Had his ship finally come in?
For Christopher Trask, it was beginning to look that way. Though his professional life might be a shambles, his Valentine's Day family reunion on the high seas was looking most promisingespecially once he met fellow passenger Larkin Hayes. The beautiful "it" girl was there to keep an eye on her often remarried father. But Christopher couldn't keep his eyes off her.
Larkin was suspicious of Christopher from the startand her father falling for his aunt was certainly complicating matters! Still, a cruise ship wasn't real life and Christopher could kiss her senseless. So what was the harm in a little holiday fun? Surely her common sense would return once she was back on dry land .
About the Author
Kristin has been book-crazy her entire life. When her mom would tell her to go to bed, she'd hide in the bathroom just so she could read a few more pages. In the afternoons, she'd play with her dog, Misty, in the backyard and tell her elaborate stories of princesses and Indians, dressing the dog up to play the part.
She grew up in Anaheim, California, home of Disneyland. When she was 12, Kristin started her first novel about a boy growing up with a racehorse. She managed to get only about 10 pages into it, but the seed of ambition was planted. She wrote short stories throughout junior high and high school, and entered college as a creative writing major. Unfortunately, the pressure of writing literary short stories for a weekly college course was far different than writing one story a semester in high school, and that was the end of that.
Shortly after, now as a geology major, Kristin read about category romance in a Sunday supplement and decided to give it a try. Her first effort brought together an aviatrix and a cowboy and had a great scene in which the heroine airlifted a sick ranch owner in the midst of a thunderstorm. Unfortunately, it didn't have much else. A few years later, now as an engineering major, she decided to try again with a book about a lady architectural engineer and the gorgeous owner of a shipping company. This time, she had a cute meeting scene and a great kiss scene, but still no real plot or conflict. She tossed it after three chapters.
The next year, this time as a physics major, she came up with a plot about a firefighter and an engineer. Things were looking good when she thought about plot points and conflict and actually developed a solid story line. A couple of chapters later, though, she moved away to attend grad school in Orlando, Florida, home of Disney World. (Are we seeing a pattern here?) The manuscript moldered in her closet.
After graduation, Kristin worked in Connecticut on the mirrors for a NASA X-ray telescope now orbiting the earth. Writing kept calling to her, though. She quit engineering and moved to New Hampshire to join the editorial staff of an engineering trade magazine. There she met and fell in love with her husband. Suddenly all those romance novels made a heck of a lot more sense.
Plot possibilities followed her when she left the editing job to join a business-to-business dot-com (where she was an on-paper millionaire for a heady 30 seconds). Around that time, a publisher tried to recruit her to launch a print magazine for an engineering society. Driven by the conviction that it was time to finally finish one of those danged books, she took the job and negotiated a four-day workweek that would allow her time to write.
Her ambition coincided with the announcement of the creation of the Harlequin Blaze line. Inspired by a presentation at a writers' conference, she plotted out a Blaze novel on the plane home and wrote the draft of chapter one that night. Ten months later, she typed the words The End and did victory laps around her living room. My Sexiest Mistake sold to Harlequin's Blaze line for publication in June 2002. In 2004, My Sexiest Mistake became a made-for-television movie on the Oxygen network!
Kristin lives in New Hampshire with her husband, also a magazine editor, who is her critique partner, copy editor, web master, and master of her heart.
Read an Excerpt
Larkin Hayes looked across the glassed-in lido deck of the Alaskan Voyager to Vancouver Bay beyond. When she'd left L.A. that morning, the mercury had been headed for the mid-nineties. Here in Vancouver, it hadn't even cracked sixty degrees.
A snatch of the Lost theme song had her pulling her BlackBerry from her pocket.
"I'm just leaving the airport," a voice said without preamble.
Five years might have passed since she and her father had spoken regularly, but Carter Hayes seemed to have no doubt that she'd recognize his voice.
And she did. She just couldn't believe what he was saying. "You're only now leaving the airport?"
"My flight got delayed in Tokyo."
"You're aware the ship sails in a little over half an hour, right? We've already done the lifeboat drill."
"I think I can find a lifeboat on my own."
