Four days on the water . . .
Four nights in his arms . . .
Charlene “Charlie” Stanton doubts her maiden voyage on a lusty singles cruise will direct her sails toward love. But an unexpected lothario just might change the tide in her favor . . .
Charlie boarded the Cozumel-bound Lovers Sail cruise hoping for nothing more than writing an article that would make it into the pages of City Wings, a trendy travel magazine. Still recovering from a highly publicized divorce, love is the last thing on her mind—especially when she realizes she’s mistakenly booked herself a spot on a kink cruise. That is until she meets Ford, an outsider just like her, and he whips her attitude into submission. Despite rules limiting their interaction, he shows her a world where pleasure is encouraged, and nothing is forbidden. And with Ford as her anchor, she begins to wonder if she can turn four nights of fantasy into more nights of reality when the trip is over . . .
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Four Nights at Sea
By Demi Alex
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Demi Alex
All rights reserved.
Charlie debated whether to kiss her boss or kick him in the balls. Paul was off his rocker with this one.
"That's right, ladies. This is your chance. We're going to feature the winning article in the Valentine's issue," Paul said, puffing out his mouth-watering chest and grinning haughtily. "The selected piece will join 'Aphrodisiac Foods from Around the World' and 'How to Say I Love You in Twenty Languages' in City Wings' Valentine's edition."
Holy shit! This was it. This was the chance Charlie had been waiting for. It was the break she needed.
"Our readers devour anything and everything having to do with international desires," he continued. "It's a way to escape the daily grind and dream of possibilities. Who would have thought New Yorkers were so romantic?"
Yes, Charlene — Charlie — Stanton wanted her writing to win. She wanted to publish a real feature, with her own byline, in one of the trendiest travel magazines for New Yorkers. No, she didn't want to compete against her friend and roommate, Kathryn Taylor, though. They'd worked together at City Wings for over two years, worked well together as copy writers and staff writers, and now Paul was pitting them against each other as feature writers. It was so messed up. A disastrous idea.
"Get out there. Do your research," Paul said, circling his hand above his head like he was a Texas rancher. "Lasso someone who makes your body hum, and write about the perfect place to find love, ladies."
"Seriously, Paul? Lasso someone who makes our bodies hum?" Kathryn rolled her eyes, then smacked her forehead with the back of her hand. "Wait. Hold on a minute. Wait ... wait. I'm seeing a handsome man, in a far off and romantic place like Paris, sweeping me off my feet."
Paris. Kat had to go and mention Paris. Like, why? Did it really matter if Paris was the most romantic place on Earth if neither of them wanted to fly over and find out?
Charlie didn't travel well and wasn't in the mood for a trip to the doctor in order to get a prescription so she could get on a flight. Kathryn had to stop speaking about the perfect place to find love on the other side of the Atlantic. How did one argue the romance of Paris?
Wondering why she'd ever picked up the vape stick when she'd never even smoked, Charlie reached for her pink, sixty-dollar vaporizer, and twirled it in her fingers. She answered the silent question in her mind. The thing was a crutch. Something to keep her grounded when thoughts crowded her mind and she wanted to scream at the world. Screaming and throwing temper tantrums were not allowed in the grownup world. Puffing on vanilla-flavored vapor kept her mouth occupied. It kept her from engaging in unladylike behavior.
"I think we can take a small detour from the publication's travel angle on this," Charlie said. After all, living in New York did have its benefits when it came to an abundance of male prospects for the feature. "Why can't a woman find love in her neighborhood, and then sail off into a foreign and exotic land with the love of her life?"
"If it's done properly, I can see it working. However, any featured lovers must take off in the end for a foreign destination." Paul nodded, tapping his fingers on the table as he considered her argument.
Maybe, just maybe, Charlie could convince the sexy tyrant to see things her way? Hope spread in her chest and she leaned forward in her seat.
"There is a pragmatic benefit, too," Paul added. "If we concentrate on finding love locally, more of our readers will relate to the accessibility of that goal and can dream of escaping to a romantic place with their loves."
