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Our Solo Lady Romance Novel

Cruise to Seduction
By Alys Bohn and Lea Lane

Chapter Eleven: Never Trust Orchids...Chapter Twelve: Wake-Up Call

Back on the ship, Alex ran down the long hall to her cabin. Relief was losing to anger. Despite many, still lingering doubts, Jake had built her trust--in Cozumel, in the galley, even on the dance floor, then on that risky pyramid in the jungle--until he had turned into jungle beast.

"You loved it," growled a persistent inner voice. "Not like that--and not with a girlfriend on board and me on shore," she snapped back.

Much worse, though, he had deliberately let them be late, setting her up to agonize while he indulged his love of living on the edge. He admitted he knew the risks--and had taken them willingly. For himself, fine. What about her!

He intrigued and attracted her, with his quiet assurance, sure intelligence, instantly-changing face and oh, that body--the list went on. These last, lovely days had been some of the best of her life. Yet something always spoiled things, one way or another. Sure, she let it do that. But his assurance could turn in a flash to arrogance and conceit. His lifestyle, appearance, his ever-present work all spelled the boardroom to which he would return in a few days. In fact, he had hardly left it.

And a brief shipboard flirtation? He'd forget it before his luggage was unloaded, while she--had better put on the brakes. He was pushing her personal standards to the limit--and she could imagine letting him! And what about his involvement with Caren van Danvers? Was it a commitment? What would tomorrow add to that list--if there was a tomorrow?

The bedside phone buzzed.

"Alexandra. Please don't be angry. I'd tell you in person--but things are almost out of control at my office, and I'm stuck here."

"Well, you ought to be. I feel like a fool, imagining losing my job. You didn't clue me in that we'd be late or that there'd be that boat. And there's more--you know there is."

"We can't talk about it now, and I'm working tonight. But you have to have more faith in me. What can I do to make it up to you?"

He asked so gently that he almost melted her heart again. But she fought it.

"You're bad for me. Just leave me alone."

"Is that what you really want?"

No, it wasn't. But what did she actually want?

"I don't know."

"Look, I have another call. Remember, it's your choice. Please choose to change your mind."

The subsequent silence pounded in her ears. Of course it was her choice. She was the one who was here to work--and the one who could be hurt. The choice was obvious. She didn't need a heavy duty relationship at this point--and when she did, he would no way be a conceited gorilla complete with gorgeous girlfriend.

Tonight is laptop time, she decided. She could call room service, catch up on her assignment and then get a decent night's sleep. Yes, that sounded wonderful--some work, some pampering, and some time to herself. She pulled out her notes and began.

The phone's next ring broke her concentration. Another of Jake's apologies? He had chalked up two strikes today. Did she want to risk three?

"Where were you?" asked Phyllis. "The tour guide said you went off on your own with Jake. When you missed our tender, we thought you two had eloped. Did you have a great time?"

"Don't ask."

"Are you OK, honey? We worried when you didn't show up at dinner."

"Just getting some work done. It's now or never."

"You've got a job to do, we know. But you have to come to the show--to see the acts."

"I'm too comfortable, Phyllis. I'll see the show another time."

"But this is the talent show, remember? Nell and Sue are singing a duet. They're counting on you to hear them."

Bother! Alex liked the two sisters, but tonight she needed to hibernate.

"They'll be hurt," Phyllis persisted. "I'll save you a seat by the left entrance of the Highlands Lounge. 10:30."

"Well, OK. But I won't dress. I'm just going because of Nell and Sue, and when they finish singing, I'm out."

"Deal," agreed Phyllis.

After logging a big chunk of work, Alex paused to stretch and glare at the mirror. She certainly could look--in fact, sometimes tried to look--hopeless. Or, when she really wanted to, she could pull it all together.

But not tonight.... A hunger pang reminded her that she hadn't eaten since the picnic by the lagoon. Its beauty and peace seemed years away. She had fallen under the double spell of the place and the man--who had then broken it--as if deliberately.

