Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chapter Two Port of Call: Cozumel

UPDATE: 
Poll closes Saturday, Feb 7, 11:59 PM Eastern

Today, we begin introducing you to all our "bachelorettes" in The Love Boat Bachelor. If you missed Chapter One, start there first, to meet our hunky hero Brent Teague.

We're also having a few contests as we present each chapter over the next eight weekdays. We're going to let you, the readers, choose the special lady you think should be Brent's true love. Voting opens next Wednesday afternoon, so be sure to read all the chapters to learn about these special women.

For another contest, we'd like to challenge and reward our regular readers! During the next eight days, read all the chapters and try to determine which one of our authors wrote which chapter. Hold onto your guesses - don't post them here or elsewhere. Once you think you've figured them out, send me an e-mail (editor [at] writeintegrity [dot] com) listing the chapter number, the heroine name, and the author you think wrote that chapter. The person who identifies all of them correctly will receive a prize. If more than one gets all the right answers, then we'll have a drawing. If no one has all the right answers, we'll award the prize to whoever has the most correct answers (random drawing if there's more than one.) The winner will receive Kindle versions of all our books and a $50 Amazon gift card! To get you started, we'll let you know - Jerusha Agen wrote Chapter One. But she didn't write one of the heroine chapters, so make your choices from all the others. 

A third contest is for writers, but we'll share details about that a little later. Now, here's the next installation of The Love Boat Bachelor.



