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Our Solo Lady Romance Novel

Cruise to Seduction
By Alys Bohn and Lea Lane

Chapter Five: Undercurrents Times Three ... Chapter Six: H2 Oh!...

 

Chapter Five: Undercurrents Times Three

"CABIN SERVICE" said a lilting Euro-accent, accompanying a knock from somewhere in the back of her head. Taking no chances on missing her snorkeling excursion, Alex had punched in a wake-up call for "07:30."  
     But this voice was coming from somewhere outside her door. When she opened it, her cabin attendant held one laden tray and,just behind her, a room service waiter carried another.  
     "But I didn't order anything," Alex stammered. 
     "Breakfast, for 444," said the attendant, carefully re-balancing her heavy tray. 
     "You'd better come in." Alex quickly stepped aside to let the overloaded pair enter. 
     One opened the blue-green drapes to the dancing sea outside. The other spread a white cloth on the coffee table and placed a china pot of violets in the center. They added orange juice on a bed of crushed ice, a basket of golden croissants, crunchy cereal, milk, and tiny jars of jam.  
     The waiter unloaded carafes from the second tray: coffee, tea and hot chocolate. "We didn't know which you liked," he told a somewhat dazed Alex. "Enjoy your breakfast," they said, shutting the door.  
     How easy it was to get used to the luxury of a great cruise ship. She glanced at the delicate pot of flowers and the thought of Jake appeared from nowhere. She decided to be out and gone before his suggested 8:15. Yes, last night had been nice. Capital N. But it smacked more of dream than reality. He was still Mr. Enigma, and still linked with his sharp-tongued friend. Besides, she had signed up for "Shore Snorkeling for Beginners," while he, Caren van Danvers had hinted, would be off on a dive boat. 
     Sipping coffee on the run, she topped off her backpack with a beach towel, sunscreen, her card that doubled as key and ID, and a few dollars. She could hardly leave a credit card on the beach, and besides, with her minimal expense account, it was best to watch every penny.   
     Now she pulled on a black bikini, envying Victorian ladies with their bathing cages. They climbed inside, she had read, and were lowered into the chilly waters off the English seashore. There they could happily paddle--clad or unclad, she wasn't sure -- without comments on the likes of bum and breast size.   
     Jane's choice of swim suits would be sure to raise eyebrows or attract stares in any century, but Alex had learned to ignore most of them. Responsibilities surrounding her mother's illness had swallowed much of her leisure time for several of those years, and she had empathized through the accidental pregnancies of two good friends in the group she hung out with. It had all made her careful -- maybe too careful. Still, that was clearly the right reaction to that walking temptation, Jacob Endicott, if they continued to run into each other. 
     With that thought, she sampled some hot chocolate, then finished dressing. If she hadn't worn her one oversized T-shirt to bed, it would have been a perfect coverup. Instead, shorts and red top plus a blue one to spare had to do. Sliding into flipflops and anchoring her stylish sunglasses with a crimson strap, it was time to head for Debarkation Deck. 
     On arrival, something looked seriously wrong. They were surrounded by sea, not land.  
     "What's going on?" she asked the officer on duty. 
     "Because the ship is brand new, we're waiting for one of the dockside berths to be assigned," he said. "So everyone has to shuttle ashore--just 10 minutes in one of the tenders." 
     She found a seat far forward on the small boat's shaded upper deck, leaned back and stretched her legs atop the empty row ahead. She flipped cap and clips from her hair, and let it blow free in the fresh sea breeze. As she relaxed against the bench back, it blew her thoughts away as well.

