Marooned with the rock star (a crazily sensual rock star romance, with humor)

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MAROONED WITH THE ROCK STAR

 

(A Crazily Sensual Rock Star Romance, withHumor)

 

By Dawn Steele

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names,characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’simagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actualevents, locales or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

 

Copyright 2013 by Dawn Steele

This title was previously released as‘Wrecked’ by Aphrodite Hunt

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Dawn Steele is the New Adult romance pen nameof Aphrodite and Artemis Hunt. Aphrodite Hunt, Artemis Hunt andDawn Steele have had 23 books in the Top 100 Amazon Erotica, 1 bookin the Top 100 Amazon Romance, 12 books in the Top 100 of theoverall Barnes and Noble store, 1 book in the Top 100 Amazon NewAdult, and 1 book in the Top 100 Amazon Paranormal Shifter Romancecategory.

Dawn believes that true love will conquerall, even if the circumstances appear cagey at first glance. Thatis why all her books have ‘Happily Ever After’ endings, althoughshe will tease you with twisty plots and subplots to make you thinkthis will not be so in the beginning.

Please sign up for her mailing list. She willupdate you whenever there is a new romance released under DawnSteele, Aphrodite Hunt or Artemis Hunt.

 

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KURT

 

Fuck!

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, and double fuck!

She’s coming towards me, dressed in a crispwhite blouse and a blue skirt. She has a clipboard in her arm andshe’s talking to this doddering old lady who looks as though she’sa hundred years old and smells of mothballs. She is talking veryanimatedly, waving her clipboard around as though it is a weapon,describing something in that extremely excitable way of hers that Iremember.

Rebecca Hall. That’s who she is. I have beentrying to get away from her since high school, and I thought Isucceeded, but here she is again – like a cold sore that wouldn’tquite go away.

Fuck!

And to see me like this?

I’m not exactly in my best presentation. Iusually come gift-wrapped in a package, with my tight leather pantsthat leave nothing to the imagination and my ripped shirt. Oh yeah.I do a lot of clothes ripping on stage to bare my torso with themagnificent faux phoenix tattoo on my back, marvelously etched withhidden meanings and secret symbolisms by the great Mephisto, tattooartist extraordinaire, himself.

But I’m not in my stage clothes right now. Infact, I’m in a janitor’s overalls. I’m pushing a mop with my handsand a bucket of dirty and soapy water threatens to slosh a littlemore over the edge each time the ship lists to one side – which isfairly often in these breakers. My usually glorious auburn hair,left to flow free and wild and untamed, is tied back into a subduedponytail.

Fuck!

Let me count how many times I’ve said theword ‘fuck’ in the last five minutes.

How I got to be in my present condition is along story. And I do meanlong– not to mentionunjustifiable.

I’ve got to get away from here.

I can hear Rebecca’s voice as she comescloser.

“And we have breakfast from six to ten thirtyin Café Palais on the second deck. That’s right. You can chooseyour breakfast from a menu of American, Continental andJapanese.”

The old biddy’s voice is considerably lowerin decibels. In fact, she’s so old that I kind of expect her toslip through the cracks of the ship’s deck and fall into someboiler room. Do they still have boiler rooms here? I notice thatshe has some hearing aid attached to her ear that is probablymalfunctioning, which may be the reason why Rebecca is practicallyshouting at the top of her voice to make herself heard.

“A Japanese breakfast consists of rice, someseaweed and miso soup. Miso . . . it’s spelled M-I-S-O.” Rebeccaenunciates each letter carefully. “I’m not sure what’s in it. Maybeyou can ask the chef?”

Shit.

She’ll see me. I quickly turn my back on herand pretend to be extremely engaged with the mop. I make furiouscircles upon the deck. She can’t come too close because I have putup two ‘CAUTION: CLEANING IN PROGRESS’ signs at the periphery ofthe area I am supposed to clean. The wooden boards squeak with myvigorous cleansing. That part of the floor is going to bespotlessly shiny, I’ll bet.

“No, I don’t think Japanese food will giveyou the runs, Mrs. Caldwell. Their food is known to be quiteclean.” Pause. “Yes, it’s known to have quite a lot of MSG, but Idon’t think MSG will give you the runs. If anything, it will makeyou thirsty.”

Their footsteps come closer – theclickety-clack, clickety-clack of heels on hard flooring.

Then:

“Say, are you Kurt Taylor?” says anunfamiliar voice to my right.

Oh no.

I swivel around, mop trailing a splash on thedeck. A boy of around fourteen is standing inside – not outside,mind you, butinside– my circumference of cleaning safety,and he’s tracking his shoes all over my clean floor. I don’t knowwhether or not to be more outraged about this or the fact he hasblurted my name out to all and sundry.

In particular, Rebecca Hall.

The two women stop to stare at me.

“Kurt Taylor?” says Rebecca in a funnyvoice.

“No, I’m not Kurt Taylor,” I mumble.

“You are Kurt Taylor,” the boy insists. “Youwere in that music video with Scarlett Johannson. She was kindacool. You’re kinda cool too . . . but today, not so much. What areyou doing mopping the floor on this cruise ship? Your latest albumsunk or something?”

Not good.

Rebecca Hall approaches me with a funny lookon her face. She is all fiery green eyes and red hair, just the wayI remembered her. When was the last time I saw her? Four yearsback? During high school graduation? She probably went to college,unlike me.

Gawd. She’s as pretty as ever. Pity I neverliked her, and she never liked me either.

“YouareKurt Taylor,” she says in ahigh-pitched, extremely angry voice. She has seen my face now. “I’dremember you anywhere.”

I’d remember her anywhere too, though not forthe usual reasons. I suppose everyone will know sooner or later whyI am on this cruise ship doing menial duty. Mrs. Caldwell and therest of them old biddies will see to that.

I say to no one in particular, “OK, I’m KurtTaylor. Big deal. So you’ve seen me.”

The boy’s eyes go round. “Wow, this is socool! Can you wait right here and I’ll run to my mother to get amagazine or somethin’ for you to autograph?”

He dashes off. Thank God. I don’t need agaggle of admirers surrounding me. Although Rebecca Hall wouldn’texactly be considered one of my admirers by a long shot. Quite theopposite.

Rebecca stomps right up to me withoutpreamble.

“Hey,” I say, “watch the floor. This is a nogo zone.”

“This is what I think of you.”

Her eyes are flashing oh-so-prettily and hernostrils are flaring. There are two pink splotches on her cheeks,and she looks as healthy as a horse. She is a big girl too. Talland large-boned and well-padded. I know I made her sound like ahorse, but she isn’t really. I always found her rather attractive,even though she’s a little on the plump side.

Before I can say or do anything, she picks upmy half-filled pail up and flings the dirty, soapy water all overmy head.

SPLASH!

 

*

 

Zzzzzzip.

Rewind.

How did I get into this mess in the firstplace?

KURT

 

I don’t want to talk about how I met RebeccaHall right now. You would have to go back to high school to knowour history together, and it isn’t what you think. We have neverdated. We have never even made eyes at each other, except to rollthem.

No, my history with Rebecca Hall is far toocomplex and painful. It was back when I was another person –someone I didn’t want to be. I’m not that person anymore, and I’mnot so sure I’m proud of myself for what I did back then. But Ifigured it was the right thing to do forme, you know.

Rebecca obviously didn’t think so.

I’d rather talk about how I got to become arock star. Yup, that’s me. Kurt Taylor. Lead singer of the doubleplatinum rock band, Red Velvet. They were already an establishedrock band on the scene for ten years, when their lead singersuddenly died of an OD.

It was front page news. Atticus Ford, 29, wasfound in his bathtub, dead from an overdose.

This was extremely sad and speculative newsfor everyone in the newspaper and tabloid reading world, of course,including their online permutations of TMZ and Deadline Hollywood.But for me, it was life-changing. Not because Red Velvet asked meto be their lead singer overnight.

No way.

I actually had to go through fifteen roundsof auditions to be in a reality TV show so that America’s rockaudience can vote me in to be the next lead singer of Red Velvet –which is named after the cake, so I’ve been told.

I didn’t even win the reality TV show, calledAmerican Rock Star, outright. Nope, I got second place. Butkarma would have it that the winner actually broke his spine rightafter the final show due to a tumble off a brand new Harley that hehad bought immediately, and Red Velvet needed someone to cut arecord and go on tour right away.

So I was called in.

I am lucky that way. At least, I was luckythen.

All this happened during the year I wassupposed to go to college. Now, I’m no valedictorian. I didn’tgraduate with any honors, and my GPA was a measly 2.5. A collegewould be hard pressed to offer me anything but an athleticscholarship . . . for basketball, which I was fairly good at. Butwhen this gig came up, I passed over the measlyoneoffer Ihad for college, and headed to New York to become part of thevelvety ensemble.

I was famous overnight, and I didn’t doanything much except to strut onstage and win the audience overwith my sex appeal.

Believe me, I had –have– plenty ofsex appeal.

I have a good voice with a slight hoarsenessto it, but the American audience apparently lapped it up,attributing sexiness to my mild throaty defect. I look really greatin tight leather pants, especially when you see me onscreen or onYouTube, where my final song was downloaded over two hundredmillion times – thirty million more than the actual winner, who hasa marvelous voice but lacks my body and considerable charm.

So the next two years were filled withpromotions and cutting records in studios (only no one really cutsvinyl records these days, it’s all gone digital now) and whirlwindtours and hiring a PA to tweet for us every day. I was the frontman for the band. The sex idol. The face they put in front ofLetterman and Conan O’ Brien and the scary quartet in ‘TheView’.

I was exhausted during those first two years,you can imagine.

If you think a rock star is all sex and drugsand groupies, think again. In the first two years, I was trying tomake my mark, and so I had very little energy left for sex. Ididn’t want to warp my head in drugs, and neither did the bandmembers. They very soberly and wisely remembered what happened toAtticus Ford, whom the fans were already deeming irreplaceable.


Page 2

And so I had to prove myself to the band andthe diehard fans at large who were intent on hating me for thesimple reason that I was not Atticus Ford.

OK, they cited a whole lot of other reasonsfor hating me:

I was not even as talented as Atticus Ford’slittle finger

The slight hoarseness in my vocals werebetter suited to a country ballad singer than a rock star

If I thought I could make up for my lack oftalent with a whole lot of gyrations onstage and sex moves, thinkagain. I was not Atticus Ford and I didn’t even have a modicum ofthe man’s charisma.

 

(OK. I geddit. I’m not Atticus Ford.)

(You should see the amount of hate comments Igot on my official video channel on YouTube.)

 

So I had to work doubly hard just to make thegrade. I could honestly say no one worked as hard as I did in theband. I learned new dance moves, and practiced them until they wereperfect. I took singing lessons from an ex-opera singer who nowsuffered from morbid obesity.

I hired the most expensive choreographer inthe business to make sure I looked good on stage and on our musicvideos. It was easier for the other band members. They played drumsand acoustic guitars respectively, while an orchestra supported usin the background. I had no instrument to croon with andfondle.

And so, unlike Atticus Ford, who largelyjumped up and down the stage and seized everyone’s attention withhis sheer charisma, I improvised with dancing.

Naturally, the haters were on to meagain.

They said:

I couldn’t dance

I couldn’t dance to save Atticus Ford’s life,and that was why he was still dead and not spotted in Vegas like somany dead celebrities

I should just stop trying to be Atticus Ford,because I was never going to replace him.

 

But I wasn’t trying to replace Atticus Ford.I was just trying to carve out my own identity and my own niche. Mymanager told me I should grow a skin thicker than the bark of arainforest tree, and I should just stop reading my YouTubecomments.

It was harder than weaning myself off CandyCrush, which I played during our tour downtime hours.

Anyhow, the haters didn’t stop me from tryingharder to prove myself. I studied the art of music and took myturns at writing songs for Red Velvet. Two of those songs were rockballads with an Eagles tunesy country rock tone to them, and theybecame Top 10 Billboard hits. One even stayed in the Top 100 for 34weeks. Another one was a Queen cover I did – ‘It’s a Kind ofMagic’. That shot to No. 1 and stayed there for two weeks.

The haters were silenced. I could do it on myown.

So all that took four years. And during thelast two years, after I had my own hit with a song that was pennedmy own hands, both music and lyrics, I let myself indulge abit.

Oh yeah.

I didn’t swear off sex indefinitely.

I merely took a hiatus.

REBECCA

 

Kurt Taylor!

I don’t believe he’s here!

I don’t believe how I am thinking about himin exclamation marks!

I am a tempestuous, impetuous person, and myblood was boiling over in a quick simmer – like a kettle spillingover – when I threw the pail of dirty water at his face. I rememberthat face well. That deceptively handsome face, with his mouthtwisted in a sneer whenever he favored me with a glance. Orsometimes he would give me a quizzical look, as if he couldn’t makeup his mind where I stood with him.

Well, he certainly got the brunt of my anger.And he deserved every bit of it.

I hate him.

(There, I actually said it without anexclamation mark.)

I hate, hate, hate, detest, loathe KurtTaylor, and I wished the earth – or in this case, the ship’s deck –would just open up a hole and swallow him.

