Totally Yours

Totally Yours

Dana Ransom

July 2014 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-516-4

When a popular self-improvement program gives Lisa Reynolds a smoking hot body, she wins an unexpected prize: a Caribbean cruise as the club's corporate spokesmodel.

Our PriceUS$14.95
Save wishlist

Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Blurb


She never meant to rock the boat or his world.

When a popular self-improvement program gives Lisa Reynolds a smoking hot body, she wins an unexpected prize: a Caribbean cruise as the club’s corporate spokesmodel. Lisa, a hardworking insurance sales rep who prides herself on her brains, hesitantly accepts the siren call of being admired for her figure, too.

But suddenly this new glamour girl faces magnetic CEO Harlan Jameson, whose interest in her matches her attraction to him, except . . . the "real” Lisa isn’t this workout babe he created. And old self-doubts about being loved for herself resurface. 

Harlan’s not what she thinks. A self-made success, lonely, and isolated by a busy schedule . . . he’s drawn to Lisa’s honesty and warmth. When he understands her fears, he sets out to prove there’s only one thing he wants her to change for him: her last name.



Coming soon!



Chapter One

"YOU DON’T HAVE the self-confidence it takes to be a super achiever, and quite frankly, it has to do with your weight.”

The second that old self-defeating message began to play, Lisa Reynolds stopped it cold. She was no longer the same woman that devastating comment had been addressed to. Still, she had to wonder if she’d ever cross the threshold of her boss’s office without hearing the echo of those words. Maybe it was good that she did. This morning it seemed a prophetic reminder of how far she’d come. There were ninety-three and three-quarter pounds less of Lisa standing before Jason McGuire’s brass-edged desk on this dreary March morning. And she smiled as she passed a folder across that polished surface.

"Burleigh Industrial and all eighty-seven employees, signed, sealed, and insured.”

McGuire pushed up his ever-drooping steel rims to peer at the impressive stack of forms. He nodded wordlessly. It was the ultimate compliment from the man of sparing speech.

"Cheryl said you wanted to see me before I left for the airport.”

He flipped the folder closed. "Yes. Sit down, Lisa. And don’t worry. I’ll see that you make your plane. No one deserves this trip more than you do.”

She settled on one of his rigid chairs, remembering how she’d perched on the edge of that same seat so many months earlier. She’d had to; back then, she couldn’t sit comfortably between the unyielding arm supports. That was only one of the differences between that day and this one. Then, she’d had a small cubicle surveying a line of clerical desks. Now, she had an office and a shiny company car parked in back. And Jason McGuire was pouring her coffee.

"All packed and ready to go?”

"With the engine running.” She accepted the cup, smiling. "Have I told you how much I appreciate having the time off?”

"Effusively.” But he was smiling, too. Theirs had become an easy rapport since he’d brought her up into the sales force three weeks ago. Her promotion was so new, she’d felt uncomfortable requesting the vacation days. But the situation was far from ordinary, and her boss was well aware of it when he’d agreed. It wasn’t a vacation as much as it was a reward for her perseverance. Turning in a plump new account made her feel better about leaving. As if she’d proved she could pull her own weight—no pun intended.

"Lisa, while you’re gone, I’m going to take the liberty of doing a little redecorating in your office.” Before she could protest that the accommodations were fine, he waved a hand toward a four-drawer filing cabinet behind him. "You’ll need room for this.”

Lisa stared at the putty-colored metal and blinked, not understanding. Those were Jason McGuire’s own accounts, the ones he’d built his company upon. The ones any of his seven salespeople would die for. The renewal commissions alone would provide a six-figure salary. Rumors had floated about the office even before she’d taken a job in clerical three years ago that McGuire was planning to set aside his active role in customer service and pass down the crowning glory of his achievements. He was approaching his golden years and was just getting out again after being widowed. He was looking for more free time. There’d been intricate discussions on how that bulging book of business would divide down among the six, now seven of them like a bountiful Christmas bonus. Lisa was afraid to even hope that her Christmas would be coming early this year.

"What’s the matter? Think it’ll clash with your decor?”

Lisa closed her sagging mouth with a snap, then stammered, "It... it’s not that. I... I just thought that Fred or Jeff—”

"You thought I’d pass my laurels to one of my old war horses,” he concluded for her.

"Well... yes.”

"For over two years I’ve been looking forward to getting out of field work, but I couldn’t give my customers to just anyone. Family, you know. Some of them have been with me for almost thirty years. Fred has more than he can handle with his own clients, and Jeff, quite frankly, wasn’t interested in taking on the extra obligations. Don cares more about his season sports tickets than coming to the office regularly. Henry is thinking about retirement in a few years, and Bill, well, you know Bill. No one can get along with him.”

"What about Chuck?” Even thoughts of the gorgeous Chuck Webb brought a flush to her cheeks. He may have stepped into the position she’d have sold her soul to get a year ago, but how could she begrudge a man with such impossibly long eyelashes? And then, there was his silky voice and that melting smile. She couldn’t deny Chuck Webb anything.

"Chuck’s a bright boy, and he’s got a good future in sales, no doubt. I just happen to think he’d be better off making his own fortune than tending mine. A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed you could turn things around and take control like you have, but you did. And I respect that. You’re determined, and you’ll give my clients the attention they deserve. They won’t be just another renewal check to you, and that’s why I made this decision. I realize you’re just starting out.”

