Raffaele and Jess's story Argeneau book #28
Avon
September 18, 2018
ISBN-10: 0062855131
ISBN-13: 9780062855138





Argeneau Tree
Notte Family Tree
Enforcer Tree

New York Times bestselling author Lynsay Sands brings the heat in this new Argeneau novel, as one woman is rescued by an irresistible immortal …

“Vampires...”

When Raffaele Notte pulls a barely dressed, disoriented woman from the ocean, the last thing he expects is for her to utter that word. The immortal has come to the island resort to help his cousin, but now, it seems, there are rogue vampires dining on unsuspecting tourists. And he soon realizes that not only is Jess a target, she’s also the life mate he’s been waiting for…

Vampires are real. Jess would’ve never believed it until she saw them with her own eyes. She knows she has to get off the island, and her gallant rescuer has offered to help. There’s something about Raffaele that’s unlike any man she has ever met, and his touch sends pleasure through her that is beyond all imagining. But when Jess discovers who he really is, will she risk life as she knows it for a chance of forever by his side?


It involves Raffaele, Zanipolo, and Santo who we met back in Under A Vampire Moon, as well as a bunch of newcomers and pirates too.  Who wouldn’t want to read a story about vampires and pirates? They go together like peanut butter and chocolate!


Goodreads reviewers rated it 4.4 out of 5 stars!

Investigating a rogue nest of vampires preying on tourists at a popular resort destination, Raffaele Notte meets Jess, his fated mate, who witnessed a horrifying event and wants nothing at all to do with immortals.
Vacationing in Punta Cana, immortal cousins Raffaele, Zanipolo, and Santo notice many of the resort guests have vampire bite wounds. While exploring the situation, they rescue Jess from the ocean and realize she may be Raffaele's life mate since he can't read her thoughts. Zani and Santo can, however, and learn she jumped off a party cruise after witnessing a frightening vampire attack. Piecing the facts together, the cousins comprehend that a group of rogue vampires is luring tourists onto an old pirate ship and feeding off them, then controlling their memories to make them forget the event. Horrified by her experience and convinced no one would believe her if she told them, at first Jess just wants to get home and is grateful for the help the three cousins offer, but her attraction to Raffaele is explosive. The cousins wait to tell her the truth about themselves even as she and Raffaele fall into a passionate affair, but it turns out she's also a potential life mate for the pirate captain. When the pirates come after her and she discovers that the cousins are also vampires, she tries to escape them all and winds up back on the ship. A grand rescue forces all the parties to listen, and while Jess learns the secrets of the Argeneau immortals, it becomes clear that the pirates are not nearly as villainous as they seem. Sands' newest Argeneau title features her typical combination of pathos and humor while introducing another set of characters readers will likely meet again: the vampirates.
A sexy, relatively lighthearted installment of the Argeneau saga. Review by Kirkus Reviews.

Prologue

“It’s hot, huh?”
Raffaele grimaced at his cousin Zanipolo’s comment and glanced down the length of his reclining body again to ensure he was still fully in the shade of the umbrella. He was, but it didn’t seem to make much difference when it came to the early-morning heat. Damn, it was hot. Humid too, and that was worse. He’d lived more than two thousand years and yet had never traveled to a place where the humidity was 88 percent as it was here in Punta Cana. That was a choice. Raffaele disliked feeling sticky for no reason. Sweating due to hard labor was one thing, but being coated with dampness when just standing still was not pleasant to his mind.
Sighing, he leaned back on the lounge chair and squinted unhappily around the sun-drenched beach. They’d flown in that morning, landing at 5 a.m. After settling into their room at the resort, Zani had insisted on coming out for a swim before the sun rose and they retired to sleep the day away. Raffaele had agreed to accompany him, but had got out of the ocean first and, feeling zapped by the heat and humidity already in evidence at that early hour, had lain down on a lounge chair on the beach for a nap. He’d told Zanipolo to wake him when he was ready to return to their room.