The reason why I hate him so much makes meheartsick. Every time I think of it, a knife twists in my chest,and a burning pain spreads down to my gut and up my throat,flooding my brain with things I’d rather not think about.

Kurt Taylor stands there on the sun deck ofthePrincess Alexandria, staring at me. His jaw has dropped,and his hair is plastered on his forehead in wet, straggly strands.He always did have the most marvelous hair, which he keeps long,even in high school. I envied him that hair, especially since mineis mostly unmanageable without a ton of mousse.

His hair.

I mustn’t think of his hair. There was many atime in high school that I caught myself staring at that hair. Insome classes, I sat behind him, and I was staring at his glossyauburn looks, which are slightly wavy at the back. At that time, itwas shoulder-length. Even then, I had the compulsion to twine myfingers around it, just to see how silky it felt.

Now, his hair is longer than shoulder-length,but he ties it up with a band into a ponytail.

Mrs. Caldwell next to me says “Wow!” in thatexcitable, whispery voice of hers. Her eyes sparkle as brightly asher cataracts would allow.

“You got him good!” crows the kid who hascome onto the scene. He’s the one responsible for me recognizingKurt Taylor. So I owe him one. Or not, depending on how you look atit.

I drop the now empty pail onto the deckbeside me. It strikes the floor with a clatter. My chest is heavingand my arms ache from lifting that heavy load.

The kid turns to Kurt Taylor.

“Aren’t you gonna hit her with that mop?” hedemands gleefully.

Kurt Taylor doesn’t acknowledge the kid’sadvice, thank goodness.

Instead, he closes his mouth, probablybecause soapy water is running down his face and hair and gettinginto it. The front and shoulders of his shirt is completelydrenched. He is wearing some plain blue overalls which remind me ofthe kind our high school janitors used to don.

You can still see the outline of his hunkybody underneath it, especially now that he is wet. You can see howwell-filled his sleeves are. There are probably hard muscles insidethose sleeves. His pectorals are probably hard as well, and nowthat his shirt is wet, his nipples are outlined like little pointedpeaks.

Ooooo.The unbidden shudder trillsbetween my legs.

I suppress it sternly.

His butt is equally tight as well, as are histhighs. He is as tall as I remembered. His eyes are still as blueas ever. They are now wide open with surprise. Shock.Remembrance.

Bad remembrance.

God, he’s beautiful. I have always thoughtso, that smug bastard. Unfortunately, his beauty also goes withcruelty. I only know it too well.

He doesn’t say anything to me. He is stilltoo stunned. I suppose he doesn’t expect to see me working on acruise ship. Then again, I didn’t expect to see him mopping the sundeck of a cruise ship on the Atlantic en route to the Bahamas.

You see, I purposefully didnotfollowKurt Taylor’s career.

I did not, for instance, watch hisperformances on that program,American Rock Star, where theyscreen contestants for that awful rock band whose music I neverliked.

I did not, for another instance, download hisofficial Vevo channel on YouTube to watch his music videos as hegyrates and twists and shakes his well-shaped bum to dance moves Inever knew he had when I watched him glide on the floor during ourprom.

I completely refused to indulge in Googlinghis name to see which news channels he appeared on. I’ll admit Iwas curious, but I stemmed that curiosity by choosing to workharder than ever at my college courses.

It was difficult at first, but that curiositywore off after a while, and Kurt Taylor became another footnote inthe corner of my brain, to be tucked away and filed in a box andstamped with ‘DANGER: DO NOT OPEN’.

So I am fairly astonished to see him workinga mop on a cruise ship.

But I can’t ask him his reasons for beinghere right now, because I have just dumped water all over him. Heprobably will never speak to me again for as long as we both shalllive. Which might not be very long in my case if he has anything todo with it.

My cheeks feel warm. Whatever possessed me tolose control of myself like that? But Kurt Taylor had always donethat to me – bring out the worst of my temper. I really can’tsuppress my rage and negative energy around him. Never could andprobably never will.

Before I can embarrass us both any further, Imake myself walk away without another word.

 

*

 

Damn.

 

*

 

With these kinds of things, there are usuallyrepercussions.

The bad thing about being in a ship is thatthere is an astronomical price to download anything on theInternet, either by the data plan on your cellphone or the ship’scomputers in the business center. The staff go everywhere withpagers and walkie-talkies.

If I had a cheap Internet line on mycellphone, I would be furiously downloading webpages now as to findout why Kurt Taylor is on this ship.

I am in my bunk. Moping. Or at least, tryingto mope while I speculate as to what happened with Kurt Taylor.

I am naturally too proud to ask anyone abouthim. I’m sure that snot-nosed kid would have given me the rundown.As it is, my pride is leaving me to speculate wildly as to why heis on this ship, washing the deck.

Some reasons may possibly include:

His latest album release has failedmiserably. He is now irretrievably bankrupt. Instead of working atWendy’s and asking, “Would you like fries with that?”, he opts tohide away his sorrows at sea instead.

He has two million dollars to pay in backtaxes and he’s on the run from the IRS.

He is in hiding from an overzealous fan whois stalking him and wants to make him her baby’s papa.

He is actually on the FBI’s witnessprotection program

He lost a bet to a band member and he has toperform janitorial duties as a penance.

 

This is probably the only time I haveregretted being on a cruise ship during my four days on board sofar. Not having Google at my beck and call.

 

*

I do not actually work for the cruise line.My job is more complicated than that. Uh . . . well, as complicatedas complicated first jobs get, that is.

As a psychology major, I wanted to work withgeriatrics, especially those who are pre-Alzheimer’s. I wanted todo a thesis to see if constant mental stimulation – like doingcrossword puzzles or playing mahjong – would make a difference indelaying or even preventing the disease. But before I can get tothe good stuff, the university sent me to a retirement home to talkto the senior citizens there. It appears that I have to walk beforeI can run.

Of course, it appears that the folks at theretirement home have been planning a cruise outing for about thebetter part of two years. And when I happened to show up on thescene, after three months into the job, they asked me to be theirminder.

“It’s a very tough job, Rebecca,” the managerof the retirement home said.

“I know,” I said.

I was trying to contain myself from leapinginto the air with glee.

“At any time, one of our flock here can get aheart attack.”

“I know.”

“Some of them are on medication, and you haveto make sure they take their pills every day while you arethere.”

“I know. It’s a very difficult job, butsomeone has to do it.” I nod sagely. “I have a system to remindthem to take their pills.”

It was called ‘timed’ reminders on theircellphones, which they had to carry every hour of the day.

I have never been on a cruise ship before. Ihave never been to the Bahamas. So when they offered to pay mypassage for me – on a discounted fee, under the senior citizens’fare – I jumped at the opportunity.

As a ‘working’ staff on board, along with theother tour guides and cruise agents, I am required to carry a pagerin case someone in my charge has a heart attack.

My pager beeps now.

Insistently. Annoyingly.

I share my cabin with a tour guide from NewOrleans, and she is out on some deck activity now – probablyplaying parlor games with the retired folks.

I’m awfully jumpy whenever my pager beeps. Itcould be one of my charges keeling over from a heart attack. (Hey,they are old. It can happen on a ratio of one out of two.) It couldbe one of my charges actually keeling over and falling overboard,which would then necessitate someone jumping in after them torescue them with a float and a line.

So I leap for the phone beside my bed now andpunch in the extension that appears on my pager’s digitaldisplay.

“Rebecca Hall here? Did you page for me?”

An unfamiliar male voice resonates deeply onthe other side. “Rebecca Hall? This is the Captain speaking. Can Isee you in my office right now?”

Uh oh.

I swallow the sudden lump that has come intomy throat.

“Of course, sir. Right away, sir.”

I put down the phone.

Why am I calling him ‘sir’? I do not reportto him. I am not part of the crew. But he has such a stentorianmanner of speaking that I am naturally falling into an obeisantstate of mind, like hypnosis. I guess it is part of ‘working’ onthis shift. You basically just want to bow to a higher authority,especially one with an appellation like ‘Captain’.

I scurry out of my cabin and make my way uptwo decks. The Captain’s office and quarters are near the frontpart of the ship so that he can be closer to the dock or whateverit is Captains need to be close to.


Page 3

I pass a lot of people, some whom Irecognize.

“Good morning, Mrs. O’ Donnell.”

“Yes, Mr. Craig. I’ve had my breakfast. Thankyou for asking.”

“Where am I going in such a hurry, you ask,Mrs. George? No, I don’t have diarrhea. I just have to be in theCaptain’s office.”

“Mrs. Halberd, are you all right? You looklike a little green. After I come back from the Captain’s office,I’ll see about getting you some seasick pills.”

I finally reach the Captain’s office withoutfurther interruptions. The embossed name outside the door reads‘CAPT. KRAZYCEK’.

I timidly knock the door.

“Come in,” says that deep, commanding malevoice I heard over the phone.

I have not met the Captain yet. I have seenhim from afar, and he is certainly very handsome. I open the doorand enter.

The Captain is seated behind his oak-paneleddesk, which has been polished to gleam. Various paraphernalia siton this table – a tiny ship’s model, a complicated compass system,documents, pens, assorted bric-bracs. The walls are filled withmore navigation equipment and charts. There are several books onthe shelves, but I can see that these are behind locked glasscabinets so as not to allow anything to fall off while the shiplists.

Captain Victor Krazycek is as handsome as Iremember him, though he’s a little too old for my tastes. He looksto be in his early forties, with black hair and stormy grey eyeswhich make me think of the ocean during a tempest – only that Ihave never been in a tempest. (OK, he’s not oldoldby mostpeople’s standards, but I’m only twenty-three and he’s certainlyold enough to be my father if he had me when he was twenty.)

I can well imagine a man who looks andcarries himself the way he does to have garnered and to continue togarner a lot of female attention. I can also well imagine himsowing his wild oats at every port he calls. Probably a lot ofchildren around the world can lay claim to Captain Victor beingtheir father, and more probably my imagination is being carriedaway by the majesty of this man before me.

I clear my throat. He looks up at me intentlywith his piercing grey eyes that seem to look right through me. Ialmost have to take a step back with the impact.

“Captain, uh, Victor . . . you asked to seeme?”

“Yes. You must be Ms. Hall.”

“Please call me Rebecca.” I say in a gush.Not for flirtation purposes, mind you, but it makes meuncomfortable to be addressed as Ms. Hall. That was what my mosthated professor, Mr. Thurston, used to call me.

How nice of you to join us today, Ms. Hall.I trust you’ve had a good nap on your desk just now.

The Captain gestures to one of the two chairsbefore his desk.

“Please, sit down.”

I seat myself with a scrape of the chair. Mypulse is racing. I suspect I am about to be admonished.

“Ms. Hall.”

“Rebecca.”

“Rebecca.” The Captain pauses to appraise me.I know I look a little sweaty and disheveled running around in thesummer heat, and so I’m not at my best. “There has been a complaintabout you from one of my crew members.”

Yes. I was expecting this.

“I can explain,” I say. “I – ”

“How can you explain something when you don’teven know what it is?” he chides.

Right. I must appear quite contrite, becausehe chuckles.

“You’re a feisty young woman, Rebecca. Now,on to the complaint. One of my crew members has made a complaintabout you as to what happened this morning.”

My cheeks flush. “Captain, it was very wrongof me to lose my temper like that, I admit. But your crew memberand I go a long way back, and he did something very terrible backthen. Something I never forgave him for.”

His grey eyes dance. “So you knew Mr. Kartikbefore this?”

I am nonplussed.

“Mr. Kartik?”

“Yes. Mr. Kartik was my crew member who madethe complaint about you.”

“Oh.” I guess I was expecting him to say ‘Mr.Taylor’.

“So . . . do you know Mr. Kartik?”

“Uh, no, I don’t.”

He smiles. He must think I’m an impetuousdope.

He says, “Mr. Kartik observed you throwing apail of water at Kurt Taylor, who is a guest of the state of NewYork.”

“Huh?”

“You did throw water at Kurt Taylor, did younot, Rebecca?”

“Yes, I did. And I do know who Kurt Tayloris. I just don’t understand the part about the ‘guest’.”

He gives me a quizzical expression. “Do youknow what happened to Kurt Taylor, Rebecca?”

I frown. “No, I don’t.”

He raises his eyebrows as if to say: “Don’tyou follow the news?”

KURT

 

After Rebecca Hall dumped the pail of dirtywater on me, I stare at her retreating form for a whole minute,stunned.

Until the little tyke reminds me, “Hey,aren’t you gonna get changed? You’re dripping all over the floor.Ewwww.”

Right. First things first.

Muttering something inaudible, I grab my mopand the now empty pail and stalk off into the lower decks. I havemy own cabin down there which I don’t have to share with anyonebecause of the predicament I’m in.

That’s right. A predicament.

It happened like this.

After years of hard work and building up mycredibility as the lead singer of Red Velvet, I decided to letmyself have a little fun. It was four years of backbreaking labor.I had sex occasionally, but most of the time, I was just too tiredafter fourteen hours of grueling work to get my pecker up. It isn’timpotence either. I’m too young for that. It was just sheerfatigue.

