Oh, oh, of course.” Melody fell in step along side her, while Sugar tagged behind more interested in the three young boys who’d emerged from behind a large banana tree and were now struggling to carry their luggage.

“You must be the Dream Girl,” she said, her gaze flicking over Melody.

“Yes, I’m Melody Johnson.”

“We’ve all been so anxious to meet you. I’m Serenie LaLe. My family owns Malaku.” There was no denying the pride in her tone or the confidence in her stride. And why not? The plantation was beautiful.

Everywhere Melody looked, lush tropical gardens and gorgeous trees with large glossy leaves and big, round green fruit covered the fertile earth. Serenie led her to a secluded bure with an ocean view. Built on a cliff edge, it offered a panoramic view that mingled the gardens with the reef. A private path led down the cliff to a beautiful white sand bay, where palm trees overhung the aqua water.

“That’s Dolphin Bay,” Serenie said, following Melody’s stunned gaze.

“I’ve never seen anything more beautiful.”

“And it’s yours alone for your entire stay.”

“I don’t know what to say.” Melody looked out over the crystal clear blue water. A sense of peace settled on her as she leaned on the white iron railing and took a deep breath of island air. Paradise! For the first time, she got a sense of what her lottery winnings could buy. Wouldn’t it be fun to fly her friends out here too? Once Dream Girl ended, she could have Mags, Ann and Billy join her. They’d lounge on the beach drinking coconut rum and laugh about the quirks of fate that had brought them all together.

“May you find your future husband here,” Serenie said in her soft sweet voice.

A cool trade wind blew across Melody’s skin, covering her with fresh ocean air. “I don’t believe there’s a more romantic place on earth.” Then why did she suddenly feel so homesick?

“Let me show you the inside of your bure,” Serenie said, opening the door.

Melody followed her into the hut. Tropical flowers in full bloom were everywhere. Vases overflowed with orchids, lotus blossoms, birds of paradise, and gardenias, fragrancing the house with the scent of white ginger and other exotic spices. Fijian artwork hung on the walls. Carved bowls and pottery covered the windowsills. There was a fully stocked mini-bar on top of which sat a huge wicker basket that overflowed with bananas, pineapples and papayas. Beside it was the traditional welcome drink of fresh iced coconut juice served in its own shell.

Serenie led the way into the bedroom. A king-size bed, covered by a white mosquito net canopy, took up most of the room. French doors led the way to a private stonewalled courtyard containing an outside shower, a sundeck and spacious Jacuzzi pool. What a shame Melody wasn’t really here to meet the man of her dreams… To be surrounded by such luxury, while in the arms of your lover, would be heaven on earth.

“I think you’ll find your stay here most comfortable,” Serenie said with a wink.

“How could I not?” Melody sank onto the bed. A red and white flower print sarong draped the headboard. She ran her hand over the soft material.

“That’s your Sulu. You’re to wear it tomorrow when you meet the bachelors. They’ll be arriving throughout the day. So you have lots of free time today. You can relax, swim, or take a walk along the beach. But you mustn’t leave the private grounds of your bure. The producers don’t want you meeting any of the bachelors ahead of schedule. Might give someone an unfair advantage.”

“Of course.”

Melody followed Serenie back into the sitting room where they nearly ran headfirst into Sugar and the three boys who’d carried their luggage.

Sugar was eating a banana and tossing papayas from the fruit basket to each of the boys. “You don’t mind, right, Mel?”

“No, not at all. Help yourselves.”

Serenie scowled and yelled something in Fijian at the boys as they grabbed for some paw-paws. “Your work isn’t done. You still have more luggage to carry.” She cast her glance over to Sugar, then looked apologetically at Melody. “Sometimes my boys forget their manners.”

Melody raised a brow. “Those are your boys?” Serenie didn’t look much older than a child herself.

The island woman smiled, and a self-conscious blush stole up her face.

“You have a lovely family, Serenie.”

“Thank you, miss. If there’s anything you need, please just ask.” As she followed her boys out the door, she turned back to Melody. “I almost forgot. Tonight you’ll dine with the producers in the large bure. It’s the first one we passed.”

“At what time?” Melody called after her.

“The lali drum will inform you when the meal is ready.”

Sugar took the last bite of her banana and tossed the peel into the trash. “I’m off too, hon. I’ll see you at dinner when the drum beats.”

Alone at last, Melody could hardly wait to unpack, shower, and bask in the afternoon sun. In the bathroom, she found coconut soaps, shampoo, conditioner, a hairdryer and a plush terry robe. This was luxury. She hadn’t thanked Ann nearly enough for talking her into becoming the Dream Girl. She would make it up to her in a big way.

She let the shower spray pummel her tired muscles until they relaxed, and the exhausting twenty-one hour trip was long forgotten. She combed the tangles from her hair, pulled it up into a loose twist, then slipped into her favorite string bikini.

The linen closet was stocked with plenty of towels, and she grabbed one to take with her to the beach. She also took a bottle of sunscreen, the coconut juice drink, and a couple of books about Fijian culture that she’d found on a table. Melody was ready for a wonderful afternoon at the beach—her very own private beach.

She walked down the path to the bay, where the huge palm trees that lined the beach swayed in the breeze. White clouds sailed in the blue sky and the hot sun shone, sparkling the sea like turquoise glass. She spread her towel over the warm sand and lay down on her back. The heat from the sun blended with the cool Southeast breeze, creating the perfect temperature to sunbathe. She closed her eyes and her thoughts drifted to the ash-blond stranger she’d met at JFK. If only she’d gotten his name, or given him her phone number. Although that would have been a bold thing for her to do, it would have been worth it. Now she would never see him again, and never know if that initial attraction might have developed into something more, but before her thoughts drifted farther down that path, common sense returned. Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t believe in love at first sight.

Beads of perspiration rolled from her forehead onto her cheeks. She sat up, reached for her coconut juice, and took a sip. As she stared out at the gentle waves sluicing against the shore, she blinked quickly. Who was that in amongst the waves? He looked like a Greek god! She must be seeing things, she thought, and squeezed her eyes shut. But when she opened them, there he stood, golden and splendid, his lithe frame shimmering under the tropical sun. Not as muscular as her Delta terminal man, but as sexy as a jungle cat. He prowled toward her, his spiky hair jet black and his eyes a cool pale blue.

Her mouth went dry, and she gulped down her drink. But the juice did nothing to still the thunderous beat of her heart. This man was Heathcliff and Rhett Butler rolled into one. Okay, maybe she did believe in love at first sight after all.

Excerpt of Date with a Vampire:

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