May 1, 2013 Leave a comment
[I swear I thought April had 31 days]
Ah April, spring time when a man’s fancy turns to love. I’ve been in a romantic mood lately as both my guest posters write romance. Definitely something in the air. This month’s excerpt comes from GRAVE DESTINATIONS, book two of Lori Sjoberg’s paranormal romance series GRAVE, published by Kensington around December 2010/January 2014. Enjoy!
Jack Deverall leaned against the starboard rail, watching the ship’s slow departure from Port Canaveral. He felt a faint shudder as the boat picked up speed, cruising between two tiny tugboats on its way out to sea. On the top deck, the pulsing beat of samba music blared from the speakers as passengers celebrated the beginning of a seven-night Caribbean adventure. A few minutes later, the deep bellow of the ship’s horn cut through the air, eliciting a chorus of raucous cheers from the crowd.
He could have booked a flight to his destination, could have been there and back in the time it would take the ship to reach the tiny island of St. Angelique. But part of him was in no hurry, preferring to extend the trip and delay his inevitable disappointment.
He hoped this time would prove different from all the others, he really did. But continual failure made it difficult to fight his growing cynicism. For years he’d traveled the globe, consulting with every mystic, psychic, seer and shaman he could locate. All promised. None delivered. With that kind of batting record, it was getting harder to remain optimistic.
So no, he was in no hurry to hammer another nail in the coffin of his hopes and dreams.
He pulled his wallet from the back pocket of his jeans, thumbing through the billfold until he found the small scrap of paper, the crease folded and unfolded so many times it had almost worn a hole. In spite of his doubts, he prayed Madam Cassandra was right about the abilities of Jolie Duquette. He’d give Ms. Duquette damn near anything to break the curse that had plagued him for more years than he cared to count.
For better or for worse, he’d have his answer in three days’ time.
In the meantime, he had nothing to do but relax and enjoy the scenery. With over four thousand passengers and crew on board, the Sunshine of the Caribbean was a floating city devoted to the fine art of decadence. Alcohol flowed like water while inhibitions were nonexistent, a Sodom & Gomorrah of the high seas.
A stunning young blonde in a pair of short shorts and a purple bikini top sauntered past, a drink in one hand and a cell phone pressed against her ear. She was pretty, in a drunken party girl kind of way, young and brazen with an air of self-assurance that couldn’t be faked. She eyed Jack with open interest as she sipped her Mai Tai, giving him an inviting smile as she headed toward the shallow end of the pool.
He sensed her attraction, could feel the warm blast of sensuality from twenty feet away, curling around him like a lover’s embrace.
His darker nature noticed it, too. Jack felt it stir inside, urging him to take advantage of the situation, to seize the opportunity and feed its insatiable hunger for raw, unbridled lust.
“No,” he murmured through clenched teeth, pushing back against the powerful rush of desire pulsing through his body. Gripping the rail, he closed his eyes and took deep breaths until the craving cooled from a boil to a simmer, under control but still lurking beneath the surface.
A little over a week had passed since he’d last given in to the curse. He needed to feed it soon or risk losing control. Again. That simply wasn’t an option. The last time it happened he’d gone on an all-night bender, slaking his lust like a junkie on a binge. He’d been powerless to stop it, watching himself behave like an animal but unable to curb his own actions. In the end he’d felt cheap, and dirty, and somewhere lower than human.
Over the years, he’d gotten much better at controlling the cravings. It was a difficult juggling act, maintaining the proper balance to keep the beast at bay. Too little and it became ravenous and unpredictable. Too much and it grew stronger than he could handle. It was a fine line to tread, a narrowly defined path offering little margin for error.
On deck, the music changed to a bass-heavy techno beat. The blonde gave him one final lingering look before turning her attention to a tall, lanky brunette in neon orange board shorts and a tank top with Official Bikini Inspector scrawled across the chest.
Easy come easy go.
“She was too young for you anyway.”
