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“Good choice.”

Lori watched him as he walked away. “My liver is going to need a good detox.”

“It’s five o’clock somewhere.”

Ten minutes later, sipping something that tasted of coconut and rum, Lori changed the conversation. “What’s your story?”

Shannon peeked from behind her glasses.

“You of all people know my story.”

“No, not the marriage . . . your life after the marriage? Has there been anyone? Anything?” It had been close to two years since Shannon and Paul had separated. A year and a half since their divorce. Her high profile world was littered with the paparazzi for months after their split.

“It’s easy.”

“Oh?”

Shannon sipped her drink and shrugged. “I fell in love with him.”

Lori’s smile fell with the last hope that she was wrong. She’d guessed that Shannon had fallen hard. So had Sam, but they never asked.

“I’m sorry.”

Shannon set her drink down, looked beyond those in the pool. “Not your fault. You cautioned me, Sam and Eliza pointed out Paul’s past. I should have been more guarded.”

There was a time when Lori and Sam hoped to hear that the first couple of California was going to stick the marriage out. Only like clockwork, the week their contract was up, Paul showed up in Lori’s office and asked to sign the papers to end his in-name-only marriage.

Their polite divorce shook the state. Media had a field day and made crap up when there was nothing gossip worthy to report. First it was that Paul had found another woman, then that Shannon had an affair . . . none of it validated with facts. A few pictures leaked of Paul dating, but never with the same woman twice. His handlers kept the media out of his personal life as much as they could. Alliance helped Shannon with the media for the first year. Since then, there was little to report.

Shannon moved out of Sacramento and into the house she and Paul had shared before he was elected. Everything was as they’d contracted. Paul even added a security detail for her and kept in contact with Alliance to make sure she was cared for. It was as if he knew he’d left a footprint on her heart and still wanted some control over her life.

“He’s a great man. Just not the kind to settle for one woman.”

Lori placed her hand over Shannon’s. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m fine. Please, let’s not talk about ancient history. It’s time for me to move on.”

Lori lifted her drink with a reluctant toast. “To moving on.”

Chapter Six

“Antonio!” Reed greeted the man he’d met the night before.

They shook hands.

Around them swam a sea of bikini-wearing women sporting suntan lotion and consuming copious amounts of liquor. The DJ pumped music loud enough to bust eardrums, and a walkway was set up in the middle of the deck.

“What’s going on?” Reed asked the Italian.

“Male exploitation.”

“Male what?”

“Male fashion show without clothes.”

Naked? That didn’t sound right.

Antonio pointed to the lineup of men wearing Speedos and shorts. Reed noticed Trina and Avery spreading oil all over two of the men that were part of the previous evening’s party.

“Looks like someone is having fun.”

“That Avery is a party.”

“Looks like it’s rubbing off on her friend.” Reed looked around to see if Lori was nearby.

Sensing what he was searching for, Antonio pointed toward the massive swimming pool. “The others are over there.”

“Should we drag them over here?” Reed asked.

“I’m not walking on that stage.”

Yeah, neither was Reed. “I’ve never met a single woman who didn’t appreciate this kind of thing.”

“Let’s go.”

Antonio led the way, weaving through the deck chairs and kids running around.

He spotted the two lone women stretched out on chairs, large sunglasses covering their faces.

He’d pegged the conservative woman for a one piece. He was wrong. Lori wore a black bikini, revealing more skin than he was prepared for.

“Bella!” Antonio announced their presence before they stood over them.

Reed couldn’t see Lori’s eyes, but he felt them.

“Hey.” Shannon lifted her sunglasses.

“We’ve come to drag you away from this boredom,” Reed told them.

“I’m not bored,” Lori countered.

Shannon pushed up from her reclined position. “What did you have in mind?”

Lori slapped at Shannon’s arm.

“We’re good.”

“Come, Bella, sitting in the sun you can do at home.”

Shannon stood, reached for Lori’s hand. “C’mon. I need my wingman.”

