Authors: Ginna Gray
"Ready?" Tony asked a moment later.
Joanna took one last sip of coffee, then patted her mouth with her napkin. "Yes, I'm ready." With a murmured, "Excuse us," and a parting smile for the others, she rose and linked her arm through Tony's.
Broodingly, his eyes glittering slits of obsidian, Sean watched them walk away.
He was oblivious to the chatter going on around him until Gloria drew his attention with a playful rake of her long nails across the back of his hand. Stifling the unaccountable irritation that roiled through him, Sean turned his head and met her coy smile.
"Personally, I think they have an excellent idea." Gloria purred in response to his questioning look. "Why don't you and I pair off and go for a swim? I have a new bikini I'm just dying to try."
Sean stared at her, absorbing her ripe beauty, arid wondered why the idea didn't hold more appeal. After a moment he impatiently thrust the thought aside and with one of his lazy smiles, drawled, "Sure. Why not?"
* * *
Suntan lotion, towel, sunglasses, paperback novel. Satisfied she had everything, Joanna added her room key to the contents of the canvas bag, pulled the door shut behind her and headed for the pool.
Her thong sandals slapped against her heels as she ran up the stairs. Rounding the landing on the next deck, she nearly bumped into Susan and Bill.
"Hi." Susan hitched Lori higher on her hip and eyed Joanna's white lace beach robe. It barely reached the tops of her thighs, and the fragile lace gave tantalizing glimpses of the cinnamon maillot beneath. "Going swimming, huh? We were just heading for the pool ourselves."
"Yeah," Bill chimed in. "It's one of the few activities that we can take Lori to. She's been swimming since she was five months old." He smiled proudly and tweaked his daughter's tiny nose. "She's a regular little water baby."
"Really?" Joanna smiled at the staring infant. "I'd really like to see that. Mind if I join you?"
"Of course not. Come on."
As they climbed the final flight of stairs together Susan slanted her a curious look. "I saw you playing shuffleboard with Tony this morning. He seemed... well...very interested. I'm surprised he's not with you."
"He's playing in a backgammon tournament," Joanna replied, biting back a smile at Susan's gentle probing. "He said he'd meet me at the pool when it was over."
"You didn't want to watch?"
"No. I'm afraid I find the game extremely boring."
Actually, Joanna had thought it wise to spend some time away from Tony. He was a nice man and pleasant company, but she didn't want to encourage him too much. There was no explaining it: he was attractive, in a smooth sophisticated way, eligible, and so far, had behaved as a perfect gentleman. But there was no spark between them—at least, not from her side.
The moment they came in sight of the pool Lori let loose with a string of ecstatic jabber, her arms outstretched toward the water, opening and closing her chubby little fists in a classic "gimmee" gesture as she bounced up and down in her mother's arms. Laughing and watching the baby's uninhibited excitement, Joanna didn't see Sean at first. When she did she stopped short.
He was sitting on a poolside lounge beside Gloria, who was stretched out on her stomach with her head pillowed on her crossed arms. The top of her bikini was unfastened, and Sean was methodically applying tanning lotion to her bare back. And if the expression on his face was any indication, he was enjoying the task immensely.
Joanna was appalled by her reaction. Pain sliced through her like a sharp knife at the sight of those tanned fingers smoothing over the woman's skin. For an instant she almost gave into the urge to turn and run back to her room. But then, as she studied the look of male satisfaction on Sean's face, her jaw tightened and she stiffened her spine. No. She wasn't going anywhere. She had told Tony she'd meet him here, and here was where she was going to stay.
Gloria's back glistened in the sun. The mingled scents of heavy perfume, coconut oil and heated flesh drifted upward from her supine body, making Sean's nostrils twitch and flare. This wasn't such a bad idea after all, he mused as he watched his palms glide languidly over her slick shoulder blades, then trail downward to her waist. The strange anger he had felt at breakfast had slowly dissipated. Smiling, he gently kneaded the soft flesh beneath his hands. This was what he needed to get his mind off things. A little sun and fun, a beautiful woman to add spice. And, he thought with pleasurable anticipation, he had a hunch that with very little encouragement, Gloria could add a great deal of spice to this vacation.
