My new romance, Sea Breeze, releases May 27th and is now available for pre-order. Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite.
I finish off the rest of my sandwich as Eric talks. He’s so open and candid. I’m not getting any fake vibes from him now. He seems… Sweet.
“So you live in Las Vegas, but where did you grow up?”
“Really. That must have been… interesting.”
“Not really.” I look away, hoping he’ll change the subject.
“Not very talkative, are you, Jordan?”
“I can be. At least, I am at work.”
“Let me guess. You’re a bartender as well?”
“How did you know?”
“The tip. The best tippers I’ve ever seen are usually other bartenders. How long have you been doing it?”
“About four years. Before that, I worked as a waitress for a long time.”
“What are you, about twenty-five?”
I nod and take another sip of beer that’s getting warmer by the second. “You?”
“Twenty-seven. Are you done?” He motions to my pile of napkins and takes the last sip of his beer.
“Yes. Thank you. That was really good.” I stand up and dust off the back of my pants, adjusting my bag across my shoulders. “So what are you up to, today?”
“Oh, I was going to head over to The Cigar House to pick up a few cigars for a couple of friends who have to work today. It’s only a couple of blocks from here. Then I was going to wander. We could… wander together, if you’d like? Or if there’s something specific you want to see, I can take you. I know this area pretty well.”
He asks sincerely, without any trace of his flirty bartender persona. What the hell? “Sure. Let’s go get your cigars first. Boy, it’s hot. Hey, do you know where I can get one of those hats?” I point to the guy walking past us.
“Oh, a Panama hat, yeah sure. I’ll take you.”
On the cobblestone streets, the colors of the colonial style buildings with their wrought iron balconies draw my eyes upward. So beautiful and vibrant. It feels old, and yet looks new. The sidewalks are narrow, so we walk down the middle of the street. I fish a cigarette out of my pack along with my Zippo, but as soon I try to light up, Eric’s hand comes up to stop me.
“It’s actually illegal to smoke in most areas of Puerto Rico. So unless you want to pay a fine, I’d wait until we get back on the ship.”
“Really. Okay.” We get to The Cigar House and Eric makes his purchase. The place is huge and there’s a bar in back. I’m almost tempted to ask if we can go back for a drink, but I know that’s my cigarette craving talking, not me.
We walk down another block to a hat shop on the same street with a small doorway in an olive green building called Ole Curiosidades. There are handwoven hats everywhere in different sizes and shapes. A wall of ribbons is on the left, and different types of artwork line the walls closest to the ceiling overhead. A distinct odor of wood and glue permeate the air in this cramped space. Pictures and newspaper clippings fill in the gaps, and I’m overwhelmed with the choices. I want simple, fedora style with a black ribbon.
Eric shakes hands with an older gentleman he introduces as Guillermo. “My friend, the lady would like a hat, and I knew you would take care of her.”
“Por supuesto. Hola, niña. What can I get you?”
“Hola, nice to meet you. I’m looking for a hat.”
“Yes, I figured as much. See anything you like?” He chuckles and motions to the rest of the room.
My eyes scan the stacks and land on one with the same shape I saw on the man outside. I pick it up and place it on my head, gazing in the mirror.
“This is the one. Yep. I like this one.” It fits perfectly. I peruse the moccasin-like shoes and find a pair in black as Eric follows the gentleman over to the register. They talk for a moment, as he rings up a man with a similar hat as mine. Fifty-five dollars? Do I really like the hat that much? Yes. I do. I can afford it.
I head over with my pair of shoes, and pull out my wallet.
“That will be forty-five dollars, por favor.”
“I’d like these shoes as well, please.”
“Yes, already included in my price for Eric here.”
“Oh, well, thank you.” I smile at Eric and hand over a fifty dollar bill.
“Thanks for coming in, and I hope you enjoy San Juan.”
I stroll out of the store, my new hat in place and Eric following behind me.
“So, where to next?” He looks up and down the street in both directions.
“Let’s go to Casa del Libro. I want to see those letters to Columbus. Plus, it’s getting hot, and I wouldn’t mind staying inside for a bit, if that’s all right.”
“Sure, it’s about a block away.”
We stroll down the blue stained cobblestone street, keeping to the shade. I don’t know if the stones are painted or are naturally blue, but the effect is beautiful. A woman overhead stands on her balcony with a fan, people-watching. She quickly yells something in Spanish to someone inside and disappears.
“How long have you worked on the ship?”
“About two years. I worked another route before this one, down to Mexico. I’m hoping to transfer next year to a European route.”
“Really. You can do that? Transfer to different lines around the world?”
“It’s a big company. You have to wait for an opening. Put your name on a list, get a recommendation from your manager, and you’re good to go. As soon as a spot opens up.”
“Interesting.” What would it be like to travel the world like that on a regular basis? To see different countries and cities, places I’ve never dreamed of going… My stomach flutters. “What did you do before you started working for the cruise line?”
“I went to college and got a degree in business, but ended up working as a bartender in the city. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do and the money was good.”
“Yeah. Same here. I’m good at it, and it’s hard to walk away from income like that. You kind of get stuck.”
“Exactly. That’s why I left. I felt stuck. In any case, I’m not the type to join the military, and I didn’t want to work in an office. I needed a steady income, but wanted to travel. When I saw an ad for a cruise line hiring full-time, I immediately called. And the rest, as they say, is history.”
“So you like it?”
“I love it. I may settle somewhere someday, but for now I’m happy. It’s still a job and I work hard, but on my days off, I get to come to places like this. I’ve been all over Puerto Rico.”
“Don’t you ever get tired of schlepping drinks and dealing with assholes?”
Eric stops and turns to face me. “Yes, of course I do. But then I meet someone new.” He winks at me to drive home his point.
“I bet you get a lot of boat babes with that line.”
He rubs the back of his neck and chuckles. “Okay, yes, I used to. I was the bartender making drinks for the coeds going to Cozumel looking to party. You know what? It gets old after a while. Now, I stay away from the passengers as much as possible. In fact, why are you following me again?” He furrows his brow and his charming smile sucks me in.
“You’re following me, remember, Casanova.” I raise an eyebrow in his direction. He bows at the waist and motions me ahead of him and into the museum.
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