Chapter Two
Port of Call: Cozumel

Brent opened his eyes and looked up to find a fancy swirly design on the ceiling. He flicked the sleep specks away and glanced around the cabin. The walls had the same paint scheme as the ceiling. Nautical pictures hung throughout the four narrow walls.
The confining room felt symbolic, thanks to Roselle. This two week love trip she conned him into had disaster written all over it. He wanted out of the cabin and off the cruise.
Brent sighed and swung off the small bed that the steward would later fold back into a makeshift couch. He felt around the edge for his glasses, the frames he thankfully only wore before he was awake enough to put contacts in. When they were in college, Mara teased him for the wire specs and pushing them up the bridge of his nose threatened to take him back to old times and bad memories. He took two steps to the dresser where he’d unpacked his mom’s Bible. He needed some quiet time before breakfast to prepare for the chaplain office hours he promised Danny. His wounds were too fresh to lean on any of his so-called wisdom. The people looking for counsel deserved more than his insecure drivel, especially if anyone was going to ask him about love.
As Brent turned to sit on the bed, the ship rocked again, knocking him and his stomach off balance. He gripped the Bible as he tried to settle on the bunk, but the gentle drift that helped him fall to sleep the night before transformed into angry surges of water pounding against the boat. Was this normal? That was going to be the first question of the day for Danny.
With determination, Brent flipped the thin pages until he found his bookmark. There was a sentence highlighted, faded from years gone by since his mom focused on the words, but yellow just the same. He traced the words with his finger.
Be still and know that I am God.
Brent chuckled and shook his head. The good Lord sure had a sense of humor giving him that verse while on a cruise ship fighting moody waters.
****
Forty-five minutes later, Brent, still struggling with the waves, was in the breakfast buffet line. The harder he tried to stand still, the more he lost his footing. The more he willed his stomach to stand down, his belly seemed to argue back with a vengeance. Maybe a bagel would calm his system.
“Hey, Mister, you okay?” A little guy who looked to be about nine stared at him.
Brent ran his palm over his head, feeling beads of sweat. “Sure. I’m fine. Why?”
The kid shrugged. “Your face looks like mine when I’m going to hurl.”
The mere mention of what Brent had been praying against rushed the recoil in his stomach clear to his throat.
The boy pointed. “Yep. That’s it. I bet you’re trying to tell it to go away. That’s what I do.”
Brent nodded, biting his lips in an effort to stop the unleashing he didn’t want the passengers to see.
“By the way,” the kid picked up a plate and took a step toward the pancakes, “it doesn’t work.”
Brent nodded, holding up his finger in a “wait” gesture as he fast-tracked to the restroom.
Once he finished and cleaned himself up, Brent left the men’s room and took measured steps back to the line in search of Ginger Ale. His stomach settled, but he felt a little weak as he paused at the hand sanitizer machine and rubbed the gel through his hands.  As he turned toward the beverage station, he heard the click-clack of heels coming his way. “Jimmy! You scared me. I told you not to get in line until I was done filling your …”
Brent flinched as the woman stopped short of him, her blonde hair bouncing even after she paused.
Her emerald colored eyes widened as she looked at his face, and then glanced to the nearby food station where the boy from minutes ago piled potatoes onto his already full plate.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
Another wave caused the boat to sway with enough momentum that the woman lost her footing and started to fall toward him. He reached for her arm and steadied her, careful not to wrinkle her jade sundress.
Brent chuckled. “I guess I could ask you the same thing.”
She looked again toward the food. “I guess I haven’t found my sea legs yet. Takes some getting used to. Have you taken anything for the nausea?” She snapped her fingers and gestured toward the food line. The boy and his towering plate walked toward them.
Brent couldn’t help but notice how kind her eyes looked. Mesmerizing green, but compassionate in a way Mara’s never had been. At least in their high school and college days. “How did you know?”
She smiled. “Your face tells quite the tale. You should take something. The waves aren’t getting any friendlier.”
“Right. Once I get a drink I’ll visit the infirmary.”
