tagRomanceDeep Blue Ch. 02

Deep Blue Ch. 02


Chapter Two: Meeting New Friends


Lisa opened the door and I carried her across the threshold while she laughed merrily. The crewman assigned to help us pushed the cart loaded with our luggage into the Presidential Suite on the Deep Blue Sea. A quick glance at the living room confirmed Gretchen had been right to say there would be plenty of room for the four of us, even with Hawk as pregnant as a human being could get and still move.

I put Lisa's feet on the floor and she darted off to the bedroom at the far end of the suite. Turning to the smiling purser, I pointed after her. "I think we'll take that room."

"Excellent choice, sir," he said with a subdued grin as he followed her with our luggage.

Shaking my head and smiling to myself, I opened the door to the balcony and was promptly impressed. It was huge. The Miami cityscape spread out before me and the view was amazing. The smell of the sea mixed with the funk of the city was incredible, but not in a good way.

I couldn't see anything other than our suite. There were metal walls blocking off the adjoining balconies and this deck extended so far back that I was almost certain it was over the water below.

I surveyed the wooden furniture and the possibilities percolated through my mind. This cruise promised to be a really fun one. Gretchen was a beautiful woman, and I would have been lying if I said I didn't want her. Hawk wasn't beautiful in the classical sense, but she was Hawk. Her personality was so powerful it transformed her good looks into something memorable. And the fact she was pregnant - with my children no less! - made her glow in a way that was indescribable.

I shook my head and walked back inside. As beautiful as Hawk and Gretchen were, they didn't hold a candle to Lisa. The sound of her voice directing the purser sent a tingle up my spine and caused an involuntary shiver. I had such a powerful, if momentary, vision of Lisa bent over the rail, me gently making love to her from behind, that it threatened to overwhelm me before I pushed it back. Oh, yes, this was going to be a magnificent cruise.

The lack of a kitchen was going to bother me, but for this week, I'd just have to get used to someone else doing the cooking. On the plus side, the master bath was awesome. The whirlpool bath was big enough to seat all four of us and still leave plenty of room for playing around.

That brought my mind back around to Hawk and Gretchen. Actually, it brought my mind around to Hawk and the impending arrival of the twins. I still wasn't sure what to call them. I wasn't sure if I would be their father, after all. Would I be Uncle Ted? Would I just be a friend of the family? Or would Hawk tell them I was their father? And even if she did tell them, would she also allow me truly to be a father to them? How would Lisa feel if Hawk did? And what about Gretchen? How would she feel about Hawk and me sharing this bond?

I sighed and sat down in one of the comfortable chairs in the living room, my hand automatically finding the remote for the big, flat panel TV, clicking it on and seeing some football game. Watching TV wasn't high on my list of pastimes but it gave me a place to forget momentarily my worries. Even with Hawk and Gretchen's obvious friendship, I still didn't know how they saw me or where I stood. How we all stood with each other. This week was going to see a lot of things settled and I only hoped it settled my mind, too.

The purser interrupted my thoughts as he came out with the now empty cart and headed for the door. I tipped him and he left with a smile.

Lisa came out once we were all alone and immediately dropped into my lap, kissing me softly. "This suite is wonderful, Ted. I can't wait to make love to you on the couch," she said, her eyes twinkling merrily. "In front of Hawk and Gretchen, of course."

"Exhibitionist," I said. "You'd be happy making love in the middle of the mall, too."

"Ooooo," she said with a sly smile. "Do you think we could?"

I laughed and kissed her soundly. "That's no way for a woman running for Harris County District Attorney to talk. Or, should I say 'the future Mrs. District Attorney?'"

"Think positive," she said firmly and stood up to grab her purse. "I'm ahead in the polls by almost twenty percent, so I'd almost have to make love to you in the middle of the mall to lose. Where do you think Hawk and Gretchen are?" she asked, changing the subject.

"There's no telling," I said as I rose and we walked out the door. "This is a big ship. They might be in the mall or eating. Goodness only knows. Let's just do what we want for next few hours and we'll check back here when the ship pulls out at five. "

Lisa nodded her agreement, and we headed for the elevators.

We hadn't taken three steps when the door to the cabin next to our suite opened. A man and woman joined us in the hall, turning to walk ahead of us. I did a mental double take as I sized the woman up. She was a real looker, tall and very, very leggy with beautiful red hair in a shade a bottle could never match. Her curves made her into a voluptuous Amazon. The sundress she was wearing played very well to her assets.