Those were the reasons McGuire listed, but not the ones she’d overheard in the break room from the other salesmen. Chuck’s ambitions stopped at the commission check, they’d grumbled. Service with a smile extended only to the signing of the application, then he gave the papers to one of the clerks to file and was off after the next prospect. He didn’t think of his clients as more than an account folder and a paycheck. And that went against everything McGuire built his company upon—that more. Clients at their firm were to be pampered and made to feel important, not as though they were a nameless file to be pulled once a year for an impersonal review. That’s all they were to Chuck Webb. And until he learned otherwise, no matter how much business he brought in, Jason McGuire and his fellow salesmen could not respect him. But Lisa was different. Lisa, who would send Christmas cards without fail and remember the names of wives and children. And who would always have time and always be grateful. She understood the family analogy.

"I want to know my people are in good hands, the right hands. I think those hands are yours. If you think it’s going to be too much for you...”

"No! I mean, I know I can handle it.”

"That’s all I needed to hear,” McGuire said. "Now, aren’t you supposed to be going on vacation? Get out of here. We’ll talk when you get back.”

And later, even at its cruising altitude, her airliner wasn’t flying as high as Lisa Reynolds.

Once the seat belt sign turned off and her ears adjusted to cabin pressure, she leaned back and closed her eyes. In just a couple of hours, she’d be in Miami where, according to the weather channel and the co-pilot, the skies were cloudless and the temperatures tropical. A dream come true after a cold, wet Michigan spring. One of many dreams she’d come to realize in the past month. Even now she felt overwhelmed by the changes, as if she was trying to catch up with someone else’s runaway life. Some of the changes had been wrought by sweat and tears and others, by sheer strokes of fortune. All had started with those fateful words in Jason McGuire’s office and the long walk from his door back to her supervisor’s desk.

"You don’t have the self-confidence it takes...”

Every one of the five women who worked under Lisa had known she’d failed the second they saw her face. Each of them had encouraged her to try for the position by taking night classes and using vacation time as well as her own resources to get her license at Michigan State. All pretended not to see the disappointment swimming in her unfocused gaze. She’d managed to hang on until five o’clock. The only thing Lisa remembered about the drive back to her Westside apartment was a sight she’d seen daily but had never really noticed before—the bright neon beacon for Total You. Somehow, the image wouldn’t leave her even as she sat on her lonely couch sharing half a gallon of Mackinaw Island Fudge frozen yogurt with her sympathetic gray cat, Chumley. She’d bought the low-cal treat because it was purported to be 98 percent fat-free. But, she was defeating the purpose by eating the entire contents down to the waxy bottom in a single sitting.

With Chumley purring up a six point two on the Richter scale as he lapped the discarded lid, Lisa had stared into the empty container and into the void in her life. She was thirty years old and single except for a brief two-week period in the fourth grade when she had been engaged to George Minor. That had lasted until she found out he was only courting her because of her deft right foot in kickball. There had been no one else since George had broken her heart on the playground. She’d been soothing that ache ever since behind a padding of increasing poundage. "Eat, you’ll feel better,” her mother had said when she’d come home in tears. Mother was always right.

Lisa continued to take her advice right up to the point when the bathroom scales groaned their way past two hundred. By the time she’d realized in some surprise that her womanly figure could no longer be coerced into a regular Misses size, change seemed all but impossible. Unable to control the yo-yoing twenty pounds that she lost with every diet she tried but then quickly regained the minute she bought a size smaller wardrobe, Lisa gave up the battle and concentrated instead upon the one facet of her life she could control—her career. She’d vowed not to mind her weight until her goals collapsed under it. Until Chuck Webb came in that same afternoon to apply for and obtain the job she’d wanted. Chuck Webb with his to-die-for smile and GQ looks. When they were introduced, he shook her hand and stared right through her the way handsome men regarded sexually unappealing women—as though she was inanimate. It had been a one-two punch—McGuire’s words and Chuck’s uninterested glance.

Feeling dejected as she looked down into the bottom of her frozen yogurt carton and realized how many calories she had consumed, Lisa recalled that provoking Total You sign and its bold promise, "The best you can be from the inside out.” Wasn’t that what the Army promised? Maybe that’s what she needed. The Army. The Marines. A regimented boot camp to haul her off her feel-sorry-for-yourself sofa. Jason McGuire’s words hurt cruelly. Knowing that they were spoken in quiet honesty had sparked a deep, driving anger within her. Not toward her employer or the handsome and aggressively confident Chuck who filled the job in sales, but toward the one person who was at fault and the only one who could make a difference. It was time for Lisa Reynolds to take action, starting with the obvious. While Chumley washed the last of the low-cal treat from his whiskers, she’d reached for the phone book and began thumbing through the Ts.

She went in for a consultation the very next day, and the battle was on. After the first twenty-five pounds disappeared, McGuire asked if she’d changed her hairstyle. He liked it. At the benchmark fifty, her coworkers sprang for a beauty makeover. At seventy-five, Chuck Webb began to lean back in his chair to watch her walk by his office door. At ninety down, the old one-two struck again; McGuire promoted Lisa into sales, and her office friends gleefully moved her belongings from her cubicle to a real room with its own door. And Chuck took her out to dinner to celebrate, squiring his tall, trim colleague with undeniable pleasure. Lisa was sure things just couldn’t get any better.

But they did the minute she stepped off the scales at a trim one hundred and eighteen pounds. Julie, the brash brunette nutrition counselor who’d been there to cheer the demise of every inch of unwanted Lisa, grabbed onto her, bubbling excitedly.

