ENDLESS SUMMER WRITE ALONG -
Read along with me, chapter by chapter, as I write Endless Summer - book one in The Summer Hearts Series - a sexy spin off to the Ship Mates series
Grace is fizzing with excitement – it’s almost bubbling over and her mother sighs with impatience.
“Will you relax – you’re making me itchy.”
“Yes itchy. You’re so excited – you can’t sit still, you’re jumpy, you’re grinning like an idiot. It’s just a holiday.”
Grace nods at her mum and tries to wipe the smile off her face, but she knows this is going to be more than a holiday. She’s joining her sister on the cruise ship she works on, and while Ava has a job to do, Grace doesn’t.
Newly single, she is ready to mingle. Naked. And she can’t help but be excited by that.
She’s packed and ready and is just waiting for her father to finish his work emails before he drives her down to Southampton, to the port, where Ava will be waiting for her, and Grace will finally throw caution to the wind.
She might have got over their father’s strict religious teachings about sex before Ava did, but she’s still only done it with James, and as good as it was, she really has nothing to compare him to. She’s ready to try out a buffet of desirable men, all looking for nothing more than a holiday fling, so she can finally decide if James was any good or not, and she can finally feel like a woman of the world.
The cruise is perfect – stopping off at some beautiful places, and her mum is right – she is giddy with excitement and impatience.
“All right, all right. I’m on my way. I can’t get on with email – what’s wrong with a telephone conversation, or a letter?”
Grace doesn’t even bother answering him, just rolls her eyes, before throwing her arms around her mum, who wipes a tear away.
“Don’t be daft, mum. I’m only going for ten days.”
“I know, but I’m worried you’re going to end up like your sister, running way to sea.”
“I’ve got nothing to run from. I’m going to have a great holiday, sunbathe with my big sister, and then come home like a good girl.”
“And get a proper job.”
“Absolutely dad, thanks for that.”
He winks and Grace rolls her eyes again; she seems to do that a lot.
“Do you have everything you need?”
“I do. And there’s a shop on the ship and there’ll be shops every place we stop too. Mum, stop worrying.”
Grace kisses her mum’s cheek. She loves how much her parents worry about her and Ava, really. It shows how much they care.
She blasts the music in the car, and she sings along to Queen and Fleetwood Mac and Blondie the entire way there, her dad joining in, almost as tuneless as she is.
“Ava is going to meet us at the terminal,” Grace says, reading the text from her sister.
They arrive at Southampton and join the queue of cars. Grace has already been twice – once when she dropped her big sister off to start her new job on board the ship, and the second time when Ava thought her new relationship was doomed and wanted to come home.
The ship looks even bigger to Grace now she knows she’s getting on it.
Ava has told her so many amazing things about the ship: Grace is fizzing with excitement. She pops her sunglasses on the top of her head and grins.
She spots Ava and they pull into a drop off bay.
Their dad gets out of the ship and Ava gives him a warm hug.
“I’ve missed you, dad. How’s mam?”
“Good – glad to have the both of you out of the way for a bit.”
“Liar!” Grace calls, grabbing her cases from the boot.
“Hey sis!” Grace high fives Ava, and Ava laughs.
“She might explode,” their dad says, passing Ava the last of Grace’s luggage.
“She might,” Grace says, making a face at both of them. Of course she’s excited – she’s ready to have the holiday of a lifetime, and she’s already sizing up men as they pass her, wondering who she might be lucky enough to have a holiday romance with.
They hug their dad, and he drives off, music still blaring.
“Ava, I cannot wait for this. Look at all the people. Oh my god, is that the chef off the TV?”
Ava laughs and shushes her. “Yes, that’s Logan Matthews – he’s got a restaurant on board.”
“God, he’s so good looking in person.”
“Yes – shush! Let’s go.”
“Do I have to queue like a normal person?”
“Yes, but I can get you through quicker. Follow me.”
Grace still has to have her ticket checked and go through passport control, and have a bank card assigned to her cabin so she can pay for everything she needs, but it’s all done quicker for her than anyone else, because she’s with Ava.
“I feel sick,” Grace says, tugging on Ava’s arm and pointing to another passenger. “Wasn’t he in Westlife?”
Ava looks but shakes her head. “I don’t think so.”
“But you have famous people on board?”
Grace grins. “Is Hudson James on board?”
Ava pokes in the arm. “Will you behave? No, he’s off the ship right now, and you are already driving me crazy.”
“Good thing you’ve got work to keep you occupied then.”
“Yes. Or I might throw you overboard.”
“You love me too much to hurt me.”
“I know it. Ooh, look at them.”
Ava turns her head and laughs. There’s a group of men huddled together, drinking beer and toasting one man – probably the stag.
“Lucky woman who gets to marry him.”
Grace can’t stop staring at the group of men; they’re all good looking, all full of confidence and all grinning as they wait to board the ship.
Ava pulls her along and through a long walkway that takes them onto the ship.
“Much as you’d like to have stayed there ogling the hot men…”
“I would have. That was a good-looking bunch of men, sis.”
“Not that you’re looking.”
“No harm in looking, Gracie, but I’m pretty happy where I am.”
“On a ship, with a dream job and a dream man.”
“Don’t pretend you’re jealous,” Ava says, nudging her sister in the side. “I can see you checking out literally every man that’s walked past. Take it easy now. I don’t want to have to look after your broken heart; I’ve got work to do.”
“I don’t intend to break my heart, sis. I intend to have the time of my life.”
Grace squeals with excitement as they walk onto the ship and she sees the atrium ahead of her.
“The time of your life,” Ava says, hugging her sister and hoping this holiday changes Grace’s life, just like it changed hers.
Ava leads the way to Grace’s cabin – a single cabin with a double bed and a small balcony tucked at the front of the ship.
“Oh, my god,” Grace squeals, throwing herself on the bed. “This is so bloody comfy.”
Ava goes out onto the balcony, and Grace joins her.
“This is amazing.”
“It is – I don’t get a balcony. I might have to join you.”
“No way,” Grace says, going back inside, exploring the cabin, opening every cupboard and every drawer. “I intend to share my bed, but not with you.”
Grace shrugs. “I’m not even going to pretend to feel bad. Did you see the blokes on that stag do?”
“I’m not even going to pretend I can tell you what to do. Just be safe.”
“Of course. I’m not daft, sis, just lonely since James left, and-”
She’s interrupted by Ava’s snort of laughter. “That is some bullshit.”
“It’s true. I’m lonely.”
“You are not lonely – you just want to get laid.”
Grace grins. “Fine, so I want to get laid. I’m not intending to be a complete tart, but I am more than ready to enjoy this holiday and all it has to offer.”
“I’m sure you will. Now you unpack, I’m going to see Mack and I’ll catch you for some lunch before the muster.”
“What’s the muster?”
“I told you – the alarm will sound; you grab your life jacket and head down to…” Ava checks the back of her door. “The Green Room. Ah, that’s my favourite bar. They’ll talk you through all the safety stuff, you put on your life jacket, and then you’re free to enjoy the rest of your trip.”
“I cannot wait. Okay. I’m going to change into something sexier.”
Ava gives her a look. “For lunch?”
“Yes. I might see some gorgeous blokes, and I don’t want to be in my scruffy clothes. I want to make a good first impression.”
“Bless you,” Ava says and kisses her sister’s cheek. “See you soon.”
“I’ll text you. Are you sure you won’t regret being by yourself? You don’t wish you’d brought a friend?”