"The question is whether you're going to be able to find the ship in time." Then again, Carter had always been able to do just about anything he wantedexcept maybe make a marriage last.
"They won't sail without me," he said confidently.
"If you're lucky."
"I'll be lucky."
One corner of her mouth tugged up. Quintessentially Carter. What wasn't quintessentially Carter was booking fare on a commercial cruise line for their trip. He could have chartered a yacht; hell, he probably could have bought a few dozen of them.
Except that cruising for a week or two on even the largest yacht would have left them with a few too many silences to fill.
Across the way, a family had commandeered two tables and still spilled over the edges in a three-generational confusion of bodies and laughter. What would it be like to be a part of that kind of happy tangle of relations? she wondered enviously. Someone to joust with, someone to travel with. Someone else to try to talk some sense into Carter. Instead, she had a handful of disgruntled stepbrothers and sisters, all of whom wanted no part of the man they now loathed, except for maybe his money.
Larkin shook her head. No point wasting time on pointless thinking. "Our first port of call is Juneau," she said. "You can always catch up with the ship there."
"Forget Juneau. The cab driver tells me we're twenty minutes away. I'll be there."
"In that case, you'll find me on the lido deck."
"Good. Order a bottle of Clicquot. We'll drink to the future."
To the future, Carter's favorite toast. Not surprising for a man who'd made the bulk of his fortune from futures trading.
Larkin ended the call and walked through the doors that led outside onto the fantail, not sure whether she was amused or annoyed. Then again, Carter had that effect on people. He could be, by turns, infuriating, surprising, generous, charming, brilliant and astonishingly pigheaded. As a husband, he'd been a miserable failure in marriages two, three, four and, she assumed, five. As a father, he'd been like a football teamgood seasons and bad seasons.
And, for the previous five years, off seasons.
She pulled her duster-style coat more tightly around her to ward off the chill and shook her head. A trip to celebrate his sixtieth birthday, he'd said, but she'd recognized it for what it wasan olive branch. A fine idea, in theory. What she and Carter were going to do with one another for a week solid, though, heaven only knew.
Staring at the islands across the bay, Larkin watched a floatplane as it dropped down from the sky and scudded along the waves. How did it feel to land on water the first time, on shifting waves instead of the solid concrete of a runway?
Like finding out she was going to be living with a new stepmother. And another. And another.
"Stop right now!"
The man's shout had Larkin whirling to see a small girl pelting out of the doors, glancing back over her shoulder and laughing. And then it seemed to happen in slow motion, the girl tripping, falling, pitching toward the deck with a yelp.
"Hey!" Reflexively, Larkin reached out to catch the wiry little body before it hit. She didn't reckon on the momentum, though, and instead wound up tumbling to the deck with her, her BlackBerry spinning away.
"Whoops." The girl grinned at her from under a mop of curly dark hair.
There was a rush of steps. "What the hell?" A man skidded to a stop and stared down at them a little out of breath. "Sophia, you know you're not supposed to run."
"Maman says hell is a bad word."
"Then I guess you shouldn't say it." He hoisted her to her feet.
His cropped hair was as dark as his daughter's, Larkin saw. Matching stubble darkened his jaw, a frankly delectable jaw with a chin that had just a hint of a cleft, the kind that made Larkin want to nibble it.
He held out a hand as Larkin sat up. "Need a lift?"
He might have had the cheekbones of a model but he had the beat-up hands of a man who worked for a living, scarred, sinewy. She was prepared for his palm to feel hard and callused. She wasn't prepared for the jolt of heat that surged through her, as though he were connected to some hidden power source. She swayed as she stood.
"Easy, there. Take a minute to get your sea legs."
"We're not at sea yet."
"Which is why you should start now."
He retrieved her BlackBerry and handed it to her. An irresistible humor hovered around the corners of his mouth, glimmered in his brown eyes. "Christopher Trask," he said. "And this little heathen, who will be apologizing any minute, is my niece, Sophia."
"I already apologized," Sophia complained, squirming.
He gave her a stern look. "What did I hear your mother tell you about running?"
