Peril on the Pearl


Copyright 2009 by Linda Crist aka Texbard


Setting: This is a Kennedy and Carson short story, and should be easily followed as a stand alone if you aren't familiar with them. If you are familiar, it takes place present-day, sometime after "Inside This House," my third K&C novel-length story. Isalba the pirate is also mentioned. I'm currently writing the novel-length story of Meg and Isalba, "La Reina Corsaria."


The following related stories can be found at The Royal Academy of Bards:

Kennedy & Carson stories: "The Bluest Eyes in Texas," "Borderline," and several short stories.

Meg & Isalba short story: "Rituals."

Short stories featuring both sets of characters: "Moondancers' Delight" and "Soul Vessels."


The following two stories are only available in the archives of my updates-only list:

"Inside This House" (Kennedy & Carson story, complete but not edited, starts at post number 431 on the list)

"La Reina Corsaria" (Meg & Isalba story, in progress as of 10/31/09, starts at post number 521)


If you'd like to read Kennedy's and Carson's comments on Facebook about their adventures on the cruise related to this story, or see Carson's pictures from the cruise, you can send them friend requests. They're listed on FB as Kennedy Nocona and Carson Garret.


Feedback Welcome:




A pleasantly warm breeze blew over the railing of the Norwegian Pearl, as two figures made their way down the staircase from their garden villa, across the private courtyard, and down another set of stairs from deck fourteen to deck thirteen below. "Mmmmm. I smell coffee," Carson commented, as they entered the Star Bar and passed through it to the entrance of Cagney's Restaurant. A hip, young waitress greeted them and took them to their table, handing them breakfast menus and discussing some of their choices.


"Thanks, Marina." Kennedy smiled at the waitress as she left to greet another guest, promising to return momentarily with Carson's latte. "She's gone above and beyond the call of duty," Kennedy commented. "We need to leave her a large tip at the end of the week."


"I'm keeping a list of all the folks we need to tip, honey." Carson lifted her iPhone from her belt and tapped on its screen, scrolling through and locating an application, then added Marina's name to the growing voice-notes list. "At the rate we're going maybe we should just get a copy of the crew roster and spread the wealth around to all of them."


"I'd be good with that." Kennedy looked up as Marina brought a tray bearing two glasses of orange juice, two glasses of water, and a large steaming mug of latte to the table. Thanking her again, Kennedy lifted her glass of juice, draining half of it. "Mmmm. Fresh-squeezed."


"Ah, sweet nectar of life." Carson picked up her mug and drew in the scent of rich, caffeinated goodness, then clinked the mug against Kennedy's glass. "To us."


"Hear, hear! Happy anniversary, sweetheart." Kennedy grinned and leaned over the menu, perusing its offerings. "I don't know why I even bother looking."


"French toast?" Carson had not so much as looked at her own menu.


"Crack French toast, you mean." Kennedy set the menu aside and scooted closer, picking up Carson's hand and pressing a kiss against her knuckles. "It will make for a nice chaser since I already had you for breakfast. And a midnight snack, and a night cap, and mmmpphhh --"


Carson placed a hand over her mouth. "If you want your afternoon snack, hush, Stud." She smiled nonetheless, a pretty pink blush dusting her cheeks.


Kennedy reached up, making a motion as if zipping her lips. "I can't help it. Between your early set calls and my exploding state mailbox, I've been missing my Carson time. I was really needing some immersion, babe."


"Well, I'm all yours," Carson answered. "And not just for this week, you know that, don't you?"


"Always." Kennedy squeezed the hand she held.


"Forever," Carson echoed, playing with the antique ring on her left hand, its inscription etched on her heart: Even in death, I'll never leave you. She blinked, surprised at the sudden sting of tears in her eyes.


"Hey." Kennedy reached over, stroking Carson's cheek. "No crying over breakfast allowed."


"I know." Carson waved her hand next to her face in a fanning motion. "It's just -- we've been so busy and the other day I realized that for two days in a row the only communication I'd had with you was by text message. I left when you were asleep and by the time you got home, I was asleep. It sucks, K, it really does." She frowned unhappily.


"We're at one of those places, hon," Kennedy soothed her. "Both our careers are taking off, I think." She leaned over, pulling Carson's head close and kissing it. "We both have responsibilities to a lot of other people. It's tough, but it doesn't mean we love each other any less."


"I know that, but I don't want our careers to make us any more busy than they already have," Carson replied. "You're my first responsibility. I feel as if I've fallen down on the job."


"Oh, no. Sweetheart, don't ever feel that way." Kennedy tried to comfort her. "That's not what I meant. Although --" she paused, considering. "I kind of feel the same way."


"I think --" Carson took a sip of her juice, the cool sweetness calming her. "I think because we're so committed to each other, it's like we always know each other is there. And I -- I don't want us to start taking each other for granted. Even if we don't have anything all that earth-shattering to say, I miss not talking with you every day, be it over dinner or out on the porch at sunset. We live under the same roof. It shouldn't be this difficult."


"No, it shouldn't," Kennedy quietly agreed with her. She knew she'd been struggling with their crazy schedules, but had thought it would only put more pressure on Carson to talk about it, and Carson was insanely pressured already. Now she realized she had been wrong. They were both suffering. "I've always believed in spontaneity. And I don't mean just in the bedroom." Kennedy grinned. "But when we first got together we had a lot more time. You didn't have a full-time job for the first six months and I was just practicing law. Now, everything is different. I need to -- and I’m going to -- start scheduling time with you every day."


"Like a client?" Carson wrinkled her nose in distaste.


"No." Kennedy leaned over, touching Carson's face again. "Like the priority you should be. So that no matter who's yelling for my attention, I can look at my calendar and be able to tell them I'm sorry, but they'll have to come back to me another time, I have a very important appointment I can't miss. The most important appointment of my entire day."


"When you put it like that, it makes me feel very treasured." Carson placed a hand on Kennedy's thigh. "So, we start syncing calendars?"


"Yeah, and we start clearing blocks of time if we have to." Kennedy raised her glass again. "Deal?"


"Oh, you got that deal." Carson laughed lightly and they toasted each other again. She sat back in her chair, looking out the large windows that made up the rounded front wall of the restaurant -- a giant bay window facing the ship's bow. Off to one side of the ship, the turquoise blue waters of the Caribbean beckoned, and to the other was the port of San Juan, their shore excursion for the day. "It's so beautiful here."


"Yeah." Kennedy followed her gaze, out over the harbor, studying the hodgepodge of boats and ships anchored and docked there. Everything from small fishing boats to large U.S. Coast Guard vessels bobbed gently upon the water. "I forgot we're in U.S. territory, until I saw that Coast Guard cutter," she commented.


"It does feel like another country, doesn't it?" Carson picked up the ship's daily newsletter she'd brought with her to breakfast. It had been left on their bed at turndown the evening before, a rundown of what they could expect and see, and scheduled activities both onboard and off ship during their stop in Puerto Rico. "What the heck?" She looked closer and began reading out loud: "Guests are reminded that the large x-ray machines on board are strictly off limits, and for their own safety, to refrain from exploring them. Guests are also reminded the x-ray machines and the area surrounding them are under twenty-four hour camera surveillance."


"Huh?" Kennedy took it from her. At that moment, Marina returned to take their order. "What's up with this?" She pointed to the notice.


"Oh." Marina laughed and leaned over between them conspiratorially. "Some college students were caught in there the first night on board. They were seeking privacy away from their room-mates. "The security guards got a rather interesting show."


"What?" Carson frowned, then her eyes widened in comprehension. "Oh, my God." She laughed. "I'm glad we have three beds and a private hot tub to work with."


Kennedy snickered and Marina covered her face with one hand, stifling her own laughter. "Watch it there, Studette, or you might not get your afternoon snack." Kennedy winked at Carson, who blushed furiously.


"The usual two orders of French toast, ladies?" Marina looked down, studiously holding pen to pad.


"Yes," Carson choked out. "Thank you." Marina hurriedly left and Carson finally burst out laughing again. "Busted, huh?"


"Yep." With no further pretense, Kennedy leaned over, planting a solid kiss on Carson's lips. "Hoisted on your own petard."


"I'm gonna hoist you." Carson returned the kiss in kind. "And then there's gonna be a throwdown."


"You can throw me down anytime you want to." Kennedy grudgingly pulled away, aware of a few eyes watching them in mild indulgence.


"So." Carson sat up with mock primness, and studied the newsletter again. "Tour of Fort San Cristobal still on our agenda today?"


"Yeah." Kennedy finished off her juice. "It looks pretty interesting and it's supposed to have some nice views."