Zani hadn’t woken him. Instead, Raffaele had woken up on his own three hours later . . . by which time the beach was filling with people and the sun was high in the sky. Now he was stuck here until nightfall unless he wanted to expose himself to the damaging rays of the sun and have to dig deep into their stash of blood to repair that damage, which he didn’t want to do. Getting more blood wasn’t like ordering a margarita here on the beach, especially in the Dominican Republic. It got complicated in countries like this, so why cause all that trouble when he was perfectly safe and could avoid the necessity simply by staying where he was?
Mind you, it meant their cousin Santo was left alone up in their room. The thought made Raffaele glance back toward the resort’s buildings. Santo was the reason they were on this trip. Not that he’d wanted to come. They were here at the insistence of Lucian Argeneau, the head of the North American Council. While they were Europeans and shouldn’t really fall under his purview, the man had pull pretty much everywhere. He was also a relative by marriage now. Sort of.
Raffaele frowned briefly over the complexity of Lucian Argeneau’s relationship to his family, and then shrugged it away in favor of worrying about his cousin Santo . . . and he was worried about him. Santo Notte was quiet and grim by nature, but had been even grimmer than usual the last fourteen months since their “adventures” in Venezuela. The poor bastard had been one of the hunters kidnapped near the end of the ordeal, and he’d basically been tortured by the madman Dr. Dressler. Physically, Santo had recovered quickly once they’d rescued him and the other Enforcers who had been taken, but psychologically . . .
Raffaele’s mouth tightened grimly. Everyone had been upset when Dr. Dressler had avoided capture and fled Venezuela, but Santo had taken it worse than most. His determination to find the scientist who had put him through such torture verged on obsession. It was all he thought about anymore.
The way Raffaele saw it, Dressler wouldn’t make it to the Council for judgment if Santo was the one to find him. He would have the man’s head. Which was fine, really. There was a Kill-on-Sight order on Dressler. The man was just too dangerous to both mortal and immortal alike to risk losing him again . . . if they ever found him.
Unfortunately, after more than a year of fruitless searching, there had been no sign of Dressler, and Santo wasn’t taking it well. He was angry, frustrated, and even more withdrawn than he had been before the torture. His nightmares weren’t helping, Raffaele was sure. While Santo had always had them, they were more frequent now and, if the screams that woke him—and everyone else—from sleep were anything to judge by, more violent. Worse than all of that, though, while Santo insisted on helping the hunters search for Dressler, he had begun to ignore the orders Mortimer gave and started rushing into rogue nests without caution or care. He was taking risks that put not only his own life in danger, but the lives of the hunters who worked with him.
That wasn’t acceptable behavior, and Raffaele hadn’t been surprised when Lucian Argeneau and their uncle Julius had got together and decided Santo needed some counseling. They basically forced him to talk to Gregory Hewitt, an immortal psychologist who was also married to Lucian’s niece, Lissianna Argeneau. Raffaele hadn’t been terribly surprised when the man didn’t get far with him. Santo had never been much of a talker. After three sessions, Greg had suggested Santo be forced to take a break and see if that helped.
Of course, Santo hadn’t wanted to take this break. In fact, he’d at first refused, and announced that he intended to continue his hunt for Dressler with, or without, the Enforcers. Only Julius and Lucian threatening to approach the Council about performing a 3-on-1 to erase the unpleasant memories had made him give in. Once they had his reluctant agreement, Raffaele and Zani had been enlisted to accompany him. They were supposed to keep an eye on him, and make sure that he relaxed. If they didn’t see some improvement in him over this enforced holiday, Santo would be in for another round of counseling on their return. If that failed, a 3-on-1 was inevitable.
A 3-on-1 was a procedure where three immortals merged together and wiped away the memories of a fourth individual, and Raffaele was a bit torn on the issue. On one hand, a 3-on-1 might be the best thing for his cousin. The man had a score of bad memories to remove. Dressler was not the first to torture him. On the other hand, it was a risky business, with all sorts of possible drawbacks, including leaving the immortal in question a drooling idiot, which was why it had been outlawed unless condoned by the Council. On the other hand, dead was no better, and if it worked and gave Santo some peace and the ability to sleep without night terrors that left him screaming and thrashing . . . well, maybe it was for the best.
Sighing, Raffaele turned away from the buildings and relaxed on the recliner again. By his estimation, Santo should be asleep by now in their room, and no doubt shrieking his head off as he struggled with the nightmares that plagued him. In truth, the beach, hot as it was, would probably be more restful . . . if he could actually risk falling asleep here now that the sun was up.
