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Authors: Ginna Gray

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BOOK: Sweet Promise
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Chapter Three

"
W
haaat!"

It was all Joanna could get out for a moment. She just gaped at him, her eyes growing steadily rounder.

"Infatuated!
Infatuated!
Why that's— You— You're— I'm not—"

"It doesn't take a genius to figure out why you followed me," Sean continued, ignoring her incoherent sputtering. "After not seeing each other for years, we spend one evening together, and suddenly here you are, not only on the same cruise, but sitting at the same table. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that you have the cabin next to mine. What did you do, bribe the purser?"

Heat suffused Joanna's face and neck. Against her flushed skin the ocean breeze suddenly felt icy cold, and she silently blessed the darkness. He had completely misread her motive, yet was so close to the mark otherwise that she felt absurdly guilty. Flustered, Joanna groped for a plausible excuse other than the truth. Somehow, she didn't think he'd find that anymore palatable at the moment. "I... I..."

"Look, Joanna." Though Sean's expression was still stern, his voice softened somewhat. "I don't want to hurt you. You're the daughter of one of my dearest Mends. But I came on this cruise to relax and enjoy myself, and I sure as hell don't intend to spend it dodging a love-struck young girl."

Joanna gasped. Stiffening, she drew her slender body up to its full height and gave him a cool look. She was angry now. Angry and humiliated. And, recalling the crush she'd had on him four years ago, more than a little uncomfortable.

"You won't have to worry about that, I assure you. Because you're mistaken." She tried to maintain a frigid hauteur, but with every word her anger grew and her words became more heated. "I am not in the least interested in you, except perhaps as a friend, and now I'm not even certain I want to be that. Just because you think you're God's gift to women, don't expect everyone to agree with you. You... you arrogant, egotistical, insufferable—" Joanna sputtered to a halt, almost choking on her rage "—jerk! I wouldn't have you as a precious gift!"

Her hazel eyes flashed fire at him. She started to say more, sputtered again, then clasped her jaws together and stomped off.

Sean stared after her. Had he been wrong? He frowned and shook his head. It didn't seem likely. If she'd only wanted to enjoy the cruise, then why seek him out? Why choose this particular cruise?

Stuffing his hands in his pockets, Sean began to stroll toward the bow of the ship, his expression pensive.
A jerk? And egotistical? Is that how she really thinks of me?
He didn't know whether to be angry, relieved or insulted. A reluctant smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he realized that he felt a bit of all three.

Or had her tirade just been a face-saving tactic? Then again, maybe Joanna had been right, Sean admitted with a self-deprecating chuckle. Maybe he was simply jumping to conclusions because he was an arrogant, egotistical, insufferable bastard. Maybe... but he didn't think so.

What other possible reason could she have for following me?

Sean wandered aimlessly around the ship, a jumble of thoughts running through his mind: Joanna, the uncertainty of his future, his wants, the decision he was going to have to make soon. They taunted him, bedeviled him, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't tune them out.

When Sean had made a circuit of the deck he was on, he climbed the stairs to the one above. As he neared the bow, the heavy, pulsating rock music pouring from the Zodiac Lounge drew him, and he went in, pausing just inside the door to look around.

The walls vibrated with the pounding explosion of sound produced by the band, and on the dance floor couples gyrated wildly. The floor looked "as though it were made of thick glass. Beneath it, colored lights flashed at random in time to the primitive beat, eerily illuminating the dancers.

It could be an "in" spot anywhere, Sean thought with a touch of bored cynicism. Dimly lit. Frenetic. Crowded with people who were working hard at having a good time.

Short-skirted waitresses bustled between the closely spaced tables. Laughter, raised voices, the clink of glassware, all blended into a dull roar that competed with the blaring musk.

Across the room Sean spotted Gloria, sitting at a table with Tony Farrell and several other people. He considered joining them, but after only a few seconds turned and left. For some reason he just wasn't in the mood for partying.

Pausing by the rail, Sean looked at the peaceful movements of the moon-drenched ocean and felt inexplicably sad. Inexplicably lonely. Which is stupid, he told himself, considering the hundreds of people on this ship. One in particular who'd be more than willing to keep you company.

But the strange discontent that he'd felt for months settled around him like a lead cape, causing a queer ache in his chest, and Sean continued to stare out at the spill of liquid silver on the heaving water. Finally, he pushed away from the rail, went inside and loped down two flights of stairs.

With his gaze fixed on the multicolored carpet, his hands stuffed in his pockets, he sauntered down the long companionway toward his cabin. "Helluva way to start a vacation," he muttered under his breath.

* * *

Joanna paced the floor of her sitting room with jerky, agitated steps.

"I don't want to spend my time dodging love-struck young girl."
Sean's words ran tauntingly through her mind. Her jaw clenched tighter and an angry sound, very much like a growl, vibrated in her throat.

"I don't believe it. I just don't believe this is happening," she muttered to the ceiling, throwing her arms wide. "He actually thinks that I'm infatuated with him. That... that conceited, vain... Romeo!"

But even as the words came out of her mouth, Joanna knew they weren't true. Though females were drawn to Sean like flies to honey, he was no womanizer. Sean admired and respected women, enjoyed them— some intimately, true—but he didn't use them. And if ever a man had a right to be conceited about his looks, it was Sean. Yet he seemed supremely unaware, or at least uncaring, that he was every woman's idea of a Greek god.

Joanna stopped by one of the windows and gazed out at the moonlight dancing on the water. She took several slow, deep breaths, and after a moment began to calm, her anger draining away. In any case, she admitted reluctantly, it wasn't really Sean's masculine beauty that made feminine hearts flutter. It was that wicked grin and those damned bedroom eyes. That faintly reckless, devil-may-care aura about him. Joanna suspected that even if Sean were ugly as sin, he could still have his pick of women.