"Have camera, will travel." Carson placed the newsletter to the side, just as Marina brought the French toast. Pouring syrup over the cinnamon-sweet treat, she grinned. "I wake up to sunrise from our bedroom window and snugglies with you, then more snugglies in that ginormous bath tub, then a VIP breakfast with an ocean-side view. It just doesn't get any better than this."


"Snugglies?" Kennedy raised both eyebrows at the cutesy term.


Carson leaned over and whispered in her ear. "More polite in public than 'sex so amazing I almost passed out'."


"Alright, just checking." Kennedy pretended to preen. "I do have that reputation you've pinned on me, to live up to.


They both laughed, long and hard. It was starting out to be a really good day.


An hour later, they followed a concierge from the Star Bar to a VIP exit off the ship, and onto the dock leading up to the city of San Juan. At the end of the dock, a guide waited for them, next to a six-passenger jeep that would take them on a semi-private tour of not only the fort, but the Bacardi Rum factory and other highlights of the city.


Kennedy climbed into the back seat and held out a hand to help Carson up. They situated themselves, waiting with the guide for two other couples that had also signed on for the tour. Throngs of passengers meandered about the dock area, looking for their various shore excursion leaders, each of whom held up a large white card listing which excursion they were leading. Two more jeeps drove by and stopped several feet away. Two women and four children climbed into the first one and the entourage following them piled into the second, and then both of them drove away.


"Hey, that was Rosie and her family, wasn't it?" Carson turned to watch as the jeeps disappeared around a curve in the street.


"Yes. Nice people. I was surprised when she came over and introduced herself when we were getting settled in," Kennedy remarked. "Even more that she knew our names, but then I realized Rosie O'Donnell probably has a security detail check out the entire passenger manifest before she boards the ship, especially the ones who are going to be her immediate neighbors."


"True." Carson turned and leaned back against the curve of Kennedy's arm, which was draped across the seat back. "I heard one of the crew say she's the ship's godmother. I'm not sure what that means, but there you go."


"They have cute kids," Kennedy remarked.


"You think the tabloid rumors are true?" Carson reached over, placing a hand on Kennedy's thigh.


"Don't know. Hard to tell. Not like you plan a cruise with your four kids at the last minute. Maybe they promised the kids the trip before they started having problems." Kennedy watched another couple come up and talk to the guide for a few minutes, then walk away, down the street. "Or maybe it's just like she said in that press conference, they're having problems and they're working on it. Hollywood is tough, even on the best of marriages."


Carson grew still. "If things keep going the way they have at the studio, we could end up in a Hollywood marriage someday," she commented quietly.


"Señoritas, we are only waiting on one more couple. The other one has decided to go shopping and skip the tour today." The guide leaned into the jeep for a brief moment. "I apologize for the delay."


"No problemo," Kennedy answered, then turned her body, placing her free hand over Carson's on her leg. "That's not going to be us."


"You promise?" Carson looked over at her, her eyes searching Kennedy's for assurance.


"Listen to me." Kennedy squeezed Carson's hand, then twined their fingers. "I don't have to manage the law firm. And I don't have to run for re-election."


"I can't ask that of you," Carson interrupted. "Your job is just as important as mine. We both do what we do because we're passionate about it. It's not like we're executives in some job we hate, working without heart until we can hopefully retire early and start enjoying our lives. We enjoy what we do, both of us."


"Carson, my passion is you." Kennedy lifted her hand at the seat back, playing with Carson's hair as she spoke. "We have more money than we'll ever spend. My work at the firm mostly involves helping low-income families and immigrants. If you ever decide you need to pack up and live in Hollywood to do your job, I'm packing up with you. I'll go work in some downtown LA homeless shelter, doing pro bono work or something. As for the State, they can kiss my ass most days. The cities in Texas are starting to turn around to a more progressive way of thinking, but the rest of the state, most days it's like beating my head against a wall. It's hard to fight when the majority of the voters would be thrilled if we turned the government over to the Southern Baptist Convention to run."


"Ouch." Carson patted Kennedy's leg in sympathy. "You never mentioned that."


"It's not pretty," Kennedy admitted. "Public office isn't what it's cracked up to be. My point is, I might enjoy my law practice, but my happiness isn't tied to my job, it's tied to you."


"And mine to you." Carson finally smiled. "Maybe we should both pack it in and retire right now."


"If you came to me tomorrow and said that's what you wanted to do, I'd be right there with you." Kennedy hugged Carson closer, nuzzling her hair.


"You really mean that, don't you?" Carson searched her face.


"I do." Kennedy pecked her on the lips. "Now can we please stop with the gloom and doom of our relationship talk? At least while we're on vacation. Weeks like this are supposed to bring us closer together, not make us sad."


"I'm sorry. I think it just really scared me last week when I got to thinking about how we've been living the past few months. I didn't want us to get used to it and it become the norm." Carson nibbled her lower lip. "But what we decided at breakfast helps a lot."


"You know," Kennedy remarked casually. "I think maybe part of it is the newness has worn off and we've settled into being a couple. And I don't mean that as a bad thing. I want to grow old with you, Carson. I wouldn't be wearing this ring if I didn't. But I think Pa was right in some advice he gave me a while back. Once you come down off the high of being in a new relationship, that's when the work begins. And we have to work at keeping things fresh. Weeks like this go a long way toward that."


"Maybe when we get home we need to keep working at that," Carson ventured.


"Exactly." Kennedy smiled. "Shake things up every now and then. Try new restaurants. Take the boat out in winter. Explore new areas of town together. There's a lot of the hill country we haven't visited yet – we can take some long weekends for that. Try out possible new hobbies together, that sort of thing."


"Remind me to thank your father when we get home." Carson laid her head on Kennedy's shoulder and felt a whisper of a kiss across her bangs.


Finally, the other couple arrived, a middle-aged man and woman, both dressed in polo shirts with some country club label embroidered on them. They were arguing about something, the man with low grunts of displeasure and the woman in a non-stop string of whining chatter. "Melinda, will you shut up!" The man finally roared. Turning partly away from her, he obstinately crossed his arms. "For the love of God, give me five minutes of peace from your trap."


"Harold! You listen to me. It's not my fault we were late getting breakfast. If you hadn't stayed in the casino half the night, and then you came back to the cabin, reeking of cigar smoke and whiskey --" She carried on, nagging at his back, getting nowhere as he eased further and further away from her. " -- now we've held up these people behind us."


"It's alright," Kennedy gritted her teeth as she spoke, her voice low and ignored by Melinda, who rattled on like a dog with a bone. Kennedy leaned forward until she was almost in Melinda's face. "I said -- it's alright -- if you're arguing on our behalf, please, stop it. If you're going to argue for the entire tour because you like the sound of your own voice, let us know now, and my wife and I will find another jeep. I came on this cruise to relax, not have my last nerve stomped on." She sat back in the seat and placed her arm around Carson's shoulders once more.


"Your wife? But you're both women. You can't be --" Melinda stared at both of them in horror. "You -- you're one of those ho-mo-sex-u-als?"


"We both are. She's my wife, too," Carson replied sweetly. "Do you have a problem with that?"


"Harold!" Melinda pounded at his back with a fist. "Do something!"


"What do you want me to do?" He slowly turned toward her, fending her off with an upraised arm. "Beat them over the head with that Bible you packed? You're the one who goes to all those church rallies, not me. Why don't you do something?"


"But we can't spend all day with two homosexuals!" Melinda wailed.


"Hey!" Kennedy lunged forward and Carson grabbed her belt loop, tugging her back right before she got a hand on Melinda's arm.


"Hold on, honey. I’m kind of enjoying this, myself," Carson whispered. Kennedy looked at her for a long moment, then nodded slowly and settled back down.


"Are you?" She leaned over and nibbled Carson's ear, then her jaw line. "While you enjoy that, I'm going to find other ways to amuse myself."


"Harold! She's kissing her!" Melinda shook his arm and he pulled away.


"Don't like it, why don't you go back to the ship? Me, I paid for this tour and frankly I'm looking forward to the rum-tasting at Bacardi's. Maybe it will numb my ear drums from your constant ugly mouth!" He crossed his arms and stretched out his legs, leaning back and pulling his Tampa Bay Buccaneers ball cap down over his eyes.


"Well!" Melinda grabbed up a canvas tote bag she'd tossed in the floor when they got into the jeep, and slung it over her shoulder. "I think I'll do just that!" Jumping down to the ground, she stormed away from the jeep in a huff, leaving them in blessed silence.