“Drink, señor?”
Raffaele glanced at the waiter who now stood at the end of his lounge chair. The man was bent at the waist to peer at him under the thatched umbrella.
“No . . . Thank you.” The last part was almost a sigh. It was only nine thirty in the morning, for God’s sake, far too early for alcohol. Not that he bothered with alcohol, but mortals did and even for them it must surely be too early? But this was the third time he’d had to say “no thank you,” and by his reckoning, he’d have to say it again in about fifteen minutes either to the same eager waiter, or to another one of the men in orange shorts and shirts carrying trays around the beach.
“He’ll have water,” Zanipolo announced. “And a margarita. The same for me.”
When Raffaele scowled at him, Zanipolo shrugged. “You need to stay hydrated.”
“Right, ’cause liquor hydrates so well,” Raffaele said dryly.
“No, but it will look to others like you’re relaxed and fun and ready to party, rather than the grumpy old bastard you are,” Zanipolo said lightly.
Raffaele grunted at that, and then demanded irritably, “Tell me again why you didn’t wake me up when you got out of the water so we could return to our room to sleep?”
“We’ll never find life mates hiding out in the hotel room all day long,” Zanipolo pointed out. “This is where we need to be to catch one.”
“Right. Here on the beach in the Dominican Republic . . . in May, for God’s sake,” he said with disgust, and then muttered, “I can’t believe I let you take charge of making arrangements for this trip. What was wrong with Italy? Or anywhere it wouldn’t be so hot and humid?”
“We’ve spent our entire lives avoiding the sun and places like this,” Zanipolo said with exaggerated patience, probably because it was the tenth time he’d had to say it since they’d landed. “Instead, we search clubs and other nightspots for our life mates. But Christian found his life mate at a resort like this.” He paused and raised his eyebrows, as if that were a significant point, and then continued, “Maybe we’ve been looking in the wrong spots. Maybe one of these sunny spots we’ve always avoided is where we will actually find our life mates.”
Raffaele heaved a sigh, shook his head, and leaned back on the lounge chair. While Zanipolo’s suggestion had made sense back in Canada, where it was cooler, now that they were here, Raffaele didn’t see how they could catch anything in this place . . . other than heatstroke. Unable to risk the sun, they couldn’t swim, couldn’t play volleyball, and couldn’t participate in anything else that might allow them to actually interact with females. All they could do was lie there on the loungers in the relative safety of the umbrella’s shade and wait for night so they could actually move. By that time, he’d no doubt be stiff from the damned hard lounge chair and too exhausted to catch anything but some z’s.
“Take a nap,” Zanipolo suggested.
“I can’t,” Raffaele muttered grumpily.
“Why?”
“The sun moves,” he pointed out with exasperation. “It could move enough that I’m no longer in the shade and I’d get burned. I need to stay awake to guard against that.”
“I’ll tell you if you need to move,” Zanipolo assured him.
“Like you told me you were done swimming?” Raffaele asked grimly.
“You told me to wake you when I was ready to return to our room, not when I was done swimming,” Zanipolo said firmly, and then grinned. “I am not yet ready to go in.”
Raffaele grimaced with irritation and closed his eyes. The little pipsqueak was right. He had said that—a stupid oversight on his part. Next time, he’d have to be more careful in his choice of words.
“Did you notice the marks on that girl when she walked past us?” Zanipolo asked suddenly.
Sighing, Raffaele opened his eyes and glanced around. Despite the early hour, there were at least fifty females in the near vicinity, and while more than half of them were over forty, they were still just girls to an immortal who had seen as many centuries as he had. “Which girl? What marks?”
“The blonde in the yellow bikini,” Zanipolo said, pointing.
Raffaele followed his gesture to a young woman in a large crowd of people in their mid-twenties. They were gathered in a circle between the rows of lounge chairs just a little to the right of them, chatting and laughing. Raffaele’s gaze slid over her. She had a killer figure, but he didn’t see anything unusual. “Okay. What marks?”
“Her neck.”
Raffaele raised his gaze, pausing on the marks in question.
“What do you think?” Zanipolo asked after a moment of silence.
