Authors: Ginna Gray
Who does he think he is, glowering at me like that?
Automatically following instructions, Joanna straightened, extended her arms to the sides and swiveled her shoulders in time to the beat.
Resentment bubbled up inside her as she thought of his accusations. She'd tried to avoid him. She really had. But it was impossible on a ship of this size. But did he take that into account? Oh, no. He preferred to see her as a man-chasing spoiled brat.
Joanna shot Sean a dagger-sharp glare. Up until now, every time they'd met she had either tried to make herself as inconspicuous as possible, or made an excuse and left. But no more, she decided pugnaciously. From now on, Sean or no Sean, she was going to enjoy herself. And if he didn't like it,
"All right, ladies, move those buns! Get a little action in it! Shake it! Shake it! That's it!"
The music throbbed. Wild. Pulsating and primitive. Joanna's lithe body was an extension of it, moving to the heavy beat, translating it into a sinuous flow of fluid rhythm.
Her face was flushed, her hair flying. Sweat drenched her. It gathered between her breasts and streamed down the narrow trench that marked her spine, making dark blotches on her rose-colored leotard. Beneath the form-fitting garment, supple flesh and firm, feminine muscles rippled with each undulating movement, and her small, uptilted breasts swayed and bounced in unfettered abandon.
Sean thought a little frantically.
I've seen less erotic dances in X rated films.
He stared, unable to tear his gaze away. When the unconscious enticement of Joanna's gyrations had their inevitable effect on his body he cursed and snatched up his towel from the bench and held it in front of him, dabbing absently at his chest and arms, but his eyes remained trained on her.
Who would have thought that a leotard and leg warmers could be so damned sexy?
The neckline of the formfitting garment plunged in deep V's both front and back, but even so, it covered a great deal more flesh than even a one-piece bathing suit. Yet, somehow, its high, French cut and the bunched folds of wool that covered Joanna from ankle to knee managed to draw attention to her legs, especially the long, luscious curves of her thighs. That, in turn, led the eye irresistibly to those gently rounded hips and that tight, delectable derriere.
"Okay, ladies! Shake it out! Shake it out!" the instructor chanted. "Now bend and touch the floor! Bend! Bend! Bend!"
Legs spread and straight, her rump stuck up in the air, Joanna bent over, and with her palms flat on the floor, bounced her torso in time to the music and the instructor's chant.
Sean groaned and tightened his grip on the towel.
Christ, Fleming, don't stand here gawking like a sixteen year old in heat. Leave, for Pete's sake!
But he didn't. He couldn't. The music pounded hotly and so did the blood in his veins. With each passing second both his excitement and anger grew. He didn't want to be attracted to Joanna, dammit!
He gave a snort of laughter at that. Want it or not, you sap, you are, he told himself in utter disgust.
Guiltily, he realized that his recent behavior was the direct result of the unwanted attraction. He'd never been deliberately rude to a woman in his life before, yet for days now he'd been glowering and snapping at Joanna every time she came near him. He'd told himself he was doing it for her own good, that sometimes you had to be cruel to be kind, but that had been pure self-defense. Just as the flimsy excuses he'd used for not becoming Gloria's lover had been pure self-deception.
Lord! This was crazy! Two weeks ago if anyone had told him that he would prefer a willowy, aristocratic girl to an earthy, sensual creature like Gloria he'd have told them they were nuts. But as he watched Joanna's sleek body move to the evocative music it didn't seem strange at all. Like a thoroughbred, she was all subtle curves and elegant lines. In comparison, Gloria's voluptuous figure seemed blowsy and overblown.
"Okay, straighten up! Kick and swing! That's it. Six. Seven. Eight. Good, ladies! Very good! Now we're really gonna move. It's time for a
The music throbbed on. Following the woman's lead, without missing a beat Joanna spread hex legs, stretched her clasped hands above her head and rotated her hips in time to the sensuous rhythm.
Sean's breath hissed in sharply.
Dammit to hell!
Clenching his jaw, he turned on his heel and stomped out.
