Little White Lies
Release date: April 30, 2019
Publisher: Crimson Romance
Print pages: 276
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Little White Lies
Chapter One – The Encounter
I’m going to hell!
The thought crossed Madalyn Russell’s mind for the umpteenth time since reading the article plastered over the front page of the society section in the morning paper: “Dumped at the Alter—Chicago’s Hottest Bachelor Back on the Market!” Had she really abandoned a church with nearly a thousand family and guests yesterday? Her stomach felt slightly nauseated just thinking about it. Poor Charles! He didn’t deserve to be humiliated that way. What was I thinking?
Madalyn stood at the ship’s railing, staring out at the deep blue water, as The Cleopatra slowly made its way out of Port Miami and into the Atlantic Ocean. How in the world had Jeanine convinced her at the last minute to go on the honeymoon cruise alone? It felt so wrong. What would people think of her? But difficult as it may be, she was going to try to take Jeanine’s advice and learn to live a little, not be so black and white in her thinking, and find the shades of gray in life. There would be plenty of time next week to worry over what others thought of her. An opportunity for a new beginning lay before her and she planned to take advantage of it.
If only one of her sisters could have come with her. But Jeanine had to be in Detroit for the grand opening of the new bakery, and Katie was off to London to study at a culinary school for several months. Looking around, Madalyn found quite a few passengers in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so difficult to meet a few new friends. She turned her face up to bask in the warmth of the sun and marveled at the pure blue sky. A gentle breeze broke up the stifling humidity and carried a hint of the buffet fare already on display for the eager guests. She breathed in deeply—hamburgers and fries were definitely on the menu. She waivered about whether she should stop at the bar for another drink or go back to her room and take a nap in her spacious bed.
Another Rum Swizzle won out; she hadn’t come all this way to stay locked up in her room. She made a mental note to keep track of her calories or else risk going home ten pounds heavier. Placing her empty glass on the bar, she leaned over and caught the attention of the bartender, indicating she wanted another. He gave her the thumbs up.
She sat on a bar stool and listened to the women directly next to her in the middle of a heated discussion. The corner of Madalyn’s mouth twitched into a smile. Their interaction reminded her of the lively debates she so often engaged in with her sisters.
The blond sitting next to Madalyn shrugged. “I don’t know what you expected, Liz. It was a coffee date. If you wore that dress, then I’m not surprised. You may as well have tattooed desperate on your forehead.”
“Oh please,” Liz scoffed, discounting her friend’s opinion. “I looked hot! There was something wrong with him, Susie, not me.”
Susie turned to Madalyn, her long curls bouncing from the movement. “Please tell my friend that a guy who runs after a first coffee date isn’t worth the time of day!” Turning to Liz she added, “Why are you still talking about him? It was two months ago. Don’t give that jerk the satisfaction.”
“So true,” Madalyn said, gazing at the women.
Liz looked like she had stepped off the set of Sex in the City with auburn hair down to the middle of her back, a black party dress, and sequined high heels. Had Liz really worn that dress to a first coffee date? Susie was right; it did seem a bit desperate.
“But Liz makes a good point,” Madalyn said. They both stared at her with questioning brows. “That bartender can’t keep his eyes off you! There was definitely something wrong with Mr. Coffee Shop guy.”
Liz turned to look at the bartender when he approached with Madalyn’s cocktail. His white blond hair, fair skin, and bright blue eyes seemed out of place on a Caribbean cruise ship. Where were all of the dark haired Latino men with sun-kissed skin that she had fantasized about? Madalyn smiled at him and handed over her “Sailing Card,” the cruise ship’s equivalent of a credit card, which was linked directly to her stateroom account.
“Welcome aboard, Madalyn,” he said with a slight accent, reading her name off the card before he swiped it in the credit machine. His eyes swept over to the other ladies and rested on Liz. He gave her a dazzling smile.
“How about another round, ladies?”
Liz nodded and looked down at her hands, anywhere except into his eyes. Where was her bravado now?
“I have a feeling these cards can be pretty dangerous,” Madalyn laughed, putting the card in her purse and offering her hand to Susie. “I’m Madalyn. It’s nice to meet you both.”
“I’m Susie and this is Liz,” the blond said, shaking her hand. “Believe me, this is our third cruise and I wince every time the final bill arrives. It’s like gaining weight; one week to pack it on and ten weeks to work it off.”
Madalyn chuckled and pointed to her drink. “Double whammy! I’m dreading the amount of weight I’m going to gain this week.”