Then my "man sense" kicked in and I looked away from the woman. Giving that kind of attention toward another woman would usually get me an elbow, the "look," and an amused comment from Lisa before I could yank my eyes away. But for once, I could see that she was staring too. I knew she liked Hawk, but I hadn't seen her stare at another woman like this before. Then, with a blink, I realized she was staring at the man.

I supposed he was worth the look, if you were into guys. He was tall, dark and handsome, as the saying went. He was also large and very fit, with long black hair in a braid that fell to the upper back of his beaten leather jacket. Seeing Lisa check out his butt made me smile. I poked her with my elbow and leaned over.

"Put your eyes back in your head," I whispered.

Lisa blushed and glanced at me guiltily. "Like you weren't staring at her, too," she said gamely.

I laughed quietly and slid my arm around her waist. "We're not talking about me and my lecherous ways. Did you like how he looks?" That prompted another blush from Lisa and a hesitant nod. "Maybe I should invite the new neighbors out to lunch."

Lisa stopped abruptly and grabbed my arm. "You wouldn't..."

"Excuse me," I said loudly enough for the couple to hear me. As they turned at my voice, Lisa let me go and composed her face in a bright smile. I couldn't suppress a grin; oh, how I was going to pay for this later. I turned my grin into a welcoming smile and said, "I'm sorry if we're disturbing you, but my wife and I saw you're our neighbors, and we'd like to invite you to join us for lunch."

The man glanced at the woman who nodded, eyeing us with interest. He smiled and stuck out his hand. "I'm Keven Braddock and this is my girlfriend, Sandy Craig."

I took his hand and we shook firmly without trying to crush the others' hands. "Ted and Lisa Stansbury. It's a pleasure to meet you. Shall we go to the dining room or up to the cafe?"

"The cafe," Sandy said. "I don't feel dressed for the dining room."

I nodded. "The cafe it is."

We trooped off to the elevators with our new friends, and the women started chattering to each other like long lost friends while Keven and I rolled our eyes and shared a grin. They were too busy exchanging personal details to notice us mocking them.

"The Saturn Grill," I said, "is located on Deck 12, aft. So, straight up we go. The map says it's like a 50's cafe."

As the elevator lifted up, Keven put his hands in his pockets and looked me over. "So, you're in the Presidential Suite?" At my nod he continued. "What does someone have to do for a living to travel like that?"

I laughed. "I'm just along for the ride. If I were paying, we'd be in third class."

Lisa fixed me with a withering stare and poked me. "Don't you lie to him! We could afford second class." Then she lost control of her mock-fierce scowl and laughed with me. Sandy and Keven smiled at each other. I could see that we were going to get along just fine.

"I make wine and Lisa is an assistant district attorney," I said giving Lisa a loving smile, "at least for the moment."

That generated a startled look of surprise on Keven's face. "Wine? As in Stansbury Vineyards?"

It was always good to have the name recognized. I grinned and nodded. "Guilty as charged."

"It's a small world," Keven exclaimed. "We're from Los Angeles and I've been a big fan of your wine since it broke onto the market. I wouldn't use anything else for cooking or for a dinner wine."

"You cook?" I asked, a note of sharpened curiosity in my voice.

"I fancy myself quite the amateur chef," he admitted. "You, too?"

"Here we go," Sandy said in a droll voice that interrupted my nod. "Men just can't help talking about themselves and ignoring the women, can they Lisa?"

Keven and I turned sharply, stung by the irony of her comment given who was ignoring whom just moments earlier. Then all four of us burst into laughter as the elevator opened and disgorged us into the open air. The cafe was right up the ship from the elevators, and beyond it was a jogging track. Lisa had to yank my hand to get me back into motion as I stared at the unexpected exercise area.

When we entered the cafe, it did look like something I'd see on Happy Days, and I expected to see The Fonz pop up at any moment. A young girl in a pert uniform seated us and took our drink orders before scrambling off.

The women promptly ignored us again and went back to chattering. I shook my head and Keven smiled along with me. Making fun of us men talking like magpies wasn't going to stop them from doing the same thing themselves.

