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Authors: Ginna Gray

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BOOK: Sweet Promise
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But even after the slender figure in the yellow sundress had disappeared from view he continued to search the crowds.

"Do you see the purser anywhere?"

Gloria Osborne's question finally penetrated, and Sean looked down, chagrined to realize that he'd gotten sidetracked.
For Pete's sake, Fleming! Why are you letting your imagination run away with you when there's someone like Gloria around?

"Uh, no. Anyway, he's probably got his hands full right now. Why don't I just go find the maitre d' and see what I can do?"

"Do you think he'll be agreeable to changing seating arrangements?"

"Sure. Why not? The cruise is just starting. It won't inconvenience anyone. I'll just tell him that we'd like to be seated at the same table."

Sean smiled at the hopeful expression on Gloria's face.
She really is a luscious creature,
he mused. A knockout figure, a full mouth that begged to be kissed, slanting green eyes. And she was a redhead to boot. His gaze lifted to the bright hair, and he wondered idly if it were natural. Probably not. But then, who the hell cared? Gloria Osborne was just what he needed. A worldly, uncomplicated, sensual woman, one who could indulge in a light-hearted shipboard romance with no illusions or expectations.

Reassured, Gloria toyed with a button on his shirt and gave him a sultry look from beneath her lashes. "Well, while you take care of that, I think I'll go unpack." She winked and stepped away, trailing her long crimson nails across his chest. "See you at dinner."

Sean watched her go, his smile turning decidedly wicked as he admired the provocative sway of her hips. It had been a pure stroke of luck, meeting her as they had stood in line to get their boarding passes, he decided with satisfaction. For the next two weeks he wanted to clear his mind of everything and concentrate on relaxing and having a good time. With a woman like Gloria around, that shouldn't be too difficult.

But suddenly Sean's smile faded, and he looked back in the direction the brown-haired woman had taken. Strangely, one of the things that had been on his mind lately had been Joanna. The changes in her had intrigued him and he'd thought of her often since that dinner last weekend at Claire and Matt's. Which, he told himself, is probably why you imagined you saw her.

Of course, it couldn't have been Joanna.

Hands in his pockets, Sean strolled slowly toward the purser's office.

But it had sure as hell looked like her.

* * *

Joanna entered the dining room behind two couples who were obviously together. While they identified themselves to the maitre d' she adjusted the long full sleeves of her amber silk dress and casually scanned the room for Sean's dark head.

The tight feeling in the pit of her stomach was a curious mixture of anticipation and dread. How would Sean react when he saw her? Funny. She hadn't really considered that aspect until now. He would be surprised, of course. That was to be expected. But when his surprise faded, would he be angry? Pleased? Indifferent?

Joanna frowned.
Maybe I should have gone about this differently. Perhaps it would have been better if—

"Good evening, miss. My name is Henri," the maitre'd said, giving her a suave smile and a formal little bow, and with a start, Joanna realized that it was too late for second thoughts.

The urge to turn around and scurry back to her suite was strong, but she squashed it and gave him her name. You can't spend two weeks holed up in that suite, so just stay calm and stick to your original plan, she told herself, squaring her shoulders and falling in step behind the man as he turned to lead her to her assigned table.

Joanna felt a prickle of annoyance when she spotted the redhead sitting beside Sean. He was so absorbed in the woman he didn't even look up until the maitre'd pulled out her chair. And then Joanna had to stifle a laugh. She had never seen Sean lose his blase composure before, but the casual glance he gave her was followed instantly by a comical double take that had his jaw dropping and his black eyes bulging out as though they were on stalks.

"Joanna!"

"Hello, Sean." Joanna smiled pleasantly and took the seat across from him at the round table.

"It was you I saw earlier!" Astonishment and accusation blended in Sean's voice. He gaped at her as though he couldn't believe his eyes.

"Yes, I suppose it was."

