Authors: Ginna Gray
She clung to him, dizzy with the need he was so deliberately arousing, her mouth soft and fervent under his, her body aflame with sweet, hot desire. She lost all sense of time and place and purpose. At that moment nothing else in the world existed but Sean. Just Sean.
And then, suddenly, it was over. Joanna felt cold and bereft when his lips left hers. Colder still when he gripped her shoulders and held her away from him. Dazed, she stood like a rag doll between his hands, unable to respond for a moment. When at last she opened her eyes, she found Sean watching her strangely.
He stared at her in silence, his dark eyes narrowed and glittering. Then, abruptly, he released her and without a word, turned and stalked out.
oanna stared at the closed door. Slowly she raised her hand and pressed trembling fingers against her mouth.
Dear God, how could I have been so stupid?
A sick sensation quivered through her, and she closed her eyes and let her breath out in a deep, shuddering sigh. Sean had been right all along; she was infatuated with him. She always had been. That one searing kiss had proved that.
A low moan escaped her, and she turned and walked listlessly into the bedroom. Dazed, she sank down onto the bed and stared out the window at nothing.
What a fool you are. What a complete and utter fool.
The past few years had taught Joanna a lot about her weaknesses and her strengths. She knew that she was good at self-deception, seeing things as she wanted them to be. Typically, she had managed to rationalize her reasons for wanting Sean to run for office, and for following him on this cruise, but she knew now that the basic reason, the
reason, was this crazy attraction she felt for him. Firming her mouth, Joanna sighed deeply once again. No doubt, the only person she'd fooled with the weak excuse was herself. She certainly hadn't fooled Sean.
The attraction was crazy. And hopeless. Sean had made it obvious how he thought of her—a child, a spoiled brat.
And he's right, Joanna conceded unhappily. At least partially.
Flopping back on the bed, her hands balling into fists, Joanna squinted at the ceiling. "But I'm working on it," she muttered with grim determination.
Since causing so much havoc in her mother's life she had tried very hard to change. There were lapses now and then, Joanna admitted with brutal honesty. It was difficult to break the habits and attitudes of a lifetime. But she would... eventually.
Actually, viewing the situation rationally, Joanna knew she should be grateful that Sean did not share her feelings. Because the attraction was not only stupid, it was dangerous. Recalling the raw passion Sean's kiss had evoked, Joanna closed her eyes and shivered. It had caught her completely off guard and rocked her to her very soul. Even now, just thinking about it, she felt a tingling heat surge through her body.
Gritting her teeth against the disturbing sensation, Joanna rolled her head from side to side on the mattress. No, Sean was not for her. At eighteen she had been brashly confident that she could make him fall in love with her. Now she knew better. Sean was a confirmed bachelor, a man of the world. Even if they were to have a romantic relationship, the odds were that she would end up with a broken heart.
Sean had been right, she admitted with a wistful sigh. He was way out of her league.
For a few minutes she lay on the bed reviewing her foolish behavior, angry and utterly disgusted. The mental dressing down she gave herself was sharp, scathing and merciless.
But Joanna was not one to flay herself for long. She had tried that four years ago, until her mother had made her see that endless self-castigation was foolish and did no One any good. Now when she made a mistake, she admitted it, ranted a bit, then forgave herself and set about doing whatever she could to correct it.
Decisively, Joanna lunged up off the bed. Twisting her arm behind her, she lowered the zipper on her gown. The only thing to do was to make the best of a bad situation and get through the rest of the trip with as much dignity as possible, she told herself as the peach silk sheath slithered down her body and pooled around her feet. She would put the stupid infatuation out of her mind and simply relax and enjoy the cruise... and do her best to stay out of Sean's hair.
* * *
"Good morning, Mr. Fleming." The waiter poured coffee into Sean's cup as he slid into his seat at the table. "Looks like you're the only one eating indoors this morning."
Sean gave the man a lazy grin. "I'm not quite up to all that sparkling sea and sun just yet."
