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Our Own Romance Novel
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Our (Very Own) Solo Lady Romance Novel
Cruise to Seduction
By Alys Bohn and Lea Lane
Turnaround Time... Chapter Eight :
Dance Into Danger...
Seven: Turnaround Time
BACK IN CABIN 444, Alex's mood hit a strange low. Or not so strange. One J.K.
Endicott had gone over and out. She had forgotten she was a mere blip on his
schedule. Dancing, one hour. OK, one unforgettable hour. Snorkeling--well,
a morning like no other. Lunch half dressed. 30 minutes. Out the door. Two
But. They lived half a continent apart,
and a vast chasm separated the worlds in which they worked, played, traveled
and certainly spent money. Yes, he was amazing--when not being obnoxious. They
had talked, perhaps even thought, in astonishing accord. He made her melt on
the dance floor, and kissed with mega effect. He was a catch and -- with his
arrogant manner, keen intelligence and macro-sized ego -- knew it. Flight attendants
and room service staffers told him, his multiple-married girlfriend told him.
The world told him. Alex would have to be sure she didn't.
Sure, the evening,
the morning, the whole Jake experience, had been unforgettable. But for whom?
She remembered each minute, almost. But she'd bet he had forgotten the minute
he walked into his suite and saw -- whoever was there.
Then there was that "only the first time" remark when she put on
her snorkeling gear. "Is it always this much trouble?" she had asked.
In the charged atmosphere between them they both knew what his response meant.
Just who did he think he was?
Or, she paused with a flash of insight, who did she think she was? Out of nowhere,
it seemed, came the words, "Face it, Alex, you're no longer the frightened
student, hiding behind big glasses and big shirts from big boys you can't handle.
You're in the city now, where the only men who will treat you like brothers
are your brothers. You want to pull it together -- looks, intelligence, friends,
everything you need to have a life, right? So grow up."
Alex sometimes talked to herself when the
world was closing in. Inspiration could come in a small cabin on a superworldly
cruise ship as well as in church or under a starry sky. This was a moment, and
a day, she'd not forget. And the day wasn't even over.
Right now, there was work. She needed to review all the places to eat on board.
And she had sent a "yes" RSVP to tonight's invitation. Cocktail parties
weren't her favorite scene. But with the younger officers as hosts, she determined
to like this one.
After her moment of insight, she looked
at Jane's clothes with new eyes. For the restaurants and maybe the fitness center
(if she was serious about getting it all together) afterwards, she chose trim
workout gear and sunglasses.
The ship's crack designer team had gone all out
in the main restaurant. Its teak and chrome-railed staircase at one end balanced
the triple-story windows above the glowing ship's wake at the other. The informal
restaurant where she had breakfasted was another winner, with outdoor/indoor
sections and dazzling views dropping down to the sea. Several bars, a pizzeria,
gourmet bistro, cafe and ice cream parlor filled out the roster.
She considered walking the wide teak promenade
deck, but headed as planned for the wraparound gym. Choosing a treadmill, she
found the agreeable guest-chef next to her, running up a storm.
"Hello, Jean-Claude, You're a
"Bon jour, Alex. Is
that so surprising?"
"I don't know, you stand up at
work so much. I guess I thought you'd swim--or spin."
"Since I'm tasting all my delicious
creations--and my rivals' too, I have to do all of the above."
"Maybe I could help," she said daringly. "I
studied nutrition and ran my mother's catering business while she was ill. So
if you want to add low-fat or low-calorie creations, maybe I'm your gal."
"That could be interesting. At least
we could talk about it.I could call you when I'm in New York -- and of course,
we'll be meeting on board meanwhile? You mentioned wanting an interview...."
How different Jake and Jean-Claude were. It made perfect career sense for her
to see the high-profile Franco-Spanish chef, and he seemed to agree. He was
charming, had risen high in his profession and there was no intrusive chemistry
to confuse things between them.
