Originally published February 2006
Reissued in eBook format July 20, 2015
She may be on a cruise liner, but lately Rita Frazer’s life looks like a shabby dinghy. Working as a seamstress on a ship called the Venus, Rita hasn’t been feeling very goddesslike. More like a Swamp Thing with red hair and a mouth full of pins. When the ship hosts a fashion show, Rita figures she finally has a chance at being a designer— until she finds herself on the runway instead of her designs.
But Rita’s found her muse. And he’s watching the fashion show.
Harrison Masters is capable of making any woman drop sails, anchor— and most of her clothes. And he might be successful with Rita, but she panics when her sister disappears. Now Rita’s little dinghy— which was ready for an upgrade to full-on Love Boat only moments ago— is starting to leak.
Bail water… or bail out?
“In her laughter-laced, character-rich single-title debut, Rock’s snappy style of writing is perfect for a sexy, sassy contemporary romance.” — Booklist
“Joanne Rock will sweep you away on a tide of love and adventure.” — Cat Cody, Romance Junkies
“Passions ignite! The Pleasure Trip is a great read; all the better for its “two-for-one” romances.” — Jessica Smith, Fresh Fiction
“A superb sea cruise… high seas dramatic suspense.” — Harriet Klausner, The Best Reviews
“Ladies and gentleman,” the announcer’s voice boomed over the house speakers as a drum roll hummed in the background. “Welcome to Roman Cruise Lines’ world-famous Venus floorshow extravaganza.“
Rita watched the wheeled conveyance full of dancers start to move. The synthesized, edgy rock and roll music for the performance began. Danielle Divine whispered last minute instructions to a very fidgety Missy, who Rita knew was in danger of losing her job just two months into her contract. Poor thing.
Dancer gigs were damn hard to come by and fiercely competitive. If the woman lost this job…
Damn it, the red-eyed dancer wasn’t the only one whose job was on the line. Rita forced herself to stop thinking about everyone else in the show and concentrated on her own responsibilities— making sure her deceptively simple leather costumes looked good enough to eat on stage.
The whole idea for the biker babe number had been Rita’s, from the outfits to the music to the core theme behind the choreography. It had been hell to convince the show managers that the unconventional material could work on stage given its tendency to stretch, but once they’d glimpsed the possibilities and made sure Rita would be on hand for free alterations, they’d been all over the concept.
Nervous energy charging through her, she grabbed Jayne’s outfit for the next number and tiptoed to the edge of the backstage curtain to gauge the audience’s reaction. Jayne played a bigger role in the previous night’s production but in this show, she had a solo dance sequence in just one of the acts. The house was packed, but the only faces Rita could make out were the folks in the front row. Thank God Jayne’s loser boyfriend— Horatio the ass-grabbing blackjack dealer— wasn’t in attendance for once. He normally sat front and center and ogled Jayne along with every other dancer, but tonight that seat belonged to…
Come to Mama.
Someone much more interesting.
Rita wasn’t in the market for a man. Especially not a high roller type who traveled alone and booked Caribbean cruises for the access to round-the-clock gambling. Traditionally, those were the kinds of guys who reserved the front row table at the nightly floorshow touted for a nearly nude review capping off every performance. No, Rita didn’t like that type of guy at all.
But if she had, her head would have been turned by the prime male specimen currently peeling the label off his bottle of beer while a battalion of leather-clad women sashayed past him. He was a big man. Big enough to make his chair look more like doll furniture than people seating.
His legs sprawled long and muscular beneath the cocktail table in front of him. His shoulders had the kind of width only a custom made suit would accommodate. Which of course he wore. Navy blue and pin striped, the clothes gave him the appearance of a forties movie star, the kind of guy her mother would have fallen for in a heartbeat. But then, Margie Frazer had an unusual love of the forties and fifties screen icons, a fact advertised to the world by naming her daughters Rita Hayworth Frazer and Jayne Mansfield Frazer.
Licking her lips at the hot prospect seated in the first row, Rita momentarily forgot about the show and how much she had riding on it. Leaning one shoulder into an empty rolling rack tucked behind the backstage curtain, she indulged the urge to stare for just another moment. How many times in life did a woman feel that overwhelming sense of attraction at first sight?