From the corner of her eye, Joanna watched him go. Good riddance! she told herself firmly. She was glad he was gone. Sean Fleming could go butt a stump for all she cared.
But deep down Joanna knew that she was just using anger as a shield. Sean's attitude hurt. She hadn't expected him to fall madly in love with her, but neither had she expected him to treat her with such obvious dislike.
A surge of self-pity tightened Joanna's throat. Determinedly, she swallowed hard against the unwanted emotion and threw herself into the dance with renewed zeal.
* * *
An hour later, Joanna stood at the rail, watching as the ship glided into the harbor. Color. Serenity. She had always felt they were the two words that best described St. Thomas. The island rose gracefully from the sapphire sea in rolling green mountains. Ringing it like lace trim on the edge of a lady's full skirt were curving white sand beaches. At that distance Joanna couldn't see them, but from previous visits she knew that flowers of infinite variety and hue abounded on those verdant slopes. Ahead, the town of Charlotte Amalie spilled over the foothills and nudged the harbor, its red-roofed white buildings sparkling in the morning sun.
As the ship edged in close to the pier Joanna leaned her elbows on the railing and peered over the side and watched as the men on the dock hustled to secure the fines the seamen tossed out. She had never arrived at the island by ship before, and she was fascinated by the docking procedure.
Her grandfather had had a house on St. John. Occasionally, when she had been much younger, she and her parents had used it as a weekend getaway. Although mostly, Joanna recalled with a touch of sadness, it had been just she and her mother. On those times, though, they had always flown into St. Thomas and taken a boat across to St. John.
While they were lowering the gangway Mary and Charles Wright joined Joanna by the rail. "Isn't it simply beautiful?" the older women declared excitedly. "Oh my, I can hardly wait to get started."
Joanna smiled. "On what? Sightseeing or shopping?"
"Both. We're going to take one of the island tours and when it's over the driver will drop us off in the shopping district."
"Since this is a duty free port Mary feels honor bound to take advantage of the bargains," Charles said in a long suffering tone. "And I'm going along to make sure she doesn't 'save' me too much money."
"Oh, you." Mary gave him a poke in the ribs, but the affectionate sparkle in her eyes belied her reproachful expression. Turning back to Joanna with a smile, she said, "If you're going ashore, we'd be happy to have you join us, my dear."
As little as an hour ago, Joanna would have politely refused Mary's invitation. She had seen the island many times, and since she was fairly certain that Sean would be going ashore, she had thought it best that she stay on board, out of his way. But not now. After their run-in at the gym she'd be darned if she would curtail her movements on his account. Besides, after that strenuous early morning workout and a hot shower, she felt invigorated, eager to be doing something.
"Thank you very much. I'd like that."
Their tour bus turned out to be a stretch limo, which they shared with five other cruise passengers, one of whom was Tony. The driver, a gregarious young man in his mid-twenties named Hugo, could easily have earned his living as a comedian. As he took them around the island he kept up a running commentary, an intermingling of history, folklore and local gossip that had everyone laughing.
Bluebeard's Castle was their first stop.
"It's a hotel now," Hugo explained as Joanna and the Wrights stepped out onto the terrace beneath the old stone tower. "But in the old days it was the stronghold of Bluebeard, one of the pirates that operated in the Caribbean. This is also where he brought his wives. No one is certain just how many he had, but it's said he murdered all of them." Hugo flashed a toothy grin. "Now the Castle is a favorite place for honeymooners."
Joanna looked up at the round stone tower and shivered: Much of its rough surface was covered with ancient vines whose stems were as thick and woody as small trees. Among them scurried huge lizards, anywhere from nine to eighteen inches long. The feel of age and history about the place was intriguing, but it definitely was not her idea of a romantic honeymoon retreat.
"Brrrrr. How gruesome. Can you imagine?" Mary shuddered delicately and urged Joanna away from the tower. When they reached the low wall at the edge of the terrace her face brightened. "Well now, I'll say one thing for the old pirate. He may have been hell on women, but he sure knew how to pick a view."
