Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Chapter Eight Port of Call: St. Maarten

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

We're landing in St. Maarten with Brent and meeting the last of our heroines today!

This afternoon, we open voting for your favorite heroine, because YOUR votes will choose Brent's special lady and determine the ending of the book, which will release on Kindle for FREE on Valentine's Day! Come back this afternoon and vote! The poll will remain open through February 7, so be sure to tell your friends.

After you read Chapter Eight below you can send us your guesses for which author wrote which chapter for a chance to win books and an Amazon gift card! Send your guesses in the body of an e-mail to editor[at]writeintegrity[dot]com. Submit your guesses by Saturday, February 7. Winner will be announced February 17.

For those just joining us, here are links to the previous chapters:

The Love Boat Bachelor

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five

Chapter Six
Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight
Port of Call: St. Maarten

Brent’s thoughts spiraled. So many emotions, and such amazing women. Choosing an inland excursion on St. Maarten that promised relaxation and diversion seemed perfect, especially one likely to attract an older generation. All the women his age hit the beaches or markets.
He hadn’t reckoned on being all alone, though, with only his thoughts to keep him company. Exactly what he’d tried to avoid. Thankfully, his driver doubled as a tour guide and kept up a monologue of island facts in a French accent.
The ride ended in front of a long, low shed needing paint. A muted yellow sign in the shape of a large butterfly identified The Butterfly Farm. Looked like an outbuilding from any number of places back home.
Brent unfolded himself from the rear seat as his guide leaned out his open window. “Ask the owner to call when you are ready to return. I will come.” The man shifted into gear and sped off.
The already humid morning stuck Brent’s t-shirt against his back. Maybe he should’ve opted for a more adventurous excursion. At least on the coast, he’d have a breeze to cool him.
Melodic tweeting filled the air, enough to let him know the world rejoiced in a new day. Why couldn’t he? What was wrong with him? He had beautiful women interested in him. Yet, all he could think about was how quickly life had become complicated.
He eyed the sign again and noted the business hours between nine and three. Great. So much for getting a jump on the day. That gave him an hour to wait and without a French exposé to distract his unruly thoughts.
“Don’t worry. I’ll make it work.” A soprano voice hushed the birds for a second. He scanned the area. The female couldn’t be too far away, and from the edge in her tone, it sounded like she struggled with something.
“This is silly, child. Call for help.” An older voice, slurred, sent thoughts of his father’s drunken bouts. But this man’s response seemed much kinder than anything he’d ever heard from his dad.
“I can do it … ouch.”
He picked up his pace toward the conversation. A silver van perched on the asphalt edge of the two-lane road. A white-haired man sat in a wheelchair beside the front door while a young woman stood above the decimated rear tire. She swung dark, wavy hair over her shoulder and sucked on the side of her finger.
“Are you hurt?” Obviously, she was far too petite to be attempting such a task.
Dressed in blue jeans and a pink-striped top, she jumped and flashed a pair of vivid blue eyes. “Where did you come from?”
“South Carolina a few weeks ago. The Butterfly Farm just now. Waiting for it to open.”
She wiped her finger on her jeans. “It’ll be a long wait. They’re renovating.”
Oh, man. He wiped his palm across his head. Who would call for his ride now? He hadn’t even gotten the driver’s name or a phone number. “Well, at least I can fix your flat for you.” He held his hand out to the man. “Brent Teague.”
The gentleman shook his hand and nodded. “Henry Lacewell.” The s-sound in his name lingered a bit. “Daughter—Mercy.”
“Nice to meet you.” She had gone back to pushing on the jack, though it refused to lift the car.
“She’s stubborn.” Mr. Lacewell chuckled.
“I’ve done this before, Daddy.”
“I don’t mind. Really.” Brent laid his hand on hers on the handle of the jack. Skin soft as silk warmed his fingertips.
Her gaze locked with his before she withdrew her hand and backed up. “I really have changed a tire.”
“I believe you.” He forced the jack into motion with a grunt. “Hmm. That was stuck.”
As he switched out the spare for the flattened specimen, Mr. Lacewell held up the conversation with a description of the butterflies inside the farm. Sounded interesting, but the woman holding the lug nuts in the hubcap intrigued him more.
The man peered at him. “What’s a young fella like you doing atta butterfly farm?”
Brent snapped the hub into place. “I’ve done exciting excursions. I sort of craved something a little slower, more relaxed, today.”
“Should come w’thus.”
“Daddy ….” Pink tinged Mercy’s cheeks.
Mr. Lacewell clasped his hands. “He needs a ride. We’re off t’ Fort Saint Louis.”
“I hate to intrude on your time together.” He stowed the tire in the empty wheel well.
“No trouble. We’re heading your direction afterward.”
How would he know?
The man opened the side door and lifted himself into the backseat. Mercy folded his chair and tucked it into the other side of the van.
“We’ve been visiting an old friend of Daddy’s for a few days.” She took the lug wrench from Brent and dropped it into the cargo bay. “Came in on one cruise ship, leaving on another. This trip has been on Dad’s bucket list for years.” Her tone dropped off, and a tiny wrinkle formed between her brows.
She reached for the jack, but Brent avoided her and set it deep in the wheel well. “Last item on his list?”
Sniffing softly, she nodded and left him to close the hatch. She straightened. “Let’s go find your pirates, Daddy.” The sing-song had returned to her voice as she pulled her father’s door shut.
Her light attitude and a joy-filled countenance covered what had to be deep concern.
They had barely traveled a mile on the narrow road before Mr. Lacewell leaned forward. “S’cuse an old man’s bluntness. Do you know Jesus loves you?” He placed a red ball cap on his head with “Jesus Loves You” emblazed across in a white script.
“That’s very direct.” Brent eyed the man.
“I’m old. No promise of tomorrow.” Genuine joy spilled from his eyes.
“Daddy, please.”
“’S’true. No time for political correctness.” He pointed at Brent. “Jesus loves you more than you can ’magine.”
Brent smiled. “You encourage and shame me, Mr. Lacewell. I’m the chaplain for a cruise ship. I should have been the one asking. But I love the way you took advantage of the opportunity.”
“No tellin’ when my last chance’ll be.” He went on about the Lord’s love, then the items on his bucket list, interspersed with scripture and Bible truth.
Silence from the driver’s seat caught Brent’s attention. A natural glow tinted Mercy’s cheeks. She wiped a finger under one eye.
“So tell me about Fort Saint Louis.” Brent switched topics to ease Mercy’s concern. “I thought that was somewhere in Louisiana.”
The lady beside him brightened and began sharing some tourist facts with a lilt to her voice. The car climbed above the capital city of Marigot. Mercy pulled into a spot where the pavement ended and hauled out her father’s chair.
“This place’s beautiful. You kids go to th’ top. I’ll stay here.”
Brent eyed the well-worn path. A few steps, rocky walkway, but not too steep. “We can get you to the top.”
“Sure we can.” A tender smile lifted her face as again she turned toward him. How fascinating that they matched the color of the bay behind her.
After a minute more of convincing, the three set out for the remains of the fort. Though not a difficult climb, they struggled with ruts and rocks. Mr. Lacewell’s joking left them weak with laughter by the time they finally reached the grass-covered foundation of what had once been a stronghold in the Lesser Antilles.
While Mr. Lacewell ventured from plaque to plaque, absorbing the history, Brent followed Mercy toward a low rock wall broken by small cannon replicas. Painted roofs in Easter-candy colors crowded the wooden pier edging the bay, pressed by the mountain rising behind. The cerulean water echoed the color scheme with bobbing boats.
Breathtaking view, but the lady beside him commanded his attention even more. The ocean breeze tossed her hair about her shoulders. “I can see why my dad wanted to visit this place. Thank you for helping me get him up the path.”
“What’s wrong with your father, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I almost lost him last year to a stroke. He’s come back marvelously.”