"Oh, how nice," the elderly woman on Joanna's right exclaimed. "You two know each other."

Joanna turned to the woman gratefully. "Yes. Sean is an old family friend." Carefully avoiding his eyes, she pinned a bright smile on her face and introduced herself to the others at the table.

They were a good mix, Joanna noted as names were exchanged. Besides herself, Sean, and Gloria Osborne, there was another attractive single man and two married couples, one elderly, and the other so young Joanna guessed them to be on their honeymoon.

By the time the introductions were finished Sean had overcome his shock and was leaning casually back in his chair, his easy nonchalance firmly in place once again. His expression was bland and pleasant. There was even a hint of a smile curving his lips, though it didn't reach those probing black eyes. They were boring into hers like lasers.

The waiter appeared at that moment, and Sean's attention was diverted briefly as they all made their selections from the menus. But the moment the man retreated to the kitchen he focused on her again.

"I'm surprised to see you here, Joanna," he said in a drawling voice. "When I saw you last weekend you didn't mention that you were going to be on this cruise."

"Oh, it was a last minute decision. You made it sound like so much fun I decided to try it myself." Giving him a bright smile, Joanna mentally crossed her fingers that he would accept the white lie. She couldn't very well say that she was here to do a little arm-twisting. For all his easygoing charm, she had a gut feeling that Sean was not a person who would take kindly to pressure. In any case, she had learned from both her father and grandfather that the art of persuasion required subtlety and patience.

"I see. And that's the only reason?"

"Of course," she said, feigning innocence. "What else?"

Sean gave her a long, thoughtful stare, his chiseled lips pursed slightly, but he didn't comment.

"Well I think it's marvelous that you have a friend on board, my dear," Mary Wright said, patting Joanna's hand. "I imagine traveling all alone can be a bit awkward for an attractive single girl like you. And I'm sure Mr. Fleming is delighted to have your company."

Looking at those steady black eyes, Joanna doubted that. And she was quite positive that Gloria Osborne didn't share the sentiment. The redhead's face was tight with annoyance, her full lips folded inward in a thin straight line.

"You know, my dear, there is something about you that is very familiar," Mary said, gazing at Joanna intently. "I feel like I should know you."

"No, I don't think we've met," Joanna replied quickly. She looked at Sean and held her breath, expecting him to give her away, but he merely narrowed his eyes and watched her.

Turning back to the elderly woman, Joanna deftly steered the conversation onto safer ground. Within minutes she was sitting back with a smile listening to Mary explain that her husband, Charles, had just retired and that their children and grandchildren had pitched in to send them on the cruise.

Somewhere in her sixties, Mary Wright was a charming, utterly feminine little woman, slightly plump, with a cap of silver curls and faded blue eyes that still twinkled flirtatiously. Her delicate, age-spotted hands fluttered like graceful birds when she talked, and her voice was a soft, liquid drawl that conjured up visions of magnolias and mint juleps. It came as no surprise at all when Mary announced that she and her husband were from Atlanta.

Charles Wright was tall and distinguished looking, the epitome of the southern gentleman, and as quiet as Mary was outgoing. Joanna noted the fondness in his eyes whenever he looked at his wife, and she liked him instantly.

Which just shows how much your values have shifted, Joanna thought wryly, the admission stirring within her a mixture of chagrin and satisfaction. Four years of observing the love and caring that was so much a part of her mother's marriage had made Joanna sensitive to the subtle undercurrents between men and women and altered her perceptions and priorities. Now she found herself assessing a man, not by wealth or family background, or the amount of power he wielded, but by his capacity for tenderness and commitment.

The waiter returned with their food, and as they ate they gradually began to exchange background information.