Joanna laughed. "Somehow I doubt that was his prime reason for building on this particular spot."
"You're right," Tony concurred, as he and Charles joined them. "It wasn't the aesthetic appeal so much as military strategy that prompted Bluebeard to choose this spot. From here he could see any ship long before it entered the bay and blast it out of the water once it did."
The majestic three-hundred-year-old structure overlooked the harbor and the red rooftops of Charlotte Amalie. From where they stood they could see two white cruise ships docked at the pier, and another one, too large to enter the harbor, anchored just beyond the bay.
Joanna ran her fingertips over the cool surface of the ancient cannon embedded in the wall and gazed down at the blue waters. The island was peaceful and serene now, but she had no trouble imagining it as it had been all those centuries ago when pirates had ruled that part of the world.
"Say, isn't that Sean over there?" Charles said, craning his neck to see around a group of people.
Stiffening, Joanna turned slowly, but it took her a few minutes to spot Sean in the milling crowd that filled the terrace. He was with a group of people making their way toward the exit. Clinging possessively to his arm was Gloria.
Tony grinned down at her, delighted by her sudden show of friendliness. "Blow in my ear, and I'll follow you anywhere, gorgeous," he murmured. "The North Pole. Darkest Africa. The moon." He paused a beat, then added hopefully, "Your cabin. Mine."
Joanna gave him a droll look. "The earring counter will do for now," she said repressively.
"Not a chance."
"Heck! I was afraid you'd say that."
Laughing at his woebegone expression, Joanna led him toward the back of the store.
Why do you still let it bother you?
she thought despairingly.
You should have been over Sean long ago. By now you should be able to laugh at his little entanglements.
Joanna smiled woodenly at something Tony said and pretended to study the tray of opal earrings.
It's not fair. It's simply not fair. Infatuations aren't supposed to last this long.
* * *
Three hours later, Joanna watched from her suite as the ship pulled away from the harbor. Slowly, inexorably, the lush green island receded, becoming smaller and smaller. When it was nothing more than a tiny dot on the horizon, Joanna sighed and turned away from the window. She dropped down onto the sofa and picked up the novel that lay open on the coffee table, but after scanning only half a page she put it down. With a sigh, Joanna stood and walked aimlessly around the room. She felt tired, but strangely restless. She needed to be doing something.
Of course, you could join the Wrights and Tony for a drink in the lounge, she reminded herself. They had invited her when they returned to the ship a half hour ago, but, pleading tiredness, Joanna had retreated to her suite.
After buying the opal and diamond earrings for her mother and a bottle of fine brandy for Matt, she had spent several hours with the three of them, browsing among the shops along the main street and those tucked away in the lush, garden-like alleys in Charlotte Amalie's shopping district. They were nice people and Joanna liked them, but she'd had enough of their company for a while.
But still, she had to do something. Something physical. Something that required concentration.
Something that would take her mind off Sean and his redhead.
Joanna walked back to the coffee table and picked up the printed sheet that listed, the day's activities. After checking her watch, she ran a fingernail down the time column to four o'clock, and read through the choices available. "Bridge lessons, silk flower making, shuffle-board, astrology lessons, trapshooting, bingo..." Joanna's eyes backtracked.
Her face brightened. "Perfect."
Joanna dropped the list back onto the coffee table and started eagerly for the door.
Trapshooting was done off the starboard side of the sun deck, near the stern. When Joanna arrived the ship's second mate, Mr. Ricci, and one of the crewmen were setting up the target thrower.
Joanna looked around, surprised to find she was the only passenger there. "Do you have to sign up for this in advance," she asked the officer, "or may I shoot now?"
"You may start just as soon as we get set up," he replied politely. "So far, you're the only one interested. I think everyone is tired from spending the day ashore."
When the crewman had the thrower ready Joanna paid her money and took her position by the rail.
"Have you ever fired a shotgun before?" Mr. Ricci asked, slipping two shells into the gun's magazine.
"Yes." Joanna bit back a smile. He was trying to be polite, but she could sense his uncertainty.