She hadn’t felt this way since A.J. the quarterback had given her heart palpitations in the eleventh grade. And as sweet as that first crush had been, Rita had to admit that with a woman’s more mature and discriminating hormones at work, her attraction now was a hell of a lot stronger. Earthier. Yummier. Dancing biker babes flooded the stage in a swirl of color and feminine curves while Rita’s gaze narrowed to just one man.
Close trimmed dark hair framed the stranger’s face, his brooding eyes glued to the bottle label he slowly mutilated. Although his sleek navy suit and narrow green and blue tie broadcast success, his forbidding expression and preoccupation reminded her of the desolate faces she’d seen at the ship’s bar at four a.m. sometimes. The shell-shocked folks who came on board for a good time in the casino and somehow lost half their lifesavings to the roll of a die or hand of cards.
Foolish, clueless people who had no business indulging in the free drinks available at Venus’s twenty-four hour casino.
She hoped for this gorgeous man’s sake he wasn’t staring down the throat of a longneck for those kinds of reasons. Maybe his girlfriend had just dumped him and all he needed was a cynical, buxom redhead to put his life back into perspective for the night…
Rita debated taking a chance for once and sending him a drink. But as the rock music died away and the audience erupted into applause, Rita warned herself to get her head on straight and find Jayne to help with her costume change while a singing duo took the stage between dance numbers. The other dancers’ next outfits weren’t Rita Frazer Originals, but Jayne’s was. Because Jayne played the central character in a very fluffy musical drama involving lots of feathers and coy smiles for the next number, her outfit could be different. Better. Hand sewn by Rita for a little extra spotlight.
Tearing her gaze away from the superstud with dark disappointment in his eyes, Rita waited for Jayne at the edge of the stage, costume already in hand. Too bad Jayne was still nowhere in sight.
Damn it. What was her sister thinking?
Praying Danielle Divine— a.k.a. Danielle Domineering— wouldn’t notice the absence, Rita waited to see her sister’s Veronica Lake-style red waves bob around the corner.
Until a bad feeling crept into her veins, chilling her skin and setting her every cynical, wise big-sister instinct on edge. Sprinting around the back of the staging area to another dressing room, Rita scanned the small expanse of lighted mirrors and makeup tables for a glimpse of Jayne.
To no avail.
Heart pounding, she mentally shuffled the image of Jayne’s hopeful face with the fact that Horatio the loser blackjack dealer wasn’t in his usual seat tonight. Hadn’t Jayne said she was ready to get out of show biz?
And hadn’t Rita known damn well that couldn’t be good?
Hightailing it back to the other side of the stage where half the dancers were already naked and shimmying their way into their next outfit, Rita found Jayne’s dressing table graced by a glittery star, her duffel bag beneath it. The bag was unusually light given all the stuff Jayne normally hauled around. There was no purse, no bulging makeup case. Just some Kleenex, hairbrush, masking tape and— a note?
The dread that had been knotting in her stomach traveled up her throat in a burning path.
Don’t be mad at me, big sister! You know this routine inside and out and let’s face it— no one deserves the spotlight as much as you tonight. I had an urgent appointment in St. Kitts because Horatio really wanted to— ready— elope!!!
Love and Kisses,
Oh no. Oh no. Oh no freaking way.
Rita didn’t need to run to the nearest porthole to know the big ship had already cleared St. Kitts harbor by a mile. Jayne must have slipped off the boat with seconds to spare considering Rita had seen her in the shower just twenty minutes before the boat set sail. She’d timed her defection flawlessly— no surprise there considering her perfect stage routines and the fact that she had every male security guard aboard the Venus wrapped around her finger.
Damn! Shoving aside the wealth of worries for her sister and more than a little resentment for herself, Rita’s fingers tightened around the leopard print notepaper in one hand, Jayne’s dancing costume in the other.
With performers already lining up, Rita had zero time to make a decision. In fact, she didn’t realize she’d actually made one at all until her clothes were sliding off and she found herself jamming one foot after another into the leg holes of the barely-there feathered concoction.
