I recently wrote a very short Valentine’s Day story that I intend to expand into a novella. In the meantime, I’d like to share it here as a free read for everyone who loves romance. Love comes in many flavors, and often appears where we least expect to find it.
The S.S. Amore Buffet
by Gemma Juliana
Ruby Belle checked her hair one last time. The mirror in her cabin reflected sparkling sapphire eyes and sun-kissed glowing skin. Her long chestnut hair – swept into a chignon – accentuated high cheekbones.
The scarlet silk dress and sexy black heels transformed her. She was elegance personified, in complete contrast to her real life back home.
Just for this one week of her life, she was Cinderella.
Winning the Mediterranean cruise at the fundraiser was a stroke of luck. The money raised would go to help those who’d lost their homes when the mega tornado had roared through town.
She’d lost everything – home, car, and all her possessions. Worst of all was the loss of her old family photos and letters. It was as if her past had been wiped away, and sometimes she wondered if it had ever existed. But memories and a heavy heart assured her it was real, not a figment of her imagination.
What a fantastic cruise it had been. She was no longer the numb, lonely woman who’d boarded the vessel.
For five days, Marco Mandolino had treated her like a princess. His love medicine had helped her move past the devastation. He’d made her laugh and feel alive and desirable again.
Ruby tried not to think about tomorrow, when they’d have to part ways. She hadn’t meant to get emotionally entangled, but somehow it had happened. When the ship docked, everyone would scatter and return to their lives, and her coach would turn back into a pumpkin.
But she’d have new memories to add to the old ones.
As she made her way along the deck to the gala dining room, a familiar sandalwood scent enveloped her and a hand came to rest on her arm. Her heart skipped a beat and joy flooded her being.
“Come with me, beautiful woman. Tonight I have arranged something special to honor you.” His fingers trailed down her arm and clasped hers.
“You’ve honored me all week, Marco. You’ve treated me like a goddess.” Ruby’s voice was breathless with excitement. “Where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise.” Chestnut highlights glowed in Marco’s raven hair as he glanced sideways at her and winked. “And you deserve to be treated like a goddess.”
They walked through the stateroom towards the elegant staircase, their blended magnetism drawing admiring stares.
He led her up several flights of stairs, until she thought they’d land on the star deck. Unlocking a set of double doors, he led her into a room decorated like a Bedouin tent in red and gold. A buffet was positioned along the inner wall, opposite a solid glass wall that overlooked the ocean and stars. A gold-covered table was at the heart of the room.
“This is magnificent,” Ruby stood still as she took in the décor. “How on earth did you arrange this? It must have cost you a fortune.”
“These are my private quarters, decorated in honor of you today,” Marco smiled, as he led her to a silver champagne bucket.
“You own the S.S. Amore?” Ruby’s eyes widened in surprise. “I thought you were a tourist like me.”
Marco nodded, his dark eyes glowing with good humor. “It was my pleasure to be a tourist with you this week instead of the usual work, work, and more work. You’ve given me a priceless treasure by reminding me that life can be sweet with the right person by your side.”
“It sounds like we were good medicine for each other, then.”
He poured two flutes of golden bubbles and handed her a glass before lifting his in a toast. “Here’s to you, Ruby Belle. This week has been sheer magic. I wanted to enjoy you in privacy on this last night.”
“Please don’t remind me it’s almost over,” Ruby’s smile faltered. “This has been the best week of my life.” The champagne fizzed and buzzed its way down her throat to her belly.
“Come, let’s choose some food from the buffet and sit down. We have lots to discuss tonight.”
“What a splendid selection of sensuous love foods.” She gazed at the typed menu to read the names of each dish.
