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How are you doing during this brutal winter storm? Praying you're all safe and warm.
I'm enjoying this cruise so much, and hope you are, too!
In case you missed them, here are the links for the previous chapters of The Love Boat Bachelor:
Port of Call: Limon, Costa Rica
The idea hit him in the middle of the night. Two a.m. to be exact. He might be done with romance, but God wasn’t done with him. And God had him on this Love Boat for a reason. Brent lay on his back, his arms beneath his head, and whispered into the darkness. “Father God, I know how bad love can hurt. And I’m showing up for duty. Lead me to the people You want me to help.” He rolled over and slept better than he had in months.
More like a power nap. Wide awake at four o’clock, he rummaged for his workout clothes and running shoes. He splashed water on his face and head and then wrapped the towel around his shoulders. A quick gargle of mouthwash and he was out the door. Nightlights lined the hallway to the elevator. He pushed the button and then stooped down to tie his Nike’s. The door opened and the next thing he knew, knees and legs barreled into him, sending him and the person attached to the legs sprawling on the floor. He grabbed her arms and rolled in an attempt to buffer her fall. Which he did by having her plop soundly onto his chest. For one brief moment, her wide eyes met his.
Her pony tail swished across his cheek as she propelled herself up. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t think anyone would be up this early.”
Brent stood and slid his hand over his head. “No. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have crouched by the entrance of the elevator.” He touched her arm. “Are you hurt?”
She shook her head. “Just embarrassed.”
“Don’t be. I’m Brent Teague.”
She smiled but didn’t offer her hand, so he didn’t either. In fact, she dropped her gaze and stepped back as if an invisible wall had gone up.
Not that he minded. A refreshing change from the women who had been eyeing him like he was hamburger. “Nice to meet you.”
She nodded and gave his hand a slight touch. “I’m really sorry.” And then she turned to go, before he could think to ask where she was from or who she was with.
He pushed the button again and tried not to think of her walking down the hall.
The hint of disinfectant spray and rubber mats hit him as he entered the fitness center. His mind drifted as he knelt in a runner’s thrust to warm and stretch his muscles. The bike shorts and long t-shirt Renee wore indicated she’d been there before him. Or maybe she’d taken a few laps on deck. He stepped on the treadmill and after a couple of minutes, revved it to his running speed.
He returned to his room in time to shower. The boat would be docking at Limon in a couple of hours. He slapped on aftershave. A gift from Roselle he actually liked and planned to buy again when he ran out. Not so, the flowered shirt she’d given him. He’d wear it today, toned down by khaki shorts, and after the “selfie” as proof, he’d stuff it in the bottom of the drawer. Or maybe even manage to lose it.
His stomach rumbled as he approached the dining area. Apparently, everyone else was starving too. He grabbed a tray and went to the shortest line at the buffet. By the time he had selected one of every kind of fruit on the planet, his plate was full. He balanced an English muffin on top and a cup of coffee in his other hand and then headed over to Danny’s table. “All this wonderful food and you eat cereal?”
Danny held up a finger to indicate he was still chewing and then wiped his mouth. “You get used to it.”
Brent placed his coffee and then his food on the table. Then he sat, bowed his head, and offered a quick prayer. Then he raised his head and unfolded the napkin on his lap. “I don’t know, man. This is like the Garden of Eden.” He took his first bite and closed his eyes in appreciation. “Oh yeah. I wouldn’t get tired of this.”
Danny pushed his empty bowl back and propped his elbows on the table. “So how’s it going?”
“Good. Not too many people come knocking on my door.”
“Enjoy your day off, Bro. It’s day five. Things have a way of going south sometime around the seventh day.”
“Hey, glance over at the buffet line. You see the girl wearing the yellow tank top?”
“The one with the tattoo running down her leg?”
“No. The one with the ponytail.”
“Oh. Right. Renee Kessler. She actually passes me each morning when I’m taking a walk around deck before things get busy. She likes to run. You’ve met her?”
“I ran into her this morning. Actually, she ran into me.” Brent ignored Danny’s raised eyebrows. “Long story. Anyway. You know anything about her? And stop staring.”
Danny whipped his gaze back and smiled. “It just so happens, I do. What’s it worth to you?”