“People live with those for decades.” He’d had an aunt who taught school for fifteen years after suffering a stroke.
She looked away with a sad smile. “The doctors have him on meds, but they can’t do everything. Another could come at any moment.”
“Isn’t that true of any of us?”
“I suppose. Only …” She focused on the bay. “Lately he’s been talking about my life after he’s gone. I think he believes it’s time.”
That said a lot. Brent closed the gap between them, hoping his nearness could give her encouragement where his words failed.
Mr. Lacewell buzzed with his newly learned information all the way to the cruise ship, on which they’d booked return passage back to the States. The man was so full of enthusiasm, so brimming with joy over every moment, both good and challenging. Surely, Mercy had been wrong in her estimation of his health.
Brent was surprised to find that Mr. Lacewell and Mercy were setting sail aboard his ship. At the ship, Brent helped her unload their luggage then checked-in their car with a liaison waiting on the dock. By the time he returned to the gangway, they’d disappeared.
He scanned the atrium. They couldn’t have moved so fast. He took an elevator up a deck and used the higher vantage point. A lot of people milled, returning from the island, but not a single chair wheeled across the wide space. Where could they have gone?
Short of stalking the hallways, how would he find them again?
At dinner in the main dining room, he scanned all the tables, intent on finding Mercy. But he was immediately joined, probably accosted was a better word, by two women in their late thirties or so. Despite their battle for his attention, he kept his eyes on the room, observing every new arrival. No Lacewells.
The duo which sandwiched him during the meal did remind him, though, that he needed another souvenir for the sweet sister who sent him on this Love Boat. Maybe a barracuda or a cougar since he’d encountered so many of the female persuasion on this trip.
Turning in, he felt sure he’d run into Mercy again at some point before they arrived back in Charleston. But the next morning on the jogging track was the last place he expected to see her.
Her hair caught in a ponytail, she wore calf-length yoga pants, which showed off her curves, and a baggy gray t-shirt. He sprinted to catch up then matched her stride.
She glanced in his direction and tugged out an earbud. “Hey there. I didn’t know you were a runner.”
“I looked for you and your dad last night. Thought we might have dinner together.”
“That’s sweet of you.” She slowed her pace and stepped off the track. “Dad was pretty exhausted yesterday. He puts on a good front, you know.”
“Maybe lunch?”
“I’d like that. We were planning to go to a musical review this afternoon. Wanna join us?”
Brent smiled and completed their plans. He didn’t continue his jog, though, until he also had her cabin number. She wouldn’t disappear on him again.
That afternoon, their lunch and show stretched into dinner and a walk. Brent enjoyed the banter with Mr. Lacewell and Mercy.
The next day was filled with chaplain duties. Well past dinner, Mercy surprised him, strolling into his office. “Long day?”
“Crazy. I must’ve counseled with six couples today.” He stretched and leaned against the front of his desk.
“Marriage is entered into so lightly these days. Is it any wonder there are so many problems?” She shook her head, then shrugged. “I just came by to say hey.”
“I’m glad you did.” He smiled. “I do have a vow renewal service tomorrow. A couple I’ve talked to a few times in the last couple of days. Gloria and Gerome.”
“That gives me a renewed sense of hope in marriage.”
“Could we have lunch after the ceremony? It starts at noon.”
She nodded. “About two?”
After Gloria and Gerome's vow renewal ceremony, which went very well, Brent met with the Lacewells for a late lunch and browsing through the duty-free shops. Mr. Lacewell came alongside Brent as he eyed a turquoise necklace his sister would probably love. “Got a girl back home?”
“Thought I did. She got married.”
“I understand.” From the look on his face, he probably discerned more than Brent wished.
“My sister sent me on this trip.” He cleared his throat. “To help get my mind off … things.”
“Ha. Or on them.”
Brent warmed. “Probably so.”
“Musta been a special lady. They don’t come around so often. Mine’s been gone a long time.”
“Tough times.”
He nodded. “Had to be mom and dad. Mercy’s a special girl, though.” He glanced in her direction. “Spittin’ image of her mom.”
Brent followed the man’s gaze. “Beautiful.”
“I would do juss about anything for her.”
She caught them gawking and fussed at her dad for peeking at the souvenir she’d picked out for him.
How different from Brent’s experience. His father had never wanted a moment with him. Complained when he made noise. Yelled when he watched TV. Nothing Brent did was acceptable.
Crazy that he still felt the ache of his childhood. What a blessing to befriend a man who was the sort of father he wanted to be someday.
As Mercy stepped away to pay for her purchases, the man turned to Brent. “Think you can get me to my cabin?”
“Are you all right, Mr. Lacewell?”
“Enough to insist you call me Henry.” He laughed and pulled his ball cap from where he’d tucked it in his chair. “Mercy’ll fuss. But I don’t want her hanging around the cabins tonight. Can you take’r to dinner and a movie?” His slurring escalated.
Brent nodded. The activities of the busy cruise could wear out anyone.
Mercy joined them with her bundle, but Henry waved her off. “Brent and I have matters t’discuss.”
Brent touched her elbow. “I’ll meet you here in a half hour?”
Her brows furrowed a bit, but she acquiesced and turned toward the center elevators.
“That’ll do.” The man nodded and released control of his chair. He seemed to relax as Brent pushed him to the elevators. Heavy breathing confirmed he needed a good rest. At the aft cabin, Brent woke him to collect his key card.
“Sorry I drifted off.” He handed over the card. Between Henry’s strong arms and Brent’s athleticism, they got the man onto the bed.
“You’re a good man, Brent Teague. I’m happy to know you.” Henry held out his hand. “Don’t let my daughter worry too much. She deserves … night off.”
“Got it covered, sir.” An electrical charge skinned up his spine at the promise of the evening. Being alone with Mercy had been a hard opportunity to find, though he enjoyed Henry’s jokes and his obvious admiration for his daughter.
Brent made his way to deck nine. The elevator doors opened at the entrance to the cafe. He spotted Mercy near the deli bar. She lifted her fingers in a casual wave.
A large group of scantily-clad women and men in bathing trunks crowded past him. He edged his way through the group. With oblivion and boisterous laughter, they blocked him only to move like an amoeba and create a new barrier. By the time they finally evaporated into the elevators, he’d lost sight of Mercy.
Feeling feathery-light fingers against his elbow, he jerked his head around.
“For a second there, I thought you had joined the party.” Her eyes sparkled with humor as she gave him a side-long glance.
“Ha, not my style. Besides, I have plans with someone already.”
“You don’t think she’d mind me tagging along?” She giggled and Brent laughed as he opened the door to David’s Steakhouse. “Was Daddy terribly tired?”
“Not so much, but enough that he didn’t want to spoil our fun. I thought we could take in the outdoor movie when we’re done eating. I hear they set up deck chairs with extra blankets just outside there.” He pointed to the wide expanse.
Her fingers curled around his bicep. “Sounds perfect.”
He ordered iced tea to cover his near-miss and opened his menu. “Please tell me you aren’t a vegetarian.”
“Nope. A good prime rib is one of my favorite meals.” She glanced at her menu for a moment then clasped her hands on top of it. “I want to thank you for helping my dad. He’s very impressed with you.”
“I like your father. I never spent much time with my own.” Why had he said that? He rarely shared much about his father and his family life. “The relationship you have with your dad reminds me of the one I have with the Heavenly Father. Just like Him, your dad offers his best guidance and highest praise for his child.”
Her mouth formed an O. “That’s the most wonderful description I’ve ever heard.” Her eyes misted. “You’re so right. I had an exceptional example of the Father’s love in front of me my entire life. But I never realized it.”
During the movie, they sat in comfortable silence.
Brent had thought he had problems before he went on the cruise. He never knew someone’s feelings could get this muddled. Only one Person could untwist them and give Brent the direction he needed now more than ever. Brent gazed up at the stars. You’ve shown me I can have feelings for someone again, Lord. But can I risk being hurt again? I don’t think I could take another rejection. Show me what to do.

