Sandra was a dreamer, she always had been. Her mother used to say her head was in the clouds, and if she wasn’t careful, she would fall to earth with a very unpleasant jolt, and sometimes she thought her mother might be right. She loved reading romance novels and fell in love with the rogue handsome hero, fantasizing that she was the damsel in distress. She watched movies and found herself reliving the love scenes over, and over again, making herself the heroine. She would dream of faraway lands, where great lovers and erotic passion were her staples of life. What Sandra Dennis really wanted was an adventure, something to make her humdrum life seem less boring.
The sun from the French Riviera was warm and luxurious, as she basked under its heat in her plush lounge chair. The thrill of traveling abroad was a fantasy that embraced her, for most of her twenty-six years. Shortly after graduating college, she found that fantasy taking on a life of its own. She spent the past two years saving for this vacation, scrimping and pinching every spare dime she earned. She even moved back home, living in her childhood bedroom at her grandparents’ house in order to save money.
Even with all the saving, no unnecessary shopping, no extravagant movies or dinners on the town, she still wouldn’t have enough money to make her trip for another year. That was until two months ago when she received a card in the mail, a contest entry for a two-week trip to the French Riviera. It sounded a little too coincidental for her liking, so she threw it away. Little did she know her sister found the card in the recycling, when she came over for supper one night, and filled it out for her. Lo and behold, she won. No gimmicks, no gym to join, no real estate investor or life insurance agent to listen to. Pure and simple, enter and win. She had never won anything in her life, outside of high school track meets. She could still feel the excitement tickling her stomach as she thought back on her luck.
Only two days into her fourteen-day trip, and she was already relaxed. Life at this exact moment was good, not a care in the world to disturb her tranquility. She had a tall glass of ice tea sitting on the small table next to her, the iPod playing a variety of tunes in her ears, and her Kindle Fire hiding in the shade under the chair. She didn’t have to remind anyone to be quiet, no children’s stories to read, and no school programs to arrange. She was on her own, the feeling of freedom abundant, while she lay stretched out beneath the midday sun.
Sandra felt like a chicken baking on a rotisserie, turning every fifteen minutes to avoid sunburn, but it would be worth it, if it meant not spending the rest of her trip nursing a blistering body, in her hotel room. Fortunately, she had taken her sister’s advice and prepared her skin for the trip, by taking advantage of the tanning booth at the local hair salon. A month of visits, every other day for thirty minutes at a time, and her skin had turned a nice brown, so she wouldn’t stand out too horribly on the Mediterranean beach. Sandra knew she looked good, she had worked very hard the past two years getting her body in shape for the trip of a lifetime. She lost fifteen pounds and dropped three dress sizes. In celebration of her new lifestyle, she rewarded herself with a trip to Wichita to buy a new wardrobe, including the deep purple bikini she now wore. Not too shabby for a girl from a small Kansas town.
Hoisington was in the middle of Kansas, at the junction of Kansas Highway 4 and US Highway 281, and sat directly on the National Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway. This very small town of about three thousand residents, had been home to her family since the late 1800s. The town was very proud of its heritage, and the fact that their outdoor attractions had helped to develop eco-tourism to the entire region, wasn’t anything to sneeze at. It was at the top of the Cheyenne Bottoms, a wetland of international significance and home to many endangered species of wildlife. Okay, all that said basically meant, she was a very, very small-town girl, with bigger than life dreams, and right now as she soaked up the warm sun of the French Riviera, all she could think was, we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Sandra lay with her eyes closed, even though she wore a dark pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses. Her iPod finished the playlist she was listening to, which was being used as a timer to remind her to take a break from the beach. She really didn’t want to leave the warmth right now, but she knew it was important to move out of the sun for a while. Besides, she had signed up for a scuba diving lesson for two o’clock, and she had to get ready. She reached over to her iPod and switched it off before removing the ear buds, stretching her arms above her head like a lazy house cat, before refastening the back of her bikini top, and rolling over.
The scent of the sea washed over her, and she sighed, feeling more comfortable than she ever had before. Sandra honestly thought she could stay like this forever. Lazy, relaxed and bathed in the rich luxury of the French resort. She stretched again and opened her eyes, catching sight of the man watching from the seat next to her. Her heart skipped a beat and all she could do was stare. He was handsome, very handsome and she felt the sting of a blush coloring her cheeks.