***   

 

"WAKE-UP CALL," intoned a resonant voice above her literally-laid-back head. "Was breakfast to your satisfaction, senorita?" It was Jake.
     She must have fallen asleep. The boat was at the dock, and everyone was crowding around a staircase. It led to a ramp to the island of Cozumel, their first landfall in Mexico.  
     Where did this man not show up? And clearly it was Jake who had ordered her breakfast. "Thank you," she said, bowing, not as unwillingly as she would have liked, to the inevitable. "The violets were especially tasty." 
     He smiled that crinkly smile again, and looked, she thought, much too dishy in a white Henley shirt with micro-sized JKE. initials on the pocket. Maybe the K was for the khaki shorts that revealed distracting expanses of well-muscled thighs dusted with sandy hair. I'm glad,  she thought, that he's disgustingly arrogant. And has a girlfriend to match. 
     Several women looked his way, though. The men they were with followed these glances without cheer. Behind her dark glasses, Alex smiled. It was nice to feel invisible. 
     Jake guided her away from the crowd to a small, midships ladder, which spiraled down to another exit ramp. He stepped ashore easily and turned back. Just as the willing Mexican crew reached out to help her debark, his two strong hands spanned her waist and swung her ashore. 
     They stared at each other. She hoped her expression was as unreadable as his. Did he know what his touch--assertive, cool, warming her skin through the gap in the cotton top--was beginning to do to her? Maybe not; it probably seemed like lifting his sister, if he had one. Or, with his expertise gathered from years of practice, maybe he did know. If he would just let go, her head could clear and she might figure it out. 
     The pier scene was pure chaos. Hawkers sold colorful T-shirts and tacky jewelry, tour guides held up signs calling  their flocks, and bewildered passengers milled around in search of their assigned groups. The morning sun felt warm and pleasant, but was already arching higher, foretelling the punishing mid-day intensity the cruise director had warned of.
    "Taxis are just over there, folks," called a man hoisting the "Shore Snorkeling" sign. "Four to a car. Give your tickets to the driver, keep your stubs. Tipping is at your discretion. Go right along. The earlier you arrive, the more time you'll have in the water."  
     Alex, slightly concerned, pulled off her backpack and extracted her "Shore Snorkeling" ticket. 
     "I'll take these," said Jake, high-handedly shouldering the pack with his own and pocketing her ticket. A few other couples and trios were heading for the queue of ramshackle cars waiting at the end of the pier. 
     "What's happening, who are we going with?" sputtered Alex, barely keeping up. "There have to be four of us.... I need the beginner's class and you need advanced." 
     Ignoring her, he scanned the cars, then veered toward a venerable Jeep slightly apart from the queue. He signaled the man sitting next to its driver, who pulled sharply up to the curb. 
     "Now we're four, and it's a mixed class," Jake pronounced. Why fight it, thought Alex. The driver sprang out and took their packs, smiling shyly at her as he did so. She smiled back, too, appreciating his calm helpfulness and the appealing features that, she knew from TV and history classes, proclaimed a centuries-old link to the vanished Mayan civilization. 
     The other man was a 180-degree turnabout. Trust Jake Endicott to pick the car with one of the watersports directors, as his business card proclaimed. Besides being their guide, Todd was an out-and-out hunk, and knew it. Over-muscular and seemingly over-hormoned, he was coming on in a way she recognized all too well. Her sunglasses didn't discourage male interest the way her ordinary glasses sometimes could. 
     Eyeing her unmistakably, he held their handshake too long, and in fact embellished it with a teasing thumb. She abruptly pulled her hand away. 
     "You'll want the front seat next to the driver, Mr. Endicott," he said smoothly. "I'll sit with the senorita back here."