“God no. I love my friends, but I want a holiday, for once, where I can be completely selfish.”
“Yeah – like when we were kids we had to do what mum and dad said. Then when I went with James, it was whatever he wanted. Even when I go with the girls, everything is decided by committee. No – I am doing exactly as I please for the next ten days. Eating when I want. Going where I want. Doing what I want. And – if I’m lucky, and, you know what sis, I feel pretty lucky, then I might just get to sleep with whoever I want to, too.”
“Grace, you’re amazing. I would never have been brave enough to go on holiday by myself. But I can see where you’re coming from. Remember when we went on that awful bus trip and then the bus broke down and we were stuck on it for hours.”
“Yes! It was bloody boiling, and we didn’t have anything to eat or drink. Awful.”
“But neither of us wanted to go – they roped us into it. So on this holiday, there’s nobody to rope me into anything. I’m so ready for this. Now go so I can get sexy-fied.”
“That’s not a real thing.”
“It is now.”
“Fine – I’ll text you.”
Grace ushers her sister out of the cabin and squeals one more time as she looks around it. It’s so classy and it has everything she might need – including a complimentary box of chocolate and a bottle of champagne.
Are you allowed to be drunk before you even set sail? She pops the champagne open – this is her holiday, her selfish holiday, and she can do whatever she damn pleases.
Ava texts her that she’ll fetch her in three quarters of an hour, and so she puts on some music, changes into a summer dress and cute sandals, freshens her makeup and spritzes herself with perfume, just in time for Ava to knock the door.
“Very nice, sis,” Ava says. “Mack says hi.”
“He’s not with you?”
“Nope – he’s with some of his friends by the crew pool, they’re having some sort of diving competition thing. I don’t know. It’s too cold to go in the water if you ask me, but…” She shrugs, and Grace follows her out of the cabin.
“Where are we going?”
“I thought I’d take you to the buffet – it’s where most passengers eat most of the time. It’s easier – you serve yourself however much of whatever you want, and you don’t have to wait for service. I thought it might fit in with your do what you want, when you want holiday vibe.”
Grace nods her approval and follows Ava to an enormous dining room and buffet.
“Yeah, it’s basically the middle part of the ship on this deck. Views out of both windows. Sometimes you can only eat on one side – like when they do the kids’ tea at five, on the port side, you won’t be allowed to eat there, but other than that there’s something being served all day. Breakfast, snacks, lunch, afternoon tea, evening meal, late night snacks. Always something.”
“My god, I’m going to put on a stone.”
“Don’t joke – some people bring different sized clothes for the latter half of their holidays.”
“Honestly. But you can also move. A lot – if you want to.”
“I will not be going to the gym, I can tell you that much.”
She passes Grace a tray and Grace chooses super healthily.
“Biding my time, sis,” she says, as she fills her plate with cold meats and salad. “Biding my time.”
They eat and then Ava gives Grace a quick tour of the ship before doubling back to her cabin to grab her life jacket.
“As soon as the alarm sounds, you need to go to the Green Room. I have to go to the theatre.”
Grace nods and follows her sister, practically getting whiplash every time a good-looking man goes past.
“You’re going to hurt yourself,” Ava says, laughing, pressing the button for the lift.
Grace makes a face at her. “I’m just excited, sis. I’ve got a fizzing in my stomach; I just know I’m going to have an amazing holiday.”
“I hope it doesn’t disappoint you.”
The lift opens and they step in. There’s already a couple in there, in their fifties, and a young man on his own. He’s wearing shorts, a white shirt and has his sunglasses on his head. He looks fresh and smells good. Grace grins at Ava and stands to the side of him.
“Impossible,” she says, and smiles. Everywhere she looks, there are gorgeous men. She’ll be spoiled for choice, she just knows it.
The lift opens, and Ava has to pull on Grace’s arm.
“Sis. You need to calm down. It’s like you’re on heat or something.”
Grace scurries to keep up with her.
“Wait for me.”
Ava nods at her sandals. “I walk miles on this ship every day. I’ve got the sensible shoes.”
Grace smiles. “I love a flip-flop, sis, but I’m not working, I am looking for love. And I’m not on heat. I’m just happy to be here. Looking for opportunities. I don’t want to miss out.”
A man walks past, giving Grace an approving glance, and Ava nudges her.
“See, you won’t miss out. Here’s the Green Room. Get a seat. It’s early but you don’t want to be running in those sandals when the alarm goes off.”
“Thanks, Ave. Are you going now?”
Ava nods and kisses Grace’s cheek.
“I might be in flip-flops, but I don’t want to run to the other end of the ship. I’ll text you.”
Grace nods and takes a seat, a comfy armchair, next to a highly polished table. It’s so luxurious. She’s glad Ava gave her a bottle of water at lunch. It’s hot and the bars aren’t open yet.
She places her life jacket on the seat beside her and takes a long drink.
People are slowly filing into the room, even though the alarm hasn’t sounded yet, and Grace just loves people watching. She loves looking at people’s clothes, shoes, bags, women’s hairstyles. And she is looking for good looking, single looking men.
She takes a selfie on her phone and uploads it to social media. Then she sits back and waits for the alarm to go off.
Despite knowing it was coming, she jumps when it sounds and sits up. The flurry of activity is exciting. The room fills with people and with staff – all wearing their jackets and showing people where to sit and what to do.
By the time the captain speaks, it’s standing room only, and Grace is glad she’s got a sister on board who knows what she’s doing.
The captain makes his speech, and Grace can’t help but laugh when he instructs the passengers to stay away from the staff only areas of the ship.
“The staff only areas of the ship are off limits for all passengers and no passenger should enter a staff only area of the ship – even if you are invited to do so.”
There are more than a few titters of laughter at this, and Grace knows she’s not the only dirty minded passenger on board. She shifts position, and catches the eye of a crew member, and he grins at her and shrugs.
She tunes back into the captain, and then he finishes his safety speech by wishing them all a glorious holiday.
The crew member ambles over to her table, and Grace smiles at him. Here we go, she thinks, as he holds out his hand.
“Joe. I promise not to invite you anywhere you’re not allowed to go.”
She laughs and shakes his hand. “Grace. I promise not to ask you to.”
“It’s the same line every cruise,” he says. “Always makes people laugh.”
“What happens if a passenger gets caught in a place they’re not supposed to be?”
Joe moves closer, leans on the chair next to her, and practically whispers. “Well, you have to have a staff member who knows how to not get caught.”
Grace locks eyes with him and grins. This is what she came on holiday for: sexy men, flirty men, sexual tension. Her toes actually curl, with the deliciousness of it all, and then a little old lady with white curls grabs hold of his arm. She’s pulling at her life jacket and obviously getting herself in a pickle.
“Help me dear, I can’t get this off.”
He makes a face, and Grace hides her laughter, taking a sip of her drink.
“Joe!” another member of staff calls to him, and he winks at her.
“I have to go. I’m in the theatre cast, come and watch me one night, maybe we can grab a drink afterwards?”
Her stomach flips. If he’s in the theatre cast, then he knows Ava. Perfect.
“I think you work with my sister?”
“Really?” He holds his hands up, waving off the bloke calling his name again. “Who?”
“Yes! Ava. Wow, you’re her sister Grace?”
“I am. I remember you – you came to pick her up when she had her misunderstanding with Mack.” He puts air quotes around the word misunderstanding, and Grace laughs.