"So, señor and señoritas." The guide nervously got into the driver's seat. "We are ready to go, no?"


"Drive on." Harold waved his hand at the guide.


"Hey." Kennedy felt a little sheepish. "I'm sorry if I drove your wife away. But honestly, she was pissing me off."


"Don't apologize." Harold turned around and pushed his cap up so he could see them. "I should be thanking you. This might be the only quiet day I get on this trip. Damned woman found religion a few years ago and hasn't shut up since. Nagging me day and night about every little thing. I'd divorce her ass if she wasn't the one with the trust fund in the family." He laughed and held his hand across the seat. "Harry Madison."


"Kennedy Nocona," Kennedy shook his hand. "And this is my wife, Carson Garret."


"Pleased to meet you," Carson shook hands in turn.


"Listen, I just want to go to Bacardi and drink. Is it alright if I have the driver drop me off there first and you two do the rest of the tour? It's nothing to do with the gay thing, that I don't want to go on the tour with you." He grinned broadly. "I wouldn't care if you were both purple Martians. I just want to sit down somewhere and drink and smoke in peace. You all can pick me up on the way back to the ship, after you tour the plant yourself, if it that was in your plans."


"Fine by me," Kennedy readily agreed.


After a brief discussion with the driver, they pulled up at the Bacardi factory and Harry got out, waving at them as he disappeared inside. "To the fort, señoritas?" The driver put the jeep in gear.


"Si. Gracias." Kennedy looked over at Carson. "Let's make a pact right here and now."


"Okay," Carson frowned. "For what?"


"If either one of us ever starts nagging the other like she was nagging him, the one being nagged has permission to slap the living daylights out of the one doing the nagging." Kennedy rolled her eyes, shaking her head.


"Works for me," Carson nodded quickly. "Sheesh."


"You can say that again." Kennedy released a long breath. "I need another trip to the hot tub after that." She shrugged her shoulders, working out some tension. "I think a massage is in order today or tomorrow."


"You know you won't get any argument from me on that." Carson reached over, working at the knots at the base of Kennedy's neck.


They wound through the streets of San Juan and up a hill, where the jeep stopped in front of the fort. Kennedy and Carson got out and the guide led them up a walkway and into the structure itself. "Señoritas, feel free to explore at your leisure, or if you would like, there is a tour schedule in the gift shop. Now that you are my only passengers, I will wait outside for you until you are ready to leave."


"Gracias, Jose." Kennedy glanced at the guide's name badge and pressed some money into his hand. "Go toss back a few if you'd like. We may be a while."


"Oh, gracias." Jose bowed a little and left them to their devices.


Kennedy grasped Carson's hand and they took their time, exploring every nook and cranny of the fort. It was old, with worn wood fixtures, ornate tile and stone walkways, and arched doorways and windows. Set up on a hill on a point on the island, it did, indeed, have a beautiful view of both the Caribbean Sea and the city of San Juan. A few levels up in the open sunlight, they found several old cannons lined up at portals overlooking different vantage points, and in one spot, a stack of old, round iron cannon balls.


Carson whipped out her camera, taking several pictures, while Kennedy studied placards stationed along the way, reading out interesting factoids to her partner. Every now and then, Carson would take off across the open stone plaza to snap a picture of something, then return to her side to see what she had missed. Kennedy reached an old room off to one side and looked around, then shrugged and entered it, since it wasn't roped off.


It was noticeably cooler inside, even though it was graced by arched, open windows that should have allowed in the warm, tropical air. She frowned and looked around, her skin prickling for no explainable reason. Several times she spun around, feeling as if she was being watched, but no one was there. Still, she felt drawn to the room and moved to the window to look out over the city, while waiting for Carson to finish taking her pictures.


"So," a voice sounded in her ear, and Kennedy jumped and turned around, looking for its source. Slowly, a form materialized in the darkest corner of the room, a mist floating a foot or so off the ground. "How do you like my fort?"


"I -- Isalba?" Kennedy's heart was thumping in her chest, threatening to pump blood out her ears, and the figure nodded in acknowledgement. "Wh -- what are you doing here?"


"I fought one of my greatest battles here," the ghost pirate informed her. "And I took shelter with Meg, here in this room. I sensed your presence."


"Oh." Kennedy realized both her heartbeat and her skin prickles weren't slowing, and took several deep breaths, willing herself to calm down. "We got married," she finally commented, grasping for something to say. What did one discuss with 400-year-old dead pirates, anyway?


"I know." Isalba gestured at the ring on Kennedy's finger. "I have a belated wedding gift for you. There is a board over here in this corner. It is loose, but you cannot tell by looking. You will have to test around to find it. Lift it up and you will find something there. I want you to have it."


"O -- kay." Kennedy looked around. "You hid something here and no one has yet to find it?"


"No one has found it, because I did not let them find it." Isalba grinned wickedly. "We -- Megan and I -- gift it to our soul vessels."


"Soul -- oh. Me and Carson. Right." Kennedy took a step closer, still keeping a healthy distance. "Can I ask you something?"


"You may." Isalba nodded.


"Is she with you?" Kennedy looked around. "I don't mean here, necessarily, just in general. After you both died, are the two of you still together most of the time?"


"Always." Isalba smiled. "That is all you need to know of that. The afterlife is different for each person. It is in that final resting place that you are allowed to have your heart's desire. She is mine."


Kennedy smiled. "Then Carson will be with me, when that time comes."


"I am glad to have seen you again." Isalba smiled back at her. "She is calling me. I must go. Enjoy your gift."


"Hey. Wait! I didn't even get a chance to thank you --" But just as quickly as she had materialized, the pirate disappeared. Kennedy blinked a few times, wondering if it had been some sort of sun-induced delusion. The sound of a rushing wind whipped past her ears and the cold air was sucked from the room, replaced by a flood of humid warmth. "Whoa." She rubbed her arms in reflex. "Might as well see if her gift is there," she mused to herself.


She crossed the room and knelt down in the corner, tapping the boards until she located one in the very corner that sounded hollow beneath. Using a small pocket knife she carried, she looked over her shoulder and through the open doorway for any nearby security personnel, then eased the blade between cracks in the boards, and worked the well-fitted wooden plank up until she was able to grasp and lift it. Beneath it in the corner was a small, extremely tarnished brass box. The clasp was rusted and broke off as she opened it. Inside was a pair of gold stud earrings, each set with one emerald and one sapphire. They needed cleaning, but she could tell they would be beautiful once they were properly polished. "Wow. Nice."


Kennedy replaced the board and held the open box in her hand. Still crouched down, she studied it, trying to decide if she should give it to someone in authority at the fort, to put in the fort's museum. As she considered it, a sensation ran up the back of her neck, so hard and cold, it was as if an ice cube were being pressed against her skin. "Alright already, I'll keep it. Stop with the icy fingers." Immediately, the sensation eased and Kennedy quickly pocketed the box and stood up. She looked around the room one more time, then made a hasty exit, back out into the warm sunshine, to find Carson.


As with her last encounter with Isalba, she needed time to process it. She'd become accustomed to seeing the pirate and her partner-in-crime, Megan, in the painting they purchased in Cancun, which now hung in their guest bedroom at home, viewing them as characters of history and legend. She'd never told Carson about meeting Isalba that first time, in a cave during a Halloween camping trip. At the time they had only been living together a little over a month and she didn't want Carson to think she was insane, and leave her.


After a while, she had convinced herself that maybe it had all been a dream. True, most dreams did not come with door prizes such as the ornate dagger that rested in a case in her office at home, but the mind is a pretty good story-teller and she had decided finding the dagger had been some strange coincidence. Now, with a cool metal box in her pocket, she had to consider the fact that there was, indeed, a ghost who looked exactly like her, who apparently liked to visit her near Halloween and discuss their shared soul, while bestowing her with gifts.


She found Carson standing at a lookout point over the beach, her face turned toward the sun, a light breeze rifling through her short, blonde hair. "Hey." Kennedy came up behind her and placed her hands on Carson's shoulders.


Carson reached up, covering them both with her own. "Hey, where'd you go?"


"Took a side tour into one of the small rooms off the plaza. Did you get all the pictures you wanted?" Kennedy hastily changed the subject.


"Yeah, and some good video footage as well." Carson turned around, re-settling her camera bag on her shoulder, checking to make sure she'd zipped it closed. "You ready to head to the Bacardi factory?"


Kennedy laughed lightly. "Maybe we should, and pick up old Harry before he's pickled himself."


