Authors: Rachael Wade
All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination
or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual events or
locales or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental. No part
of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever
without written permission of the author except in the case of brief
quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Copyright © 2014 - Rachael Wade
Rabbit Hole Press
ISBN: 978-0-9896304-8-1 (Paperback)
Editor: Susan Miller
Cover Design: Robin Ludwig Design Inc.
To Carol Kunz. You are a presence. Thank you for your love, support, and friendship. This book would have remained an incomplete manuscript and would have never seen the light of day if it weren’t for your encouragement and our Olive Garden lunch dates.
I’m going to make this short and sweet this time. Thank you to all of my reader, writer, and blogger friends. You make this job the best job in the world. I love you.
I will not drown today. I will not drown today. I will
My feet are planted stubbornly at the foot of the stateroom door, which remains closed. I haven’t had the nerve to unlock it yet, much to the annoyance of the hallway passersby. They hurry around me, bumping into me as they go, but my eyes are glued to the shiny gold doorknob. I have about five more minutes, if I’m lucky, before Lana shows up to burst my little bubble—the one that allows me just a few seconds of uninterrupted, ignorant bliss. Five more minutes before I have to step into this room and begin this journey. Before today, I’ve never stepped foot on a cruise ship. Hell, I’ve never stepped foot on a boat, and that’s saying a lot, considering this is Florida.
But here I am, standing on this ship after dragging my ass out of bed at the crack of dawn to arrive at Port Canaveral for a twelve-day cruise that was forced upon me by my well-intending, very persistent red-headed best friend. I might have played a small part in this by eventually giving in to Lana’s relentless badgering, but as I stand here in this tiny hallway in front of the elegant stateroom door, I’m certain that this is a bad idea. Scratch that—a seriously horrendous idea.
Who the hell goes on a cruise when she’s afraid of water?
Had I not fell for Lana’s ol’ sob story about her break-up with Matt, I probably wouldn’t be standing here right now like a complete loser, staring at the door as if it’s about to reach out and bite me. I’m here to support her, and according to her, to have a good time. We’re also here to work.
“Anya?” Lana’s voice soars toward me from the end of the hallway. “You okay, Sweets?”
I chance a peek in her direction, my white knuckles still gripping the key tightly. I inhale deeply, then exhale, nodding and smiling ardently at her. The bubble bursts. Reality washes over me—there’s no getting off this ship now.
“Hey,” Lana’s voice softens as she approaches and reaches for the room key. She gently tugs it from my fist, the one balled up at my side, and opens the door. “You’ve got this, okay? You’re going to have a great time. You’re going to relax, and when you get home, you’re going to be so glad you came with me, I promise. This is just what you need, An. And I don’t know what I’d do without you right now.”
“I think I’m going to be sick.” I swallow the lump in my throat, still not budging when Lana lets the door swing wide open.
“You’re on a luxury cruise liner, woman!” She squeals and smiles brightly, tapping my shoulder to encourage me forward. “You’re going to the freaking Bahamas, for crying out loud! Get excited! And, um, hello? You have the best company
.” She lifts her chin with a smug grin and I can’t help but smile. For someone who just went through the break-up from hell, Lana is pure sunshine, dousing me in her radiance.
God knows I need the vitamin D.
I steel myself and step into the stateroom, immediately drawn to the elegant gold drapes that frame the single porthole view. The bed is layered in fine burgundy silk and the pillows are soft, fluffy clouds. There’s an opulent cherry-red vanity mirror and dresser, and a flat screen TV facing the bed. Our suitcases sit waiting for us just inside the door, tagged with our room number. I’m in awe, and judging by Lana’s excited shouts, she’s just as impressed. She lugs her heavy suitcase into the room and hops onto the bed, running her hands over the gold and red silk comforter.
!” she shrieks. “I’ve never been on a ship this posh before. I’m telling you, An, this trip is going to be amazing. We’re going to pamper the living hell out of ourselves, you got it? Starting this afternoon. We’re changing, and then we’re getting our asses out on that deck. I want sun, man candy, and a margarita, stat!” She bounces back to her feet and ducks into the bathroom, leaving me standing there, staring out the porthole window. I hesitantly make my way toward it, forcing my gaze to the blue, cloudless sky. As uneasy as I am about this whole adventure, there is an innate tingling somewhere deep in the pit of my stomach that tells me Lana might be right. This might be just what I need, although admittedly, it scares the hell out of me. It’s not water I’m afraid of, really. I like to swim. Love it, in fact.
It’s the ocean that gets me—so tumultuous and powerful, sleek and unpredictable. Being at its mercy makes every hair on my body stand on end.