She rested her hand on the boy’s shoulder while keeping her focus on Brent. “You don’t need to go to the infirmary. You can get them at the information desk or through room service. We needed some for Jimmy before they even lifted anchor in Charleston. I think it was nerves more than anything, but after a hard nap he was as good as new. As you can see.” She patted his brown hair.
“I’m glad he’s better. Well, I should let you enjoy breakfast. Enjoy your time at sea. Before long we’ll be docked in Cozumel.” And on solid ground, praise the Lord.
“Yes, Cozumel. We’re looking forward to spending the day there.”
Those eyes nearly made him lose his standing position. What was it about green eyes? Hadn’t Mara ruined him forever with those? Apparently not.
“Have a good day.” She waved as Jimmy sprinted two steps ahead.
Just as Brent returned the gesture, Danny came into view. He was smiling until he stood in front of his friend.
“Dude. I told you to keep the uniform crisp.” He pulled out what looked like a walkie-talkie and spoke into it, asking for laundry assistance before returning his focus to Brent. “What have you been doing? Everything’s a wrinkled mess.”
“I’m fine. Thanks for asking.” Brent rolled his eyes.
“Sorry. You okay?”
“Now that I lost some of my stomach contents I do feel better. I didn’t count on the waters being this rough.”
“It doesn’t happen often. If it helps you feel better, I passed an elevator full of people on their way to the infirmary on my way here.” Danny slapped him on the back.
“Not really. Is it okay if I get another uniform and then go for some meds? I figure I’ll take half a dose. I’m feeling better, but I’d like not to get sick again. Then I’ll head to the chaplain’s station.”
Danny sobered. “Sure, Brent. Whatever you need. I know I rag on you a lot, but seriously, I’m glad you’re on this cruise. Once you get in the groove of things, I think you’ll like it. Love it even. Speaking of, maybe there’s someone on this very boat that God’s set aside just for you.”
Brent took a few tentative steps. “I wouldn’t hold my breath.”
****
Brent locked up his office, actually located next to the chapel—both tucked away in a far corner on the social deck. Apparently, the chaplain didn’t have too much to do on a cruise where most people were thinking more vacation and less spiritual time. Reading the literature in the office, he got the feeling that most of his duty was for the crew. Well, it didn’t hurt to be there for the passengers as well. Wherever God wanted him. That’s where he’d be.
Danny’s voice sounded over the ship’s PA system, announcing disembarkation instructions for the first port of call, Cozumel. Even Brent looked forward to getting off the ship and touring. Maybe he’d find a souvenir for Roselle.
He turned the key and twisted the handle for good measure when he heard a group of voices coming from the elevator.
“Babe, it’s our honeymoon. I think to be anywhere but in our cabin is selfish,” a man said.
“I feel guilty for ignoring Jimmy,” the crying woman answered.
Brent shuffled his feet so he could see the people heading his way. Hearing the name of the little boy from breakfast got his attention.
“Hi. Can I help you?” He smiled as a man and woman came into view.
“You the chaplain?” The man wore shorts and a white t-shirt that said Groom across the chest.
The bride looked nothing like the woman who’d been with the boy named Jimmy.
“Pastor Brent Teague at your service. Let me unlock my door, and we can talk.” He shook the man’s hand and started toward his office. He noticed movement out of the corner of his eye and heard a familiar rhythm from high heeled shoes scuffing the floor.
“Claire. Why is everyone running ahead of me on this cruise? I was trying to tell you everything’s fine. Go be with Eddie. Jimmy’s going to have a great time. I promise.” It was green eyes, with Jimmy in tow.
Brent quickly unlocked and opened the door, swinging it wide for everyone to enter. Jimmy recognized him first.
“Hey, Aunt Nora. It’s the hurler.” He pointed.
Brent cleared his throat. “Jimmy. Good to see you again.”
The couple raised their eyebrows, looking to the woman named Nora.
She paused before entering. “You’re the chaplain?”
He nodded. “Kind of the substitute. But I pastor a church in Spartanburg, South Carolina. I’ve counseled before, so I promise, with God’s help, I’ll try to help y’all find peace here.”
Jimmy brushed by and took the first seat he found. “I think he can do it.”
Brent ushered everyone in after that vote of confidence. “Let’s talk, shall we?”
The adults sat down and Brent was intrigued by their choices. The women sat on either side of Jimmy, leaving the man to sit off to the side.
Brent pulled up a chair and sat in their sad circle. “You know who I am. How about you introduce yourselves and why you’re here today.” He looked to Nora, taken off guard once again by those jade eyes. He quickly focused elsewhere.
The man inched forward in his seat. “I’ll go first. Eddie Baxter. I married Claire on Saturday. This is our honeymoon. But, it isn’t, if you catch my drift.” Eddie leaned back.