“I think we’re sharing the resort with a vampire,” Raffaele said solemnly, and was vaguely aware of the other man turning to peer at him with surprise. He usually didn’t use that term to refer to one of their kind. None of them did. It was an insult in their eyes. Vampires were dead and soulless creatures who crawled out of their graves to feed on mortals. Raffaele and his kind were immortals, all very much alive, all still retaining their souls, and nowadays they stuck to bagged blood. However, he was cranky and felt like insulting the rogue immortal who was breaking their laws, so vampire it was.
“Most mortals would call us vampires,” Zanipolo pointed out with amusement.
“Yes,” Raffaele agreed, watching as the woman laughed and then started to turn away from the group. “But we aren’t biters.”
“Well, except in a pinch,” Zanipolo pointed out, and then glanced back to the blonde as she headed toward the buildings. Pursing his lips thoughtfully, he added, “Maybe her biter wasn’t a rogue immortal, but a good one in a pinch.”
“Yeah. And maybe Frosty the Snowman will visit us here,” Raffaele said, his gaze narrowing as it moved to the others in the group.
“Such cynicism,” Zanipolo admonished.
“Not cynicism,” he assured him. “Take a closer look at her friends, but not the necks.”
As Zanipolo followed his suggestion, Raffaele slid his own gaze over the group again. Each individual had similar marks . . . two holes, about the same distance apart give or take a millimeter or so. But the others didn’t have them on the neck. One bore the mark on the inner curve of the elbow, another the wrist, another the ankle. One fellow even had them on his inner thigh, quite visible below the tight Speedo swimsuit he wore.
Eyes narrowed, Raffaele quickly scanned the other sunbathers around them, before adding, “And that group on our left.”
“A nest,” Zanipolo breathed with dismay as he noted the marks on the group of four, seated three lounge chairs over from them.
“That’s what it looks like to me,” Raffaele said quietly.
“What do we do?” Zanipolo asked with a frown.
Raffaele drew his gaze away from the group and let it slide to the ocean as he shrugged. “You’ve got your cell phone. Call Lucian or Mortimer. They’ll know who runs the Rogue Hunters here in the Dominican Republic and can give them a heads-up.”
“If there even are Rogue Hunters here,” Zanipolo said with concern. “Is this part of the purview of the South American Council?”
Raffaele was silent for a moment and then said, “Whether it is or not, Lucian will know what to do.”
“Yeah,” Zanipolo muttered, and reached for the cell phone lying on his towel between the chairs. “I’ll call it in.”


Chapter 1

“Looky, looky, beautiful señorita. You like? Sí? You buy? Very cheap.”
Jess forced a smile even as she shook her head at the stall owner walking along beside her. The man was moving backward next to her, matching her slow stride and running one hand over the many colorful wraps hanging along the front of his shop.
“But look! Is beautiful for you. Cheapy cheapy too,” he protested, somehow managing to sound hurt at her lack of interest.
Jess merely shook her head again, and then moved more quickly to get away from him. Much to her relief, the man dropped away to approach someone else, his good cheer returning to his voice as he called out, “Looky, looky, beautiful señorita. Very cheap. You like? You buy?”
Jess didn’t bother glancing around to see who he had approached now. She already knew that any female tourist, whether she was aged eight or eighty, fifty pounds or five hundred, was a beautiful señorita. The vendors didn’t discriminate here. They were also incredibly aggressive. Jess found that a bit distressing. She didn’t like attention being drawn to herself and didn’t like constantly having to say no to people. It was one thing she would not miss when they headed home . . . that and the humidity. Dear God, every time she stepped out of her hotel room it was like stepping into a sauna. Not that the hotel room was much better. It was cooler, but just as wet, so that everything in it was wet too—her clothes, the bedsheets, the towels, herself. She hadn’t felt dry since arriving and was sure she was going to start growing mold on her body somewhere before they left.
“I don’t see our bus, but perhaps it’s farther down the street,” Jess said to her cousin now, glancing at the open area ahead. The gates between the vendors’ stalls and the road had been wide open when they’d arrived, but were half-closed now, leaving enough room for people to walk out but not for vehicles to get through.
When Allison didn’t immediately respond, Jess added, “What do you think?” She glanced around, only to stop dead when she didn’t find her cousin behind her as she had been since leaving the boat.
