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Our Solo Lady Romance Novel

Cruise to Seduction
By Alys Bohn and Lea Lane

Chapter Nine : Red Bikini Morning
....Chapter Ten : A Dare In The Morning....

Early that morning, while passengers dreamed about jackpots, romantic encounters and whatever else triggered well fed, sun burnished vacationers' fantasies, the ship glided along calm waters from Cozumel island to the Yucatan mainland.

Last night at dinner, Alex, Phyllis, Mike and Stanley had planned to meet on the shore excursion bus headed for "Mayan Magic: Tulum and Beach." Though Jake had mentioned some ruins yesterday when they had returned from Cozumel, he had said nothing during their unforgettable time together.

A thought struck her like the cold water she was splashing on her face: Probably, it was unforgettable just for her. Didn't that make more sense than the scenario she preferred--that he was coming on to her because he more than liked her? Yes, she knew that her tiniest nod would have brought him into her cabin and then ignite the sparks of the evening to fire in the night. But she had never been into instant or casual sex. She had assumed he understood that, and had even dared imagine his current connection with Caren van Danvers might be dining and dancing.

But, flipping the picture to view it from another direction, Jake could more likely be playing around, hoping to vary a vigorous shipboard sex life with more than one playmate. Caren, before or after and definitely during the cruise, could provide intimacy backed by experience and shared high-living. Could? If ship-wide rumors were to be believed, the word was "does."

Ruthlessly, Alex pulled on a red bikini, sturdy khaki shorts and a white top that left as narrow a gap between the two as her choices allowed. The excursion's title included "beach," and she wasn't going to miss that. And, she told herself firmly, she had better not count on J.K. Endicott for---what? He might take a Mayan tour, or then again, work all day, relax with Ms. v.D. or even she realized with a pang leave the cruise whenever his unknown business on board was finished.

And if he does show up, I'll be wary, she promised herself. Yes, I'm attracted to him major league attracted. Who isn't! But he's unpredictable almost two different people. One of them spells danger, and the other...lives in another world.

With it all, though, she knew she hadn't exorcised him from her system. If he moved in again, she'd probably be there, responsive, hopeful--and almost certainly wrong.

For the busy port they had chosen, the ship had to anchor slightly offshore again. The tender was filled with increasingly tanned passengers. Mike looked a bit like a lobster, while Stanley remained almost ghostly pale.

As a tour leader shepherded the "Mayan Magic" group onto a fat red bus, Alex sat behind Phyllis and Mike near the front. She wasn't surprised or, she told herself, even disappointed that there was no sign of Jake. Even if he weren't absorbed in work or Caren, she couldn't see a 40 person tour bus as his style.

At last the driver prepared to pull away. Suddenly Stanley ran up to the door and pounded on it. He hurriedly sat down beside Alex.

"I needed a hat, but the hawkers were charging more than the market price," he explained, holding up a dubious looking straw.

"So did you straighten them out?" asked Mike.

"Actually, no," he admitted. "But I would have, if the bus hadn't been leaving."

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen," the guide intoned as they picked up speed. "Buenos dias. Lean back. We're going to give you a day to remember in our beautiful Yucatan peninsula.

"Who were the Mayans? Nearly a thousand years after their civilization vanished, historians are still arguing. Mayan roots may have been Asian, part of a migration over a land bridge now filled with water. Their cities spread from here down through Belize and Guatemala. Their ancestors..."

Alex had been averaging five hours of sleep compared to her ideal seven or eight. And the guide's voice was melodic....

"The waters here are littered with shipwrecks," he was saying. "After the conquistadors arrived, pirates began to roam these coasts, and when storms came up, down they went." How had he moved from Mayans to wrecks so fast?

"Have a good nap?" asked Stanley. "You really slept."

"Uh," said Alex, gradually waking up as the guide stopped his soothing commentary, focusing again on the passing scenery. Vacation development was coming fast along this stretch of road, with empty land giving way to condos and hotels with lushly landscaped drive up entrances. A few small fishing villages remained, too, as if in a time warp, flanked by a scrubby landscape pocked with sinkholes like a moonscape.
But the glory was the beach, its white strand in sugary contrast to the turquoise water. Darker patches appeared offshore.

