Uncharted Love (Places to See Book 4), page 1
Excerpt from Uncharted Love
When they got to her door, he held his hand out for her key card. She handed it to him and he opened her door to let her in. He checked the hall in both directions. Empty. Then he stepped inside her room and closed her door. She turned, and apparently didn’t realize he’d entered the room. Her eyes widened and a smile started at the corners of her lips. He held the key card out for her to take. As she did, he wrapped his hand around her wrist and he pulled her to him. He slid both arms around her waist and for a single heartbeat, he stared into her decadent chocolate eyes. Then, ever so slowly, he leaned in and claimed her mouth.
Jax kissed Ellie gently and savored the taste of her lips. He felt her tongue slide lightly over his lips, all the invitation he needed. His tongue danced along hers, all the while flashes of white light played beneath his closed eyelids. He didn’t want this perfect moment to ever end, but he finally pulled away. Ellie’s lips were reddened and her cheeks were flushed with color. For once she didn’t say a word. Jax released her and stepped back. As he did, she reached up and touched her slightly parted lips with her fingers. Her gesture made him want to kiss her again.
“I will see you in the morning, Ellie. Sweet dreams.”
A Books to Go Now Publication
Copyright © Joanne Jaytanie 2014
Books to Go Now
Also published on Smashwords
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First eBook Edition –August 2014
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To my sister, Dorothy and my dad, Joseph.
The memories of our cruise in celebration of dad’s 70th birthday will always linger in my heart.
“I can’t go. I just can’t go. Why did I ever agree to this trip? Karen simply isn’t ready to take on the responsibility of managing my publishing house…maybe, next year.” Ellie played with the lid to her coffee, not making eye contact with Sophie.
“You know Ellie, not everyone sets their sights to steal from you. The majority of people are not like Danny. Your business will still be there when you get back. You need to take a little time for yourself,” Sophie said.
The two women sat behind the counter of Sophie’s bookstore. Ellie had taken her daily break from work, picked up coffee, and walked over to her friend’s shop.
“I’m not so sure,” Ellie said. “Owning your own publishing house is more than a full-time job. Who will make sure all the new releases get out on time and the bills get paid, if I’m not there?”
“Isn’t that why you hired Karen? You can’t back out now. The five of us made the promise to Janelle. Her last request to us was to take a vacation, see the world, have a little fun,” Sophie said. “Look at what happened to me, Laila, and Amy. We all found our true loves on our adventure.”
“Yeah, so the odds of me finding my true love are about nil. Besides, like I said before…I have no time for a vacation or a boyfriend. But while we are on the subject of boyfriends, how is Jonas settling in?”
“He’s doing wonderfully,” Sophie said, with a glimmer in her eye. “His photography shop is taking off and everyone and their brother want to take a class from him. All this session’s classes have filled up. In fact he is thinking of adding more classes next session.”
Sophie studied Ellie. “I know what you are trying to do and you’re not getting away with it, so don’t change the subject. The six of us gravitated to one another eight years ago, because of the things we had in common. We were all about the same age, single, no kids, and driven to succeed in our careers. But Janelle was the only one of us willing to experience new adventures. Sadly she only pushed herself out of her comfort zone after she found out about her brain aneurism. She wanted more for us.”
Janelle had phoned Ellie dozens of times over the past year. She begged Ellie to take a vacation and join her on one of her many trips. Their last conversation burned vivid in Ellie’s mind. Once again she had put Janelle off, and hid behind the responsibilities of her business.
If only I could turn back time. I would have…really—who am I kidding? I wouldn’t have changed: I would have broken yet another commitment to Janelle.
“Hello…earth to Ellie,” Sophie said. “I assumed you came here to chat, not stare out into space. You came back home nine years ago to start your own publishing house. You left your posh executive editor position and the big city behind and I’m so glad you returned. Unfortunately, the only destinations you’ve experienced for the last nine years are in the pages of your authors’ books.”
“My destination is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean,” Ellie said. Per Janelle’s instructions they had all been blindfolded, given a tack, and pointed in the direction of the map on the wall. Wherever the tack landed, that was where they were to travel. “I still say, I should have gotten another turn.”
“You agreed to Janelle’s terms which one tack per person. Besides, we already worked this out. You’re taking a cruise, Ellie Matthews, and I don’t want to hear another excuse.”
“You’re right,” Ellie said, as she walked over to throw her cup in the trash. “No more shoulda, coulda, wouldas. What’s done, is done. There’s no going back. I have to live with the fact that I promised Janelle I’d join her on an adventure one day. We should be thankful that for me, you, Amy, Meg, and Laila there is a tomorrow. We still have a chance to get it right. This time I won’t break my promise. A cruise it is, Janelle.”