“Next vacation in the mountains, son.” Henry gave a final shake of Brent’s hand before he let his chair carry him down the promenade. Most of the other passengers made their way to the ramp that would take them across to the disembarking station.
“Colorado. Never been there.”
“If you like crisp mornings and beautiful scenery, you’ll love it.” Mercy gripped the edge of the rail and stared at the waves. This water was a grayer blue than her captivating eyes.
“I do like beautiful scenery.” He trained his eyes on her forehead. What would she do if he planted a kiss on her temple?
She glanced at him then. With a sad turn to her smile and her brows lifting, she reached up and lightly kissed his cheek. “Thanks again. For making this so special for my dad. And for me.”
Words escaped him. The slight pressure of her lips still warmed his cheek. She stroked the place for a moment then turned and joined the fast-moving line of exiting vacationers.
He sighed. Time to get back to the reality of his life.
Brent headed back to his cabin to gather his belongings. Fourteen days had passed, and he still wasn’t sure what God wanted him to do with his life from here on out.
The image of a certain beauty with warmth in her eyes and her smile rushed to his mind with a tingling sensation that spread to his chest. Was the sudden memory a sign from God?
Brent reached the cabin door and went inside to pack as a new certainty pushed away his doubt. Wherever God led him next, Brent was sure he wanted the woman who held his heart to be at his side for the journey. Now he only had to find her and pray like mad that she wouldn’t reject him, too.