Not like Jake -- almost manically rude and
polite, egotistical and generous, dependably unpredictable, shacking up with
a blonde, tempting a brunette -- and nukeing her peace of mind. I'd better ask
for guidance more often, she thought.
By 7, she had worked on her notes
and was peering into her closet. Tonight she'd be which version of her sister
Jane? The trouble was, her sister's entire cruise wardrobe had been chosen to
entice the man she loved.
And it had. Alex liked Tom, he almost seemed to deserve Jane. Jake, on the other
hand probably deserved Ms. Emeralds. What right did he have to comment on her
sexual experience -- and worse, imply she lacked it -- with that "first time" remark?
In fact, what right had he to assume it? She had said nothing. Or had she?
Almost viciously she opened the case of
makeup and started applying eye liner, mascara and a tawny glow to her still
pale face. If any more razor-sharp barbs were to be exchanged, she was going
to be on the giving, not the taking end.
Tonight's dress code was neither "formal" nor "casual" but "informal." A
gray sheath looked fine. And when she pulled back her hair and put on her glasses,
she looked fine, too if she were her mother. Peeling it off, she turned to
Jane's red and white print. Its built-in bra revealed much more of her than
it had of Jane, but there was a matching jacket. However, inexplicably furious,
she wound up carrying it, wearing her highest heels and letting her hair swing
Alex showed her invitation to the young crewman at the "reserved for staff
only" barrier, then entered the officers' own tastefully simple living
room. The hosts in their whiter-than-white uniforms dazzled the eye. They had
invited a flock of bright-looking younger passengers, and though these young
men and, she hoped, the women might have captain's bars in a few years, their
mission for tonight was fun.
ACCEPTING A GLASS of champagne, Alex joined a clutch of chattering contemporaries.
She spotted some familiar faces, but no Jean-Claude, Jake, or Caren van Danvers.
This must be a 20-something party -- nicely reassuring. And the ship's office
did hold every passenger's passport. Disarmed by the hosts, the guests and
perhaps the champagne, she slid her glasses into her jacket pocket. Why worry
about who's who or where?
No one, in fact, seemed
worried about anything--what, after all, was the point of cruising--and the time
went much too fast. As it drew to a close, word circulated that the party would
continue at the disco later.
"No dinner unless you promise to come," one of the lieutenants chided
her. "Be there by 11--most of us have early morning or even midnight duty."
At dinner, Phyllis again had the best view of the captain's table from their
balcony perch. "Guess what?" she asked, a preface that always heralded
some special gossip.
"What," chorused the tablemates,
ready for the latest.
"She isn't wearing anything at all. Just emeralds." They all knew
who "she" was.
"Show me," Mike whooped.
Phyllis glared at him in mock
With her cream-colored mesh
top and carefully-crafted face, Caren van Danvers would have been flagrantly
out of place at the officers' party just ended.
"She spent the day having a hair extension, too, but I don't think her
face can handle it," added Nell, peering over Phyllis' shoulder. She normally
didn't gossip but was warming up under her new friend's influence.
"Maybe she got desperate when she spotted her boyfriend coming back with
Alex," said Phyllis, with a sideways look. "He's doing big deals,
I hear. Or maybe Caren and Jake had a falling out. So, tell us Alex, what's
"Attractive, for starters," answered Alex, admitting the obvious. "And
he can be very nice. When he chooses."
"Did he choose"?
"Some of the
"When, exactly?" pressed
"When he wasn't acting
like a big deal."
"What does he do?" asked
Nell, leaning intently toward Alex to hear it all.
"I don't really know. He
slithers out of telling much."
Tonight was Asian night, and
she ordered a sweet and sour appetizer, then chicken with lemongrass. For dessert
they were all going to share the wedding cake the cruise line had given the honeymooning
couple, and green-tea ice cream.
"Back to Caren van," continued Phyllis, who seemed fixated on the
dramatic blonde. "I found out today at the beauty salon that she's known
Jake for a long time, before she married that producer who put her in some
of his movies."
