Authors: Ginna Gray
"Couldn't you hire one of the crew to baby-sit for you?"
"Oh, yes. That's what we did last night." Susan wiped the baby's mouth with a napkin and handed her a bottle of milk. Lori lay back in her mother's arms and sucked greedily, her unblinking stare still fixed on Joanna. "The trouble is, we can't afford to do that very often. We had to save for this trip for years, and I'm afraid we're on a very tight budget that just doesn't allow for baby-sitting."
"That's too bad," Joanna said with genuine sympathy. "If there's anything I can do—"
"No, no," Susan cut in quickly. "We wouldn't want to impose on anyone. And don't let us spoil your trip with our problems," she added with a bright smile. "We'll work something out."
They talked desultorily for a few minutes more, but when Joanna spotted Sean leaving a table a few yards away, she excused herself and hurried after him.
"Sean! Sean, may I speak with you a moment?"
Sean turned, then groaned and looked disgusted when he saw who was calling him. "For Pete's sake, Joanna! Do we have to go through this again?"
"But you don't understand. I didn't come on this cruise to try to attract you. I—"
"Oh, Joanna, please," Sean pleaded wearily. "You aren't going to try again to make me believe that you're here just to enjoy yourself, are you? People in your set don't take cruises. They own their own yachts. Or if they don't, they have friends who do. We both know that if you got a sudden yen to cruise the Caribbean, all you would have to do is pick up the phone and call one of your jet-setting pals.''
"Joanna, I don't want to hear it. Okay? Just back off and leave me alone."
"Sean, if you'll only listen for a minute—" Joanna began again, but before she could utter another word Gloria glided up to Sean and linked her arm through his.
"There, you are. I've been searching all over for you. The calypso band is setting up by the forward pool, and one of the cruise directors is going to give lessons in island dancing. I thought maybe I could talk you into joining me." Smiling persuasively, the redhead leaned against him, pressing the side of her breast against his
arm, her eyes flashing an invitation of another sort. Sean
responded with a lazy grin.
"Lead the way, sweetheart," he drawled. "It sounds like fun." He turned his head and gave Joanna a pointed look. "Joanna and I were through talking anyway. I'm sure she'll excuse us."
Numbly, Joanna watched them walk away, arm in arm. Without warning a strange, aching tightness gripped her chest, and to her horror, she felt tears sting her eyes. She turned away quickly and walked to the rail. Resting her forearms along the top, she leaned against it and lifted her face to the wind, blinking rapidly. She pressed her lips together and drew a deep breath, struggling to control the wayward wobble of her chin.
This is silly, she told herself severely. For Pete's sake, there's no reason to get all teary and bent out of shape just because Sean won't talk to you? And so what if he's making time with that redhead? There's nothing new in that. Joanna stared at the smudged horizon and swallowed against the painful constriction in her throat. The stiff ocean breeze threaded through her hair, lifting and waving it like streamers of brown silk, and plastered her skirt against the front of her body. The thin cotton suggestively outlined the slender curves of hips and long shapely legs and flapped wildly behind her, snapping and cracking like a flag in the gusting wind.
Joanna held herself stiffly, her chin tilted at a proud angle, but after a moment her shoulders sagged. It was pointless to deny it: Sean's attitude did bother her. But more than his refusal to speak to her, more than his obvious preference for Gloria, what really disturbed her were his remarks about her background.
Not because they were unfair, but because at one time they would have Been right on target. As recently as four years ago, Joanna admitted with lingering self-disgust, she would have looked upon this cruise as entirely too plebeian, beneath even her consideration.
Summers in the south of France or in Greece with her friend Irena or sailing the Mediterranean. Winters skiing in the Alps, and in between, flying trips to London or Rome or Madrid. That had been the pattern of her life. Her father had spoiled her outrageously. She had grown up so accustomed to having her own way she had not given a thought to the wants and needs of anyone else.