Come to think of it, it was probably a good thing Jake had come on so heavily there at Coba. With more of his earlier, softer approach, she might have begun falling....

What's wrong with me? she said, shocked at even imagining the dangerous L-word. Quickly banishing it, she concentrated on calling room service. What a great cruise bonus it was, as ready--even though more limited--for her small, affordable stateroom as for Jake's expensive suite. By the time she was out of the shower it would be delivered. Sure enough, as she was drying her hair and belting the terry robe, the bell was sounding.

Facing her at the door was not the B.L.T. she had ordered but a breathtaking mass of pale, almost translucent orchids.

"For you, Ms. Ransome," said the smiling steward. Their deep, sweet fragrance was intoxicating. The card was small: "Alexandra--Thank you for our lovely day. Hope these help you remember it that way." No name was signed, nor was one needed.

A gesture again. A really nice one. Jake was acknowledging her request for space, and yet--with this remembrance of beauty--he seemed to want her to know he valued her. She was impressed. Just when she had assigned him to history, he had made this great comeback gesture. She placed the orchids against the mirror. Now looking like twice as many, they seemed to fill the cabin, reminding her again of their wild profusion in the Yucatan.

Somehow inspired to dress up a bit more than she had intended, she sampled the sandwich which had arrived, then topped a narrow tropical-print skirt with a silk shirt. As an afterthought, she tucked one of the orchids behind her ear, to peek through her chestnut hair. Certainly it wasn't for Jake. He had already indicated he'd be working.

She liked the Highlands Lounge, with its tartan swags above the bar, stage doubling as a dance floor and clubby decor in colors of heather. Perhaps 300 people were there, fresh from another gourmet dinner or perhaps the Broadway-style production in the show lounge. They were primed to see friends and loved ones score a hit or--more likely--make fools of themselves.

Some of the amateurs had real talent, others were frustrated performers. The latter were the fun ones--the good sports who had their 15 minutes of fame aboard ship, and throughout the rest of the cruise would be greeted by those who had seen them.

The first act was a hoot. After a spotlight to "escort" them on stage, an owlish man with clamp-on ears and tail whistled the score of "Cats." No one knew whether to laugh or not, but they nonetheless clapped as the spotlight followed him back to his seat. It then moved to the second contender--a comedian who told his jokes well though the punch lines fell flat. The pianist who followed him played "The Moonlight Sonata" flawlessly.

Finally Nell and Sue came out, looking as odd a couple as ever. But they sang a nice two-part harmony to a traditional medley of their younger days. Alex recognized "Heart and Soul" and "Blue Moon." Nell strummed the ukulele, both stayed on key, and nobody in the audience had to stifle a giggle. They received the most applause yet, as the spot lingered on them and their friends while they settled in their seats.

Alex felt a sense of pride in her table mates. She had been told that dining room tables were sometimes little clubhouses, where passengers bonded and looked after one another in this universe at sea. And her first-hand, first-cruise experience was confirming this. After congratulating the sisters, who had thoroughly enjoyed their moment in the spotlight, Alex said her goodnights and rose to go back to her cabin.

"Must you leave?" asked Sue. "We were going to listen to the guitarist in the lounge after the show."

"I just came out to see you," said Alex. "Otherwise I'd be fast asleep."

"That's crazy," said Mike. "A pretty girl with a flower in her hair should be out till all hours. You'll have plenty of time to sleep when you get to be our age." Phyllis laughed at his comment, however inappropriate it was on a honeymoon. Laughing at stupid  jokes must be one of the truest signs of love.

But before Alex could leave, the next talent act was coming on stage from a seat in the first row. As the spotlight pinpointed the performer it also picked up her companions whom Alex knew--James Pitt, his wife Sandra, and half a dozen guests. The performer was Caren van Danvers. And her escort was the supposedly-working Jake Endicott.