"That you were supposed to stop me," she returned with an impudent look. "Anyway, you said a bad word."
They stared at each other a moment, at an impasse. "How old are you again?" Christopher asked finally.
"You know I'm six."
"Do you want to live to blackmail again at seven? Apologize."
Sophia eyed him. "You won't tell Maman I was running?"
"Not if you say you're sorry." And not if she didn't out him, Larkin realized with silent laughter. "Now please apologize properly to Ms. "
"Hayes," she replied obediently. "Larkin Hayes."
Christopher folded his arms and cleared his throat.
Sophia shuffled her feet. "I'm sorry I knocked you down. I shouldn'ta been running." She looked up at Christopher beguilingly. "Can I go tell Keegan about the stuffed penguins now?"
"Sure, but don't run," he finished as Sophia dashed back inside. He watched her for a moment, then nodded to himself as she apparently reached her destination. He turned back to Larkin, dusting off his hands. "You can see how she respects me."
Larkin gave him an amused look. "Your mastery of the situation is obvious."
"I was afraid of that." He scrubbed at his hair ruefully. "It's harder than it looks, you know. Especially when they run in packs."
He nodded. "It sounded like a good idea at the time."
"It always does." She walked over to the rail. "I take it you don't have experience with kids?"
"Nope. Bachelor uncle. Or, I don't know, first cousin twice removed? They're my cousins' kids, whatever that makes me."
"Uncle Soft Touch?" she suggested.
"Not if I can help it." He came to a stop beside her.
"Of course not. I don't know what I was thinking," she said sweetly as she leaned on the varnished wood.
"The trick is to break their spirits while they're young."
The corner of her mouth twitched. "And I can see how good you are at it. Shouldn't you be getting back inside? Their parents must be desperate without you."
His glance at the doors was a little hunted. "I'm sure they won't miss me. I'll just soak up a little more sun."
"You're aware it's fifty-eight degrees and cloudy, right?"
"I'm an eternal optimist."
This time she grinned outright. "So how many of them are you up against?"
"Five. All under the age of seven. If you see me in a bar later mainlining Shirley Temples, you'll know I cracked."
"I'll be sure to send over some peanuts."
Gulls circled over the whitecap-dotted water. Christopher wore only khakis and a deep blue flannel shirt against the fresh breeze that sent the pennants over their heads snapping, but he seemed not to mind it.
"Do you work outside?"
He blinked. "Why do you ask?"
"You don't seem to mind the cold."
His teeth gleamed. "I run a farm in Vermont. This is balmy."
"Vermont," she said. "Maple syrup."
"You'll warm my cousin Jacob's heart. He and my aunt have a sugar bush. They make maple syrup," Christopher elaborated at her uncomprehending look.
"Well, someone's got to. Or are you one of those people who thinks that food comes from the grocery store?"
"Of course not. Everybody knows it comes from restaurant kitchens."
It was his turn to grin. "You take some keeping up with, Larkin Hayes."
"Get your running shoes handy. So what do you farm?"
"These days mostly bills."
"Not much money in that," she observed.
"There is for my creditors. For me, it's a miracle cure for being rich. Anyway, what about you? What's your story?"
Improbable, at best. "Not nearly as colorful as yours. I'm traveling with my father. It's his birthday."
"Figured it would be nice to celebrate?"
"Yes." And even nicer if Carter actually made it onto the ship.
"So where is he?"
"Oh, around," she said vaguely.
"Had to take a breather already? We haven't even sailed."
Larkin gave him a sharp look. "He's not here yet. He got delayed. We were coming from different cities." Different continents, actually, but the less said about that the better. She pushed away from the rail to walk.
Christopher ambled alongside her. "So what was your city?"
"Yeah? You an actress?"
She laughed. "Why would you ask that?"
Humor glimmered in his eyes. "Because you're not big enough to be on American Gladiators."
"It's not the size, it's the viciousness. I've got tricks up my sleeve that would turn your hair white."
"In that case, could you show me a few so I can defend myself against my nieces and nephews?"
She gave him a sly look. "I only use my powers for good."
"Oh, come on, I need all the help I can get."