“Allison?” She turned to peer over the mass of bodies moving toward her. A good eighty to a hundred people had been on the trip to the Seaquarium. A large boat altered to look like a pirate’s ship had picked them up at the dock here and taken them out to the Seaquarium, where they’d “swum” with stingrays and sharks.
Eager to get back to land, Allison had rushed Jess off the boat at the head of the group to file back up the beach to the vending stalls. Most of their hundred shipmates were now moving toward her, a wave of people in swimsuits, some with cover-ups, some carrying bags, and most of them still wet from snorkeling at the coral reef after the Seaquarium. They moved around her like a wave around a boulder when the tide came in, all headed for the half-closed gate and the vehicles waiting beyond.
“Allie?” Jess said a little louder, not seeing her and unsure when she’d lost her.
“If you’re looking for your blonde friend, she stopped to talk to one of those dangerous-looking pirates,” an elderly lady in a black bathing suit and cover-up said helpfully, tipping her head up to see her from under the large straw hat she wore.
“One of the dangerous-looking pirates? You mean the performers?” Jess asked with confusion. They’d arrived onshore to a “surprise” performance by men and women dressed as pirates. They had put on a show of fighting and dancing in a circle, performing some tricks and tumbling that hadn’t been half-bad. Certainly, they had been better than the dance show the crew had performed on the boat. Still, Jess wouldn’t have called them dangerous looking . . . a little dashing, perhaps, but not dangerous.
“No. Not them. One of the ones who came to mix and mingle with the crowd after the performers’ show ended,” the old woman explained.
“Oh,” Jess murmured, glancing past the woman toward the stalls and stores again. Hot, tired, suffering sore feet, and basically sick of listening to Allison’s whining, she’d agreed easily when the other girl had insisted they start back to the bus before the show had ended. It was hard to imagine she’d then just suddenly decided to stop to chat up one of the men in costume. Although her cousin did tend to find “dangerous-looking” men attractive, she thought on a sigh. For Allison, well-muscled men in tight leather pants were like cream to a cat. Throw in some tattoos and a clean-shaven head and he became catnip.
Jess thanked the elderly lady, and then started back toward the stalls, her eyes scanning the people moving her way. She couldn’t see Allison. For that matter, she couldn’t see any dangerous-looking pirates. At least not in the immediate throng surrounding her, but then she noted small clusters of people moving in the opposite direction and back toward the dock. They were mostly twosomes consisting of someone, male or female, in a pirate’s costume and a member of the opposite sex in beach clothes, but there were a few trios as well. Jess quickly scanned them, breathing a little sigh of relief when she spotted Allison’s pale blond hair. She’d had it cornrowed by a strolling vendor on the beach the day before and the red and teal beads threaded through it were quite distinctive.
Allison was walking back toward the boat they’d just left, clinging to the arm of a good-looking pirate with dark hair and swarthy skin. Jess’s eyebrows rose as she took in his clothes. While the costumes the earlier performers had worn had been good, they’d still obviously been costumes. In comparison, this man’s outfit looked almost authentic . . . or perhaps it was just his confidence and swagger that made him look like he could have stepped out of a Renaissance version of GQ if they’d published a “Bad Boys of the Sea” issue. In a billowing white shirt, dark pants, a bloodred sash around his waist, brown leather boots, and a large tricorn captain’s hat also in weathered brown leather with metal rivets along the rim, he looked every inch a pirate captain. Jess had to admit that she understood how he’d caught Allison’s eye. He did cut quite a dashing figure. Still, just moments ago Allison had been whining about the boat ride, having sand up her crack, and being seasick, exhausted, and eager to return to the resort. This was a rather sudden about-face, even by her flighty standards.
For one moment, Jess considered just returning to the bus as planned and waiting there for her cousin to join her. After all, the bus wouldn’t leave until they were all on it, and if Allison dawdled too long, the bus driver would no doubt go fetch her back himself. But she had promised Krista—her cousin, and Allison’s younger sister—that she’d keep the woman out of trouble during this trip and Jess took her promises seriously.