Claire sighed. “I’ve never left Jimmy. It’s been the two of us, well, with Nora’s help, since he was born. I couldn’t leave him. I physically couldn’t.” Her mouth quivered.
Nora fidgeted in her seat. “Claire and I are sisters. When she told Eddie she couldn’t go on the cruise, our parents stepped in and bought a ticket for me and Jimmy. I’m here to help. Like I always do.”
Jimmy folded his arms against his chest. “I don’t need anyone taking care of me. Mom can do whatever she wants. Doesn’t bother me.”
The tension bouncing off the walls was as palpable as the waves that had been so relentless against the ship.
“If I’m hearing everyone correctly, Eddie’s been looking forward to this honeymoon and he’s a little frustrated that he isn’t spending as much time with Claire as he hoped.” Brent eyed Eddie, who nodded.
“That’s right.”
Brent continued. “Claire, you’ve been a single mom, and this is a huge transition for you. You haven’t carved any time for yourself in years and feel torn.”
She lifted her head. “Yes. That’s absolutely how I feel.”
“And Nora’s always been available for you and Jimmy. That hasn’t changed, especially now.”
“True. That’s so true, Pastor.” Nora’s soft voice reminded him of velvet.
“Jimmy, you’ve been the man of the house for a long time. You’ve done well. It’s okay to be a kid. Eddie’s going to take some time to get to know your mom better, but I think to help Mom, maybe all of you could enjoy dinner each night of the cruise as a family. You and Eddie can get acquainted. Mom can see that you and Aunt Nora are having a blast. Does that sound like a plan?” He looked to the boy but hoped they’d all be on board so he could head off board and into Cozumel.
“Works for me. Aunt Nora, we need to go. We’ve got a glass bottom boat to get to.” He stood and grabbed her hand, trying to pull her to stand. Brent wasn’t convinced Jimmy was coping as well as he wanted everyone to think but figured all the changes were going to take time. For all of them.
Claire took a breath and smiled. “He’s right. You two have fun.” She stood and reached into the front pocket of her dress. “I won’t be using my ticket. Maybe there’s someone on the dock who could use it. I have plans with Eddie.” She handed it to Nora.
Eddie sprang out of his seat and kissed his wife on the forehead before turning to his new stepson. “I can’t wait to see you at dinner to hear about your day.”
The boy grinned and tugged again on his aunt’s hand.
Eddie and Claire started for the door. “Thank you. Appreciate you listening to us.” Eddie put his hand on Claire’s back as they exited.
“I second what Eddie said. Thanks for your time, Pastor.” Nora fumbled with the paper.
Brent jangled his keys as he sauntered toward the door. “Please, it’s Brent. You know, that’s admirable what you’ve done helping Claire and Jimmy.”
They left the office and Jimmy sprinted to the elevator.
Nora sighed. “Don’t go in that elevator without me. I mean it.” She turned to Brent. “I’m no saint. This cruise hasn’t been easy.”
Once Brent locked up, he picked up his pace to ensure Nora made it to the elevator before it opened. Once they reached the doors, he noticed Nora’s cheeks were moist.
“Are you okay? Can I help?”
Nora let out a sob and her words came in a rush. “I was engaged over nine years ago. I caught Seth kissing my best friend from college after our rehearsal dinner. The only thing that got me through was Claire learning about her pregnancy. We needed each other. Now, she has Eddie.” She wiped her face with the back of her sleeve. “And I’m on a cruise while my sister celebrates her marriage. I’m human. This hurts.”
It was natural instinct for him to reach out and touch her arm. “I’m sorry. That’s a lot of hurt and transition. The wedding must have brought up a lot of memories.”
She nodded.
The elevator dinged and Jimmy dashed in, oblivious to their conversation.
“I’ll be okay. In time.”
Jimmy hit the button to move down. “Brent, you should come with us. We’re going to look at fish.”
Nora looked down at the extra ticket. “You’re more than welcome to join us. Claire signed us up, but now that she’s with Eddie, the ticket will just go to waste.”
Brent felt a growing lump in his throat. Two hours on a small boat with a glass bottom. With a woman who was so much more than an attractive blonde with gorgeous eyes.
“What? Think you might throw up on this trip, too?” Jimmy cocked an eyebrow.
Brent reached for the ticket. “Guess we’re going to find out.”
****
After Brent had changed from his uniform and Nora had abandoned her heels for sandals, they made the half mile trek along the dock before reaching Cozumel’s tourist entrances for passengers.
