Authors: Kathleen Bacus
NEW YORK CITY
It’s with much appreciation, gratitude, and affection that I dedicate this book to all my awesome and wonderful readers and fans of Tressa Jayne Turner and the entire Grandville Gang. It’s been a wild and wonderful ride and I have so very much enjoyed bringing these characters and their stories to you. I hope “Calamity and Company” continue to hold a special place in your hearts—and on your bookshelves.
Manny reached out and crushed me to his broad, manly chest, bending me over backward in a clinch worthy of Rhett and Scarlett. His lips hovered a mere fraction of an inch from my own, his dark, searching gaze locked on my own startled peepers. “Bon voyage, Barbie,” he said, and put his lips to mine in a deep, hot, wet, probing kiss that stole my breath and muddled my senses. What senses I had.
When the kiss ended, I was limp and weak and clung to Manny to keep from falling. I heard a gasp. Out of the corner of my eye, I detected movement. My eyes came to rest on a hairy little piglike creature on a grungy green backpack. I had to force myself to look up and meet the stunned look of the man holding the bag.
Jeesch. Hadn’t even gained my sea legs and already I was caught between two handsome devils and the deep blue sea.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A beautiful young blonde was so depressed she decided to end her life by throwing herself into the ocean. Just before she could throw herself from the docks, a handsome young sailor stopped her.
“You have so much to live for,” said the sailor. “Look, I’m off to Europe tomorrow and I can stow you away on my ship. I’ll take care of you, bring you food every day and keep you happy.”
With nothing to lose and always having wanted to go to Europe, the blonde accepted. That night the sailor brought her aboard and hid her in a lifeboat. From then on every night he would bring her three sandwiches and make love to her until dawn.
Three weeks later she was discovered by the captain during a routine inspection.
“What are you doing here?” asked the captain.
“I had an arrangement with one of the sailors,” the blonde replied. “He brings me food and I get a free trip to Europe. Plus, he’s screwing me.”
“He certainly is,” replied the captain. “This is the Staten Island Ferry.”
This particular blonde stood pier-side and cast a landlubber’s eye on the huge, bright white cruise ship docked to receive passengers at the Port of Galveston. I found myself experiencing a similar sense of caveat emptor. You know:
Let the buyer beware.
Okay, okay, so I wasn’t actually the buyer of record here. My passage had been bought and paid for by my grandma and her new hubby of less than seventy-two hours. Still, that totally insignificant, piddling little detail didn’t exempt this virgin sailor from feelings of nervousness and a nagging sense of unease that didn’t bode well for her maiden voyage.
Can you say
I watched the few remaining stragglers ahead of us as they prepared to board the vessel. They chatted and laughed while they waited to have their paperwork and identification cleared. I gnawed away at a newly-polished nail.
“Something wrong, girlie?” my seventy-something-year-old “new” step-granddaddy, Joe Townsend, asked. “Afraid you won’t have sea legs?”
More like fear of design flaws, inferior steel, and too few lifeboats.
“Legs like yours and you’re worried about mine?” I asked, and shrugged off my uncharacteristic anxiety. I gave “Grampa” Joe’s scrawny chicken legs a nod. “Give me a break. And you should have warned us you were planning to put on shorts. You know—so we could don protective eyewear. The reflection from those white legs is brutal.”
When Joe Townsend failed to fire back with one of his trademark, take-no-prisoners retorts, I frowned.
“Aren’t you going to respond to that?” I asked. “You know, make a remark about how it’s a wonder anyone can see you at all with my thunder thighs blocking the view? Maybe take this opportunity to remind me of the blonde pirate who walked around with a paper towel hat because she had a
on her head?”
He shook his head.
“Nothing?” I asked, and blinked. “You got nothing?”
“This is so not like you,” I mused, and put a hand to his forehead. “Are you sick? Too much connubial bliss, maybe? Or are you suffering from constipation? You know, not enough fiber in your diet,” I suggested.
He slapped my hand away. “No!” he said. “But I’m your step-grandpa now. I have to set an example. Act like a mature adult. Be a role model.”
That one got my attention. Role model? Him? Who was he kidding? This old guy had been known to maintain surveillance logs on his neighbors’ comings and goings, pack unregistered heat (he considered the Colt Python a collector’s item and, therefore, exempt from the law) and was probably on a government watch list somewhere for frequenting websites that featured domain names involving terms like
mercenary, covert, commando,
I admit I’ve pimped his predilections for snooping in the past, but always for the greater good. Joe helped me get the dirt on some prime-crime stories that not only saved my cowgirl cookies, but also resuscitated a code-blue newspaper reporting career a year or so back. Our crime-fighting collaboration makes the
duo look like Holmes and Watson—a cantankerous codger who fantasizes about dressing in black masks and dark capes, paired with a blonde, frizzy-haired, aspiring reporter with two dead-end part-time jobs, a history of chronic misadventure and long-term self-esteem issues with a name that sums it all up: Calamity Jayne.