Muttering under her breath, she started resignedly forward, weaving her way through the happily exhausted crowd, to follow the couple. Her resignation turned to irritation after a moment, though. Jess had expected the man to lead Allison back to the stalls and try to sell her a trinket. That was what most of the people here had seemed to be about.
Instead, the man was following several other couples back toward the boat they’d just disembarked. Allison, who was supposedly exhausted and seasick, was going willingly, even eagerly, gazing up at him wide-eyed and hanging off him like a leech.
“Allison!” Jess shouted, moving a little more quickly through the shifting sand. Much to her relief, Allison paused. The other woman even glanced back, albeit with confusion, as if she’d forgotten all about her and hadn’t a clue why she’d be shouting her name with such irritation.
“The bus?” Jess called with exasperation, continuing forward. “Come on!”
Allison hesitated, but then her attention returned to the man she was walking with as he said something. Nodding, Allison turned suddenly to hurry back to Jess.
“What are you thinking walking off like that without—?” She paused with surprise when Allison latched on to her arm and began to drag her back toward the pirate, who had continued to walk.
“We’re going to feed the sharks and Vasco says you can come too,” Allison said, urging her along.
“What? Hang on,” Jess muttered, dragging her feet. “I thought you were tired and hot and seasick and—”
“Oh, that was just to make Krista miserable. I feel fine,” Allison assured her.
“What?” Jess immediately dug her feet into the sand, resisting her pull. She had suspected that was the case all along, but hearing her admit it outright was rather shocking.
“You heard me,” Allison said with unconcern and a complete lack of shame as she tugged a little harder. “She’s had things entirely too much her way this trip and I wanted her to feel bad.”
“Of course she’s had things her way. It’s her wedding trip,” Jess said with disbelief. “This trip is all about her and Pat.”
“This last year everything has been about her,” Allison muttered with irritation. “Ever since they announced their engagement it’s been gifts and congratulations for Krista and Pat, showers for Krista, a stag and doe for them, and then all this planning and fuss. What about me?” she asked plaintively. “I wanted them to have the wedding in the spring when the weather was better here, but no, they had to have it at the end of May when it’s the off-season, hot as hell, twice as humid, and there are no hunks to play with. Would it have hurt her to have it in February or March?”
“A lot of their friends are students, or newly graduated. They had classes still in February and March. Besides, it was cheaper for them to come here in May. The high season is expensive,” Jess said with a frown. “And Pat and Krista wanted to marry a year to the day after he proposed.”
“Yeah, well, I want to have some fun,” Allison said grimly. “Now hurry up or they’ll leave without us.”
“Let them,” Jess growled. “The bus is waiting, and can’t leave until everyone is on board. We have to go.”
“No. You go wait on that hot airless bus if you want, but I’m going with Vasco.”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Allison,” Jess muttered, trying to draw her to a halt. “You cannot seriously intend to make an entire busload of people wait hours for you to—”
“Look,” Allison interrupted impatiently, waving toward the groupings of people moving toward the boat. “Several other members of our group are going to the ship. The bus’ll have to wait for them too. Would you rather wait on a hot airless bus, or go with the others to feed sharks?”
Jess peered toward the people Allison was gesturing to and frowned as she recognized several people from their bus among them, including the couple who had sat in the seat in front of them. The bus would have to wait, she realized, and recalling how humid and uncomfortably hot it had been on the way out even with the warm breeze coming in the open windows, Jess could imagine how unbearable it would be sitting still in the heat. It would be a damned oven.
“Well?” Allison said impatiently.
“Yes, fine,” Jess muttered, allowing her cousin to drag her toward the dock and the waiting boat. But as she did, Jess promised herself that she would never again get roped into even traveling with Allison, let alone taking responsibility for keeping the other woman out of trouble. It was an impossible task and not something she normally would have agreed to, except that it had been Krista who made the request. When Krista had asked her to share a room with her older sister and “keep her in line,” Jess had found it impossible to say no. She knew how difficult Allison could be. In truth, Jess suspected Krista would have preferred someone else to be her maid of honor, but faced with the hell Allison would make of her life if she didn’t give her that honor, and no doubt under pressure from their father, she’d bowed to the inevitable and asked her to stand up for her.