"Are those coral reefs?" Mike called out to the guide.

"Yes, some of the best in the world."

"Oh, that must be where we're going," said Alex, staring out at a bluff topped by what looked like a fortress.

"That is Tulum, which means City of the New Dawn," said the guide. "The ancient Maya called it Zama: sunrise, the only Mayan city inhabited when the conquistadors arrived.

"The temple we're approaching was built during Europe's Middle Ages," he continued as the driver pulled into a parking lot. "It's called the Temple of the Descending God. When you visit, look over the doorway for the carving of a winged god plummeting to earth."

"Yes and he's coming now," shouted Phyllis over the roar of a passing helicopter.

The laughing passengers clambered down from the bus. "You have a couple of hours to wander around. We'll meet back here at 1:00 for our next stop--lunch. Remember, we're bus number 34."

Alex walked toward the main temple with the rest of the group, pondering its timeless beauty. The sun, she mused, still comes up from the same sea in the same place as it did then and will for eons to come, until it grows cold or maybe explodes. Life itself wasn't much different, she reflected some sunrises, a lot of cooling and a few pretty explosive moments.

After a time she noticed a path leading from the cliffs down to the empty beach below. The water looked irresistible. Now would be a good time to stroll along the shore and dip in the calm water. There might not be another place so pretty this afternoon. Or soon again.

She descended the narrow path and contemplated the beach. It was small but had perfect sand plus some rock, and looked safe for swimming. She slipped off her sandals, T shirt and shorts. She need not have worried about the skimpy red bikini (Jane's taste, she realized by now, ran to modest seat coverage but practically hooker-style tops). But she was reassuringly alone, apart from a couple of probably-local families at the beach's far end.

The breeze softened the heat, but her pale skin could still turn the color of the bus. She reached into her raffia tote, pulled out her SPF 30 and started rubbing wherever she could reach.

"Good idea," said a voice. She whirled around. Standing not four feet away, Jake was staring at her with a mischievous glint in his eyes, and beginning to strip down to much too brief charcoal swim trunks. Alex was startled to the core, but didn't want him to know.

"Where did you come from?" she asked, as calmly as she could manage.

"From the sky, where else?" he said, deadpan. He laughed at her expression of disbelief. "True, I swear. My office gave me the afternoon off, on condition that I work all day tomorrow. Oh yes, and most important that I be very, very good."

He was good, all right. And he knew it too well. Feeling awkward and bare under his steady gaze, she could think of no light and clever response.

"You picked a spot where the Mayans used to beach their canoes," he observed. "No ancient Mayans here today, just a few modern ones, and so far no tourists. As you may have noticed, I'm not enamored of crowds."

"You don't do too badly at the captain's table," she ventured, looking down at an invisible object at the water's edge and deciding to rewind their tape back to "start." "But maybe I'm spoiling your solitude. Is two a crowd?"

"You know the answer to that one, Alexandra," he said softly, speaking practically into her ear and simultaneously placing a cool hand on her sun warmed back.

"No," she said fervently, making the one word do double duty.

"Shhh. I'm only putting sunblock where you obviously can't reach. Who wants to look at dangerous spots in 30 or 40 years?"

"I won't..." she began, indignantly. But she simply didn't know how to respond to any of what he had said.

"Besides two is the perfect number," he continued blandly, reverting to her earlier question and continuing to coat her back, "And your judgment in finding solitude and beauty is right on target. You know I like your style."

"Because it's sometimes similar to yours, no doubt. Well, I manage on my own very nicely, thank you."

"You live alone?"

"Yes. Well soon. My sister and I have an apartment...."

"So that's who the intriguing Jane is?"

Alex blushed. So he remembered her phone conversation, maybe even the part about clothes not fitting, that had made him so grumpy on the plane.

"We grew up in a big family two parents, two brothers," she babbled, slightly off balance. "But Jane's engaged, and after they marry in June, the apartment's all mine. I'm going to love living there."

"Time will tell. Now that I've done your back..."

Alex would have died rather than admit she had loved the touch of his hands on her skin or that she knew (and he knew she knew) she'd enjoy similar attention elsewhere.