His dreamy complacency didn't last long. At that moment Sean looked up, straight into Joanna's eyes, and his hands stilled. Briefly, her cool gaze flickered over him, then she turned away and dumped her canvas bag onto a lounge. Sean clenched his jaw and cursed fluently under his breath.
Suddenly self-conscious, he finished applying the lotion to Gloria's back with a quick, impersonal touch. "There, I think that's got you covered."
"Mmm," Gloria mumbled sleepily.
Sean capped the bottle and tossed it onto the towel beside her, then moved away and stretched out on the next lounge with his fingers laced together behind his head.
Through barely slitted eyes he watched Joanna shuck her frothy little beach coat and drop it beside her bag. His eyes roamed over her, and he cursed silently once again as he felt an unwelcome surge of heat rush to his loins. The shimmering cinnamon material of her one-piece suit molded Joanna's high breasts and boldly defined every hollow and curve of her slender body. Cut daringly low both front and back, and high at the thighs, the suit revealed a great deal of creamy skin and emphasized the long length of her shapely legs.
"Come on in, Joanna," Susan called from the pool.
Without so much as a glance in Sean's direction, Joanna stepped to the edge and dove neatly into the water.
For the next half hour Sean watched as Joanna played with the Adamson's baby, who paddled with amazing agility between the three adults. After a while they each took turns caring for the child while the other two swam. Sean was just toying with the idea of joining them when Tony appeared.
"Hi. Aren't you going to swim?" Joanna asked, eyeing his cream slacks and bronze silk shirt.
"Not today. My back's still a little red from yesterday." Tony nodded toward the umbrella covered table at the end of the pool. "Why don't you take a break and join me for a drink?"
"Okay." Grinning mischievously, Joanna turned to Susan and Bill. "Come on, gang, Tony's buying."
"Great!" Bill plucked the baby from the water and urged the two women toward the side. When they had heaved themselves out he handed Lori to her mother and clambered out after them, and they laughingly dripped their way around to where Tony sat waiting.
Feeling unaccountably irritated, Sean stood up and plunged into the water. Submerged, he swam the length of the pool three times before surfacing for air.
He was resting at the side, breathing heavily, when Gloria jumped in beside him, feet first. She surfaced laughing and looped her arms around his neck, pressing her body intimately close to his. "Gotcha!" she cried gaily. "And now you have to pay a forfeit."
Gloria tightened her arms and lifted herself higher against his body. Closing her eyes, she tilted her head back and pursed her lips invitingly.
Unable to resist, Sean glanced toward the table at the end of the pool, then looked back at the lush red mouth. Joanna wasn't watching, and it wasn't any of her business who he kissed anyway, yet he felt absurdly guilty. Determinedly Sean leaned forward, then hesitated. After a moment, his mouth twisted in a rueful half smile, and he reached up and detached Gloria's arms from around his neck.
"Behave yourself," he said, smiling to take the sting out of his words. He turned the pouting woman around and gave her a little push and a playful slap on the rump. "Come on. I'll race you to the other end. I'll even give you a three-second head start."
Sean watched her thrash away and shook his head. How in hell was he supposed to carry on a seduction with his best friends' daughter watching?
arefoot and makeup-free, Joanna entered the gym smiling. She wore a rose-pink leotard and lavender tights with stirrup straps that hooked under her insteps. A pair of deep purple leg warmers were slung casually over her shoulder, the ends swaying against her back with every jaunty step she took. Anticipation sparkled in her hazel eyes. Movement. Activity. It was what she needed, and she was eager to get started'.