     To her surprise, Jake moved nearer to Alex and pulled her closely, too closely, against himself, like a lion establishing turf. "The back's fine for us, Todd," he replied, his voice low and even but with an undefined edge underneath.
     Todd, slightly taken aback, moved to the back seat door. Politely, he held it open for them. Alex didn't know whether to thank Jake or slap him. Even if it weren't for Ms. Emeralds, he was outrageous, and she had to laugh, even as her senses were reeling from the feel of him against the length of her back. Climbing up into the high back seat, she slid well away from the center. The sooner they got going, the sooner she could melt into the larger snorkeling class.
     They passed through an appealing little town, its pastel facades in transition from funky to trendy. She had read of new money moving in, and was glad to be seeing it now--cleaned up but not yet theme park pretty. Increasing their speed, they soon left the shops and small hotels behind, The road was paved but rutted, bumping her constantly toward the hard body beside her.
     The motion had slid him closer, too. But why was he reaching way across her? He seemed to have a habit of doing that. It had been impersonal, even requested, on the plane. But now it didn't feel that way at all.
     "Here," Jake said, handing her the end of her seatbelt. "Put this around you." Didn't the man know the word "please?" Not that she could recall.
     "I can't find the other end," she reported after some fruitless probing. "I think it's down under the seat."
     "Pull over, Todd," ordered Jake in his ask-no-questions tone. At a gesture from Todd, the driver pulled abruptly off the road onto the low scrub lining the strip of shoreline.
     While the two men pried the seat out and fixed the belts, Alex followed Jake to a rocky overhang above the sea.
     "So what brought you on this cruise?" she asked, seeking the safety of small talk. "Who brought you?" might have been a better question.
     "I came for the waters," Jake said, deadpan.
     Alex laughed in delight. She, too, knew every Bogart line in "Casablanca." "You weren't misinformed," she told him. "So it's a real vacation?"
     "It is, right now." He looked down at her, as if his racy sunglasses could see through hers. Beyond the low Spanish conversation of their companions and the call of the darting seabirds, the silence was soothing. Oddly, at that moment, his presence was, too.
     Yet, when the conversation focused on him, he maneuvered out. She knew the gossip might be right: he was here with the mysterious Ms. Emeralds, switching his attention only when that woman was occupied. Occupied! Caren had announced in the theater last night she'd be in bed till noon, and whose bed? Jake's? Alex willed herself to stop thinking. It was safer to talk.
     Jake thought so, too, apparently. "So you're on assignment, Alexandra? Do you enjoy your job?"
     "Sure, when it's taking cruises," she said. She wasn't going to tell him this was her first, or that her day-to-day job consisted mostly of writing and editing fascinating paragraphs about kitchens and deli's.
     "Actually , I like working at a magazine, even when it's aimed at restaurant owners and managers, not diners. I still cover cuisine, service and everything," she said, surprising herself by really answering his question. "And I like to add healthy eating angles. Maybe I'll get more training in nutrition.
     "Besides, food is fun. And if I do well on this trip I'll get even better assignments."
     "And?" He smiled encouragingly.
     "Well, the pay's bad, the experience is good, and the people are easy to work with--especially the nearby staff of Undertakers Quarterly. Now," she U-turned, "what about you? Just for a start, what--after Jacob--is the K for?"
     "It's Kearny, after my mother. Plus it's after John, not Jacob, and I think Todd's ready over there." Whether he would have really opened up or weaseled out, she'd have to wait to discover. Or not. He didn't deserve to be on the information receiving end indefinitely.