He was tanned, though a little lighter than she was, his dark hair falling over his brow, and his eyes hidden behind a pair of black sunglasses. He smiled at her as she openly stared at him. She could feel the color in her face darken several hues, as a strange tingle gripped her lower abdomen. He had his left leg stretched out on the long chair, his right leg bent slightly, both were covered with dark hair to match that of his chest and arms. Not so much on his chest, just enough to make him look primal and rugged.
For several moments all she could do was stare, her heart beat a strange rhythm beneath her bikini, until she realized what she was doing and pulled herself under control. He must have arrived somewhere between Michael Jackson and Abba, since she knew the chair was vacant when she turned over to her stomach, after Taylor Swift and before Donna Summer, fifteen minutes ago.
Sandra sat up on the lounge chair, swinging her long slender legs over the side of the cushioned seat, as she struggled to regain her composure. She tried not to look as idiotic as she knew she did, eager to escape before she made a bigger fool of herself. She must look a fright, she thought, as she caught a glimpse of her shadow beside her chair. Her hair was held securely to the top of her head by a clip, a few wisps trailing down the side of her face and back of her neck. She saw the image of herself through her mind’s eye, and felt she looked like an old scullery maid, she once read about.
“Hello,” he said in a tone husky with amusement.
“Uh, hi…hello,” she answered.
Nice, Sandra, she scolded herself. If that didn’t make her sound like an uneducated country hick, she didn’t know what would.
“I’m Creighton Ashford,” he said in a deep British accent. “Hope you don’t mind if I sit here.”
She chanced a closer look at him as he reclined in the lounge chair, thankful she was still wearing her Ray-Ban’s. Damn, he was handsome.
“Um, no, you’re welcome to sit anywhere you’d like. It’s a rather large beach, plenty of room for everyone.”
Great, she scolded herself again, if he wasn’t already amused at her inept attempt of verbal communication, now he undoubtedly would be. She sounded like a babbling idiot.
“American?” he asked, his smile dazzling, making her heart leap in her chest.
“Yeah, that’s right. Is there a problem with that?”
Sandra frowned under her Ray-Bans, knowing she sounded insulted, but couldn’t prevent the irritation from trickling through her words.
“No, not at all. So, what brings you so far from home?”
“Why does anyone visit France? You know, vacation, sun, relaxation, that sort of thing.”
“Many visit for other reasons as well. Business, romantic holidays, honeymoons.”
“Well I’m not here for any of that.”
She tried not to sound as nervous as she felt, as the heat rose all the way up to her hair clip. He smiled, handing her the drink that sat on the table and reached for his own glass of something pink, icy and with a tiny rainbow-colored umbrella.
“Then may I make a toast? Here’s to new friendships, Miss…” he began and for a moment she was transfixed and frozen in her seat, by his dazzling smile. Her breath catching, her pulse thrumming in her ears. He cleared his throat softly, her cue to finish his sentence.
“Oh, Dennis…I’m Sandra Dennis,” she answered, touching glasses briefly before tipping her now warm ice tea to her lips.
She swallowed such a large gulp of the amber liquid, that it felt like a rock sliding down her esophagus. She grimaced at the sensation and pain as the liquid slowly filtered past her heart and into her stomach.
“Are you all right?”
His intoxicating smile was replaced with a concerned frown as he watched her. All she could do was nod, unable to speak at that exact moment.
“Fine,” she whispered a few moments later, then cleared her throat. “Well, it’s been nice meeting you, but I have to leave now.”
Go quickly, she thought, remembering her Kindle and bending over the edge of the chair to retrieve it. She stood up on legs that suddenly felt like rubber bands, retrieving her towel from the lounge chair and tossing it across her shoulder. She kept her eyes diverted as she worked, knowing she couldn’t afford to chance another look at him, certain she would combust in flames if she did. She took her iPod and Kindle in one hand, her tea in the other and walked between the chairs in an attempt to leave.
“Are you staying here at the hotel?”
She turned when he stood up from the lounge chair, her mouth falling slightly open, her breath catching in her throat at the sight of him. His midnight blue and white swim trunks hugged his hips snuggly, his arms thick and muscular, his chest broad with a thin layer of dark hair that trailed down his abdomen in a thin line, disappearing beneath his swim trunks. It was obvious he worked out, though he was far from being Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was much taller than she would have expected, seeing him reclined on the lounge chair, in fact, he was a good half foot above her five feet six inches and she found herself having to look up to see his face.