Carson joined in the laughter, and hand-in-hand, they made their way back out of the fort. After a brief sight-seeing ride around San Juan, they stopped at Bacardi and took the nickel tour, sampled a few flavored rums, and purchased gift sample-packs of liquor for their friends back home in Austin. Harry was sitting near one of the outdoor tasting areas, cigar in one hand and shot-glass of rum in the other, three sheets to the wind. Grudgingly, he downed the rest of his drink and joined them for the ride back to the ship.


The driver dropped them off near the dock and rather than go back to the ship right away, Harry departed for one of the local bars. "Maybe the ship will leave me here and put me out of her misery," he slurred. "And to think I stole her away from her first husband. What was I thinking?"


Shaking her head, Kennedy watched him stagger down the street. "Up until now, I felt a little sorry for him, but you know, I think he got what he deserved. There's a special place in hell for home wreckers."


"You got that right -- right next door to the cheaters they hook up with," Carson commented, then tugged at Kennedy's hand. "Hey. You know what? I hear a burger and a beer calling my name. How about you?"


"Topsider's for lunch?" Kennedy willingly allowed Carson to drag her along, glad to see her partner's earlier serious mood put aside in favor of food and fun.


"Yeah." Carson paused at the security line and they both got in it, waiting to be scanned back onto the ship and deposit their duty-free alcoholic purchases for pick-up at the end of the cruise. "Lunch al fresco with the most gorgeous woman on the ship. How lucky am I?" She snuggled up to Kennedy, ducking beneath her arm and leaning against her while they waited.


"Almost as lucky as I am," Kennedy answered, giving her a quick peck on the lips.


The line moved quickly, and they headed up on the elevator to the twelfth deck and got in another line for made-to-order gilled items. Carson secured a cheeseburger, while Kennedy ordered a veggie burger, and after a trip to the bar for Mexican beers, they located a table with an ocean-side view. Across the way was the ship's main set of swimming pools, with a plethora of children and adults playing in the water, and lounge chairs situated around it, filled with people slowly roasting themselves to a crisp.


"Some of those folks are going to be hurting tonight," Carson commented, noting one woman who was almost as red as the hair on top of her head.


"Some of 'em already are," Kennedy chimed in, gesturing with a nod of her head toward a man sitting on the side of his lounge chair with his head in his hands. On the deck beside him was a stack of empty cups.


"He's lucky we're not in rough seas." Carson wrinkled her nose. "What a waste of a perfectly good afternoon."


"I've spent my fair share of wasted afternoons," Kennedy replied. "I sure don't miss it, I can tell you that."


"I have such a hard time imagining you back then." Carson dunked a French fry into ketchup and bit into it. "Other than that one time in Alpine when those guys drugged your drink, I've never seen you under the influence, really. A little buzzed, maybe, but never out and out drunk."


"You don't want to see me like that, trust me," Kennedy sobered for a moment, then gave herself a little slap to her own cheek. "What's up with us today? Here, I beg you to dispense with gloom and doom, and then I turn around and jump on that same bandwagon."


"Full moon, maybe?" Carson reached across, squeezing Kennedy's hand. "Have I mentioned what a good time I've had this week, so far?"


"Oh, I think so." Kennedy grinned. "I believe I saw a smile or two when we went beach-bumming on St. John, and catamaran-sailing in Antigua. And you've whooped a time or two when we were disco bowling, wall-climbing, and dancing here on the ship. I won't mention the whoops in private, since you made me zip my lips this morning." Kennedy winked at her.


"You've whooped a few times in private too, you know." Carson smiled back at her. "Anyway, if I haven't said in so many words, this has been one of the best weeks of my life and you're the most awesome partner ever for arranging it."


"I have awesome motivation," Kennedy complimented her in return. "So, what do you want to do this afternoon? Tonight we have a dinner reservation at La Cucina's for Italian food and the chocoholic buffet and Halloween costume party is later after that."


"Well –" Carson consumed a few more French fries. "We've been bowling and wall-climbing and shopping. How about we take advantage of that private sundeck that came with our suite? Just sunbathe and maybe order up some drinks and snacks mid-afternoon?"


"Works for me." Kennedy finished off her veggie burger and turned to her fries. "Not sure if I'm going to have room for snacks, especially if we need to save room for pasta and chocolate."


"And champagne with the chocolate," Carson reminded her. "We've been eating like Hobbits, haven't we? Breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, snacks, drinks, dinner, more snacks, more drinks." She patted her belly. "You may have to buy me some new clothes to wear home. At this rate the ones I brought aren't going to fit."


"Oh, I think you have a ways to go before you have anything to worry about." Kennedy gazed fondly at her. "Your stomach was starting to get concave. It's good to see you relax and enjoy your meals instead of eating on the run all the time. And there I go again. Okay, no more talk of real life."


"It's alright." Carson stole a French fry from Kennedy, having finished her own. She washed it down with the rest of her beer, just in time to accept another one from the waiter. "I don't think we can avoid talking about life back home, at least sometimes."


"True," Kennedy agreed with her. "But mostly I just want to relax and have fun while we're here. And if that means eating ourselves into oblivion a few times, so be it."


"Right now, I'm ready to change into a swimsuit and nap myself into oblivion for a few hours." Carson wadded up her napkin and gathered their now-empty plates and stacked them neatly on the table. A waiter whisked by and gathered them up, and both women stood, carrying their half-full beer bottles with them.


Back in their suite, they both headed for the master bedroom and began removing clothing, folding it up neatly in the dresser. Down to her underwear, Carson paused, looking out the large floor-to-ceiling windows. "I know those are mirrored and no one down on that next deck can see us, but it still feels strange to stand in front of a huge window and get naked."


"Oh, I don't know," Kennedy, who had already divested herself of all her clothing, circled around Carson and took her into her arms, leaning down and sampling her lips for a timeless moment. "Whoever gets an eyeful of you is lucky, and that would be me."


"Mmmm." Carson dove back in for another kiss, taking her time as they both warred with rising desire and lethargy brought on my full stomachs. Finally, Carson pulled back and looked up, both arms still wrapped around Kennedy's neck. "Later, I intend to finish this." She stood on her toes, nipping at Kennedy's nose.


"Count on it," Kennedy released her, flashing a sexy grin at Carson before she turned and began digging through one of the dresser drawers. "I already wore the blue one," she tossed a swimsuit on the bed. "Maybe the black --"


"Hey." Carson stopped her with a touch to her back. "I almost forgot. I packed a new suit for you that I bought on that last pre-cruise shopping trip I went on at Barton Creek Mall. Hold on." She rummaged around in another drawer and pulled out the gift, a white bathing suit with a shimmery, iridescent sheen, handing it over to Kennedy.


"Babe." Kennedy held it up by a string. "This is not a swim suit, this is three microscopic triangles held together with thread."


"It is, too." Carson took it from her, holding the top up to Kennedy's breasts. "This one goes here." She held the other one down, just below the taller woman's navel. "And this one goes here. See, it covers the essentials." She smiled charmingly.


"There's nothing to go in back?!" Kennedy took it from her again, holding it up and scrutinizing it more closely.


"Sure there is." Carson pulled the bottom half of the suit from Kennedy's hand and playfully placed one of its strings in her own mouth. "Butt floss, honey. So I can enjoy gazing at your fine backside all afternoon."


Kennedy frowned skeptically.


"Oh, come oh, please?" Carson moved in closer, placing her hands on Kennedy's hips. "It's a private sundeck, just the two of us. No one will see you but me. Indulge me and I promise I'll make it worth your while."


"Alright." Kennedy slowly agreed, and began putting the suit on. "I just hope I don't sunburn these buns you're so fond of. They haven't seen the light of day in a while."


"I'll make sure and rub sunscreen all over them for you." Carson ran her hands seductively over the body parts in question.


"Sold!" Kennedy got the rest of the suit on and waited not so patiently while Carson donned her own tiny blue bikini. While not quite as bare as Kennedy's, it still left little to the imagination, and Kennedy privately wondered why they had waited so long to take advantage of the private sundeck.


Out on the deck, Kennedy stretched out on a lounge chair and watched while Carson fussed about, laying out her towel on her chair just so, moving the chair close enough that she could touch Kennedy, and dragging a small table between them, on which she placed two large mugs and a jug of iced tea she'd taken from the refrigerator. Turning to a set of dials on the outside wall, she flipped a switch and the sounds of a smooth, Caribbean steel drum beat reached their ears through a pair of outdoor speakers. "Now this is what I call a sun deck." Carson arranged several bottles of tanning and sun screen products beneath the small table and removed her swimsuit top, then flopped down on her stomach on her chair.


"Hey." Kennedy also rolled to her stomach. "I think my backside is already burning. I need some sunscreen." She smiled innocently at Carson.