He regretted the question the moment it left his mouth, and Danny’s knowing jeer made him regret it even more. He took a sip of coffee and shrugged. “Just curious.”
“Uh-huh. About a gorgeous girl who happens to be single.”
Every part of him screamed not to ask. “So she’s single?”
The jeer widened. “Yeah.” He leaned back and crossed his arms.
Brent held out for fifteen seconds. “All right. Spill.”
Danny leaned forward and whispered as if he were selling a state secret. “Word is, that she was engaged, but her fiancée was killed in a motorcycle accident.”
It felt as if someone had punched him in the gut. He scanned the room until he found her, seated across from another woman who looked a lot like her. “Did she tell you?”
“No. The first night on board her sister had a little too much to drink and opened up about all kinds of things.”
“In front of Renee?” Somehow envisioning Renee in a bar sent another kick to his gut.
Danny shook his head. “She doesn’t come out of her stateroom much except to exercise. Much to her sister’s consternation. In fact, I’m surprised to see her today. She must be going ashore.”
Brent stuck out his lower lip and nodded with what he hoped was extreme indifference.
“Okay, man, I have to get to work.” Danny stood and gave him the usual slap on the back. “Lighten up and be a tourist today. Just keep a close watch on your wallet. Pickpockets are notorious here.” He started away but turned back. “Eat at a food soda.”
Bren arched a brow. “A what?”
“We call them mom and pop restaurants at home. You know, where you can get a meal that tastes like it’s been cooked at home. Don’t miss out.”
As soon as Danny cleared the door, Brent moved to Renee’s table. Strictly doing his duty.
“Hello again. Mind if I join you?”
Her eyes held the surprise and embarrassment he’d seen earlier that morning, and the hint of sadness he’d somehow missed.
“Of course.” Her smile seemed genuine. “This is my sister, Jo-Jo. This is Brent, the guy I told you about.”
“Oh.” She drew out the word and looked him over with the same hungry eyes he’d been fending off for the past five days.
Awkward. He extended his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
She studied his face and snapped her fingers. “I know who you are. You’re the ship’s chaplain.”
“What a waste.” She scooted back her chair. “Excuse me. I need to freshen up before we dock.”
Brent rose too and risked a quick glance at Renee expecting to see the same disdain he’d seen on her sister’s face.
Instead, she gave him a sheepish grin. “It seems I owe you another apology, this time for my sister’s rude behavior.”
He held up his hands and sat again. “No apology needed. I shouldn’t have barged in on the two of you.”
“I’m glad you did. And trust me. Jo-Jo’s upset with me, not you.”
He raised his eyebrows but didn’t ask.
“She means well. She really does. But she and I have entirely different values.”
If he were a betting man, he’d put his money on Renee. “I hear you. Big sisters. In fact, mine strong-armed me into going on this cruise.”
Renee’s eyes widened. “No kidding. Me too. Maybe she and Jo-Jo could hang together in Limon.”
He shook his head. “Sorry. She didn’t come. So, you’re not coming ashore?” For some crazy reason he was disappointed.
An attendant brought more coffee. She ripped open the sugar substitute and poured it and cream into her cup. “Oh, I’m going ashore all right. I didn’t tell Jo, but that’s the only reason I let her talk me into this trip. I’m not really a tourist.”
Brent nodded, hoping she’d continue. He reached for the cream and poured some into his own cup.
“I’m really here to check out the orphanage.”
She nodded and took a sip. For the first time, her eyes sparked with life. “I’m a nurse, and I’ve been considering short term mission work here next summer. So when I found out one of the stops was Limon, I agreed to come. But it backfired a little. She’s angry. Thinks I’m being anti-social.”
Brent rubbed the back of his head. This Jo-Jo was sounding more and more like his sister. “Hey, I might have a solution.”
Renee gave him an expectant look.
“Let me tag along with you today.” He could almost see the wall go back up. “No strings. I do a little volunteering myself, and I’d like to see the orphanage here. Plus, if my sister knew I’d spent the day with a girl, she might get off my back.”
“Well, since you put it that way.” Her shoulders seemed to relax, and she almost laughed. “And I guess I do owe you something for knocking you over this morning.”