“Yes, yes, I am, right there.”
Shut up, Sandra, she shouted to herself, feeling like a babbling child as a strange chill traveled down her spine, gripping her lower abdomen again.
“Maybe we’ll see each other again,” he suggested with another smile that seemed to melt her like butter, in the Mediterranean sun.
“Um, sure,” she said absently as a very attractive waitress stepped up beside him.
“Perhaps this afternoon?” he asked, glancing briefly to the server as she set another drink on the table.
Sandra looked at the waitress, feeling a strange sense of irritation at her intrusion, her eyes traveling across the string bikini that barely hid the woman’s engorged breasts from sight. Her short blonde hair, spiked around her head, seemed to glimmer in the sunlight, as she placed the empty glasses on the small round tray she held. Sandra watched her absently as she straightened up waiting for Creighton to acknowledge her. The look in her bright blue eyes, told Sandra she was eager to have the man’s full attention, and was waiting for her to leave.
“I’m sorry,” Sandra said at last, realizing he was still speaking to her. “I have plans. Some other time perhaps.”
She turned and walked away, thankful for the increased exercising that made her bottom firm and tight. She added a slight wiggle to her walk as she left, knowing he was watching her departure, hoping the waitress knew where his attention was as well.
Four o’clock arrived to find Sandra sitting with a small group of tourists on the docks, all getting the same lecture about scuba diving safety and protocol. Over the past two hours, they had watched an instructional video, tried out masks and tanks, practiced diving in the hotel’s swimming pool, signed waivers and had been fitted for flippers and masks. The butterflies in her stomach began to turn into fruit bats as their instructor finished speaking, then led them down the peer, their flipper-feet flapping against the wooden planks as they made their way toward the waiting boat. She always wanted to try scuba diving, but until that morning, she never had the courage to do it. If it wasn’t for the insistence of the young man who played the role of entertainment director of the hotel, she would not have considered signing up for the lesson at all, but then again, wasn’t that the whole idea of this trip…adventure?
Sandra found her place on a bench seat near the port side of the boat - which she had been told was the nautical term for the left side. Next to her were a middle-aged woman and her husband, Angela and Michael Gibbons of New Haven Connecticut, celebrating their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. Michael announced that they were there to experience all sorts of new and exciting things, winking at his wife with a seductive smile that made the others in the group chuckle and his wife blush profusely.
The skipper of the boat and their diving instructor was a Frenchman named Ruelle Lefebvre, who now stepped onto the vessel and went into the glass-enclosed cabin where the steering wheel was. His sun-bleached hair was shoulder length and pulled into a ponytail at the back of his head, his face and hands tanned and weathered by the many long years at sea. His worn yellow tee-shirt and faded cut-off blue jean shorts stood out in stark contrast to the new pair of black sneakers, on his large sockless feet. He was a polite man, very articulate in his orders, and Sandra smiled at the way his bright green eyes sparkled when he spoke. Two deck hands had begun to secure the ropes and prepared the ship for the open seas, as the engines turned over and roared to life.
Sandra felt the excitement rise within her, when the rest of the group took up the seats along the right side of the ship - or the starboard side, as she was told. Their conversations took on a tone of anxious chattering, and Sandra found herself twisting her fingers together in her lap, at an attempt to control her nerves. She looked around her and noted that she was the only one without a partner, and was slightly embarrassed about the fact, but she sat a little taller in her seat and squared her shoulders with determination. She didn’t need a partner to swim, she told herself proudly and there would be an instructor with her after all, as they all would have. She would just have to experience all of this on her own, without a significant other or special someone to hold her hand, like the others had.
She drew a deep breath to steady her nerves as the ship suddenly took a lunge forward. They moved slowly out of the stall then turned and picked up speed, leaving the docks behind as they headed into the open waters, to their designated diving site. Her excitement began to mount, and she turned to watch the ship break through the ocean’s surface, drawing a few deep breaths to try and calm her anxiety.
“Hello again,” a friendly British voice said beside her and she turned with a start, watching as the long frame of Creighton Ashford sat down beside her.