"Well," Carson sat up. "We can't have that, can we?" She started to put her top back on and Kennedy reached over, grabbing her wrist.


"Leave it off." Kennedy's grin widened.


"You are so bad." Carson retrieved a bottle with a healthy infusion of SPF and moved over, sitting on the edge of Kennedy's lounge chair. She squirted out a palm-full of lotion and went to work, slowly smoothing it over Kennedy's backside, making sure to rub it in thoroughly.


Kennedy closed her eyes, enjoying the attention, feeling Carson's hands stray upward to also cover her back and shoulders, and downward to protect her legs. Once those were taken care of, she went back to Kennedy's behind, giving it another coating for good measure. As one of Carson's hands strayed to an inner thigh, Kennedy released a moan she could no longer hold back. "Mmmm. Getting me wet."


"I know." Carson massaged Kennedy's inner butt cheeks with her thumbs, mercilessly teasing her and watching her muscles twitch. "How about we sunbathe for a little while and then move back inside?"


"Sunbathing is soooo over-rated," Kennedy practically whined. "We could go in now and avoid burning altogether."


"I beg to differ on the not burning part." Carson smiled and decided to show some mercy, letting up on her attentions. "One of the things I love about you, Stud. All I have to do is press a few buttons and you're good to go."


"And I'm energy-efficient, too," Kennedy turned her head and opened her eyes, smiling fetchingly. "No batteries or electricity required. Just the spark of your touch, and I'm fully-charged."


"Oh, God, K." Carson burst out laughing. "You're such a goof." She leaned over and pulled long, dark hair aside, kissing Kennedy on the back of her neck. "But you’re my goof."


"You got that right." Kennedy's eyes warmed with affection and Carson moved back to her own chair and stretched out again. "Carson, you want me to rub you? I mean, put lotion on you?"


"I used that spray-on stuff right before we came out here, remember?" Carson opened one eye and Kennedy pretended to pout. "Aw, poor baby." She reached across and squeezed Kennedy's shoulder. "So deprived. What has it been, seven whole hours?"


The fetching smile reappeared. "Yeah, but I'm on vacation with the sexiest woman I've ever known, and half the time she's running around wearing next to nothing. It makes my nooky time clock go off more often."


Carson laughed and shook her head in amusement. "You know what, K? You're a keeper."


"Glad to hear it. I'd hate to think you were a catch and release kind of gal." Kennedy reached over and grasped Carson's hand, and they were both soon dozing in the pleasant Caribbean sunshine.


An hour later, Carson woke up and hitched up on one forearm, reaching for the pitcher of iced tea and a cup. She managed to get it poured and drank half a glass down, licking her lips at the much-needed rehydration. "Time to flip over." She turned onto her back and tugged underneath herself to free her bikini top.


"My turn to help you with sunscreen." Kennedy was awake and before Carson could arrange her top, was straddled across her hips. She gave the lounge chair an experimental bounce, and satisfied it would hold both of them, she slid her hands slowly up Carson's torso.


"Um, hon, didn't you forget something?" Carson swallowed, as long fingers trailed up her sides and across her collarbone.


"Like what?" Kennedy's fingers wandered between Carson's breasts and circled them.


"Like sunscreen?" Carson knew where they were headed and smiled, biting her lower lip as her body came to life.


"Did I?" Kennedy tisked. "Oh, well. Guess I'll just have to protect your most sensitive parts with my hands." She cupped both of Carson's breasts, palming her nipples, then leaned over, engaging Carson in a slow, toe-curling kiss.


"Mmmm." Carson wrapped her fingers around the back of Kennedy's neck, lightly scratching her skin. "I think we should take this inside to that nice, big bed, don't you?"


"Oh, yeah." Kennedy untangled herself and they stood, circling each other across the deck as they continued to kiss, finally stumbling inside and through the living area to the bedroom.


Carson backed Kennedy across the room until she ran into the bed and fell backward onto the large, pillow-top mattress. Following after her, Carson crawled up, hovering over her and closing her eyes as Kennedy reached up, teasing her breasts some more. "I want you as if I've never had you," Carson whispered. "How can that be?" She tilted her head to the side, reaching out and toying with one of the strings holding Kennedy's bikini top in place.


"Dunno," Kennedy gulped, as Carson gave a quick jerk to the tie, efficiently removing the entire top in one smooth move. "But the feeling's mutual.


"Is it now?" Carson lowered herself, kissing Kennedy, opening her mouth and deepening the contact, while brushing her own breasts against Kennedy's until they were both panting and forced to come up for air. "Mmmmmm." Carson made her way lower at a leisurely pace, stopping to explore along the way, finally reaching a hardened nipple, which she took into her mouth, teasing with her tongue until she felt Kennedy's hands at her head, urging her further down.


"Down," Kennedy moaned. "Please, baby?"


"Well, since you asked so nicely." Carson laughed, a throaty chuckle that vibrated against the skin she was tasting, just below Kennedy's navel. Moving lower, she nuzzled Kennedy's bikini bottom, greedily drawing in her scent, then sat up and ran her hands slowly up Kennedy's thighs, which immediately parted in invitation. "Roll over for me," Carson swept back up long enough to nip at Kennedy's earlobe as she made her request.


"You plan to torture it out of me, don't you?" Kennedy turned her head, stealing a heart-pounding kiss, her own laughter bubbling up at Carson's moan. "Your wish is my command." She pinched a nipple and Carson yelped in surprise as Kennedy complied, rolling over onto her stomach.


"I love your ass," Carson commented, kissing her way in a wet trail from Kennedy's neck and down her spine, to the body part in question. She slipped her fingers between skin and bikini strings, using blunt nails to good effect, as Kennedy's hips levitated off the mattress a few inches. "Anxious," Carson observed.


"Aching," Kennedy corrected her. "God." Carson licked at her butt cheeks, then used her teeth to untie Kennedy's swimsuit bottom and quickly tossed it aside.


"Lift up," Carson requested, sliding a pillow beneath Kennedy's hips.


"Oh, sweet Jesus," Kennedy moaned as Carson grabbed two handfuls of her backside, massaging and rubbing with a firm, circular motion, urging her legs apart until she felt completely exposed. As a firm tongue licked up her inner thigh, she stifled a scream, her belly already contracting in anticipation.


"I think I need to taste you," Carson applied gentle pressure to both inner thighs with her hands, stretching out between Kennedy's legs and nuzzling her again before kissing her intimately.


"Grrrraahhhh!" Kennedy cried out, as Carson deepened the contact, kissing and stroking and flicking, using fingers, lips and tongue to good effect, until the waves crashed over Kennedy and she balled the sheets in her fists, her face buried into a pillow, muffling her cries of pleasure.


Catching her breath, Kennedy rolled to her back and pulled Carson to her, settling her on top, stretched out along Kennedy's torso and legs. "I brought toys," she rasped, reaching for the nightstand drawer. "Wanna play?"


"You know me too well." Carson sat up and leaned over her, gasping when Kennedy took yet another opportunity to tease her breasts. Reaching into the drawer, Carson retrieved a harness and dildo. "How did I not see you unpack these?"


"A girl has to have her secrets, doesn't she?" Kennedy took one of Carson's hands, brushing her lips across her knuckles. "Might be a wild ride. You wanna buckle me in?"


"My pleasure," Carson eased the harness beneath Kennedy, pulling it up and around her hips, adjusting buckles and straps properly. Picking up the dildo, she blew a kiss at it and then took just the tip into her mouth, sucking on it for Kennedy's entertainment. With a deep laugh, she slipped it into place and secured it, then found herself pulled down at Kennedy's side, a long leg pinning her in place as Kennedy tilted Carson's head back, slowly kissing her throat and up along her jaw to her lips.


"Oh, babe," Kennedy groaned, as Carson's hand dipped between Kennedy's legs, stroking her slowly while Kennedy lavished attention on Carson's nipples.


"Ungggh," Carson gurgled, as Kennedy gently rolled her to her back and slid a firm thigh between Carson's legs, pressing against her as she continued her assault on Carson's breasts. Strong hands ran down Carson's sides and over her hips, and Kennedy sat back long enough to spread muscular legs wide and ease herself up between them.


"You're all wet," Kennedy grinned and lowered herself, braced on one forearm, hovering over Carson. Reaching down, she teased Carson with the dildo, easing it into position and pausing for another soul-searing kiss, then slowly slipped inside, feeling Carson's legs pressing firmly against her hips and wrapped around her backside in a way Carson wouldn't have if she had been using fingers alone. It was one of the things she loved most about using the dong, feeling Carson completely surrounding her while Kennedy was inside her.


