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Chapter One and Chapter Two of The Love Boat Bachelor.
Port of Call: Grand Cayman
Brent blinked at the suddenness of the turnaround in the counseling session as the elderly woman lit into him.
“You’re not married? How can you possibly know what we’re going through if you’re not even married?”
Her husband patted her hand. “Now, Ida, let the poor boy be.”
She swept her icy glare toward her husband. “There is nothing he can say to me. I wish I’d never agreed to this silly cruise.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I want to go home.”
Brent opened his mouth then shut it again. What could he say? He’d wanted off this ship too, at first. He gave the besieged husband what he hoped was an encouraging smile as the man rose to leave.
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Teague, and sorry about all this,” the man said. “Come on, Ida, the ship’s about ready to dock. You wanted to go shopping on Grand Cayman.”
Brent stood then paused.
Ida had not budged.
Her gaze challenging, she rose and strode toward the door. As she passed Brent, she poked his arm with a well-manicured nail. “You can learn a lot watching us old folks, son. There’s a right way to settle an argument. Give the little woman what she wants. My husband’s taking me shopping. He knows how to calm a storm.”
Giving the older couple a few minutes to get to the elevator, Brent went to his room and changed into running shorts, shoes, and a muscle tee. He grabbed a bottle of water and his sunglasses and headed out. He needed a good sweat to get rid of all the built-up tension. If he decided to remain a pastor, he was thinking maybe a children’s pastor. No more marriage counseling. At least not until he was married and had a little more experience. He’d heard more than he’d ever cared to know in that last session.
In the disembarkation area, he paused long enough to cast a cautious glance one way then the other. He’d purposely waited until most everyone had boarded a tender, leaving fewer members of the animal kingdom to fend off. He stifled a grin. Cougars and vultures.
During the short tender ride to the dock, a tall blonde woman asked if he’d like to share a cab with her. “Well, not just me. My best friend is already over there, shopping. We’re headed to Seven Mile Beach.”
Brent took in her wan appearance and red-rimmed eyes. Drama. No, thank you. “I’m going for a run, but thanks anyway.”
Her gaze swept over him. She shrugged. “Maybe another time?”
With what he hoped was a noncommittal smile, Brent moved to the rail, his attention on the town before him. Rainbow colored buildings lined the shore—vibrant and lively—inviting. He looked forward to an invigorating run.
He’d planned to make a quick getaway as soon as the ferry docked, until his gaze rested on the face of an angel. Rich, dark hair cascaded from a knot on top of her head, as if she’d tried to contain it but lost the battle. The result stole his breath. He swallowed and pressed forward, after realizing he’d blocked the other passengers from disembarking. On the dock, he stepped aside. He didn’t wish to alarm the woman by staring, but he wondered, was she waiting to depart? Heading back to the ship? Perhaps he should go back too. He could always work out later, in the gym.
The spindly, blonde woman touched his arm as she passed. “That’s my friend you’re staring at—the one I’m meeting—we’re taking a taxi to the beach.” She leaned in close. “Sure you won’t change your mind?”
He opened his mouth to speak. He was actually tempted. The beautiful brown-skinned angel approached. She wore a golden yellow sun dress that set off matching highlights in her hair. A bright red hibiscus bloom was tucked into the left strap of her dress. But her eyes, like jade, held … surprise? She dropped her gaze and his heart fell, too, into his shoes, and he was reminded of why he was on the island. Smile, dummy, act like you got some sense. Oh man, now his sister was talking in his head.
He sucked in a breath. “No, I … I really do need to get in a good run. Thanks, though.” Forcing his attention to the blonde, he pushed his hand forward. “Brent Teague. I’m the ship’s chaplain.” His gaze drifted back to their former mooring.
The angel’s eyes met his for a moment then darted to a point on the horizon.
Blondie gripped his hand. One brow arched as she sent a glance toward her friend. “Chaplain? Well, I’m LouAnne Lowry, and this is my best friend, Eliana Grayson.”
When LouAnne finally released his hand, Brent managed a nod in Eliana’s direction. Even her name sounded angelic. She watched him now, a little like a cat eying a juicy mouse. He cleared his throat. “Maybe I’ll see you a little later—at the beach.”