"I'll finish, thank you very much," she said sweetly.

Well I could use some help," he said, settling down in the sand.

"Would you mind"?

Jake handed Alex a small tube with a French name. "This always works for me. I bought it in Tahiti and haven't found anything better."

"Showoff," she muttered impishly, ostentatiously putting her hands behind her back.

"Well, are you going to let me burn to a crisp, or what?" For that second, smiling up at her, he looked like the brown haired little boy his mother had called impossible.

"You look pretty tanned to me, Jake. I doubt that you need this."
But taking the tube from him in mock disgust, she knelt down and began to rub the golden amber cream on his back and along the muscles of his shoulder blades, in a gently kneading motion. With a bit of hesitation, she ventured along the sides of his trim waist. She had never put sunblock on a man, not even her brothers. And she never thought it would feel like this.

"Can you do my neck too--please?"

"What a greedy guy." But the more she massaged the cream into his lean body, the easier it was to rub still more. His skin felt warm and smooth, and now smelled faintly of French herbs and tropical oil.

Jake lowered his head. Her hands kneaded his neck muscles, enjoying the touch of the supple skin. She kept at it, long after the sunblock had dissolved.

"God, that feels wonderful," he groaned. "Like a Swedish massage."

"Really? I thought of studying massage therapy at one time."

"Well, you're a natural. And if you're very, very good, maybe by the end of this cruise I'll teach you how."

"That does it. I'm cooling off!"

She abruptly jettisoned sunglasses and hat, tossed him his precious Tahitian SPF 40 and ran into the water. He was up and following her in a flash, splashing her sun heated body with a cool cascade as she squealed in protest. Dropping into the sea she turned and retaliated, leading to a boisterous water fight like the free for alls of childhood summers.

Suddenly, she sensed the atmosphere changing from gleeful to electric. Denial didn't work; her body was becoming electric, too. She looked down at it, and gasped. In the heat of the splash and duck child's play, Jane's bikini bra too small for Alex to begin with had shifted. And it wasn't built for this kind of movement. Her pale breasts had slipped almost entirely out of the tiny cups. Almost? With a face as red as the treacherous bikini, she flipped over into the water and down into it as if drowning her embarrassment.

How bare had she been? How much had he seen? Maybe he couldn't see clearly at that distance, she thought, readjusting her top. Even if it wasn't a Super Bowl moment, it had lasted a lot longer. She should be able to guess from Jake's face. When she dared to look, though, he was nowhere around. Then she spotted him, surfacing from under water 20 or 30 feet away.

Still shaken, she turned and swam in the other direction with a fast crawl, back and forth along the beach until she tired. Jake, she saw, was doing the same farther out. Give the devil his due, he knew when and how to be a gentleman. She'd just have to brazen it out; after all, he had seen her in the transparent blouse--and no doubt countless women she didn't want to think about, wearing zero.

When she finally emerged, he caught up with her and wordlessly spread two beach towels on the sand, where they lay quietly for a few minutes with their thoughts. A few more couples and families had arrived at the beach, but their only immediate neighbors were the birds overhead. Up above, by the Temple of the Descending God, tour buses were discharging ever more tourists.

"Want to look at the ruins now"? Jake finally asked, rising on his elbows to look down at her.

"I thought you don't like crowds," she said. She didn't meet his eyes, but her voice sounded OK, she hoped.

"I don't. But these aren't the only ruins around here. Are you ready for a little adventure a bit of danger?"

The man himself was danger. But she could scarcely say that.

"What do you have in mind?" she asked, cautiously.

"Well, I just happened to hire a jeep for the afternoon. I checked ahead. The group is going to a big restaurant, then to some very touristy shops. After that they spend an hour or so on a popular beach. But I can take you to some special, out of the way places. Only if you say please, though."

"I will not," rejoined Alex, at this touch of his old arrogance.

"You'd be lucky to have my company."

"You're right Alexandra. Besides, since you were nice enough to keep my back from getting sunburned, it's the least I can do." Alex felt a mixture of emotions. She was supposed to be on a tour. Wouldn't Phyllis and the others be worried if she simply disappeared? On the other hand, she didn't feel like shopping. And, when she wasn't mired in some impossible misadventure, she was--against her own sage advice--finding Jake's company almost addictive.