Brent hoped his silent prayer to stay healthy would find God’s favor. The last thing he wanted was to be ill in front of Nora and Jimmy. With each step Brent felt more confident about his ability to not just stay upright, but even have a good time.
“Jimmy, I need you to hold my hand. It’s very busy here, and I can’t lose you.” Nora reached for the kid’s hand.
Jimmy looked to the waters without obliging. “Hey, Brent. What are all the rafts out there?”
Nora shook her head. “His name is Pastor Brent.”
“It’s okay. My friend Danny told me that while passengers enjoy onshore excursions, the crew runs drills.” Brent was fascinated watching all the action on the water with the bright, fat mini boats.
“Here’s a sign for the glass bottom boat tour. I need you to do what I say, Jimmy. There are people who could hurt you if you were separated from me. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
Brent winked at Nora as he observed the boy slide his chubby fingers into his aunt’s grip.
The trio walked past an outdoor bar blasting pop music with suggestive lyrics. Nora accelerated her pace, nearly dragging Jimmy behind. Vendors surrounded them—selling everything from t-shirts to shell jewelry to caricature drawings. Voices called out from all sides as tourists bartered for their wares.
“Hey, Amigo! Come here. Come in.” A man waved in Brent’s direction. Brent looked around but didn’t see anyone but them.
Si, SeƱor. You. Come in. Good deals for ship passengers.”
Jimmy’s eyes brightened while Nora looked at her watch. “We have a ten minute cushion. That’s it.”
Brent wasn’t sure if Nora was speaking to him or her nephew, but he nodded and followed the slick salesman who wasn’t more than twenty. The shop had fans buzzing and mariachi music blaring from a radio.
“Nine minutes.” Nora grinned.
“Yes, ma’am. Let me know if you two see anything you like.” A straw colored hat he’d seen some of the men at church wear on the golf course caught Brent’s attention. It wasn’t anything he’d buy in the States, but when in Mexico …
The man was right at Brent’s side. “You like? Sixty dollars.”
Brent coughed. “Sixty?”
Nora turned toward him.
The salesman sighed. “You work ship, so fifty-five. A steal.”
Nora walked over to them, Jimmy in tow holding a water globe. “That’s no steal. That’s robbery. Fifteen.”
Brent coughed again. With that smooth voice also came a tough negotiator. Apparently her time with Jimmy gave her some mad skills he sure didn’t possess.
The young man clutched his chest. “You kill me, lady. Forty.”
She laughed and shook her head. “C’mon Brent. Other stores will have this hat. For twenty.”
The sales guy looked to Brent. “Papi, your lady friend, she’s killing me.”
Jimmy snickered. “He called you ‘Papi.’”
Brent shrugged. He couldn’t remember the last time he had such fun. The way Nora stood up to the poor guy trying to get as much cash as he could from the tourists, it was quite the show. Nora was amazing to watch.
She tapped her shoe. “We have to go. Twenty.”
“Ay yi yi, I need to eat. Thirty.”
Nora narrowed her gaze. “Twenty-five. And throw in the water globe.”
The young man sighed and took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his brow. “Deal. You better keep her, Papi. She’s good.”
Brent pulled out his wallet while Nora and Jimmy headed back to the pathway to the tour. He saw a shell necklace that although dark purple, had shades of green when it hit the light that reminded him of Nora.
“How much?”
“For tough lady?”
Brent smirked. “Yes. For pretty lady.”
The man took the necklace and placed it in bag. “Included in price. Told you I make good deal with passengers.”
Brent chuckled. “That you did. Good day.”
He found the pair under a tree, fanning themselves with their tickets. He pulled out the necklace. “My thanks for letting me tag along, and for your amazing work in there.”
Nora’s mouth parted, but no words came out for a moment. She lifted her hair, and Brent took that as a sign he could put the jewelry around her neck.
“That’s so kind. I admit I enjoyed myself in there. First time in a long time.”
Jimmy let out a loud sigh. “Speaking of enjoying, can we go? I want to see if Brent’s going to throw up on the boat tour.”
Brent looked to Nora, who rolled her eyes, but laughed with them. “Okay. Let’s go. Ready, Brent?”

He didn’t hesitate. “Let’s do this.”



Come back tomorrow to read Chapter Three!

Shore Excursions:

Tuesday: 

Write Integrity:
            Chapter Two Port of Call: Cozumel

Betty Thomason Owens:  

Marji Laine’s blog:

Elizabeth Noyes:

Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:
            Port of Call: Cozumel with Nora Laing          

Monday:

Write Integrity:
            The Love Boat Bachelor Chapter One

Marji Laine blog:

Fay Lamb:

Marji Laine:

Marji Laine:
Interview on Carole Towriss blog: 8 Reasons Romance is a Joke

Julie Arduini:
            Cruising Experiences

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