“That’s right. I remember you. You had flowers.”
“I did.” He sighs when someone calls his name again. “I have to go. I’ll catch up with you.”
Grace nods and watches him run off. He’s hot – black hair, lithe body. She grabs her phone to text Ava. She’s caught a live one!
As soon as she sends the message to her sister, her phone rings. Grace answers it, still watching Joe across the room.
“No way!” Ava says, and Grace laughs.
“You know him then?”
“I know him, and I love him. He’s a good friend, but he’s not for you.”
“Why not? He’s so handsome.”
“Yes. And he knows it. He’s such a, how do I put this… dickhead.”
“Really? He seems nice.”
“Nice because he hit on you?”
“And every other girl on the ship.”
“So he’s not discerning.”
“We call him Bunny. Because he’s always having sex. He’s always sleeping with someone or other. He doesn’t even shower in between conquests.”
“Ugh!” Grace wrinkles her nose. “Is that true, or are you trying to put me off?”
“Both. He’s gross. Smarmy and cocksure, and, apparently, not even very good at it, despite all the practice he has.”
That has Grace cackling.
“Okay. So I might give him a miss.”
“Please! I don’t want to go to rehearsals and hear him telling everyone about the sex he had with my sister.”
“Ugh. He brags too?”
“He keeps a scoreboard.”
“That’s so gross.”
“Like I said. I’m all for you sowing some wild oats, if that’s how you feel, Gracie, but not with him. Never with him.”
“I feel like I dodged a bullet.”
“You did. A tiny one.”
Grace is cackling again. “See you later?”
Without giving Joe another glance, Grace gathers her life jacket and her phone and climbs the stairs back up to her room.
She’s not desperate to sleep with any old body – she’s just hoping that the holiday atmosphere, the alcohol and heat will all be conducive to finding a holiday romance. But Joe is off her list of possibilities, and she’s not worried – on a ship with over three thousand holiday makers, she only needs to find one.
Topping up her lipstick, she heads down to one of the ship’s many bars. She orders a cocktail and sits by the window, facing the room. She loves people watching, and she’s happy to while away a few hours. The bar is busy and there are plenty of good-looking men for her to eye up – they’re all taken, but she still enjoys looking. She loves to see what their wives and girlfriends are wearing, too.
She gestures to the waiter for another drink, and he brings it over.
Because it’s her first night, Ava has time off so they can eat together, and Grace is grateful. She’s happy to be alone on her holiday; it’s what she’s planned for. She’s hoping she won’t be alone for long or all the time, but if she’s not lucky enough to have a holiday romance, she’s still ready to have the holiday of a lifetime. She knows it.
Her phone beeps. And it’s Ava. She’s running a little behind. Can Grace meet her at the restaurant?
Grace answers her, of course, and finishes her drink. She fluffs up her hair and grabs her bag.
They have decided to eat at the fancy restaurant tonight, to enjoy the ‘silver service’ and celebrate Grace being on board.
“Excuse me,” a man sitting alone says when she walks past, and she pauses. She had spotted him coming in, but wasn’t able to get a good look at him because there was a full table of people between them.
She smiles at him, wondering what he’s going to say.
“I was just about to send a drink over to your table. I could see you were by yourself.”
“What if my other half had just gone out for some fresh air?”
The man shrugs. “I was hoping I was luckier than that.”
She slips into the seat opposite him.
“What about your other half?”
“I don’t have…” he trails off, suddenly defensive. “My other half is at home. I’m on a stag do and…” he shrugs. “I had to try my luck. You’re gorgeous.”
She laughs. “No hard feelings. But I don’t sleep with other women’s husbands.”
“How did you know?”
“You want me to give you tips so you can score with the next woman lucky enough to catch your eye?”
He laughs. He’s handsome.
She takes hold of his hand, rubs the indentation where his wedding ring should sit.
He blushes and takes the ring out of his pocket, putting it back on.
“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with looking for a little bit of excitement. But would your wife be sad if she knew what you were thinking of doing?”
He nods, squirming in his seat.
“It’s none of my business,” she says, “But it might be time for a divorce. Maybe she’ll be lucky and find a husband who won’t cheat on her.”
She stands up and walks out of the bar, not giving him another look. She does not want to sleep with a married man on this trip. She wants a fun trip, an exciting trip, a sexy trip, not a ruin someone’s marriage, and they don’t even know it trip.
Ava is sitting down when grace gets to the restaurant. The waiter walks her over to the table and pulls out her chair.
“Give me wine, and then I’ll tell you,” Grace says, hoping the rest of her evening works out a little better.
“Tell me what?” Ava asks, and Grace can tell she’s almost afraid to ask.
Grace laughs and leans back in her chair so the waiter can pour her wine. She thanks him and then turns to her sister.
“I’m not late because I was busy shagging. I’m late because a sleazy married guy tried to hit on me.”
Ava wrinkles her nose.
“Exactly!” Grace says and opens the menu. “Wow. This is incredible. Have you ever had all five courses?”
“I’ve never eaten in here before. This is a perk for me because you’re a passenger.”
“Nice. It all looks amazing.”
They order their food and then settle into general chit chat.
“So,” Ava says, tearing a small amount of bread off her roll and eating it. “Joe is a no, right?”
Grace nods. “Yes. I’m so excited to be young, free and single on holiday, but I don’t want to catch anything, or sleep with someone who’ll brag about it. Look, sis, I might not sleep with anyone. I’m not completely hell bent – if I was, by my reckoning, I’d have had easily had two notches on my belt my now. It’s just exciting. The sun, the sea, the cocktails. It’s the perfect atmosphere for love.”
“True. It worked for me,” Ava says, and Grace lifts her glass in a toast. “Exactly. Any wedding bells yet?”
“Look, you’re not hell bent on sleeping with any old bloke on this cruise, and I’m not hell bent on dragging anybody down the aisle. I’m not bothered. It’s still early days.”
“It’s really early. But when you know, you know.”
“I know,” Ava says, and Grace squeals. Ava holds up her hand. “But we’re not there yet. I think it’ll happen; we talk about our future all the time. But I’ve been burned once.”
“Damn Jason. You know they broke up, don’t you?”
“No! Tell me everything.” Ava pauses. “Actually, don’t tell me anything. I’m not bothered. If they stay together forever, or they’ve split up already, it’s nothing to me. I’m happy. I feel like I was meant to come on this ship, fall in love.”
“And I feel exactly the same,” Grace says. “I feel this bubble of excitement in my stomach, and it’s there all the time.”
Ava laughs. “You’re just horny.”
“I am not! I am, but it’s not that. You know when you just know something good is coming your way?”
Ava nods, and their first course arrives.
“I am going to be so stuffed after this,” Grace says.
“You don’t have to eat all five courses,” Ava reminds her, waving her soup spoon at her.
“First night – gotta go big, or go home,” Grace says.
“Fine, but don’t moan to me when none of your clothes fit.”
Grace makes a face at her sister and dips her soup into her bread, looking around the room as she eats.
“This is really incredible,” she says and Ava nods in agreement.
The dining room is enormous, with views out of both sides of the ship, room for hundreds of passengers, chandeliers, expensive linen. It’s all just perfect.
“Are you ever going to leave?” Grace asks, and Ava shrugs.
“I know it’s not what mum wants to hear, but not for a long time. I love it on here, Grace. As long as they’ll keep me, then I’ll stay.”
Grace tops up both of their glasses.