Everyone nodded, but finally
admitted they had never seen Caren before.
"Probably she had bit parts," said Phyllis. "Anyway,
he was her second or third husband, and after him she married van Danvers --
in pharmaceuticals, I think. And now they're divorced after only six months,
and she's richer than ever."
"Maybe she was having an affair all along with her friend Endicott," suggested
Nell. The words reverberated through Alex. They were very probably true.
"So she has enough money to live alone, or marry who she likes," said
Sue, now caught up in the story.
"And she sure seems to like that good-looking Jake," Nell
"What about him?" asked Mike, deadpan. "Doesn't
he have anything to say about it?"
"Not much, they say," answered his wife. "She
likes younger men -- and once she gets them into her satin sheets, they're done
"You really could write movie scripts, hon," he observed. "Look,
he isn't even at the captain's table tonight."
"You wait. He'll be around
later and later still."
Alex had had enough. She really
enjoyed Phyllis, but tonight the vacuous chatter though probably true, disturbed
her. She turned to Stanley.
"There's a cool
crowd heading for the disco later. Are you interested?"
"Er, well, why yes," he
stammered, hardly believing what he had heard. A smile turned up the corners
of his mouth and remained throughout the meal.
After dinner, the others headed directly for the show lounge, with Sue and
Nell beaming at the "young folks." Poor Stanley. She hoped he knew
this wasn't a date. She had enough problems already. Still, he was sweet, predictable
and unexciting. If she had an ounce of sense, she'd be looking for someone
exactly like that.
"It's 10:30," she said. "And
the disco doesn't open till 11."
"I have an idea," said Stanley. "Let's stop at the casino." Alex
balked. Raised in a modest house by a careful family, she thought of casinos
in terms of smoke-filled rooms and gamblers losing their savings. On the other
hand, visiting one would be a new experience. And she couldn't lose anything
if she didn't bet!
"I'm surprised," she said, looking around when they entered the vast
contemporary room. "I've only seen movie casinos, those elegant European
ones in James Bond reruns, or the shoot 'em up kind in old Westerns."
Stanley asked the cashier
for a mountain-high stack of old $1 coins. The face of the women's vote crusader,
Susan B. Anthony, looked reprovingly up from each of them.
"We don't have time to really do the roulette and baccarat," he told
Alex. "We'd better stick to the slots. What do you play?"
"Nothing. I mean,
I never have."
"Here's a start," he
said, handing her a slice of his stack.
"l'll try a couple, to see what it feels like. But they're still yours," she
said. He paid no attention, intent on finding the right slot machine.
"Here," he pronounced. "Get started, Alex, we don't have long." She
watched, fascinated, as he began sliding in dollars, accompanied by a sort
of low chant. "C'mon, apple, gimme two, just one more...." Had she
called him predictable? Or was this just an ordinary man's wild side, accountant
Looking at the other gamblers
around them, she saw the same intense involvement as in her normally staid tablemate.
Their faces remained impassive as the rhythm continued: insert, pull, wait; insert,
As if plunging into cold
water, Alex put a dollar into the slot and pulled the handle. A star, a sun and
a planet lined up in three windows before her. Another dollar brought forth two
stars and a planet. Stanley, feeding his adjoining machine faster and faster,
urged her to put in three or four coins at a time.
"One's hard enough," she
exclaimed. At the next pull, a few winnings spilled out halfheartedly into the
waiting holder metal, so that other players could be inspired by the jingling
In the next row a woman erupted in a loud whoop as bells and whistled jangled.
She had won a small jackpot and would buy drinks for everyone at the bar. Already
tired of the scene, Alex turned to Stanley.
"Look, Stan, here are the coins that are left. I'm fine at the disco if
you'd rather stay and party here for a while." He looked bewildered. A
well-lit casino party or a darkened disco were heady choices.
"Well, if you're
sure, I'll be up later."
"Don't lose too much, then," she said, feeling motherly. "You
could spend enough in here to pay for another cruise."