***
    

ROLLING ALONG AGAIN, they reached a set of thatched-roofed buildings. Todd pointed them out as the group departure location. Few tourists were in evidence -- they could have been in the water by now ---or still en route.
     The driver got down, but to Alex' surprise, turned to bid them "adios."
     "One minute," said Todd, darting into the office and returning with several boxes of equipment. Taking the wheel, he pulled out and they rolled away.
     "Why didn't we stop?"
     "There's a better spot farther down, but only off-road vehicles can handle the drive from here on," explained Todd. "The bigger group had to take taxis, which have to stop here."
     "So why am I not with them? I'm sure that's what I signed up for," said Alex.
     "They're listed as full," said Todd.
     "I kidnapped you," said Jake simultaneously.
     Alex had to laugh. "I believe both of you," she said, deciding to hang loose.
     In fact, just hanging on now claimed all her attention. At least negotiable before, the road became abruptly rougher soon after they passed the buildings. They definitely did need the four-wheel drive and the belts, too. Even so, she knew what she must look like when bouncing around so much in Jane's T-shirt. And though Jake's face was reassuringly expressionless, he did look steadily toward the sea, which just happened to be on her side of the Jeep. She couldn't see his eyes, but wasn't that a twitch of his shapely mouth?
     Todd salvaged much of his reputation by describing knowledgeably and appreciatively the scene they were passing and the marine life still to come. His comments were fascinating; he had more going for him than she had thought.
     "Where's the beach. I mean, the sand?" she asked, as they bumped along. Todd had slowed down a bit, but she still wished she had worn more than a one-size-fits-most bikini and tee.
     "According to one wilder theory, Mexico's Caribbean coastline was formed more than 60 million years ago," chimed in Jake. "It says an asteroid five billion times as powerful as the first A-bomb hit the Gulf of Mexico along this coast. Its debris may have formed the Yucatan peninsula."
     "True or not," put in Todd, "maybe this shoreline isn't the perfect white beachfront you see in travel brochures. But it's those rocks and coral that make for good snorkeling."
     Soon they stopped by a break in the low cliffs, where a primitive path led to a nugget of pebbly beach. "It would be bigger," Todd told them. "Only it's high tide. Still, that makes getting into the water easier."
    Reaching into his pack, Jake dug out three bottles of water, from which they all drank thirstily. He had his own snorkeling gear, while Todd spread out choices for Alex. She peered down at mesh bags of fins and boxes of new masks and snorkels. "Mmm, sherbet colors," she said.
     Fins came in two sizes: too big or too small. "The big ones can slip off in the water, and the small can chafe against your feet." said Todd.
     "I can't even tell left from right," she groaned.
     "Usually, there's no difference," he explained. "Socks sometimes help."
     "They all look the same," she lamented again, hunting for the faint black-on-black size numbers stamped on the bottom.
     Jake had finished gathering his own gear and now stepped in. Stripped down to brief navy trunks, his workout-honed body looked positively illegal. If she were seriously looking, she'd be jealously gunning for one emerald-studded blonde.
     "Lean against me, while Todd tries them on your feet," he ordered. She had to admit this way was quicker. But though it took barely 30 seconds to find the right fins, it would take at least 30 minutes to recover from his up-close steadying.
     Next, the two men considered the masks, discussing silicone coatings and the width of her features as if she weren't there. Todd held several up to her face, with two making it into the finals. "We'll try these down by the water," said Jake. "Pink or green snorkel, Alexandra?"
     "Pink, to match the masks, of course."
     "You can leave your clothes here, and I'll lock them in the Land Rover," said Todd. Bowing to the inevitable, she slipped out of her shorts, shoes, watch and hat.
     "What about my glasses," she asked. "How am I going to see any fish without them?"
     "The water has some magnifying effect. That will help," he answered. "And both masks are the kind that you can add a prescription lens to later."
     She knew she depended on her glasses too much, both to see and not be seen. Resignedly, she added them to her bag in the growing stack of stuff. Maybe it was time to confront reality and sign up for contacts or even Lasik surgery. Who was she, after all, to quarrel with the world in which she must work her way up and where faces were what people see first?
     That thought sustained her as she pulled off the red T-shirt. She certainly needed all the help she could get.  The bikini top was definitely small. There was no mistaking the look in both men's eyes as she slathered on sunblock.
     "The clips need to come out of your hair," said Todd. "And your ear studs, too. This is an underwater park. If they fall out in the water, some sea creature could get mighty sick eating them. Most people don't realize that coral is an animal, and very alive and fragile. It's important not to touch it, especially step on it. Touch kills, and coral grows so slowly a single step might not be repaired for 100 years."
     Alex silently digested what he had said. There was a lot to learn. Jake, meanwhile, was absorbed in topping off his sunscreen.
     "You need protection, especially on the back of your knees," he commented. "Lying face down in the water for an hour or two, you'll be glad you added more." She was glad he didn't offer to help.
     Walking the prickly path to the water's edge was no vacation. Nor was choosing between the two masks. Not with this audience. "Don't put the strap on yet," said Jake, reaching over to hold her mane of curls well back. "Move it aside, like this, put the mask over your nose, and don't breathe."
     "Don't hold the mask," chimed in Todd. "If it's the right fit, it will stay on from suction."
     The first fell off almost immediately. "What's this, a screenplay for 'Murder Behind the Mask?'" she asked. "I couldn't hold my breath a second longer."
     Jake laughed. "Try the second, and if it works, lean over to be sure," he suggested.
     She did, remembering not to breathe -- and not to lean over in his direction. This was the one. Todd attached the snorkel, pulled out a plastic bottle and began to rub liquid around inside the mask. "This washes the lens, and then this defogger prevents clouding over. If you don't have it, just spit."
     When Todd went back to lock up their things, she adjusted her suit. Sometimes, like now, Jake treated her almost like a younger sister, and she felt safe with him. But other times....
     He led her farther into the water, rinsed their masks in it, and helped her on with her fins. "It's so complicated and takes so long to get ready," she lamented. "Is it always this much trouble? "There's really only trouble the first time, Alexandra," he said huskily, holding her gaze. "After that, it's another ball game. You'll see."