He gave her a full-on grin and rubbed a mock injury on his elbow. “Spend the day with me, and we’ll call it even.”
“Deal.” She laughed. A charming, delightful sound he’d like to hear more often. “I’ll tell Jo-Jo the plan and I’ll meet you at Deck 0 Midship in thirty minutes.”
Brent stood as she rose to go. “Great. See you in a bit.” He checked his watch. Just enough time to grab his wallet.
A line of couples had already formed for departure by the time he reached their planned rendezvous point. Brent hung back and scanned the crowd until he spotted Renee, now wearing a flowered shirt over the yellow tank top. He caught her eye, waved, and tried to deny the jolt her smile sent to his heart. A new crush of people converged at the security kiosk, and he did his best to follow the bobbing pink beach hat inching his way.
He maneuvered toward her, alternating “excuse me” with “pardon me” until his hand reached through a hole and wrapped around her thin wrist. “Got’cha.” The sea of people parted enough for him to see the wide frightened eyes of a little old lady and the less than amused gentleman next to her. He released his hold and jerked his hand back so fast he accidentally clipped Renee who had moved next to him. “Oh no.” He turned to her and gripped her shoulders. “I’m so sorry,” He turned back to the lady he’d accosted. “Ma’am, I apologize. I didn’t mean—”
The woman chuckled and placed her hand on his arm. “Don’t apologize, young man. Gives me something to brag about when I get back home.” The man with her gave him a territorial nod and pulled his wife away.
Brent whipped back to Renee and examined the faint tinge of pink showing through her olive complexion. “Renee, I would never intentionally hit a woman.”
She placed her hand on her cheek and laughed. “That’s a good promise, but I agree with your lady friend. What a story this will make. Besides, I think this makes us even, only you didn’t actually knock me down.”
She was being gracious, but he wasn’t quite ready to let himself off the hook. She must’ve sensed it. “Come on. Let’s get in line.”
With effort he unglued himself from the spot. “Your sister’s not going ashore?”
“Jo-Jo? She’s already in line.” Renee angled him to the left. “Up there. Next to the guy in the red t-shirt.”
“I see them.” He nodded thankful to have the attention diverted to another area. “Her boyfriend?”
“For the moment. Somebody she met last night.” She glanced up at him, her expression serious. “Please don’t feel like you have to go with me today. I don’t want you to miss out on the sightseeing tours.”
He held her gaze and tried to read if she was genuinely concerned or politely trying to get rid of him. “I’m not missing out on anything. In fact, I’m excited about the opportunity.”
“Good.” She smiled more with her eyes than with her mouth and patted the large bag slung over her shoulder. “Before we grab a taxi, I need to buy some candy from one of the local vendors.”
“Good idea. I’ll buy some too.” He placed his hand on her elbow and guided her to the slow-moving line.
The young couple ahead of them inched forward with frequent pauses to stop and kiss. Renee seemed to be going out of her way to avoid looking at them. Brent considered taking her by the hand and propelling her around them. “Tell me about the orphanage.”
“PANI. Patronato Nacional de la Infancia. I probably slaughtered the pronunciation. These orphanages are spread out all over Central America.” She shot around the couple who had stopped to take a selfie. “Limon has two shelters which, according to my research, have the most needs. They provide a lot more than physical help. Health care, education, and most importantly, hope.” She looked away and he strained to hear. “And that’s why I plan to come back. To offer what love I have left and also some hope.”
His respect for her grew a notch. “You really did your homework. I think I already know the answer, but Renee, are you a Christian?”
“A relatively new one, but yes. Someone very dear to me introduced me to Christ.” For a brief second, sadness shadowed her eyes but as quickly disappeared. “What about you? I guess it goes without saying, since you’re a chaplain.”
“Believe it or not, I’m relatively new to faith, too. Also because of someone dear to me.”
She nodded as if she understood.
There was so much more he could say, but didn’t. He held her gaze and then looked away. He’d prayed that morning for God to send someone he could help. Then Renee literally bowled him over in the hallway. A beautiful girl with sadness in her eyes. A girl with a mission to offer hope to orphans. Could it be God was sending someone to help him too?
