Ayanda turned her eyes away from the man’s stare. Instead she gazed at the sunlit water lapping at the rocks below Crowley Beach, where Olerato was looking for shells.

“We haven’t introduced ourselves. My name is Thabo.” He moved a step towards Ayanda and stretched out his hand.

“Ayanda,” Ayanda said as a fizzle of electricity shot up her arm when he touched her hand.

She didn’t give her surname either. What was the point? She was never going to see him again anyway. They had just met by chance on the beach, a passing acquaintance.

“Look what I found.” Olerato’s voice broke through her reverie. Ayanda was glad of the distraction.

Olerato was holding up a shell, with a huge grin on her face. Its top was shaped like a horse and it had a curled up tail.

“It’s called a sea horse,” Thabo explained to her.

“Really?” Olerato’s eyes grew bigger. “A sea horse. I like the name, Mama.”

Ayanda smiled at her. It doesn’t take much to make a child happy, she thought.

“There’s more shells over there behind those rocks,” Olerato gestured. “Will you help me pick the best ones, please?” she looked imploringly at Thabo.

“Olerato,” Ayanda reprimanded her. “This man – er … Thabo – doesn’t have time to go looking for shells. I think we’ve taken up far too much of his time as it is. Now apologise please.”

“I’m sorry,” Olerato said to him. “Sorry Mama.”

“It’s OK, really,” he said and looked at Ayanda. “I haven’t anything pressing to do right now.” He glanced down at his watch. “I was just enjoying a morning on the beach. It’s a beautiful day.”

“Yes it is,” she smiled at him, happy that he wasn’t going to leave them yet. She felt oddly safe and comfortable in his presence.

“Yippee!” Olerato whooped with delight. The three of them set off towards the rocks. Ayanda had no intention of letting Olerato go off alone with this strange man, incredibly good-looking though he was. He didn’t look or act sinister in any way, but one could never be too sure these days. Besides she wanted to be in his company for a little while longer. He was incredibly good to look at.

“You need to get back on the scene,” she murmured to herself. “You need to feel like a woman again.”

David, her last boyfriend, had scarred her deeper than she let on. She’d tried telling herself that she wasn’t responsible for his actions; that his behaviour had nothing to do with her.

It didn’t work though. She’d chosen a man who didn’t even like children very much. But she wasn’t going to think about David now.

Instead she sized Thabo up. She couldn’t help but notice how in shape he was. Ayanda rolled her eyes and smiled softly to herself, admitting that it was obvious she was ready to get into the dating game again. Thabo was the most attractive guy she had set eyes on in a very long time.

In no time at all, they reached the rocks and set about gathering as many odd shaped shells as they could find.

Ayanda kept sneaking looks at Thabo. He was explaining the different kinds of shells to Olerato. She listened carefully to everything he said.

Finally, after about twenty minutes or so, Ayanda said, “I think we have enough shells here now, Olerato. We’ll never be able to carry them all back to the car.”

“That’s not a problem. I’ll help you,” Thabo looked over at her and grinned.

“You’ve been very kind,” Ayanda said softly, unable to meet his gaze. She didn’t want him to see the desire in her eyes. This man was unnerving her more and more.

After they had trekked through the sand back to the car and the shells were carefully stowed in the boot, Thabo turned to Ayanda and said, “I enjoyed myself very much. Thank you.”

“It has been a pleasure. Thank you for your kindness,” Ayanda said neutrally. She had her emotions firmly under control now. “You’ve made one little girl very happy today.” Olerato was climbing into the back seat of the car as she spoke.

“Thank you, Thabo.” Olerato turned back and threw her arms about his neck. She hugged him hard. He seemed taken aback for a moment, but he quickly composed himself. He hugged Olerato to his chest.

“You’re more than welcome, Olerato. The pleasure’s been all mine,” he said and tickled her under the chin.

“You talk fancy,” Olerato said.

“Olerato! What on earth has got into you?”

“Well he does, Mama. But he’s nice. I like him,” the little girl stated as she climbed into the back seat of the car.

Thabo looked straight into Ayanda’s eyes. Slowly he shook his head. She could see he was doing his utmost not to burst out laughing. She wanted to laugh too.

“Out of the mouths of babes,” he said.

Ayanda felt the colour rise to her cheeks. What was it about that direct gaze of his which made her insides quiver? She knew without a shadow of doubt that she wanted to get to know this man. She had an overwhelming urge to find out everything there was to know about him.

For want of something to distract her she leant down and fastened the safety belt around Olerato.

“Why do we have to go home now?” Olerato complained and began to fidget. “I want to stay and play on the beach.”

She went from adorable to whining in an instant.

“Eish wena,” Ayanda said soothingly. “We’ve been here nearly three hours now. Remember I promised you an ice cream on the way home if you were good.”

Olerato’s eyes lit up at the thought of the ice cream treat.

“Ice cream!” she cried. “I want ice cream now.”

“Thanks again,” Ayanda turned around to address Thabo. She noticed him sneaking a look at his watch. “I’m sorry if we have kept you from anything.”

“No, not at all,” he declared. His gaze lingered on hers for a moment before he put his sunglasses back on.

For some reason she wanted to tell him that Olerato was really her niece, but she couldn’t do that in front of the little girl. Besides to all intents and purposes she was Olerato’s mother now. The child didn’t remember her own mum at all. Ayanda’s shoulders tightened at the thought.

***

Tell us what you think: Should Ayanda be bold and ask for Thabo’s number? What might he think of that?