She looked into a pair of dark sapphire blue eyes and was momentarily lost in their depths. His smile was intriguing and genuine, as he leaned against the back of the seat with ease, his arm resting behind her on the railing.
“Hi,” was about as much as she could bring herself to say, her breathing more rapid than a few minutes ago and her throat suddenly dry.
“Is this your first lesson?” he asked with a raised brow.
She wished he wouldn’t look so inviting. It made it difficult to concentrate. She turned her face away from him and nodded.
“Well, Ruelle is a great instructor. You’re lucky you could get in on one of his classes.”
“Do you know Monsieur Lefebvre?” she asked looking back at him, trying to engage him in a normal conversation, and forget the extraordinarily good looks, that sent her heart racing again.
“Yes, I took lessons from him about seven years ago. Ruelle is really one of the best divers in all of France. I try to come here on holiday whenever I can, though it’s not often enough.”
She stared at the man and smiled, not knowing exactly what to say. He seemed open and friendly, completely relaxed as he sat next to her on the cushioned bench.
The Skipper pulled the boat to a halt while they were talking, and the apprehension she had been experiencing earlier was back, tenfold. She looked over the back of the seat, and into the clear crystal blue of the Mediterranean Sea, fighting the urge to vomit. It wasn’t the ship or the slight rocking on the water that made her feel ill. It was the idea that she was going to be down there in a few moments. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea, she told herself and quickly tried to think of a way to escape going into the water.
“Crey,” Ruelle said with a jubilant tone to his heavy accent, causing the heads of the passengers to turn toward the two men. “I did not see you come on board, but I’m very glad you are here Mon Ami.”
“Bonjour Ruelle,” Creighton said with a chuckle as he stood and shook the older man’s hand, smiling that brilliant, heart stopping white smile. “Heureux de vous voir a nouveau.”
Sandra really wished she had taken some French lessons before coming here. About all she understood out of their conversation was the fact they were friends, other than that she was about as naive as a newborn babe.
“What brings you here, Crey?” Ruelle asked him cheerfully.
“Thought I’d take a dive while the day was young, and who else would I go with, but my old friend?”
“Très bien,” the man said with a glance toward Sandra. “This is very fortunate. Mademoiselle Dennis does not have a partner. You can go down with her, yes?”
Creighton turned to Sandra, his smile was warm and inviting. She could feel the curious eyes of the other passengers as they came to rest on her red face.
“I would love to go down with Miss Dennis,” he said winking at the young woman.
The thought of being alone with this man, who sent her heart in a tizzy, didn’t exactly help relieve her anxiety.
“Merveilleux. With you, she will not need a trainer.” Ruelle slapped the man on the back. “We will go off the aft deck,” he said as he passed through the small aisle, between the passengers. “Remember to fall backward into the water, and let the tank take you down, and stay with your trainer.”
Ruelle continued to speak, reintegrating his instructions as he led the group to the back of the boat. The other couples, along with the professional scuba trainers, stepped to the back of the boat and began to strap on their tanks, while Sandra sat trying to think of a reason to back out. She was beginning to doubt her sanity for coming on this boat, and her stomach lurched at the thought of what might happen.
“Scared?” Creighton asked as he sat down next to her, his arm resting on the railing behind her again.
“I’m not sure this was such a good idea,” she whispered, feeling suddenly very small, and afraid to be alone, so far from home.
“I’ll be right beside you. I won’t let anything happen.”
He stood up and stretched out his hand for her to take, and she looked at it, biting her lower lip. She found it extremely difficult to breathe when he was just sitting next to her, what would happen to her if she dared to touch him?
“Trust me?” he asked softly.
Something in his words made her look up into his deep-blue eyes and suddenly she felt safe. She slowly reached up, slipping her hand into his and bit her bottom lip to steady her nerves. A shockwave passed through her as he squeezed her fingers and pulled her gently from her seat.
“Try to keep your breathing even and just flow with it,” he told her as they walked toward the back of the boat. “We’ll go slow and stay close to the surface. Once you get your bearings, we’ll go a little deeper, but I’ll let you set the pace, alright?”
She nodded, feeling a strange thumping of her heart. It was as if he was speaking in a different context than diving, but she was too nervous to concentrate on the undertone of his words.
