by Mary Margret Daughtridge
The sound, followed by a long screeching, scraping scream of metal, punched at her eardrums and shuddered through the dance floor beneath her feet. Eric widened his stance with the seaman’s instinct to keep them balanced on the rocking deck, while his arms tightened around her. On all sides, dancers were knocked off their feet.
As people reacted according to their temperament a babble of moans, curses, and sobs replaced the lilt of the orchestra
“We’ve hit an iceberg!” a woman’s voice carried above the confusion of sound.
Iceberg! The word traveled through the room, unstoppable as a bad smell. Repeated in different accents, it escalated into panicky screams.
An elderly woman in a voluminous blue robe, carrying a wand tipped with a star, tapped with the wand on Trish’s arm. “What did she say?” the woman demanded, cupping her ear. Despite the querulous tone, a life time of good humor had molded the woman’s face into a permanent smile, and her faded blue eyes sparkled with kindly intelligence.
As if by magic the hormone induced fog—a symptom of testosterone intoxication as well she knew—vanished from Trish’s brain, and she thunked back to reality. She was on a cruise ship for Pete’s sake, and the woman’s question was the most normal thing that had happened this evening.
Forget having hair and teeth, male passengers who walked without a cane were a rarity aboard a cruise ship. Why hadn't she seen the stud muffins before tonight? They should have stuck out, as she did, no matter how large the crowd. The average passenger was over seventy-five, anyone under forty stood out like a spot light was trained on them.
Where was her intelligence? She had been reacting instead of choosing goals for herself. Had she accomplished nothing in her six months of celibacy? Without questioning who they were or why they were suddenly there, or even what she wanted, she'd flitted from one to the other like a drunken homing pigeon.
“Did she say iceberg?” the old lady prompted, poking Trish lightly with her wand.
Trish rubbed the tingly spot where the wand had touched. Her mind was clearing rapidly. She could almost feel her IQ rising. “There is no iceberg!" she asserted.
"Pretty sure. We’re in the Gulf of Aden," she explained. "The water temperature here is seventy-three degrees!”
The grey head bobbed in amazement. “Imagine that. But I'm certain we hit something. What do you think we should do?” the woman asked with another kindly smile, just as if she thought Trish knew.
“I think the crew will tell us…” Trish’s voice died away as she looked around the ornate ballroom. Gone were the ubiquitous red-coated stewards. Ubiquitous, not because there were so many of them, but because they worked incredible eighteen-hour days, performing two, three, and four jobs, giving the impression that they were everywhere.
Gone too were the far less-visibly-hard-working officers in their spiffy white uniforms.
Present were the hotties. Every single one. Marcus, Pieter, Mustafa. Even the Malfoy-clone whose dark aura had chilled her. And Eric. Oh, and Armand. He wasn’t her type but he had a hot reputation, and he’d gotten it somewhere.
She hoped in the buff assortment there was at least one man she could trust. The Cinderella Godmother was right. The passengers of this boat needed a plan and needed it now.
Because the popping sound she’d been hearing intermittently—she suddenly realized was gunfire.