"Emeralds," dressed in all in black except for her jewels, slithered over to a stool, right under the pin spotlight, sat up tall, and spoke quietly, so that everyone in the room had to be silent, straining to hear her. It was Elizabeth Barrett Browning's  "How Do I Love Thee," spoken directly to Jake.

"How do I love thee/ Let me count the ways...." Count the ways indeed, thought Alex. She could imagine some of them, and wanted to be anywhere in the world but here. Caren never wavered in her gaze at Jake, so that the audience sensed a chemistry between them as her words tumbled out in whispery, breathy groupings. The poem had never seemed so sexy.

"And if God choose," she paused dramatically at the last line, "I shall but love thee better after death." She was finished. She took her crimson-tipped hand, brought it to her lips, and blew a kiss to Jake. There was a silence throughout the recitation, but suddenly, in relief, everyone in the room applauded. Almost everyone.

Caren returned to Jake's side, and, under full spotlight, kissed him on the lips--the same that had tantalized, then all-but-attacked Alex's earlier that day. Jake seemed a bit embarrassed--though certainly he couldn't see the lounge's distant last row--unless he had glimpsed her greeting Sue and Nell earlier.

Who could admire a man who could send flowers and pretty notes to one woman and probably take another to bed, all within a couple of hours? She bet he'd sent Caren an armload of orchids too. If there were a talent show for two-timers, he would win it, hands down.

The room lights were on now, with people rising to leave or take to the dance floor. Unwillingly, as if controlled by invisible rays, she looked at the first row by the stage. It was so distant that she couldn't be sure. She could fantasize that Jake, surrounded by the group of executives and with Caren clinging to his arm, met her eyes across the room. In her fantasy, they would have a plea in them, silently asking her to understand. Oh, she understood, all right.

As the crowd blotted out the tableau, Alex ripped the orchid from her hair, tossed it on the floor and headed for the door. J.K. Endicott was no longer trouble. He was former trouble. History. Never mind the fact that, if he had made a single gesture--leaving his friends and the slinky Caren and coming after her--she would have given all the flowers on the ship.

Chapter Twelve: WAKE-UP CALL


Something had frightened her badly, but she hadn't a clue what it was. That made it worse, and she nearly panicked.
Suddenly, strong arms pulled her close--to what? Soft, confident whispers reassured her. She didn't even know whose arms and whispers they were. There was no need to know. There was nothing she needed to do. She could just be there and... answer that wake-up call.
As she struggled up from sleep, reality seeped in. None of it resembled the lovely, now vanished fragment of a dream. A strange emptiness  was new to her. A day on her own, a week, even a month--fine. But a lifetime--without the chance of seeing one perplexing, exasperating person in unexpected places that instantly turned exciting.... Was that fine, too?
What yesterday had made clear, last night had made still clearer. Jake Endicott had wanted her body. That wasn't too surprising. She was inexperienced but hardly stupid, and knew that men did. But no one had demonstrated it so graphically, audaciously, unmistakably as this man had, there in the jungle and out of the blue. Well, out of the blue if you didn't count her own unintended provocation during the water fight in that sensuous, blue-green sea--or their closeness the night before.
After that embarrassing bare-breasted incident, she had to admit, he had behaved flawlessly, until--after their climb--he sprang like a hungry lion from ambush. He even had the nerve to act just as angry about it afterwards as she did. Then, though the small waiting boat had saved them from missing the ship, his own carelessness had caused the crisis in the first place. Or maybe she’d been carelessly heedless herself?
Still, after swearing he'd be wrestling with work, it looked as if he'd been wrestling with Caren van Danvers instead. Yes, he probably had also been working with James Pitt, but Caren was clearly a play break. If my heart had been involved—which of course it wasn’t, thought Alex, his choice of that clinging leech would have driven a stake through it.
Now fully awake, the review of Jake's many sins was strangely unhelpful. Instead of triumph or complacency, she felt dull emptiness. Last night was the first on the ship that had ended without his special glance or enigmatically-raised eyebrow, an unsettling dance or never-to-be-forgotten kiss.
Well, it looked as if that was how it was going to be, and she’d be stupid to waste time thinking about why that was unthinkable. If only she couldn't still smell the wild orchids from the wastebasket into which she had crammed them. But by the time she re-boarded the ship after today in Grand Cayman, the stewards would have carried off even their scent.

