Page 7

Lori gripped the edge of the table, her eyes following the ball, with suspended breath.

Just when the ball bounced onto twenty-one, red, it flipped out and settled on four.

“Four, black.” The deep tone of the croupier sounded as disappointed as Lori felt.

A collective sigh from those watching hummed in the air, and the six thousand dollars in chips were taken away.

Lori hung her head, her hands still buzzed with excitement.

Reed reached across the table, leaving the hundred dollars he started with at the croupier’s side as a tip.

“Well, that was fun,” Shannon said with a lift in her voice.

“How about that drink?” Reed asked Lori.

The music from the singles mixer was blaring through the doors of the ship’s nightclub.

Lori was keenly aware of the proximity of the man moving beside her. She hadn’t felt this high on a man’s attention in so long that she had forgotten how warm and fuzzies felt.

“There’s Avery and Trina,” Shannon said over the noise of the music and people.

The three of them weaved through the crowd until they reached the high-top table their friends were standing around.

Avery sized Reed up before saying hello. “Are you Mr. Single?”

Lori felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment.

He reached out a hand. “I’m Reed.”

Avery made a little growling noise and winked at Lori before introducing herself and Trina.

“You need one of these.” Avery took a pen and self-sticking nametags from the table and started to write down their names.

“What’s this for?” Shannon asked.

“It’s a mixer. We need to mix,” Avery said as if that explained everything.

It wasn’t long before a cocktail waiter took their order, delivered their drinks. There weren’t any real rules except one. Every time the bell rang, you moved to another person.

Lori started in front of Reed.

“You have a wild look in your eyes.”

She looked over to find Trina fidgeting while she spoke with a man twice her age who slid up beside her at the first bell.

“I do?” Lori didn’t meet his gaze.

Reed paused. “You’re worried about your friend.”

Lori watched for signs of distress on Trina’s face. “She’s, uhm . . .” Lori didn’t finish her sentence when the bell rang. Without another word, she rushed to cut off another guy walking Trina’s way.

“You okay?”

“This isn’t blending,” Trina pointed out.

Lori looked around, saw Shannon being hit on by a redhead. A single nod and Shannon got the hint. “It’s a twenty-minute meet and greet, and we’re done.” Lori made light of it and extended her hand. “Hi, I’m Lori.”

Trina smiled. “I’m being silly.”

The bell rang, and Shannon took Lori’s place.

Lori found Reed in front of her again. “Do you always take care of your friends?”

“Don’t you?” she asked.

“You’re assuming I have friends.”

She wasn’t sure if he was joking or not. The man had quite the poker face. “A man without friends . . .”

The bell rang.

Avery took Lori’s place, and Lori moved back to Trina.

“The men are going to think I’m a lesbian,” Trina said.

Lori glanced around them . . . “Are you ready to talk to a stranger?”

Trina placed both hands on her head. “This used to be easy.”

“Let them speak first, then switch languages if you don’t want to interact.”

“That’s a great idea,” Trina said with a strangled smile.

The bell rang and Lori turned to find a hard-bodied Spaniard grinning down at her. He said something in Spanish that she didn’t understand, but his grin and wink were enough. “Oh, you’re too much for me.” Lori looked at Avery, who was still talking to Reed. She pulled the other girl over in front of Mr. Spanish Charm. “Switch,” Lori said.

Reed was grinning. “So Avery you feed to the wolves, and Trina you protect.”

The bell rang again, and instead of moving, Lori reached for her drink. “This is exhausting.”

Lori rose the next morning to find a note attached to the daily itinerary slid under her door. The yoga class was circled in red with a note: Since you missed your Sunday ritual.

The man put a smile on her face. Maybe because she hadn’t taken the time to flirt or get to know a member of the opposite sex in several months. Not because she was opposed to the thought, but she’d burned out on the dance. At thirty-five, she’d dated plenty of men. Only half of whom were emotionally available. And of those, half of them only wanted sex. The rest couldn’t handle her success or she couldn’t handle their egos.