“Can’t say I blame you. Who would I have to sleep with to stay on board? The captain?”
Ava laughs. “He is single. But please no, mam would have a dicky fit if you stayed.”
“True. I don’t plan on staying. Just having an amazing holiday.”
“And you will. I promise.”
They eat the rest of their five courses – soup, entrée, main, pudding and cheese, and then Grace rubs her stomach, groaning.
“The portions are perfect. I’m not as stuffed as I have been in my life, but that was a lot of food for one person. I couldn’t do that every night.”
“Some people do.”
“I’m sure they do.” She rubs her stomach again. “I won’t be. So what’s next? A bar? Nightclub?”
“As soon as you can move, we’ll waddle over to the Green Room. It’s our favourite bar, but the passengers love it too. There’s a singer there tonight.”
“And handsome men?”
They finish their wine, and then Ava leads the way.
“How long until I don’t get lost anymore?” Grace asks, as they weave through the crowds of people in the atrium. Piano music is playing, and people are drinking, chatting, laughing, having the best time.
“You’ll be fine. It’s massive, but it’s easy after a few days.”
“A few days!”
“If you get lost, maybe some handsome officer, or the captain of the ship, will take pity on you.”
“Ooh, good idea. I can play the damsel in distress.”
“Just be careful. And be safe.”
“Ava, I’m on holiday. Relax.”
Ava takes Grace’s hand.
“I am perfectly relaxed. It’s just you’re on my ship. I want you to have a good time, be safe, not get your heart broken. I feel responsible.”
“Well, you’re not. I won’t blame you, or your ship, if this doesn’t go to plan. But I know it will. This is magical.”
They find a table and two chairs in the Green Room, even though it’s jam packed because the singer has already begun her set, and then a waiter appears to take their order.
“I love how seamless it all is,” Grace says. “No jostling your way to the bar, standing for twenty minutes while everyone else shoves in front of you, and you get ignored because you’re not pushy enough. Just sit, relax, have your drinks brought to you.”
Ava smiles. The service on the ship is impeccable. Everything on the ship impeccable.
“So, are you going to be disappointed if you have to sleep alone tonight?” Ava asks.
“Not at all. My plan is, spend the day pool side tomorrow, scope out possible targets-”
Ava laughs and snorts, spitting some of her drink out.
Grace glares at her, and Ava wipes her mouth with her sleeve.
“Sorry, but that sounds like you’re trying to find someone to murder, not sleep with.”
Grace rolls her eyes. “Not murderous, just organised. Tactical.”
Ava laughs again, and Grace pokes her.
Her sister can laugh, but she knows she’s right. Handsome, available men don’t just land in your lap.
And with that, a tall, curly-haired man lands in Grace’s lap. He immediately scrambles to his feet and turns to her, cheeks blazing, hands up, placatingly.
“Gosh, I’m sorry, so sorry. I just was trying to get through the crowd, and then someone moved, and I just lost my balance, and I’m so sorry. I-Oh, Ava!”
Grace turns to her sister, who is beaming at the man who was just sharing a seat with her.
“Ned! Hello, oh, Ned, this is my sister, Grace. Grace, this is Ned. He’s the chaplain on the ship. Ned, grab a seat.”
Ned shakes his head.
“Oh, no, I won’t interrupt. I just, um, needed to, um, grab a bottle of water, and this was the closet, but not really the best idea. I mean, it’s busy, and loud, and then I sat on your sister.”
He turns to Grace. “Again, I’m so sorry. I’m not always that clumsy. I mean, sometimes I can be clumsy, I fall a lot, but not on top of people. Or women. Or you. Sorry. I…” he trails off, his expression one of extreme discomfort.
Grace smiles. “It’s fine. Please, don’t give it another thought.”
He nods and smiles and then reaches out his hand as if to shake her hand, then thinks better of it and scratches his head, and then she holds out her hand and as he reaches for her, he’s pushed again, and his hand connects with her left boob, and then his face turns beetroot.
“Gosh, um, I am so sorry, terribly sorry. I didn’t mean to touch that, I mean, you, I mean…”
He’s so flustered and red faced that Grace feels sorry for him, and reaches out to touch his arm, hoping to calm him.
“Ned, it’s fine. Please, just go get your water. It’s fine. I’m fine.”
He takes a deep breath and nods and apologises again before weaving through the crowd, apologising, getting squashed and stuck, and having to duck and bob, and then they lose sight of him.
Grace laughs. “Bless him. He’s…” She cannot think of the right word.
“Adorable,” Ava says. “Ned is adorable.”
Grace nods. “That’s the perfect word.”
“He’s not usually that flustered, but flustered enough. I got chatting to him, and then I put him in touch with dad. He’s new to the church and a little unsure.”
Grace nods. “He seems unsure about life, not just the church.”
Ava laughs. “In fairness, that’s probably the first time he’s sat on a girl’s lap and then touched her boob.”
“In fairness, that’s the first time a man’s ever sat on my lap and then touched my boob.”
“He’ll be scarred for life.”
“Hey! My boobs are nice.”
“Your boobs are fabulous, sis, but for Ned – that’s possibly the first contact he’s ever had with a boob.”
Grace grins. “Well, they’re a good place to start.”
They’re both cackling as they down their cocktails.
“I feel bad,” Grace says after a while.
“Ned. I think I mortified him.”
“I think you’re right.”
“Maybe I should find him tomorrow, tell him everything’s okay – reassure him he didn’t embarrass me or upset me.”
Ava nods and sips her drink. “Good idea. He’s very sweet.” She waggles her eyebrows and Grace shoves her, lightly.
“Don’t waggle at me. I just want to make sure he’s okay.”
“But he is sweet.”
“So? Sweet doesn’t knock a girl off her feet or make her toes curl. Sweet doesn’t make a girl scream and shout with pleasure and desire. Sweet doesn’t-”
“Enough!” Ava says, covering her ears. “You’re making me blush. On second thoughts, Ned is too sweet for you – you’d give him a heart attack with that kind of talk.”
Grace laughs. “Anyway – you can’t assume he’s a virgin just because he bumbles and stumbles and he’s a vicar. Is he a vicar?”
“I’m not sure. He’s the ship’s chaplain – I’m not sure if he’s a vicar or not.”
“What does he do then?”
“I don’t know. You can ask him tomorrow when you tell him you liked him touching your boob.”
“I didn’t say I liked it.”
“You didn’t say you didn’t. Ask if he’s a virgin while you’re at it.”
Grace tuts. “Poor Ned. He’d be blushing even more if he knew we were discussing his sex life.”
“True. I like him. He’s sweet. So check on him tomorrow. That’s a nice thing to do – just don’t stand too close to him.”
They laugh and order another round of cocktails and some nuts.
“How can I be hungry?” Grace says, opening the bag and pouring nuts straight into her mouth.
“All that sexy action with Ned, probably,” Ava says, laughing at her own joke.
Grace grins but shakes her head. “Behave. Ned is sweet. I want sexy – I want a man to take the lead, take control, show me his moves, not fall on top of me and accidentally touch my boob. I’m looking for a man who knows exactly what he’s doing. Not a complete tart, but someone who knows his way around the bedroom. And a woman’s body.”
“I’ll drink to that, sis.”
They clink glasses and down their drinks.
“Ready to dance?” Ava asks when the singer finishes, and they’ve all clapped.
“Nah. I’m exhausted.”
“I’m shocked, Grace. You’re usually a night owl.”