Keven and I started talking cooking and it quickly became evident that we were close in cooking ability. That was impressive in a world where few men learned to do more than basic cooking or grilling. I found out that he was an artist of some renown and blamed my lack of art-sense on not knowing anything about it. Keven didn't seem offended. Sandy, it turned out, was a reconstructive surgeon. I guessed my preconceived notions were getting in my way since I was surprised.

"So, that makes both of the women professionals and both us men artistic types," I said in a conspiratorial voice. "We use art to craft paintings and wines."

With a grin, Keven nodded. "Exactly! We fondle our muses while the ladies bring in the bacon."

I was still laughing when I spotted trouble coming into the cafe: Ken Price. The last time I'd seen him the police were dragging him off my property after he attacked Lisa and me. I felt my blood instantly start to boil at the sight of the big man.

Keven immediately noticed my expression and half-turned in his seat to stare at Price. "Friend of yours?" he asked quietly.

"Hardly," I got out through clenched teeth. "That bastard attacked Lisa and me almost a year ago in Houston. He punched her in the face."

That brought the girl's conversation to a screeching halt and Lisa shrank into me. "Oh, no!"

"What did you say," Sandy said with a tone that indicated she'd heard me just fine.

"His name is Ken Price and he's a lobbyist for the Texas Alcohol Distributors' Association," I said while watching Price sit down and order a drink. He was smiling in our direction in a way that meant he wanted me to know for sure he was there watching me. "Then, after we subdued him and the cops hauled him away, he started suing us for everything under the sun."

Keven's eyes hardened. "I haven't had that kind of problem, but Sandy and I did have a problem with an ex-girlfriend of mine. She was a flaming bitch."

Sandy craned her neck to get a look Price and both she and Keven laughed with a grim humor.

There must be a story in that somewhere, but now wasn't the time for digging it out. "Why do you think he followed you here? It doesn't look like coincidence to me. Not all the way from Houston," Sandy said.

"There's only one way to find out," I said coldly and stood up. Lisa cried out softly and grabbed for my hand, but I stepped clear of the table before she could catch me. I marched up to Price's table and glared down at him.

"Fancy meeting you here, Stansbury," he sneered.

"You've got a lot of nerve following me around, Price. If the District Attorney had had any balls you'd be in jail for assault," I said coldly.

"Your word versus mine," he said with a smirk. "And, of course, your lovely wife."

I grabbed the table and put my face within an inch of his. "Leave Lisa out of this."

"It's a free ship and I can go where I please, Stansbury," he said with a derisive laugh. "Are you going to make me?"

"If you're not afraid of him, be afraid of me," another voice said from behind me. It was a pissed off Keven. He reached past me, grabbed Price by the shirtfront, and yanked him out of the booth. Price gave a startled squawk as Keven held him so that he and Price were face to face. "I don't like people that hurt women and from what my friend here has told me, that means I already don't like you very much."

Price struggled to get free, but Keven only released him when the waitress came back out and looked at us uncertainly.

Price smiled and brushed his shirt down. Then he tossed a couple of bucks on the table and started out slowly. "Never mind the drink, Sister," he tossed over his shoulder. "The air in here stinks too much to drink it. And friend, you'd best steer clear of Ted and Lisa Stansbury. People around them end up dead. We're not finished, Stansbury. Be watching for me. All of you. I don't forget my enemies."

I started after him, but Keven pulled me back.

"Don't play his game," he said softly. "He's trying to get a rise out of you. Why else show himself in a public place and talk so much?"

I watched Price until he was outside and lost in the growing crowd of passengers. I felt angry and helpless. What the hell was he up to, and how could I stop him? I couldn't, I wouldn't let him hurt Lisa again. Reluctantly, I let Keven pull me back to the table and sat back down beside Lisa.

"What did Price want?" Lisa asked. She wasn't afraid anymore. Now she was mad. Keven and Sandy looked pretty hot, too.

"He didn't say, but it can't be anything we'd like," I said. "All he did was taunt me."

The waitress interrupted our conversation with our food. If she had any concerns over the confrontation a few minutes ago, it didn't show. As soon as we were satisfied, she departed and left us to talk again.

"What's this about people ending up dead around you two?" Keven asked.

I threw up my hand in a throwaway gesture. "About a year ago someone killed a friend of Lisa's and almost killed her." I smiled at her. "If we hadn't been in my car when her friend started Lisa's car to take it home, the bomb would have killed her, too."

Sandy's eyes got huge as she stared at Lisa. "Someone put a bomb in your car? Ohmigod!"

