Poll closes Saturday, Feb 7, 11:59 PM Eastern
Are you ready to set sail on The Love Boat? We're excited to bring you our Valentine 2015 collaborative novella, The Love Boat Bachelor. Each weekday, for the next eight days, we'll post one chapter here on the blog for your reading pleasure. As you read, keep in mind that we're going to call upon you to choose YOUR favorite heroine - we want YOU to pick the woman you think makes the best love interest for our hunky hero, Brent Teague. On the afternoon of Wednesday, February 4, we'll open voting for three days, Feb 4-7, to let you choose his true love. Then, on February 14, we'll release The Love Boat Bachelor in its entirety on Kindle, with an ending determined by your votes.
Now, sit back and soak up some sun as we launch this fun story! Be sure to check out the links at the end of our daily posts - our authors have some fun things lined up for your "shore excursions."
THE LOVE BOAT BACHELOR
Brent Teague felt nothing as he stood on the cement landing of the cruise terminal and stared at the huge ship docked in front of him. No excitement, no sadness. Even the dread he’d been feeling had lessened into a numb absence of emotion.
A yawning opening and long, too-narrow ramp slowly sucked a line of laughing passengers into the boat. Their chatter and raised voices reached Brent’s ears as a droning hum. Why was he doing this?
Something wet dropped on his head. He slid his hand over his closely shaved hair then looked at his moist palm. Great. Rain.
Weren’t cruises supposed to be all sunshine and smiles the whole way?
Not for him, apparently. Like the story of his life.
More drops spattered Brent’s head and face as he squinted at the boat. Just because he’d made the drive from Spartanburg to Charleston didn’t mean he had to go through with Roselle’s harebrained scheme.
A ringing sound came from his pocket.
Brent pulled out his smartphone and looked at the screen. Speak of the—He halted his unkind thoughts and took a breath before pressing the phone to his ear. “Hey.”
“You on the boat?” Roselle’s irritated tone held her assurance that he wasn’t.
He waited. Here it came.
“Just get on. I ain’t gonna watch you in no funk anymore.” His educated sister’s impeccable English gave way to the ghetto-speak of their childhood.
“I’m not in a funk.” Not exactly. If he didn’t count the squeezing feeling in his chest that never seemed to go away. “I’m just not sure what I’m supposed to do.”
“You supposed to get on the boat, that’s what you supposed to do.”
He swiped at the raindrops that streaked down his forehead and cheeks. “Running away never fixes anything.”
“Didn’t we just talk about this?” Roselle’s voice pinched with the rhetorical question. “You wasted six years on that chick before you finally got a life. You ain’t gonna waste no more.”
“It’s not like that. I just … need to figure out what God wants me to do now.”
“You told me you were sure what He wanted when you started the pastor thing.”
Brent tried to swallow the lump in his throat. “Yeah. I thought I was.” What if he had been wrong? He was so sure God had called him to be a pastor, but he had been sure about other things, too. Namely the woman who had always held his heart.
“Just go on this cruise until you figure it out. You’ll still get to play pastor and whatever on board. At least you’ll get away from her. Why she had to come back and stay here, I’ll never know.”
That mystery Brent would give his right arm to solve. He’d been happy, had life all figured out, until Mara came back. Why couldn’t she have returned for the reason he thought? Why would God bring her into Brent’s life again only to have her marry someone else and settle in Brent’s hometown?
Brent’s chest squeezed like every other time those questions plagued him.
“You thinking about her again now, right?”
He couldn’t lie, so he didn’t say anything.
“Brenton Teague, you get on that ship, or I’m coming to put you on it myself.”
Brent could just see her hallmark stare that always came with that tone. Nobody messed with that look. “Danny said the chaplain boards with the staff so find whatever special ramp they got and get on the boat.”
Brent nearly smiled at the image of her in his mind, hands on tiny hips and her short, puffy twists of hair bobbing on her head. He wiped more water off his face. “I’m getting soaked anyway. I guess I could get on board, if only to get out of the rain.”
“Nicely put. Have a good trip.”
“Thanks. You—” Brent stopped talking when the background noise on Roselle’s end cut off. He looked at his phone.
She never was one for good-byes.
Brent sighed and picked up the wet duffel bag he had set by his feet. Only one living relative, and it had to be a bossy older sister.
Amusement tugged at the corner of his mouth as he bypassed the crowded walkway packed with passengers holding umbrellas over their heads. Bossy as Roselle was, he suspected he’d still miss her on this trip.
