Maybe This Time - By Joan Kilby



Melbourne, Australia

DARCY LEWIS STRAIGHTENED his cream linen jacket. The cruise ship’s crowded ballroom was decked out in a Brazilian Fiesta theme and the live band’s spicy Latin beat had him tapping his foot. Hot women in sexy dresses clustered around the room, sipping cocktails and eyeing up the men, including him.

How long had it been since he’d done something new and exciting? Way too long. His mates in Summerside were right. Twelve months of celibacy was too damn long for any red-blooded man with fully functioning hormones. They’d known what he needed even if he hadn’t.

“Have a fling,” Riley Henning had said as he and John Forster—Darcy’s old surfing buddies and now both police officers—presented him with a ticket for a weekend singles cruise. The three of them had gathered one night after hours in Darcy’s pub for a few drinks in honor of his fortieth birthday. “No strings attached. No emotional commitment. Definitely no moping. Just hot sex and fun.”

Darcy cleared his throat, a little choked up at the generosity of his good mates. The past two years had been hard, really hard. “Thanks, guys.”

John clapped Darcy on the shoulder. “Riley’s right, sex and fun. When was the last time you had either?”

“Been a while.” First Holly’s death, then the divorce... His cocooned existence had involved eating, sleeping and working—not necessarily in that order. It was time he made an effort to get into the dating scene. And this cruise was just the ticket, so to speak.

He dragged his thoughts to the ballroom and the nearest woman—a brunette wearing a red dress sipping from a drink with an umbrella. “Would you like to dance?”

“Thanks, but I’ve got a partner for this one. He’ll be back any second. My friend would like to.” She pushed forward the petite woman wearing a blue dress standing behind her.

“Tracey, I can find my own— Oh.” Emma’s blue-green eyes widened. A smattering of freckles stood out against a peaches-and-cream complexion framed by flaming red hair. “Hey, Darcy.”

Darcy swore silently. What were the odds? What were the frickin’ odds? Of all the ballrooms on all the singles cruises in the world... He pasted on a smile. “Hey, Em. What are you doing here?”

“On a cruise. Same as you.” She glanced around desperately, as if hoping someone would rescue her. Or a fire would break out, or the ship would hit an iceberg. Anything to put an end to this awkward moment.

Was she looking for a good time, too? A roll in the sack? Well, why shouldn’t she? She was absolutely free to sleep with whomever she wanted. It did not make him jealous. Or hurt. Much.

He started to ease away. “Sorry to bother you.”

The brunette grabbed him by the arm. “Where are you going? Do you two know each other?” She turned to Emma and whispered, “Come on, Em—he’s hot. This makes the third man you’ve passed on.”

“This is Darcy,” Emma hissed. “My ex-husband.”

“Oh!” The woman dropped his arm as if it were infected.

Nice. What exactly had Emma said about him?

“Wonderful running into you.” He gave them double thumbs-up as he moved away. “It’s a big ship. I’m sure it won’t happen again. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to see a man about a dog.”

“Huh?” Tracey’s nose wrinkled. “What dog?”

“Forget it.” Emma waved a hand. “Let him go.”

He felt Emma’s glare burning a hole in the back of his jacket all the way to the bar. What was she saying about him to Tracey? Was she warning her? “He likes to party but if you’re looking for happily ever after, forget it.”

Darcy slid onto a stool, automatically taking note of the efficient, uncluttered layout of the bar. It was set up mainly for cocktails with features he would never use. But those sliding doors on the fridges would be great instead of the swinging ones he had.

Seeing Emma unexpectedly was almost as disconcerting as sitting on this side of the bar. He had an urge to hop the divider and start polishing glasses. He caught the bartender’s eye. “Coke with plenty of ice.”

“Everything okay, mate?” The bartender, a man about his own age with receding blond hair, tipped a scoop of ice into a glass and squirted in the soft drink.

“Just ran into my ex-wife.” He lifted the glass and took a big swig. Whiskey would have been more welcome right now.

“Still got a thing for her, do you?”

Bartenders had an instinct for people and their troubles. He knew he did but he