Susie nodded and looked around. “Who are you here with?”
“I’m alone,” Madalyn said, staring at her drink before turning a sideways glance at the women. “My sister had to back out at the last minute and I couldn’t find anyone else to come along. It’s a real bummer.”
Madalyn wished she had a camera to capture the way both their brows rose in unison. She shrugged, hoping she pulled off the little white lie, unwilling to tell them the truth. Jeanine would be so proud.
“You’re veteran sailors,” Madalyn said. “What can I expect?”
“There are so many things to do during the day–swimming, putt-putt, massages, bingo or just relaxing in the sun,” Susie said, pausing to sip her margarita. “But the evenings are the best–live shows, comedians, discos–you name it.”
“They should pay you,” Madalyn said with a chuckle. “You’re better than the advertisement I read. What about the shore excursions?”
“You should go check out the list at the concierge desk before dinner,” Susie said. “We plan to go shopping at the first port of call. We’re only in Old San Juan for the evening. You’re welcome to join us.”
“That sounds great!” Madalyn said and then looked at her watch to gauge how much time she had before dinner.
Liz gasped and reached over to grab her arm. “Madalyn, what time is it?”
“It’s six thirty. Why?”
“We’re meeting Mike and Jason to play table tennis in fifteen minutes. I can’t bend over in this dress,” she giggled. “Let’s hurry up and go change, Susie.”
Susie turned to Madalyn and confessed they had met two guys on the bus ride over from the airport. “Hey, would you like to join us?”
“Oh, no thanks,” Madalyn said. Nothing like being a fifth wheel. “I’ll just stay around here for a while and relax in the sun before dinner. How about meeting up at the disco at eleven o’clock?”
“Sounds good,” they said in unison.
After downing the remainder of their drinks, they gathered their things and stood up to leave. Liz towered over Susie by more than a head. And while Liz could compete head on with the best runway model, Susie was all about comfort in her khaki Capri pants and cowl-neck knit shirt.
Madalyn waved goodbye as they strode off and was reminded of her own encounter with a man on the transfer bus earlier in the day. Her stomach tingled thinking of her reaction to the mystery man; she had never felt such a raw attraction to a stranger before. Maybe it was his proximity as he reached for her suitcase to haul it onto the bus, combined with the scent of his cologne that had sent her pulse racing. Or the way his jeans hung off his hips until he bent over to set her luggage on the lower rack, revealing a nicely rounded butt. Too bad the bus had been packed, forcing him to the back and her to the front before she could even find out his name. Was he meeting someone here or had he come alone? She could use a good distraction this week and wondered if she would bump into him again.
Oh, who am I kidding? Being brazen in theory was a breeze; but could she carry through with a fling if faced with the opportunity? She had no idea, but she wasn’t opposed to finding out. After years of working hard towards her career goals and doing what was “right”, she was ready to let loose a little and step out of her shell.
Madalyn settled down in a lounge chair by the pool and closed her eyes while listening to the children laughing and playing. A couple sitting next to her were whispering back and forth. She couldn’t quite make out their words but the woman giggled and Madalyn could hear her playful slap on his arm. She and Charlie used to be playful, but those playful times had been short-lived. They were both so driven to become successful lawyers that there was little time for having fun.
Maybe Jeanine was right and Madalyn was too confined by her ideals of what was right and what was wrong. Guiding principles had made her into the successful attorney she was today, but did they limit her growth as an individual? Did she dare turn off the highway to take a side road as her sister suggested? Or venture out onto a dirt path in search of the scenic view?
Madalyn was startled from her reverie when something bounced off her shoulder. She jerked up. Opening her eyes, she saw a young boy punching his friend in the arm and pointing for him to fetch the beach ball lying next to her. She threw the ball back and then glanced at her watch. Crap! It was ten after eight. She must have fallen asleep. If she hurried, she would have just enough time to run back to her cabin and freshen up before dinner.
Making her way to the exit, she glanced over at the bar and was mesmerized by a familiar pair of dark green eyes. She tripped over a lounge chair and nearly face-planted on the deck, but quickly steadied herself and giggled. Her mystery man stared brazenly at her with a smirk creeping across those gorgeous lips of his. Was he laughing at me too? Flashing him a dazzling smile, she waved, shrugged, and headed off to her cabin. She didn’t want to be late for dinner.