Sandra sat down on the edge of the platform in the back of the boat, pulling her yellow tee-shirt and blue shorts off, to reveal the black wet suit she wore underneath, and watched while Creighton lifted the air tank to her back. It was heavy, and she gasped as he tightened the straps across her chest, then smiled reassuringly, slipping the full-face mask over her head. His eyes were dark and danced with an emotion she couldn’t name, as he adjusted the harness and valves before sitting down across from her, slipping into his rubber suit and mask.
“This is a communication transmitter,” he told her pointing at the small box next to her ear, as his voice filtered into her mask clearly. “You push it to turn it on and to talk to me.”
“Will you be able to speak with me as well?” she asked him, suddenly desperate to have a link to another person, causing him to smile as he offered her a brief wink that made her pulse jump.
“I’ll hear everything you say and can respond the same as you. Now, stay close and don’t forget to take pictures.”
He slipped a wet/dry digital camera Ruelle provided each student, on her wrist, and tightened the string so it wouldn’t fall off.
“Ready?” he asked through the speaker near her ear, filling her helmet with his warm voice. She nodded against the hoses and weight of the mask. “Push the button Sandra,” he said, tapping the side of his own helmet.
Her heart skipped a beat at the sound of his voice, as he used her first name. It sounded like he was caressing every syllable, basking it in warmth equal to that of the Mediterranean sun. She nodded again, and he smiled.
“Trust me and give it a try,” he ordered softly, watching her through the shield in front of his face.
“I’m ready,” she said pushing the button, perhaps not as confident as she would have preferred. His smile grew, and he winked again.
“Let’s go. Remember to take a deep breath and fall backward so the tank pulls you over. You’re going to roll off the edge. The tank is heavier than you think, so you’ll have to remember to swim to keep yourself near the surface. Once you’re in the water just breathe normally, alright?” She nodded again. “Okay, I’m right behind you.”
Sandra drew a deep breath and closed her eyes, rolling off the edge of the platform and into the water.
It took all of ten seconds for her to regain her composure and begin moving her arms and legs. She found herself holding her breath subconsciously, as she opened her eyes. It was such an unusual sensation as she sank beneath the ocean’s surface, eyes wide open and breathing. A moment later and a hand touched her shoulder, sending a warm tingle along her spine beneath the rubber suit. She looked around to see those incredible blue eyes and inviting smile. She didn’t have a choice but to smile in return.
“Are you alright?”
“It’s incredible!” She said a little louder than she had intended, causing him to laugh. “I never imagined ever doing anything like this.”
Her excitement quickly burned out her fear, and she was able to enjoy what was happening around her.
“Wait until we get a little farther down. That’s where the real fun happens.”
“What are we waiting for? Let’s go.”
A warm laugh echoed inside her helmet as his large hand slid around hers.
“Don’t forget your camera,” he reminded her. “And turn on your light. You’re going to need it.”
He tapped the front of the face shield and switched on his headlight, watching as she followed suit, illuminating the water around them in a soft white glow. With his hand leading her, they began swimming at a steady pace, the weight of their tanks aiding in pulling them downward. As they put distance between the surface of the ocean and themselves, the water became darker, but the light shining ahead of them, kept them alert to where they were going.
Creighton stopped and pointed to the beautiful blue and yellow fish, not very large, only about two or three inches long, swimming along the edge of a rock.
“It’s a flameback angelfish,” Creighton’s voice filtered calmly through her helmet. “And over there in the sand, see it? It’s a white spotted bamboo shark.”
She gulped in fear as a warm hand touched the small of her back, steadying her from swimming backward.
“It won’t hurt you; it’s considered a carpet shark, harmless to humans.”
She drew a deep breath and relaxed, the warmth of his hand remained on her back. “Take a picture,” he reminded her, and she pulled the arm holding the camera up and snapped the button.
“Look up there.”
He pointed above them as a pair of stingrays swam through the water with an effortless grace. She raised her camera again and snapped another picture. This was getting fun and she completely forgot about her uneasiness, as the thrill of what she was seeing embraced her. Creighton continued to point out the various types of fish, all eager to have their pictures taken as they swam around them like puppies.
