Candy inhaled the fresh salty air and watched the throng of people on the deck of the cruise ship. In a few minutes the ship would leave the Port of Miami and tour the Caribbean.
The ship’s horn sounded loudly and Candy put her hands over her ears. A sudden breeze whipped the hat off her head. “My hat!” she yelled above the din, as the hat swirled in the air. She saw several hands reach out but the hat soared upwards and over the crowd. “No!”
She pushed her way through the mass of people. “Please!”
The hat looked to be going overboard but a hand suddenly grasped it and her heart skipped a beat.
For several moments she lost sight of her precious hat. But then, there it was. She watched as the hat moved through the horde. Closer. And then it stopped right before her.
It was in large hands.
Candy looked up over a muscular chest that was covered by a tight black t-shirt. Her gaze moved to a strong, square, jawline and an arresting masculine face. Dark sunglasses covered the man’s eyes but didn’t detract from his handsomeness. He was all muscle and she felt a shiver course down her spine. “My hat,” she stated, nervously.
A small smile crossed the man’s mouth and he held it out to her. “Thank you so much,” she gushed as she took hold of her prized possession. The man merely nodded and stood there watching her.
The strong spicy scent of his cologne filled the air despite the choppy breeze. She looked down and fumbled with the hat in her hands. She was so out of practice. What did one say to a man? Was he even single?
As far as she could tell, no ring. Now what? When his boot-covered foot began to tap, she knew she should say something. “Thank you,” she squeaked and then cleared her throat.
He raked a hand through his thick, dark hair and nodded again before he began to walk away.
She stared at him. She couldn’t let him leave like that but what else was there to say? And then the moment was lost as his hulking figure became lost in the crowd.
“What a hunk,” a voice said, and Candy turned to face the blonde woman beside her. “Did you catch his name?” she asked.
“No,” Candy replied. “I...I was lost for words.”
The woman nodded in understanding. “Yes, I guess he could take your breath away. I’ve never seen a man like that.”
Candy chuckled. “I know what you mean.”
“I’m Susan,” the woman said, smiling.
“Candace,” she replied.
“Are you here alone?”
“Is it that obvious?”
“You look like a little lost sheep,” Susan told her with a laugh and Candy cringed. “You’ll get over it,” Susan assured her.
“Look over there,” Susan whispered, and Candy’s gaze moved to a group of men who were watching them.
She felt a flutter in her stomach and looked down. Was she ever going to get used to being single again?
“They seem okay,” Susan said quietly. “The blonde one is cute.”
Candy briefly looked them over and felt the panic in her veins. “I think I might go for a swim,” she remarked, and noted the surprised look on Susan’s face. “I need to relax.”
Susan smiled. “I could go with you.”
“Really? I’d like that.”
“Let’s go and fetch our swimming gear,” Susan said, taking charge, and Candy was grateful for Susan’s confidence.
They reached Candy’s cabin. “I’ll meet you back here. My cabin’s a bit further up,” Susan said.
“Okay.” Candy walked inside.
The cabin was decorated in cream and gold and looked every bit the stateroom. It wasn’t a big cabin but it seemed a world away from her home in Sydney.
She located her chocolate-brown ruffled bathers, quickly changed, and looked in the mirror. Not too bad.
She ran a hand over her flat stomach. In a perfect world she would have had babies by now. She frowned and shook her head. She was here to enjoy herself. She wasn’t going to think about what might have been.
One tug and her black, patterned sarong was tied around her hips. There was a knock on the door and she quickly opened it. Susan stood there. “That was quick.” She grabbed her things and closed the door behind her.
“We won’t get much sun if we dawdle too long,” Susan remarked, and Candy nodded in agreement.
On deck, the huge pool was surrounded by bright yellow umbrellas and blue-striped deck chairs, and there were people everywhere.
The wind swept Candy’s hair into the air and she thought of the man who had rescued her hat. ‘Hunk’ was an understatement.
They moved closer to the smaller pool that was more secluded and near the bar.
The sun-bronzed, dark-haired barman smiled at her. “Would you like a drink, Madam?” His name tag said ‘Dominic’. Definitely Latin.
“Ooh, yes. Two of those,” Susan said and pointed to the cocktail glass of another passenger.