Mediterranean Moonlight Buffet
Cocktail: Champagne with Crème de Cassis
Appetizers: Oysters Parmesan, Pan-Seared Scallops on Lemon Spinach
Pre-Entrée: Fondue – White Wine Cheese Sauce with Asparagus Spears and Apple Slices
Entrée: Shrimp Scampi In Basil Garlic Pesto Sauce, Saffron Rice With Wild Mushrooms
Dessert Choices: Dark Chocolate Dipped Strawberries, Raspberries in White Chocolate Sauce, Crepes Suzette, Unlimited Whipped Cream with Dark Cherries and Red Grapes
Cappuccino or Espresso
Liqueur Choices: Strega, Cointreau Orange Chantilly Whipped Cream
An hour later, Ruby sat back in her chair and drew a deep sigh.
“Marco, this has been the most romantic night of the most exciting week of my very ordinary life. You are so thoughtful. I can’t tell you how much this all means to me. Thank you for everything.”
“I have a proposal for you.” Marco smiled as he rose from the table. He took her hand and led her to the glass door. The balmy oceanic breeze slid inside as they stepped onto the deck where moonlight played on silver waters.
“If I could just save this moment in time…” Nervous, Ruby gazed at the stars and reached upwards. “They’re so close I can almost touch them.”
“How would you like to stay on the ship for a while?” Marco wasted no time getting to the heart of the matter.
“I’d love nothing more than to stay, but I can’t. I have no resources since the disaster, and wouldn’t be here now except for winning the prize. This has been a dream come true.”
“I’m offering you a shipboard job. You can stay a month, three months, whatever you like. I don’t want you to leave yet, Ruby. I think we have something special, and I’d like us to explore it. Do you feel it, too?”
Ruby’s heart jumped with delight. She nodded, and placed her hands on his chest. “I do,” she whispered. “I’m so happy you do, too.”
“I have a gift for you, whether you stay or go.” He reached into his inner jacket pocket, pulled out a small black velvet box, and handed it to her. “I hope it makes you think of our week together every time you wear it. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
As she cracked open the hinged box, a blazing ruby heart set in gold rested against the black velvet.
“It’s exquisite,” she cried. “I can’t accept such an expensive gift, Marco. And...I have no gift for you.”
“You are my gift. Please, you must accept it. You've given me so much joy this week. I'd like it to be the first of many gifts.” He clasped the jewel around her neck, then his hands cupped her face and his mouth found hers.
Ruby’s body melted into his as her arms encircled his neck. The warmth of his hands slid over her back and she pulled herself closer to him. The kiss seared her lips and engulfed her in a wave of longing as a low moan escaped his lips.
“So, tell me, Ruby. Will you stay a while, or maybe forever?”
Her smile was as dazzling as the glow of the overhead moon. “I’ll stay, Marco, as long as I can earn my keep. I’d love nothing more than to spend more time with you.”
His eyes lit up. “Welcome aboard, Ruby. Your paid job is as my new very personal assistant. In your free time, you can be my muse.”
Since February 14th is synonymous with the many flavors of love, I’d like to share a personal detail from my daily life. It’s not about romance, but the enduring love of a son for his mother.
When our son was 1 year old, we were in a grocery store on Valentine’s Day. There were soft velvety roses for sale in the novelty section. On impulse my husband and I bought one for our little son. Every time we gave it to him, we hugged, kissed, cuddled and he loved it.
Fast forward fifteen years, and our now sixteen year old son has been giving me “The Rose” – that cost $1.99 at the time – almost every day during the past decade. Sometimes he’ll leave it with a cup of tea he made for me and an “I love you” note on the kitchen counter, sometimes he’ll pull it out from behind his back and surprise me with it, and often I’ll find it on my pillow at night or perched on my computer screen in the morning. As you can see in the photo, it is well worn and looks a bit the worse for wear, but it exudes love and happy memories. It has become a sacred treasure in our home.
This blurb is my tribute to a fine son.
GEMMA JULIANA is a multi-published author who lives in an enchanted cottage in north Texas with her handsome hero, teen son and a comical dog. She loves making new friends and hearing from readers. Exotic coffee and chocolate fuel her creativity.
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