He reached for her hand and pulled her toward some rocks. His touch sent waves of excitement traveling down the inside of her wet suit, and she found herself actually having to stifle the nervous giggle that threatened her composure. He showed off the many types of plant life and coral, pointing toward some strange-looking fish he said were barracuda, swimming in a circular motion above them. In the near distance was a school of tuna, and swimming toward them was a Galapagos shark. She caught her breath and squeezed his hand unconsciously.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said through her helmet speaker. “It’s not after us, but we should get back to the boat. It’s not safe to tempt fate.”
She nodded her agreement and was about to swim back toward the ship when Creighton’s hand stopped her.
“Aren’t you going to take a picture? You may never get a chance to see another shark this close.”
“I don’t want it to see us,” she whispered and heard the now familiar chuckle through her helmet.
“It won’t hear you even if you whisper,” he teased. “Take the picture.”
Her hands trembled as she drew the camera up, and she realized she was holding her breath again, as she snapped the picture. The shark continued to swim with the rest of the fish, not paying the least bit of attention to the silent spectators.
“Are you ready to go back?” Creighton asked, watching as the camera drifted in the water, by the strap holding it around her wrist when she let go of it.
Her legs were shaking, and she could feel the adrenalin burning within her veins as she nodded, feeling his hand in hers again as he pulled her along beside him. She glanced behind them several times to make certain the shark wasn’t following, but it had swum further out to sea without even noticing their presence. She inhaled a deep steady breath, and glanced beside her to Creighton, who was watching her every move like a panther stalking its prey, causing her heart to begin racing within her chest. Her smile was shy and timid, and she could hear the soft chuckle fill her helmet once again.
Once they reached the ship, Ruelle reached down and pulled her up by the straps across her shoulders, as Creighton lifted her around the waist, his dark eyes smiling at her through his visor. It was a strange sensation to have his hands on her, and she felt their heat burning through the rubber wet suit. She was thankful once again that she had lost those fifteen pounds as she was hoisted out of the water. She quickly stripped off the mask as Creighton pulled himself out of the water to sit across from her.
“Have fun, Mademoiselle?” Ruelle asked pulling the tank off her shoulders.
“It was awesome, thank you…er, merci,” she corrected herself. “Thanks to Creighton, I got some great pictures.”
“Oui, Crey is a great leader. I am very happy he joined us.”
“So am I,” the man in question said as he looked up from his seat, now void of his air tank and diving gear. Ruelle laughed, patting the younger man on the shoulder.
“I leave you to finish helping Mademoiselle Dennis,” he said with a wink.
Sandra glanced up just in time to see the exchange, then felt the sting of color edge its way up her neck, and into her face.
“Now all is aboard,” Ruelle continued. “We go back, no?”
Ruelle walked away as he made his way toward the glass cabin. Two deck hands began to gather the gear as Sandra pulled the wet suit off, slipping her shirt back across her bikini top. Creighton watched while she slipped her dark-blue shorts over her bikini bottoms and smiled a strange, almost inviting grin when she caught him. How could anyone be this handsome, with such a perfectly sculpted straight nose, full kissable lips and dark seductive eyes and perfect smile? There was enough of him to make two normal men. Something in his manner, assured her he was vividly aware of the effect his appearance had on the opposite sex, and that he knew she had been checking him out. A strange sensation began to caress her insides, a mixture of heat and tingling that seemed to tug at her stomach.
“Shall we?” he asked her, waving his hand back toward the seats.
Sandra nodded as she preceded him down the narrow aisle, to the empty bench where they had sat before, feeling the heat of his eyes on her backside. Everyone was talking very animated about their experience, and events of their afternoon, as she sat looking out across the crystal blue sea and sighed, a contented grin caressing her lips. So far, Cote d’Azur had proven to be a very interesting place to visit.
The sun had dropped much lower, by the time they got back to the docks, and a warm glow of pinks and turquoise was slowly spreading across the evening sky. It was absolutely beautiful. Sandra stayed behind to enjoy the tranquility of the sea, as the rest of the passengers disembarked. She closed her eyes, basking in the sounds of sea gulls echoing across the water, the soft creaking of waves broke the stillness, at they caressed the wooden pillars of the walkway. She was relaxed and comfortable and yet oddly reenergized.
“One of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen,” Creighton said softly, making her aware that he was still sitting beside her.
She nodded again, drawing a deep breath. This specific moment was definitely worth all the sacrifice she had made, in order to come here. When she looked back toward Creighton, she blushed, realizing he was watching her.