There were always plenty of women surroundingthe band whenever we were on tour. My band mates – Tyler Mason,Steve Cousins and Alex Madison – always had plenty of chicks whowere willing to put out. They didn’t have to work as hard as I did,having made their mark in the rock industry already. I mean, thoseguys are music legends.

But now I too have made my mark. The ‘hate’comments on our Facebook page had gone down to a hardcore group ofpeople who had nothing better to do. I had acquired a lot of fanson my own as evidenced by the growing number of my unofficial fansites and Twitter followers, which are numbering in themillions.

The night we were nominated for a Grammy, Idecided to celebrate.

We were in New York.

I was raking in the cash. For a boy who grewup in a trailer park, I had never thought I would amass so muchmoney in my entire life. And at my age! With what I had, if Ididn’t fritter it away on sex, drugs and rock and roll, I couldretire happy.

I remember those nights when I was five yearsold, and my single mother was out of work. I remember how hard shehad to forage for money to feed us and buy us clothes – all five ofus kids. I remember her making eyes at the guy who owned the usedcar lot in our little town so that he would give her a job as atemp. I also remember her sleeping with him behind his wife’sback.

I don’t ever want to go back to that sort oflife again.

So instead of trusting myself to invest thatmoney, I hired a financial planner and let him handle the lot. Iallowed myself the liberty to buy a penthouse, however, and aLamborghini – which was something I’d always wanted.

Now I could reap the fruits of my labor.

Back to that night.

“Hey, bro,” Tyler said as he raised a bottleof Heineken to me. We were in the dressing room. We had justfinished taping a segment with Leno. “You gay?”

“Huh?” I said.

“It’s just that we never see you with theladies. All we have to do is strut outside and they’ll be liningup, bending over and grabbing their ankles. All that’s left to usis to pull down their panties and fuck them.”

That is true, not to mention crude, though Ihad never gone for that type of woman.

“I’m not gay,” I said haughtily. “In caseyou’d forgotten, there was that waitress in Ibiza.”

“Yeah, which you fucked for all of tenminutes.”

Well, I did fuck her, at least. Strange tothink that in high school, I was considered quite the stud for awhile.

“And there was that yoga instructor inDenver,” I argued.

“Never saw you fuck her,” Stevecountered.

“I was up in the hotel room with her allnight.”

“You could have been passed out.”

I fumed. The others were grinning at me. Thiswas all good-natured teasing, but there was an undercurrent therethat I could detect. They were all goading me on.

You have to prove yourself to us all overagain, kid. In a different way now.

That was the trouble with being so muchyounger than the guys. It was like they were a tribe. They didn’tjust accept you because you worked hard and wonAmerican RockStaron your own merit. (OK, I got second place.) You werealways the rookie, the one who drew the short straw, the new kid onthe block.

Alex got up.

“Let’s go,” he said. He was the oldest of theband members – the one who founded Red Velvet, and therefore, thede facto leader.

The others uncurled themselves andfollowed.

Steve shot me a backward glance. “Youcoming?”

“Where are we going?”

He winked. “You’ll see.”

 

*

 

After evading the fans, who had gatheredoutside the studio to scream and throw panties at us, we drove offin our black van with the tinted windows. Stan, our driver, took usto downtown Soho, where a long line was forming outside a club.

The van avoided the queue and took us to theback, where a man was waiting at a nondescript door.

Stan wound down the window.

“All clear?” he asked the man.

“All clear.”

Stan looked back at Alex.

“All clear, boss.”

At thirty-six years of age, Alex was stillpretty fit. He clambered to the door and beckoned to the rest ofus. “What’re you waiting for? A flashing tit invitation.”

That mightn’t be a bad idea, I thought. To behonest, I had been coasting on adrenaline for the past four yearsnow, and I was feeling pretty drained. A night of relaxation withthe guys wasn’t too spooky a notion.

We went in through the back door unnoticed.Once inside, the man who was waiting for us ushered us rightupstairs.

We entered a dimly lit room.

“VIP passes only,” the man explained.

The room was filled with divans and couchesand water beds which look really comfortable. A small bar linedwith bottles and glasses decked one corner. Several guys werelounging around on these plush surfaces, surrounded by girls on aratio of one to three.

The girls were all scantily clad inmicro-bikinis and micro-thongs. Frankly, nothing was left to theimagination. Nipples were bared. Ass cracks were revealed. Crotcheswere teased. The girls were all young, pretty, smiling with whiteteeth and dimpled cheeks. The unoccupied ones made a beeline to usimmediately.

“Hi there, handsome,” said a brunette whosidled up to me. She wore a bandeau type of bikini which glowed abright yellow in the light. Her areolas peeked out of the bands.She immediately draped her arms around my neck. “I saw you onTV.”

“Yeah, you are thatAmerican Idolguy,” said a redhead. Her breasts were as round as apples and hernipples were covered in green pasties in the shape of stars.

Semantics, but I wasn’t going to go intodetail.

“You’re gorgeous.”

The brunette’s hand slipped to my crotch. Iwore a sleeveless black shirt with snaps for buttons and blacktight pants, my hallmark. I supposed I must have looked prettygood. My arms were muscled and toned from working out at the gymwith a personal trainer six times a week to get that romance bookcover look. I never looked so good in my life than when I wasworking to the bone.

Tyler and Steve were watching me handlemyself. Their hands were full too . . . literally. Full of boobsand asses.

I wasn’t sure I liked being on display, but Ihad something to prove tonight.

“If you buy me a drink,” the brunette said,“I’ll let you grope me.”

“You can buy me a drink too,” the redheadsaid.

They were both all over me now. Their handswere sliding, slipping, probing my body everywhere. I could feel atightness in my jeans, which were really tight to begin with.

“How much is the drink?” I asked.

“It’s on the house,” said the bartendercalled, smiling.

“In that case, I’m buying,” I said.

“Great,” said the brunette.

“Great,” echoed the redhead.

They both dragged me to the bar where thebartender plunked down three shots of Jim Beams before us.

“I don’t like Jim Beam,” I said.

“Oh, don’t be a wuss,” the brunette said. Shepicked up her glass and downed her drink in one gulp. Then she heldmine up to my lips. “Drink it, baby.”

I could feel Alex’s eyes on me, judgingme.

“Sure thing,” I said. I took the glass fromher and downed the Jim Beam in one scorching swallow as well. Iended up spluttering a little.

The girls laughed delightedly.

“Have another,” the bartender said, slidinganother three glasses towards us. It was as though they appeared bymagic.

I took another drink. My head was beginningto spin. My mind was a cloud and I was becoming majorlyrelaxed.

My arms went round both girls. They were tinycompared to my six foot two frame. They eagerly held on to me.

The redhead licked her lips.

“Now, Kurt Taylor, how would you like to doit? What do you say to a little public exhibitionism?”

I was surprised she even knew the term, butthen, she probably knew a lot of terms I didn’t. As a newly mintedrock star, I was pretty green around the edges when it came to theparty scene.


Page 4

The girls pushed me against the wall. Alex,Steve and Tyler had their own respective admirers who wereundressing them even as their lascivious eyes darted over toappraise what I was doing now and again.

The brunette went down on her knees. Her eyeswere full and alluring as they flashed me a molten look of desire.She unzipped my fly. I was wearing decent underwear, thankgoodness. (Sometimes, I didn’t.)

She slipped my already hard cock out of myunderwear. I could feel my band mates’ eyes on it. Naturally, theyhad already seen it when we were pissing together in commonrestrooms, especially when we were on tour. But they had never seenit hard before.

Now they were assessing my size and girth inthe penis comparison thing we men sometimes do. I did not fallshort, thank goodness. I didn’t have a humungous cock, but neitherwas I on the average side (or size) of things. The brunette andredhead seemed to think so too at the way they wereenthusiastically cooing over it.

“Ooooh, what a nice schlong you have.”

“It makes me just want to lick it.”

The brunette did this. Still fastening hereyes on my face, she coquettishly took my cock in her mouth asthough it were a giant lollipop. The pleasure shot into my groinand balls instantly, and I let out a groan. It had been so longsince I had a blowjob. She was an expert, and she took me fullyinto her mouth and deep-throated me. My crown hit the back of herthroat, and another spasm of pleasure burst within me.

It was all I could do to hold back my cum. Ileaned back against the wall and tipped my head backward to savorthe exquisite sensations.

Meanwhile, the redhead was unbuttoning thesnaps in front of my black shirt. My skin was revealed in what mustbe a tantalizing display of pecs and well-formed muscles. I wasproud of my body. I worked hard at maintaining it. Since my stageacts and music videos frequently required me to take off my shirt,or at least show off a good portion of my shoulders and arms, Imade pretty damned sure that there was no ounce of spare fat on myframe. I ate right, consulted a dietician, and worked hard atkeeping lean.

So I had nothing to be ashamed of when shefinally peeled off my shirt. Several heads turned to admire mybody. The brunette worked her clever mouth up and down my length –sucking, nibbling and alternately licking my diamond hard flesh.Her hands groped my balls and caressed them so that delightfultingles exploded within them, sending a fresh wave of pre-cum intothe tip of my dick.

“Ohhhhh,” I moaned.

The redhead started to kiss me. Her breathwas heady with liquor and cigarette smoke. My pre-cum started toleak into the brunette’s mouth. She swiveled her tongue around myuncircumcised head and dipped the tip of it into my little slit. Iclenched my buttocks and growled with pleasure.

Hands fondled me everywhere – my torso, myabs, my buttocks. The brunette slid down my pants and underwear,and I paused momentarily to step out of them. The whole room waspunctuated with the sounds of groans and moans coming from the nowmostly naked men.

The brunette took off her top respectively,revealing jiggling breasts which were respectful in size. My handsgroped these. I reached out to squeeze the redhead’spasty-plastered tits as well. All the breasts felt plump and nicein my grasp. It had been so long since I held a nice couple of titsin my palms.

The brunette took her mouth off mysaliva-covered cock.

“Come,” she said, getting up from herknees.

Both girls led me to an empty water bed.Tyler was on the divan beside this, already occupied with havinghis cock sucked by two enthusiastic blondes who had already shedall their clothes. They clambered all over him.

I flopped onto the water bed. The mattressimmediately bounced me up like a trampoline. I couldn’t helplaughing.

The girls laughed along with me. They threwthemselves onto the bed beside me and we all bounced up togetherand fell down again in a shaky tangle of naked limbs and quiveringtits and genitals. The girls shed the last vestiges of theirunderwear, revealing pubic mounds that were cleanly shaven withouta shred of hair left on their glistening skins. Their pussies werered, moist and very inviting.

My cock was harder than hard. It was so hardthat its veins were practically straining on the top of myshaft.

The redhead mounted me. I wish she could haveleft some of her pubic hair behind so that I could tell if she wasa real redhead. Some part of my already fevered brain wanted to seewhat everyone else was doing. The air was certainly smoky withpheromones and the red heat of desire, which is palpable toeveryone either watching or engaged in it.

“Wait,” I said to the redhead. “I need acondom.”

“Of course. I have one for you.”

The brunette was moving her groin to my headwhile the redhead sheathed my cock with a condom that appearedmiraculously out of seeming nowhere. Then I realized that the bedsand couches and walls had little nooks in which such accoutrementscould be stored, along with the corresponding tubes of lube andother sensory enhancing pleasures.

Once my cock was nicely covered, the brunettemoved on top of it.

“Wait,” I said, holding her hips. “I don’tknow your name.”

I was trying not to have anonymous sex.

“Does it matter?” she said. Probably a fairquestion under the circumstances. Her pupils were very dark and asexual flush had spread all the way from her face down to her neckand chest.

“Yes.”

“What would you like it to be?”

This was going to be difficult. “What’s yourreal name?”

“Tiza.”

“OK, Tiza. I’m Kurt.”

“We know,” the brunette said. “And I’mBambi.”

None of them which were their real names, Iassumed.

Now that we were all properly introduced, Ifelt better about fucking the two of them.

Tiza covered my cock with her warm,not-too-tight pussy. I let out a cry going in. It felt so goodafter such a long time. My flesh felt encumbered and squeezed inthe best way possible. I was imploding with the collectivesensation of it all. My mind went blank, and I saw spots dance inmy eyes. When I opened them again, Tiza was rocking above my hips,smiling down at me.

Bambi was at my head. She raised her hips andlowered her pussy to my mouth. So Tiza was effectively fucking mewhile Bambi curved her hips to let me lick her clit. I performedthe latter with relish. It had been some time since I had gone downon a woman, and so I reveled in the taste of her juices, which werecopiously flowing onto my lips and mouth and chin.

God, she tasted and felt so good with mytongue. At the same time, Tiza pounded her hips against mine, Up,down. Seesawing motions. The sensory overload was too much. Ibucked and lifted my hips so that my cock could grind deeper anddeeper into her. Bambi pressed her pussy onto my mouth, and Iinserted my tongue as deep as it could go inside her.

I came before I knew it.