They had cruised all night and early morning, and were now awaiting the island's customs clearance that would free passengers to go ashore. Reluctant to pay for more shore excursions, Alex planned to wander the town, buy gifts for her editor and Jane, meet Jean-Claude to help him choose some gifts he needed, and then find a bus to the island's renowned 7-Mile Beach. Since today they were docked at a convenient pier, she could go back to the ship for lunch--free--or whenever she chose.
As soon as the First Officer OK'd the debarkation over the ship's intercom, she headed down the gangplank and on to the first British territory she had ever visited. The background video on the ship's interactive TV had informed her that the Cayman Islands were a British Crown Colony and one of the world's leading offshore banking centers, where thousands of shoreside corporations and individuals were stashing their cash, tax-free.
The main street was within an easy walk from the port and the quay that stretched along the shoreline. Alex noticed a number of snorkelers threading out through some rocks on their right as they left the pier, and made a note to check out the area this afternoon if there was time. Jake, she had discovered, had put her equipment in her gear bag before she stalked off yesterday. She'd try to pay him for it, but with a credit card instead of cash, it wouldn't be easy. It was possible she’d never even see him again.
A far cry from the little port on Cozumel or the pristine Yucatan shoreline, the prosperous Cayman capital was as well-tended as Key West. It brimmed with low-rise offices and pretty shops that, despite Alex's resolve to be frugal,  proved irresistible. She had started the expedition in shorts and sneakers. But by the time she met Jean-Claude as planned, she was shaded by a wide straw hat and wearing new walking sandals as well as a long, raspberry-patterned sundress. A couple of gift-wrapped, hand-screened t-shirts occupied a pretty shopping bag.
"Plans have changed," said Jean-Claude when they met. He was accompanied by the Pitts, who had elected to join them for a drive around the island. "I'm jealous," said Sandra, eyeing Alex's new dress, hat and shopping bag. "No one gave me any time to shop and I'll have nothing to take back for our daughters."
A driver was waiting by one of the C.F.O.'s trademark Mercedes, this time with space for five in back. 
"There's a slight change of our original plan," said Jean-Claude, as they set out. "James has very kindly procured tickets for a 3:30 submarine dive."
"It visits the most spectacular island sights, which happen to be underwater" James Pitt took up from there. "So we'll skip the long shore drive, head for the Turtle Farm. go straight to Hell, and wind up with a late lunch before the sub ride." Hell, he explained, was a post office-sized town out on the island.
"It sounds fantastic," said Alex. "I've never imagined going in a submarine. Do we really go down in it?"
"I wish I could go too," he said, then looked at his wife who reacted with a start. "Oh, Sandra, didn't I tell you I have to fly back to Miami to meet with Jake Endicott? He left early this morning when the ship picked up the pilot." So--er--I gave his submarine ticket to Caren van Danvers."
"No," Sandra commented, a bit dryly. "You didn't tell me. I suppose I should come, too?"