"You’re not going to believe this! He picked you! Harlan Jameson picked you!”

Harlan Jameson, founder of Total You and owner of the sultry, drawling voice on her motivational tapes. She knew who he was but...

"Picked me for what?”

"Client of the Year. Isn’t it great!”

Lisa didn’t know just how great it would turn out to be. Jameson had a chain of forty Total You clinics dotting the Midwest, and she learned he was about to go national after a phenomenally successful first year. He had each of the forty branches submit a profile of their best success story. In southwest Michigan, it was ninety pounds less of Lisa Reynolds. Vaguely, she recalled signing a waiver stating her likeness could be used to promote the Total You program. Never in her wildest fantasies had she imagined promoting it on an all-expenses-paid cruise in the Caribbean!

Tickets for two. Lisa had stared at them somberly. There was no "two” in her life. She mentioned her predicament jokingly to Chuck on their second date, and he’d floored her by saying, "I’m up for vacation that week. I could go along as a chaperone.”

She was sure all respiratory functions failed completely as he sat grinning at her from across the table. When she found her voice, she replied impulsively, "Why not?”

She and Chuck Webb were going to the Caribbean together!

Not exactly together. He had a brother’s wedding to attend in Virginia. Then he’d meet her in Miami in time to embark. It would be better that way, he reasoned. They’d agreed to a no-strings-attached adventure as two consenting adults. They would have separate staterooms and no obligations. But try to tell that to office gossips. Since Chuck was flying down ahead of Lisa, wouldn’t it be in their best interest not to mention their shipboard rendezvous? Lisa was too stunned that he’d said yes to care. Besides, he was right. It would be better this way. But when they returned after those seven idyllic days just drenched with the opportunity for romance, there would be no need for secrecy. She’d be able to tell everyone that she and Chuck had fallen desperately in love.

That was the plan.

"We will be landing in Miami on schedule. Please return your trays to their closed positions and fasten your seat belts as we begin our final approach. My crew and I wish you a pleasant stay, and thank you for flying with us,” the pilot announced.

Lisa took a quick anticipatory breath as the jet cut downward through the banks of fleecy clouds. She was approaching paradise. How could her stay be anything but pleasant?

Things were looking good. All her luggage arrived. She was able to find a cab, and her ship, the SS Paradise, was waiting at the end of a crowded gangway. It was one in a fleet of Norwegian liners, and employees in Dutch costumes threaded between reggae musicians in loud shirts plunking out exotic tunes on tortoise-shaped steel drums. Everywhere Lisa looked, she saw family members locked in last-minute embraces. All she wished to embrace lay up ahead. Her bags were checked, her ticket taken, and the fact that Chuck Webb was on board, confirmed. She was practically running up the carpeted ramp.


The sight of him snagged her breath as always, the way it would any woman’s. She’d never seen him out of his tailored business suit. In the creamy polo shirt and creased beige slacks, he looked more lean and stunningly handsome than ever. And he was with her. The reality of that long-sought dream flooded her with a possessive pride. Finally, she would be on the other side of those envying stares.

"How was the wedding?” she asked as soon as her heart stilled its fluttery palpitations.

"Oh, you know how those things are. Let’s go check out our rooms and the pool.”

But Lisa was drawn to the rail. "I’d like to stay and watch us put out to sea.”

He shrugged and leaned up beside her. "If you like.” As she soaked up the excitement, she missed the way he took in the sight of the other female passengers the way a gourmet studies a buffet table of sundry dishes meant to be tasted at leisure. There was a sudden commotion on the gangway as reporters converged into a seething mass of noise and microphone cables. "Must be our benefactor.”

Lisa strained for a glimpse of Harlan Jameson, but he was swallowed by the push and shove of eager bodies that carried him like a tide down the open promenade away from her. Then she and Chuck were trapped in the crush of passengers. The latter thronged the rail to toss their colorful streamers and wave to those ashore as the SS Paradise slowly rocked away from its moorings at the coaxing of the harbor tugs.

Once the last bon voyage was shouted and ribbons trailed down to the water like fading comets, the other travelers trickled away in search of their staterooms. Chuck took her elbow, and Lisa nearly shivered with the pleasure of it.

"Let’s see if our luggage found the right rooms,” he suggested as the sleek white side of the ship increased the gap between them and solid ground. Lisa glanced down and regretted it. Beneath them, water churned restlessly, and her stomach took up a like agitation. In all the excitement, she’d never thought about them putting out to sea. Think of it as a floating hotel, she told herself nervously. In all those reruns of the Love Boat, not once had they lost a passenger to rough waters. In fact, she’d never seen one of their dapper seafarers hanging over the rail. That was television, her roiling insides prompted with an ominous rumble. Maybe she’d feel better away from the rail and the frothy reminder that there was nothing holding them up except the lapping tide.

Their outside suites were on the Promenade Deck sandwiched in the center of the 138,000 ton SS Paradise’s fourteen levels. Staring down the plushly carpeted halls was like looking along several city blocks separated by elevator banks and flanking stairs. Rooms 6000 and 6200 were at the very end. Lisa recognized her shabby canvas suitcases across the hall from Chuck’s sleek leather set. As she was fitting her key, she heard his quick, "See you in a while,” then the click of his door closing. She gazed at that brass plate proclaiming room 6000 and smiled to herself. Yes, she would see him. For seven wonderful days. Then she opened her door and pushed her bags inside.