I exploded. My semen shot into the condom,deep inside Tiza’s snug little vagina. A volcanic rush filled myhead. Colors swam and my entire pelvic area flowed with littlestarbursts of pleasure. Waves after waves of ecstasy crescendoedthrough me, rendering my limbs weak and my body hollow – until Iwas aching and shuddering and spent.

God, that was good. I should do this moreoften. And I wasn’t exactly having anonymous sex. Strike One in myfavor.

I didn’t know if Tiza came too, because theman who greeted us at the back entrance came in. My mind was stillin a blur when I distinctly heard his voice saying:

“It’s a raid! The cops are here!”

Shit, I immediately thought. Vice!

Everyone in the room was scrambling to plucktheir cocks out of wet orifices and their mouths from genitals.Alex, Steve and Tyler rushed to pick their scattered clothes up.Everyone was in a frenzy of dressing. I pitied the girls. Theyweren’t dressed up that much in the first place and they certainlyweren’t going to pass as nuns with those micro-nano outfits andnipple pasties they were flaunting.

“Come on, Kurt,” Steve hissed. “Let’s get outof here.”

Right.

You would think that was the defining moment– when we got caught, correct? Well, not really.

I wasn’t that lucky.

KURT

 

I quickly found my discarded pants, and haddifficulty getting into them because they were so tight. My shirtwas a more difficult prospect to find, but I finally spotted itbeing stepped on by someone who was rushing to buckle his belt. Iretrieved it in that pandemonium of stomping feet and hikedadrenaline.

I was finally half-dressed when Tyler grabbedmy arm and whirled me out of the door.

“Cops mean publicity,” he explained. “Not allpublicity is good publicity, especially when you are nommed for aGrammy.”

Right. Wouldn’t want to sway the voters inany way.

We came up by stairs and so we tumbled downthose stairs again.

“Where’s Stan?” asked Alex.

“Probably gone to take a piss,” repliedsomeone else.

“We can’t wait,” Alex declared. “Where arethe keys to the van?”

We didn’t even know where the van wasparked.

The man who had greeted us handed me a carkey. “Here, take my car. You can return it tomorrow.”

I grabbed it without further preamble.“Where’s your car?”

“It’s the white BMW in the back.”

It was my turn to take charge and say to theguys, “OK, come on. Let’s go.”

We ran into the back alley, where the whiteBMW – a seven-series, no less – sat waiting for us like a getawaycar after a bank robbery. Our forlorn black van was parked a littledistance away. I hopped into the driver’s seat and the rest of theband got into the other seats.

“I’ll return it tomorrow,” I said to the manin as low a voice as I could muster to be heard.

He waved me away and darted back into theback of the building.

“Step on it, Kurt,” Alex ordered, as if wewere playing cops and robbers.

I turned the ignition on and stepped on gaspedal. The BMW purred to life under my hands and we were off.

“Don’t drive too fast,” Tyler cautioned. Hesmelled of heavy cigarette smoke.

“Yeah, take it easy. Wouldn’t want to attractany cops,” said Steve. He smelled of, uh, cunt juice,unfortunately.

“Yes, Dad,” I deadpanned.

The alley was dark and cluttered with garbagebins and vanishing cats, and so driving fast wasn’t an option. Butonce we got out of the alley, the streets of New York wererelatively empty at this time. But driving fast wasn’t an optioneither because there were so many pedestrian stops along theway.

We could hear the wail of cop cars nearby,and my nervousness started to tick away like a time bomb. I couldliterally hear my heart beating in my ears.

“Uh, where do we go now, guys?” I said.

“Take us home, man,” Alex replied.

Trouble was, I wasn’t sure where his ‘home’was.

You see, we always had Stan or someone elseas the designated driver. The drivers changed from time to time,and they were always hired from limo companies. Sometimes they werehired by our record company, and other times, by our publicist.

Because we always had a designated driver, Inever really took note of where everyone else lived. Additionally,we didn’t always arrive at the same times, and so we usually hadindividual drivers to drive each to wherever we were going.

“You’ve got to tell me where,” I said, notingthat there was no GPS. But no sweat. New York City wasn’t that hardto get around. One block eventually led to another block and if youkept driving in a straight line, you were bound to end upsomewhere.

“No problem,” Alex said. “Go up tothirty-third by Broadway, and then turn right.”

That was easy enough.

I got all the way to the thirtieth. The lightat the intersection was green, and so I plowed on.

“Hang on, turn here,” said Alex.

“I thought you said thirty-third.”

“I said thirtieth.”

Sounded like thirty-third to me. So I swervedto the right with a screech of the BMW’s tires. And that was whenit all went to hell.

REBECCA

 

“So Kurt Taylor was arrested for drivingunder the influence when he plowed into a van filled with your crewmembers?” I say incredulously.

“That’s right,” Captain Victor affirms. “Hewas brought to court, and the magistrate sentenced him to communityservice for two weeks. That was when I intervened. One of my crewwas out with a broken arm because of what Kurt Taylor did. So Iasked the judge to let him serve on my cruise ship instead, andhere he is.”

Here he is, just like this.

It is a marvel of a story, the type of fodderfor ‘news’ sites like TMZ. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if thereare reporters on this ship just waiting to snap a picture of Kurtin his overalls, mopping the deck.

“Wow,” I say.

“Wow indeed.” The Captain seems chagrined.“So tell me, Rebecca, what’s your story with Kurt Taylor? If you goaround throwing dirty water from pails on my crew, I’m warning youthat I won’t take it lightly.”

I blush.

“I know. It was wrong of me. I don’t knowwhat came over me, honest.”

“He could sue you.”

I am horrified. “No. I don’t think he would.Would he?”

The Captain leans back. “You never know aboutthese rock star types. They’re used to being quite the diva. You’reevading the question, Rebecca.”

“What question?” I am caught, I know it.

“What’s your story with Kurt Taylor?” TheCaptain’s gaze holds mine.


Page 5

My frisson of admiration for his stormy greyeyes is tempered only by my misgivings.

I sigh. “It’s a long story.”

“I’ve got time.”

I hesitate, and then I tell him.

I tell him everything that happened betweenKurt Taylor and me and Adeline Frost.

KURT

 

Another day, another chore.

This time, I am required to wipe theportholes – from the inside and out, whichever can be reached, ofcourse. This is a painstaking task which I have never performedbefore, and which I’m willing to bet a lot of people have neverperformed it before either. Hell, I have never even wiped windowsbefore, so I am finding this task particularly arduous.

I am outside the third deck or thereabouts,polishing a peculiarly resistant piece of smudge which has gottenon one porthole, when a shadow obstructs my light.

“Hi,” says a female voice.

I turn. “Hi.”

She is a brightly dressed teenager. Flouncingblonde hair, nice teeth, freckles and she is wearing a pair ofthose colorful Adidas sneakers with the rainbow laces. Her tank topis neon pink and her tight cut-off pants are a bright blue. Talkabout color overkill.

Teenagers are a rarity on a cruise shipfilled with senior denizens, and I have been besieged by two whorecognize me already.

“You are Kurt Taylor,” she says breathlessly.“I read about you. Can I have your autograph?”

She is carrying nothing but an iPod Miniwhich is hooked on her belt. It is connected to her ears by a pairof headphones.

“Sure, but you don’t have something I canautograph.”

“Oh, I do.” She smiles and peels down theneckline of her halter top. Her pert little breasts jut out.

I get a good look at her cleavage.

“Uh, you want me to sign where?”

“Here, right here.” She points at the swellof her breasts. Then she giggles ecstatically. “I want someone totake a picture of you signing my tits. I can’t want to Tweetit.”

Oh gawd.

“I don’t have a pen,” I say, stalling.

“That’s OK. I’ll ask this nice lady here.Hey, lady!” The teen turns to a fifty-something-year-old woman whois jogging on the deck. “Do you have a pen so that Kurt Taylor herecan sign my tits?”

I wish the deck would open up a hole to buryme.

The lady stops. Her expression is severe. Sheappears very fit in her track suit and she is barely winded.

“How old are you, young lady?” she saysimperiously. Then she favors me with a glare reserved forpedophiles and pederasts. “And just what do you think you aredoing, young man?”

Before I can reply, the clack of heels on thedeck comes closer. Rebecca Hall approaches us, a funny look on herface that is more apparent when she loom up. It is as though shehas eaten something bad from the buffet at breakfast and she istrying to hold in her runs.

Fuck.

There is nowhere for me to run.

Or is there? There is always the ocean. I’m agood swimmer. I can swim to shore. I think.

“Good morning,” Rebecca says pleasantly. Hervoice comes out funny too – kind of half-strangled. She nods at thelady jogger and the teenager. “Good morning.”

Huh? She directed at least one ‘Good morning’to me? She hasn’t said ‘Good morning’ to me in years. Decades.Eons.

Rebecca turns to me again and goes on in thatstrangled voice of hers, “Uh, may I speak with you?”

“Hey, lady.” The teenager pouts. “I wasasking him to autograph my tits. Get in line.”

Before Rebecca can turn a funny mottledcolor, I quickly say, “I wasn’t going to autograph your tits. Ireally wasn’t.”

Talk about being between a rock and a hardplace. I am surrounded by three females, all in varying states ofagitation. And their angst seems to be directed at me.

“I could report you,” threatens the jogger.“I know who you are. You are that rocker who molested that bunch ofsailors.”

Huh?

Even the teenager’s eyes go round withthat?

“I did?” I say, perplexed.

“You did?” the teenager says, equallyperplexed.

Rebecca’s mouth is a funny twist ofhalf-contained mirth and apoplexy. (I suspect she gets a blood clotjust looking at me.)

“Kurt Taylor,” she says, “you are wanted atthe Captain’s office.”

“I am?”

What did I do this time?

“Come with me,” Rebecca says in a firm tonethat brooks no discussion.

I don’t really want to go anywhere withRebecca Hall. I suspect she will arrange a convenient ‘accident’for me sometime between here and the Captain’s office. But I findmyself picking up my cleaning kit anyway and tailing after. Theteenager whips out her cellphone and takes a picture of ourretreating backs. Great, that photo will be all over the Internetby sundown.

I wonder what the Captain wants with me. Andwhy he sent Rebecca to fetch me, of all people. I still haven’tfingered what Rebecca’s job on this ship is. Cruise director? Ather age? Tour guide? People terrorizer?

As we walk briskly away – she surging ahead,me trailing with my cleaning paraphernalia – I can’t help admiringthe way her red curls tumble behind her back, caught by the wind. Iam reminded of that redhead in the SoHo club that I fucked.

No.

Mustn’t think of Rebecca and fucking in thesame sentence.

Once we are out of sight from the jogger andthe teenager, Rebecca whirls on me.

“Let’s get one thing straight. The Captain ismaking me do this,” she says.

“Huh?”

I am brought up short. I almost bump intoher. Luckily, I manage to put the brakes on myself in time.Wouldn’t do to have any body contact with Rebecca Hall.

She twists her mouth into a funny but cutethin line. “I mean . . . dinner tonight.”

“What dinner tonight?”

So far, I have been having all my dinners bymyself. It’s too awkward to mix with the rest of the crew. Too manyquestions. So I have been packing my meals and eating them bymyself in my cabin.

She stands there awkwardly, and then decidesto fold her arms, kind of like a barrier between us.

“I mean . . . I’m supposed to invite you todinner tonight.”

“With the Captain?”

She rolls her eyes exasperatedly. “No, silly.Withme.”

I am thunderstruck.

“Why would you want to have dinner with me?”I ask. And then I correct myself. “Why would I want to have dinnerwith you?”

She scrunches up her face and lifts her chin.“Well, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to have dinner with youeither. But – ”

She pauses.

“But?” I inquire.

“The Captain thought I should apologize toyou.” This came out as if I were pulling teeth from her.

“Apologize?” I raise my eyebrows.“You?”

She clenches her teeth.

“Look, don’t make this harder on both of usthan it really is. I apologize, OK?”

“For what?”

A couple passes us. The woman turns to stareat me.

Uh oh. I don’t want to be recognized again.Rebecca realizes this and jerks her hand towards the shade. Shedoesn’t touch me as we troop there. I know I must have cooties toher or something, but I’ll admit I don’t have the same avoidancereaction to her touching me.

I should have, but I don’t.

She turns on me again. Her face is flushedfrom all the exertion.

“I apologize for throwing water all over you.It was wrong of me, OK?”

“Yes, it was.”

“You don’t have to rub it in.”

“Splash it in would be the more appropriateword.”

She bridles. Her nostrils flare. She is quitemagnificent when she is angry.

“So is my apology accepted?”

“For throwing water all over me? Yes.”

“Good. Then we don’t have to have dinnertogether.”

“I didn’t say that.”

She is astonished. “You want to have dinnerwith me?”

“I want you to apologize for treating me likethe dog’s dinner all those years ago.”

Her vivid green eyes flash. “Never!”

“Then I retract my acceptance of yourapology.”

She looks desperate. “Look, the Captain wantsus to make up, or he is going to tell my manager at the retirementhome that I did what I did to you, and that will be a black markagainst me.”