Four months later…
Ellie stood at the stern of a cruise ship and watched as Miami shrunk in the distance. She was on the Atlantic Ocean, on her way to her first port of call, St. Martin. She remained glued to her spot until she was completely surrounded by the crystal blue water which sparkled like diamonds. It had taken her four months of planning to get to this point, but she swore that day in Sophie’s bookshop, that this time, she would keep her promise to Janelle. She was both unsettled and comforted to be back on the water. The massive size of the ship made it virtually impossible to feel its ever-so-slight bobbing movement as it glided across the glassy surface of the water. This was the first time in twenty-two years she had ventured out into the ocean. She closed her eyes, inhaled the warm salty breeze and tried to calm her doubts.
Ellie worried that Karen wasn’t ready to manage her publishing house. Too late to fret about it now, I’m gone, she thought. She prayed she would have a company to return to in two weeks. She badgered Karen to phone her anytime she had questions, even though the ship would likely be out of range much of the trip. She promised to return all calls the moment she could.
She frowned, as the dreadful memory of twenty-two years ago crept into her thoughts. The calm waters disappeared, replaced by her dad, as he stood on the first step which led below deck on their sailboat. Her family had ventured out for a short day sail. The weather abruptly changed, as did the course of Ellie’s life. The wind tore at her dad’s clothes and rain pelted everything. He had promised that he’d be right back. He disappeared below deck and it was the last time she ever saw him.
The rest of what happened that day was a blur in Ellie’s memory. Thanks to her dad, who called the Coast Guard, Ellie and her mom were rescued. Her dad died instantly from a blow to the head and his body was found below deck. To this day, she blamed herself for the loss of her dad, and blamed him for breaking his promise that he would always be her superman.
“Excuse me, ma’am.” A voice came from behind her.
She turned to see a young man in the Zephyr Cruise uniform.
“Dinner started in the dining room a while ago. It would be a shame if you missed the welcome aboard dinner,” he said.
She headed for her stateroom, to pull herself together and change into something appropriate for the evening.
Ellie started for the elevator and smiled when she saw the same young man who spoke to her earlier on deck. The elevator doors opened and the man stepped back to allow her to enter.
“Thank you,” Ellie said. “Are you still trolling for stray passengers missing dinner?”
“Ahh, yes ma’am, you’re looking wonderful. You must be on your way there now.”
As the elevator opened, Ellie reached out to make sure the door remained open.
“Wow,” the young man said. “That’s an awesome ring. I can’t say that I’ve seen anything like it.”
“Thank you. It has been in my family for generations.”
The dining hall was massive and elaborate. Huge gold pillars edged the main floor and rose to meet a gold sunburst that encompassed the ceiling. She looked up to see three floors of enormous balconies wrapped entirely around the hall.
“May I see your place card?” the maître d’ asked as he smiled. “Follow me.” He led her to the second floor and pulled a chair out for her.
“Well, here she is,” said a cheery older woman. Her silver hair was pulled tightly up into an intricate wrap, all held together with an eye-catching gold and diamond hair comb. “We had begun to worry that you stood us up. Oh my…where are my manners? My name is Mildred Livingston. I’m in the stateroom next to yours.”
“Pleased to meet you Mrs. Livingston, I’m Ellie Matthews. I’m sorry to be late. I hope I didn’t hold you up.”
“Nonsense. Don’t give it another thought. I would just hate for us to miss the opportunity to meet. The ‘Welcome Aboard’ dinner is the one time we will all sit together. The cruise line seats neighbors together for this one night to give us the opportunity to do this…and please, call me Mildred.”
Mildred introduced her to the other six people seated around the table.
“I take it this isn’t your first cruise?” Ellie asked.
“Oh my no, I’m a seasoned cruiser, although this is my first cruise alone. My poor Albert was unable to accompany me. He hasn’t been feeling his best and insisted I go without him.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Ellie said.
“I think he wanted a reason to spend time with the grandkids alone.” Mildred snickered.
Ellie took her napkin from her plate and placed it across her lap.
“Heavens. That is a simply spectacular ring,” Mildred said.
“It certainly is,” said the woman on Ellie’s other side.
“May I?” Mildred asked.
Ellie held out her hand and Mildred studied the oval sapphire surrounded in a unique diamond setting.