Stop making excuses, she told herself. You simply don't want to say 'no.'

"I'd have to find my friends or the driver and tell them," she said. "And we'll have to eat something. Besides, I paid a lot for the tour."

"Don't worry. I've told the group leader our plans, so all that's taken care of."

"You what! Our plans? And anyway, we can't miss the bus back."

"They know we're going on our own for a while. We'll be back on time."

Had he known she was coming with him all along--way before she knew? How had he materialized so magically at the beach? She wanted to ask but could only splutter in frustration.

Jake rose and reached down to help her up. The magic was back in the touch of his hand on hers. Was he feeling the same? What was he remembering as he looked at her from behind his French sunglasses? She couldn't tell, but it hardly mattered. With him, everything could change at the speed of light. Ready or not, she pulled clothes over her still damp suit, funneled her hair through her cap, and headed back up the path. He followed, close behind.

Chapter Ten: A Dare In The Morning

An armada of buses waited in the parking lot for their passengers to return from Tulum. Nearby, open stalls were now spilling with T-shirts, tin ware and colorful small rugs.

Jake's off-road Jeep was top-of-the-line, with airconditioning, sun-roof, even stereo. He held the door for her, politely adjusted her seatbelt without touching her, and stowed their gear in the back.

"Put on some of this," he said, handing her a bottle of insect repellent, then another of water. "And drink lots--we have plenty." He drove just as she imagined he would--with authority and speed. He seemed to know where he was going. Suddenly he veered off the road and into the thick foliage of the jungle. Leaves the size of elephant ears spread a canopy of shade in the intense midday heat.

Mosquitoes buzzed in concert. Scattered about miles of this jungle plain were ruins of structures that looked pre-Hispanic. She could see no signs, and no tourists.

"Where are we?" she asked.

"Welcome to Tan-kah," he answered, stopping the jeep. "It was a satellite city of Tulum. It really hasn't been fully explored, and that's why I like it."

There wasn't much here to see. Tulum was far prettier and more impressive. He turned, and she guessed that his sunglasses hid real excitement.

"The unknown, the uncharted, the mysterious--it all appeals to me. And the surprising," he added, turning back to the wheel. "I want you to see something."

He edged the shift from idle into gear again, and drove over bumpy dirt roads to what looked like a landing strip.

"One of aviation's pioneers came here in the 1930s, making an aerial survey of this land. His name was Charles Lindbergh"

"The first pilot to fly alone across the Atlantic!" Alex felt like a girl again, sitting around the dinner table and listening to her history-teaching father.

"Right. Even though he became highly controversial later when he visited Hitler's Germany, his solo flight was tremendously brave. I admire people who take risks for the right reasons."

"And what are the right reasons?"

"To learn, to contribute to progress, maybe 'ask what you can do for your country,' as John Kennedy put it. All of us have our own reasons. Risking solely for ego or acquisitiveness loses me-- though in business the boundaries are thin and too often ignored."

"Have you ever taken risks for the wrong reasons?" asked Alex. He thought a minute, then smiled at her--enigmatically, of course.

"Possibly for the right reason but the wrong person. Maybe I'm risking right now. What do you think?"

"I'd guess you're making calculated risks in several departments."

He was clearly enjoying her quick responses, as she relished the unexpected repartee in the middle of the Yucatan with this increasingly attractive man. From the corner of her eye, she saw him almost relaxing as they drove in companionable silence for a few minutes longer.

"How's your appetite coming along, Alexandra?" he asked, glancing at her with an unreadable expression.

Something in his tone changed her faint sunburn to a blush. How was she supposed to take that one?

"I can control it," she said firmly, then laughed, as he did, at her exaggerated, prim-and-proper voice. "Though I guess it's past my usual lunch time."

"It just happens that we have a wonderful picnic. But if
you can hold on, I have a much prettier place in mind to eat it. Reach down behind the seat and get us some more water, though."

Alex wasn't merely hungry. She was famished. But having waited this long and knowing him to the extent she now did, she guessed that whatever they would be eating would be worth the wait.