“True, but I’m so tired. I’m ready to shower and sleep, and see what – or more importantly – who, tomorrow brings.”
Grace wakes up to bright light streaming through the glass doors to the balcony. She deliberately didn’t shut the curtains because this was exactly what she wanted to wake up to.
She flicks on the kettle and makes herself a cup of tea and then takes it out onto the balcony. The sea is sparkling, and all she can see in any direction is blue. Blue sky, no clouds, blue sea. It’s breathtaking.
Her phone beeps. Ava. Wanting to know if she wants to meet for breakfast. Grace checks the time, it’s eight thirty and suddenly she’s starving.
Give me half hour.
She messages her sister back and then jumps in the shower.
She already knows it’ll be a scorcher of a day from the brief few minutes she sat on her balcony, so she dresses for the weather in cute white shorts and a halter top. She puts a few things she thinks she might need in her bag – a towel, her bikini, sun cream, a book and perfume.
Her stomach is fluttering with excitement. She has the entire holiday ahead of her and she knows it’ll be amazing.
She has to check her little map to find her bearings when she comes out of her cabin, and then she uses the stairs instead of the lift.
Ava is waiting for her when the lifts open, and they hug.
“How was your first night?”
“Lush,” Grace says. “I slept like a baby.”
“Nice. I already know your bed is comfier than mine. Let’s go. I thought we’d head to the buffet and then maybe eat by the pool?”
Grace nods, happy to take her sister’s advice.
“It might be busy because we’re at sea, so it’s best to grab a lounger.”
Grace nods. She hasn’t forgotten that she wants to see Ned to make sure she’s okay, but she’s already decided that she’ll spend the bulk of her day pool side, soaking up the sun.
“I love this,” Grace says, gesturing at the food. “There’s so much choice.”
“I know and every day you’ll tell yourself you’ll just have cereal or fruit and yoghurt, and every day I bet you’ll pile your plate up with bacon, eggs, beans, mushrooms, toast. The full works.”
Grace uses the tongs to put three rashers of bacon onto her plate.
“You reckon? Mack okay?”
Ava nods. “Fine. Still sleeping. Are you still planning on talking to Ned today?”
“I think so. Do you think I should?”
The two women weave through the other holiday makers, and Ava finds two loungers with a small table between them.
“Here. I think you should. He’s sweet and it’ll make him feel better.”
Grace puts her bag on the floor and then adjusts her lounger so she can sit cross-legged with her tray in front of her.
“This isn’t going to work.”
“No, here, I’ll grab this table.”
Ava pulls a table and two chairs over, and the sisters sit to eat breakfast. It’s quiet enough right now that Grace doesn’t feel bad for reserving a lounger.
“That’s better,” Grace says, spooning mushrooms into her mouth. “Lush. Yeah, I won’t make a big deal. Just say hello and make sure he knows I’m not bothered.”
“Hey, you came on the ship for action, and you got some.”
Grace makes a face at Ava, who snorts with laughter.
Ava shrugs, taking a bite of toast. “Not really. But it was funny. He didn’t know where to look.”
“I know. Bless. Anyway, I’m not worrying about him. I’m going to spend the day lying in the sun-”
“Scoping out victims. I mean, possibilities…”
“Funny. Looking for someone who might be looking for someone. That’s all – you make it sound so sketchy.”
“It sounds sketchy when you say it. Can’t you just take your time, see what happens…”
“Ava, this isn’t one of your fairy tales, and I don’t; have time to take my time. A holiday romance, by definition, is a romance that happens on holiday. And I’m not here for long. I have to make stuff happen.”
“If you’re that desperate, I can get Joe for you.”
Grace tuts. “It’s not desperate, it’s being open to opportunities. If I sit in my room for the entire cruise, I won’t meet anyone. If I’m here, in the bars, in the club, watching what’s going on, then I might be lucky.”
“You will be lucky. I have no doubt – you’re gorgeous and you’ve got a cabin for yourself with a balcony. You just open every conversation with every potential bloke with that bit of information. You’ll be right.”
“I’ll be right? Really. I can tell you’re not used to hooking up.”
“I’m not. And I’m glad. Don’t you want to fall in love? Not have meaningless sex with some bloke, who if he didn’t pick you might’ve picked any other available woman?”
“You make it sound so nice. And yet, I want to fall in love. But not on holiday. Holiday is for holiday romances. Sun, sea, sex. Not love.”
Ava shrugs and Grace tuts again. Ava is too loved up with Mack to listen, and she doesn’t really care what she thinks. It’s too early now. There aren’t many people around, but she just knows there’ll be some gorgeous men around the pool later. And she’ll be ready.
“Okay, so you’ll be quite busy perving on all the men, trying to figure out if they are single and ready to mingle, or shag. When are you going to see Ned?”
“Not sure. After lunch maybe. Why?”
“Just give him my love, that’s all.”
“You know I’m not going to, don’t you? As if.”
Ava laughs. “I think he’d be perfect for you.”
“You are having a laugh, aren’t you? He’s a vicar, or a trainee vicar, or a vicar in waiting, whatever he is. We got enough of that from dad growing up. Besides, what’s the one thing that will have been drummed into him, same as it was to us?”
“No sex before marriage. Not that either of us listened.”
“Well, from the way Ned blushed when he touched my boob, I reckon he might have heard the same thing. And I think he’s taken it to heart. Not what I’m looking for on my sun, sea, sex holiday.”
Her first proper morning on the ship flies by. All Grace does is lie poolside. The sun isn’t as hot as it will be when they get to the Canaries, but it’s hotter than Wales. Anywhere is hotter than Wales.
She keeps her ear pods in, music playing, cocktail by the side of her alongside a jug of melting ice.
It’s perfect. Her entire body is relaxed and warm.
She spends some time scoping out potential men for her holiday romance, but it’s impossible to know who’s free and single and who’s attached. She thinks of the man who hid his wedding ring, hoping to pull. Ugh. She wants some fun, not some guilt.
For lunch she grabs a pizza but pairs it with a massive salad from the buffet. She wants to fit in her clothes by the end of the trip.
She sighs. She’s going to visit Ned, before she talks herself out of it. She won’t be rude, and he knows her sister and her dad. So she’ll be nice.
Having no way of knowing where he’ll be, she rings Ava.
“Hey sis, where will I find Ned?”
“Ooh, good question. Let me ask Mack.”
Grace can hear her sister calling out to Mack and him answering.
“Mack reckons he’s got a room off the library. If he’s not there, reception can page him. Library is off the atrium.”
“Thanks, sis. How’s your day going?”
“Not even slightly busy. Speak to you later.”
“Okay – try not to seduce him.”
Grace snorts with laughter and presses the red button, cutting her sister off. As if. How do you even seduce a vicar? She doesn’t want to think about it.
The atrium is full of people, people standing around chatting, people taking photos, people sitting, people shopping. She can see the library and a door labelled CHAPLAIN. She knocks and waits for an answer, chewing on a nail.
Even the library is busy, and she’s impressed with how many books there are to borrow. Truth be told, she’s impressed about everything on the ship. Ava is lucky to live on here.
The door opens and Ned looks confused when he sees her, then it’s like he remembers her and he smiles and blushes and frowns all at the same time.
Ava was right; he is adorable. It’s the perfect word for him.
“Hey.” Grace smiles at him.
“Oh, hey, I mean, hi, um hello. Grace, right?”