    

***

ALEX GASPED. There was no mistaking his double meaning. She really hadn't seen him clearly till now. This man, standing too close, his muscled arms and shoulders bared to the sun and his chest brushed with light silky hair tapering under his low-riding waistband, was no brother. Packing lethal vibes and razor-edged brain into that tall, lean body, he was a menace. If she had her way, he'd be under lock and key.
     Todd was an unlikely rescuer. But he returned with two yellow flotation vests--easy to don, thank goodness, that covered Jake, covered her. and diffused feelings she simply couldn't handle right now.
     She slipped under the water, badly needing its initial chill. Preparations had taken almost as much time as they'd have to snorkel. But at last they set off, angling gradually offshore.
     The fins added wings to her kick, thrusting her forward with exhilarating speed. She bit firmly on the snorkel's mouthpiece, as she had been instructed. This ensured that only air from its tip, extending several inches above the waterline, entered her mouth.
     The mask fit perfectly. With her eyes dry inside, she peered at the gradually deepening seabed. She was a good swimmer, but the vest's extra buoyancy was reassuring, given the depths they were entering. She had swum in deep water often, but looking far down into it was eerie.
     The bottom was scrubby with patches of spidery turtle grass and occasional chunks of grayish coral resembling rocks. Almost at once it opened into a circular hollow. A murky mound of brain coral, Todd explained, rose from the base, with different varieties nearby. Lavender sea fans swung with the current, creating a sci-fantasy world under the depths.
     Suddenly the new world acquired life. Moving, iridescent colors surrounded them. The sea was silent, yet seemed to crackle. If she had found all this on Mars or Venus she couldn't have been more thrilled. A school of tiny translucent fish, she knew not what kind, nor cared, darted into view. "Come look," she called out, swallowing half the sea in the process.
     Jake surfaced at her side, laughing at her as she spluttered and coughed. He offered himself as a life raft to hold while she righted herself. She indignantly rejected such help and blew a bit more air into her vest instead.
     "Blow into your snorkel sharply to clear it," he advised. "You're doing great, you know. Come see what Todd has found."
     The school of sardine-like mini-fish had been just a beginning. The guide, midway in a dive into the coral, was pointing under a rock. Jauntily striped sergeant majors and dazzling blue parrot fish appeared from nowhere. Jake dove down too, then surfaced to tell her that a green-dotted eel was lurking in the crevice under the rock.
     "I wish I could see it," she said. "Without my glasses, I can't. But there's so much already. It's like discovering another dimension without time travel."
     They swam farther out, cruising the best areas Todd knew. With a small camera attached to his wrist, he snapped pictures of the marine life, of Jake diving and of both of them circling above.
     The fins gave her power she had never possessed, and the mask fit so well she never had to lift her head--apart from a break or two from clenching the snorkel's mouthpiece. The trick of snorkeling--well, there was no trick. And with a bit of air in the vest, floating was effortless.
     At one point, Jake took her hand in one of his and pointed with the other to an approaching school of angelfish. Hands linked, they watched them for unmeasured minutes. Was it the current or some leader's signals that directed the fishes' ebb and flow?
     As the school moved off, he put his arm around her. They had been so in tune that she welcomed the move. But it was merely his way of turning them all toward shore. The swim back was long, if uneventful, and she was starting to feel chilled.
     The unwinding process was fast, once they were on the beach. Todd retrieved their gear and, as Alex stood dripping and shivering, Jake wrapped a beach towel around her.
     "Just add this to the tab," he told Todd, pointing to the equipment she had shed and to the disposable camera. With teeth starting to chatter, she couldn't protest.
     The men dried off easily, adding shirts and, as they warned her to turn her back, shorts. How lucky guys were, in so many ways.

