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Debbie Carpenter answered the knock at her cabin door and gasped. In one nano-second, her dreams of a romantic honeymoon cruise with her sexy husband Noel evaporated. Their neighbors on the cruise ship, Rudy and Howard, stood waiting to escort the newlyweds to the hospitality party. The two men wore friendly smiles--and nothing else.
Okay, so Rudy wore a purple terry cloth robe. Untied and gaping, a bathrobe hardly counted as clothing. Astonished, Debbie spun from the two naked men at the door.
From behind her, Noel cleared his throat. "Uh, Debbie? I meant to tell you. This is the Full Moon Cruise."
Too upset to listen, Debbie squeezed her eyes shut. Yet her brain held the images long after her back was turned: Howard, the college professor from Massachusetts with the well-groomed beard and thinning gray hair. Rudy, the younger man who would have been an irresistible stud-muffin if he bothered to have his hair cut and styled--or at least combed. Judging from their milky white skin, neither man had exposed himself to the sun in a while.
Too involved in some serious, heavy-duty necking, she'd tuned out the ship's public address system. She'd missed any announcements about leaving port or tonight's dress code--or lack of dress code. Had Noel's distraction been deliberate? No, that would be so unlike him. He'd probably tuned out the announcements, too. But what the hell did he mean about the Full Moon Cruise? Howard's naked butt making the rounds on board ship?
A deep craving for a shot of bourbon clawed its way through the layers of her defenses.
"You didn't tell her?" Howard's eyes widened.
Noelglanced at Debbie's back, stiffened and ramrod straight. "I-I wanted it to be a surprise." Surprise? What had made him say such a thing? His voice squeaked like an adolescent's.
"Surprise?" Rudy echoed. "Are you--"
Howard cut him off. "Under the circumstances, I think we'll leave you two to sort things out." He firmly clutched the younger man's robe and pulled him away from the narrow cabin door.
"Uh, thanks," Noel managed. "We'll see you on the Promenade deck." He closed the door, silently rehearsing an explanation.
Debbie faced him. "I think I've seen all of those two men I care to see."
He reached for her but she side-stepped him, her arms clamped firmly across her chest. "Debbie Sue? I can explain--"
"What's to explain? We're at sea with a boatload of perverts. On our honeymoon."
"Not perverts, honey. Naturists. They promote clothes-optional living. One cruise a month, called the Full Moon Cruise, is designated as a clothes-optional cruise."
"I stand corrected. We're at sea with a boatload of nudies." Her shoulders drooped. "What were you thinking?"
"I was thinking how lucky I was to get a booking on any kind of cruise at the last minute so we could have a honeymoon." He feared his voice betrayed his irritation. "Besides, I thought you'd get a kick out of it."
He didn't want to fight on their wedding night. It had taken him too long to make his dream a reality, his dream of making Debbie Sue Miller his wife. As teenagers they had been lovers, resulting in the conception of his beautiful daughter Beth, as he had only recently learned. The irrational feeling that the other shoe waited to drop rattled him.
"The Mendoza girl knows about this?" Debbie's blue eyes darkened to a thundercloud gray.
"Well, sure." He shrugged. "She handled the booking."
Mindy Mendoza had been the natural choice of travel agents, being Beth's closest friend. He remembered Mindy's misgivings about booking the cruise after a last-minute cancellation made it the only one available.
"It's a lousy booking, Noel. Inside main deck cabin, bunk beds, not even a porthole. Not to mention the full moon business--"
"No. We won't mention the full moon business." Noel had been sure it was the right decision. Always the straight-arrow stuffed-shirt businessman, he'd seen the nudists' cruise as a way to show Debbie Sue his new, laid-back attitude. Should he have heeded Mindy's warnings?
Debbie sank into the room's only chair. "Oh, Noel. How could you?"
He lowered himself to sit on the bunk bed, careful not to hit his head. "Is it really so awful, honey? It's only a six-day cruise. 'Clothes optional' means you don't have to wear clothing. It doesn't mean you have to go nude."
She pushed her sleek blond hair behind her ears, a gesture he had learned betrayed her agitation. "I have no intention of going nude anywhere on this ship except the shower, Noel Carpenter. Hell's bells, this is a fifty-year-old body, with sags and wrinkles and freckles and moles."
"It's perfect, as far as I'm concerned." Thoughts of making love to that body brought a smile to his lips.
"Don't think you can sweet-talk your way out of this."
"Come on, honey. What happened to the carefree girl who wanted to skinny-dip in the Potomac?"
A flash of pain crossed her face. "Is that how you see me?"
"What's wrong with being carefree?"
"At eighteen, carefree is cute. At fifty it's foolish."
His arms ached to reach for her, hold her. Reassure her. "I don't know what you want me to say or do."
"I want you to see whoever's in charge and get us off this ship. We're going home. We can honeymoon at the condo."
She stood and paced the short length of the cabin, which amounted to little more than walking in place. He had never seen her so perturbed. For the moment, his best plan of action was agreement.
"All right. I'll talk to the cruise director first thing in the morning."
He gathered his jacket, checking the pocket for his wallet.
"Where are you going?" The misery in her voice washed over him. He never would have predicted the Full Moon Cruise would upset her. The old Debbie would've been the first to rip off her clothes.
"I promised Beth we'd call and let her know we made it safely to Tampa. I didn't have time earlier." He didn't admit he had forgotten about Beth, the naturists and everything else but making passionate love to his bride.
Posted April 1, 2012