"No, I've set my limit," he said. Then, with the first touch of humor
she had seen, added, "Besides, now the drinks at the bar are free."
MIDNIGHT. Jake Endicott closed his laptop, caught up with
loose ends on three continents at last. He never took precious daytime hours
from work to entertain any woman, unless he was in hot pursuit. And, after
that ridiculous parting from Alex last night, he had drunk too much when he
returned to the lounge, and behaved very foolishly after escorting Caren to
her suite. Of course they'd been careful. But pursuit was the last thing he
needed today, or for that matter at any time with an inexperienced girl-next-door.
And, after diving
the world's best reefs, from celebrated to secret, this morning's sea life had
scored dead zero. Yes, there had been other sightings. But why did I enjoy this
excursion more than most in recent memory, he asked himself. Not because of the
fish, or the break from work.
It's not her conversation,
he assured himself. That's unremarkable, although often surprising. So, in fact
is she. Mature in a way, but exuding that childlike enthusiasm that he found
himself catching. Though smart, maybe even intellectual, she's flexible -- and
not bored or overstressed, like any normal person. With her, something very new
happens, he suddenly saw. I relax. And I won't mind seeing the snapshots of her
that Todd took from beneath.
As a rising entrepreneur,
man of the world and known escort of the anything-but-wholesome Caren, he rarely
pondered his beliefs. But he definitely believed in trying new things. And as
a shipboard encounter, probably never to be continued on land, he might as well
pursue this one. But Alex Ransome's defenses were strong, and he'd better tread
carefully. Who needed trouble in the pursuit of pleasure?
Eight : Dance Into Danger
Outside the casino door, Alex drew a relieved breath. The smoke, flashing
lights and noise from the pull of slot handles and plink of metal on metal
had stressed her out.
The winner's shrieks had attracted a crowd in the lobby. One of the cocktail
party hosts, his full uniform banished in favor of polo shirt and khakis, regarded
the milling crowd.
"Hi, Alex," he said as he spotted her. "They sent me down to
see what all the hype was about."
"You were probably hearing my eardrums shattering," she said. "Someone
won a jackpot and is buying everyone drinks at the bar. What about you?
"No way. It's disco time."
"Let's go for the stairs, then."
Four decks up they traversed the dual-pool deck, silent and all but deserted.
Alex, heels and all, set a strong, purposeful pace. The velvety tropical air
and dark, star-dusted sky were dangerously romantic, and young officers at
sea were, she guessed, vulnerable.
Amorous encounters had never been her friends. Give her simple friendships
that lasted--when she could find them.
Across the deck and two more flights up, the daytime observation lounge had
become a pulsating club with at least three kinds of music. Wraparound windows
that overlooked the shimmering sea by day morphed into mirror-black walls by
The beat had just begun and was swiftly building. "Well all right, perfect
timing," said her companion, leading her down a low ramp to the oval
dance floor. En route, she found a corner chair and, slipping her glasses into
Jane's tiny bag, left them with her jacket on top.
The designer of the on-board lighting was rumored to be the best in his field.
His interplay of laser-controlled shapes and intensities with vivid iridescent
colors was dazzling.
As a child when her brothers were teens, Alex had begged them to teach her
dance. And even though she secretly thought the soft jazz at the parties she
later catered was more romantic than their rock, she was a natural at almost
anything set to music.
Falling immediately under the spell of the setting and all-encompassing sound,
she shed her cares as easily as she had her jacket. Her natural grace, lending
a special style to her cascade of dark curls and curvy body in Jane's vivid,
bare-shouldered dress, attracted partner after partner.
Pleading thirst, she prevailed upon Jean-Claude to stop for a break when he
asked for a dance. They couldn't reach the chair where her glasses lay, so
he led her to the bar with a steadying hand on her elbow.
"Champagne," he told the bartender. "French, of course.
