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Too busy to take a Caribbean cruise? Join Carolyn Cook, aboard the SEA MONARCH. A 40-year-old widow, she thought she was simply substituting for a colleague as hostess on an alumni cruise. She unwittingly carries on board some kind of message, without knowing who receives it. Uneasy, she confides in a retired army colonel, who takes her to the very stern and businesslike captain. Suspecting smuggling on his ship, he asks Carolyn to help find the person who switched sacks with her.
Other characters have their special concerns: The colonel is trying to understand the restlessness his wife has felt since his retirement. The piano player makes a play for Carolyn and warns her that the captain has a scandal in his past. The assistant cruise director is jealous of his pretty wife’s flirting with his randy boss, while the cruise director is being harassed by his wife in Miami because he gambles and is low on funds—all leading to suspicious behavior by members of the cruise staff.
Carolyn finds the photographer’s assistant who received the message, and then is the target of a kidnap attempt in Tobago. The captain convinces Carolyn of his integrity; they spend a heart-stopping afternoon alone together in St. Lucia. But her ordeal is not over yet.
“Miz Cook,” the purser hailed her as she made her way across the wide expanse of navy blue carpet in the entry foyer. “You leave behind your camera.”
Carolyn detoured from her path toward the elevators, shaking her head. “I have my camera here in my sack.”
The tall Italian, resplendent in white uniform with stiff black-and-gold shoulder boards, picked up the Canon lying on the counter in front of him. “Your name appears here, on the side. And the folding knife? You are having a knife?”
Carolyn rummaged in the straw bag she carried, surprise showing plainly on her face as she found nothing but her purse and the scarf she had pulled away from her neck as she sat talking to the stamp vendor. “But I was taking pictures out by the careenage just a few minutes ago.” She stared at the items on the counter. She hadn’t noticed that anything was missing when she thrust the scarf into her sack. The camera was certainly hers. And the Swiss army knife. Tom had given it to her on their first camping trip–a talisman she always carried in her bag as a connecting thread to her lost husband. How did it get to the purser’s counter?
“Also your cabin key.” The liquid black eyes mapped her face as he dangled it.
“Those things were all in my sack,” Carolyn protested.
“Perhaps you are losing them? Someone brings them here for you?”
“Who brought them?”
“They are just here. I see them only these few minutes. I not know who puts them there.”
Carolyn was silent for a moment, her mind running swiftly over the short interval that had passed since she had strolled around the little harbor. “She switched the sacks,” she murmured finally.
“Pardon?” The black eyebrows shot up almost to the fringe of black curls.
“I was sitting on a ledge by the wharf, buying stamps from a vendor. A young woman stopped to talk. She had a straw bag exactly like mine.”
Although his eyes gleamed with Latin warmth, the purser smiled apologetically at the other people gathered around the counter, waiting their turn to ask for information or cash travelers checks.
“No one saw who left my things here?” Carolyn insisted. She heard the sharp note in her voice and immediately felt guilty. Just because she was still mad at her boss for railroading her into making this trip was no reason to take it out on the hired help.
The young man stepped back into the open doorway of the office behind him and asked a question in Italian. A female voice gave a clearly negative answer, and he returned to the counter shaking his head.
“Strange . . .. ” But Carolyn could see that the purser was eager to turn his attention to the other passengers clustered behind her. “Thank you very much.” She collected the camera and the knife and the key and turned again toward the shiny chrome elevators across the lobby, a little knot of puzzlement wrinkling her forehead. She had been as cool as possible to the young woman on the dock because something about her–the way she pushed in too close, rattling on about the matching sacks, almost breathing in the face of a complete stranger–had made Carolyn uncomfortable.
As she remembered her distaste, Carolyn gritted her teeth. She really hadn’t wanted to come on this cruise–not with only twenty-four hours to get ready. But George Chandler had swept all her protests aside, as he always did when he was intent on achieving his own objectives.
She sighed as she stepped finally into the elevator. It was her own fault-she should have stood her ground and said she simply couldn’t go on such short notice. Carolyn pushed her floor button, then tucked her hands under her arms to warm them. Was she ever going to stiffen her spine and stand up to her supervisor’s unreasonable demands?