“Fine.” It’s my turn to fold my arms. “Thenyou apologize for what you said to me all those years ago.”

The vein on her temple starts to bulge.

“No,” she splutters, and then seems toswallow her words.

“Dinner tonight at the Clarion,” I press on.“You can apologize then. Be there at seven thirty sharp.”

I pick up my cleaning kit, shoot her a glare,and walk off. I can feel the heat of Rebecca’s stare burn into myback.

REBECCA

 

The last person I want to have dinner with isKurt Taylor.

But I have to.

I have to because it’s the right thing to do.I promised the Captain I would make things right with Kurt, and Ialways keep my promises.

Whatever possessed me to promise the Captainsomething like that? What on Earth made me say the words? It wasn’tthe unspoken threat of him telling my superiors that I screwed upin my quest to be a psychologist specializing in the elderly. Itcertainly wasn’t the Captain’s smoldering grey eyes. I haveresisted men far more attractive than he.

Believe me, I have.

So why am I dressing up for my forced dinnerwith Kurt Taylor?

I gaze at my reflection in the mirror. I amstill in my cabin, wondering if I should layer on a red beadnecklace above my green dress, which brings out the color of myeyes. My hair is impeccably swept up in a chignon, and my ears aredecked with sparkly turquoise drops.

Why am I doing this?

My cabin mate, Natasha, comes out of ourbathroom. She is clad in a bath towel and her black hair iswet.

“Woah,” she says, taking a step back insurprise.

Natasha is a bathroom hogger. She spends aninordinate amount of time doing anything bathroom related, or maybeshe’s just doing it to piss me off. Natasha is a tour guide, thoughshe has nothing more to do onboard than make sure all her chargesare fed and put to bed. Her real work begins in the Bahamas, so itseems.

“You dress up good,” she says admiringly.“Hot date tonight?”

“Not really.”

“Come on, dish. We’re roomies. Roomies knoweverything about each other.” She sprawls herself down on her bunkand picks up the nail clipper. She proceeds to clip off herfingernails. I hate it when she does that because her nailclippings get under my feet and embedded into my skin.

“Natasha, how many times have I told you notto do that?” I grab the wastebasket from a corner of the littlecabin and plunk it beside the bed.

“Tosh,” she says. “So now tell me, who areyou going out with?” She gives me a sly grin. “Don’t tell me it’sthat hunky captain. Is that why he called you his office? To askyou out?”

Gad. Does everyone on this ship know aboutthat?

“No, it’s not the Captain.” And it’s none ofanyone’s business, I want to tell her. But I’m too polite to.

The night is young, however. There’s plentyof time for me to explode.

The ship lurches a little, and we can feelthe deck move beneath our feet.

“Woah,” Natasha says. ‘Woah’ seems to be herfavorite word. “There’s a storm coming. A big one too. You betternot go out on the sun deck.”

“Thanks, Mom.” I return to the vanity tablemirror to check my look. I don’t intend to go anywhere near the twosun decks tonight. I am going to be ensconced in the Clarion, whichis the best restaurant in the entire ship. And I’m going to bepaying that pretty penny for dinner.

I hope I’ll get seasick and throw up all overKurt Taylor’s plate. That is . . . assuming he actually showsup.

What if he doesn’t show up?

He just might pull off a stunt like that, youknow. Get me all riled up and apologetic and then conveniently notshow up. That is just the sort of thing he would do.

Damn him.

“Anyway, I hear you had a tangle with anotherhot guy,” Natasha says, curling her toes. She throws herself backon the bed, wet hair and all. Ewww, I wonder how people can dothat.

“Who?”

“Kurt Taylor.” She giggles. “Isn’t itexciting that he’s on this ship with us? I’ve seen him, and I canwell imagine him out of those overalls. So I hear you have somesort of history with him. Come on, girlfriend, spill.”

Girlfriend? I hardly have known her for threedays and she’s already calling me ‘girlfriend’?

“He’s just someone I knew in school,” I sayshortly.

“Really? Was he as gorgeous in school as heis today?”

I’m ready to go and dispense with all thisgossipy chit-chat. I know Natasha. Her eyes are bright and eagerand she’s squirming in her bed, all juiced up. If I tell heranything, she would only spread it around like wildfire and it willbe the talk of this cruise ship by dawn tomorrow.

“He was OK. I have to go now. Bye.”

I purposefully make a show of walking out ofthe door.

“Tell me everything when you get back!” shecalls after me gleefully.

As if.

 

*

 

I arrive at the Clarion at seven thirtysharp. Now let’s see Kurt Taylor show up.

The Clarion is a posh restaurant – allgleaming cherry wood and polished timbers and swaying ornate brasslamps. Or at least, the lamps are swaying because the ship is beingbuffered by waves higher than normal. I don’t know how high theyare – I don’t intend to go out on deck to see them.

There are not many diners here tonight. Maybethe shaky floorboards are putting them off. But then, the Clarionis a reservation only sort of place with a dinner jacket requiredfor the men. Needless to say, you are not allowed to wear swimsuitsand flip flops into it.


Page 6

The maître‘d comes forward.

“And do you have a reservation, Miss?”

“I do. For two. Under Ms. Hall.”

He thumbs his reservation book. “Ah yes,table for two. Step this way, please, Ms. Hall.”

“Is my dining companion here yet?”

“I’m afraid not, Ms. Hall.”

Figures. He really might stand me up.

I lift my chin and follow the maître‘d to thetable he had reserved for us. It’s situated in a quiet littlecorner, away from the main thoroughfare. The table is lit with asingle candle and decked with a vase of fresh flowers. Gleamingsilver cutlery is laid on neatly folded white napkins.

The maître‘d draws my chair and fusses overme as I sit down.

“Would you care for some drinks whilewaiting for your companion, Ms. Hall?”

Why not? It might be a long wait. I’ll giveKurt Taylor thirty minutes. If he doesn’t show up, I’m out ofhere.

“Yes. Can I see the menu, please?”

“Certainly.”

The maître‘d goes off. A waiter arrives withthe drinks menu and I take my time perusing it. Now, what shall Idrink to drown my sorrows?

“Are you ready to order, Ms.?” the waitersays.

“Yes. Give me a margarita, please.”

“Very well.” He walks off, and the entirerestaurant quivers again, causing my empty wine glass to slide aninch to the right. No wonder not many people are dining tonight.Many of them are bound to be throwing up in their cabintoilets.

I lean back. I consider letting my hair downand relaxing. I take out my cellphone to note if I have any missedcalls. Naturally, I don’t encourage anyone to call me when I’m outhere at sea, seeing as the costs would be astronomical. I considerstarting a round of ‘Plants vs Zombies’, when a presence at mytable registers itself.

“I’m here. Bet you thought I wouldn’t showup, right?”

Kurt Taylor seats himself without beinginvited. My jaw drops, and I quickly shut it again. He isresplendent in a white dinner jacket and a black bow tie. His pantsare black. I never knew he would look so good. Wait. I remember himat our prom. He looked good enough to eat too, especially when hewas crowned prom king.

His auburn hair is neatly combed but left totrail in a tousled mane all across his broad shoulders. It iscertainly a lot longer than I remembered it. I seem to beremembering a lot of how it used to be between the three of us –Kurt, Adeline and myself.

The rage bubbles within me again and myfingers curl around the stem of my wine glass. A few diners fromthe other tables around us turn to glance at Kurt Taylor inadmiring recognition. He soaks all this in.

The waiter comes to our table again,smiling.

“Would you like to have the menu now?” hesays.

“Yes, please,” Kurt replies. “And bring meyour wine menu as well. What’s the most expensive wine you have onthe house?”

Uh oh. I can sense where this is going.

“That would be the Chateau Haut BrionPessac-Lognan, sir. From Bordeaux, sir.”

“What year is it?”

“1982,” the waiter replies without missing abeat.

I’ll bet he thinks Kurt Taylor is going topay for it and that this is a normal date.

Argggh!!

“Bring a bottle of it,” Kurt says with awave.

Yeah, I’ll bet he’s used to doing this a lottoo. Money would be nothing to him now, and I’m still scroungingalong in my beat-up Ford and my shared apartment. I glance at mymenu. The particular red he named is $600 a bottle!

As the waiter leaves, Kurt slyly glances atme.

“You’re buying, aren’t you?” he says. “Thatwas the deal.”

I grit my teeth. “Yes,” I hiss.

“Good.” His fingers dance over the menu.When the waiter returns, he says, “I’ve made up my mind what I wantfor dinner tonight.”

I cringe. How much of my monthly paycheck isthis going to cost me? This is the Captain’s fault. He doesn’t knowKurt Taylor the way I do. Kurt Taylor is selfish, self-absorbed andvainglorious. He thinks the world revolves around him.

Kurt announces, “For starters, I would likethe lobster bisque with foie gras on the side.”

Figures. He orders two starters – both themost expensive on the menu.

“For the entrée, give me the Wagyutenderloin, medium rare, with potatoes gratin and creamed spinachon the side.”

I glance at the price and my heart sinks. Idon’t even know where Wagyu beef is from, but it soundsexpensive.

“And throw in a tub of your Beluga caviar,”Kurt adds. He looks at my drained face and says, grinning, “I’mhungry tonight.”

OK, I think I’ve just lost my appetite forthe next three days.

The waiter turns to me. “And what would yoube having, Miss?”

“Uh, just a salad would do.”

“On a diet, Miss?” The waiter’s eyebrowsmove mischievously.

“Yes.”

Kurt remarks, “You were always a little onthe large side, Rebecca. Good to know you’re making an effort tothin down.”

I glare at him. My fists bunch under thetable.

“What sort of salad would you like, Miss? Wehave a classic Caesar’s, with or without a choice of chicken, andan Asian salad with oranges and Thai sauce.”

“Asian, please.”

“Very good, Miss.”

The waiter knowingly retreats.

I am left alone with Kurt Taylor, who leansback in his chair and grins wolfishly at me.

“So, Rebecca. What brings you this side ofthe world?”

KURT

 

To be honest, I’m really not that hungry.I’m a little queasy from the gently rocking motion of the ship.It’s a big ship, and so the waves must have been huge to rock uslike that.

But it’s so delicious to see Rebecca Hallbeing taken down a peg or two. She was getting too full of herself,telling me off like that. And she looks gorgeous tonight. She hasalways been on the heavier side in high school, as I used to remindher. But she was always pleasing to look at.

Scratch that. She’s more than pleasing rightnow.

In fact, she’s downright hot.

My groin stirs uncomfortably underneath mydinner jacket. The jacket is not even mine. I didn’t bring anythingnice to dine in during my incarceration here. I honestly didn’tthink I would be invited to any tables, and I was hoping to keepthe terms of my sentence as quiet as possible.

So I borrowed the jacket, shirt and bowtiefrom Manny across my cabin. We are pretty much the same size. Mannyworks in engineering. He’s only too happy to lend me his stuff(“from my prom, just in case I get invited to chow with theCaptain,” he tells me) for a signed autograph and a photo for hisgirlfriend.

I have to loosen my bowtie a little as I amgetting a little hot under the collar. Rebecca still is on theplump side, but her curves are very apparent. I’ve always likedwomen a little bigger anyway. There’s more to grab and grope. Couldnever go for the stick thin Kate Moss types who always look as ifthey are going to slip through the grating on the drains and fallinto some subterranean sewerage tunnel.

But why am I finding Rebecca Hall so damnedattractive tonight?

Am I delusional? Do I want to have a deathwish? I think I would be safer in a pit of female prayingmantises.

I’m not even sure I know how to make smalltalk with her. How do you do anything ‘small’ where Rebecca isconcerned?

(OK, bad joke.)

Because my balls are twitching uncomfortablywithin my pants, I have to be extra ruthless. When in the fullflush of libido, go for the offensive.

The waiter comes back with the Chateau Haut.Frankly, I haven’t the faintest clue about wines. I just selectedthe most expensive one on the menu. He offers me the cork.

“What am I supposed to do about this?” Idemand.

Rebecca’s mouth curls into a slightsmile.

“Would you like a whiff of it, sir?”

“A whiff?”

“You’re supposed to sniff at it,” Rebeccasays acidly.

Oh, right. Forgive me if I haven’t beentrained in the fine dining arts. I have been too busy making andraking in the moolah, and before this, I have been a small townhick.

I wave my hand, feeling my cheeks heatup.

“No need. I trust your taste, man,” I say tothe waiter.

“Very good, sir.”

He pours a little wine into my glass for meto sip. At least I know how to do this, but Rebecca is watching mecarefully, like a shark in the water, waiting for me to trip up andembarrass myself further. So I opt for an even furtheroffensive.

I hold up my wine glass, salute Rebecca, anddown the fruity red liquid in one gulp.

“To apologies,” I say, wiping my mouth withthe back of my hand.

She doesn’t say anything as the waiter poursher a full glass of wine.

When the waiter has left, she says, “Isuppose you’re enjoying yourself.”

“A paid dinner with an old nemesis? Whatcould be better?”

She glares at me. “I’m not the villain here.It’s you.”

“Oh, so we’re talking heroes and villainsnow? How superhero-ish.”