Jack’s gaze cut to the right, to the gorgeous redhead standing a few feet away. Slender yet curvy, she was leaning against the rail with her back to the ocean, holding one of those frozen girly drinks with a chunk of pineapple jammed against the rim. Her face held an expression of amusement, over what he didn’t know.
“You heard me,” she said, a sly smile curving lush crimson lips. There was a distinct southern drawl to her voice, a sultry purr that fired his imagination. “I’d be surprised if that girl’s old enough to drive. You should be ashamed of yourself, robbing the cradle like that.”
“I didn’t–” Jack paused to give the redhead a long appraising look. She was tall for a woman, loose-limbed and long-legged with the kind of soft, feminine features that made a man want to settle in for a good, long while. Her pale skin led him to believe that red was indeed her natural hair color. Throw in the high cheekbones and vibrant green eyes, and she made one hell of a package.
“Settle down, I was only kidding.” The redhead chuckled under her breath, a rich throaty sound that warmed his blood and stirred the curse. She held her hand out to him. “The name’s Ruby. Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Her skin felt warm and soft, her grip firm and confident.
“Pleasure’s all mine. I’m Jack.” He held her hand a little longer than necessary and sensed an undeniable flare of attraction on Ruby’s behalf. Attraction, and something else he couldn’t quite identify.
“Is this your first cruise?” she asked, her fingers absently toying with the delicate pink choker fastened around her neck.
“No, but it’s been a while. You?”
“First time for me.” And she didn’t look exactly thrilled about it, which might explain why her back faced the water. She sipped her drink, her lipstick leaving a dark red ring around the straw. “I’m not real big on boats.”
Definitely not the response he expected. “Then why did you go on a cruise?”
“Boss booked it for me,” she said by way of explanation, her southern accent laced with irritation. She took a long pull from her drink, leaving the glass close to empty. Then the smile returned, brilliant and with a dash of sensuality he damn near felt in his gut. “You know how it is. It’s not wise to say no to the boss.”
“Understandable.” He paused while a trio of older women walked by, huddled close and giggling like teenagers. “So what kind of work do you do?”
“Oh, this and that,” she said with a casual wave of her hand. The ocean breeze kicked up, wreaking havoc on her long, auburn hair. She reached up, tucking the loose strands behind her ears. “Mainly, I’m a collector.”
“Collector of what?”
Ruby chuckled again, another one of those rich, throaty laughs that made his imagination run wild and had the curse chomping at the bit. It was both fascinating and disturbing, how easily she managed to shake his equilibrium. He inhaled a deep breath, forcing his darker half to play nice.
“Let’s save that subject for another day.” Finished with her drink, she set the empty glass on a nearby table. Then her eyes locked with his, bright with the kind of mischief that got a man into serious trouble. “A girl’s got to keep some secrets, doesn’t she?” She pushed away from the rail. “I’ll let you go back to checking out all the pretty girls. See you around, Jack.”
He watched while she took a leisurely stroll across the deck, appreciating the rear view almost as much as he’d enjoyed the front. Hips swinging, she drew the attention of every red-blooded heterosexual man she passed, a fact that left him unexpectedly annoyed. She stopped at the poolside bar for another drink, then glanced over her shoulder and gave him a smile and a finger wave before disappearing through the sliding glass doors leading to the lower decks.
It took him a few minutes to get his brain back in proper working order, to calm his baser urges so he could function like a civilized human being. Only then did he realize something strange and unsettling.
Ruby wasn’t human
Growing up the youngest of three girls, Lori never had control of the remote. (Not that she’s bitter about that. Really. Okay, maybe a little, but it’s not like she’s scarred for life or anything.) That meant a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy. Star Trek, Star Wars, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits – you name it, she watched it. It fed her imagination, and that came in handy when the hormones kicked in and she needed a creative excuse for being out past curfew.
After completing her first manuscript, she joined the Romance Writers of America and Central Florida Romance Writers. Now she exercises the analytical half of her brain at work, and the creative half writing paranormal romance. When she’s not doing either one of those, she’s usually spending time with her husband and children of the four-legged variety.