Teacher Katie Parker is on a Caribbean cruise with her best girlfriends from high school. Fresh off a humiliating break-up, Katie is determined to forget about her disastrous love life by having an anonymous shipboard fling with a handsome stranger.
By chance, she meets Mac Coleman, traveling with his brothers to Mexico for a wedding. He’s more than happy to go along with Katie’s plan. But he soon realizes that what they’ve found is worth more than just one night. Can he convince Katie to give them a chance?
Hours later, Michelle led the foursome as they made their way toward the main dining room. “I’m starved,” commented Jayma. “Who decided that we wouldn’t eat until the 9:00 seating?”
Michelle rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so Nashville. Civilized society doesn’t eat until late.”
“You live in Dallas, not Paris,” Katie quipped.
“Anyway, most of the families with little kids eat earlier,” Chelsea added. “We should have a nice serene dining experience.”
“I just want some grub,” Jayma giggled.
Immediately before they reached their destination, they passed a small alcove where photos taken during the day were displayed for purchase. “Hey, you guys go on ahead to our table. I want to look at the pictures,” Katie said.
In the ten years since they’d graduated from high school and gone their separate ways into college and life, Katie had been the self-appointed documentarian of their annual outings, taking photos and gathering mementos, sending them off to be made into a photo scrapbook.
The one of us on the gangplank would be just right for the cover of this year’s album. She scanned the hundreds of pictures already hanging on the racks, looking for the one of the four of them.
Finally, she saw it and reached for it, smiling. As she did, her hand collided with a large masculine one reaching across in front of her. Startled, she looked up. “Oh, I’m so sorry!”
Soulful brown eyes gazed down at her. “No, it’s my fault. I was rudely reaching in front of you. I was paying attention to the photos and not to what’s going on around me.”
Katie laughed lightly. “That’s exactly what I was doing. Again, I’m sorry.” She felt her face redden as she reached again, snapped up the photo, and hurriedly turned away. Quickly, she charged the picture to her cabin and left the alcove, glancing back over her shoulder as she did. The man was still watching her.
I’m going to get laid, she says, Katie thought miserably. Not like that I’m not. What the hell just happened? That was a perfect opportunity. But she knew why she’d blown the chance meeting. Casual sex was not who Katie Parker was, it wasn’t how she operated. Flustered, she entered the dining room and found the others already seated at their table.
Jayma smiled as she sat down. “Did you find it?”
“I did. It came out great.”
“What’s wrong with you? You seem all out of breath,” Michelle observed.
“I’m just starved,” Katie replied in mock seriousness. “We’re eating in the middle of the night.”
Conversation around the table was about their respective years since the last time they’d been together. Of course, they kept up on everyone’s latest via email, text messages, and social media so there was little news. It wasn’t until halfway through dessert that Katie looked across to see the man she’d run into in the photo alcove. He was seated about three tables away facing her direction. And he was looking right at her.
She felt her eyes widen before she moved her gaze back to her plate. A flush crept up her neck and across her cheeks as she tried to casually look across the room again, only to find him still watching her. As their eyes met, he smiled.
Holy heaven. If you looked up ‘tall, dark, and handsome’ in the dictionary, his picture would be there. Topping the soulful brown eyes were expressive dark eyebrows. Framing a gorgeous face was tousled dark brown hair. There was a shadow of stubble over a strong, square jaw and lips that looked imminently kissable. Katie reached for her wine and slugged back the remainder.
“More wine, madam?”
“So Katie, what’s new with you? How’s your love life?” Chelsea gazed at her expectantly.
Katie sipped her wine, stalling for time. “Oh, well, you know…”
“No, we don’t know, that’s why we ask,” said Michelle.
Katie sighed. “I dated a guy for a while and he turned out to be a shit. I met him on a dating website and—“
“A dating site, really?” Chelsea grinned. “I don’t think I’d ever be brave enough to try one of those.”
“Or desperate enough,” Michelle muttered. She looked up at Katie, wide-eyed. “Not that you’re desperate, that’s not what I meant, I just meant…”
Refusing to bail her out, Katie sipped her wine and narrowed her eyes, waiting to see how Michelle would untangle the mess she’d created.
Jayma came to her rescue. “Oh, you know, as a teacher, Katie doesn’t have the opportunity to meet guys at work. Honestly, I think meeting someone online is way better than picking up some guy in a bar.”
“You know what I think?” Michelle flagged down the waiter for a refill of her wine. “I think that teachers should stay single. You know, like Miss Beadle from Little House on the Prairie.” She grinned before sipping her wine. “Completely dedicated to the kids.”
Katie was sure she felt actual steam coming out of her ears. “Really?” She nodded sharply. “That’s what you think?” She could hear her voice growing louder. “You think that teachers should just forego a personal life and live like nuns, nobly pouring out their lives for kids who don’t care, and parents and administrators who blame them for everything? And for low salaries and shit benefits to boot? Or maybe they should just work for free.”