Carson moaned and ran her hands down Kennedy's back, holding on tightly, one hand splayed at the small of her back, while the other hand trailed up, tangling in Kennedy's hair. "Rock and roll," Carson smiled, her eyes half-closed with pleasure.


"Oh, yeah." Kennedy began to move, closing her eyes for a moment at the sensation. As she rocked back and forth, she could feel Carson's hand pressing against her back, urging her on. "So hot," she murmured, burying her face into Carson's shoulder as she threw her weight into her actions.


"Oh, God." Carson's hips rolled upward, meeting her thrusts. "I'd almost forgotten how good this feels." Keeping her balance on the one forearm, Kennedy reached between them with the other, sliding down between Carson's legs and stroking her as she continued to fuck her. "Ah, K. God." Carson bit her lip, her eyes closed and her expression one of extreme pleasure.


"Let go, Carson." Kennedy eased her hand beneath Carson and up the back of her thigh, stroking skin she knew was extremely sensitive, and reinforcing Carson's motions. "Come on, babe. Show me love."


"Aaaaahhhh!" Carson cried out as her climax washed over her, and she pulled Kennedy down against her, kissing her deeply and gabbing her ass, kneading it, still feeling her body spasm. She pressed her face against a strong shoulder, biting down and hearing Kennedy groan in response, her hand running up and down Carson's side.


Kennedy started to slide down and Carson held her in place. "Not yet, K. I just need --, uggh." Carson's guts clenched pleasantly, still coming down from high up in the clouds somewhere. "I like this part, feeling your weight on top of me while you're still inside." Her legs reflexively clenched and unclenched against Kennedy's hips.


Kennedy smiled and lifted up a little, pushing back sweaty bangs from Carson's eyes and stroking her cheek with the back of her hand. "Been a while, huh?"


"Too long." Carson smiled, tracing Kennedy's face with her fingertips. "God, that was just so good. And you wonder why I call you 'Stud'."


"Just trying to live up to the nickname, sweetheart." Kennedy ducked her head and kissed Carson's lips with several quick pecks, then went back in for something more substantial. "More?" Kennedy lifted up, eyes shining in anticipation. "I have a lot of loving left inside, if you need me."


"I always need you." Carson stroked long, dark hair, winding it around her fingers as she considered the proposition. "Yeah," she decided, her answer soft. "Just not --" She gave Kennedy a little push downward and the taller woman took the hint, gently disengaging her body from Carson and quickly removing and discarding the harness and toy.


Kissing Carson lightly on the lips, Kennedy gently rubbed circles against Carson's belly, then kissed her way to a tasty earlobe. "You need something soft and slow this time?" She kissed the baby-soft skin and began working her way downward.


"Perfect." Carson felt the light touch of lips tickling her thighs, and reached down, placing one hand at the top of Kennedy's head. "Yeah. Just -- like -- that." With a sigh, she closed her eyes, the gentle, thorough loving from her partner sending pleasant shivers through her, the next orgasm coming quickly but with much less intensity. It was healing, this gentler touch, reaching deep inside and blanketing her soul in something like warm sunshine.


Making certain her lover was thoroughly satisfied, Kennedy slid back up and pulled Carson against her, reaching down and cupping Carson between her legs with a light, soothing pressure. She kissed Carson's lips and then her nose, and then the blonde head. "I need to hold you like this for a while, babe. That okay?"


"Mmmmm, it's delicious." Carson nuzzled Kennedy's breast and then laid her head at her shoulder, closing her eyes as contented sleep snuck up and claimed her. Kennedy pulled the covers up around them and soon joined her.


After a lengthy nap and a leisurely shower together, both women emerged from the steamy master bathroom and proceeded to get ready for dinner and the chocolate buffet-turned Halloween costume party. Kennedy paused, eyeing the long Egyptian dress Carson had talked her into wearing, complete with black shorter wig and a slit that went all the way up to her armpit, held together only by strings of beaded fastenings. Glancing over at Carson, who was busy fastening a cropped Egyptian-style top that revealed a good portion of her midriff, Kennedy decided her own costume was worth it and shrugged with a grin, shimmying into the white, thin fabric.


It should have been a short trip to La Cucina, the ship's Italian restaurant located near the stern only two decks below their cabin, and they chose to take the stairs; however, they were stopped several times along the way by other costumed and non-costumed passengers who wanted to take their picture or have a picture taken with them. At one point, Carson yelped when a drunken man grabbed a handful of her backside. Kennedy quickly assessed the situation, growled loudly, and grabbed the offending hand, twisting the man's wrist until he was the one yelping. "Touch her again and I'll break it." She let him go and he went scurrying away, muttering about women and temptation.


"Always defending my honor, aren't you?" Carson rubbed her bottom and took Kennedy's hand, as they finally reached the restaurant. Two servings of lasagna and a bottle of pinot later, they were pleasantly full, and chose to skip dessert since the chocoholic buffet was soon to start. It was late, as they had opted for a late dinner after their long afternoon of loving, sunning, and snacks, and as they approached the main dining room where the party was to be held, the hallway was completely congested.


"Wow." Carson looked around at the throng of cruisers, roughly half of them turned out in costume for the Halloween and chocolate event. Most couples with children had brought them along and while the adult costumes were often ornate, the children were simply cute. There were at least two Harry Potters, three Hello Kitties, a plethora of vampires and witches, and a host of various cartoon characters including Scooby Doo and Wall-E. Most of the younger party-goers were running around in circles playing chase, showing off their costumes, or tugging at parents' pants legs asking when they were going to get candy.


"Can you imagine what this place is going to be like once all those kids are full of chocolate?" Kennedy appeared almost frightened.


"And up way past their bedtimes, too, I bet." Carson took a step back with her partner and they found a wall to lean against, until finally the doors to the dining room opened and the mass of people began pouring through it.


"Let's give the cattle call a few minutes to get their plates full, shall we?" Kennedy draped an arm around Carson's bare waist, giving her a little tickle to her side.


"Yah!" Carson jumped at the unexpected teasing. "Watch it, Cleopatra. You're showing some skin yourself, you know." She pinched a patch of exposed hip.


Kennedy merely shied a few inches away, then gave Carson a tug to her gold-beaded neck piece. "I like this costume." She eyed Carson's wig. "I like your natural hair color best, but you definitely do black justice. Brings out your eyes."


"Thank you." Carson fiddled with a short piece of embroidered material that draped down the back of her costume over the skirt, flipping it into place. "I like yours, too. Nice." She gave Kennedy an approving once-over. "Shall we?" She gestured at the much less-crowded doorway, and Kennedy followed her inside.


The scent of chocolate permeated the air and they both took a deep, appreciative breath, releasing identical sighs of happy anticipation. The room was filled with row after row of long tables, each piled high with everything chocolate under the sun: cake, cookies, pie, puddings, mousse, a chocolate fondue fountain, and more varieties of candy than any one person could sample in one sitting, though each of them planned to give it their best effort. Bars were set-up in the corners of the room, and after they both filled their plates full, Kennedy broke a path to one of the less-crowded bars.


"Chocolate martini?" The bartender asked brightly.


"Sure," Carson quickly answered, shrugging with a guilty smile when Kennedy's eyes widened at yet more chocolate. "In for a penny, in for a pound." Carson patted her stomach. "Or several pounds, as the case may be."


Kennedy laughed. "Champagne for me, please." She signed for the drinks and led Carson to a table on the far side of the room, away from the melee in the middle near all the desserts.


Seated in relative peace, they each slowly consumed their various chocolate choices, commenting now and then on how something tasted, or simply rolling their eyes and moaning in delight if something was particularly delicious. Just as predicted, the children in the room became more animated as the party went on, and more than once a parent was seen giving a quick smack to a backside. Near the front of the room, a pianist did his best to provide entertainment with some show tune favorites, but the din of voices, tinkling glass, and shrieking children was winning the battle for ear drum dominance.


Kennedy sat back, taking it all in. "Someday we'll have to bring our kids on a cruise."


"Not unless we bring a nanny," Carson corrected her.


"That's a given." Kennedy smiled and accepted a grape that Carson had dunked in chocolate sauce. "Thanks. You have a good balance there." She gestured at the mix of truffles, cookies, and fruit on Carson's plate. "Fruit was a good idea."


"Fruit is a conduit for hot fudge." Carson dunked a slice of apple in chocolate and ate half of it, then pressed the other half against Kennedy's lips, smiling with half-lidded eyes when Kennedy, expectedly, took her fingertips with it.