   ***                

HE HAD OFTEN BEEN LUCKY, Jake told himself. Lucky in birth, in rising beyond it to build a prosperous business he was proud of. And if not exactly lucky in love -- in fact, he told one and all, with his roving eye the idea of the Big Love was a turnoff -- he couldn't complain about a trail of beautiful women who seemed pleased to satisfy his hearty appetite. Just look at the svelte, sophisticated Caren who had been in his life years earlier and had joined him. uninvited and a true wicked witch, but a tasty one, as he pursued a pivotal interest in the cruise line.
     Now here he was with the awkward young woman -- girl, really -- who had stumbled onto the plane, up some stairs and through the ship's galleys. At best, he'd have called her a too-natural, too-inexperienced younger sister, unlike his own up-tight and downright snotty one. Then, once at sea, her unlikely blend of spunky and vulnerable had stirred something quite different deep inside him.      

     Last night he had briefly glimpsed it as an unaccustomed longing, perhaps for innocence. He wasn't sure. Today, in her barely-there bikini, though, he was sure. Nothing more, nothing less, than his faithful companion, lust. Well, he knew better than most how to handle that one. And soon.

 

Chapter Six: H2 Oh!

EN ROUTE BACK, Jake belted her in front next to Todd. "It might be less bumpy," he muttered.
    At the thatched sheds, they picked up the driver while Todd stayed behind to start the next group. His handshake was just a handshake this time, and as they parted, he was already eyeing the next enticing turista.