“You know what you did.”

“Why don’t you tell me what I did, because Idon’t think I did anything wrong.”

I fold my arms across my chest and sitback.

Yes, this is the matter between us. Theelephant in the room. It sits there on the table like anomnipresent weight. The air between us is choked with tension.

Rebecca is the first to speak. She raisesher vivid green eyes to mine.

“You left her,” she says flatly.

REBECCA

 

“I didn’t leave her,” he says hotly. “Weagreed to part amicably. It wasn’t any of your business.”

Yes.

Adeline.

The three of us. Best friends forever, or sowe swore all those years ago.

“It was my business, thank you very much,” Iinsist. “She was my best friend.”

“Look, Rebecca, I know she was your bestfriend. But people change. People want different things.”

I shake my head. “It wasn’t just the factthat you left her. It waswhyyou left her.”

His complexion mottles. He looks as guiltyas hell.

I press my advantage. “Oh yeah, Kurt. Youknow exactly why you left her. Everything changed, didn’t it?Thatnight?”

His face blanches.

Oh yeah. We both know what happened thatnight all right.

 

*

 

We were the Three Musketeers, only two of uswere female and one of us was fucking the other. Kurt Taylor andAdeline Frost were the golden couple. They were both beautiful,popular and destined for greater things.

Or so we thought.

Kurt and Adeline hooked up when they wereboth sophomores. Kurt was a natural athlete, the kind who was goodat whatever sports he tried his hand in – which was basketball inhis case. He was tall for his age and as nimble as someone muchsmaller. Adeline wasn’t a cheerleader but a basketball starherself. She was in the girls’ team. They were both good enough tohave won basketball scholarships if they wanted to go tocollege.

I was the token class geek. Well, I didn’twear glasses or braces or anything, but I was on the large side andI mugged like crazy for my exams because I knew I wasn’t going toget anywhere on a sports scholarship. The only hope I had was anacademic one. Neither of my divorced parents had enough money tosend me anywhere but a community college.

But I wanted a lot more than communitycollege. I wanted to do psychology, and that necessitated a moveout of our little town.

I knew our friendship wasn’t going to be asclose-knit as it was forever. Each of us was going to move away todifferent colleges, different lives. Sometimes I envied Kurt andAdeline. They had each other, and I was kind of the odd one out.The lamp post. Adeline never made me feel that way when the threeof us were together, but I got the feeling that sometimes Kurtwished he could have more time alone with Addy.

But it wasn’t to be. Addy treasured ourfriendship above everything else, and she tried to get me involvedin everything. It was as though we were a threesome, only wetechnically weren’t.

Anyhow, it was the night of our final SATs.It was time to celebrate. Kurt’s grades were always mediocre, andso he wasn’t expecting too much. But Adeline thought she did verywell for a change. Of course, she had me as a study partner.

Adeline was driving the car. She was theonly one of us with a halfway decent car. I didn’t have the moneyto get one, and Kurt had a banged-up number that probably wasn’tworth as much as its weekly gas consumption.

We were delirious with joy. With the SATsfinally over, a burden was lifted off our shoulders. Our fates werein the wind.

“The night is ours!” Adeline whooped. “Wheredo we want to go?”

“I heard the Lasseters are having a party,”Kurt remarked.

He was in the front passenger seat and hehad his arm around Adeline’s headrest, as always. His incrediblylong arms made for easy grabbing.

I sat at the back, of course, watching theirtwo heads turn to each other’s to gab. Adeline’s hair was a sleek,shiny silhouette while Kurt’s was a wavy shimmer. They were both socompatible it was stunning to watch, except that I always nursedthis little kernel of jealousy in me.

I never told anyone about it, of course.

I wasn’t sure if I was jealous of Kurt beingwith Adeline, or Adeline being with Kurt. Kurt being with her tookher time away from me. Time we used to spend doing stuff together –just the two of us. And the fact that she got a boyfriend before Idid rankled deeply in me, although I never told her.

Of course she would get a boyfriend before Idid. She was prettier, slimmer, better than me at everything exceptschoolwork. But I was hoping against hope that she wouldn’t get aboyfriend until she went off to college.


Page 7

Though, of course, she did.

And Kurt was the kind of boyfriend Isimultaneously despised and desired. I know. It was adichotomy.

He was a long-haired jock, asstereotypically dumb as stereotypical jocks could get. He wascallously handsome, carelessly popular without even trying. Thetype of guy who seemed to coast through life on his good looks anddevil-may-care attitude. He was as bad as bad boys came. And beforehe arrived on the scene with Adeline, he had an honor’s roll callwith girls as long as his arm.

Kurt had quite a reputation all right. Maybeit was bigger than he deserved, but he was rumored to have sleptwith dozens of girls and with some of their sisters and motherstoo.

But when he met Adeline, she touched him insome way that he wasn’t touched before. There were girls who wereprettier and smarter, but somehow, a spark developed between himand Adeline that neither of them had experienced before. It was asif the cosmos collided and conspired for them to be together.

Maybe that was what I was jealous of. I wasjealous of my best friend having that kind of connection withsomeone who wasn’t me.

And I was jealous that Kurt didn’t find meattractive.

I was kind of competitive against Adelinethat way.

I said to the two of them, “The Lasseterbrothers always do coke. There could be a raid.”

“That’s what makes it hot,” Kurt said. Hisprofile was grinning in the dark as he half-turned to me.

“Suit yourself,” I retorted. “But I don’twant to be hauled out of jail by my parents so close tograduation.”

“Me neither,” Adeline said. Her looks were acontrast to mine. Where I was redheaded and green-eyed, she wasdark-haired and dark-eyed. She had gypsy blood and a touch of theexotic.

“So where do we go?” Kurt said. “Maybe wecan stop at a Seven-Eleven and get a couple of beer cartons andhave our own party.”

“A couple of beer cartons?” Adeline laughed.“I don’t think we can go through that much between the three ofus.”

“OK. One beer carton. A six-pack.” Kurtreached down to pull up his T-shirt. He jerked a thumb to hisabdomen. “These . . . are an eight-pack.”

“Show-off,” I immediately said.

We all laughed.

“OK, but I’m the designated driver,” Adelinesaid.

“You have no choice since you won’t letanyone else touch your father’s old junk,” Kurt shot back.

“Excuse me? My father won’t let you near hiscars with a ten-foot pole since you crashed your own car fenderinto a fire hydrant.”

“Which flooded the town square,” Icrowed.

“You didn’t have to tell him about it,” Kurtcomplained.

“Tell him about it? Everyone knew about it.It was the front page news,” Adeline said.

“Yeah, in our town, a cat getting rescuedfrom a roof makes the front page news,” he deadpanned.

Anyhow, we ended up in a Seven-Eleven (yes,there was actually one in our one main street town, could youbelieve it?). Adeline parked and skipped down to get thesix-pack.

“Stay here,” she said to the two of us. “I’mthe only one who has the ID.”

She was right. She had just turnedeighteen.

“I’m sure I pass for eighteen,” Kurtsaid.

He was right too. He looked older than hisage. It was that height and the fact he cut quite an imposingfigure with his huge frame.

“Uh uh, Kurt, everyone knows you. I’ll be awhile, guys. I have to use the little ladies’.”

She slammed her car door on us and jauntilywalked towards the direction of the brightly lit Seven-Eleven. Shehad her red jacket on. The wind blew her dark hair backwards. Shewas a whip of a figure – a pretty young woman perched on anythingshe could have in the world.

There was an uncomfortable silence betweenme and Kurt, as there always was whenever Adeline left the room andsucked out all the camaraderie with her.

Kurt turned around. His face was inhalf-shadow, lighted up by the distant fluorescent glow from theSeven-Eleven entrance. He was remarkably beautiful, like asculptured piece of flesh. His longish hair brushed his shoulders,which were clad in brown leather. Underneath his jacket, he wore aplaid shirt.

“So, Ms. Smarty-Pants. Decided which collegeyou want to apply to yet?” he said casually.

“Don’t call me that. You know I don’t likethat.”

He shrugged. There was always thatelectrical spark between us. I didn’t know if he felt it too, or itwas only one-sided on my fuse. He was a boy I found very attractivedespite me not liking his ‘type’. By nature of my friendship withhis girlfriend, we found ourselves getting to know each other a lotmore than our ‘types’ usually allowed.

“You’re smart. There’s no two ways aboutit,” he declared. “So you don’t have to pretend anymore, you know.SATs are over. It’s either make or break or repeat them. Out of thethree of us, you have the best chance of making it out of thistown.”

That was the best compliment he had everpaid me. I softened.

“I don’t know, Kurt. It’s a long shot tothink I can get an academic scholarship.”

He shrugged again, a graceful contortion ofhis shoulders. “Can’t get one if you don’t try. Send theapplications out to a dozen universities. Send them to a hundred.One of them will bite, if not more.”

His eyes rose to meet mine. I felt a frissonof desire flower within my groin.

There had been many nights alone in my ownbed that I had fantasized about how it must have been like withKurt. Adeline described in detail a couple of their encounters, ofcourse.

I could feel his body pressing onto mine asif he was there himself. His cock poised at my entrance, quivering,his breath and chest heaving against my tits. The forceful thrustas his cock entered my virgin pussy.

Ohhhhhhh!

I told myself it wasn’t Kurt I fantasizedabout, but the actual fantasy of being fucked, of course. He justhappened to be there. He had a romance book cover model face. Hewas convenient.

Oh, how our minds lie to us.

“Sure, one of them will bite. That’s what Ikeep telling myself.” I had to fight this attraction. I had nochoice. It was a good thing that we were all going our separatepaths. This way, I didn’t have to ever see him again and bereminded of all the things I don’t want to be.

I said, “What about you, Kurt? Where are yougoing?”

He turned away pensively. “There have been acouple of talent scouts, but I’m a white boy trying to make it in amostly black game. I think they want to see how I perform on thebig game next Saturday against Loyola.”

The upcoming home game against Loyola was animportant one. A season decider. It made sense that any talentscout would want to see Kurt perform under tremendous pressure.

“Anyway,” he added, “I don’t think I want togo to college.”

I couldn’t think of anyone who didn’t wantto go to college.

“Why ever not?”

He took a deep breath. “It’s too confiningfor me. I go to college, and then what? I don’t know what I want todo. I don’t know what I want to be.”

“It isn’t important that you know it yet,only that you get an education,” I explained. “That will broadenyour mind. Help you know what you want to do later.”

“Maybe.” He looked out of the window. Hisvoice was pensive and his profile was like a Michelangelosculpture. “But Adeline and I are likely to go to differentcolleges, you know. She’s smarter than I am. So I guess these aregoing to be our last months together.”

I knew that, of course. What I didn’t knowwas that he would be so affected by it, or that he would even havean internal struggle with it.

It touched me – the fact that Kurt Taylor,high school jock, had so many layers. A deep warmth spreadedthrough me, nourishing me with emotions I didn’t know I had.

Fight it. You’ve got to fight it!

I said, “I guess that’s part of growing up.Leaving people behind. My Dad says it will happen to all of us. Andthat we shouldn’t form attachments that are too strong because thenour decisions to go to college or our choice of colleges might beclouded by them.”

He was silent for a while.

Then he said, “I guess you’re right.”

I touched his shoulder gently. “Are you sadto be leaving Adeline?”

He smiled in the dark. His hand rose toclasp mine upon his shoulder. A jolt went through me. His hand wasvery warm and very rough from handling basketballs. And there wasmany a time I imagined those hands on my own flesh, caressing mybreasts and stomach and curves.

His fingers stroked the back of my hand. Mycrotch contracted, sending a spasm of florid pleasure throughout mygroin.

“We all have to chart our own stars, Iguess,” he said in a soft voice.

Tears came unbidden to my eyes. I smiled athim. The air was thick and smoky between us, and a knot strangledmy stomach, making it hard to form sounds in my throat.

“Rebecca.” His voice was hoarse.

My heart leaped. Whatever was affecting meso profoundly was affecting him in some small measure too. I didn’tknow what this was – this connection between us. But it was deep.And magical. And something more than purely physical.

A movement to my right made me turn. Adelinewas striding back to the car, the six-pack in hand. Kurt and Ileaped apart as if our hands were on fire, and we settled back inour seats. My guilty hands were folded neatly in my lap. The onewhich touched Kurt’s skin still burned.

“Hi.” Adeline opened the driver’s door andgot in.

The guilt was extremely palpable in the airbetween Kurt and me, but I didn’t think Adeline noticed it.

She was gabbing away: “There was a queuebefore me, and these two underage guys tried to get away withbuying cigarettes, can you believe it? They were fourteen if theywere born a day.”

She looked at both of us.

“What were you two talking about?”

Kurt seemed nonplussed, but I recoveredquickly enough.

“College,” I said. “It’s a toughsubject.”

“Oh yeah.” She rolled her eyes. “Don’t tellme about it. I’ve had enough arguments with my Dad over it already.He has just this amount of money in my college fund bankrolled forme.” She emphasized this between her thumb and forefinger. “Whichcuts out a lot of colleges in the East.”