Eliana ducked behind LouAnne, hiding her expression. LouAnne’s smile set her face aglow. “I hope so. I’ve heard it’s one of the loveliest spots on the island—not to be missed.”
As Brent broke into a jog, he glanced over his shoulder. The two had been swallowed up by a sea of fresh tourists, disembarking from another cruise ship’s ferry. He blew out a breath and increased his pace, bent on running fast and hard and somehow ending up at that strip of beach before the day was too far gone.
One thing was certain, Grand Cayman did not disappoint. He’d finally made his way to the white sands of Seven Mile Beach, which, according to the pamphlet stuffed in the pocket of his running shorts, was really only about five and a half miles long. He slowed to a loping stride made awkward by sand and adjusted his dark glasses, watching for the ladies as he ran. The beach was not overly crowded.
After strolling for a quarter of an hour, his gaze settled on a bright yellow sundress. Only the third one he’d seen so far. There she was, next to a big, black beach bag, seated on a blue beach towel, gazing out to sea. He approached slowly, not wanting to alarm her, all the while sweeping the beach for Blondie. Eliana turned her head as he drew near, those jade orbs hidden behind sunglasses, making it difficult to tell if he was welcome. A smile flashed, momentary, but inviting. She patted a lime-green towel next to her. “You can join me, if you like. LouAnne stepped away.”
He eased his large frame onto the small towel and crossed his arms over his knees. “Where’d she take off?” He really only cared about the angelic creature beside him, but thought it best to show an interest in the one who’d invited him.
Eliana’s gaze had returned to the water, and the antics of a couple of windsurfers. “She got a phone call—her ex-fiancé.”
“Is that a good thing, his calling?”
Eliana turned her head in his direction. With the sun almost directly in her face, he could easily see her eyes through the dark lenses. She gazed at him for several seconds. “He left her three weeks before the wedding, nearly four weeks ago.”
Brent straightened. So recent, yet they were on a singles’ cruise—on a love boat? He bit back a quick response. None of his business.
Her lips curved into a shy smile. “They were supposed to be on this cruise together … as newlyweds.”
A spark went off inside his chest, a tiny ray of hope. Maybe she wasn’t on the hunt. He sifted sand through his fingers, exulting in its smooth warmth. “So she brought you instead?”
“She was devastated. I’m her best friend.” Eliana reached up to tuck a strand of hair into its bindings. It held for about two seconds then plopped back down. “So, what does a chaplain do on board ship?”
He felt a little like one of those windsurfers tossed on a wave at the sudden change of subject. “Not a whole lot, so far.” The noise around them surged as someone scored in a game of volleyball. He tossed Eliana a grin. “This is my first time out.”
“How do you like it?”
“Actually, it’s not that bad.” Except for dodging desperate females. Not gonna mention that.
“You expected it to be bad?” Her gaze shifted as she pushed her sunglasses up into her hair. She tilted her head forward, looking past him.
Brent frowned. What was she looking at? Some Adonis on the other side from them? Should he answer her question or wait until her attention returned? Her fingertips brushed his arm, sending electrical transmissions to his brain. She glanced at him then tipped her head forward, as if she wanted him to look also. He slid his eyes sideways. Gah! There, on the bag beside them, not ten inches away from Brent’s right arm, sat the biggest lizard he’d ever seen, and it was looking back at him. Brent swallowed. Don’t show fear. Must protect the lady.
“Isn’t she gorgeous?” the lady said, startling Brent out of his stupor.
“A blue iguana. See the blue tinge? They’re not so blue this time of year, only when they’re laying their eggs.”
“Eggs?” He gazed about him then back at the small dinosaur in front of him. Its tongue darted out. Were they territorial? “Are we sitting on buried lizard eggs?”
A most beautiful sound danced a melody on his eardrums. Chortling laughter. Was she laughing at him? He peeled his eyes from the riveting primal gaze of the lizard to the gorgeous jade one at his side. Yep. She was laughing at him. But the sound was so endearing, he wanted to scoop her up in his arms and—best not follow that train of thought. He smoothed his hand over his head.
She pushed up from her towel and grabbed her backpack. “Would you like to take a walk, Mr. Teague?”
He moved more slowly, ever mindful of the saber-toothed creature to his right. “Call me Brent, and yes, I would.”
Several minutes later, she was still giggling. It wasn’t that funny.