     Speeding along again, the driver entertained them with tales of his people, who had lived in the region well before the Spaniards arrived. His native language was Mayan but he spoke in his second language, a strangely accented Spanish that, to her surprise, Jake understood and translated. The ride certainly seemed far shorter back than out.
      As they rode the tender back to the ship, Alex unwrapped the beach towel and slipped her spare top over her still-damp suit. When they entered the boarding deck, she picked up her pack while Jake slung his and their snorkeling gear over his shoulder.
      "I can't buy all that gear, and you know I can't let you buy it for me," she said.
      "Did I? I thought I was holding it for you in case there's a beach near the ruins tomorrow."
      "How do you know I'm going to the Mayan ruins?"
       "Aren't you?"
       "You're impossible," she snapped.
       "So my mother frequently tells me."
       "Poor woman," she muttered, then smiled at the thought of him as a little boy with big brown eyes.
        "I'm grumpy and hungry," she admitted. "Thank you for a really special morning. I'm heading up for lunch."
        "And wait 15 or 20 minutes in line? I'll order salads in five," said Jake.
       "I am not...," she began, then watched, open mouthed, as he picked up the phone on the attendant's desk and hit four numbers.
       "Don't worry. Best behavior. Just lunch," he told her.
Then turning to the receiver, he snapped out, "Large chef's salads for two. Romaine, not iceberg lettuce, plenty of asparagus, fresh squeezed orange juice and sparking water. Endicott. On the veranda. Oh, yes, and a pot of coffee."
       She could almost hear a honeyed voice saying "Yes, Mr. Endicott" and "No, Mr. Endicott" at the other end of the line. He hadn't even given his cabin number. How much room service had he used, anyway?
      "Really, Mr. Endicott." Startled at having continued her thoughts into words, she laughed. He smiled back a smile that in any contest would win the gold.
     "Really, Miss Ransome. It's only lunch. And I'll even let you ride in the elevator."
      While her brain told her she must be insane to have anything more to do with Jake, Alex' face reflected her childlike glee in the glass-walled elevator speeding them up through the four-level atrium and on to his penthouse deck.
      She felt him watching her face with his characteristic unreadable expression. Did he share her delight or scorn it? The latter, she supposed, if his taste ran to the sophistication of Caren van Danvers.

***

EVEN HER LOW LEVEL DECK FOUR had numbered prints at the elevator bank for all to enjoy. Jake's corridor was wider (strange, since the rich are thinner, she mused) and lined with a famous photographer's series of New York street scenes. They paused, captured by some 1940s children playing hopscotch while others, sitting along a broken stair rail, watched.
      "How little it took to entertain them," said Jake. "There's a ball game farther along the corridor that you should see, too. But right now, lunch."
       He had reached his door, directly across. "Just lunch," she emphasized, looking squarely into his chocolate eyes for a clue.
       "Agreed," he said, meeting her blue ones with--she couldn't tell what.
       Alex ventured into the suite's small foyer.
       "Wow. I'm not dressed for this," she blurted out.
       He laughed. "If I didn't know you're a woman, which I emphatically do, that remark would clue me in."
        "This is beyond cool," she said. "A living room, dining room, 50-inch flat screen...." She headed for a wall of glass on the far side, overlooking the water. "The balcony's like another room. And what's that?"
        "Come see," he said, sliding open the doors.
        "You have a whirlpool tub? Out here?"
        "Inside and outside. Care to try it? Your swimsuit's wet, and so's the water."
         "Well " She hesitated. It was definitely hot enough.
         "Dip in while the waiter delivers lunch," he suggested. "But you need to rinse the salt off first. The second bath isn't working right now, but the main bathroom's through there."
          Curious, she headed toward the door he had pointed to. Inside was the bedroom, beige with suede and bamboo appointments, and so large that its king-sized bed heaped with pillows looked like a mere double. In the bath, she stopped cold. Forest green marble covered almost every surface that wasn't mirrored, designer fixtures were gold, and stacks of gold-banded towels reached almost to the ceiling. Just one room and it looked bigger than her Manhattan apartment.
           "You can rinse in the shower it's around the corner," he explained, coming up behind her.
           "Isn't this the shower?" she asked, pointing to the European hose arrangement hanging above the tub, so cavernous it looked built for six.
          "It's a shower, but not the shower."
          Turning the corner, she found a glass door behind which were multi level sprays, a shelf full of shampoo and gel, and a bench on one marble wall.
           "Of course, after you're de-salted. Uh, oh, here's lunch."          Shutting the door, he was out.
          She stripped fast, stepped into the shower stall and quickly scrubbed her salty skin. Hyper-cautious, she pulled the bikini bottom back on before stepping out for the shampoo on the wash basin counter.
           "I'm coming in," she heard in the distance.
           "You can't."
           "I have to. They're repairing the guest bath."
           "You're way out of line. Go down the hall."
          "Just pretend it's an airplane," called Jake, well out of sight and barely audible over the shower jets.
            She had to admit that the toilet had its own little room around a corner. With door. Just in time, she slid into the glass shower stall, clicking its door shut. Raising her face, she let her hair cascade like a cinnamon waterfall topped with foam. There. Even if he passed the door when he turned and left, he wouldn't see her fumbling with the unfamiliar fastener of her half-on top.
           He did turn. But he didn't leave. Click went the unmistakable sound of the shower door.
          Her parents had always warned her about shock from mixing electricity and water. Now she knew they were right.
         "Get out of my shower," she sputtered.
         "You're covered. I have to rinse, too. Salt mucks up the Jacuzzi jets." The brief pause that followed seemed endless, while the sound of the water rose to a roar. His voice, sounding strange, broke it. "And I even do fastenings, remember," he added, fixing hers.
           Yes, he did. She remembered the life jacket. And where was it now when she had needed one?
          Red faced, and not from the steam, she brushed past him, grabbed a handful of towels and dripped out toward the balcony.     Let him explain the wet living room rug.
           To her relief, a deferential waiter was arranging lunch on a shady corner table. Uncharacteristically, without waiting for her host if that's what you could call him she sat down with wild, half-towel-dried hair and dripping suit.
          Maybe her blood sugar was low. If she had thought clearly, she'd never have come. Or maybe what she felt was dehydration, she decided, chug-a-lugging water. That really did help. If it killed her, she would not let him know how he got under her skin.

