Authors: Barbara Longley
Also by Barbara Longley
Love from the Heartland series, set in Perfect, Indiana
Far from Perfect
The Difference a Day Makes
A Change of Heart
The Twisted Road to You
The Novels of Loch Moigh
True to the Highlander
The Highlander’s Folly
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Barbara Longley
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
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Cover design by Laura Klynstra
To seafarers everywhere: May the ocean current lead you to exciting adventures beyond your imagining!
Plotting a story, creating the characters and imagining the setting are a huge part of the storytelling process. For
Once Upon a Ni
ght at Sea
, I had the unique opportunity to carry Marin and Jason with me as I saw the sights they would see, listened to the sounds they would hear and savored the foods they would taste. You might be interested to know that I took them with me to formal night. I also brought them along on my walks around the promenade deck. Marin and Jason lounged by the pool beside me and spent a luxurious few hours in the spa while I had a massage. What an excellent way to write a story. I hope my characters will come alive for you, and that you too will experience a few pleasurable hours enjoying the luxurious and exotic surroundings that I was so fortunate to have experienced during that most excellent week at sea.
is 952 feet long,
weighs 113,000 tons and holds 3
it’s not the motion of the ocean
after all. Size matters.
Marin’s phone chirped insistently from the depths of her purse. Sliding a handful of bills across the counter toward the barista, she moved to the pickup end of the counter and pulled the blasted thing from her bag. The screen displayed “Unknown Caller.” She was tempted to let it go to voicemail, but it might be one of the new suppliers for her home decor and design center. “Hello?”
“Hello, is this Marintha Allen?”
“Yes, this is Marin.” The attendant behind the counter called out her beverage, and Marin reached for her salted caramel latte.
“Congratulations, Marin! This is Aidan Moline from SLS, and
are one of the lucky winners in our romantic getaway raffle. We drew the names the day after the Valentine’s mixer.” Aidan sounded very pleased about the whole thing.
She frowned. “Oh?” Anne, Marin’s best friend, had bullied her into attending that party, just like she’d guilted Marin into joining the expensive social club, Singles Living Social. Marin didn’t remember buying any raffle tickets the night of the mixer. Had she? Not likely. Taking time off from her fledgling business was
feasible right now. “Are you sure, because—”
Aidan rattled off her name, number and e-mail address. “Is this you?”
“It is.” And Anne would soon be on the receiving end of a
“In that case, we’re taking you on an all-expenses-paid cruise to the western Caribbean six weeks from today—along with three lucky bachelors, two more bachelorettes, myself and another SLS associate. The folks at SLS have lots of fun activities planned for the entire sun-filled week.”
“Great.” Though a cruise somewhere warm, sunny and exotic was tempting, she dreaded organized activities, mixers and especially
. She shuddered at the thought of some stupid game designed to force her into approaching people she didn’t know.
“I’ll send an e-mail to let you know what we need from you, and a couple of weeks before we leave, we’re planning a get-together to go over the details. You know, a little—”
Don’t say it, don’t say—
“—icebreaker for the six of you.”
Marintha scratched her itchy neck. Hives? She was already formulating a list of possible excuses to miss the pre-cruise get-together. Besides, she hadn’t decided whether or not she could go. On the rare occasion she did take a vacation, she preferred setting off to explore on her own or with a trusted friend or two. No one could accuse her of being an extrovert. In fact, in the three months she’d been a member of the SLS, she’d only attended a handful of events, including the Valentine’s Day party.
Still, it had been a brutally cold, dark winter, even by Minnesotan standards, and she had been working very hard all year. Could she afford to take a break? Her interior design studio had only been open for six months, and she’d just hired an assistant manager a couple of weeks ago. Jody wasn’t ready to be left alone yet.
“We’ll be spending seven glorious days at sea and stopping at three fascinating ports of call on
, one of Princess Cruises’ premier ships,” Aidan said, his enthusiasm spilling into her ear. “Visit their website and take a look at the many amenities they have to offer.”
“I’ll do that.” She’d never been on a cruise before. Did she even have anything appropriate to wear? Marin walked out of the coffeehouse and into the frigid February murkiness. Sun. Palm trees. The ocean. A cruise would be nice. “I’ll keep an eye out for the e-mail.”
“Great. See you in a few weeks.”
At least she had some time to think about it, and she would get on the Internet during her lunch break to see what she could find out about Princess Cruises
. Marin dropped her phone into her purse and headed for her car. Halfway there, she hit a patch of ice, and her feet flew out from under her.
“Ahh!” Marin flailed, tossing her latte up into the air. She latched on to the back end of the pickup truck beside her. Somehow, she managed to keep from falling. Sort of. “Whew.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, willing her racing pulse to slow down.
“Thanks,” a disgruntled masculine voice grumbled. “Not exactly what I had in mind when I stopped for coffee.”
She peeked at the man and pushed herself to standing. He was covered in her coffee. Why couldn’t she have splashed her drink all over the hood of someone’s car, or held on to the stupid cup? Nope. That’s not how things worked, not for her, anyway. To make matters worse, the man dripping salted caramel latte happened to be extraordinarily good looking, not to mention well dressed. “I’m so, so sorry.”
Sexy brown eyes met hers. “Not your fault,” he conceded, shaking droplets of coffee off the bottom of his black leather jacket. More of her beverage of choice had found its way into his thick, wavy dark hair, and the front of his gray gabardine slacks now sported brownish spatters—all the way down to his knees.
“Great move, by the way, tossing your cup into the air like that.” One side of his mouth quirked up. “Are you OK?”
Nodding, she stared.
. Her heart fluttered like a fangirl’s catching sight of her favorite star.
My oh my.
Why did men always get the long, thick eyelashes? If guys like this one belonged to her social club, she’d gladly overcome her social anxiety and become a regular. “I’ll pay for your dry cleaning.” She moved to less slippery asphalt. “It’s the least I can do.”
“If anyone should pay my dry cleaning bill, it’s the coffee shop. They
responsible for the condition of the parking lot, after all.”
“Maybe, but they aren’t responsible for the way I tossed my coffee.”
Purely a Marin
Childhood taunts echoed through her head.
Marin the Menace
her brothers had called her, or
. She’d dash to her car right now if she didn’t fear slipping again, and this time landing on her squashed pride. She pointed to the white crystals sprinkled over the lot. “Besides, someone did put down salt. They just missed a spot or two.”
He shook off a few more drops of coffee. “And now you’re without your morning caffeine, and I’m drenched. At least let’s go inside and demand a replacement”—he sniffed at his jacket—“caramel latte.”
Great. Mr. Latte-Drenched-Hot-Hunk was the confrontational sort. Too bad. Confrontation, along with icebreakers, gave her hives. “Um…”
“Let’s go see justice done, shall we?” He gestured toward the coffee shop.
Yep. Probably a lawyer. Not her type at all. Torn between her addiction of choice and her wish to avoid making a scene, she took a step back. “It’s not their fault I have a tendency to toss things in the air when I’m startled. Anyway, it’s unlikely the coffee shop
this lot any more than the other stores in this strip mall do. I doubt they’re responsible for the maintenance, and I’m not holding them responsible for replacing my coffee.”