Our parents couldn’t help the amount ofmoney they have, I thought. And what more Kurt? He came from theother side of the tracks. There was no way he could ever get intocollege without a scholarship. At least my parents had a little bitstashed away.

Adeline plunked the beer down on Kurt’s lap.He grinned, and the tension dissipated. I doubted Adeline noticedanything was wrong.

 

*

 

You would think you have guessed the reasonfor Kurt leaving Adeline now.

You must think it was because of me.

Well, you are wrong. You are so wrong by along shot.

What happened was a lot more tragic than alove triangle.

KURT

 

I stare at Rebecca across the table.

Thatnight.

“I didn’t exactly leave her,” Isplutter.

“Oh, yes, you did.”

The waiter arrives with our starters, and wehave to call it a truce for a moment. Correct that.Mystarters. The lobster bisque was in a boat-shaped bowl and pipinghot. Thick and creamy, the way I like it. The foie gras came with aspring of parsley and some lemon dill.

I have absolutely no appetite.

“Do you want some?” I ask Rebecca.

She shakes her head.

“Do you remember?” she says in a lowvoice.

I remember what happened in the car at theparking lot of the Seven Eleven, but I think that is not what sheis referring to.

It is what happened after.

 

*

 

Adeline was driving into the night, and ourspirits were up again.

What was I thinking of when I touchedRebecca’s hand? I felt her freeze, and I knew what she must havebeen thinking of me. Especially with a reputation like mine.

You cad. You’re my best friend’sboyfriend.

But Rebecca seemed unnaturally affected. Iliked Rebecca, though I had always felt a little uncomfortablearound her. In fact, I secretly thought she was a lot moreinteresting than Adeline. I didn’t want to think that, but the factwas out there, like a puff of acrid smoke that trailed and lingeredin the air.

I had never ‘dated’ a Rebecca before – agirl who could give as good as she got. She was feisty and so smartI honestly thought she was too good for this town. She deserved togo out there and make a better life for herself. She deservedbetter than us.

It would be terribly interesting to be withRebecca. And I didn’t know why the thought kept encroaching into mybrain recently, like a spreading tumor.

I mustn’t think such thoughts, I toldmyself.

The atmosphere between the front and backseats began to lighten, especially as Adeline jabbered on about ourSATs and which questions she found particularly difficult. We wereon the highway, heading for the Interstate turnpike ten milesdown.

And then it happened.

I was preoccupied with not being preoccupiedby my thoughts for Rebecca, when the white SUV barreled down ontous on the same side of the road.

“Shit!” I yelled. “Swerve, Addy,swerve!”

She turned the wheel all the way to theleft, but there was a car on the other side of the road as well. Wewould have slammed into it had not Adeline turned further left, offthe asphalt and onto the grass. The car kept running forward as thetrees rushed at us like a swarm of low-flying birds. The carcreaked and jolted and flew over bumps and roots and stuff, andthere was no way we could continue this. Somehow, somewhere, wewould have to stop or be stopped.


Page 8

I was sure Adeline was slamming against thebrakes because I could hear the sound of tires screeching. A treeloomed just ahead and we crashed into its bark. Something white andghostly blew up in front of me and punched me in the chest andgut.

Passenger side air bag.

The air whooshed out of my body and I feelas if a giant hand had picked me up and slammed me against theground. My heart was bursting to claw out of my chest and my limbswere completely numb. My brain was screaming with an infernalhowling that swept like an arctic wind in my ears.

It took me a long time to pick up mysenses.

Everything was silent around me. Everythingwas dead calm.

I finally found my voice.

“Adeline?”

I heard a groan behind me. The entire frontof my body hurt something bad, and my neck felt like it had beenwhiplashed.

“Rebecca?”

More groans.

“I’m OK. Addy? Are you all right, Addy?”

 

*

 

But Addy was not OK.

Addy was never going to be OK again.

She wasn’t dead, just in case that’s whatyou’re thinking. No. For an eighteen-year-old girl, it was a fateinfinitely worse than death.

 

*

 

I stir my lobster bisque.

I say, “I tried. I really did.”

Rebecca shakes her head. “You didn’t tryhard enough.”

“What about you?” I demand. “You left hertoo.”

“I was her friend. I never left her. But you. . . ” Her eyes glisten and she averts her face.

I swallow.

I remember it all too well. Adeline – hookedup to the machines. Her four limbs wrapped up in plaster. Paralysisfrom the neck down, the doctors said. She would never walk or holdsomebody’s hand again.

I remember the shock Rebecca and I wentthrough. We escaped the accident with just a few scratches andbruises. The airbag saved me while Rebecca hit her head on the roofof the car, but it was nothing serious. Adeline had the brunt of itbecause a branch had crashed through the windshield and taken outone of her neck bones.

C3, they said it was. The third cervicalbone from the base of her skull.

I tried. I really did. But it was toopainful to sit by her hospital bed day after day, unable to do thethings we used to do. She could speak. Her eyes were so full ofinner turmoil as she tried to grasp what we once had.

I was young.

I was initially armed with the best ofintentions. I initially wanted to do the right thing and stay byher side.

But my mother didn’t want me to.

“You’re too young to be saddled with aburden like that, Kurt,” she said. “God knows I was too young toowhen I had you kids, and so I know what it’s like to be saddledwith that burden every day.”

Adeline knew what I was going through.

“You have to find someone else, Kurt,” shesaid bravely from her bed. She was no longer in hospital but arehab center. “You can’t stay here. I’m not going anywhere.”

“I won’t leave you,” I avowed.

But those were empty words, said in a momentof passionate bravado.

Adeline sank into depression, and me withher. After a while, she didn’t even want to see me. She didn’t eventry to apply for college.

“What’s the point?” she said bitterly. Sheshot a look of desperation at me. “Tell me you applied, Kurt. Youhave to go to college. Don’t throw your life away because ofme.”

“I’m not,” I said.

It was true.

But I didn’t want to tell her that I onlyhad rejection after rejection. My grades were not good enough. Mybasketball talents weren’t good enough. I was competing with awhole lot of black kids who were hungry and from the projects inthe big cities, and they were given the advantage over me.

Soon, Adeline and I drifted apart. We wereno longer the same people we were when we entered the car thatnight. Our visits grew too painful. And I still harbored the guiltover what I did with Rebecca that night. We didn’t kiss. We justheld hands. But there was fire in that mind meld, and maybe . . .just maybe if we hadn’t done it, Adeline would still be wholetoday.

It was all my fault.

Everything that happened to Adeline was myfault.

When the audition forAmerican RockStarcame into the nearest city, I thought: What the heck? Ididn’t think I had a ghost of a chance to go to the next level. Mysinging skills had been confined to the shower. I had more swaggerthan talent. But it was a chance to escape from my humdrum life fora moment, and certainly a chance to escape from my troubles with mylife and Adeline.

But one audition led to another. Andanother.

You kind of know the rest.

Before I left for Los Angeles for the finalsof twelve, I visited Adeline one final time.

Her eyes were shining. “Don’t look back,Kurt. Don’t think of me and don’t come back here. Just don’t lookback.”

I held her limp hands. Tears filled my eyes,but I didn’t say anything. We both knew I wasn’t going to lookback, and so I didn’t pretend to mask it with false promises andnoble declarations of ‘I’ll come back for you’.

Because I never came back.

It was too painful to confront all thememories we left behind. Not just painful, but downright,terrifyingly excruciating.

Rebecca never forgave me for that.

 

*

 

“You’re a coward!” Rebecca says to me.

I can’t eat my soup. The plate of foie graslies untouched as well.

I say, “I know.”

I can’t bear to look into her accusing greeneyes. The color drains from my face.

“You’re a . . . a . . . ”

Words seem to fail her. She is thatupset.

I know what is weighing heavily on her mind.It anchors on mine just as guiltily.If we hadn’t done what wedid, maybe the karmic forces would align and make everything thathappened unhappen.

Rebecca gets up abruptly from her chair.

I look up. “Where are you going?”

Her body trembles. “I can’t do this. I can’thave dinner with you. I . . . I – ”

Her eyes are filled with tears as she grabsher purse and stumbles blindly away. She starts to stride towardsthe exit, and finally gains speed.

I am too stunned to move.

What should I do? Go after her?

But I didn’t do anything wrong. Not thistime. What’s done has been done. I can’t undo anything by goingafter Rebecca Hall.

I shouldn’t be going after Rebecca Hall.She’s part of my past – the past I’m so desperately trying to runaway from.

I am besieged by indecision when the waitercomes back to the table, shaking his head lightly.

“It’s a tough call,” he says to me. “Butyour lady friend looks right upset. I would go after her if I wereyou. There’s a storm out there and the deck’s slippery.”

That’s as good a reason to go after her asany.

I get up and take out my wallet. I extracttwo thousand dollars from it and lay it on the table.

“This good to cover my bill and your tip?” Isay.

He nods and grins. “You’re welcome back hereanytime, Mr. Taylor. I’m sorry about what happened to you. I thinkthe newspapers have a way of distorting stuff.”

“Don’t I know it,” I groan.

I dash out of the restaurant. I have no ideawhere Rebecca has gone to, but I’m willing to bet it’s to hercabin. The Clarion opens out into a corridor with some of the otherrestaurants on the ship, At the end of this corridor, a door to oneof the sun deck swings shut. The silvery torrent of rain is lightedup momentarily by the lamps inside.

Shit. She has gone outside. Where it’s coldand dark and blustery and not fit for a witch’s tit, or whateverthe saying is these days.

I grit my teeth. I’ve got to go get her. Shemight do something stupid.

Nah. Not Rebecca.

But how well do I know her anyway?

Composing a mental apology to Manny and thesorry state I’m going to render his dinner jacket, I run outthrough that door.

The wind hits me immediately. It is terriblycold, and my nuts shrivel into my ball sacs inside my pants. Therain pelts down and the sky is a merciless black. Jagged streaks oflightning light up the dark clouds, competing with the blazinglamps from the sun decks. There is no one outside.

Maybe she didn’t even come out here.

Then I see her.

She is there by the side of the wall,shielding herself from the cold. Her arms are wrapped around herbody and her shoulders are slumped. Her head is bowed. I can’t besure because of the pelting rain, but I believe she is crying. Hercheeks are certainly wet. Her whole body is wet.

What was she thinking of?

“Rebecca!” The wind snatches the cry from mylips and hurls it into the great beyond.

She looks up, and her face contorts. Sheturns from me and hurries away.

“Rebecca! Don’t be stupid! Come in!”

But she vanishes into the darkness. I curseand almost slip on the wet deck. What is she wearing? High heels?How can she totter around on a slippery deck like this? The wholeship is quaking and listing from one side to the other, and I feellike I’m stuck in a ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ reel.

“Rebecca!”

I dash after her, but I think I have losther in the dark now. I step over a pile of rope and almost tripmyself up. A particularly furious gust of wind howls on thesurface.

I hear a scream all the way towards therailing.

“Rebecca!”

I blink against the rain and wind. I rush tothe railing. I can make out a flailing figure in the dark churningwaters.

“Rebecca!”

Another scream tears from the figure. Atthis rate, she will drown or be crushed under the ship’spropellers!

Frantic, I scan my immediate environs for alifebuoy. There are a couple of buoys tethered to a triangular stopin the railing. I quickly pull them from the railing and fling theminto the sea.

“Rebecca! I just threw a buoy!”

I doubt she heard me.

Shit. I’ve got to do something.

Without stopping to think too deeply aboutthis, I wrench my shoes and socks off, as well as Manny’s dinnerjacket. Then I clamber over the railing and dive into the furiouslychurning waters.

Oh shit.

I forgot I can’t swim.

KURT

 

I bob in the water, gasping for breath andflailing with my hands.

“Rebecca!” I try to cry out, but waterrushes into my mouth.

Waves crash into my face, sending saltywater into my mouth and nostrils. Every time I try to gulp for moreair, water slams into my face.

And then something else.

The lifebuoy lifts on the crest of the wavesand delivers itself to me in what can only be described as an actof God. My cold and wet hands cling on to it and I hook twograteful arms around its ring.

“Rebecca!”

Both my stomach and lungs are sloshing withseawater. Why is the sea so damned choppy? (Oh right, there’s astorm.) I can’t see where she is in the dark and the only light wehave – from the ship – is getting dimmer and dimmer.

I swing my head to the ship. Alas! It’smoving away from us, oblivious to our plight.

“Hey!” I call after it. “Don’t leaveus!”

But the waves are sweeping us from it andthe ship’s engine and turbines are determinedly going against thecurrent.

Rebecca!

I swing my head wildly again to look forher. There she is! Clinging to the lifebuoy I threw her. She seemsto be coping better than me, it appears. Maybe she can actuallyswim.

“Kurt?” she cries.

“Rebecca, I’m here!”

I don’t know how to swim properly, but I canactually paddle with my legs on a lifebuoy. I kick my legs topropel my body in her direction, and she seems to be doing thesame. Her hair is plastered over her face, and occasionally, herform is lit up by lightning.

Strange that we are unable to hear thethunder for the roaring of blood and water in our ears.