Twenty minutes later, she entered the Valley of the Kings Dining Room with stories of the exquisite and elegant dining experience on a cruise ship bouncing through her head. Warm hues of red, orange, and yellow covering the bi-level room walls were reminiscent of a burning sunset in the desert night. Together with the soft background music, the dining room was warm and inviting. The colorfully dressed wait staff bustled about in celebration of “Fiesta” night. Her mouth was already watering from the lingering smell of refried beans and sizzling fajitas. What other tantalizing dishes awaited her?
Looking around, she wondered if Susie and Liz were assigned to sit in the same dining room. She made a mental note to ask them later. Was it too late to request a change in seating arrangements? She hoped not. If only she had thought of this earlier when she had time to kill by the pool.
She could hardly contain her curiosity as she approached her assigned table, but when she caught a first glimpse of three glowing couples, an inexplicable feeling washed over her. One of the women extended her hand to the couple seated across the table, showing them a huge rock on her finger. In that moment, Madalyn noticed the banner hanging on the wall: “Congratulations Newlyweds!” Her light mood evaporated as a tornado of emotions swept her up into her own personal hell. Her stomach lurched and twisted in the maelstrom.
How in the hell could she have forgotten this little detail? She bypassed the table and circled around the dining room, making a speedy exit. Her mouth felt parched while her knees grew weaker with every step. She couldn’t fathom sitting at a table with three newlywed couples. How humiliating to have to explain her situation to them, to listen to their pity. Or even worse, endure their contempt. Damn it!
Flames of red-hot shame crept up her neck and into her cheeks. With her gaze steady on the floor, she hoped nobody could see the tears that burned in her eyes. She exited the dining room and lifted her hand to her face, as if to rub an eyelash away, catching a tear that escaped, and collided head on with another passenger.
Madalyn gasped as her hands shot forward, and she lost her balance, only to be steadied by a strong pair of hands. A familiar heady scent filled her nostrils. She closed her eyes and knew in a moment she’d be gazing into beautiful emerald eyes. His hands were big and felt good on her waist. Why couldn’t she have bumped into him at a more opportune time? Right now all she wanted was to get the hell out of there.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, looking up into his steady gaze. He must have thought she was a complete klutz—first the lounge chair and now this.
“Are you okay?” he asked, his voice gentle.
“I’m fine,” she said, and bit down on her bottom lip. “I should’ve been watching where I was going.” She stepped away and motioned towards the dining room. “Don’t let me keep you. You’ll be late for dinner.”
She turned to leave.
“Excuse me . . . miss,” he called out, extending his hand to her.
“Madalyn,” she murmured and reached out for his hand.
A feathery light sensation traveled up her spine when his hand closed around hers, infusing her with his warmth. Why am I so captivated by this man?
“Madalyn,” he said in a soft voice. “Royce.”
Her lips curled up slightly at the corners. Royce was a unique name, just like him. His rich baritone voice was easy on the ears. And she liked the way he wore his hair just a touch too long … perfect for running her fingers through it. Not that she’d have an opportunity to run her fingers through his hair. But if she did, well, she imagined it would feel heavenly.
His eyes probed hers. “You look like you could use a stiff drink. Would you join me for one?”
“You don’t need to skip dinner for me,” she said. “Your friends must be waiting for you.”
“I’m here alone,” he admitted, glancing down at his feet and shoving his hands in his pockets.
How did he manage to look both sexy and vulnerable?
“You’ll rescue me from a table full of strangers,” he said with a wink. “Right now I’d love to have a drink with you. What do you say?”
Madalyn hesitated and looked everywhere but at him. As much as she found him physically attractive, she felt strange—it was almost like a date, and she hadn’t dated in a very long time. So much for her fling theory. “I don’t think I’d be very good company right now.”
“I didn’t say anything about wanting good company,” he laughed, donning a half-sexy, half-boyish grin. “Please come with me,” he begged softly, widening his eyes.
Her brow arched slightly. She was on the verge of capitulating.
“You can tell me what made you bolt out of the dining room. I’m a great listener,” he continued to coax.
Oh, hell no!
“After coming to your rescue twice in one day, I believe it’s the least you can do.”
Madalyn’s lips twitched and she could no longer contain her smile. The man made an excellent point. She reluctantly nodded in agreement. He grabbed her hand, as if afraid she might bolt, and pulled her toward the bar. His smile was contagious—like a child in a candy store with a pocket full of coins.
Madalyn couldn’t help but wonder if she looked like candy.
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