Lisa stood for a moment, stunned. She’d been expecting a closet-sized room with a little round porthole and drop-down bunks like something from an old World War II submarine movie. This was better than most hotels she’d stayed in. The first thing that struck her was the vista of slanted windows running the length of the far wall. Though she’d nixed a suite with a balcony in order to get two separate cabins, she wasn’t disappointed, certain the view would be breathtaking once they were out of port. Set on the low bureau beneath the windows was a stunning bouquet of spring flowers. The girls from the office, she thought with a smile. Maybe Chuck. That tease of suspense was enough to prompt her across the room to check for a card.

Bon Voyage, Harlan.

She studied the bold script in some surprise. How nice of him. And twined about that pleasure was the brief tug of disappointment that Chuck hadn’t thought to send them.

Tenting the card on the bureau top, Lisa turned to survey her accommodations. They were lovely, all in pastels of peach and cream and soft green accented with hints of maroon. Twin beds pushed together to make a massive king faced the angled windows. The headboard was mirrored, creating an illusion of even greater spaciousness. As hers was a corner room, more windows ran along the side wall, and beneath them stood a floral-covered love seat. Elegant and very livable.

As she was wrestling her bags up onto one of the beds, she heard a crackle of static and the smoothly foreign voice of their captain in his welcoming speech. He concluded it by directing passengers out onto the surrounding promenade for a lifeboat drill before they cleared port. Just the thought of it brought the achiness back to Lisa’s stomach as she checked the diagram on the back of her door for the closest emergency station. With a surprisingly heavy lifejacket in hand, she tapped on Chuck’s door. Perhaps they could make it into an adventure, their first of many. No answer. She frowned slightly. Maybe he’d gone ahead.

The air on deck was moist and thickly laced with sea salt. Immediately, the sense of motion returned, that subtle shifting underfoot. The fact that the tugs and crowded dockside bobbed in time did nothing to calm her growing case of mal de mer. She tried to concentrate on what her steward was saying as he ran through the drill. Where was Chuck? She scanned the line of fellow passengers wiggling into their vests, but he wasn’t among them. Then the smiling Filipino steward appeared before her, checking her buckles and nodding. Great. It was good to know if the ship did decide to sink, she wouldn’t have to go down with it.

Thinking maybe she’d feel better if she just stretched out and closed her eyes for a few minutes, she lugged the jacket back to her room, stowed it properly, then stepped into the bathroom. Now this was what she expected to find on a ship. Itwas like a closet with a tiny sink next to the toilet. She would have to climb over the seat to get into the shower, which was little more than a two-inch buildup of tiles surrounded by a curtain. Nothing fancy, just functional. She ran water into the small metal bowl and washed her face, noticing how pale it looked when she straightened. Noticing, too, how the complimentary terry robe hanging on the back of the door swayed in a very definite rhythm. Fascinated, she watched it, the way one would a cobra’s dance, in mesmerized horror. She swallowed hard, then again, but she couldn’t choke down the reality of swelling sickness.

She reeled out of the bathroom. This was a ship. They’d be used to green-faced passengers who’d yet to get their sea legs. Dropping limply into the desk chair, she fumbled desperately through the cruise information. There it was, her own personal salvation. Dramamine, available at the purser’s desk on the Main Deck. She could make it. This was one shipboard excursion she would take on her own. Something about hurling on Chuck’s Italian loafers would immediately kill all thoughts of budding romance.

She found the stairs, forgoing the elevator. Her stomach was wobbling on a high wire; no sense in giving that fine line a good shake with a dose of extra motion. It was a short walk from the foot of the steps to the curved, brass-edged counter. Lisa grabbed onto that cool metal, her situation deteriorating fast. She couldn’t muster even a passing interest in the Shore Excursion Desk across the wide hall. Tour guides in pineapple shirts and pictures of palm trees did absolutely nothing to lessen her distress. But there was no sign of the purser.

Stifling a groan, she reached out to tap feebly on the bell. It made a sound as painfully pathetic as her lack of control.

"Here, let me. You’re not gonna rouse anyone with that little whimper.”

A big hand stretched out over the bell and, with a few vigorous pumps, produced a commanding jangle. Lisa looked up at the solid form of her rescuer. He didn’t fit her image of a luxury cruise-line passenger. He looked like he’d just finished scrubbing the deck. He wore beat-up cross trainers with laces untied. His dark blue sweatpants sagged at the ankles and knees and clung suggestively at the hips. OKLAHOMA STATE was proudly emblazoned upon his powder-blue T-shirt, which had seen a heroic amount of wash and wear. Some of the iron-on lettering had crumbled away where it stretched taut over his impossibly wide chest. A pair of reflective sunglasses dangled from the shapeless neckband of his T-shirt. To top off the whole overwhelming picture was a black Steelers baseball cap. Lisa could well imagine this man in pro football. He was as big as most backfields, tipping at least two twenty and six foot four without the slightest degree of softness. Despite his intimidating size and latent strength, Lisa was put instantly at ease the minute he smiled. And behind that wide disarming grin was a complexion almost as waxen as her own.

"The color green becomes you, if you don’t mind me saying so,” he told her, all bold white teeth and devilish blue eyes. There was an innate warmth in his voice, too, and an accent she couldn’t place. Not exactly southern but with a good ol’ boy laziness quite appealing to her Midwestern ears. Oklahoma, perhaps, just as his shirt proclaimed.

"I’m not much of a sailor,” she confessed. "You’d think I would be growing up on the Great Lakes.”