"Exactly," Charlie said, breathing with relief.
Paul encouraged her to continue, so Charlie barreled on. "The dating scene has evolved so much over the past few years. There's always the chance of meeting someone at a bar or a club. Online sites host a bunch of events in this city. And let's not forget the old-fashioned way of being introduced by common friends."
"Great options." Kathryn looked doubtful. Charlie and Kathryn had exhausted all those options, but neither had found Prince Charming at a neighborhood hangout. Her friend was even more disillusioned than she was. Kat didn't believe that love could last. Yet she was blabbering about far-off and exotic locations. Maybe because Kat loved to travel, and Paul was willing to tag along?
Charlie was screwed. For some perturbed reason, Kat angled for Charlie to write about Paris. What was up with that? Wasn't she just arguing Paris was perfect for finding love? And, why couldn't they keep it in New York? Considering how many people lived and worked in Manhattan, if you couldn't find love in the Big Apple, you couldn't find it anywhere.
"How are those local options working for you?" Kat asked, snapping her fingers before Charlie's eyes.
Kat continued on her Paris Romance 101 introduction, but if Charlie was honest with herself, she had to admit she was just as disillusioned as her friend with the local love options. She couldn't truly get behind any romance for herself. Sometimes things weren't fair. Like maybe it wasn't about the location. Maybe it was about the fact that Charlie hadn't let any guy in since her divorce. She simply couldn't. It was too difficult to decipher their intentions. Did they like her for her? Or did they like her for her trust fund?
"Not fair," Charlie said. "Maybe it's been bad timing for me. I really haven't tried too hard. It's been difficult to trust anyone since my divorce, so maybe I'm the problem and the scene is just fine."
Paul cleared his throat and held up a hand. "You're not the problem, Charlie," he said, covering her hand with his own. "Your asshole ex is. So let's take jerks like him out of the equation for the benefit of this piece."
Whatever. She needed to relax. And just flirt. Like Kat and Paul were doing.
"This is a very incestuous organization," Charlie said, pointing from Paul to Kathryn to the door. "Between you two and the accounting department, a tree house should be the official headquarters of City Wings. You're all too tight."
The conference room filled with laughter. Paul and Kathryn had known each other forever, so they had no problem teasing or hitting below the belt. When it came to Charlie, they treated her with kid gloves. As if her divorce had been the end of her life. It hadn't. It had actually opened her eyes to what she really wanted. More than anything, she was so over the money-grubbing scumbags of the world.
Charlie was ready to move on from sitting-duck status. She was doubly ready for a real sex life — something she hadn't had with the ex — but she needed to learn how to compartmentalize physical and emotional.
Shit. Shit. Triple shit. She had to stop thinking so hard. Everything she wanted would come, after she had her byline. First, she had to prove herself as a competent and successful writer to her family. It was a matter of professional and personal honor.
"We're looking for love, not sexy interludes," Charlie said, an idea sparking in her mind. "Sexy interludes. But. Fine. Okay. Got it." She placed her palms flat on the table and stood. "If we're really looking for the perfect place to find love, why not a cruise ship? It's textbook romance. What about one designated for singles? Passengers board with an agenda. Just think how much fun we'll have writing about a cruise."
"Nope. There is no 'we.' You can sail away on a Love Boat, and Kathryn will fly off and take her chances in Paris," Paul announced. Kathryn tried to argue that he should reverse the assignments because she was nervous about running into a past fling, but thankfully he didn't budge. Paul insisted that Kathryn would benefit from a personal tour with Marko Renard, the man she'd placed above all others for years. He assigned her Paris. Charlie got the cruise. She sent up a silent prayer of gratitude. She didn't need the added stress of flying if she was going to concentrate on her feature.
"Good," Paul said. "Time for you ladies to bring out the claws and get down to work. You each have your assignment. Your expense accounts will be adjusted and ready to go by noon. See Justin for the details. Get me your stories by next Wednesday. I'll decide which one gets published in the Valentine's issue."