“Come on.” He took her hand and led her through the congestion of the green terminal building. “My friend Danny gave me some tips about how to get around.”
“Was he the guy you were sitting with at breakfast?”
She’d actually noticed. “Yeah. We went to college together. Assistant Cruise Director. Perfect for him. The guy’s never met a stranger.”
They cleared the building, and she gave a little gasp. “Wow. How charming.”
He followed her gaze. Charming all right. A paradise with benches lining the sidewalks under a canopy of jungle palms and tropical flowers. And within walking distance, open air markets crowded with tourists and locals.
Renee pulled sunglasses from her bag. “Good thing I wore comfortable shoes. Since I need to buy some candy, why don’t we walk down to the marketplace and do a little shopping?”
“Sounds good.” He followed her down the sidewalk with an eye out for the pickpockets Danny had warned him about.
The third vendor they visited had the mother lode of candy.
“Just for curiosity’s sake, how many orphans are we talking about?”
“Around fifty, but I can’t take a chance of running out.”
He nodded. “I volunteer at a shelter back home. Believe me. They notice when someone gets short-changed.” He paid for the candy he’d bought. “I’ll carry your bag if you’ll let me add this candy to yours.”
“Deal.” She slipped it from her shoulder and handed it to him.
“Sorry. The bag already had shampoo and toothbrushes and things like that.”
“I should’ve offered to carry it sooner. I guess I was afraid it would clash with this bright shirt my sister bought for me.” Sneaky way to let her know he didn’t usually dress like that.
She grinned and then raised her head as if sniffing the air. “The food smells good. You mind if we stop for some lunch?”
“I was just thinking the same thing. Danny told me to try a food soda.” He guided her to one of the local small restaurants that had tables with umbrellas. “He recommended Casado, a concoction of rice, beans, stewed beef, and plantain.”
“Sounds wonderful. I’ll have the same.”
They ordered, and it didn’t take long for their meal to be served. “Would you mind if I pray a blessing for the food?”
“No, of course not.” She bowed her head. His prayer was brief as usual but sincere. Then they dug into the food with gusto. “Hmm. Danny was right. Good stuff.”
She nodded, still chewing. “This sea air seems to make me hungry. I’ve eaten more this week than I have in months.”
“Where are you from?”
“Charleston. I’m a pediatric nurse. What about you?”
“Spartanburg. I’m a pastor.”
“So that’s why you’re the chaplain on this cruise. Makes sense.”
“Maybe to you. It’s the last thing I would’ve done on my own. Especially on a Love Boat cruise.”
“I know, right? Same here.”
The conversation lulled as they ate. He wanted to know about her heartbreak, but his code of honor wouldn’t let him pry.
She pushed her plate back and looked out toward the ocean. “I was engaged.”
He stopped chewing. She had his full attention.
“Jeff. I met him in college. He wasn’t like any of the other guys I’d dated. So kind and unselfish.” She glanced back at him. “You remind me of him. Probably because you’re a Christian, too.”
He swallowed hard and silently prayed for wisdom.
“He was killed two weeks before we were to be married.” Her soft words held no hint of bitterness.
“I’m so sorry.” He wanted to take her hand but didn’t. “That must have been so hard for you.”
She nodded. “The hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. Part of me died that day.” She met his gaze again. “That was three years ago. It was a dark time that rocked my newfound faith. I couldn’t understand why God let it happen.”
His stomach clenched. Things he’d wondered himself in his own life. “How are you now?”
“I’m okay. Still sad.” She smiled even though her eyes had filled with tears. “You know that poem ‘Footprints’?”
“Well, some days there were only one set of footprints. He carried me through. I kept going to the church where Jeff first took me. Partly because it was my connection to him. But over time, God became more and more real to me. I figured He left me here for a reason. And I can’t say if I’ll ever fall in love again, but since I love children, I want to be a help to the little ones who need love the most.” She shrugged and used her napkin to wipe her eyes. “I have no idea why I told you all that.”
“I’m glad you did.” More than he could tell her. “I believe God uses the pain in our lives to make us more like Him. My mom told me once ‘God never wastes a heartache.’ You’ve encouraged me with your story.”
“You’re a good listener. I’m really glad I bumped into you today.”