"Well, I haven’t exactly experienced my share of ocean tides out in the Dust Bowl, either. I’m beginning to think this was not my best idea.”

She found she was actually returning his smile, a feat she would have thought impossible a few minutes ago.

"Can I help you?”

Lisa turned from her big companion almost with reluctance. She didn’t need to say anything. Her coloring spoke volumes.

"A little under the weather?” the uniformed man asked sympathetically. "Don’t worry. You’ll be fine once we put out to sea and the stabilizers get to work. The Caribbean has some of the world’s smoothest sailing waters.”

Lisa managed a shaky nod, hoping this was true.

"But in the meantime,” her burly friend interrupted amiably, "how about a hit of what you’ve got under the counter to keep us from embarrassing ourselves all over your nice rugs?”

"Of course, sir.” He produced two packets. "This should relieve any queasiness until you get accustomed to the ship’s movement.”

"You got a chaser back there?”

The purser supplied two paper cups of water from his office, and Lisa was toasted with that ear-to-ear smile.


She swallowed the Dramamine and sighed.

"Think you’ll live?”

"’Fraid so,” she answered, feeling better already from a source that had nothing to do with the purser’s miracle cure. How could she fail to respond to such intensely focused charm? What was it about him that put her so completely at ease? It was more than the smile and the eyes and the gentle drawl. It was all of him. He made her think of something cozy you wrapped yourself up in on a cold Michigan winter night. That notion startled her, but she didn’t feel a bit like blushing. That, too, was unusual, since all her emotions seemed to register in a colorful barometer within her cheeks.

"You’re a real trooper,” he praised, then his voice lowered a notch until it rippled like aged bourbon whiskey. "That’s good because I’d miss seeing you at dinner.” His forefinger touched under her chin. It wasn’t a particularly intimate gesture, but her system reacted with a jolt. She was staring up at him in wide-eyed vulnerability when he added, "Take care, Lisa.”

She watched him stride away. He walked the way a farmer would plot out his fields, with great, measured steps. It wasn’t until the elevator doors closed off the sight of his smile that it hit her. And hit hard.

Of course she’d feel comfortable with him. His was the compelling voice that had kept her spirits up and her mind focused for eleven long months via her headset.

She’d just met Harlan Jameson.



Chapter Two

THE RED OR the blue?

Lisa looked at the two dresses and gnawed her lower lip. Both were sleek and meant to show a slender form to perfection. Shopping for them in the junior department had filled her with a girlish excitement. She hadn’t worn a junior size since she was a mature twelve years old. Inspecting her reflection in the anonymity of a store dressing room wasn’t the same as parading about for public display. While going down seven and a half sizes, she’d kept her evolving shape concealed in business suits for the office. No great risk there. She had the security of a tailored jacket to cling to. With these dresses, the cling would be a lot more personal.

Growing annoyed with her own indecision, she opted for the blue and dressed quickly, not wanting to be late for the second seating of dinner at 8:15. She was putting the finishing touches on her lips when the knock came at her door. With a last big breath, she went to answer it.

One sweep of Chuck’s dark eyes told Lisa how she looked and that the knee-length blue dress with its soft drape was a good choice. He was wearing one of his business suits, and somehow the familiarity was comforting.

"How’s your room?” she asked a bit nervously, realizing all at once that it was just the two of them for seven days in almost intimate proximity. The thought was as intimidating as it was exciting. A social setting was not the same as the secure boundaries of the office.

"All right,” he remarked with the off-handedness of one used to expecting luxury as the norm. "A bathroom you could turn around in would have been nice.”

She was caught between the need to apologize and the practical side of her that chided silently, Don’t complain about something when it’s free. Instead, she said neutrally, "I don’t think you’re supposed to spend much time in your cabin, anyway.”

"I know I don’t plan to.” He took her arm with a practiced gallantry. "Let’s eat. I want to check out the casinos afterward. We should be in international waters by then.”

Gamely, Lisa hung onto her smile. She’d had visions of a moon-washed stroll on deck, not standing elbow to elbow in a crowded room cramming coins into greedy slots. She reminded herself to be patient. First one, then the other.

Lisa got her first glimpse at how many people were on the ship when they waited to be seated in the spacious dining room. They were packed in tight between couples and groups all elegantly garbed and talking at once until one of the small Indonesian stewards led them to their assigned chairs. It was a long walk, all the way through the room to the cluster of tables formally dressed for eight in starched linen, Rosenthal china, and fine silver set against a wall of glass. Beyond, there was only water.

Harlan Jameson rose to greet them. The owner of Total You was garbed in satin-lapelled evening wear, but the sophisticated lines of his tux jacket couldn’t confine the raw energy of the man. Lisa was aware of an immediate warmth radiating from the flash of his smile as it touched on Chuck, then enveloped her with an even wider spread of welcome. He wasn’t a truly handsome man. He wouldn’t stun the visual senses the way Chuck did, nor would he make a woman look a second time. His features were too unexceptional—broad and pleasantly average. His dark sandy blond hair was cut conservatively close and hinted that it was starting to recede. He was someone who would go unnoticed in a crowd until he moved or spoke or fixed the arresting blue of his eyes. Then the power of the man simply crackled.

Charisma was not a word Lisa applied easily. It made her think of politicians and insincerity, but Harlan Jameson had charisma to spare, and with it came a pull so strong, it spoke loud and sure of confidence and control. It said, Follow me, trust me. And you wanted to without question. As his hand extended to Chuck, she noticed that beneath his dinner jacket and pin tucked white shirt, he was wearing a pair of black denim jeans. And Lisa began to smile, wondering if on the bottom, he still had on his unlaced gym shoes.