"Sorry, Gladiators' code."
He shook his head sadly. "You didn't look like a cruel woman when I picked you off the deck."
"Looks can be deceiving."
"In other words, you really are an actor."
"Isn't everybody?" She glanced beyond him to see Sophia giggling at the door, next to a little boy with the same midnight hair. "I think you're being summoned."
Christopher turned to see them both waving madly at him. "Time to go play uncle," he said.
"Well, it was nice to meet you." She put out her hand. "I guess this is goodbye."
His look held pure devilry. "Just how big do you think this ocean liner is?"
Small, he thought as he followed Sophia back inside to the staterooms. With luck, as small as a tugboat. Larkin Hayes was far and away the most interesting person he'd met on the cruise so far. Oh, hell, who was he kidding? She was far and away the most interesting woman he'd met in years. Four years, to be exact. There was something about her that made it hard to look away, some inner sparkle, a confidence in the way she stood, long and slim. Not to mention the fact that she was flat-out gorgeous with that wide, generous mouth and that mane of blond hair that made a man want to sink his hands into it. It wasn't that that got to him, though (really), but the smarts. Was there anything sexier than a clever-tongued woman?
She put that intelligence to good use, he figured, judging by her outfit: pea-size diamonds in her ears, a cashmere coat and, unless he was very much mistaken, a forty-thousand-dollar Patek Philippe watch. You noticed that kind of thing when you'd spent over eleven years as a financial industry lobbyist. Between Washington and Wall Street, he'd seen pretty much all the trappings of wealth that were out there.
Which had eventually sent him running back to the farming life he'd grown up with, but that was a different story.
And Larkin Hayes had a story. It showed in her eyes, sea green and dancing with fun, yet guarded in some indefinable way. They might have talked but she'd told him very little.
Which only made him want to find out more.
It was an ocean liner and there were only so many places to go. Sooner or latersooner if he had anything to say about itthey'd run into each other again. Yep, by the end of the week, he was going to know Larkin Hayes a whole lot better.
"No standing on the deck chairs, Adam," Molly Trask reminded her grandson as they stood on their suite's veranda. Her bobbed hair, once a glossy black, had turned full silver, a color that made her eyes look even bluer. She'd stayed trim, thoughanyone with a family and a business like she had spent way too much time running around to let the pounds pile on.
"I wanna see," Adam said obstinately.
"You just had your turn," Jacob Trask said, turning from where he held Adam's twin sister, Sophia, and their brother Gerard. Tall and burly as a lumberjack, Jacob looked like he could easily hold them up forever. And as their father, he probably would. "When your mama comes back from making her spa appointments, we'll go up top where we can see everything."
He came by it honestly, Molly thought. Adam senior, her husband, had always been impatient himself. Impatient to work, impatient to live, impatient to love. And, it seemed, impatient to die. Ten years had passed since he'd left her, suddenly and unexpectedly. Ten years and it still felt fresh. In the time since his death, she'd focused on her family, watching her sons marry and start families of their own. How her barrel-chested, booming-voiced Adam would have loved being surrounded by his half-dozen grandchildren, rolling on the floor and playing with them. Spoiling them unmercifully, no doubt.
Well, she was no slouch in the spoiling department herself. Nor, she thought, were her sons, spiriting her off on an Alaskan luxury cruise just because she'd read an article in the Sunday travel section. To see the glaciers, they said, but she knew what it was really about. It was the tenth anniversary of Adam's death, and they wanted to take her somewhere she'd be surrounded by family and things to see and do. Sweet of them, she thought fondly. They never asked, but she knew they worried and wondered why she'd never remarried. How could she explain that a love like she'd had with Adam left little room for another?
So she stood outside her plush stateroom and counted herself the luckiest woman around because she had the most precious of thingsfamily.
She rose. "Come on, Adam, I'll take you to the top deck."
The movement took Larkin by surprise. One minute, she was sipping at her appletini and idly chatting to the couple next to her at the bar. The next, she'd realized that the pier was farther off. A lot farther off.
So that was it, then. They were under way, and Carter hadn't arrived.
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God I really liked this one.