She could dance, right?
She’d sat in on all the same damn tap, jazz and ballet classes as Jayne until she’d emancipated herself from Margie’s stage mother stranglehold. Plus, for three months running Rita had rehearsed all of Jayne’s dances so she could get a feel for how the costumes needed to be crafted to keep them fluid and feminine.
Shoving her bare feet into strappy rhinestone sandals that went with Jayne’s ensemble, Rita nearly toppled over as Missy rushed by, headdress askew as Sammy the Somersaulting Albanian tried unsuccessfully to right the heavy tiara.
“Can you help her, Rita?” Sammy whispered, ever mindful of Danielle who wouldn’t hesitate to axe any dancer who couldn’t hold her own. Or any dancer who did something really, really stupid like elope in the middle of the show.
“I’ll take over, Sammy. Thanks.” Rita let the wiry acrobat off the hook as she picked up speed fastening her rhinestone top, determined not to flub this. Why was she not surprised Sammy looked endlessly grateful as he hurried away with the fluid grace that came naturally to gymnasts?
“What are you doing?” Missy jammed fistfuls of hair into the headdress with no success. “Where’s Jayne?“
What could she say? Jayne’s sucking face with the worst mistake of her life while our careers go up in flames? Yanking her own headpiece off a hook over Jayne’s star-spangled dressing table, Rita plunked the tiara on her head.
“She had an emergency, but that’s just between us, okay?” Snitching a bobby pin from the jumble of accessories on the table, Rita thrust it into Missy’s long blond curls and anchored the heavy headpiece to her scalp, the need to lend a hand still strong even when she had no time to help. “Don’t worry about Danielle once you’re on stage. Just dance.”
As if she had time to dispense career advice while undertaking the stupidest scheme of her life. Even Jayne had never been this impulsive.
Okay, taking into account eloping with Horatio, maybe she had.
“Places ladies!” Danielle’s throaty call for action multiplied the butterflies in Rita’s stomach.
The last thing she needed was for Danielle to see her in Jayne’s costume. With the headdress on, there was a chance she’d never notice. Thank God every Frazer woman had been given the same five-feet-ten-inches to work with.
She had to at least try to get past Danielle for the sake of Jayne’s job, which wouldn’t be here for her when she came back— oh God, if she came back— without a little intervention.
The music changed as the performers lined up for the scene Jayne called the Wicked Angel. It looked like one big T and A fest to Rita’s eyes, but Jayne insisted it was a fallen woman with a heart of gold act. Well, fallen woman with the heart of gold and sexual appetite the size of Texas since the dance involved substantial writhing around on the floor. Though the pastel feathers made the writhing look more innocent, according to Jayne.
Hence the Wicked Angel.
Rita had never explored her inner angel, preferring to barge through life being blunt and direct and simply asking for what she wanted. But tonight she’d play simpering and coy for all it was worth in order to save Jayne’s paycheck.
She just hoped she didn’t fall off her heels. Or turn left when everyone else turned right and possibly high kick her neighbor right in the schnoz.
All of which had happened to her before in her long and colorful career as her sister’s crappy sidekick.
“Hurry up, Jayne!” Danielle the Destroyer glared at her with a look that would have sent heavyweight boxers running for cover. Thank God the abysmal backstage lighting prevented her from discerning Rita’s features under Jayne’s headdress. “You’re on in five. Four…“
Rita’s bare legs quivered beneath her as she prayed for coordination and knew it wouldn’t come. The only way she’d ever been able to get through a solid dance routine had been to isolate herself in a room all alone. Maybe she could close her eyes and pretend she was alone.
The house lights swirled and changed from moody blues to brazen reds. The music kicked up volume. Her knees knocked so hard she wasn’t sure she could haul herself out there. Closing her eyes would definitely result in her spiked heel planted in someone’s instep.
She’d simply choose a focus point. Meditate the rest of the humongous amphitheater away.
“And you’re on!” Danielle’s threatening growl mingled with the beat in the music that cued the first step.
Where Rita’s eyes promptly alighted on the only focus point in the room that interested her. The one man whose presence just might be the key to saving her feather-covered ass.