“Nineteen twenties I would say. Euro-cut diamonds all set in platinum and quite stunning. I don’t believe I have ever seen one exactly like this.”
“You certainly know your jewelry,” Ellie said.
“I should hope so, my dear girl. Albert and I owned and managed our own jewelry store for over forty years. We retired from the business and passed the store onto our son a few years back. Wherever did you find such a ring?”
“It’s a family heirloom. My mom gave it to me this year. The story is that our great, great-granddad worked summers at his father’s jewelry shop. His hobby was jewelry designing and his dad used many of his designs. One day a new shipment of gems came in and this sapphire was among them. Granddad fell in love with the stone the instant he laid eyes on it. His dad made him a deal. He would spend every summer home from college at the shop. His dad wanted him to work the entire season designing an exclusive line of jewelry. In exchange, he’d be paid the same salary he currently made, and when he graduated from college the sapphire would be his.”
“What happened?” asked one of the girls at the table.
“During granddad’s senior year he was sitting in the library sketching up designs for the sapphire that would belong to him within a few months. A girl walked up and commented on his drawing. She said it was the most beautiful ring she’d ever seen. A few months later, they married.”
“Then it is priceless to you. Make sure you lock it in your room safe when it’s not on your hand. One can never be too careful,” Mildred warned her.
Ellie woke early the next morning, made a cup of tea, and walked out onto her veranda to watch the sun rise. The night before she’d walked back to her room with the two girls across the hall and peeked into their room. It was the size of a walk-in closet, barely wide enough for the twin beds and a nightstand, and the bathroom was only a few feet larger than the head she remembered on their sailboat. At least it had a separate shower. But the girls were young and single, and they laughed as they watched her eyes widen at the size of their tiny room, they told her they would only be there to shower and sleep. After she saw their room, she was even happier with her decision to spend the extra money to have an exterior stateroom with a veranda, kitchenette, and living area.
Ellie put on her swimsuit and chose from the multitude of covers she brought along. She slipped on her sandals, grabbed her tote, and headed out for breakfast. Instead of going to the main dining room she found her way to the promenade. The promenade was enormous, longer than a football field, and its cobblestone walkway appeared wider than a traffic lane. It was a mixture of old-world charm with its small bistros and French bakeries, and new-world convenience. She felt awed by its sheer size and elegance.
She stopped at one of the bakeries and picked up a freshly baked croissant and steaming cup of French roast coffee. She chose a small, round, wrought iron table and lingered to soak in the ambience as she enjoyed her breakfast. Today and tomorrow were both full days at sea. She thought she’d be bored on these days, however now she realized there was much to see and an extensive list of on-board activities. The ship would reach its first port of call in two days, and she might not even leave the ship when it docked. Soon they would leave the Atlantic Ocean as they headed for the Caribbean Sea and the port of St. Martin.
With her map of the layout in hand, Ellie started out to explore the ship. She visited the casino, jazz club, movie theater, ice skating rink, bars, lounges, unending shops, and even the library, all the while she reminded herself she was on a ship at sea. What she saw with her eyes and knew in her mind did not compute. Mid-afternoon, she wandered up to the top deck, found an empty lounge chair, and sat by the pool. She’d intended to read one of the many manuscripts she’d brought from work, but found herself planning which activities, classes, and shows she wanted to attend.
Ellie ran her key-card through the electronic lock and opened the door to her stateroom. She showered, styled her hair, put on her makeup, and slipped into a black
She opened the closet door and gasped; the safe door stood wide open. Her cash was gone, and all her jewelry, which included the pearl necklace—and sapphire ring. She stood there, frozen, as her mind reeled from the blow. Mom had only entrusted the ring to her a year ago, and now her family heirloom was gone.
She picked up the phone and desperately tried to calm herself as she dialed the security office. Minutes later she heard a knock on her door and then a man and woman in Zephyr uniforms filed in. The woman took notes as Ellie told her story. It seemed liked hours as she continued to answer the barrage of questions thrown at her. All the while the man took pictures of the room and safe, and then filled out forms.
* * * *
Jax stood in the doorway of the stateroom and soaked in the scene. As Staff Captain, he was responsible for all ship security, but he had a list of one-hundred items left to be done, tonight. For crying out loud. Is there a social media page on how to make easy money with a claim to the cruise line? he thought. Either that, or there was a real rash of robberies. The thought of the recent robbery on his last cruise crossed his mind.
“I’ve told you ten times, I put all my valuables in the safe,” the woman in the backless black dress said. Her dark brown hair hovered a few inches above her shoulders and shimmered under the room’s light.
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