Come back this afternoon to cast your vote for your favorite heroine - 
the woman you think most deserves Brent's affections.

Shore Excursions:

Write Integrity: (morning)

Marji Laine’s blog:
            E-mail to Roselle: From St. Maarten

Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:

Elizabeth Noyes:
           In Seaclusion: Tips from a Savvy Cruiser, Part 7


Write Integrity:
            Chapter Seven Port of Call: Barbados

Marji Laine’s blog:
            E-mail to Roselle: From Barbados

Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:

Betty Thomason Owens:
Elizabeth Noyes:
           In Seaclusion: Tips from a Savvy Cruiser, Part 6


Write Integrity:

Marji Laine’s blog:
            E-mail to Roselle: From Bonaire

Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:

Elizabeth Noyes:
             In Seaclusion: Tips from a Savvy Cruiser, Part 5



Write Integrity: Chapter Five
            Chapter Five Port of Call: Aruba

Marji Laine’s blog:

Joan Deneve:
            Interview on Quid Pro Quills

Julie Arduini:
            Least Likely Cruise Heroine Part 2

Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:

Elizabeth Noyes:
             In Seaclusion: Tips from a Savvy Cruiser, Part 4


Write Integrity: Chapter Four

Marji Laine’s blog:

Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:

Elizabeth Noyes:
             In Seaclusion: Tips from a Savvy Cruiser, Part 3


Write Integrity: Chapter Three

Marji Laine’s blog:

Julie Arduini:
            Least Likely Cruise Heroine Part 1

Fay Lamb’s On the Ledge:

Elizabeth Noyes:
             In Seaclusion: Tips from a Savvy Cruiser, Part 2


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          


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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