Aromatic steam wafted up to tantalize his nose, and Sean reached for the cup of coffee, taking a quick sip of the scalding liquid. It was the truth, up to a point, but the main reason he'd chosen the dining room over the buffet was to avoid Gloria. After the night he'd just had he wasn't in the mood for lighthearted flirting.
When the waiter had taken his order Sean settled back to wait. Broodingly, he stared at the shining surface of the coffee, a frown creasing between his brows.
Joanna. It annoyed him that he couldn't dismiss her from his mind. And, to his disgust, now just the thought of her made his chest tighten and sent a throbbing heat to his loins.
Sean shifted uncomfortably and took another sip from the cup. What the devil happened?
For half the night he had lain awake staring at the ceiling, asking the same question over and over, but he still had no answer. He had intended to teach Joanna a lesson with that kiss. Sean exhaled a rueful snort and grimaced. What a laugh! The moment their lips had touched rational thought had deserted him. It had been an explosion of pure passion, hot and raw and overwhelming. If he hadn't found the strength to end it, in another minute he'd have taken her right there.
Lord, Fleming! What the hell's the matter with you? She's just a girl, for Pete's sake. If you're not careful, you 're going to turn into a dirty old man.
Yet he couldn't deny his response. She had felt exactly right in his arms, as though she'd been made for him alone. And that was what scared him. He had known many women, but never in his life had he wanted one as desperately as he had wanted Joanna.
The waiter topped up his coffee cup. Without thinking, Sean snatched it up, downed half the contents in one long swallow and gasped as the scalding brew seared his throat. Cursing under his breath, he returned the cup to its saucer just as Joanna took her seat on the opposite side of the table.
Anger, resentment and another emotion he didn't care to put a name to, gripped Sean at the sight of her. Her skin glowed and her hazel eyes were clear and direct. There were no dark circles under them, no drawn look. Dressed in a yellow sundress that left her tanned shoulders bare, her glossy hair pulled back at the sides and secured with white and yellow combs, she looked annoyingly fresh and lovely. It was obvious that Joanna hadn't spent a sleepless night.
"Good morning, Sean," she said politely.
Sean's mouth firmed, but before he could reply the waiter materialized beside her and filled her cup with coffee. When he had taken her order and disappeared Joanna folded her hands on the table and looked directly into Sean's eyes.
"Before you get angry all over again, I just want to say one thing. I'm sorry."
Surprise darted through Sean, but the only sign he gave was the infinitesimal narrowing of his eyes.
"I shouldn't have followed you on this trip. I realize that now," Joanna continued in a soft, serious voice. "But I promise you, for the rest of the cruise I'll do my best to stay out of your way."
Her discomfort was obvious, but there was determination there, too. A part of Sean admired the courage and strength of character it took to make the apology. But, dammit! He'd just spent the better part of the night agonizing over her and that damned kiss, and her freshness and composure were galling. For once, his lazy insouciance deserted him.
"Oh, sure." Sean's look was as deliberately skeptical as his tone, but Joanna met it squarely, one brow lifting.
"I'm sorry. That's the best I can do. I can't very well get off the ship in the middle of the ocean. I don't walk on water, you know."
Sean's admiration deepened, but he hid it well. "I don't suppose you'd consider getting off at St. Thomas and flying home?"
Hurt flickered in Joanna's eyes, but her steady gaze never wavered. "No, I wouldn't. But I promise I won't pester you anymore." Her chin tilted a bit higher at Sean's derisive snort, and she added with the barest trace of annoyance, "I've already asked the purser if I could change to another table, but he said it was too late. So, I'm afraid at meals we'll just have to make the best of the situation."
Sean just looked at her, his expression unyielding. After a moment she lowered her eyes. He watched her pick up her cup and take a sip of coffee. Then she folded her hands in her lap and gazed off into the distance. Only the pulse throbbing at the base of her throat betrayed her nervousness.