"Or you could just dip your fingers in it," Kennedy suggested, waiting as Carson took her up on it. They traded chocolate back and forth a few times, delivered via fingertips, exchanging half-amused, half-sultry glances in the process. Meanwhile, the noise level at the party continued to increase, and the number of people in the room appeared to double.


"Is that the entire character-cast of Lord of the Rings?" Carson watched a costumed group walk by with loaded plates of chocolate, including four children dressed as Hobbits and some unfortunate soul trapped in the middle a paper mache horse decorated to look like a Ring Wraith.


"Mmmm. Yep. Even that Treebeard character. Whoa –" Kennedy ducked, pulling Carson down with her, as one of the tree's branches came perilously close to taking her head off. "You ready to go?" They sat back up when it was safe. "I'm starting to feel claustrophobic."


"Good idea. It's a miracle I haven't gotten any chocolate on this white outfit." Carson stood and stretched, dancing out of the way of a pair of long, tickling fingers reaching fore her midriff. "Bad girl. No chocolate cookie for you," she teased.


"Withholding chocolate is not a deterrent at present. I'm stuffed with it." Kennedy grinned and took Carson's plate with her own, depositing them on a cart as they passed it on their way out. "Feel sorry for whoever has to rinse all that out before washing." Kennedy made a face at the sticky mess of dishes that threatened to overflow onto the floor below.


"Too much sugar," Carson commented. "I'm ready for the hot tub and sleep."


"I could stand some bubbly stargazing." Kennedy placed a hand at the small of Carson's back and ushered her out into the hallway, which unfortunately was almost as packed as the main dining room. Her eyebrows hiked up as two children ran by and literally bounced off the walls, smacking into the wall near the staircase on purpose and pushing off of it in a race to the other wall, adult toes in their way be damned. "Yikes!" She glanced down at both her and Carson's sandaled feet. "If we ever do this again, let's go dressed as construction workers."


"Huh?" Carson tilted her head in puzzlement.


"Steel-toed boots and hard hats. Much safer than bare toes and gauze." Kennedy gestured down at their outfits.


"Ah." Carson looked around. "I hear singing. Very bad singing."


"Volcano. Jimmy Buffett song," Kennedy informed her. "But that sure as hell isn't Jimmy Buffett singing it." She winced as the drone of several dozen drunken voices came closer. Unexpectedly, a conga line of dancing, singing, party-goers came bopping around the corner from behind them, plowing their way through the crowd.


"Hello there, sweet stuff!" A large man in a grass skirt and coconut shell top grabbed Carson and pulled her into the line, pushing her along as they moved on down the packed hallway.


"Carson!" Kennedy looked on as her partner was swept away on an unstoppable wave. There was no way she could run after her, the other side of the hallway from the dance line too packed for passage. And the conga line went on, over 50 people long, before the end snaked past her. Unable to do anything else, she grabbed onto the last person, in an effort to at least hopefully end up in the same place as Carson when the line eventually stopped or broke apart.


"Kennedy!" Carson's voice trailed faintly back behind her but she was too busy holding on lest she be run over. Glaring, she elbowed the man who had grabbed her in the gut, but he seemed to not even feel it, his happy, liquor-soaked voice yelling out the words to the song, making her eardrums vibrate.


They danced on down the long hallway for what seemed an eternity. Carson continually looked to both sides for any means of escape, but one side was lined with closed cabin doors and the other with passengers in costume, most of them well beyond sober. All along the floor were dropped bits of chocolate which made her sandals slip whenever she stepped on one. "Eww." She wrinkled her nose and doggedly carried on. There were colorful fish woven into the carpeting and she looked down again, noting they were following the fish upstream, which meant they were moving toward the ship's bow.


Up ahead she saw an open doorway and decided it was her best chance to disengage herself from her impromptu kidnapping. As it came up, she let go of the person in front of her, a girl who had no business wearing a Wonder Woman costume, and shoved off from hula-man, diving through the doorway and landing on her hands and knees. As she stood up, the door slammed shut behind her and she spun and lunged for it, but it was too late. With an ominous click, it locked her in. "Hey!" Carson banged on the door. "Let me out!" Another bang. "Please!?"


Her voice echoed faintly off the plain cement floors and bare walls of the passageway she was in. With a sigh, she looked around and realized that further down, the hall came to an intersection. The lighting was dim and the spaced smelled faintly of popcorn, stale coffee, and – she sniffed – "New electronics? What's up with that?" Tapping her fingers against the wall at odd intervals, she moved slowly forward, the slap of her flat sandals sounding loud to her ears.


Off in the distance she could hear a humming noise, and another fuzzy buzzing sound. As she passed a completely darkened room, something growled, low and fierce, and she hurried past it, stumbling over the bottom of her Egyptian skirt and brushing against the wall before she righted herself.


Another room loomed into sight, at the end of the hallway she was in, where another passage bisected it. Pale bluish light flicked from the room, creating an intermittent strobe out into the darker hallway. Pausing at the room's entrance, she took a deep breath and poked her head inside. "Hello?" She tilted her head, listening, and heard only a sort of dripping sound. "Hellooooo?"


When no one responded, she hesitated, then entered the room. "Anyone here? Anyone at all?" She moved past racks of computer equipment, some of it displaying impressive rows of green, red, and yellow blinking lights. On a desk across from the racks sat a row of monitors, most of them gone to screensavers of various kinds. Moving further into the room, the dripping sound grew louder and she realized it was coming from one of the computers, its sound-enhanced screensaver displaying a can of Red Bull tilted on its side, the last few drops draining out onto a tile floor. "Strangeness."


Movement caught her eye back in a dark corner, and she approached it. "Hey?" Out of the darkness, a man wearing a t-shirt and jeans appeared, walking along the racks in the corner, searching for something, his back to Carson. "Hi, can you help me find my way out of here?"


She approached the man, who turned, stared at her, and vanished before her eyes. "Oh, my God!" she backed away, tripping over a trash can and landing on her backside. Scrambling to her feet, she took one look back into the empty darkness, and took off at a run down the bisecting hallway. After only a few yards' progress, all the lights in the passageway went out, leaving her in inky, black darkness.


Her heart began beating even faster, pounding from her chest all the way into her throat and ears. Forced to slow down, she reached out and put a hand on the wall, hoping she would feel nothing but plaster and metal. "Okay. I've obviously had too much food, too much chocolate, too much sun, and too much alcohol today." She tried to calm herself. "All I need to do is keep walking and surely, surely I'll find a door back to the rest of the ship."


At that moment, the growling noise came back at her, from behind, and despite the darkness, she began running again, her hand on the wall so as not to lose her bearings. Along with the growl was a whispery hissing sort of sound, both of them coming after her. "Oh!" In desperation she turned and yelled. "Leave me alone!" She stamped both feet and to her surprise, the sound ceased. "Okay, that was a mistake. I think I liked it better when I could at least hear where it was coming from."


Turning, she blinked, realizing that up ahead was a very faint light outlining yet another doorway, along with a round of male laughter and cheers. "Humans! Live ones, I hope," she quickly added. "Hey! Help!" She sprinted toward the source of light and a short man stepped out into the hallway.


"Hey!" The man shouted. "What you doing in here? This is crew area."


"Oh." Carson stopped as she reached him. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to come in here. There was a conga line, and this open doorway, and –" she trailed off. "Long story. If you'll help me find my way back to the passenger area, I promise not to do it again."


The man, who appeared to be in his early twenties, looked her over and grinned. "It is okay. You attractive woman. Look like Xena's girlfriend. Where Xena? She not come rescue you?"


"Like – what?" Carson followed him and he ducked back into the room, speaking to its occupants in a language she didn't recognize. He reappeared and motioned for her to follow him. As they passed the room, she peered inside and saw three other young men sitting on bunks in very close quarters, all of them gathered around a small, portable DVD player. The walls were covered with posters of Xena, Gabrielle, Lara Croft, and several other female super heroes. To her surprise, she heard a battle cry erupt from the player and realized that they were, indeed, watching Xena, the warrior princess. Another sweep of the room revealed the source of the popcorn scent, an empty bowl with a few stray kernels scattered on the floor nearby. "How is it you can watch that and there are no other lights on?"


"Battery-operated," he answered. "Ship-wide power outage. Revenge of Europe."


"Revenge of – I don't understand." Carson continued to follow, relieved when he fished out a cell phone and used it to light their way going forward.


"When ship was built, we take her out of harbor in Germany. Run into major power lines. Take out half of European continent. Anytime we have power outage, we say it is revenge of Europe. Take out ship's lights." He looked over his shoulder, still smiling. "Not too much more to go Miss –"


"Carson," she supplied. "What's your name?"