Again, Jayma was the peacemaker. “No, I’m sure that’s not what Michelle meant.”
Katie stood abruptly. “I need some air.” She turned and left the table heading for the same doors they’d entered.
Meeting a woman had been the last thing on Mac’s mind. He was moving across the state just to get away from the last one he’d dated. But the redhead in the photo shop intrigued him. She’d been as startled as he’d been. Truthfully neither of them had been watching what they’d been doing, as occupied with looking at the photos as they’d both been. But when she’d looked up at him with those grey-green eyes, he’d felt a spark.
So when he’d realized that she was sitting a few tables away he couldn’t resist watching her. She was unbelievably pretty, almost like a fairy or something with her red hair and her fair skin. He wondered briefly how she’d fare for a week in the intense Caribbean sun. She was chatting animatedly with the women at her table. And don’t think he hadn’t noticed. She was traveling with a group of women, not a man.
“So what’s the deal with this restraining order?”
Mac pulled his eyes from the gorgeous redhead and focused on his brother. “It’s a long story.” He shook his head.
“Well, we have a couple of days before we hit Mexico. Will that be enough time?” Danny had always been the sarcastic one.
Mac sighed, shrugging. “I went out a couple of times with a girl from my apartment complex.”
“What was her name?” Tommy wondered.
Mac frowned. “Erin. What difference does it make?”
“I just wondered, is all.”
“Anyway, she seemed like a pretty nice girl but after a few dates, I knew she wasn’t the one for me. I just didn’t feel that…I don’t know, spark.” Instantly the redhead popped up in his mind, and he couldn’t resist a glance in her direction before he continued.
He looked from one brother to the other. “So I very gently suggested that although we’d had a good time going out, I felt that we were not completely compatible and it would be better if we didn’t go out again.”
“And she didn’t take it well,” Danny summed up.
Images of his tires slashed to ribbons and a deep, jagged groove keyed down the side of his black Jeep popped into his head. “No. No, she did not.”
“I can’t believe you had to take out a restraining order.” Tommy’s eyes were wide.
“Dude, I’m moving to a new city. I have a new job and everything. Do you really think a piece of paper will keep away a psycho?”
Danny shook his head. “I assume you fucked her.”
Mac rolled his eyes. “Well, yeah, we slept together. Who knew she was batshit?”
“Ya see, this is why you need to settle down with a nice girl, get married, and have a family.” Danny had married his college sweetheart and was now raising three little girls. He was forever trying to persuade his brothers to join him.
“Well, that’s what Tommy-boy is doing.” Mac playfully punched his baby brother’s arm. “I’m happy for you, bro, really I am. Gretchen is a great girl.”
“Thanks man, I appreciate it.” Tommy grinned ear to ear. “I love her, I truly do.”
As dessert was served, Mac’s attention was drawn back to the table across the room. The redhead suddenly looked right at him and he felt his automatic smile, which widened as she snapped her eyes away. He continued to watch as she raised her gaze casually as if to see if he was still looking. This time he smiled deliberately.
At that moment, her head turned and she spoke to someone at her table. Her face changed and she seemed to be speaking passionately, an angry flash in her eyes. He watched as she removed the linen napkin from her lap and dropped it on the table, pushed back from the table, and stalked out of the dining room.
Impulsively, he knew he needed to follow. “Gents, I can’t eat another bite,” Mac said as he pushed away from the table. “I’m going to walk off a little of this dinner. I’ll meet you two later.”
By the time Mac made it to the door of the dining room, the redhead had disappeared. He glanced to his left and then to his right, trying to guess her more likely route. The woman at the photo checkout cleared her throat discreetly and he looked in her direction. She nodded meaningfully to her right and smiled.
He grinned at her wholeheartedly. “Thanks!” he proffered as he hurried off in the direction the clerk had indicated. Mac made his way through the door that opened onto the deck and he saw her leaning against the railing, looking out over the dark water. Her skirt ruffled lightly in the breeze and the full moon overhead gave her hair a fire-like glow.
Ignoring the slight case of nerves he felt, he approached the railing, stopping by her left elbow. “Hey, you,” he said casually.
She startled slightly, whipping her head to her left, eyes wide.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. I just saw you standing here and I thought I’d say hello.” He held his hands in front of himself in surrender, pasting on what he hoped was a charming smile.
The redhead continued to stare at him wordlessly. “I don’t mean to bother you. I can go if you’d like.”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t want you to go. I was just surprised, that’s all.”
Mac smiled gratefully. “Well, it’s a beautiful night. And dinner was fantastic. I don’t know about you, but I had the lobster and it was amazing.”
She smiled back. “I had the mahi and it was delicious.”
They stood awkwardly for a moment. “Listen, would you like to get a drink or something?” Mac offered.
She looked out at the water, then back at him, nodding. “I’d like that a lot.”
His grin was genuine. “Good. Great. Let’s go find a drink.”