Spotting the athletic instructor across the room, Joanna altered her course. A bare six feet away, her steps faltered, and she came to a halt. In front of her, lying back on a bench with his feet braced on the floor on either side, Sean was working out with a set of hand weights.
Indecision gripped Joanna. Gnawing at her bottom lip, she eyed him warily. Should she brazen it out and ignore him, or leave? She cast a longing glance toward the instructor and the other women who were already gathering around her and sighed. It was tempting, but remembering the past few days, Joanna decided that retreat was the wisest choice.
She poised to turn, but before she could move Sean sat up and their eyes met. Anger darkened his face. With a muttered oath, he shot up off the bench and stalked to her.
"What are you doing here, Joanna?" He stood with his feet spread aggressively, hands on his hips, and growled the words in a low undertone through lips so stiff they barely moved.
Joanna was both intimidated by his anger and fascinated by his body. He wore only a brief pair of athletic shorts and tennis shoes and his bronze skin glistened with a fine sheen of moisture. Without shoes, Joanna barely reached his chin, and she found herself staring at the damp black hair that lightly furred his chest. The heat from his body hit her like a furnace, bringing with it the smell of sweat and a dizzying, tantalizing musky maleness. Helplessly, her eyes focused on a bead of sweat trickling through the band of hair that arrowed downward from his chest. At his navel it halted, then swirled around the small cavity and streaked lower, disappearing when it touched the already damp top edge of his low-slung shorts. Joanna swallowed hard.
"I'm getting a little sick of this, you know," Sean went on, ignoring her stammered attempt at a reply. "Everywhere I go I run into you. If this is your attempt at staying out of my hair, I'd hate to see you when you're in hot pursuit."
The sarcastic comment snapped Joanna out of her sensual trance instantly. Her eyes went wide and she sucked in her breath. "Are you accusing me of following you around?"
"All I know is I can't make a move without practically stepping on you. It's only been twenty-four hours since you so sweetly promised to leave me alone, and already I've run into you by the pool twice, bumped into you in the library, the card room, the casino. Every time I go to one of the clubs or the theater you're within earshot. I'm beginning to think the only place on the ship where I can be assured of not seeing you is the men's room."
That did it. Joanna's anger soared right along with her blood pressure. She stiffened and planted her fists on her hips, unconsciously mimicking his stance. "Now just a darned minute!" she flared, glaring right back at him. "I promised to leave you alone, which I've tried my best to do, but I didn't promise to lock myself in my cabin for the duration of the cruise. I paid for my ticket, and I'm entitled to enjoy myself and to make use of all the facilities the same as you."
They stood nose to nose, their bodies stiff and vibrating with anger, unflinching hazel eyes glaring defiantly into smoldering black ones.
Across the room, the athletics instructor clapped her hands loudly and called out,'"All right, ladies! Line up, it's time to get going."
With a toss of her head, Joanna broke eye contact and moved to step around Sean. "I came here to take the aerobics class," she informed him haughtily. "Now, if you'll excuse me, that's exactly what I intend to do."
Rock music exploded from the speakers on the walls as the instructor turned away from the stereo. Moving in time to the heavy beat, she faced the group of women who had spread out on the mat. "Okay, here we go.
We'll start with the hustle jog. Lift those knees! Lift! Lift! Three. Four. Five. Lift! Lift!"
Joanna scrambled to pull on her leg warmers, skipping and hopping on first one foot, then the other in her rush to join the class. When she had finally tugged them into place she found a position at the front of the group, stepped into the rhythm and threw herself into the routine with a vengeance.
"Now spread your feet, hands on hips and bend to the side! Bend! Bend! Get those elbows down! Come on ladies, reach! Reach!"
Joanna bounced downward, straining to make her elbow touch the side of her knee. Already she was breathing hard, and she could feel perspiration popping out all over her body. She glanced at Sean and found him standing where she'd left him, fists still propped on his hips, watching her. Joanna gritted her teeth and bounced harder.