Looking back on that time, Joanna was appalled. Her selfishness had nearly cost her mother the only love and true happiness she had ever known and had driven a wedge between them. Even so, it had taken a series of shocks and disillusionments before she'd finally accepted the truth: about her father, about her parents' marriage, but most of all, about herself.
Joanna shook her head disbelievingly, her eyes full of regret. It all seemed so long ago. Sean, of course, really couldn't be faulted for his remarks. He had no way of knowing that she had turned her back on that life, that she had worked hard in school and now worked hard at a job, not because she had to but because she wanted to, that die rarely saw anyone from her old crowd.
But Joanna wanted desperately for him to know. For some reason she didn't fully understand, Sean's good opinion was important to her. If she could just talk to him, convince him to accept Newcomb's offer and then give her a job, he'd see for himself that she had changed. Somehow, she had to make him listen.
The ringing sounds of steel drums filled the air suddenly, their lilting rhythm at once soothing and stimulating. Joanna turned her head and looked toward the
bow. As though drawn by a magnet, she began to stroll
in that direction.
Many people were swimming or just lounging around the pool, but an equal number were standing in a semicircle around the cruise director, who was moving to the calypso beat demonstrating the steps and body movements of the dance. There was a good deal of laughter and joking as the audience tried to mimic her.
Joanna started to join the group, but thought better of it. Instead, she walked to one of the poolside lounges, stepped out of her sandals and removed her skirt. But as Joanna turned from hanging it over the back of the lounge, she found that Sean was watching her, and her stomach tightened into a knot.
It wasn't the look of annoyance on his face that disturbed her. She had expected that. It was the way his dark gaze roamed slowly over her body, taking in the brief strapless playsuit. A feathery tingle raced over Joanna's skin as his eyes narrowed and lingered on her breasts, which were clearly outlined by the elasticized top, then slid downward over her narrow waist, the gentle flare of her hips and the long, curving length of her bare legs.
Feigning indifference, Joanna stretched out on the lounge, oblivious to the admiring looks she was receiving from several other men around the pool. For the next half hour she sunbathed and pretended to doze, while watching Sean covertly through slitted eyes.
It was her intention to corner Sean when the class broke up, but she never had a chance. The moment the band stopped playing he marched over to her. Before Joanna could even struggle to a sitting position Sean bent over, braced his arms on either side of the webbed lounge and brought his face down to within an inch of hers. His beautiful mouth was stretched into a dazzling smile, but his black eyes were snapping with anger as he said in a strained but soft voice, "Knock it off, Joanna. Because I'm warning you, if you don't, I just may turn you over my knee and give you the spanking you should have had years ago. Now be a good girl and stay out of my hair."
Then he was gone. Joanna sat up just in time to see him loop his arm around Gloria's waist and lead her away. Anger and indignation welled up inside Joanna as she glared at their retreating backs. Spanking!
In a pig's eye!
Her eyes narrowed, and a mulish expression that her mother would have recognized settled over her face.
Damn you, Sean. I'll make you listen to me if it's the last thing I do,
Bristling, Joanna stood up, stuffed her feet back into her sandals, snatched up her skirt and stalked after the pair. What she had to say no longer mattered. Getting a chance to actually say it had become a point of honor.
But trying to corner Sean, Joanna soon discovered, was like trying to capture a slippery eel with your bare hands. After scouring the ship for almost an hour, Joanna finally spotted him playing volleyball, but the minute she stepped onto the court, Sean stepped off. At lunch he once again opted for the buffet on deck. When she found him, he and Gloria were sharing a table with the Adamsons, but no sooner had Joanna joined them than Sean excused himself, leaving his lunch half-finished. Later she tracked him down in the casino, but when she tried to talk to him the dealer shushed her with a black look. She retreated to the slot machines on the other side of the room to wait, but somehow Sean vanished when she wasn't looking.
It was the same story all day. Whenever Joanna got anywhere near Sean he always managed to give her the slip. But the more he evaded her, the more determined Joanna became. That evening after dinner she followed him and Gloria and waited for her chance.
