Monday, September 5

Cruising Toward Normalcy

In the spirit of not-laboring on Labor Day, I'm going to extend my release day celebration by sharing an excerpt with you from Cruising Toward Love. This scene is between Reed, a photographer recovering from PTSD, and Callie, a pull-no-punches Internet zillionaire who is the first person in a long time to treat him normally.

A double rainbow, edges blurred by mist, hung over the bow of the ship. Beyond the colorful twin arches the sky pearlized with striations of color. A mishmash of shades including the first blush on a peach mixed with dew-covered sweet peas streaked across the periwinkle sky. Reed already had twenty or so good shots, but couldn’t resist the amazing interplay of shades.

“You’re up early. How on earth do you stay so handsome if you don’t get your beauty sleep?”

“Callie!” He bobbled his camera. Tripped over nothing more than his own awkwardness. “It’s barely past dawn. I thought I’d have the deck to myself.”

Her nose twitched. “Want me to leave?”

Yes. No. Reed felt like a cartoon character, frozen with one foot in mid air, arms akimbo and what had to be eight kinds of confusion plastered across his face. Callie’s unpredictable reactions made it hard to decide what she wanted to hear. All things considered, he might as well be honest.

“I’m not sure.”

“Perfect—you’ve given me just enough wiggle room to stay. Which works out well because I am sublimely comfortable and not ready to move a single muscle.” Callie sat sideways on a cushioned rattan sofa, both hands curled around a gigantic mug of coffee. Reed gave in to impulse and lowered himself to the low table in front of her.

“May I?” He bent over the mug and inhaled deeply. The rich, dark scent beguiled him almost as much as the woman holding it. “I miss coffee. The docs took me off caffeine—didn’t mix well with my meds,” he explained. “Supposed to avoid it for another few months. Otherwise it might become a crutch, slow my recovery. Hasn’t been easy, though.”

“Gee, no wonder you went a little nuts. Caffeine withdrawal makes everyone crazy.”

“You’re doing it again!” Reed stabbed his glasses higher up his nose. “You’re teasing me, aren’t you?”

“Yes.” Callie drew out the word, turning it into both a statement and a question.

“You did it yesterday, too, when you gave me grief about jumping at horns.”

“I’m sorry. Did I miss the part of your story where I’m supposed to treat your illness with the gravity of a sacred cow?” She took a slurp of coffee, looking up at him from beneath a grove of thick lashes. “You can either laugh or cry when hardships hit, and I prefer to laugh. Crying turns my whole face red.”

Her matter-of-fact attitude blew in fresh air with the strength of a class-five tornado. “You don’t treat me as if I’m broken.”

“Honey, we’ve all got more dents than a ’57 Mustang, and at our age, I’d say at least a few cracks. But broken? Nah.” She swung her legs to the ground, placed her cup on the table beside him then propped her elbows on her knees. The golden wall of hair swung forward to form a gilded frame around her face. “You’ve been sick, no different than if you had chicken pox or a broken leg. You heal stronger from the experience.”

Forget the rarity of the double rainbows off the bow. This woman just shone a rainbow straight into his soul. “In five sentences, you’ve summed me up with more expertise than my entire team of internists, therapists, and psychiatrists. And managed to make me feel almost decent about myself. How on earth did you manage it?”

A shoulder rose and fell beneath her fleece pullover. “I’m a certified genius. Registered with Mensa, the whole shebang. Not a lot of perks or fun in elementary school, but overall my brain’s served me well.”

“You are capricious and blunt and I can’t catch my breath around you.” And she was far more addictive than the coffee he suddenly didn’t miss at all.

“Is that a compliment or an accusation?”

“I’m serious.” He reached for her hands and squeezed. Then found he couldn’t make himself let go. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Callie looked down at their joined hands. She blinked once, then again. “You know it’s strange. Since you barely spoke two words to me yesterday, I figured I’d scared you off.”

“You almost did.” Words poured out of him in her presence, as if she exuded truth serum along with her pheromones.

“Thought so. What changed your mind?”

“The realization that shutting you out would be a gigantic step backward in my healing process.”

Callie crinkled her nose, as if sniffing three-week-old milk. “So I’m just therapeutic intimacy? No better than a syringe full of Prozac?”

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