Deborah’s mother, Beth, was approached by a youngish man with a dark tan and a moustache. She wasn’t put off by his uniform, as she usually was, because Staff Captain Montgomery led a crew on a cruise ship, not in the military. He was not her husband or ex-husband, nor did he have any connection at all to Beth, except they were on the same ship in the middle of the Caribbean, where a live band was playing something danceable, and even though it was no doubt part of his job when not actively on duty to mingle with the guests, he had decided to seek out the woman in the black skirt and sleeveless, sequinned top, whose hair was just a little too long, and whose eyes sparkled and changed colour as the mirrored dance ball spun lazily overhead.
“May I?” he asked with slight flourish and a self-mocking smile.
They did a turn on the dance floor, a handsome couple in a candlelit room, enjoying a kind of hybrid waltz. Beth loved to dance and was good at it. Staff Captain Montgomery was less talented, but made up for his lack of rhythm with his enthusiasm and gusto for the role of handsome captain performing his gentlemanly duties to pretty women on a Thursday night, in the Tuscany Restaurant transformed for the evening into an informal ballroom.
“Are you enjoying the cruise, Ms Hernandez?”
“Very much so, my first time at sea,” said Beth.
“Oh, then you must allow me to give you a special tour,” he said.
“Special?” said Beth.
“Yes, for an especially beautiful woman who has never before been to sea,” said the Staff Captain. “Perhaps later this evening?”
“Perhaps,” said Beth, who had never had such a conversation where the word “perhaps” was so frequently on her lips and had such mysterious undertones. It was immensely enjoyable.
Which was how Beth Hernandez found herself in the small bed in the surprisingly small cabin of the Staff Captain of the Cruise Ship Caribbean Discovery. Earlier there had been a look through a window to the engine room, and a glance at the main dining room kitchen, empty and sparkling clean, and a quick visit to the dimly lit bridge, where the Captain was pleasant and polite, and not at all surprised that his second-in-command would introduce him to a passenger so late in the evening. Perhaps it was common practice on the part of Staff Captain Montgomery. Beth didn’t care.
It was too much fun to feel again, after so long, her skin from neck to toe, pressed up against another warm skin, neck to toe. She’d forgotten the intimate smell of a man, the different textures and noises, and she revelled in them.
Until there was a sharp rap at the door, and Geoffrey rose from bed and she heard the even sharper sound of a woman’s angry voice. It sounded very much like the Excursions Director, Polly, whom Beth had heard speak in the theater that very afternoon, recommending sights and shops at their next port of call, St. Therese. Oh dear.
The shouting and murmuring ended, and Geoffrey returned and crawled back under the covers, meeting Beth skin to skin once again, and kissed her on the neck, whispering his apologies.
That night there was a storm and the ship tossed and people were lifted out of their beds. Beth didn’t notice at all, and crept back to her own cabin before dawn, and slept through breakfast.