Though actually," he continued, turning to Alex, "Anything not
from the province of Champagne must be called sparkling wine. But who knows
this anymore? Not even the bartenders."Â
"They may know, but don't want the customers to feel ignorant," she
suggested. "I just learned it since starting this job. And you must
admit, Jean-Claude, there are some very good not-champagnes."
Their splits of Moet et Chandon arrived, and Alex drank more thirstily than
usual. "I need some water, too," she confided.
"With Champagne! Sacrilege. Maybe two sips I'll allow you before I claim
my dance. And speaking of claiming, I hear we are both to be at the captain's
table on Thursday night. Let us do your interview over a drink just before
"Agreed, gladly," she said, smiling. He was so competent, so--civilized.
She was sorry that, as they were dancing, one of the officers cut in.
"Where have you been, Alex?" he asked in mock despair. "Don't
disappear again. Some of us have to go on duty soon. We're going to play
Auld Lang Syne, as if it were New Year's. And I want it to be my dance then."
"I don't know if I'll last that long," she said.
But when a drunken passenger all but pushed him aside and moved in, she did
know. She was done, now. Her feet were complaining. The pulsating lights
and music were pounding her brain, and she had chug-a-lugged the whole split
rather than make it last an hour or so as she usually did.
The music slowed--in preparation, she feared, for Auld Lang Syne and the
kisses that went with it. Her obnoxious partner pulled her unpleasantly close,
smelling of stale cigarettes and alcohol.
"Get lost," he said to an approaching officer, then moved his
hands boldly over Alex. She tried to pull away, sorry she was wearing only
strappy sandals instead of good kicking boots.
"Some of our officers have to go back on duty," said a voice at
the mike. "So they've requested that familiar farewell song, and y'all
know what to do when you hear it. But the rest of you, stay. You're on vacation,
and we hope you'll dance till dawn."
"You get lost," Alex told the human octopus as firmly as she could
while pinned to him. "I'm leaving."
"Not me, you're not. No one leaves me," grunted her partner. "An'
you, bud," he said to someone behind her, "Out. She's my date."
"Not in a million years," said a low voice at her back. It seemed
to be coming through tightly clenched teeth. Its owner pried the lowlife
loose so fast she never knew how. Suddenly she was free. As two stalwart
crew members appeared and bundled him off, she turned into Jake's arms, all
thoughts of forgetting him banished. All she wanted was to fuse with the
soft cotton shirt on this hard body with its crunchy triangle of tawny hair
curling between the open top buttons.
"I'd have called you, but I've been on the phone," he told her,
holding her close. "Thank God I took a break. When I think of that
animal all over you.."
She heard no complaints about her tears of relief on his no-doubt custom-made
shirt. He merely pulled out a silky j.k.e.Â handkerchief and told her firmly, "blow." She
did, then looked up. As she did, she realized that Auld Lang Syne was in
full form. And he was going to kiss her.
It was a gentle kiss rather than hard, but packed a punch that defied analysis
or even any thought of it. Down-soft flicks of his tongue circled her lips--the
pretty, glossy upper and almost too-full, sensuous lower--stripping them
bare as if he were stripping--her body. She must be crazy, not only letting
him kiss her like this, but kissing him back. And then, when each velvety
outer lip had totally dissolved in pleasure, he moved his full attention
inside, healing her dance floor experience as if with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
She was drowning in sultry depths. And never wanted to surface.
But, too soon, the world outside was moving in and on, even as they stood
locked within a time warp. "Alexandra," he whispered, drawing slowly
away but still holding her as if in a magnetic field. She looked up in wonder,
still unaccustomed to hearing her full name. Nobody said it the way he did,
caressing each part of it with low, masculine resonance.
She almost gasped when he moved back, breaking the spell their contact had
created. Something felt wrong, without his touch. But he was only moving
behind her to place his warm, decisive hands on her cool bare upper arms.
Silently he threaded them through the dance floor where the evening was getting
its second wind. They crossed the darkened cocktail area and, descending
the circular stairs of the tower-lounge, emerged into the fresh tropical
air of the pool deck.