"I’m Harlan Jameson,” he drawled out in that honey-thick accent. "An’ you’re Chuck, right? Glad to have you here. And Lisa, hi.”

She’d almost expected him to say howdy. Then his big hand scooped hers up, and she was lost in the huge clasp that was surprisingly gentle. He continued to hold her hand in his as he turned toward the others at the table.

"Everybody, this is Lisa Reynolds and her friend, Chuck. Can’t you just tell by lookin’ at her that she’s gonna make us a fortune?”

Cheeks reddening at all the attention, Lisa’s smile strained, and she would have stepped back from sudden focus if Harlan hadn’t tugged her up closer against his side. It was like moving into the shelter of a mountain, and she drew an unexpected sense of security there.

"Lisa, you’re gonna be seeing a lot of these folks in the next few days. Chances are, you’ll be sick to death of them ’cause they’re gonna work you hard. That’s why I love ’em. They’re from New York City, so they don’t know how to relax. If I was paying them by the hour, I’d be broke. That there’s Teddy Streeter and Moe Shannon. They’ll be behind the cameras. Jill McDowell and Steve Diall are in charge of advertising. If this bunch can package me up and make me look good, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

As he said that, his thumb stroked over the tense row of her knuckles, making her aware that she was clutching his hand in her nervousness. The gesture, like the quick smile he aimed down at her, was intrinsically calming.

"Teddy and Moe can even touch up a green pallor. But it doesn’t look like they’ll have to. Feeling better?” That was said more softly, just to her. It was as if the rest of the room, and even Chuck Webb, disappeared. There was just the quiet concern of his question and the compelling intimacy of his gaze.

"Yes. Thank you. You seem to have weathered the storm, too.”

He winked. "It’d take more than a tossing ocean to keep me from the dinner table. You grab a seat and let’s get to it. No business tonight. This is just for getting to know everybody.”

Chuck took her elbow, and for a moment, she was pulled between them until Harlan relinquished her hand. Then, Lisa followed her dark escort around the table to their two empty chairs. She was now placed directly across from the dynamic entrepreneur, a fact Lisa was very conscious of as she slid into her seat beneath the simmer of his stare.

Immediately, their small, smiling steward was passing about menus, bowing with unfailing courtesy. Grateful for the distraction, Lisa opened hers and thought she’d gone to gastronomical heaven. Her eyes grew ever larger as they ascended the right-hand column. Appetizers of smoked salmon and Russian-style eggs and a fruit cup in maraschino liqueur, chilled strawberry broth, entrées of broiled prime sirloin steak with sautéed mushrooms, Long Island duckling Bigarade, and veal escalope "Fritty Quanty,” an international cheese selection with Holland rusks, Calimyrna figs, and stem ginger in syrup. And the desserts: baba au rhum, Bavarian cream puffs, pineapple cheesecake, and ice creams. Her taste buds came alive with anticipation, but all it took was a reminding glance about the table to rein them in from a runaway gallop.

"And what will you have, miss?” the little waiter inquired.

Swallowing the temptation to say one of each and two from the desserts, Lisa murmured, "The chilled melon, poached Boston sole, a green salad with French dressing on the side, and coffee, black, please.”

"And for dessert?”

She closed the menu firmly. "Just coffee, thank you.” She reached shakily for her water glass, feeling as though she’d dodged through a mine field. Across the way, Harlan Jameson lifted his glass in a silent salute, and her color deepened.

"Don’t get up,” came a breathy voice, and every man at the table was instantly on his feet. Lisa glanced up and could immediately see why. The most beautiful woman she’d ever seen had come to a stop behind the vacant chair on Harlan’s right. As he pulled the chair out for her, red-tipped fingers curved about his jaw, turning it for her quick kiss. "I’m sorry I’m late, Harley. I just got through to Milwaukee.” She reached for one of the linen napkins to scrub the careless smear of her bright lip rouge from his cheek. "I’ve been waiting for those sales figures for—”

"Maggie.” He said her name softly, but it stopped her without further words. She raised one finely arched brow in question and waited for him to explain. "We agreed to no business tonight. Think you can manage to come up with something else to say?”

Wide red lips pursed. "I could try.”

"Lisa, Chuck, this is Maggie Jameson, my head of marketing and executive vice-president of Total You. Maggie, Lisa Reynolds and Chuck... I’m sorry?”

"Webb,” Chuck supplied in a throaty rumble. "A pleasure, Mrs. Jameson.”

"Maggie,” she corrected, giving him a curious scrutiny. "We’re all family here. And the Mrs. is past tense.”

Beside her, Lisa could feel her companion’s interest hone in like a high frequency vibration.

What man’s wouldn’t? Maggie Jameson was a tall, cool Scandinavian beauty. She had baby fine blond hair, which she wore with a sleek side part and pushed back behind her ears, and her bone structure was chiseled perfection. As if her looks alone weren’t designed to stop a man cold, her outfit was sure to heat him back up fast. A white ribbed body suit skimmed her figure. Over that was glistening red leather. The jacket was cut bolero-style over a snug skirt ending at mid-thigh. When she eased into her chair, the movement was all supple provocation. Chuck was the last to resume his seat.

Once settled, Maggie drew a slender cigarette from her bag with a pseudo-sincere, "Anyone mind?” Teddy Streeter, the photographer, instantly produced a light. She was just bending down toward it when Harlan plucked the cigarette from between her lips.