About 15 minutes farther on the main road, after Akumal they took an unmarked dirt road. A minute or so later, Jake stopped.

"We have to walk a little from here, but I promise you, it's worth it. For unknown reasons, even hurricanes have spared it."
He grabbed an insulated carrier and a mesh diving bag with their snorkeling gear from yesterday, handing her a stack of towels that seemed like half the ship's supply. She brought her bag too. They walked through paths fringed with wild orchids, and entered a clearing.

There, like a scene from a film set, was an isolated
lagoon, opening at one end to the sea. Alex gasped a bit at its tranquil beauty, and then ran to the water's edge.

"It's deep, in places close to 200 feet," said Jake. "But look how still and clear it is."

In the shallows she could see swirling schools of parrot fish below. "So blue-green and gorgeous," she exclaimed, scanning the idyllic setting of sky, sea and fern-covered shoreline.

"Just what I was thinking," said Jake, meeting her unshielded eyes. Alex looked back warily. They could have grilled a feast on the electricity in the air between them.

"Let's sit here," he proposed, putting down the gear in a patch of shade. "I'll set luncheon out for you, senorita."

He had obviously persuaded someone on board to create a picnic for two: icy cold roast chicken, salsa, raw vegetables, crusty rolls, fruit and bottles of sparkling water with lime. No forks, just lots of napkins. Alex couldn't help thinking of the other lunches they had eaten together--on that awkward plane ride, strangely mixed with tension, and yesterday in his suite with luxury and so many undercurrents.

Now both of them relished the food and drink until they could hold no more. This time, maybe he didn't even bring a phone, she mused. Afterwards they sat, sharing the shade, both aware of the still beauty, the heat, and each other.

"Not bad," said Jake.

"Better than that. Thank you."

"Are you ready to snorkel?"

"Shouldn't we wait half an hour," she half-joked, hearing her mother's summertime cautions. What would mom say to her here, at this deep, unfathomable lagoon with this deep, unfathomable man? "Go for it?" More likely, "danger ahead, Alex!"

"Oh, we can wait if you want," Jake was saying. "But can't you tell by now, I like to live dangerously."

"You like even more to live well." She couldn't resist.

They both laughed again. Quite gently, he leaned over, taking her chin in his hand. This time his kiss was long and tender, his lips sun-warm, his tongue feathery light around the edges of her responsive mouth. She couldn't fault anything. But she knew what intensity lay beneath his cool, impersonal surface. And she knew, without any doubt now, what further response he could--no, did--evoke in her.

This magnetic man attracted her as no other had. She thought she trusted him, but only to a point. He was very probably Caren van Danvers' boyfriend and she a mere passing--what? A challenge? A tease? Heaven help her, she hoped not. More fervently still, she hoped he didn't see her as another potential notch in his belt. Jake Endicott was a walking woman-trap, and she was the one risking here.

She broke off the kiss, and the mood. "Let's snorkel," she said.
They shed their shorts and tops, grabbed the gear and ran into the cool water to put it on. Heading for a near patch of coral, they hovered perhaps 20 feet above it, transfixed. Soon they felt part of the silent underwater world. To be accepted, in a strange, wonderful way, by its dazzling city of creatures was magic. And more than that, this universe in microcosm, moving in mysterious but reassuring harmony below, brought a spiritual peace.

Half an hour later, she checked her now well-behaved bra top as they reluctantly emerged, toweled their salty bodies and added shirts.

He turned and asked, "Ready for the best?"

"What could be better than this"?

"You'll see."

Back in the Jeep and heading inland, they passed two tiny pueblos, clusters of thatched-roofed white huts. About a half hour further on, they parked. "Now we need some more insect repellent and more clothes," he instructed her.

He had them, too--loose cotton trousers and long-sleeved tops with drawstrings at wrist and ankles. They slipped them on; added caps, socks and sandals; and sprayed everything.

They entered a dense growth of tall hardwood trees, ferns and giant palms, where the sun sent wide shafts of light through the canopy. They walked silently on footpaths shared by processions of giant hunter ants. The only sounds were their breathing, scattered voices of the few other visitors and the occasional call of a bird or the shriek of a spider monkey.