The sound of steel drums echoed across the water from a party boat filled with tourists. With Eliana by his side, he strode past the volleyball players who were still hard at it. He cleared his throat. “You think your friend is okay? It’s been a while.”
Eliana glanced up at him. “LouAnne? Oh, they’ll talk forever. She’ll probably be back at our spot when we return.”
“They’re talking, though.”
Eliana shrugged. “Yes, they’re talking.”
For the next few minutes, he and Eliana chatted about everything. Their favorite food, their hometowns, their shared faith. He watched her as she talked, making the usual mental comparison. Though every bit as beautiful as Mara, she was different, in several ways. She’d seemed shy at first, but had opened up, especially when sharing her faith.
“I was a messed up teenager, and ended up in trouble. I thought it was probably hereditary. I’d been teased all my life about my … well, the circumstances of my birth.”
Brent watched her face for a clue. What did she mean by that?
Her eyes met his. “My father, a football player, had an affair. And then … me.”
In two beats of his heart, Brent made the connection. “Grayson … Beau?” Well-known Christian quarterback for the Dolphins, had an affair with his Latina housekeeper, Beau—fell-from-grace—Grayson? “That was you?”
“Umm … yes.”
He stole a glance at her beautiful profile—Beau Grayson’s daughter. “That must have been hard.”
She nodded then gazed out to sea. “My mother died when I was twelve, so Beau and his second wife adopted me.”
Second wife, which probably meant the first one kicked him out for the indiscretion. Brent could understand that. But, if he remembered right, Beau hung in there, got his life straightened out. Could’ve been worse.
Sighting a beach-side cafe, he asked Eliana if she was hungry.
Her bright smile sunk a hook deep into his heart. She stepped toward the cafe. “I could eat. I think I’ll check in with LouAnne, though.” She dug in her bag for her phone and sent a text.
The place was brimming with tourists. Brent led her to the nearest empty table and pulled out a chair. After placing an order, he turned to Eliana. “You said you got into trouble as a teen. Is that what led you to the Lord?”
Eliana’s phone pinged. She checked the message. “LouAnne will meet us later, at the dock. She had to go someplace in town and charge her phone.” Her lips curved into a shy smile as she tucked her phone back into her backpack. “I really don’t know why I’ve told you so much. I don’t usually. You’re easy to talk to.”
And you’re easy to look at. Brent folded his arms on the table and leaned forward. “So I’ve been told. Comes in handy when you’re in the ministry.” A Beach Boys tune started up in the background. Or was it Jan and Dean? He could never keep those straight.
“The answer to your question is, yes. A youth pastor led me to the Lord. I had a lot to overcome, so the road wasn’t an easy one, but I’m glad I stuck with it. How about you, Brent? What’s your story?”
Their waiter arrived with heaping plates of aromatic seafood. Brent’s story was put on hold as he bowed his head and thanked God for the food and the time he’d enjoyed with this lovely young woman.
She watched as he lifted his head. He guessed she waited for his response to her question. He gave her the condensed version, leaving out one major part—that which involved a certain brunette. No need to totally humiliate himself.
After the meal, they strode back the way they’d come, past the volleyball net, now abandoned. They danced along the surf, shoes in hand. The music of her laughter echoed off the water and lodged in his heart.
Back where they started, Brent glanced around for any sign of their prehistoric friend. He helped Eliana pack the towels in her beach bag, hoping the creature hadn’t somehow found its way inside. Then he slung the bag over his shoulder. Side-by-side, he and Eliana set off across the sand to the street, where they hailed a taxi.
They found LouAnne seated on a bench, reading a magazine. “’Bout time you two showed up.”
“Ready to head back?” Eliana asked, stopping directly in front of her.
LouAnne tucked the magazine in her bag and stood, her gaze bouncing between her friend’s face and Brent’s. He could not quite identify the look in her eyes. Was it guilt? He stepped past her, leading the way to the landing.
As they waited for the next boat to ferry them across, LouAnne related bits and pieces of her conversation with Lamar, her ex-fiancé, who may have earned back his status as husband-to-be. Brent mentally agreed with Eliana when she asked LouAnne whether Lamar could be trusted.
LouAnne shifted her gaze toward the approaching boat. “That remains to be seen. He’s got some groveling to do.”