"I do.”

Pale blue eyes grew glacial, then Maggie smiled, and the frost melted. "Really, Harley, if you weren’t so sweet and making such an obscene amount of money, I would have murdered you years ago.”

"Maybe we should stick to talking business.” That was offered up by Jill McDowell, the myopic head of advertising, and all of the Total You coworkers laughed somewhat guardedly at the inside joke.

"I’ll be good,” Maggie promised silkily.

"And when she was good, she was very, very good,” quoted the dour-faced Moe Shannon. "And when she was bad...”

Maggie Jameson turned her lovely head toward him and stuck out her tongue. Just then the waiter paused at her elbow. She gave the menu a cursory glance and ordered brusquely, "The salmon, the executive salad, baba au rhum, and a John Collins. I’d like the Collins, now, please.” The menu snapped closed, and it and the waiter were dismissed from her attention. Then her gaze centered on the younger woman across the table. Lisa had the feeling of being measured incrementally by that cool stare, not as a fellow female but as a marketing tool. Finally, the blonde head nodded. "Very nice,” she pronounced to no one in particular, then she focused on Lisa as an individual. "Welcome aboard, Lisa.” That was said with surprising warmth, and when Lisa nodded, an easy conversation started up around the table between people who meshed together well, both professionally and personally. As outsiders, Lisa and Chuck observed the casual banter with interest and Maggie Jameson, foremost.

Lisa was puzzled by her reaction to the sleek sophisticate. She had no right to be jealous of the woman for her poise and confident sexuality, but as the dinner progressed, she was more and more aware of Chuck’s obvious attraction to the svelte Mrs. Jameson. Old habits died hard, and at the side of the man she’d long coveted, Lisa felt the familiar roil of self-doubt take a vicious hold. That well of uncomfortable misery only deepened when Teddy suggested they move from the litter of empty plates and discarded napkins to one of the night spots up on the Atlantic Deck. Work would start in the morning. This night was meant for fun. Chuck was all for the idea and never noticed her quiet reticence as they left the dining room for the central bank of elevators.

The Bermuda Triangle was a fantasy of flashing hot pink floor tiles and strobing lime green neon tubes. Lisa was struck at once by the loud pulse of danceable pop music and the haze of smoke layering down from the ceiling. Steve elbowed through to commandeer two adjoining tables in the hub of confusion. Whether it was intentional or not, Chuck ended up sitting with Harlan, Maggie, and Steve while Lisa joined the two photographers and Jill. When Maggie drew out her long filter tips, her ex-husband made no objection. There was enough secondhand smoke already floating in the air of the designated smoking zone to put the carbon monoxide fog of a traffic jam to shame. As the music jumped and the noise began to pound behind Lisa’s brow, she watched Chuck lean close to say something to Maggie. He was laying on the charm as thick as a smoker’s cloud, and the beauteous blonde was responding.

No strings, she’d told him. Lisa cursed herself for insisting on those conditions. How could he not feel obligated? After all, he was there as her guest, and he was all but ignoring her to schmooze up to their benefactor’s ex. What difference did it make that Maggie Jameson was eye-popping gorgeous? Lisa sighed unhappily. It made all the difference.

Their drinks arrived and kept coming. She stuck to designer water and noticed Harlan did the same, but the mood grew boisterous between the others as the swizzle sticks mounted. Abruptly, the rather homely Jill McDowell with her thick bifocals and ample bosom was dragging a sputtering Moe out onto the dance floor to engage in a suggestive shimmy. Maggie snubbed out her cigarette and signaled for Harlan to join her in the crowd of gyrating bodies. Laughing, he shook his head. And Chuck pounced on her availability. She didn’t turn him down. Harlan watched them move together, his smile small and apparently unconcerned. Lisa couldn’t look at all. The acrid air burned her eyes. She blamed it for the watery condition of her eyes.

The music shifted into a soft, sultry cadence, and for the first time, she was able to hear the voices of those at her table. And she distinctly heard Harlan, who was wedged up almost under her elbow at the adjoining table, exclaim, "Now this, I can handle. How ’bout it, Lisa?” He was extending his hand. After a second of hesitation, hers nestled into his broad palm.

The song was "Sailing,” the quiet passion of its lyric meant to invite a gliding closeness. Harlan held her easily in the curve of his arm. He was a surprisingly good dancer for such a big man, but Lisa didn’t notice. She was busy checking the packed dance floor for signs of Chuck and Maggie, achily preparing for the sight of her hot red leather melting against him. Then, she saw them back at the table, and Chuck was looking not at his partner but directly at her with a half frown on his handsome face. A shock of pleasure broke through her despairing mood. Chuck was jealous of Harlan Jameson? What a wonderful thought! Well, maybe he was, just a little, but that was more than enough to have her smiling when she finally lifted her head.


Lisa flushed as Harlan’s greeting called her on her rudeness. He didn’t seem annoyed by her preoccupation, only glad to have her full attention at last. He guided her through a series of quick steps that took them farther into the cluster of couples and out of sight of their table.

"You’ve been quiet.” An observation, not a question as to why. She liked that. No pressure.

"Tired, I guess. It’s been a long day.”