"No, by all means continue the cruise. I'll be back on board the day after tomorrow--our private island day," he said. "Meanwhile, Jean-Claude can escort all you ladies down into the deep and to the captain's table tonight. Right, Jean-Claude?"
"Oui, mon capitain."
Alex was thankful the conversation continued without her. She had much to contemplate. This was how things were done at the command level, she reflected. Jake had departed while the ship  slept. Was it while Caren van Danvers slept too—and where? She’d bet he had passed along his sub ticket personally when they parted, with James Pitt covering for him by saying he had done it himself? Even Sandra had sounded doubtful.
No one wanted to linger long at the turtle farm. The wonderful sea creatures seemed placid enough swimming lazily around in the tanks under the mid-day sun. But they were captive nonetheless--a thought made even more unpalatable when the menu outside the cafeteria revealed "turtleburgers" in its sandwich sections. Maybe it was an old menu, but Alex voiced the common thought, "I'd rather see them swimming wild."  
"Hell" proved to be a remote outpost with a raw expanse of gray, rocky terrain reached by walkways. Flocks of tourists stood busily snapping pictures. A souvenir stand displayed the inevitable t-shirts bearing slogans like "I've been to Hell and back." At the main attraction, a nearby post office, customers speaking everything from Japanese to Portuguese were queued up to send cards bearing the distinctive postmark.
"Dear Jane," scribbled Alex, circling the postmark. "I've bought new shoes; yours are from Hell to walk in." One of the greeting cards bore the printed message, "I'm in Hell without you." It would freeze over before she'd send that. To anyone.
Though it was well after 1 o'clock and everyone else was  hungry, Alex wasn't. However, Jean-Claude had chosen one of the island's best restaurants specializing in Caribbean cuisine. A pink wooden bungalow built in the distinctive Cayman style, it had a white-railed balcony and windows where--at high tide--ocean spray broke dramatically.
Jean-Claude had ordered a steaming chowder and crab cakes with a tropical garnish for five. Then the restaurant's chef came out personally with tastes of his other recommendations. The surging surf and sonorous wash of the waves against the balcony pilings fit Alex' mood at the start, but the succulent local food and congenial conversation restored it to her cheerful normal. 
When they left, a second car was waiting to take James Pitt to the airport. "Do remember to call the children," Sandra told her departing husband. "And tell Jake we don't thank him for kidnapping you--but give him our regards anyway."
Alex examined her new sandals. They really were very attractive.

The car dropped the remaining quartet at a dock near town, where a small boat would ferry them and the other prospective submarine passengers out to the deep-water boarding point. Alex slipped away to swap her new dress for the old shirt and shorts, glad the driver had been asked to deliver the extra bags to the ship. 
As they stood in line for the small sub-boarding boat, she looked curiously at the group debarking from the earlier trip. She wasn't nervous--in fact, eager for the expensive adventure she could never afford on her own. Nonetheless, the pleased faces and casual chatter of the returning group were reassuring.  
"Oh, Sandra, there you are," called a throaty voice from behind them. "May I join your intrepid group?" 
"Hello, Caren," said Sandra Pitt, regarding the woman elbowing her way through the orderly crowd. "Yes, do join us. You know Jean-Claude, of course--and what about Alex?"
"Hmmm, yes indeed," said Caren van Danvers, smiling particularly at Alex much as a cat might smile at a fat mouse that reminded it of dinner. She looked as put‑together as ever, in a clinging black camisole, tight white gaucho pants and gorgeous gold jewelry loaded--overloaded, in fact--with large emeralds. Naturally.
Her voice was deeper than its seemed when Alex had overheard her trilling and calling to Jake, and she had a slight, intriguing accent--some sort of European. Or, thought Alex, who liked to guess where accents came from, it could be fake.
The descent into the sub was easy, considering that the  entrance was small and the stairway rather like a ladder. The crewman counted out passengers loudly as he took their tickets: it was important that there be no standees.
The group filed farther into the cramped cabin, filled with double benches of fiberglass seats on either side. Portholes facing them revealed beams of sunlight refracting in the water. Alex tried to sit next to her lunch companions, but somehow Caren slipped between Sandra and Alex at the end of a row. 
To Alex's dismay, the crewman announced they were waiting for a few passengers scheduled to arrive on another small boat. She hoped that if there was any conversation while they were waiting, Caren van Danvers would have it with Sandra on her other side. She supposed it would be sensible to keep her ears open. There were questions she should probably ask--and not of Jake. In reality, though, why ask if she didn't want the answers?
Alas, Caren--checking to see Sandra deep in conversation with Jean-Claude--turned to her. "I've noticed you on board," she said. 
"I've seen you on board, too, though not much on shore."
"Oh, this isn't my first time around these parts, and I just pick and choose at this point. I've decided that's one of my mottos: she does whatever she likes. Of course," she added as a politically-correct afterthought, "Only if it doesn't hurt anybody."
Sure, thought Alex. That's probably what black widow spiders say before they bite. 
Suddenly, a single question gripped her, almost compulsively. She realized it had been lurking in her subconscious almost since she had boarded that plane in New York. This might be her only chance to ask it. Did she have the guts?
She took a deep breath, and exhaled the big one.
"Are you traveling alone, Caren?"