Uh, yup. That’s me. Tressa Jayne Turner, aka Calamity Jayne, Grandville, Iowa’s unintentional answer to extreme boredom.
The totally misplaced moniker was bestowed courtesy of my new grampa’s grandson (and my now step-cousin) Ranger Rick Townsend—yet another Townsend male who wreaks havoc on my psyche. Oh, and on certain unmentionable parts of my anatomy that will…go un-mentioned.
I’d been doing my own funky version of the “Tressa Turner Two-Step” when it came to Rick for years. I’m sure you’re familiar with the dance called Lover’s Limbo. The “should I or shouldn’t I?” cha cha cha.
Ours had been a complex and volatile relationship dating back to a history of prepubescent warfare that had set the stage for adolescent antipathy and young adult angst. I’d constantly found myself the butt of Ranger Rick’s repertoire of “boys will be boys” jokes, but the biggest joke of all was on me when my brother’s obnoxious best bud turned out to be the best-looking guy in the greater Grandville area, and, I feared, the one male who could get me all hot and bothered with just a wink and a nod.
I’d been sorely tempted as of late to throw caution to the wind and throw myself at the magnificent male but something—an unnatural disaster, an ill-timed interruption, my own screwed-up second thoughts—always pulled me away from that particular precipice before I took the plunge. Maybe because deep down I knew if I allowed myself to fall, really fall into Ranger Rick’s arms, I’d fall hard. And permanently. As in forever and ever and ever. And in today’s world of disposable relationships and casual sex (surely an oxymoron) I wasn’t certain such a fall might not kill me if things didn’t work out.
“Calamity Jayne Turner: Fearless in all things except matters of the heart.” Who knew?
Rick Townsend is a uniformed officer with the Iowa Division of Natural Resources (I love a man in uniform, don’t you?) and he gives a new meaning to the term “kissin’ cousins.” Oh, and “keeping it in the family.” Hubba hubba.
I shook my head to get myself back on topic and away from naughty thoughts.
“Excuse me, but did you just say you were a role model, Joe?” I asked. “Role model? What role, exactly? Neighborhood Watch commander? Green Hornet groupie?” This referred to a comic television crime-fighter in the sixties with whom Joe’s deceased first wife was particularly enamored. “Geriatric GI Joe, maybe?”
I suggested these things, hoping to get a rise out of Joe, or at the very least a rise in his blood pressure. Something. Anything. Joe’s born-again, turn-the-other-cheek attitude was giving me a pain in a couple of my own cheeks (the gluteus maximi, if you know what I mean) and making me leerier—and more suspicious—by the minute.
“Role model, as in your basic loving, caring grandparent, of course,” Joe replied. “What else?”
kay This was getting downright scary.
“Ain’t that boat somethin’?” My gammy—that’s what I call my grandmother—snapped a picture using the digital camera with which my folks gifted the newly married couple to use on their honeymoon cruise.
“I think this vessel qualifies as a ship, Hannah,” Ranger Rick, boat aficionado and stickler for proper sailing terms, it appeared, corrected. “And it
something. Would you like me to take a picture of the happy couple as you embark on your very own honeymoon
He reached out for the camera. “Smile and say
After snapping the picture, he looked at it and said, “Perfect!”
“You sure it’s not overexposed?” I asked. “You know, from the glare bouncing off Joe’s legs?” I snorted. I crack me up sometimes.
“We can’t all carry off the oh-so-attractive farmer’s tan like you do, girlie,” Joe said. “Those cowboy-boot lines are particularly fetching.”
I searched for my customary snarky comeback, but was too relieved by the return of the cantankerous Joe to lob one back. Things were back to normal. Well, back to whatever passes as normal with a Townsend.
“You’ll get rid of those tan lines in no time,” Ranger Rick suggested, with a lift of his dark eyebrows. “By sunbathing as God intended,” he explained, flashing me a smile hot enough to send tiny rivulets of sweat trickling between my size-B boobs.
“Maybe I’ll do just that,” I said, adding a challenging lift of my own eyebrow. “Care to join me?”
“I’m in!” My wrinkled, shrunken grandmother stuck her hand up faster than the time she volunteered me as Mort the Mystic’s guinea pig for hypnosis at the state fair several years ago. And just so you know, I was the most realistic chicken on that stage. Okay, so I was a little handicapped in the breast department, but I kicked tail feathers with my strut and cluck.