When she’d turned thirty, she’d decided that she never wanted to marry again. On some level, she knew that made her less emotionally available than the men who asked her out. Once the men found out what she did for a living, they assumed she was single by choice, which either turned them on or completely off.

Where did Reed fall?

Temporary.

If for no other reason than they were on a cruise ship.

Lori glanced at the clock and wondered if Reed would show up at her yoga class.

Only one way to find out.

“Good morning, Miss Lori.” She dressed, bolted out the door, and ran right into the resident butler.

“Morning, Datu. Can you tell my friends when you see them that I’ll meet them poolside at eleven?”

“Of course. Any other requests?”

“How about fruit and yogurt in my room around ten?”

“Coffee?” he asked.

“Yes, please.” Lori was all smiles as she walked away. A butler was something she could get used to.

The fitness center was lined with bikes, ellipticals, and treadmills, all facing a massive window looking out over the Mediterranean Sea. Since this was the only full day at sea, the place was packed with hard bodies and even a few soft ones trying to combat the opulent food on board.

She spied Trina lying on a mat in the far corner of the classroom. Lori removed a mat from a stack in the corner and took the spot next to her.

“Good morning,” she whispered over the calming music.

Trina opened her eyes and smiled. “Morning.”

The room was library quiet, with only a few mumbling students settling in.

“I didn’t know you liked yoga,” Lori told her.

“Been a while. But I thought it would help . . . you know.”

A wave of guilt crashed over Lori when she realized she’d been preoccupied with herself. Her job was these women. Especially Trina, since her world was falling apart.

Reed had stolen her attention the moment she’d laid eyes on the man.

Lori mentally kicked herself.

Refocus.

Thoughts of a temporary anything with Reed should not be dominating her head before reaching the twenty-fourth hour on the ship. Trina, Shannon . . . Avery, that’s what she was there for, not Reed and his sexy smile and cocky gambling techniques.

The instructor started to speak, and Lori took her place on the mat and pushed Reed out of her head.

Chapter Five

If Reed stood in the window to the yoga room much longer, someone was going to tell his voyeur ass to move along. He wasn’t surprised to see Lori bending and stretching in ways the body didn’t normally move, but the sight of her butt held tight by a pair of black yoga pants . . . that’s what snagged his attention and wouldn’t let go. He was half-willing to join a yoga class just so he wouldn’t be so obvious.

His eyes kept level with her ass as he walked by the glass doors. He snapped out of his trance and quickly looked around the gym. He decided to burn through a few miles of frustration with the free weights until the yoga class was over.

Reed worked through his daily routine in half his normal time, his eyes tracking on the yoga door.

A tall blonde wearing a purple sports bra and shorts that should be illegal anywhere other than by a swimming pool stopped in front of him. “Ar det tungt?”

“Excuse me?” He didn’t recognize the language, and with over forty different nationalities on board, he didn’t want to guess.

“American?” she asked, her smile full of flirt.

He nodded.

She pointed to her chest, which spilled from the sports bra. “Swedish.”

“I don’t speak Swedish.”

“I know English. Not perfect, but some.”

Any other time, she’d be fun. But just then the volume of voices in the room increased, and Reed noticed the yoga door opening and people spilling out.

“Maybe later,” he said with a wink before he stood and started toward the exit.

He lingered at the door, half an eye on the people leaving, the other half on his cell phone in an effort to not be obvious about his intentions.

“I think someone is following you,” he heard a woman say.

He looked up to see Lori and Trina walking toward him.

Moisture gathered on their skin. Does yoga make you sweat?

“No, he’s a gym rat.”

“A big one,” Trina said.

“Morning, ladies.”

Trina moved out of the way of the people moving through the door. “I’ll see you by the pool, Lori.” She glanced at him. “Bye, Reed.”

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