“You’re freaking out again,” Lana’s voice breaks my train of thought. My shoulders stiffen and I blink, shoving the fear deep, deep down, where it belongs. She knows me way too well.
“How can I not freak out?” I turn slowly to face her. She’s leaning casually against the wall, arms crossed, brow furrowed in concern, while she bites her lip.
“You have no reason to be afraid,” she says quietly. “I’m going to be with you the whole time. You’re safe.” She raises her hands and gestures to our room. “Don’t let it distract you from the good stuff. Just try to enjoy the view, okay?” She smiles cautiously and juts her chin toward the porthole window. I follow her gaze back to the window and take in the bright, spotless sky once more.
“I know I am,” she says, all sassy and playful. “Now get your pale ass into that bikini so we can get this party started.”
“I should be the one giving you a pep talk right now.”
“Don’t worry about me,” she says, waving her hand dismissively. “Matt’s history. I’ve gotta suck it up and get back on the horse. This trip is the perfect opportunity. Okay, you gonna get a move-on or what?”
“We haven’t even unpacked.”
“It can wait.” She leans down to pick up my suitcase and hoists it onto the bed with a groan, unzipping the front compartment to rifle through my stuff. “Here!” She locates my teal blue bikini and tosses it to me, laughing when the strings slap me in the face. “The fun awaiting us on deck is far more important at the moment.”
I smile as I look down at the nylon material in my hands, clenching it tightly. This is certainly a nice break from my usual nine-to-fiver attire. “Thank you,” I say, with all the warmth I can muster. Lana always knows how to calm me down and lift my spirits. She believes in me, and that makes me want to believe in myself.
“Thank me by putting that thing on. Come on!” She claps and adjusts her halter top, moving to fluff her hair in the mirror.
I laugh. “Am I going to have to restrain you?”
the men boarding this ship? There are shiny things everywhere. I’m going to explode.”
“Well, I need a shower first. I feel gross. You rushed me out the door so fast this morning, I didn’t have a chance to take one. Head up without me and I’ll meet you there.”
“You sure? I don’t mind waiting.”
I cock a brow at her and smirk. “Just go.”
“Okay!” She grabs her bag and sunglasses and lunges forward to give me a quick squeeze. “I’ll save a chair for you. Don’t be long!”
She flits her fingers and hurries out the door, and I quickly retreat to the bathroom and step into the neatly tiled shower stall. I smooth my long brown layers out, parting my side-swept bangs to the right, and slide my sunglasses on top of my head. Once my white sundress is slipped over my bikini, I do one last check to make sure I’ve tossed everything I need in my tote bag, and then I’m good to go.
The excitement around the ship is palpable as I step out into the hallway, pulling the stateroom door shut behind me and listening for the click of the lock. My nerves are still on edge, but at least for now, we’re still docked. I find my way to the elevators and scan the directions on the wall. Learning my way around this thing is going to be a feat. I scramble inside the glass elevator and start for Deck 10 Aft, where Lana awaits me with a lounge chair, margarita, and just as she’s hoped, lots and lots of man candy hanging around the pool area.
“Good God almighty, remind me again why I was with Matt Jenkins?” she whispers loudly as I take a seat on the chair she’s saved for me. “I mean, would you look at him? And
?” She points as two guys stroll by us, all tanned, toned, and beautiful.
“You’re asking the wrong girl,” I say, giggling at her shameless ogling. I was never a fan of Matt Jenkins, but I kept my distaste for him under wraps as best I could. For a while there, he made Lana happy, and that’s all that mattered. Now that he was out of the picture, though, I was pretty thrilled. Everything about him was wrong for Lana, even though she hadn’t seen it right away. He was too picky, too controlling, and far too manipulative for a woman like her. She is brave and independent, not to mention ambitious. She graduated at the top of her class, taking mostly honors courses, and even now, working far above me as assistant editor for Four Corners Elite magazine—a travel publication—she has her sights set on becoming editor-in-chief of the magazine one day. Matt’s drive to better himself paled in comparison, and the more her career took off, the more he seemed to envy her.
“Just two more hours until we leave the port. You still feeling uneasy?” Lana taps her plastic cup against mine in a toast and settles back on her chair, tilting her head up to soak up the sunshine.
“Nah, I’ll be fine. Or I will be once this margarita kicks in, that is.” I join her in settling into my chair, breathing in the warm spring air and getting lost in the reggae music that floats around the deck. In seconds, I’m burning up and rise to slip off my sundress.
“You already have an admirer,” Lana teases as I strip down to my bikini, adjusting the knot around my back.