***

"TRY ONE OF THESE " Jake said, quietly pulling up a chair and pointing to a basket of sesame-crusted rolls. In contrast to her soggy swimsuited state, his clean white trunks were topped with a blue crew shirt with another minuscule JKE in the same blue.

      "Great salad" she said, sweetly. "Do try some dressing."
       She had to admit he had a wonderful laugh. It cleared the air.    Soon they were having what her family called "real talk."     Surprisingly, they read some of the same newspapers and magazines, shared some favorite websites, disliked the same celebrities and wanted to forget the simmering world news they had left behind.
        He began to talk of his work, where expansion plans had stirred up a tropical storm he could only ignore as now at his peril. He never bothered to say, "This is confidential," seeming to trust her but, it was obvious, revealing nothing confidential.
       She in turn opened up a bit about her job, and even grew confident enough to ask him about the initials his shirts bore. "Jacob Endicott--and what's the K?
      "Jake is a nickname from the initials," he smiled. "They're for John Kearny Endicott. Kearny is my mother's family."
      "Oh, she with the impossible son." Alex smiled slyly back. "And there's a town Kearny, maybe two..."
       Two subjects definitely remained off limits: first, vague, emerging feelings, as old as the land and sea around them and beyond her -- and perhaps even his -- power to interpret or express. Second, of course, was Caren, the woman whose claim to commitment only the two of them knew.
        Suddenly a phone she had not even been aware of jangled. "Endicott, here." His jaw tensed and his forehead furrowed as he listened, simultaneously moving to an inside table to grab a Palmtop.
        His brief questions and responses sounded as if war had broken out. Economic war, anyhow. What news he was hearing she couldn't begin to guess. His face was closed, shuttered again. She had called it enigmatic, but now that she knew him a bit better, the mask had cracks.
        "What are the numbers? What's their counter offer? Not good enough." Responses were brief, staccato. Earlier she had seen him briefly as a lion claiming turf. Now he might be a tiger calculating, inner driven, stalking his prey. She was glad she was not it.
         Certain that she could only help by leaving, she rose and silently mouthed goodbye. "Hold on," he said, abruptly, into the receiver.
        He stood up. "I guess this answers your 'Are you on vacation,' question," he said. "Let's say I came briefly to work, but found a reason to take time off. Now who knows?"
        "It's OK I have to work, too," she said, trying not to show her surprise at his brusque tone of finality. She closed the door firmly behind her with a loud click.

Continued ....

 


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

 

 




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