"On what criteria will the winner be chosen?" Kathryn asked.
"Whatever I want," he said with a devilish grin. "I'm the boss."
* * *
Two thousand dollars was more than enough money for roundtrip bus or train fare and a reservation on Lovers Sail Tours. Just over a day on the bus, then she'd sail out from Miami on Thursday. Then off to romantic Cozumel; add the singles on board, and she was sure to get enough material for a winning feature.
Charlie reserved an inside cabin on the sixth deck and booked a port excursion. Lovers Sail recommended the "romantic" experience, and was even willing to pair them up if needed. Partners would be determined once on board.
After clearing her immediate departure from the office with Paul, Charlie went home to pack.
* * *
With her expandable carry-on-size suitcase and leather backpack ready by the door, Charlie grabbed her cell, opened the Seamless app, and repeated the last order of shrimp pad Thai, red curry beef, and two orders of the crab Rangoon appetizer. She finished verifying payment just as the front door crashed open.
"Charlie, I'm home," Kathryn called, her forehead wrinkling as she took in the packed bags.
"Aowww." Charlie pretended to rush and hide the luggage in the closet. Relieving her friend of the large brown bag, she peaked inside and squealed. "Fuck-me boots! Way to go, babe."
"Got you something, too." Her friend dangled a smaller bag, stuffed with tissue paper, and dropped onto the couch. Kathryn patted the cushion at her side, but didn't offer her the gift. Instead, in a very animated and exuberant manner, she did the honors herself.
Charlie sat and clasped her hands between her knees. She watched her roommate pluck tissue paper from the bag and fling the sheets extravagantly over her shoulder. Amused with Kathryn's stripper imitation, Charlie covered her mouth with her hand and made her eyes extra big with excitement. "Should I blush before or after the big reveal?"
"I'm sure you blushed enough while you were packing," Kathryn said, pulling out a package of batteries and waving them in the air.
Charlie burst out laughing and grabbed the batteries. "Thank you. These are much appreciated and will be put to good use."
"I hope not," Kathryn said, lifting a red lace thong from the bag. "I think you could get more use out of these." Next came the black lace and lastly, the silk.
"You're too much," Charlie said. "You do know this is a work trip?"
"So what?" Kathryn replied, shaking her head. "A good reporter explores all avenues. All. Figured you could wear the granny panties the first night, but you'll need these for the next three."
Kathryn had assumed correctly. She had packed nothing but cotton underwear. Shaking her head, she stood and reached for the new lingerie. "For your information, I don't wear granny panties. They're cotton bikini panties. Practical. Pretty and sexy, too."
"Sure, if you're in high school." Kathryn scrunched her nose. "I take that back. Have you seen what those girls wear?"
"These are adorable," Charlie said. "Thank you." She walked the few steps to her suitcase and folded the new underwear into the outside pocket.
"Wait. One more thing," Kathryn said, dangling a skimpy, pink string bikini from her fingers as she walked toward the closet. "Pack this."
"No way," Charlie protested, sliding her palms over her hips. "Have you seen these?"
"I certainly have. You have a rockin' bod. You're not covering it with that stuffy one-piece you've had forever." She fit the bikini into the same pocket Charlie had placed the underwear in, then propped one hand on her hip and held out the other. "Give me that fugly suit."
"I like my fugly suit," Charlie replied, laughing and waving a dismissive hand through the air. The intercom buzzed. "Saved by food delivery. If you want dinner, you'd best be nice to me."
"I am nice," Kathryn insisted. "Didn't I just give you a sexy bikini and killer panties? Do I need to deliver a ripped man to your bed?"
"That would work," Charlie answered, plucking a five from her wallet for a tip and sashaying to the door.
Once they'd devoured the appetizers, finished half of each entrée, and switched dinners, Charlie confessed to packing mostly conservative outfits.
"My cruise-appropriate clothing is pre-divorce," she explained. "They're a little traditional, considering my mother had a hand in selecting every piece, but they're fine. I'm not cruising as a participant. I'm cruising as a professional observer."