“Yeah. I just wanted to see you. After yesterday. To check, you were okay. With the whole sitting on my lap, touching my boob thing.”
“Oh…” He looks mortified and Grace feels terrible. It’s like all her tact and charm fell out of her head.
“Would you like to get a coffee?” she asks him and smiles hopefully.
He nods. “Um yeah, of course, I mean, sure, I’ll just grab my pager.”
She watches him fumble with the pager and his phone, and his lanyard, and then he turns and smiles at her.
He leads the way across the busy atrium and down some stairs. Along the corridor and around the corner is a quiet coffee nook. There are only three passengers there, even though there are thirty or more seats.
“I always come here,” he says. “It’s quiet.”
The tables are made of thick wood, and every chair is squashy and mismatched. Where all the bars and coffee areas and restaurants she’s seen so far are sophisticated and sleek, this seems deliberately shabby and homey. It looks like the place you could sit for hours drinking endless pots of tea and homemade scones.
She takes a seat, and he sits opposite her.
“They take our order at the table,” he says, and she nods, picking up the little menu.
“This is so cute. I feel like I’m in a little café back home.”
“I think that’s the feel they’ve gone for. Some of the coffee places upstairs are so shiny and I always manage to spill something.”
He looks bashful and Grace grins at him.
The waitress comes over and they both order gingerbread tea and a golden syrup flapjack.
“Yeah, this is definitely not sophisticated,” Grace says, tucking her feet under her and stretching.
“Suits me,” Ned says, and she smiles at him.
“I didn’t mean to make you awkward just now. I Wanted to make sure you were okay, and that you knew I was okay, and then I made it awkward all over again.”
He shakes his head. “I’m a klutz, always tripping or falling or spiling, but not usually onto some pretty girl’s lap.”
“Well, I mean, yes. You are. Very pretty. Beautiful, I’d go so far as to say, if I thought it wasn’t inappropriate or creepy.”
“You’re not creepy. You’re sweet.”
He looks pained, and Grace feels bad. He said she was pretty and beautiful, and she said he was sweet. She’s sure men don’t want to be called sweet.
Their drinks and flapjacks arrive, giving them a reprieve from their awkward conversation.
Grace takes a sip of her tea.
“Lush. I love gingerbread.”
“Me too,” he says, before clearing his throat. “So are you on holiday with your family, or boyfriend, or husband?”
Grace shakes her head quickly. “Just me.”
“On your own? That’s so brave.”
“Aren’t you on your own?”
“Well, yes, but I mean, this isn’t a holiday. This is work, though I don’t get paid, I-”
“You don’t get paid?”
“No, well, I get room and board. I mean, cabin and food. So that’s payment in a way. I eat a lot.”
“Tell me how you ended up on here then. And what do you do?”
Ned blows out his cheeks. “Can’t we talk about you, instead?”
“No. I want to know all about you.” Grace takes a bite of her flapjack, and sits back, looking expectantly at Ned. Ned lifts his drink and takes a sip.
“What do you want to know?”
“Everything. Where you’re from. How old you are. How involved in the church are you, and how did you get involved in it. Are you a vicar, or are you in training to be one? Does my dad drive you crazy with how rubbish he is at email? Why don’t you get paid? How long are you on here for? What’s your cabin like? What do you do all day?”
Ned laughs. “That’s a lot of questions.”
“I’m very nosy. I like to know all about people.”
“Okay, but then you have to tell me all about you.”
Grace nods. “I can do that. Though I’m pretty boring.”
“I doubt it,” Ned says and then blushes.
Grace smiles at him. He’s endearing.
“It’s true. Anyway, go on.”
“Okay, so um, I’m Ned. Twenty seven. Born in Bristol but moved to London when I was thirteen. My mum and dad are both teachers. I have three brothers and one sister. I wasn’t brought up to be religious, and I’m still not sure how I feel about religion.” He pauses and looks panic stricken. “Don’t tell your dad I said that.”
Grace lifts her hands “I won’t. But that’s weird, that you’re not decided yet.”
“I, um, yes, it is, I suppose. I think that’s what this is. Being on here. Deciding.”
“It’s a nice place to work while you decide.”
“It is, and I like what I do-”
“What do you do?”
“I suppose it’s called pastoral support. I’m here if staff need me, or passengers. I run several groups through the week.”
“Like what?” Grace leans closer to him. She loves his voice. He stammers a little bit, but when he talks, his voice is calm and smooth. She could listen to him all day long.
“I run three staff groups. We play cards, board games, chat, and I speak to everyone who comes, make sure they’re okay, that they’ve got no worries, nothing on their mind. If they need help and want to speak separately and privately, we can.” He looks sad. “That hasn’t happened yet.”
“It will, I’m sure.”
Grace isn’t sure why she’s hoping staff members might have problems, just so he can help fix them, but he looks so forlorn suddenly that she feels for him.
“Maybe. I think the cruise company wants to look like they’re looking after their employees. We have fun in the group – I suppose it’s a social thing. It’s hard to meet people and make friends when you’re older.”
Grace nods. He’s right.
“You’re right. And what about for passengers?”
“Okay, so if anyone falls ill while they’re on board, the medical staff can refer them to me. Especially if someone passes away.”
“I hadn’t even thought that people might die on board. That’s so sad.”
“Terrible. It can be really hard for the family left behind. They’re in the middle of an amazing holiday, and someone who came with them dies. Awful. So I’m around for that.”
He sighs and drains the last bit of his coffee.
“I don’t know. It sounds, I suppose, um, I think, a bit rubbish when I say it. What I do I mean. It’s not much.” He shrugs.
Grace reaches over and covers his hand with hers. He looks up in surprise, locking eyes with her. “It’s a lot,” she says. “I bet the staff are grateful to you, and the passengers. I think you’re doing a marvellous job.”
“Yeah. And you don’t have to be religious to want to help people. If you decide being a vicar, or whatever, isn’t for you, you can still do a job where you help people and look after them.”
“Of course. I love listening to you talk – I imagine if I was upset, you’d be able to soothe me.”
He smiles and then clears his throat, looks away.
“You don’t have to decide yet, do you?” she asks him.
“No. I’m here until the end of the year. Then I guess I’ll decide.”
“Well, I’m only here for the week-”
“I’m sorry – you should go. Enjoy your holiday. I, um, I didn’t mean to keep you.”
She touches his arm. “You’re not keeping me. I’m glad I came to see you, to clear the air, and, well, I’m enjoyed talking to you.”
He smiles then, and the tips of his ears turn pink. He really is a bashful soul.
“So, what will you do with the rest of your day?” he asks, and Grace bites her lip, feeling bashful herself. She can hardly tell him she plans to hunt the ship for a likely candidate for a hot and heavy holiday romance. Regardless of his job, and the fact that he’s in contact with her dad, it’s just not an appropriate topic of conversation.
“I’ll probably just chill be the pool, maybe read a bit, get an early night.”
He grins. “I don’t believe that for a minute. I reckon you’re off to get ready for a wild night of partying.”
“Would that be so bad?”
“Not at all. You’re on holiday.”
The implication being that he’s not?
“And you?” she asks him, keeping her tone light. “A wild night of partying, or…”
“Or a quiet evening on my balcony with a bottle of wine and the latest Lee Child.”
“You’re welcome to join me,” he says and then clears his throat, refusing to look at her.
He looks up, slowly, meets her eyes. “Really. I mean, um, it won’t be a wild evening, by any stretch, but, I could order room service, we could eat…” he trails off and once more he can’t look at her.