Stopping by a deeply-shadowed strip of the rail, he turned and drew her in,
body-to-body, with a single motion.
"Did you think that was all, Alexandra?" he whispered in her ear,
probing its most sensitive places with his tongue at the same time.
She opened her mouth to say "no." Or "yes." How did you
answer that one? But what he was soon doing inside
her mouth stopped her from saying, or thinking, anything at all. At first
his tongue was again feather-light, leisurely retracing his earlier forays
with reassuring sequels. Then the tension mounted as his mouth probed wider
and deeper, more firmly, more demanding, sending shock waves deep inside
her to places she had only heard and read were there. She not only felt possessed.
She wanted to be. And to possess. Lips for lips, tongue for tongue, she was
responding, giving, and loving it.
Her hands, on his shoulders at first, were now feeling the warm skin of his
neck inside his open collar and the spring of the crunchy, tapering hair
again. Her fingers, all ten of them, wanted to touch him like this for an
eternity. He smelled faintly of--what? A woodland, perhaps a citrus grove,
of something indefinable and surely essential.
But as their kiss escalated with one hand holding her close, what was the
other doing? Freewheeling, it was caressing her breasts--first one, then
the other. And the thin, slightly coarse cotton of her dress with its tiny
straps and built-in bra heightened the devastatingly arousing results.
It was like a stolen, early-spring swim in a cold lake back home--and yet
not that at all.Â Where she had been soft she knew she was hard. And breasts
that had been normal, she could feel expanding to huge. There was no way
his hands weren't feeling her reaction unmistakably. Just as she, their bodies
so close there was no discernable space between his and hers, was learning
with growing wonder what his also-unmistakable reaction was all about.Â Â Â
Surprising herself to the core, she knew she wanted more, not less, of everything
he was doing. And of undreamed of things he was not yet doing. And why not?
There were a dozen reasons, she knew. But with her mind in free float she
couldn't think of even one of them.
Then it came. The voice inside was a whisper, so soft she didn't hear it--at
first. If his hands had not begun to move purposefully down her back, she
might never have heard. But as they did, the whisper rose precipitately.
With a nearly-superhuman effort and a last delicious taste of his lips on
hers, she lowered her hands from his magnificent shoulders and inserted them
into the non-existent space between their waists. And pushed.Â Â
She had to admit, the man had class. He knew "no," even when unsaid.
Pushing him away had contradicted everything she was feeling. Wanting. Needing.
Being pushed might have done the same to him. She heard a low groan that
was anything but happy. But, taking his time, he moved slowly back, as she
did, breaking the magnetic field between their bodies but holding it between
For a minute, or was it a light year, they stared at each other. There was
nothing to say. She turned. He followed. He led back to the door to the foyer,
and opened it. She went through.
Turning again, she realized the bank of elevators across the foyer was a
blur. "Jake," she gasped.
He looked down at her, a question in his eyes.
"My glasses," she said.
The questioning gleam died. "Where are they?" he asked through
"In my bag, with a jacket by the dance floor ramp."
"See what happens when you take your glasses off," she told herself
sternly as she waited. Then she smiled ruefully at the tired old message.
"Yes," said a new voice. "And see how well you handled the
situation, accepting your feelings but putting on the brakes anyway. And
liking yourself better."
She had to laugh wryly at that point. She liked herself much, much worse.
Half of her--OK, all of her except for a stubborn sliver of caution and the
thought of his clear involvement elsewhere--wanted only to be back in Jake's
"What's the joke?" he asked, reappearing with bag and jacket. "I
could use one, right now."
"Believe me, Alexandra Ransome. You are no joke. Not even close."
Then, apparently trusting himself to touch her in the brightly-lit foyer,
he took her hand and led her to the elevators.
Nor did he let go until they reached her cabin and she needed to extract her
keycard. He slid it into the slot, then took back her hand, turned it palm
up and kissed its most sensitive spot.
Not daring even to breathe, she was through the door and had shut it before
she changed her mind.