"Jus’ lay your head down and take a little nap then. I don’t mind. I’ve been told I’m as comfortable as an old couch.” And with that, his arm cinched tight, pulling her up to meet the huge, hard line of his body. When she would hesitate, his hand cupped the back of her head to direct her cheek against one satiny lapel. It took a few awkward steps to adjust to the proximity, then they were moving together, touching from head to toe. Her arms stole about his middle, forming a tentative circle. There was a solid feel to him that comforted all her senses. It was easy to close her eyes and trust him to lead for the remaining verses of the song.

And when the music changed back to its bebop-ping beat, he continued to lead her in those slow swaying steps. Harlan Jameson was apparently a man who moved to his own rhythm, unbothered by what went on around him. Surrounded by his embrace, Lisa followed, drifting with that inner tempo she alone could hear. It was the compelling drum of his heartbeats, the soothing seduction of his even breaths, and the charmed repetitions of the big hand rubbing along the base of her neck. All the rest ceased to exist for that short space of time when reality was suspended. And Lisa Reynolds was sailing.

"Hey,” came the rumble of his voice beneath her cheek. "I think we’re out of sync with everyone else.”

Lisa smiled without opening her eyes. "Maybe they’re out of sync with us.”

His chuckle made a stirring vibration. Lisa lifted her head to look up at him. The piercing blue of his eyes surpassed the flashing neons overhead for intensity. He was smiling, just a slight curve of his lips. He had a nice mouth, shaped by sensual sweeps and an invitingly full contour. Lost in the controlling brilliance of his gaze, she wondered if his kiss would taste as luxurious as those lips suggested. Unbidden, her eyes began to slip shut, beckoning that moment of discovery. His movements slowed, then stopped. Vaguely, Lisa was aware of how they must look, pressed together in a loverlike embrace in the midst of the energetic dancers, of the enticing tip of her face toward his, of his sudden complete stillness. And then the awareness of one thing intruded, seeping to the surface of her almost dreamy reverie: Chuck was watching.

Lisa’s eyes snapped open, surprise registering in them like a sleepwalker shaken to wakefulness. As her partner regarded her, his expression carefully contained, she stepped back, severing the physical connection between her and Harlan, breaking from the unexpected emotional tie. Seeing her confusion, Harlan led her wordlessly back to their tables where Chuck was standing behind her chair with a proprietary scowl. Before he could speak, she reached down for her purse.

"I’m going to call it a night,” she announced with a forced smile.

"Oh, come on, Lisa,” Jill chided good-naturedly. "Don’t be a party pooper.”

"I’m afraid I’m just plain pooped.”

"I’ll walk with you.”

Chuck’s possessive statement would have pleased her to no end any other time. But tonight, she was too flustered to be more than simply grateful for the escort.

The quiet of the hall was blissful. It was a single flight up to their deck and just a short walk to her suite. As she fit her key, Chuck angled between her and the door with his most beguiling smile.

"Are you sure you’re ready for the evening to be over so soon?”

Then he was kissing her.

Lisa stood still, stunned. Not because the wet stroke of his tongue devastated her will... but because it didn’t. Oh, she was certain Chuck Webb could melt the most hardened heart with his charm and his practiced lips. If she was more herself, she probably would have succumbed along with the majority of those before her. But suddenly she was impatient for his embrace to end. It felt uncomfortable, not a genuine overture for their relationship to progress but as an appeal to join her in her bed. That, she wasn’t ready for. Her hands braced upon his chest, pushing, levering for distance. He gave with reluctance.

"What’s wrong?” he demanded rather breathlessly.

"Nothing. I’m... I’m just tired. I’ll see you in the morning.”


But she had her door open and was closing it before he could get the rest of his sentence out. She leaned there against that guarded portal, safe in the surrounding darkness of her cabin. Alone and unsettled. Not because of Chuck’s kiss or his push to gain entry to her room... and other things. That’s not what had her so disturbed. It was because she’d wanted to experience that same searing union with Harlan Jameson.

She drew a slow, shuddering breath and let it out in a cleansing gust. What was wrong with her? Wasn’t her whole intention behind this trip to get Chuck into that exact position outside her door? And what did she do when she had him there? Run. Like a scared teenager. It was the excitement, the stress of new surroundings and new people. That was it. What she needed was time alone with Chuck, so they could talk, so they could get to know one another. That wouldn’t happen if she hid in her room. She straightened and stiffened her resolve. Before she could talk herself out of it, she was back in the hall, tapping on his door. She’d invite him for a nightcap, not in her cabin but in one of the downstairs lounges. She was smiling, feeling better about her decision. Until the unanswered silence stretched out, and it grew obvious that Chuck was not in his room.

Resolutely, Lisa returned to the stairs. One deck down, the swell of noise and blending strains of music greeted her. Thinking he might have returned to the Bermuda Triangle, she glanced in there but their tables were empty. Her departure had apparently broken up the party. Remembering that Chuck had wanted to try his luck at the gambling tables, she headed for Black Jack’s, the ship’s floating casino. There, the din of voices was even louder, punctuated by the dings and whirring clicks of the devices of chance lining every available mirrored surface. She pushed her way inside the double doors, scanning the sea of jovial faces. Then she saw him standing at the roulette table. She looked toward him, but as her lips began to move in a smile of greeting, the gesture froze.

He wasn’t alone.

It hadn’t taken Chuck any time at all to replace her with a slinky brunette in a halter dress. And from the way the woman was rubbing herself against him, Lisa was certain their evening together wouldn’t end outside her door.



Please review these other products:

Love's Own Reward

Dana Ransom

May 2014 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-5-096

Her act of courage destroys everything...

Our Price: US$14.95

click to see more