"Seriously? You packed those clothes?" Kathryn placed the red curry beef on the coffee table and stood. She disappeared into the bedroom, clearly on a mission, leaving Charlie cringing on the couch from the noise of the massive storage bins being dragged out of the closet.
"I can't fit into your clothes," Charlie called, imagining her friend tossing short and skimpy dresses over her shoulder. "Don't bother. Even if I could get your miniskirts over my hips, they'd reach my knees."
"I'll admit we have different shapes. You're blessed with knockout curves, I have more height, but we're almost the same size," Kathryn said, emerging with her arms full of casual, bright-colored clothes.
"They still have tags on them," Charlie said.
"I picked them off the clearance racks at the end of the season and haven't had a chance to wear them yet." Kathryn held up a neon-green tank top printed with a phrase about giving her coffee before speaking. "These will help with getting people to talk openly with you. They invite conversation." She held a pink one up to her chest. It read, Ask Me. "If being a non-intimidating professional is your goal, these will work in a casual setting. You could wear them by the pool bar."
"Yes," Charlie conceded, reaching for the tanks. "They're good, non-intimidating, and cute. If you don't mind me being the first to wear them, I'll take them."
"I don't mind," Kathryn replied, holding the bright-colored shirts high. "On the condition that you agree to take these dresses with you." She held up a barely-there little black number. The plunging halter matched the nonexistent back, which matched the tiny skirt.
"That's not enough material to cover my hips." Charlie held up a hand in protest. "Even if I'm five inches shorter than you, it's barely going to reach past my underwear."
"Don't wear any." Kat handed her the items in order. Colorful tanks. Miniskirts. Skimpy and fun sun dresses.
Sighing, Charlie stuffed them in her case and returned to the couch. "You need to look at it from my point of view, Kat. This assignment means something different to me than it does to you."
"What are you talking about?" Her friend gave her a sobering look and sat beside her. "It means a byline to me and to you. We've worked hard for our own features. Plus, it's an opportunity to break out of our loveless ruts."
"Kind of." Charlie reached for the electronic cigarette and took a long drag. "I'll admit that what you're saying is mostly on target. However, there's never been a doubt in your ability to make it as a writer. Your parents supported your career goals — maybe not financially so much, because they couldn't, but they always cheered you on. Paul hired you because he knew you were a capable writer. He had proof from your school days." She puffed on the pink stick and chased the vanilla-scented vapor with a waving hand.
"You're a great writer," Kathryn insisted.
"Thank you," Charlie said, folding her hands between her knees. "I like to believe that, but my family doesn't. According to them, the only reason for me to attend Columbia Journalism School was to find the right husband, which I recklessly overlooked during my undergraduate education. They think I was there for my M.R.S. degree."
"You are so much more than pretty wifey material," Kathryn said, her pitch a bit higher than typical. "You're such a talented writer, not to mention someone that I would always want at my side. Dependable, smart, hardworking, stable —"
"It doesn't matter." Where her family was concerned, her main objective had been to find the proper husband to grow her inheritance. Her shoulders dropped in defeat, but her determination rose in opposition.
"Okay. Let's talk about how this week will make a difference." Kathryn covered Charlie's hand and squeezed in support. "I'm here for you. Let's brainstorm the best avenues to prove that you're more than a pretty face."
Relief and gratitude flooded Charlie. She was so lucky to have a friend who believed in her. "I'm going back to the basics. Starting with the five W's every investigative reporter asks: Who, what, when, where, why ... I'm going forward with my intentions from the moment I embark. I'm going to interview all of my fellow passengers that are willing to share."
Excerpted from Four Nights at Sea by Demi Alex. Copyright © 2016 Demi Alex. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This second book in Demi Alex's series did not disappoint. You feel like you actually know and like the characters. It is an absolute love story, and at the same time, it is fun, sexy and steamy. I actually read it all in one day as I could not put it down!