Alex wondered where they were going, but trusted him. She didn't want to break the spell woven by the beauty of this shared solitude by asking.

Suddenly she saw a towering stone pyramid, covered in vines, breaking through the dense jungle foliage.

"Oh Jake, look."

"Welcome to Coba. Believe it or not, this was once one of the most important city-states in the Mayan empire. About 80 square miles in all. Maybe 40,000 people lived here from about 400 to 1100."

"And it's gone, empty," she exclaimed. "Covered by jungle."

"Yes. It tells us a lot about power, and life. And how all things material return to the earth. And now," he suddenly switched, "are you on for some climbing? The only way to get an idea of how immense this place is from the top of a pyramid."

Alex was somewhat afraid of heights, and was about to say so. But something--a combination of the man, the place and her recent new insights--convinced her to take the risk. As he had put it, it would be for all the right reasons.

"If you'll back me up, I'll climb. But I'd like to go slowly."
She saw that he sensed her reluctance.

"Of course. And if you want to stop at any time, we'll go back down."

"How many times have you been here before, Jake?"

"Just once. But I've climbed higher pyramids, at the Mayan ruins in Tikal."

"Where's that?"

"In northern Guatemala, not far south of here. Coba and Tikal were great cities at the same time--and both amazing."
He was pretty amazing himself, thought Alex. If I get in trouble, he'll pull me through.

So stone by stone, hand reaching out for hand in the jungle heat, he led her up a great temple-pyramid towering above the forest canopy. From that perch they could see the immensity of a once-great city. Smaller ruins of soaring stone broke through the encroaching vines for miles around.

"It's amazing, isn't it? Archaeologists say there are more than 6,000 structures in the area," said Jake. "But most hasn't even been uncovered."

"I can't believe it. It will take a century to do it."

Jake chuckled. "Not quite. Maybe a few decades if they really get to work. We could see it in our lifetime."

She liked the idea. Returning in old age to this wonderful place. Nonetheless, she'd rather not climb it twice!

They rested at the top level of the pyramid, scanning the grand, dead city below. They drank the water he had carried up, sharing the sense of history and the moment in time. Only their fingertips touched, though a palpable current was racing through them.

"Ready for the downhill trip?" he finally asked.

This time, trusting him completely, Alex quickly followed his lead, placing her feet deftly between the steep, ancient stones, leaning on his shoulder when she needed support. It was faster and less effort getting down, with gravity in their favor. Thank goodness for Stair-Master workouts, she thought. They've never been more useful.

They reached the ground triumphant, and crossed to a shady corner of the clearing to pause and regroup. The tension of the climb vanished, she felt wonderful. He had helped her through a passage from fear to confidence, and she turned to thank him. "Th...," she began.

But he, too, must have found something special, even if only a purely physical release of Mission Accomplished, in the descent. And maybe her parted lips said, however silently, “bring it on.”

"Come here, Alexandra," he ordered, reaching for her hungrily, pulling her under a cluster of vines, and lowering his mouth to hers with a fierce possession that was new and abrupt. There was not the softness of moonlight here, but the naked power of the sun pounding down on the tropical forest setting. The goal was not response, but submission.

And when he--and certainly she--needed to breathe, his hands took over the probing of his lips. They moved over her hair, her shoulders, then where they never should, fumbling to reach the clasp of her bikini top under her t-shirt and parka. Wild and new reactions to what he was doing held her immobile.

"Alexandra," he gasped. "You're so beautiful. There in the water, I couldn't stand it. I want you--need you. Just see how much."

His large, capable, so-provocative hands continued down her back, moving her closer still along his lean length. She gasped, not only at discovering the rock-hard reaction she was provoking in him but also at her own response, coming from realms buried deeper within herself than any Mayan memory.
And her body was telling her exactly what it also needed: more. If they had been in the shelter of the night rather than the revelation of the day, her rising responses left little doubt about what could—yes, and would--happen next.

But with that thought came a flash of insight, and she braked. Her heart had now joined her body, she realized, wishing that all that she was imagining was actually happening. But as that message reached her bemused brain, she willed herself to pull back. And he must have let her do so. Too unglued to soften the blow to either of them, she turned and, without looking back, walked away. Where, she neither knew nor cared.