Reed liked Shannon more and more.

He reached for Lori’s wrap and handed it over once she was standing. Not that he wanted her to cover up. That yoga butt looked even better in a bikini than it did in pants.

The four of them found a spot on the north side of the stage right as the cruise director took the mic. “Ladies and ladies, and a brave few gentlemen. What is a day at sea without a lot of suntan oil and skin?”

Reed kept an eye on Lori as the translators made sure everyone on board caught the information.

The cruise director and her staff were wearing bright shirts and equally bright shorts with comfortable shoes. They worked the crowd, encouraging them to drink the cocktail of the day and to get the most out of their cruise by entering as many competitions, events, and gatherings as humanly possible. If you’re bored on the ship, it isn’t from a lack of activities to take part in!

“I’m starting to have college flashbacks,” Lori said loud enough for all of them to hear.

The DJ turned up the music, making conversation difficult.

The judging at this competition was based completely on applause and audience participation. One at a time, the men took the stage. Most of them owned it, chins in the air, smiles on their faces. More than one of the men sported bodies by beer, complete with several extra inches around their stomachs. Lori looked away when one guy tested his own beer gut with both hands and gave it a good shake.

It wasn’t until Rogelio and Miguel took their turns, one after the other, that Lori and Shannon started to clap.

From the side of the stage, Reed saw Avery blowing a loud whistle between her fingers and Trina waving some kind of pom-pom that one of the staff had been using to rev up the crowd.

“Now it’s time to show us your best Schwarzenegger pose.” The announcer lifted her arms in the air, flexed what little muscles she had in example.

Several men impersonated the Hulk, complete with grunts and growls. The first beer gut guy showed up on stage with a can of brew and flexed a bicep as he drank the whole thing in one swallow. The crowd went a little crazy.

Rogelio and Miguel took the stage together, turned around, and showed off their backs with a pose. Lori leaned over to Shannon and said something he couldn’t hear. From the way the women smiled, they appreciated the view.

He pointed to the stage and said, “You like?”

She rolled her eyes but didn’t answer.

The last hops and barley dude had changed his board shorts for Speedos. The crowd laughed, and Shannon watched through a slit in her fingers. As if the European male bathing suit wasn’t enough, he turned his back to the audience and flexed his hips to the music. Every dimple in his butt was one too many bags of chips.

The last part of the competition weeded out the weak quickly.

Pushups.

The women went crazy, especially when one of the harder bodies did his impression of a stripper giving a lap dance.

Lori reached over and grasped Shannon’s arm before pointing to Trina and Avery. Both of them were being dragged onstage.

Avery jumped onstage, while Trina had to be coaxed.

The men started to clap when both women were lying on the stage, faceup. The cruise director encouraged the crazy, and as the music took on a more sultry beat, Miguel and Rogelio gave the crowd a show worthy of any Magic Mike performance.

Reed wondered if he needed to up his pushup performance in order to make Lori blush like she was doing while watching her friends.

Shannon took pictures with her cell phone, something he considered himself. But he decided to hold this in his memory instead of his data plan.

Once the “contest” was over and the majority of the men took away T-shirts, Miguel and Rogelio each managed a T-shirt, free drinks, and a crown. The beer gut guys received a bucket of beer.

The music kept playing as the people on deck started to spread out for other activities. It wasn’t long before Avery, Trina, Miguel, and Rogelio joined them.

“That was fabulous,” Shannon told them.

“Crazy.” Trina looked at Lori, slight worry marring her brow.

Lori placed a hand on her friend’s arm. “I’m sure it’s fine.”

The statement sounded out of place.

“You ladies stole the show,” Reed told them.

Rogelio slid a hand around Avery’s waist, the familiarity of his touch raising a few eyebrows among the women. Miguel didn’t take the same approach, instead he said to Trina, “You make doing pushups onstage worthwhile.”

Color rose in her cheeks.

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