I nodded. "In the course of the investigation, several people kept trying to kill us, but Hawk killed them back. Unfortunately, one of the bad guys included Lisa's brother."

"Hawk?" Keven asked. "That sounds like the dude on Spencer: For Hire. Big, black and tough."

Lisa laughed and I had to join her. Sandy and Keven smiled back, waiting for the punch line. This was clearing up the dark atmosphere.

"You only got one out of three," Lisa said. "Hawk is Shauna Hawkins. At the time, she was a Lieutenant in the Houston Police Department Homicide Division. She's also white, short and wiry. Tough, however, she is in spades. She saved us from a fire, and although one of the bad guys slugged her and tried to shoot her, she took them all down one by one. She didn't kill my brother, though." Lisa held up under the last pretty well. Her brother had been an ass and working for the killer, but it still had taken a while before Lisa was able to work through the guilt and get over it. "She personally took out the main bad guy and a dirty cop in two separate gun fights. She saved my life! Ted was almost killed!"

I didn't want to think about that man shooting me, so I let my mind wander back over the other, more pleasurable, things Hawk had done with us. Like slowly seducing Lisa and even making love to me. It had been Lisa's first time with a woman and Hawk's first time with a man. Without a doubt, the pleasant memories outweighed the bad ones.

"I see," Keven said, his eyebrows rising. "How does that guy, Price, fit into this?"

I snorted. "Poorly. He said some things to me most people would have interpreted as a threat, so we turned his name over to the cops as part of the investigation. They picked him up and questioned him, which really pissed him off. He came to my place spoiling for a fight. He punched Lisa in the face, and we took him down and held him for the cops. They charged him with assault and trespassing, but he managed to get the charges dismissed." I shook my head and looked at Lisa. "He's been suing both of us ever since on whatever flimsy grounds he can dream up. Each one gets dismissed as soon as it gets to court, but he just keeps on going like the Energizer Bunny."

"Hopefully that is about to come to a stop," Lisa added. "We'll find out after the cruise."

"Holy crap," Keven muttered and looked at Sandy. "I thought we had it bad when my nutcase ex-girlfriend burned down a gallery with my work in it, and then torched Sandy's house before finally trying to kill us. Safety tip," he told Lisa and me, "never hold up a Molotov cocktail and get shot with a shotgun. Flambéed ex-girlfriend. Sandy broke her left arm in that fight and I got knocked out cold."

"Oh my God! What happened? The shotgun hit her and the gas?" Lisa asked.

"Nope," Keven said with a grin at Sandy. "Missed her and hit the gas dead on, spraying burning gas all over her. Then the shotgun recoil sent Sandy backwards off the patio rail. That was also about a year ago."

Sandy blushed and glared at Keven. "I'm getting to be a better shot," she protested.

Lisa nodded. "Me, too. After what happened Hawk strongly suggested that I take shooting lessons. Since then Ted and I got married, in a bit of a hurry, in Vegas; and I'm running for political office. You're looking at the next District Attorney of Harris County in Texas. That's another reason that I'm not going after Price legally; I don't want to give my opponent a chance to use this against me. Some people will believe anything, and my opponent will undoubtedly use the 'where there's smoke, there's fire' technique. Meanwhile, Hawk got married, in Boston, and she retired from the police force to have kids with her new spouse. We're all on this cruise to celebrate." She glanced at me darkly. "If we can."

We ate in silence for a minute, and then Sandy took control and forced a normal conversation about normal things on us. We discussed the incredible array of things to do on this ship. The list included, but was not limited to, wave boarding, ice skating, swimming, skeet shooting, theater, shopping and more. By the time we had cleaned our plates, I felt much more confident. Whatever Price was here for, we could handle it.

"We should try to find Hawk," Lisa said. "I'm sorry to eat and run. It was nice meeting you both," she said to Keven and Sandy. "I'm sure being neighbors, we'll be running into each other pretty often."

"Hold up, Lisa," Keven said. "Price threatened me, too. That affects Sandy and me. I think we should go along and meet your friend Hawk and her husband. We all need to be on the watch for Price."

Sandy whipped her eyes around to focus on her boyfriend. "He threatened you? Well, I guess that makes sense when you dragged him out of his booth." She laughed. "You really need to work on that temper." She turned her attention back to us. "You should have seen him when the gallery burned down."

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