Was it too early for alcohol? Candy shrugged and sat on a barstool. She watched as the barman concocted their drinks. “He’s got talent,” Susan remarked, giving her a nudge, and Candy smiled at her exuberance.
“With the ship’s compliments,” Dominic said smoothly, placing the drinks before them.
Candy smiled nervously and quickly took a sip. The fruity cocktail tingled on her tongue and she watched the barman serve another customer.
“He’s cute,” Susan whispered. Candy had to agree.
Dominic caught her looking at him and grinned. She felt her stomach do a somersault. Was he flirting with her? He gave her a wink. Oh, God, she needed a few more drinks before she could do this, and it was way too early for that.
“I think he likes you,” Susan said.
Candy gulped down her drink and placed the empty glass on the bar. “I’m going for a swim. I’ll see you later.”
Susan looked stunned. “Okay.” She turned her attention to the man beside her.
Candy walked quickly away from the bar.
The sun was low in the sky but still shone brilliantly. She glanced briefly at Susan who appeared at ease while conversing with a stranger, and she blew out a breath. How was she ever going to meet anyone if she couldn’t even speak? She was an intelligent woman. A marketing consultant, for goodness sake, and her job was all about talking to clients. What the hell was wrong with her? She sighed, knowing the answer to that. Her failed marriage had devastated her and erased her confidence.
Well, she wasn’t going to sit around and waste her time on this glorious ship. She untied her sarong, walked over to the pool’s edge, and jumped in.
The water was colder than she expected but it still felt wonderful on her skin. Exhilarating.
When the sun dipped lower in the sky, Candy climbed out of the pool. She squeezed her damp hair, made her way back to her chair, then dried herself.
A loud wolf-whistle resonated along the deck and she looked up to see a group of men. As one of the men started walking in her direction, she quickly wrapped the towel around her. What did he want?
He moved closer. He was about six-feet tall, reasonably good-looking with blonde hair and light eyes. “Excuse me,” he said, inching nearer.
She took a step back. “Can I help you?” She held on tight to her towel.
“I was wondering if you’d like to have a drink with me.”
She looked past him and saw his friends waiting and watching intently. This had to be a set up. She looked back toward the man and studied him. He had to be in his early twenties. “How old are you?” she asked, frowning.
He seemed taken aback by her question. “Pardon?”
She moved past him and pointed to his friends. “Why are they waiting there for you, is this a joke?”
“What?” His brow puckered. “No, I wanted to have a drink with you and they...they came with me for moral support.”
She stared at him. He looked serious. “Oh.”
“Sorry, I’ll leave you alone,” he told her, the disappointment evident on his face. He began to walk away.
“Wait!” she said against her better judgement. “I’m sorry. Can we start again?” The smile he gave her made her tremble inside. She smiled back shyly.
He held out a hand. “I’m Sean.”
“Candace,” she replied, and quickly shook his hand.
“And to answer your previous question, I’m twenty-six,” he said with a laugh.
A younger man.
“Sorry. I thought you were fooling around.”
“Why would I do that?”
Because my own husband didn’t want me, so why should you?
Her voice was gone so she shrugged.
“Do you want to have that drink now or later?” he asked, his eyes an intense blue.
“I’d like to shower and change first,” she said, feeling nauseous.
“Sure,” he replied with a little too much enthusiasm for her liking. “I could meet you at the Piano Bar in an hour?”
She needed more time. “Um…how about we make that after dinner.”
“All right then, let’s say eight?”
She nodded. Oh, God, she had a date.
“Great, see you at eight, Candace.” He walked back to his waiting friends. One of the men gave him a high-five and she grimaced.
Was it all playacting?
She sighed inwardly, tied her sarong around her hips and picked up her things. When she turned, she saw him. He sat on a barstool, drink in hand. Her stomach formed a knot. He pushed his sunglasses onto the top of his head and she caught sight of his mesmerising eyes.
She wasn’t used to all this attention. She didn’t even know how to act anymore.
And then he turned toward Susan who was flirting outrageously with him. Candy chewed a fingernail, and felt strange. Disappointment? No. Probably, relief.
She began to walk away but took one last peek at him, the epitome of masculinity, and her whole body tingled.
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