“Rebecca, are you all right?” I say as Icome closer.

We finally come close enough for me to reachmy hand out and hook my right wrist around her buoy. Our clammyskins brush against each other’s. There is so much water splashingaround that we can hardly make each other out.

“Just tide this over, OK?” I say to her.

Breathless, she nods. Our hands clasp eachother’s between our bobbing buoys. Thank goodness we are in thetropics. The water could be a lot colder than it really is.

Not having the energy to do or say anythingmore besides cling to our buoys and to each other, we let the wavescarry us to wherever they are going.

Which might be nowhere.

KURT

 

Blackness.

My dreams are filled with seawater. There’swater, water everywhere. Water in my eyes, water in my ears, waterin my soaked pants which are weighing my down, water in my mouth,and water in every other orifice that I have.

Fuck.

I don’t think I’ll ever have a bath for therest of my life.

REBECCA

 

I open my eyes and see the clear bluesky.

That is the first thing I see.

A bird wheels against this sky, its blacksilhouette stark against the pale blue bowl. White clouds scudacross, obscuring higher clouds which are like feathers far, farabove.

The ground beneath my body is hard. I blinkseveral times, trying to gauge if this is a dream.

What happened?

I turn to my right, and I can see a wideexpanse of beach. The sand is white and fine and very, very warm.My hands grasp fistfuls of it, more for the reassuring contact withMother Earth than to test out how fine it is. My hair is stickyagainst my cheek, and a couple of sand particles stick to myeyelashes.


Page 9

Is it true that no two grains of sand arealike? Or is that reserved for snowflakes?

Palm and coconut trees fringe the lush,green growth that borders the beach. Beyond this is higher groundbedecked with dense trees taller than anything I have ever seen inmy life. The air is balmy and very humid. It is also extremelyfresh, and the salt sea tang carries itself on the breeze.

I remember being blown by that freaky gustof wind off the deck and into the sea. I remember being majorlyfreaked out. It was as if a giant hand of air had plucked me off myfeet and thrown me into the sky

Naturally, I landed.

I can swim like a fish, ironically, which iswhat kept me afloat – my ability to tread water for hours on end.But the sea was extremely choppy and there was no way anyone couldswim for long in those waters. That is, until the life buoy camesailing into the air and struck me in the side of my head like awell-aimed shoe.

I’m saved, I thought.

Except that I wasn’t.

But what surprised me was the sight of KurtTaylor diving in after me. Of all the stupid, dumbass things todo.

I mean . . . what would you do if someonegoes overboard, right? You’d yell for the crew immediately. Yes,you’d throw out lifebuoys, but then you’d yell for the crew first.That way, someone other than yourself actually knows that a victimhas gone overboard. You don’t dive in after the hapless victim,because then NO ONE will know that you are BOTH overboard.

You get it, right?

I get it. I’m a strategic planner. Athinker.

Obviously, Kurt Taylor hadn’t got the memoon what to do if people pitched overboard from a luxury cruiseliner.

Of course he wouldn’t get it. He is aconvicted felon, sentenced to hard labor with a mop and a wash ragon a ship on which he should be the nightly star attraction.

Kurt!

I sit up.

Where the fuck is Kurt?

Panic suddenly seizes me. My back protestssomething awful as I clamber to my feet. My feet are bare,naturally. I remember my heels coming off the moment I struck thesurface of the water. My green dress – the one that was soexpensive and in which I had looked so good in the night before –is mostly dry now and encrusted with the grime of salt.

Salt-baked dress. Haha. Take that,Prada.

If you think I’m being cavalier about allthis, I am not. I’m terrified as hell. And when I’m terrified, mymind goes into an endless chatter of consciousness, where it makes– out of its subconscious volition, I swear – lame jokes and wordassociations and anagrams and everything that has been explored in‘The Da Vinci Code’.

My legs are wobbly, but I make myself walkdown the beach, looking for anything that can be construed as abody. I realize that the specter of Kurt Taylor actuallydyingfills my head with more horror than actuallyencountering the dead drowned body of Kurt Taylor himself.

He can’t die!

He just can’t!

We have unfinished business!

“Kurt?” I try to call, but my voice comesout in a squeak.

The life buoy has also washed ashore, and itlies there, covered with sand. I’m not sure if it ismylifebuoy or Kurt’s. They don’t exactly come in ‘His’ and ‘Hers’matching rings.

You see what I mean when I say that my mindbabbles when I’m scared out of my wits?

“Kurt?” My voice comes out stronger now.

Where the hell is he?

Of course, there’s a possibility he couldhave drowned at sea. I remember both of us clinging to our lifebuoys, and I remember his arm forming a link around mine so that wewouldn’t be parted.

I remember him telling me, “Just close youreyes and rest. I’ve got you.”

I remember being so tired that I actuallyobeyed him in spite of my initial instinct to say, “Don’t tell mewhat to do!”

I remember closing my eyes, and feeling hishand – still warm despite the wetness that pervaded us – anddrifting off.

Until I woke up here.

Only I have no idea where ‘here’ is andwhere Kurt Taylor is. Theoretically, he would never let me go andwe should both end up on the same beach.

My heart skips several awful beats. I stillcan’t locate Kurt Taylor.

I continue to trawl the shore. I’m not sureif we are on an island, or if we have washed up to mainland. Butone thing is certain. We are in the tropics. The sun is too highand the weather is too humid. I have only been walking for a bit,and already the sweat is clinging to my salted and tattered greendress.

“Kurt?” I call again.

And then I see him.

A body. Lying in the sand behind someboulders.

My heart literally stops.

My feet pick up speed and then they areliterally flying to where he is. As I round the boulders, I seethat he is half submerged in seawater. A trail of blood lends a redcast to the water around his right leg.

He’s hurt! Oh shit!

“Kurt!” The panic is very obvious in myvoice.

I quickly place my hands under his armpitsand tug him out of the water. His body is heavy and very limp. Heis passed out, and his wet face is tranquil in repose. He is stillbreathing, thank God. I pull him up the shore until his feet arecompletely cleared of the water.

I don’t know the first thing about treatinga wound. I need help. I need reinforcements.

I look around frantically. But there is noone. We are marooned in the middle of nowhere. Kurt has only me totend to him.

I have to be strong for the both of us. Ican do this. I really can.

Taking a deep breath, I inspect Kurt’s pronebody. He still has all his clothes on, although his feet are bare,like mine. Sand covers the skin of his hands and feet.

I have to take off his pants to see where heis bleeding from.

The thought of taking off Kurt’s black pantsfills me with a strange feeling.

Oh, come on. It’s not as if you’re takinghis pants off forthatthing.

Mustering my courage, I kneel by his bodyand start to undo the zipper of his pants. His pants are soakedthrough, and my fingers fumble as I finally manage to wriggle hiswaistband beneath his hipbones. He wears Calvin Klein underwear,and I can’t help noticing the nice bulge in his crotch. And heisn’t even hard.

Stop it.

I pull down his pants gingerly. I can’t helpobserving his thighs. They are muscular and very, very taut. Hemust do cardiovascular exercises fairly often. Dancing, I’ll bet. Iread somewhere (OK, I didn’t really read it but merely skimmedthrough the article) that he worked diligently at improving hischosen craft. He took singing and dancing lessons in addition tosongwriting.

I must admit I was impressed when I read . .. I meanskimmedthrough those factoids.

I work his pants over his knees, and that iswhen I notice the bleeding gash on his left shin. It is a linearcut, and I think he must have dashed it against some rocks or coralwhen he was washed ashore.

I have to stop the bleeding.

His shirt is made of a material which looksas if it can be easily torn. Now I have to take his shirt off aswell. Undoing his buttons, I shrug it off his shoulders and arms.Not an easy feat, I can tell you, especially since I’m caught bythe sight of his marvelously formed chest and his brown, enticingnipples.

His nipples are the particularly protuberantsort. Very erotic.

Stop it this instance!

His arms are nicely muscular as well. But Ialready knew that. When he was a high school jock, he already had aspectacular body. It only serves that he would grow into that bodywhen he became a man. How old is he now? Twenty-three? He is in theprime of his physicality, and it shows in every magnificent part ofhis body.

Too bad he’s such a prick.

Still, he did dive in to try to save me.That has to count for something. Stupidity, perhaps, but it wasstill something.

I rip a large swath of his shirt with acracking sound which seems too loud for the quiet atmosphere ofdistant chirping birds and rustling trees and washing waves. Then Ifashion a sort of tourniquet and bind it around his shin. His legis heavy as I lift it. I make several rounds and ensure the woundis covered tightly.

I can only hope he doesn’t get aninfection.

Kurt stirs. I tense.

His eyes flutter open.

“Rebecca?” he says weakly.

“I’m here. You’ve been hurt and I thinkyou’ve had a concussion.” My words spill over. I am aware that heis now mostly undressed except for his underwear. “I had to bindyour wound. Look at it. Neat, huh? Are you all right?”

I’m babbling again. I am indirectlyapologizing for taking almost all his clothes off.

I’m sorry for looking at you. And we stillhave that unresolved issue between us, so I don’t find youattractive.

His eyebrows crinkle as he frowns. Then hegroans. His hand goes to the back of his head as he tries to situp.

“Maybe you should just lie down until youfeel better,” I suggest.

He looks me up and down as if I have a ripepimple on my nose. His expression is dazed and confused.

“Are you OK?” he asks.

“No worse for the wear.”

He manages to balance himself on hisbuttocks. He glances at my makeshift bandage.

“Can I look at it?”

“No,” I say quickly. “It’s bleeding and I’vejust gotten it to stop.”

Indeed, the blood is seeping through theabsorbent material of his shirt. That fabric is not made to begauze, I can tell you.

“The bandage will need to be changed lateron,” I say. “Here, let’s get out of the sun.”

I help him stand up. He smells of sea andsalt and his own peculiar brand of man smell as he leans gingerlyon my shoulders and hobbles into the shade of the trees. I am veryaware of his masculinity.

“I’m OK,” he finally says as we both plunkour bodies down into the shade.

The ground is strewn with pebbles and patchygrass and dried leaves. The sun dapples in between the leaves. Outthere, the waves are roaring as they flow and ebb, flow andebb.

“Where are we?” he asks.

“Hell if I know.”

He licks his lips. “I think we shouldexplore.”

“With your leg like that?”

“I’m not a baby.” He gets up again.

“Sit down. Rest a bit. Let’s think of whatwe should do next.”

“You’re always the one who has to be incontrol, isn’t that the case, Rebecca?” he shoots.

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean you always have to boss peoplearound. Here we are, shipwrecked, and you still have to be the onein charge,” he says with a touch of bitterness.

My jaw drops in surprise.Oh, of all thenerve!

And to think I thought I found himattractive.

I quickly close my mouth before a mosquitocan decide to go in.

“I’d just suggested that we should sit downand plan what we should do next instead of barging into thetropical forest like a Neanderthal. Besides, you are in no shape towalk around, Mr. ‘I Jump, You Jump’.”

It is his turn to drop his jaw inamazement.

“Excuse me, but didn’t I just rescue youfrom certain death by drowning?” he says acidly.

I’m a little abashed, but I’m on a roll.

“Yeah, but look at us now. Maybe you shouldjust have called for someone and they would have hauled usbothonboard. Instead, thanks to your bullheadedness, we’reboth stranded here instead of being on the ship.”

OK, I’m awful. I’m really, really awful.

But I can’t help it. Kurt Taylor brings outthe worst in me. And I can’t help it if I find him so damnedattractive when he is half-naked and oozing sensuality without eventrying. I can’t help it if we had that disastrous past togetherconnected by a tenuous thread called Adeline Frost.

I can’t help it if I always push the peopleI’m most uncomfortable with away.

His face flinches, and I know I’ve hithome.

Ouch.

“Maybe I should just leave you in there todrown next time,” he says.

“Yeah, maybe you should.”

We both turn away from each other to sulklike petulant little children.

And to think we might be stuck here witheach other for a very long time.

KURT

 

Rebecca is right, of course. I should havealerted one of the ship’s crew before blindly hurling myself intothe vortex. But it’s too late now to rue what I should have orshould not have done, because we are both now marooned on adeserted island.

Or is it really an island?

My throat is parched and my stomach rumblessomething rude. I uncurl my long legs and get up.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m thirsty,” Isay to her. She has her back to me, of course. “I’m going to seeabout getting us some fresh water.”

I venture off towards the forest withoutanother word. I don’t know where I’m going, of course. All I knowis that walking around barefoot is a bitch. Pebbles and twigs diginto my soles. My left shin hurts something silly.

“Wait!” she calls after me. She scrambles toher feet and runs after me. “I’m coming too. Don’t go off likethat. We might get lost. We need some landmarks so that we can getback to the beach.”

She is right again, of course. I cursemyself. She is right about a lot of things.

“I think I’ll know how to find the beachagain,” I say in a huff. “It isn’t as if we left a boat full ofsupplies down there or something.”

I’m right too, of course.

She shoots me a glare. “Well, you certainlyleft your clothes behind. You want to bring those along or are youplanning to walk around like Tarzan?”

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