Her pride was evident in the tilt of her chin, in her stiff posture, yet she still looked like a defenseless waif. Even though he knew she'd brought the situation on herself, after a moment Sean began to feel churlish. Exhaling heavily, he raked a hand through his hair and let it slide down the back of his head to massage the taut muscles in his neck.
"Look, Joanna," he began, frowning, "About last ni—"
But the statement was never finished, for at that moment the Wrights and Tony Farrell arrived.
"Good morning, you two," Mary said, slipping into the seat beside Joanna. "Looks like you're the early birds."
Joanna looked up eagerly, a smile of pure relief lighting her face. "Good morning."
Battling his frustration, Sean greeted them cordially, then settled back in his chair and watched in brooding silence.
As Charles took the chair beside his wife, Tony Farrell chose the seat on Joanna's other side. "Hi." His gray eyes glowed warmly behind his glasses as they skimmed over her upturned face and bare shoulders. "You look terrific this morning."
"Thank you. You don't look bad yourself."
Tony flashed her a white smile that was an orthodontist's dream. "I looked for you yesterday. I was hoping that we could spend some time together, get to know one another. But I didn't catch so much as a glimpse of you until dinner. And afterward you disappeared again."
"Oh, Joanna had a very busy day yesterday," Sean interjected in an insinuating drawl.
When Joanna darted him a wary look he propped his chin on his fist and smiled tauntingly. Reminding her of the way she'd pursued him wasn't the gentlemanly thing to do, especially after her apology. Normally Sean wouldn't have dreamed of needling a woman—any woman—but Joanna had gotten under his skin, and for some reason he could not quite curb his irritation. Besides, there was something about Tony Farrell that set his teeth on edge.
Joanna turned back to Tony with a placating smile and placed her hand on his arm. "But I won't be busy today. If you'd like we could go up to the sports deck after breakfast and check out the activities."
Sean studied them, his eyes narrowing.
The waiter brought Mary a cup of tea and poured coffee for everyone else. Gloria arrived as he was handing out the menus.
"Good morning, all," she greeted lightly as she settled in next to Sean. "I'm surprised to find you all inside on such a terrific morning." She shook out her napkin and put it on her lap, and slanted Sean a sultry, heavy-lidded look. "I looked for you on deck. For a while there I began to think you were avoiding me."
Sean looked at the red nails that were lightly scoring his forearm, then, slowly, his gaze lifted, and he studied the invitation in Gloria's slanting green eyes. After a moment he thought,
Why not? This is what you came for, isn't it?
Covering her hand with his, he leaned closer. A slow, wicked grin curved his mouth. "Now why on earth would I do that?"
It was all the invitation Gloria needed. For the remainder of the meal she flirted with Sean outrageously, and he flirted right back. He turned on the charm, his rakish smile and teasing black eyes underscoring the purring warmth in his voice, the teasing sensuality that colored their conversation.
But for all the effort he put into it, Sean was, to his disgust and annoyance, not totally engrossed in the flirtation. He was too aware of the fact that Joanna was ignoring him. Whenever he glanced across the table she was chatting with either Mary or Tony. Usually Tony. The few times Joanna's gaze met his she looked away as though he didn't exist, and when he asked her a direct question she answered him with a polite indifference that made him grit his teeth.
Joanna's low laugh drifted across the table and Sean glanced at her again. His eyes narrowed as he watched her wrinkle her nose at something Tony said. Surely she's not going to go off the deep end over that New York slick? he thought, frowning. He eyed the man's neatly styled hair, fashionable glasses, and immaculate, just right clothes sourly. He was too smooth. Too perfect. Hell, couldn't she see that? Sean's gaze dropped to Tony's well tended hands and one corner of his mouth curled disdainfully. He didn't trust a man who wore nail polish, even if it was clear.
Becoming aware of the trend of his thoughts, Sean shifted uneasily in his chair. Good grief, Fleming! What the devil do you care if the girl wants to indulge in a shipboard fling? You're not her keeper. And besides, you ought to be happy to have her off your back. Determinedly, he pulled his gaze away from the pair and turned back to Gloria with a lazy smile.