"Not an easy answer, although the question is quite direct. I'm traveling on my own, but with a dear friend from home. Strange isn't it, but that's the way it goes nowadays. Nothing is what it seems. You must have noticed us together."
"Us?" Yes, Alex certainly had noticed "them."
"What I mean is I have my own suite, but he has the adjoining suite. The man I'm--seeing."
So much was loaded into that simple word, and Alex didn't like what she was sensing.
"I'm recently divorced, again," continued Caren. "In fact, this is my first trip since the miserable mess was finalized. I needed to get away and enjoy myself, of course. And when I found out that this dear friend was leaving for a cruise, we decided it would be perfect timing. I believe you've met him--Jake Endicott?"
So Caren wasn't just a chance encounter on the ship. They had planned being together. That deceiving, manipulative scum. Alex felt as if she had been punched in the stomach. 
"I imagine a divorce must be an awful experience," she managed.
"Not so bad--that was my fourth. And I'm making up for it now." With that, Caren threw back her head in a ribald, throaty laugh Alex figured some men would find sexy. She thought it was gross, and exactly the tasteless sound he deserved. Let him listen to that laugh for the rest of his life, louder and louder, in his dreams as well as his waking hours.
"And what about you, Alexandra. Are you on your own?"
Alex didn't want to explain much, and certainly not that she had spent two days and some memorable snatches of evening with that two‑timing lizard--under the water, atop a Mayan temple in the Yucatan jungle, close on the dance floor, closer on deck. Nor was she going to say that he had held her, kissed her and led her on so effectively she might never be able to forget him.
"Yes, this is a business trip--I work for a restaurant industry magazine," she replied briefly. Caren was listening with surprising--perhaps feigned‑‑interest and sizing her up, no question. Maybe she knew more than Alex realized about how much attention Jake had been giving her. Maybe he had told her.
"What an interesting job," said Caren with more than a touch of irony in her voice. "I sometimes wish I had a full‑time career, but I always seem to give it up for the men in my life."
"What did you give up?"
"Only my chance to be a household‑name, I suppose. And to practice my craft, of course. I'm an actress, quite a good one I've been told by more than one critic. But I don't seem to be able to concentrate on much else when I'm deep into a relationship. Actually, you may have seen my work. I was in the soap opera, Wicked City, for more than three years."
Alex was grateful that she had never wasted three years listening to Caren. It was bad enough for three minutes. With the latecomers arriving on board and the sub preparing to dive, maybe the horrid monologue would stop. Whatever she deserved for making herself so vulnerable--and responsive--it wasn't more--ever--of Ms. Emeralds.