The trip back to the ship seemed a lot shorter than Brent remembered. Maybe because LouAnne chattered non-stop. Brent would have preferred more time alone with Eliana.
Back on board, they said their good-byes, at least for the time being.
“Thanks for keeping me company today,” Eliana said, barely making eye contact. Apparently, her shyness had returned.
Realizing he still held her beach bag, Brent pushed it forward. “My pleasure, El.”
LouAnne gave his arm a playful swat. “Oh, she doesn’t like to be called El.”
Brent watched the color rise in Eliana’s cheeks, which only heightened her beauty. Her eyes sparked as she reached for her bag. “He can call me El if he wants.”
LouAnne arched her brows at him and turned down the corners of her lips. As they walked away, she sent him a quick thumb’s up behind Eliana’s back.
His heart soared as he took the steps two-at-a-time and strode to his door. After a shower, he donned his uniform and prepared for dinner.
Danny whistled at him when he approached the dining room. “You look like a man on a mission. Meet somebody, did ya?”
Brent had no intention of allowing Danny a glimpse of Eliana. Brent would never hear the end of it. “Just had a good run today. Got some exercise. That’s all.”
“Uh-huh, right. I thought I saw you hanging around with a blonde. Didn’t think you cared for blondes. I thought you were a brunette kind of guy.”
Brent sent him a scowl and a wave and set off across the room, trying to look nonchalant, barely escaping the clutches of a redheaded female passenger he’d no wish to see again. When she caught sight of Danny and bee-lined for him, Brent chuckled. He focused on the room again, and found Eliana, looking all svelte in a gold strapless dress that hugged all the right places. He quickly averted his eyes and sent up a silent prayer of thanks for his ability to locate her. But a quickie prayer could not assuage the niggling something scratching at his conscience.
Yes, he was doing it again. Falling headlong into a honey-laden trap. Throughout dinner, that “still, small voice” whispered to his heart, Proceed with caution. At the same time, his sister’s strident, “You wasted six years,” echoed in his head.
He’d been so sure of Mara. Never even second-guessed her feelings for him. How could he trust his feelings now, or even God’s voice, with so much at stake? On top of everything else, his life had been turned upside-down, like a house in the process of spring cleaning. He’d no right to invite someone into it. So why did his lips betray him by mouthing the words, “Can I call you sometime?” He knew he’d blundered, right away, even before an odd light flashed in Eliana’s eyes. Her gaze fell to her fingers as she fiddled with her napkin.
After what seemed an eternity to Brent, she drew in a deep breath and slowly exhaled. Her eyes found his. “That trouble I got into as a teenager—he’s five now—and I’m very careful who I allow into our small circle.”
Somewhere nearby, a waiter dropped a platter, sending a loud, clattering echo through the room. Brent felt like his heart had hit the floor, right alongside that dish. But his estimation of Eliana skyrocketed. She had a child, and she was concerned about who came into contact with the boy. Brent relaxed, allowing his lips to curve upward. This was one fine woman.
Brent didn’t see Eliana or LouAnne the next day. He stayed busy performing the daily functions required by his position, and visiting among the passengers. He had to admit, hers was definitely one of the sweetest rejections he’d ever received. Though his heart ached a little, he had no regrets.
He stood at the rail, watching the sunset in a glorious profusion of color, when he heard a voice. “Brent!”
Brent stopped and angled his head toward the approaching woman. LouAnne’s face seemed to glow, but he supposed it must be a reflection of the sun’s splendor.
“I wanted to tell you good-bye. I’m jumping ship. Going back to the States to get married to the man who tried to get away.”
“Well, I suppose congratulations are in order. So, is Eliana sailing on?”
“No, silly.” LouAnne handed him a pink sticky note. “We couldn’t get a flight together, and she thought it best—as maid of honor—to fly out ahead of me to make sure everything goes well. She wanted you to have this. That was her excuse, but I think she was anxious to get back for other reasons.”
Brent nodded. Eliana had left without a proper good-bye. Well, she didn’t owe him one. “I’ll be praying for a nice wedding and a blessed marriage,” he said as LouAnne threaded her way through the crowd.
As the last few rays of the sun broke across the evening sky, Brent looked at the sticky note LouAnne had given him. Warmth filled his heart at what he saw: Eliana’s e-mail address.
Come back tomorrow for Chapter Four!
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