They went to the Club International and watched singing idol Doug Longworth perform. After the show they moved on to the Zodiac Lounge for dancing. Finally, around midnight Sean walked Gloria to her cabin.
Feeling utterly foolish, Joanna hovered around the corner, hoping against hope that Sean would not disappear into Gloria's room for the night. To her relief, after a steamy good-night kiss, they parted and Sean came sauntering back down the companionway, whistling softly under his breath.
Joanna flew up the stairs before he could spot her and hurried straight to her suite. Leaving the door open a crack, she stood just inside and peered out, and when Sean drew close she stepped out into his path. "Sean, I must talk to you. This is important, believe me."
"Oh, for the love of..." Sean stopped, his face hardening. "All right. All right, that's it!" He looked around, then grabbed her arm and propelled her into her suite. He kicked the door shut with his foot and at the same time thrust Joanna into the center of the room. "I've tried to be patient with you, Joanna," he began grimly, advancing on her, "but you just won't take no for an answer, will you? I guess I should have known better than to expect anything else from a spoiled, self-centered brat like you."
"I am not a spoiled brat!"
"Oh yeah? You sure could of fooled me." A quick look around brought a scornful twist to his mouth. "Just look at this setup. You couldn't just book a cabin like us ordinary mortals, could you? Oh no, nothing but the luxury suite is good enough for Princess Joanna,'' he sneered.
"That's not the reason I booked this suite," Joanna denied heatedly, her own anger beginning to simmer.
"The point is, you're an overindulged, self-centered little girl. You're so accustomed to having whatever your heart desires that when you decide you want something you think all you have to do is reach out and grab it. Well life doesn't work that way, sweetheart, and it's about time you learned that.''
Anger flared in Joanna's eyes, but before she could speak Sean continued in a warning tone. "I'm not going to become involved with you, Joanna. First of all, I'm too old for you. Secondly, you're the daughter and stepdaughter of my two dearest friends, and I'm not about to jeopardize that relationship for a roll in the hay with an immature little snit."
Joanna gasped, and Sean's expression changed to one off cynical amusement.
"Not that you're not attractive and appealing, mind you. You are, in a classy, well-bred sort of way." He stepped closer and ran his forefinger down her cheek to lightly graze the mole at the corner of her mouth. Joanna went perfectly still, her eyes widening. She couldn't have moved if her life had depended on it. "But it simply wouldn't work because, honey, I guarantee you, I'm way out of your league." At her strangled sound of protest, Sean slipped his arms around her and pulled her close. His lids dropped partway, and his eyes glinted down at her, hard and steely with purpose. Slowly, he bent his head. "And just so there's no doubt about it in your mind..."
The softly whispered words floated into her mouth as his lips claimed hers in a long, searing kiss.
Shock reverberated through Joanna. It was all sensation—sizzling fire and shivering ecstasy. There was no force, no gentle enticement: just pure seduction, bold and sure and devastating.
As his mouth rocked against hers he pulled her closer and one hand slid down her spine to press her hips tightly against his. Joanna gasped, and he thrust his tongue into her mouth, plunging deep to plunder with slow, evocative strokes that set off a throbbing heat in Joanna's feminine core.
Her heart was racing, sending blood pounding through her veins, and her chest was so tight she could barely breathe. In some remote corner of her brain, Joanna knew she should resist, protest, but her quivering body was enslaved. Years ago she had daydreamed endlessly of Sean holding her like this, kissing her like this. But those dreams faded into nothingness beside reality. This was a thousand times more potent—a shattering delight that robbed her of both strength and will.
Sean was experienced with women, and he used his vast knowledge to advantage. He knew where to touch, how to touch, and his roving hands drove her wild. When he held her close and rocked his hips suggestively she whimpered softly into his mouth and melted against him. Of their own accord, her arms lifted and her spread fingers buried themselves in his hair, the ebony strands sliding against her skin like warm silk as she clutched his head and urged him closer.