“I don’t plan on missin’ out on anything,” my gammy continued. “You never know if this will be my first and last cruise, so I’m goin’ for the gusto. What about you, Joe? You gonna let it all hang out?”
I winced. The very thought of anything physically attached to Mr. or Mrs. Joseph Townsend, Esquire, naked and hanging out, made my innards revolt. And I wasn’t even aboard the ship yet.
“You never know what this old salt’ll be up to,” Joe responded, his eyes on me. “One thing
know for sure. It’s going to be a whale of a sail. ‘Don’t rock the boat, baby’ ” He started to sing and I looked at Rick.
“Remind me again why I agreed to come on this shipwreck lookin’ for a place to happen.”
He put an arm around my shoulders. “Don’t you remember? You signed on as my own personal purser.” He squeezed my arm. “You jumped at the opportunity when you saw my benefits package. Remember?”
My cheeks burned even hotter. I needed a drink. Badly. One of those exotic fruity ones with the cute little umbrella. At the rate I was heating up, I’d have to stick the tiny umbrella upside down in my cleavage to catch the river of perspiration. Rick Townsend knew just how to turn up my internal thermometer, while he himself never appeared to break a sweat. So not fair.
“As I recall, I was promised one sweet signing bonus,” I reminded Townsend. “When can I expect to see it?”
“How about when you come to turn down my bed and plump my pillows?” he replied.
“I see. So when hell freezes over, then.”
“I have a stateroom all to myself, you know,” Townsend reminded me, lowering his head and donning a hangdog look. “This romantic cruise ship. Couples everywhere. Me all alone. Don’t you feel some sympathy?”
I might—if I didn’t know that Rick was about as likely to be a lonely sailor as I was to strip down to the altogether and stretch out on the lounger next to my au naturel gammy and volunteer to apply her tanning oil. Eww.
I patted Townsend’s tanned cheek. “Poor baby,” I said, the heat of his face against my palm tempting me to forget about swans who mate for life and silver and gold wedding anniversaries and focus on the here and now. “But I hear these cruises are filled with tons of single and searching women looking for romance on the high seas. Maybe you’ll get lucky and meet the perfect match: one who is comfortable caring for the slithering residents of your reptile ranch while you’re off on some hunting or fishing expedition, one who carries her very own impressive rack and lives only to please her man. Isn’t that what most randy ranger types look for?”
“You know me better than that, Tressa,” Townsend said. “But you’re right about one thing. If what I’ve heard about these cruises is right, there’s usually an abundance of young, willing flesh to keep a sailor company. Remember, though, my cabin door is always open to you.”
door, ye scurvy, ignorant wretch,” I corrected in my best pirate lingo. “Arrrggh, it’s the plank for you, matey!”
“You’re not going to keep that up the entire cruise, are you?” Joe Townsend cut in.
“What? Keep what up?” I asked.
“All the seafaring speak and pirate prattle,” he elaborated.
I looked at him. “I don’t know. Does it bother you?”
“It irritates the hell out of me.”
I nodded and said, “Good to know, Gilligan. Good to know. And pardon me for getting into the spirit of things. Jeesch.”
We made our way to the front of the line and showed our tickets and government-issued I.D. cards to the uniformed crew, then went through security before we were permitted aboard. Once we were officially checked in, strapping young porters took our carry-on luggage and secured our stateroom assignments.
Our accommodations were all located on the Verandah deck—arranged to permit the newly blended family an opportunity to blend, according to my gammy. With the exception of my sister, Taylor, and yours truly, everyone had upgraded to exterior staterooms or suites with ocean views or balconies. Taylor and I would share an interior stateroom. Can you say, claustrophobic?
Still, beggars couldn’t be choosers, I knew, and I reminded myself of the “pity passage,” compliments of the bride and groom, that got me here in the first place. And with all the enticements on board the vessel—okay, so I was primarily thinking about all-you-can-eat chocolate buffets—the odds of me spending much time in a cramped cabin without windows with a seasickness-prone sis was roughly the same as me signing up for
anywhere for that matter.
The Townsend family contingent had shrunk to three, having lost two of their number to unforeseen circumstances. Originally Rick Townsend’s older brother, Michael, and his wife Heather had booked passage, but at the last minute they decided on a family trip to Disney World instead. I suppose it could have had something to do with their son Nick getting kidnapped at the Grand Canyon the day before my gammy’s wedding. Oh, he wasn’t hurt or anything. In fact, knowing Nick Townsend as I’d come to over the last week, I imagine he milked the episode for all it was worth, trading up a week in Podunk, Iowa, with his maternal grandparents to a family vacation at Disney. The kid was a Townsend born and bred, after all.