The captain in the front cockpit of the vessel pushed some digitized buttons, the crewman began demonstrating the life preservers and the first mate started his narrative about the local marine life and the dramatic dropoff called the Cayman Wall.
"The depth of our dive will depend on visibility and other local conditions," he told them. "During our hour in these incomparable Caribbean waters you will visit realms that, normally, only certified scuba divers are privileged to experience--all in airconditioned comfort."
Comfort? Next to Caren? As the sea life outside the wide windows swayed harmoniously in the shifting currents or swam serenely along, Alex was seething. The sub began to descend. Bubbles rose. The sunlit sea near the surface turned bluer as they moved deeper beneath the dancing waves. The floodlit sight of a pair of large, ungainly turtles paddling past, free and happy, thrilled her. But it failed to calm her.
So now she knew that Phyllis' hateful gossip had been right: Caren was Jake's girlfriend. And though Caren was showing ignorance about Jake's afternoons with Alex, she probably knew a lot. Everything about her was suspicious. Being an actress, it was likely she was still following "my craft." 
In fact, Alex surmised suddenly, whether or not Caren knew for sure, she had seized the opportunity or even set this whole scenario up just to warn Alex to stay away from Jake.
Well, Caren didn't have to worry. Alex didn't care for liars--though she had to admit that Jake had told her so little that maybe he hadn't literally lied. But she didn't like manipulators, either. And certainly not unfaithful men who came on to one woman while going to bed with another--like some medieval lord. She had no intention of becoming a member of what was probably a harem. There could be dozens of Carens in Jake's busy life--one--no, probably two--wherever he traveled. 
"I don't like tight spaces and I get somewhat  claustrophobic," Caren broke into her thoughts. In the now-quiet cabin where the narrator had paused to let the passengers savor the serene scene outside, her voice resonated. "Jake shouldn't have insisted I come on this expedition. He knows how delicate I am. But last night before--bed, he made me promise to come and see how beautiful it is under the water."
Alex saw Sandra Pitt, on Caren's other side, turn with a puzzled glance. "What are you two talking about?" she asked.
With a slight start, Caren turned to Sandra. Alex had no desire to hear her story twice. On the contrary, she was sorry to have heard it the first time.
Anyway, with the narrator speaking again and the engines louder, she could no longer hear the other women's conversation. The vessel was turning, its spotlights illuminating a section of the famous Cayman Wall ahead. It was exquisite, teeming with fish and covered in a variety of swaying sea vegetation and eerily-shaped coral.

Lovely as the scene was, Alex wished fervently she had stayed on shore. The sub was exciting, but the voyage cost more than all her snorkeling gear would--as soon as she could pay for it. And she had felt more attuned to the underwater magic when peering down at it, swimming under her own power. Furthermore, she'd never have met Caren snorkeling. The woman didn't--and even if she did, she wouldn't be able to talk while doing it.

Though Alex would have liked to skip the social life of the evening, she didn't give in to the temptation. Since she was summoned to the captain's table tomorrow, it wouldn't be fair to her table mates to skip three dinners in a row. And certainly she had collected enough material on cabin service to fill three articles.
The ambience was welcoming as always. With a "casual" dress code and Caribbean Night theme--sporty shirts for the men and colorful tops over pants for the women--everyone was especially relaxed. Alex let Phyllis' good-natured gossip, which covered the more bizarre passenger fashion choices, diverse flirtations, including Caren's with the captain himself, and more, roll right over her.
"And her boyfriend Jake isn't there at all--just like last night," Phyllis was saying. "At least tonight we know he isn't with you, Alex."
"Hardly," laughed Alex, hoping that her jaw didn't lock in place with the effort.
Stanley had won a small sum in the casino last night and was going back to add to it, he announced after dinner. The others set off to find seats for the first-run movie. At midnight, all would meet on deck for the Caribbean buffet. Actually, not quite all. Despite the deck event and numerous disco invitations from her partying friends on board, Alex had vowed hours ago that this would be an early night.
At the entrance to the theater, the quintet picked up boxes of popcorn from the red-and-white-striped kiosk set up in the foyer. They were like an old married couple, Alex reflected, only there were five of them, not two. If she lived 100 more years, she reflected, she could--with luck--look forward to 36,500 comparably exciting evenings. Give or take a few leap years.

To be continued ....

Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips, 1st Edition (Special-Interest Titles)



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