“Ruelle needs to close up the ship for the night,” he told her gently, an inviting smile caressing his lips as he took her hand in his.
The touch of his hand on her bare skin, sent a sudden shudder racing through her arm and into her stomach, causing her heart to skip a beat. She looked up into those dark-blue eyes and smiled.
“Do you have plans for supper?” he asked, as they walked together down the wooden walkway and up the short path to the hotel.
She felt the warmth of his touch as it coursed through her arm and into her breast, as he watched her intently.
“I don’t have anything special planned.”
“Would you like to have supper with me?” he asked with another dazzling smile that warmed her down to her toes.
“I would love to,” she said suddenly, glancing downward when she realized how eager she sounded.
“Great. Do you like pasta?” he asked as they walked into the lobby of the hotel.
“I love pasta, but I don’t eat it much. It’s not very good for the waistline.”
She bit her tongue trying to put a halt to the malfunctioning filter between her brain and her mouth. She looked up into the dark eyes that traveled down her slender body and felt a strange tingling in her inner thighs, when his eyes began inspecting the area of discussion.
“I don’t think you have much to worry about.”
His eyes seemed to take on a light of their own, as his lips twitched into a seductive grin, squeezing her hand and causing her to bite her bottom lip, to keep from giggling like a schoolgirl. Pausing, he leaned into her, surprising her as he kissed her cheek, his touch sending currents of electricity across her skin. He smelled of seawater and a masculine muskiness that was so alien, so alluring, that several new sensations began to awaken deep down inside her.
He smiled at her with a raised brow as if waiting for an answer, but all she could do was nod, a lump of anticipation blocking her vocal cords. His smile brightened as he released her hand and slowly walked away toward the lift. She stood there in a dumbfounded trance, watching for several moments before she realized she was standing in the middle of the lobby alone. She drew a deep breath to calm her nerves and headed toward the stairs on legs that felt like jelly. Her room was on the second floor, so a lift really wasn’t necessary, and besides that, she felt like she needed a little exercise to get the anxiety raging through her veins under control.
She opened the door to her room, tossed the key card to the stand next to it, and pulled the dead bolt across the frame. The room was small, but efficient and decorated in dark orange and white. There was a queen-sized bed, a dark reddish-orange comforter and matching drapes, a chest of drawers, a flat screen television and a round table with two chairs, near the large French-style doors, that opened onto a private balcony.
The bathroom was quite nice with the spa tub and separate shower against one wall of the room, a double sink in the center across from the door, a toilet and bidet against the opposite side behind a half wall of frosted glass. It was by far the best thing about the room, and she had used the luxurious tub, twice so far. With her kindle in hand, and a glass of wine on the ledge next to her, the pulsating bubbles easily relaxed the jet lag from her back and legs. She felt like a queen and relished every second she spent in the porcelain bowl.
The clock on the bedside table read five fifteen in dark-red numbers. She had enough time to take a quick tub before her date with Creighton. Her date! Good Lord, she couldn’t believe she was going out with a man she had only just met, and the anxiety began to raise its head again. She wondered what her sister, Cathy, would say about her going to dinner with a very handsome man she had known for less than six hours. With a weary smile, she knew exactly what Cathy would say.
“Good for you, ’bout time, don’t forget to wear underwear. It’s the taking them off part that’s most exciting.”
Her sister was the fun one, she thought as she gathered together the items she needed for her bath. Cathy was the outgoing and going out one, the one who had been on more dates than the number of books Sandra had read, and that was a lot. Cathy hated staying home where Sandra preferred silence and solitude, curled up on cold nights – and hot ones for that matter - with a glass of wine, a good book and soft classical music in the background. That’s probably why she rarely dated. Her expectations were too high for any man to meet them.
Sandra wanted the handsome hero she had always read about, the knight in shining armor, the rugged and unpredictable rogue who stole the heroine’s heart, and seduced her until she was mindless and satiated, from the long sessions of passion and sex. That’s the type of man she was looking for, not a country boy whose only interest was playing backseat bingo, or a quick roll in the hay. She was looking for the adventurous type, handsome beyond words, a gentle instructor, the type that could do things like scuba diving on the spur of the moment and eat pasta with a strange girl from another country.
She was looking for…. Creighton Ashford.