He reached the smaller ramp at the far end of the ship where a uniformed security guy stood. Brent bent to pull his ship’s identification card from the pocket of the duffel bag, thankful that he’d already gone through the pre-registration required of employee and passengers alike.
Brent jerked his head up to see the source of the yell.
“Brent Teague!” Danny Paulson’s grin mimicked the width of his outstretched arms as he charged down the ramp toward Brent.
Brent managed an answering smile of his own as he braced himself for one of his old college buddy’s enthusiastic, back-slapping hugs.
Sure enough, Danny grabbed Brent and bruised his back in a few places before releasing him with a hearty shake.
Brent laughed, not sure how he managed such a cheerful sound. He looked Danny up and down, taking in his pal’s new look in the white uniform. “Aside from the cute hat, you sure haven’t changed.”
Danny chuckled and patted the extra weight he’d added to his tall frame since college. “The cute hat and my insulation, you mean.” He jabbed Brent’s bicep below the short sleeve of his t-shirt. “Some of us don’t have time to sit in the gym all day.”
“Oh yeah. Being a pastor is a walk in the park, man.” Brent slung his duffel bag over his shoulder and presented his identification card to the security guard who’d kept a careful watch on them.
“Hey, don’t blame me.” Another slap on the back. “I only introduced you to Christ. You did the rest.”
Brent raised his eyebrows at Danny as the security guy waved him through. “Or He did.”
“Ha. Yeah. You got that right.” Danny grabbed Brent’s bag off his shoulder and carried it up the ramp before Brent could protest.
Or had Brent become a pastor as his own idea? For the wrong reasons? Brent shook his head at his internal debate as he followed Danny onto the ship. He just didn’t know anything anymore.
Brent tried to get out of his thoughts enough to keep track of the route Danny took to the cabin and the highlights of the ship he pointed out as they walked the decks at his fast clip.
“Hey, there.” Danny nodded to a couple passengers. “Welcome aboard.” He glanced at Brent. “Are you going to thank me now or later?”
Brent raised an eyebrow. “For what?”
“For what?” Danny guffawed. “Getting you a two-week, paid vacation! Man, sometimes I wonder how we ever became friends.”
Brent stifled a smile. “I thought you said there wasn’t any salary.”
Danny swept his free hand in front of him toward the towering ship decks as he walked. “What do you call free passage on this beautiful cruise ship?” He smiled at another passenger who glanced at him. “Welcome aboard.”
Barely taking a breath, Danny swung around and walked backward a few paces while he gave Brent a fake glare. “I don’t think you realize what I’ve done for you, pal. If our last chaplain hadn’t eloped with that waitress, I’d have had a hard time getting you this spot.” He spun to face forward again. “When you fall in love with doing this, it’ll take some fast talking to get you on permanently.”
“Permanently?” Brent stopped walking.
Danny glanced over his shoulder. “Will you keep up?”
Brent caught up with a few long strides. “I’m not doing this permanently. I’m not even sure about the two weeks.”
Danny shot Brent a look as his mouth opened.
“Though I’m very grateful,” Brent added before Danny could start another tirade. “You’re a good friend, Danny.”
“Aw, shucks. Now I’m gonna cry.” Danny’s grin changed to a smooth smile as he greeted more passengers. “Welcome. Good to see you.”
Brent shook his head. “This is ridiculous. It’s like walking with you around campus at school. You still know everybody.”
“Yeah, but I get paid to do it now. Assistant Cruise Directors are like the official welcoming committee. I get paid to meet and greet and schmooze all cruise long.”
“So you were typecast?”
“Funny.” Danny stopped outside a door and unlocked it. “I also get to boss you around with the rest of the staff.” Danny smirked as he led the way inside the room.
“Now you tell me.”
“Your cabin, sir.” Danny looked around the room as if doing a spot check.
“Everything in order?” Brent teased. Hard to believe Danny was actually managing to cheer him up. Danny always had that talent. Maybe that’s why Brent had hung out with him so much after Mara shattered his spirit all those years ago.
“Dude, you are totally soaked.” Danny glanced at Brent’s wet clothes as he plopped the duffel bag inside the door. “Why don’t you change and come up to the top deck when you’re done? Great view from there.”
He’d rather just stay in the cabin and not have to see anyone. The reminder of Mara wasn’t doing his mood any good. But he couldn’t disappoint the friend who had always been there for him. “Sure.”
Danny took off his black-brimmed hat and ran his fingers through sandy blond hair. “Man, it’s great to see you. I’m glad Roselle made you do this.”