Allison, of course, had taken it as her due, even while complaining unendingly about what a bother it was. Honestly, the woman was enough to drive a person mad with frustration. She was never ready for anything on time. They had nearly missed their flight here thanks to her lollygagging. If Jess hadn’t grabbed her arm and dragged her along as she’d raced through the airport, they would still be back home in Montana, reading about the wedding on Facebook.
If that weren’t enough, Allison had piddled about so much on their second day here, dragging out breakfast, and then insisting on going for a swim before getting ready, that they’d nearly missed the wedding as well, and she was the maid of honor! Talk about how to stress out a bride on her wedding day. As the maid of honor, Allison was supposed to help and support the bride. Instead, she’d had poor Krista in tears with her nonsense.
It wasn’t just that, though; Allison was contrary as hell. The whole wedding party had flown here for two weeks and all the younger members of the party had been mostly hanging out together whether it was relaxing at the beach, hitting the disco, or eating dinner. But it never failed that if everyone else wanted Mexican, Allison wanted Italian. If everyone wanted to go to a concert on the beach, she wanted to go to a club in town. Even today, she’d wanted to go ziplining rather than the Seaquarium and had argued strenuously for her preferred pastime, stressing everyone out.
Spoiled rotten by an overindulgent father who felt guilty about the divorce that had left him a single parent, Allison was far too used to getting her own way, and made life unpleasant for anyone who didn’t immediately fall in with her plans. That being the case, everyone usually simply gave in to her rather than risk her wrath, but this trip, no one seemed willing to indulge her wants and demands. This trip was about the bride and groom, Krista and Pat. Whatever they wanted, everyone else had agreed with, which had done nothing but infuriate Allison, who disliked not getting her way over her younger sister. She’d made life as miserable as she could for anyone she could with her constant complaints about the resort, the heat, etc., and since Jess was her roommate for this trip, that meant it was most often her who got to listen.
“Never again,” she promised herself grimly as she followed Allison past the large barge that had been made to look like a pirate ship, and to a slightly smaller sloop that actually could have been a pirate ship. Like the crew’s costumes that looked so authentic, so did this ship, and Jess felt a shiver of trepidation as she followed Allison up the gangplank.
“Ah. You convinced your friend to join us.”
Jess had been peering at the masts, sails, and the skull and crossbones flag as she stepped on board, but shifted her attention quickly to the pirate Allison had called Vasco, as he approached. The man was simply gorgeous, she acknowledged as her gaze slid over his wide smile and beautiful green eyes. He was also incredibly big, she noted, as he slid between her and Allison and draped a heavy arm around each of them.
“And so pretty too,” he declared, beaming down at Jess as he urged them through the people milling around the ship’s deck. “I am the luckiest of men tonight.”
Jess smiled a little stiffly at the comment. He made it sound like they were going to be having a threesome, and that wasn’t anything she was interested in signing up for. He was a good-looking guy, but she didn’t know him from Adam. She did know Allison, though. Her cousin was a pain in the ass and the very last person she would consider having a threesome with. Not that she was the threesome type anyway, but that wasn’t the point.
“Everyone’s on board, Capitan.”
Jess glanced around at that announcement, her eyes widening slightly as she found herself staring at a Johnny Depp wannabe. The guy had the same mustache, goatee, and dreadlocks kept out of his face by the same dirty beige bandanna that Depp sported as the character Captain Jack Sparrow. He even wore the same type costume: dark brown pantaloons, dirty white top, and a dark brown vest. The only thing missing was the captain’s hat.
“Good, tell the men to cast off,” Vasco said, his expression stern and his tone all business. His smile and charm were back in place when he glanced from Jess to Allison, though. Like a mask, she thought as he said, “It breaks me heart, lasses, but I’ve work to do now. You’re welcome to join me at the helm while I steer us out, though.”
“Oh, yes,” Allison said eagerly, still clinging to his arm and accompanying him toward the stairs to an upper deck at the back of the ship where a large wooden steering wheel waited.
Jess was slower to follow, her gaze sliding around the large ship and the people on it. The crew were all moving to perform their individual tasks, leaving the visitors they’d brought on board to look around and chat among themselves. Jess recognized four or five young people from their wedding group, as well as several other people from their hotel who had traveled out with them on the same bus, but Krista and Pat weren’t among them. She wasn’t terribly surprised. Even if Krista had been interested in this jaunt to feed the sharks, that interest would have died the minute she saw that Allison planned to go. Jess couldn’t blame her. She just hoped it didn’t mean the couple was sitting in the hot bus waiting for them. Hopefully, she and Pat had caught a taxi back to the hotel, where they could enjoy a massage on the beach, or a swim or something.