What is she doing? Is she really contemplating a date with a man exactly like her dad? Okay, so nothing like her dad, not really, except for his line of work. She says his name, so he has to look up, and she smiles at him.
“Ned. I’d love to.”
They exchange numbers, and then Grace heads to the pool. Ned has work to do, and she needs time to think. Why is she wasting her time with this nerdy bloke when she’s meant to be having a sexy, steamy holiday romance?
She calls a waiter over and orders a cocktail, and then pulls her dress off, so she’s just in her bikini. It’s not technically warm enough to warrant such a skimpy outfit, but she’s on holiday and wants to feel like she’s on holiday.
“How was Ned,” Ava says, dropping onto the lounger beside her.
Grace jumps and swats at her sister.
“How did you find me? There are over three thousand passengers on this ship.”
“I know. And I know my sister so well. I knew you’d be poolside, sipping on a cocktail and eyeing up the talent.”
“You know me so well. But I only just got here, detective Ava.”
“You haven’t pulled already, have you?”
Grace sighs, thinking of Ned’s floppy curls, his sweet stammer, and the way he blushes so easily.
“No. But I saw Ned.”
“Oh, was he okay after the accidental boob touch?”
“He was fine. He’s really sweet.”
“He is. He’s a nice guy.”
“I’m actually seeing him later…” Grace tries to sound nonchalant, but when she sneaks a look at her sister, she knows she failed. Ava is wide eyed and grinning like an idiot.
“You’re seeing him again? For more boob grabbing and lap dancing?”
This time, Grace hits her sister properly.
“Will you behave? He’s nice. We had coffee and talked, and I don’t know…” she trails off. “I don’t know why I said yes.”
“He said he was spending the evening on his balcony reading. I said it sounds perfect. He said you’re welcome to join me, and I said okay.”
“Grace. You’re giving up prime stalking time to sit and read with a vicar. That sounds rubbish.”
“I know.” Grace groans. “Shall I blow him off?”
“You might,” Ava smirks, and Grace knows she’s being rude.
Grace sighs. “Blow him off, not suck him off, dirty girl. When did you get so filthy minded?”
“Oh, since I met Robyn. I don’t think you should stand him up, that would be mean. Then you’ll have to see him again to apologise. Just go, but arrange to meet early – like seven, or something, then if it’s crap, you can escape and still have plenty of time to hunt for prey.”
“I’m not stalking or hunting. You’re so loved up with Mack, you can’t remember what it’s like to be lonely.”
Ava makes a fake crying face and then laughs. “I know what it’s like to be lonely. But you’re hardly lonely. You’ve got a hot date with a cute bloke tonight.”
“He is cute. Completely wrong for me, of course.”
“But cute. You’re right. I’ll text him to meet early, then I can still go out tonight.”
“If you need to. You might fall madly in love with Ned.”
“I doubt it. Are you busy now? Can you stay?”
“I can’t stay, but I’ll see you tomorrow. You can fill me in on your date, dates, one night stand, whatever.”
Grace takes a sip of her drink as she watches her sister weave through the crowd of passengers and then reaches for her phone. Ava’s idea was a good one – and Ned answers almost immediately that he’s happy for her to come to his cabin at seven.
She pops her phone back in her bag and promptly gets hit on the head by an inflatable pineapple.
She holds it out to the man who apologised, and he grins. He’s handsome – blonde hair and tanned skin, tattoos on his arms.
“I’ve never been attacked by a pineapple before,” Grace says, smiling as he takes it off her. He throws it back to a young lad in the pool and turns to her.
“My brother, sorry. He’s a terrible thrower.”
He sits on the lounger next to her.
“I’m James,” he says and offers her his hand to shake.
Grace grins and takes his hand.
“Same name as the ex who broke my heart,” she says, trying to look sad.
“Well, he’s a pillock if he let you go.”
“He was a pillock,” Grace says, fluttering her eyelashes, trying to be a little bit flirty without being too obvious.
“I’m not a pillock. I’m awesome. Look at me – I’m on big brother duty while the rest of my family is getting pissed in the bar.”
“That’s pretty awesome.”
He swings his legs up so he’s lying next to her. Grace follows suit.
“What’s your name?”
“So, Grace, are you here alone, or…”
“I am. My sister works on the ship, so I’m visiting her – but she’s busy, so I’ve got plenty of free time.”
“Me too. I mean, when I’m not looking after Jaden.”
Grace nods at him, he’s good looking, and she knows he fancies her. He’s making it obvious enough. There’s chemistry between them.
“So…” She doesn’t finish the sentence.
“So… are you free, later? Maybe we could grab a drink? Around seven?”
She nods, but then remembers Ned.
“Could we do a little later? Maybe nine?”
“Yeah, sure. Here, I’ll give you my number.”
She hands him her phone, and he puts his number in. Then she sends him a text, and then his brother yells at him, and James laughs.
“Flying pineapple again, I think. I’ll see you later?”
“Absolutely. I’m looking forward to it.”
She watches him grab the pineapple, apologise to the lady it landed near, and join his brother in the pool.
He’s cute, and she’s single, so why does she feel like she’s betraying Ned?
It’s almost time for her date with Ned. Is it a date? She’s not sure if she feels sorry for him, because he’s so sweet and nerdy, or whether she actually wants to spend time with him because there’s a part of her that likes him.
And yet James – who she met by the pool and can’t stop thinking about – is much more her cup of tea. He’s sexy and tattooed and flirty. She can’t imagine him being awkward, or fumbling for the right word to say.
She spritzes on some perfume. She’s dressed in a pretty, summery dress which she hopes is cute enough to wear to see Ned without being overtly sexy, but sexy enough to wear when she meets James, without being too cutesy.
Her stomach is filled with butterflies as she heads to Ned’s cabin. She feels safe going to his cabin; she’s not sure if she’d have been as happy to meet James in his cabin. Maybe because she knows Ned will be a gentleman. She’s not so sure about James.
But isn’t that exactly what she wants – wild, hot, meaningless sex with a gorgeous stranger. A break from her real life, something that’s separate and sexy.
She knocks on the door and smiles. Spending time with Ned will be fun. Spending time with James will be exciting.
“Hello,” Ned says when he answers the door. He looks so cute in shorts, t-shirt and a cardigan – a mix of old man and young man. He’s eccentric. She thinks that’s the right word. “You look lovely,” he says, and she leans in to hug him.
“Thanks, Ned. So what are we reading?”
He looks confused for a moment and then remembers that he told her he’d be reading tonight on his balcony.
“I thought we might play, um, cards, if you like,” he says, picking up a pack of cards and showing them to her, like she might need proof. “Or, I have some board games?”
She takes the cards from him. “Cards is good. I can play a mean game of snap?”
He grins. “Okay. Snap works. Okay.”
He opens the door onto his balcony and beckons for her to follow him.
“What would you like to drink? I have a few things here.”
“Anything – as long as there’s alcohol in it, I’m good.”
“Jack and coke?” he asks and she nods.
He brings out the two glasses and sits opposite her. The evening sun is strong, and the breeze is lovely.
“This is nice,” he says, and she nods, lifting her glass to toast with his. “To new friends,” he says.
“And boobs,” she adds.
“Yeah – if you hadn’t sat on my lap and touched my boob, I wouldn’t have come to check on you, and we wouldn’t be friends.”