Brent crossed his arms over his chest. “She didn’t make me do it. How do you know I didn’t just jump at the chance myself?”
“Um, I don’t know …” Danny’s mouth angled in a sardonic smile. “Maybe because I’ve been begging you to be our ship’s chaplain for two years, and you always turn me down flat? Does the phrase, ‘Why would I ever want to do that?’ sound familiar?”
“Okay.” Brent waved him off as he grabbed the strap of his duffel bag. “You’ve made your point.”
“Roselle’s right. This will do you good.” Danny’s smile faded as his voice turned serious. “Believe me. There’s a whole world of possibilities out there, my friend.”
Brent plunked the duffel bag on the bed and held up a hand. “Before you start jabbering about fish in the sea, I’d like to get changed. Don’t you have people to greet or something?”
Danny swung the hat onto his head with a grin. “Alas, ’tis true. Contrary to popular belief, the assistant cruise director doesn’t usually accompany staff to their cabins, you know. Only celebrity passengers.”
Brent pressed his palm to his heart. “I’m very conscious of the honor, I assure you.”
“Good.” Danny’s twitching mouth appeared to be barely holding back a laugh. “Oh, you should change into your uniform. It’s hanging behind the door.”
“Uniform?” Brent’s eyes drifted to Danny’s hat. “Don’t tell me I have to wear one of those head toppers.”
“Nope, you’re not important enough for one. But you do get to wear a white uniform and a nametag. We want people to know your name. Makes them easier to approach.”
Brent grimaced. “Right.”
“Try to keep the uniform clean, will you?” Danny saluted with a final grin. “See you up top, soul brother.”
Danny shut the door, leaving Brent with another unexpected smile on his face. Danny never could get the lingo right, but that didn’t stop him from trying.
Brent took the white uniform down from where it hung on the back of the door. So much for blending in as a normal passenger on this trip. He wasn’t going to get a break from pastoring at all if everyone knew him as the chaplain. Danny had promised Brent wouldn’t have to conduct daily services as some chaplains did, since he was only onboard for two weeks, but it looked like he wasn’t going to get away with doing nothing.
The unexpected but required safety drill that was announced over the ship’s PA system, interrupted Brent’s trek to the top deck to meet up with Danny. Since this was his first cruise, he made sure to pay special attention.
As the crowd dispersed, he found himself on the other side of the ship facing a stunning ocean view. The rain had let up, allowing a misty spray from the waves to fill the air, seeping into Brent’s nostrils and touching his lips with salty flavor.
He stopped and leaned his hands on the outer rail, the only thing that separated him from the view of the vast sky and open sea. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, letting the smells and sounds soak through him. Maybe a cruise wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
“Don’t you love that?”
Brent jumped inwardly at the feminine voice at his side.
A petite, middle-aged woman with short red hair stared at him, standing only inches away from his side. “That salty, ocean smell.” She let out a giggle. “I’d pay just to smell that!” Her voice lifted with nervous enthusiasm. At least she looked nervous, judging from her trembling fingers that tapped the rail. “So are you in the singles or couples?”
“For the cruise. You know. Our groups.” She glanced down at his hand. “You’re not wearing a ring. Are you single?”
He blinked. Did she always skip around so fast? “Yes. I’m single.”
“Oh, wow.” She let out a breath with a smile, still staring up at him. “The brochure didn’t lie. I thought it was just exaggerating. For advertising, you know? To get more people to book this cruise. My brother-in-law says it’s hard for cruises to hit the single set.”
Either he was more out of it than he thought, or this woman was crazy. He couldn’t glean anything that made sense from her rapid-fire statements.
“I told him I wouldn’t be caught dead on a cruise until I got married, since there’s no point, I told him, but then I saw the ads for this one and all the promises they made, and I said to myself, Patricia, this is your chance and you’ve got to go for it, girl—”
“You’ll have to excuse me, but the cruise director’s expecting me up top.” Technically the assistant cruise director, but why quibble about semantics? Brent’s attempt to sound knowledgeable seemed to do the trick.
The woman’s cheeks turned the color of her hair as her eyes widened. “Oh, my. You’re more important than I thought. Well, if you’re single, I’ll probably be seeing you later. My name’s Patricia, and I do look forward to getting to know you much, much better on this cruise.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Brent gave a short nod as he turned away and headed in the direction he hoped would take him to the higher deck.