“Lass?”
Jess glanced toward Vasco at his call. He had stopped walking and was peering back at her with raised eyebrows.
“Are you coming?” he asked, seeming completely oblivious to the way Allison hung off his arm and stared up at his chiseled face with adoring eyes. “There’s a nice breeze at the helm once we’re moving.”
It was the promise of a breeze that decided it for her. Jess really couldn’t bear this stifling heat and humidity. Nodding, she joined them and allowed Vasco to take her elbow to usher her up the steps to the upper deck, which she thought might be called the quarterdeck, although she wasn’t sure. Jess was no sailor.
“Now, you two lovelies just stand here by me and look pretty. It’ll keep you out of the way while we men work,” Vasco said cheerfully as he led them to the helm.
Jess’s mouth tightened at the comment. Good Lord, could he sound any more sexist? Just barely managing to refrain from rolling her eyes, she ignored his suggestion and moved to the side of the ship to peer down at the dock below as members of the crew pulled in the gangplank. Her gaze slid to the beach then and she noted that it was nearly empty of people now. The only ones remaining were the stall workers who were closing up shop. It seemed theirs had been the last tour of the day to the Seaquarium, which made her glance instinctively at her wrist. Jess grimaced as her naked wrist reminded her that she wasn’t wearing her watch. It wasn’t waterproof, and she hadn’t wanted to risk taking it off and possibly losing it, or having it stolen at the Seaquarium.
She shifted her gaze to the sky to find the sun’s position, and her eyes widened slightly as she noted how low it was. The sun had nearly reached the horizon. They’d been out at the Seaquarium for much longer than she’d realized and the daylight would soon be gone. The sun had seemed to set about ten or fifteen minutes before seven the two nights they’d been here so far, so she guessed it was probably around or just after 6 p.m. now. That explained the grumbling in her stomach, she supposed, and thought that the members of their group that hadn’t come on the shark feed would be impatient to get back and have their dinner.
Jess glanced toward the beach again, but this time noticed that she could see the road from the ship . . . and their bus was leaving. On the one hand, she was relieved everyone wouldn’t be left sitting there waiting for them, but now she had to worry about how they were going to get back to the resort. Would the bus return for those who had been lured on this trip to feed the sharks? If not, she supposed they’d just have to hire a taxi.
Jess’s next thought was to wonder if there would be snacks offered on the boat ride out. There had been both snacks and drinks on the trip out to the Seaquarium, but that had been hours ago now. It had been included in the fee for the tour.
That thought made her wonder about the fee for this little jaunt. Surely it wasn’t free? Glancing around, she caught Allison’s eye and waved her over. Her cousin hesitated, peering toward Vasco before reluctantly moving over to join her.
“What?” Allison asked irritably.
“What is the fare for this tour?” Jess asked, ignoring her surliness. It wasn’t like it was new.
Allison shrugged with disinterest. “Vasco didn’t mention a fare. He just asked if I wanted to go with them to feed the sharks.”
“Well, maybe you should ask,” Jess suggested with exasperation. “Nothing in life is free, Allison, and if it’s too damned expensive, I’ll want off.”
“Fine,” she snapped, and stomped back to Vasco. Jess noted that her attitude changed the moment she got close to the man, though, and watched with disgust as Allison simpered and mewled at him. Honestly, she’d never thought much of her cousin, but this trip was making her positively loathe the woman. Not only would Jess not be traveling with her again, but she was starting to think she might want to avoid any future family gatherings the woman attended. Jess didn’t know how Krista had put up with her for so long without killing her, or at least cutting out her nasty tongue. She didn’t think she would have managed to avoid doing one or the other if Allison was her sister.
A warm breeze and the crackle and snap of the sails distracted Jess then and she glanced around to see that they’d moved away from the dock and were heading out to deeper water. It was too late to get off now. She’d have to pay the fare whether she liked it or not. Jess just hoped the price wasn’t too steep.

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