Embarrassment, anger, disappointment, frustration. Every emotion known to woman created a churning maelstrom of her mind. Nor was her body any calmer. She dared not imagine his. With a face like thunder and vibes like a nuclear meltdown, he passed her on the path back to the car, leaving her trailing far behind.

A trio of passing tourists looked curiously at them, striding by in single file. "Lovers' quarrel," she heard one say. "Too bad," said another.

She had to stop at the shed set up in the parking lot, grateful there was no mirror to look in. Jake had started the engine by the time she emerged. Before, he had come round to open her door and fasten her seatbelt. This time, he jerked abruptly into gear without even waiting to hear the click of her door.

She realized he wanted nothing so much as to leave her behind. To be eaten by mosquitoes, perhaps, or—-much better--army ants. Slightly hysterically, she smothered a giggle and continued a silent fantasy as they streaked along the road. Would he return weeks later and discover her bones? Would they make him sad? Obviously not. What would he tell her parents?

What, more immediately, would he tell the ship? In fact, what about the ship?

As if he could read her thoughts, he spoke to her--intensely but, to her surprise, almost gently too.

"Now I don't want you to get upset Alexandra, but I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that it's almost five o'clock, and the helicopter company I used to fly down here is out of range of even this cell phone. So..."

"What! Isn't the ship leaving at 6-something? What are we going to do?" "Hold on. The good news is that I was able to call ahead to the port. I'm going to drive straight there."

"What time does the last tender to the ship leave?"

"We'll make it. Don't worry."

"What time does it leave, Jake?"

He paused. "5:30."

Alex's heart sank. If they missed the tender, they would miss the ship. And her job--certainly her job performance review--could be on the line.

No problem for him. Late didn't matter when you set your own rules. He could probably just fly home or on to the next port. And though he'd obviously prefer to drown her, he might relent and take her along. But on this assignment she was being judged by her dependability as well as on work produced. If they had to fly in to Grand Cayman--and not on the $42 she had brought along--it would be the talk of the ship, and eventually of her office. She'd look irresponsible--and a lot more.
She was crazy to have risked so much for this 10-handed gorilla, especially in what was obviously, to him, not even a relationship. That, he already had. Sure, the day had been romantic, wonderful, exciting--like him. But was it worth this?
Jake gunned the engine along the main road, passing slower vehicles and carts with burros, trucks and buses. He seemed to enjoy the speed, the challenge. He was in a world of his own, and Alex was not the center of it. Roaring along despite the unavoidable bumps, they still had miles to cover. She didn't dare ask the time.

Dusk was deepening when, at last, they reached the port. He parked the jeep at a curb in the lot, where a man materialized to take the keys. Their ship still glistened like a city of light in the darkening distance. But no sign of the tender.

Alex was furious. "You rat," she sputtered.

Jake took her elbow. She jerked away.

"Suit yourself," he said through gritted teeth, dumping her gear at her feet, turning his back and heading toward some stairs at the edge of the jetty.

"Wait, don't just leave me," she squealed. He waited smugly at the top of the steps. Below, she saw a small speedboat, with a few other sheepish-looking passengers and two uniformed crewmen waiting for them to board.

"Nice service, guys," Jake called out.

They climbed on board, with everyone staring at them curiously.

"Told you we'd make it, Alexandra," said Jake. "Just see."

Maybe she had over-reacted--she had a habit of doing that. But the stress had made her furious. "Why didn't you let me know how late it was?"

"Because we were having a magic time--like no other. And you know it."

"You think you can control everything, don't you? For you, it's all so easy."

"Well, not everything. Just almost everything." He paused. "And think, if we'd missed this tender there'd have been another next week."

"I hate you."

"Just joking, sweetheart. You take things too hard--where's that great smile?"

"Don't sweetheart me! You already have one. You don't know what I'm going to do." she said, wrestling with tears, disappointment, relief and fury. "And neither do I."

In truth, at this moment, she wasn't sure of anything--and might never be sure again.

To be continued ....

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



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