What was the woman talking about? How did he fit in with the ship’s advertising? If that’s even what she had meant. He felt like he’d missed most of what she said from the sheer speed of it. Brent shook his head. Hopefully the other passengers on this cruise would be a little more normal.
He started to notice the people he had been too preoccupied to see before. Most of the passengers he walked by seemed to be couples. All very happy, touchy-feely couples. Brent looked away from more than one kissing pair of lovers as he picked up his pace, his gaze falling on the clasped hands of young and old couples he passed, and the cuddling people who clustered at the rail.
Two women in tight dresses with simpering smiles waved at him as he walked past.
Another woman who could’ve been a clone of the other two gave him a similarly flirtatious smile, and he nearly hit speed-walking pace as he glanced away.
Was it the uniform?
A loud horn blared, making Brent jump inwardly again. He’d have to get used to this whole seafaring thing.
The ship was moving by the time Brent reached the top deck. The tension faded from his body as he joined Danny at a quiet spot by the rail to catch the view of the ship’s progress into the open sea.
“I always like to take a second to see this.” Danny stared out at the water. “The beginning’s the best part. Full of possibilities and excitement.” He glanced at Brent. “Feeling better?”
“What do you mean?” Brent hoped Danny wouldn’t answer.
“Well, you looked something like a shell-shocked, drowned rat when I picked you up on shore, old buddy.”
“And now?” Brent crossed his arms over his chest, stalling.
“Now? Just shell-shocked.” Danny grinned.
“If I am, it’s those passengers you have on this ship. What kind of cruise is this anyway?” Brent smiled, trying to lighten the mood away from the interrogation he sensed was on its way. “I hope not all the passengers are so … how shall I put this? Into romance, I guess. I don’t think I saw one person down below who wasn’t with somebody or looking for somebody.”
Danny pushed away from the rail. “Dude, you’re brilliant.”
Brent narrowed his eyes at Danny’s sarcastic deadpan as his temporary boss started walking away.
Danny paused and looked back when Brent didn’t follow. “Wait, you weren’t kidding? You don’t know?”
Brent rested his hands on his hips, his stomach starting to churn. Surprises were never good. “Know what?”
A smile pushed through Danny’s apparent effort to squelch it. He stopped trying to wipe the grin off with his hand and chuckled. “You want to come with me to the theater? I gotta make sure the concert’s ready to go and you’re gonna want to sit down.”
Oh, boy. “No, I don’t want to sit down.” Brent clenched his jaw. Just what had Roselle and Danny gotten him into?
“Well, okay.” Danny scratched the side of his neck, shrugged, then stretched his arms out wide. “Welcome to The Love Boat.”
Brent stared at Danny. The laugh had to be coming. The joking grin. The chuckle. Something.
“Really. I’m serious.” Danny’s smile didn’t waver, but the teasing glint in his eyes that Brent hoped to see wasn’t there.
“The what boat?”
“The Love Boat. We’re a romantic cruise. You know, fourteen days of exotic islands and beautiful sites. We are the romantic getaway for newlyweds and anniversary packages. We even have an advertising campaign aimed at singles: ‘Meet your true love on the trip of a lifetime.’” Danny slid his hands across the air in front of him as if following the words on a banner.
The redhead’s comment about the brochure being accurate added pressure to the squeezing sensation in Brent’s chest. “The brochure didn’t happen to have a black guy on it, did it?”
Danny’s blond eyebrows pulled together. “How should I know?”
“Never mind. I suppose you’re going to tell me it’s too late to get off.”
Danny tossed Brent a grin. “Sorry, pal. I’m counting on you now. And I know how you feel about keeping commitments.” He spun around and headed away. “First stop, Cozumel,” he called over his shoulder as if announcing icing on the cake.
Brent ground his teeth together. He had been set up. Royally set up. Roselle knew he never would have set a toe on this ship if she told him it was some romantic cruise. The Love Boat? Even the name made him queasy.
He needed to get as far away from romance as possible, and here he was, stuck in a hotbed of it for two weeks. He couldn’t be a chaplain to couples in love and certainly not to a bunch of single women trying to catch him like a fish on a hook.
Brent might have been wrong about what God wanted for him and Mara, and he wasn’t sure about his calling as a pastor either. But one thing Brent knew beyond a shadow of a doubt.
He was done with romance.
Come back tomorrow to read Chapter Two as we visit Cozumel and meet our first special lady.
Shore Excursions for Monday, January 26:
Marji Laine blog:
Interviewed on Lena Nelson Dooley’s Blog
Interview on Carole Towriss blog: 8 Reasons Romance is a Joke