Gloria Osborne was a divorcee from Dallas who worked as a buyer for a department store, and Tony Farrell was a junior partner in a New York law firm. To Joanna's surprise, Susan and Bill Adamson, neither of whom looked old enough to vote, were celebrating their sixth anniversary. Instead of appearing happy, however, they both wore a rather harried look, and Joanna couldn't help but notice the way Susan kept glancing at her watch every few minutes. They lived in Minneapolis, where Bill worked as an insurance salesman and Susan, until six months ago when she quit to have their first child, had been an elementary school teacher.

Sean was glibly evasive about his work, managing to give the impression that he was between jobs, which in a way was true, Joanna supposed, since he had recently resigned his post on the Vice President's staff.

Joanna merely said that she lived in Washington, and silently prayed that no one would make the obvious connection. She wasn't sure whether or not Sean knew about her job with Senator Hartwell, but in case he didn't, she decided to keep quiet about it, at least for the moment.

All during the meal Gloria flirted outrageously with Sean, and he responded with his usual devilish charm. He hardly paid any attention to Joanna, and by the time the meal was over she had begun to relax.

When they had finished their after dinner coffee Gloria put her hand on Sean's arm and in a sultry voice, said, "Why don't we go dancing in the Zodiac Lounge? One of the crew told me that they have a fabulous band in there."

Sean smiled regretfully and shook his head. "I'm sorry. Not tonight. There's something I need to discuss with Joanna."

Joanna wasn't sure who was more surprised, herself or Gloria. The other woman's eyes widened for an instant in outrage, but she recovered quickly and her expression grew cool and rigid. "Of course. If that's what you want," she said in a clipped voice. "Perhaps, if I'm not too busy, I'll see you tomorrow."

It was clearly a threat, but Sean chose to ignore it, giving Gloria a warm look and a wink as he rose to come around to Joanna's side of the table.

His hand closed firmly around her upper arm, and urged her, none too gently, to her feet. With a polite nod and a charming, encompassing smile for the others, he said, "You will excuse us, won't you?" Without giving any of their startled fellow diners a chance to reply, he turned and propelled Joanna toward the door.

His hand remained clamped around her arm. Joanna didn't have a chance to say a word as he hustled her up two flights of steps and out on deck. She risked a glance at him only once, when he paused to look around before marching her over to a secluded spot by the rail. His face wore its perpetual look of unshakable insouciance, but she could feel the tightly controlled tension in him.

"Now, I want an explanation, Joanna," he snapped without preamble the moment they came to a halt. "And you'd better make it good. Just what the devil are you doing here?"

Joanna swallowed hard. She had never seen Sean angry before. It had always seemed to her that he viewed life as a sort of ridiculous comedy put on for his entertainment. During her mother's campaign the strongest reaction he'd shown when things went wrong, as they invariably did, was a mild exasperation. Nothing had ruffled him. Even in the most trying situations, when others all around him had been flying off the handle, Sean had watched with ironic amusement in his dark eyes, and calmly gone about his business. But he was definitely angry now.

She widened her eyes, feigning innocence. "Why, I told you. You made the cruise sound like so much fun I decided to try it myself," she said brightly, waving her hand in a vague little gesture.

Sean spit out a searing expletive that made her suck in her breath. "Oh, come off it. Who the hell do you think you're kidding?"

Grim faced, he turned his head and stared out at the gently undulating ocean. Moonlight spilled like liquid silver over the bobbing waves and a salt-tainted breeze caressed Joanna's skin and toyed playfully with her long hair, but she didn't notice. She eyed Sean's harsh profile with trepidation and waited nervously, too stunned to even think.

Finally he looked back at her and expelled his breath in a long exasperated sigh. "We both know why you followed me on this cruise, Joanna," he said angrily.

Her heart gave a little skip.
Oh, no. He knows. And he's going to refuse.
Joanna looked at him unhappily, her shoulders slumping as her spirits sank like a rock in the ocean. But then his next words caused her to stiffen with shock.

"You're not here to have fun. You followed me because you're infatuated. You've developed a silly, schoolgirl crush."

BOOK: Sweet Promise
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