Abandoning the view, Joanna sank down on the sofa, slipped out of her shoes and propped her feet on the marble-topped coffee table. The soft leather crackled as she leaned her head back and gazed up at the ceiling. How ironic that four years ago when she'd fancied herself madly in love with Sean he hadn't even guessed, and now that she was over all that foolishness, he was accusing her of falling for him. The ridiculousness of it made her chuckle.

When she had made her plans it had never once occurred to her that he would think she was interested in him. But in all fairness, she admitted reluctantly, looking at it from Sean's point of view, she could understand how he could have misconstrued her actions.

Somehow she was going to have to convince him otherwise. Not only was it embarrassing, it was a sure bet that as long as he thought she was chasing him she'd never convince him to run for office.

As she had done countless times in the past few weeks, Joanna wondered at Sean's reluctance to commit himself. It wasn't like him at all. In his easygoing way, he was a decisive, determined man, and according to Matt, ever since coming to D.C. ten years ago, Sean had set his sights on eventually attaining a political office. Everything he'd done, everything he'd worked for, had been with that goal in mind.

The time was ripe. Sean knew as well as she that you didn't just blithely say one day, "I think I'll run for office." You had to have backers with influence who could drop a few words in the right ears, do a little civilized arm-twisting, who had enough clout in both the public and private sectors to sway opinions and drum up the enormous amount of financial support it took to run a campaign. Newcomb and his group were offering that backing.

So why was Sean hesitating?

Impatiently, Joanna pushed aside the fruitless speculation. Unless she could convince Sean that she wasn't attracted to him romantically she didn't have a hope of finding out the answer to that question.

Joanna searched for an explanation to give Sean for being on the trip, but after wrestling with the problem for several minutes she jerked to her feet and headed for the bedroom.
The devil with subtlety. The first thing tomorrow morning I'm going to tell him the truth. Then maybe we can talk seriously about his political future.

But to Joanna's disappointment, Sean did not put in an appearance in the dining room the next morning. The only company she had at the table for most of the meal was Mary and Charles Wright. The entire time she was eating Joanna kept one eye on the entrance and at the same time pretended to listen to Mary's friendly chatter. But there was no sign of Sean.

As she sipped her after breakfast coffee, Tony Farrell slid into the chair next to Joanna, looking the worse for wear. Behind his fashionable glasses his eyes were bleary and bloodshot, and there was a decidedly sickly cast to his skin. Even his carefully styled hair was mussed at the sides, as though he'd been massaging his temples.

"Sorry I'm late," he murmured, reaching eagerly for the cup of coffee the instant the waiter had filled it. "Gloria and I stayed at the Zodiac until almost two this morning and it was a bit difficult to get the old bod in motion."

A curious feeling of relief flickered through Joanna. She had halfway suspected that after they had parted the night before Sean might have sought out Gloria. The chance that the woman might still be with him had been the only thing that prevented Joanna from knocking on his cabin door that morning.

When Tony had drained his cup of coffee he noted the vacant chairs at their table and glanced around the elegant empty dining room. "It looks like I'm not the only one who slept late. Either that, or everyone else chose the breakfast buffet on deck."

Joanna immediately gave herself a swift mental kick. She had forgotten all about the buffet.

As quickly as good manners would allow, she finished her coffee, excused herself and headed outside.

Stepping out into a brilliant world of blinding sunshine and vivid colors, Joanna squinted and shaded her eyes with her hand. The sky was a canopy of blue: perfect, flawless, so bright you could barely stand to look at it. The undulating ocean was several shades darker, touched here and there with frothy whitecaps. At the horizon, sea and sky blended together in a softly smudged line that made it difficult to tell where one ended and the other began. The white ship plowed sedately through the blue waters, creating more foaming waves at its bow and a wake that trailed behind like the lacy train on a bridal gown. Only the polished brass and wooden deck and the gay garb of the passengers added a dash of contrast to the great expanse of blue and white.

Smiling, Joanna breathed deeply of sun and salt air and fished in the deep pocket on her wraparound skirt for her sunglasses. There was still a line of people at the buffet table, but Sean wasn't among them. Most of the tables scattered along the deck were filled with people enjoying their alfresco breakfast, and as she strolled toward the stern of the ship Joanna discreetly glanced at each of them.

About halfway down the deck she spotted Susan and Bill Adamson, and to Joanna's surprise, Susan was holding in her lap a baby who looked to be about six months old.

"Well, good morning, you two," Joanna greeted, stopping beside their table. "When you didn't show up in the dining room I thought maybe you had made the rounds with Tony and Gloria last night."

At the sound of Joanna's voice the baby looked up and stared at her, her big blue eyes wide and unblinking. Her intent gaze did not waver even when Susan stuffed another spoonful of what looked like mashed banana into her mouth. Smiling, Joanna reached out and touched the wispy blond curl above the baby's ear. "And who is this little charmer?"

"This is our daughter, Lori," Susan said distractedly, using the side of the spoon to rake the globs of food from around the rosebud mouth and stuff it back in. "Bill's mother was going to keep her while we took this cruise, but just a few hours before we were supposed to leave, she slipped on the stairs and broke her leg, so we had to bring Lori along."

"It was either that, or miss it. It was too late to get a refund on our tickets," Bill added dejectedly.

Susan looked up at Joanna with a wan smile. "Don't misunderstand. We love Lori dearly. It's just that this was supposed to be sort of a second honeymoon. Now we'll have to take turns sitting with her in the evening while the other one eats and sees the shows. We're going to try to take her with us when we go on the island tours, but if she gets too fussy one of us will have to stay on board and keep her."

"Some honeymoon," Bill muttered morosely.

BOOK: Sweet Promise
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