“Me, too. Now, are you ready to bless some children?”
She reached for her wallet.
He placed his hand on hers. “I know this isn’t a date, but I can’t let you pay.”
She opened her mouth as if to argue but then nodded and put her wallet back in the zippered compartment of her bag. “Thank you.”
She nodded. He stood and pulled back her chair.
They walked in companionable silence to the taxis lined up beside the dock. He opened the rear door and Renee slid to the other side to make room for him. The cabs here seemed a lot smaller than the ones in the States. She leaned forward and handed the driver a slip of paper, and the man who had sworn off romance was hard-pressed not to notice the subtle but delicious hint of her perfume.
The driver made no attempt to avoid pot holes and ruts in the road, and even the seatbelts couldn’t prevent Renee’s lithe body from colliding with his. “Oops. So sorry.”
Brent angled toward her and meant to whisper in her ear, but the cab careened around a guy on a bicycle causing Brent’s mouth to slam against the side of her face. This time he jerked back. “Sorry. I was about to tell you this guy drives like my sister.”
Renee laughed and steadied herself by gripping the side of her door.
They both lurched forward as the taxi skidded to a stop. As if on cue, they both blew out a breath. Renee paid the driver before Brent could reach his wallet.
“You beat me to it, but I’ll pick up the tab for the ride back.”
She grinned up at him. “I was thinking maybe we should jog back.”
The cracked concrete leading to the entrance showed the same wear as the block building they were about to enter. A man opened the door before they could knock. His broad smile revealed a missing front tooth. That, together with his weathered face, made him appear older than he probably was. “Welcome.” He engulfed Renee’s extended hand in both of his, and his eyes shone with warmth and joy. “You must be Senorita Renee.”
“And you must be Rico.” Renee smiled and stepped aside, placing her hand on Brent’s arm. “This is Chaplain Brent Teague. He’d like to see your work in action too.”
“Yes, of course. We’ve been looking forward to your visit. You’ve come at a good time.” He led them through the foyer and down a hallway, talking as he went. “The children have not yet begun their afternoon school session. They will be happy to see you.”
He led them into a gymnasium-sized room filled with children of all ages. The children swarmed around them and treated them like royalty.
The next moments passed in a blur of smiles and laughter. Renee took him totally off guard when she tossed him the bag of candy. A selfless act that elevated him to the status of rock star. Out the corner of his eye, he was very much aware of how Renee worked the crowd like a pro, wading through the bobbing heads to the one child who had not joined the group. A girl, maybe four, whose large brown eyes held the same sadness he had glimpsed in Renee’s.
Brent focused again on the urchins surrounding him. When he could come up for air, he scanned the room for Renee who had plopped down on the gymnasium floor with the curly-headed girl cradled in her arms. At that moment, she raised her head and met his gaze. Her eyes had filled with tears, but not with sadness. The smile she gave him told him more than words, and he swallowed hard, fighting the lump that had formed in his own throat.
The afternoon passed way too quickly. Rico quite possibly saved their lives by driving them back to the boat himself.
Back on board, Renee took Brent’s hand and said, “This is going to sound crazy, but I think God had a hand in my, um, bumping into you this morning. I really didn’t want to go all by myself to the orphanage.”
He squeezed her hand. “I think you’re right. It’s been a great day.”
“Yes. A great day. Thank you so much. That’s my sister coming on board now.” Renee released his hand and stepped back.
Brent rubbed his hand over his head and felt very much like a junior high kid at his first dance. He wanted to say more. He wanted the moment to go on longer. She smiled and walked away to join her sister but turned back and waved.
That night he lay in bed and let the events of the day run back through his mind. A good day. He clicked off the lamp beside his bed and realized he relaxed more than he had since he’d gotten on board the ship.
Come back tomorrow for Chapter Five!
Write Integrity: Chapter Four
Marji Laine’s blog:
Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:
Write Integrity: Chapter Three
Marji Laine’s blog:
Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:
Betty Thomason Owens:
Marji Laine’s blog:
Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:
Marji Laine blog:
Interviewed on Lena Nelson Dooley’s Blog
Interview on Carole Towriss blog: 8 Reasons Romance is a Joke