“Of course. Aren’t we? I don’t play snap with any old body.”
“We’re friends,” he says, and he’s beaming as he deals the cards.
They play a few loud and silly games of snap and Grace can’t remember the last time she felt this relaxed or laughed as much as they do. He’s good company and not as stuffy as she thought he’d be.
“Shall we order food?” he asks, and she checks her watch quickly. “Or not, sorry, if I’m keeping you, and you have to be somewhere. I mean, I didn’t think, I should have checked, um…” he trails off, the tips of his ears pink. He shuffles the cards and doesn’t look up at her.
It’s not even eight – she has time.
“I’d love to eat. Then I’ll hammer you in snap again.”
“We could play a different game.”
“Like strip poker?”
She grins when he blushes again. Why is she teasing him?
“Well, um, no, I wasn’t really… I’m not sure I even know the rules of, um, strip poker, um.”
“The rules are, there are no rules. And I’m teasing. Sorry.”
“It’s fine, I just…” He takes a deep breath, like he’s working himself up to saying something. “You’re very beautiful, Grace. And I don’t have any girlfriends. I mean friends who are, um, girls. And I-”
Grace reaches over and pats his hand. She must stop being mean to him. She can see how tongue tied and awkward he is – maybe because he fancies her, maybe because he’s not used to female company, maybe because that’s just how he is, or maybe some combination of all three. But she mustn’t be mean. It’s not like her.
“Sorry, Ned. I’m a teaser, but I’ll stop. And it’s okay if you don’t have lots of female friends – I suppose it’s hard to make friends on here – the passengers are only on for a short time and then they’re gone again.”
“Yes, it’s, um, difficult to say the least.”
“Well, I’m not here for long, but while I’m here – we can be besties.”
“Thanks Grace. Let’s, um, order food, shall we?”
“Yes. What are you thinking?”
“Maybe tapas? Or pizza? Or what do you think?”
“I think tapas sounds good.”
They pore over the menu for room service and then Ned calls it through. Grace notices how much clear he speaks on the phone – with less stuttering and less awkward pausing.
The food arrives quickly, and they set it all out on the balcony.
“Oh, I can see why you wanted to work on here,” Grace says, taking a bite of her chicken. “What a view. Ava doesn’t have a balcony.”
“No, I don’t think the staff or crew do. I’m, um, lucky.”
“You are. It’s gorgeous. And so is this food.”
“Let me top up your drink,” he says, and she nods, following him inside the cabin. She picks up a book, with a bookmark in, at about the halfway mark and grins.
“I love this book.”
“Yeah?” He grins. “Me too. I re read it all the time.”
“Really? I re read it all the time.”
She takes her drink and smiles at him. He’s sweet. And she’s happy to spend time with him. But she’s also excited to meet James. To see what the rest of the night might bring.
She takes the book and sits down on the small sofa with it. Ned sits on a chair.
“I could, um, never just pick, um one. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Grisham, Matt Haig… I could go on. You?”
Grace cocks her head, considering. “If I could only read one book ever again, it would be this one, but I love all the authors you just named.”
“Okay, um if you could only eat one food for the rest of your life?”
Grace nods. “Without a doubt. There are so many different toppings you’d never get bored, and have you tried a chocolate pizza? Not the one made of chocolate but the pizza base with the chocolate spread.”
He shakes his head.
“You have to try it” Grace says, laughing. “It sounds gross, but it’s amazing.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“What about you? One food?”
Grace tuts. “That’s so boring.”
“With peppercorn sauce.”
“Oh that’s just wild.”
He puts his hands up. “I’m not wild. I probably am boring.” He looks sombre and Grace feels sorry for him.
“Wild is overrated. Wild ends up in prison or being murdered on a gap year.”
He laughs. “Thanks. I don’t mind being boring. I like to, um, say that I’m dependable and staid. That’s goo, um, isn’t it?”
“Definitely. Everybody needs dependable.”
She pictures James in his trunks, tanned body, wet from the pool. He’s definitely not the dependable sort.
“Okay. Favourite band.,” She says. “Mine is Fleetwood Mac.”
“The Beatles,” he says, nodding. “Can’t fault them, can’t beat them.”
She nods. She listened to a lot of the Beatles growing up because her parents loved them, and she’d put on shows with Ava where they’d sing d and dance. Yellow Submarine was her favourite – but she always pronounced it sum barine.
“Okay, favourite film?”
He shakes his head. “Impossible.”
“Dirty Dancing,” she says, grinning. “Or Grease. Or Pretty Woman.”
“I haven’t seen any of them.”
“why not? They are classics?”
“I like James Bond.”
Grace rolls her eyes.
“Right tomorrow, in the day, when you’ve got some free time, we are watching a film – your choice.”
“What are they about?”
“First love, high school love or prostitute love.”
He makes a face and she bursts out laughing. “They’re all a bit complex than that, but basically in a nutshell, sex and love. Pretty woman is the most graphic, Grease is the most family friendly.”
“Grease it is,” he says and he’s blushing profusely. Grace reaches over and ruffles his hair. She can’t help it; he’s adorable, and she’s a little bit relieved. She’s not sure if she’s ready to watch a sex scene with him. He might faint. Or explode.
“Okay, safer territory. What do you like to do in your spare time?”
“Read,” he says, taking a breath as though he’s glad the sex talk is over – however brief and tame it was. “Read. Watch old films – I like Hitchcock. Walk – I like to hike, and camp out. I like bird watching, um, though, it’s cooler than it sounds.”
A smile plays around her lips; he’s such a nerd.
“I play computer games and role play stuff, like D and D.”
“D and D?”
“Dungeons and Dragons.”
“God is that still a thing?”
“Yeah. It’, um, a huge thing. If I have to watch your films, you’ll have to play D and D with me.”
“I can do that,” she says, nodding. He grins.
“And what do you do, Grace, when you’re, um, at home?”
“I love going to the gym and shopping. I love watching reality TV. Probably everything you hate, I like, and everything you like, I hate.”
“Total opposites,” he says, and the phrase opposites attract jumps into her head, but she bites her lip before she says it out loud.
He’s so cute and sweet, but he’s not her type, and he’s not going to ravish her anytime soon – he might not have ravished anyone in his life quite yet, so she’s happy to spend time with him; he’s great company. But she really wants some steam and sex on this holiday. And she won’t get it here.
“I need to get going,” she says, faking a yawn that turns into a real one.
“Of course, um, thank you, I, um, really enjoyed this. I, um, well, you’re great company.”
“And I play a mean game of snap?”
He laughs. “And you play a mean game of snap.”
She stands up and passes him his book, and then they hug.
“Yes. What time are you free?”
“Okay, let’s do one. I’ll have lunch with Ava and then meet you in the atrium?”
“Yes, excellent. That sounds, um, perfect.”
She hugs him again and kisses his cheek. He blushes and touches his face where her lips met his skin, but she heads for the door. She must be careful not to lead him on or make him think there’s anything between them.
Most women know when a bloke fancies them, and she’s sure Ned fancies her. He keeps stealing glances at her, and blushing when she meets his eyes. It’s flattering, but pointless. Pointless is the wrong word. Maybe wrong place, wrong time. She doesn’t need a friend on this holiday; she just wants to get laid. By someone hot and sexy who knows their way around a woman’s body.
She checks her watch; she’s a little late, but she’s sure she can make it up to James. In fact, if he’s willing, she can think of a really good way to make it up to him.
A really, really good way!