"WuJi. Oh –" Ahead of them a door opened, and two flashlight beams illuminated the floor, sweeping the area and moving rapidly toward them. "Hello?" WuJi called out.


"Hello?" a very familiar voice responded. "Can you help us? We're looking for a woman –"


"Kennedy!" Carson ran forward, diving into Kennedy's arms. "Thank God you found me."


"Whooooa!!!" WuJi caught up to them and looked up respectfully at Kennedy. "Xena show up after all."


"What?" Kennedy frowned at him.


"Nothing, honey." Carson patted her on the side.


"The entire ship has a power outage. There's emergency lighting but that's about it," the man with Kennedy informed them.


Kennedy turned to him, directing her flashlight so they could see his face, without shining it in his eyes. "This is Ron. Carson, I saw you jump through that other door off the hallway, but by the time I got there it was closed tight. Found Ron here and he was about to let me in here to look for you, when the lights went out. Had to hunt for a couple of flashlights. You okay?"


"Yeah." Carson looked down at herself. "Dirty and had the pee scared out of me, but fine. Can we get in the hot tub now?"


Kennedy laughed and held out a hand to WuJi. "Thank you –"


"WuJi," he nodded enthusiastically and shook hands. "Pleased to meet you, Xena."


"I'm not –" A poke to her side cut Kennedy off.


"Just go with it, K." Carson also held out her hand. "Thanks, WuJi. You can go back to your DVD party now. It was very nice meeting you."


"Nice to meet you, Carson. This much more exciting than TV." With a little bow, he left them and they followed Ron back out into the passenger area and the party, which was still going strong despite the power outage. Emergency lighting dotted the ceiling and many passengers had thought, as WuJi had, to take out cell phones and use them for light to see by.


"Ladies." Ron gestured toward the stairwell. "If you'd like, I can escort you back to the garden villas, or anywhere else you'd like to go. Or if you aren't ready to retire for the evening, the Star Bar and our other bars will still be open and serving what they are able to. There are probably even a few blackout drink specials to be had."


"What say you?" Kennedy looked to Carson.


"I say I've had enough excitement for one night. It's hot tub time." Carson smiled at Kennedy and Ron. "Thank you, by the way, for helping us out."


"No worries," Ron assured her. "It's my pleasure. It isn't very often I get to escort two Egyptian princesses around the ship."


Kennedy and Carson laughed, and followed after him up the two flights to Deck fourteen. As they reached their suite, Kennedy dug around in a small pouch that was part of her costume, and retrieved their key card. "I realized after you disappeared I had the only key on me between the two of us."


"Yeah." Carson looked down at herself. "Not much place to store one on me."


"Uh-huh." They bid Ron goodnight and entered the suite. Kennedy reached up to the wall to flip on lights, before remembering there were none. "I'm buffing it," she announced, dropping pieces of costume behind her as she headed for their second visit to the private deck that day.


"Wait for me!" Carson yanked off her costume and wig, and ran after her, out onto the moonlit deck. "Nice," she commented, looking up at a sky blanketed with stars.


"Yeah, we can see a lot more stars without the ship's lights on." Kennedy walked over and flipped on the hot tub knobs, groaning when nothing happened. "I forgot. No power." She tested the water. "It's nice and warm, though, after sitting in the sun all day. We could get in; we just won't have any bubbles."


"You don't generally have to argue with me when it comes to sharing a bath with you." Carson grinned and sat down on the edge of the tub, then swung her legs over and dropped in. "Ah. Just right."


Kennedy was right behind her, and once she was seated, Carson immediately sidled up to her. "Not bad." Kennedy played with Carson's hair, stroking it and smoothing it back. "Not bad at all." She tilted her head back. The muggy tropical air was stirring just the slightest bit and the sky twinkled brightly, all the way to the horizon. "There's even more stars than what we see back home on the lake."


"Too much Austin light interference," Carson agreed. "Hey." She pointed up. "Do you think that cluster over there looks exactly like a Texas Longhorn?"


"Huh?" Kennedy followed her gaze and even leaned over closer so she could see directly up past Carson's pointing finger. "Maybe. I think it looks more like a bow and quiver of arrows."


"Whatever," Carson laughed in a teasing tone. "I still see a Longhorn."


"I see one, too." Kennedy ducked her head, nibbling just below Carson's earlobe. "Former co-ed variety, I believe."


"Heh. Oooo, that's nice." Carson tilted her head to the side, encouraging the little nips and kisses that were rather quickly making the water a lot warmer.


"Yeah? How about this?" Kennedy circled a nipple with her fingertip, hearing an approving murmur, then paused. "Did you hear something growl?"


"I thought that was you." Carson opened her eyes and concentrated, listening. Now she heard it as well, a fussing, growling sound moving toward them. "Oh, my God. That's the same noise that scared the bejesus out of me when I was trapped in the crew area. Kept following me. Can you tell where it's coming from?"


"No, I – wait a minute. Something's moving over there on the deck." Kennedy pointed over the hot tub's rim toward the far corner. "Not very big, whatever it is, but it's definitely growling. Here, let me check it out."


"K, be careful," Carson cautioned, as the taller woman hoisted herself up and out of the water. "I thought maybe I saw a ghost earlier this evening."


"Ghost?" Kennedy paused for a second. "Hold that thought. Let me just –" She crept toward the object, which continued to move toward her. As it grew closer, she could see something square and white dragging along the ground in a jerky motion. "What the hell? Whatever it is, it's got part of your costume – that square flap thing that hung down the back. Oh, well, here goes." Leaning over, she snatched it up quickly and jumped back, as a high-pitched, yippy string of barking commenced.


"Yah!" both women cried simultaneously.


"K?" Carson's voice rose in panic.


Kennedy began to laugh uncontrollably. "It's Rosie's Chihuahua. She must have escaped again. Missy, you bad girl." Kennedy shook a finger at the teacup-sized pooch.


"Maybe that's what was growling and following me. I noticed I lost that piece of costume somewhere between the chocoholic buffet and coming back here. I figured it fell off in the conga line." Carson got out of the tub and walked gingerly across the deck so as not to slip in any water puddles. "How many times has this been now that she's gotten out? I'm surprised they let her bring her."


"She's Rosie O'Donnell and the ship's godmother. I imagine she can bring an entire zoo if she wants to." Kennedy grabbed up a robe and shrugged into it, tying the belt securely closed and picking up the small canine, who quit fussing and began gratefully licking her face. "Hey! Cut that out!" She tucked a wriggling Missy into the crook of her elbow. "Be back in a minute. I'm going to return her to our neighbors."


"Cool. I'll go see if maybe I can find a couple of beers that are still cold." Carson followed her back inside the villa and located her iPhone on the counter, touching a button and pulling up its flashlight application to use while she meandered around the kitchen. Not only did she find cold beer, she also found a plate of cheese, fruit, and crackers housekeeping had left them at turndown, and a cute pig towel animal. "Oh, nice way to balance all that chocolate. And I'm sure they meant nothing by leaving us a pig on chocoholic night." She rolled her eyes.


Kennedy returned shortly, chuckling as she made her way over to the plush couch Carson was seated on, near the large windows. "Rosie and family are still out, but one of her people was sure glad to see that dog." Carson patted the space next to her and Kennedy plopped down and stretched out her legs, crossing them at the ankles. "She's been looking everywhere for her. Oh, and she said the dog has been raised around cats since it was a puppy, and it learned to purr, but since it can't really purr, it growls."


"Oh." Carson laughed. "And cats purr when they're happy or nervous. Maybe she really did get trapped in that crew area after she got out, and she was upset."


"Or happy to see you," Kennedy supplied.


"Aw, poor thing, and I yelled at her to quit following me. Then I scared myself worse when she did." Carson offered over a piece of cheese on a cracker, and Kennedy took it. "I couldn't see her at all. Still –" she pondered. "That doesn't explain the ghost I thought I saw in that computer room."


"Ghost?" Kennedy's voice rose to near-panic. "Was it Isalba?"


"Isalba -- ?" Carson trailed off. "Oh, the pirate in our painting? No, of course not. It was just a guy wearing jeans and a t-shirt. He disappeared when I got close to him." She rubbed her arms at sudden chills. "Maybe my eyes were playing tricks on me. But why did you think it was Isalba? There's no such thing as ghosts, is there?"


"Wellllll. Hold on." Kennedy stood and went into the master bedroom to retrieve the brass box she'd taken from the fort. She'd hidden it away in her suitcase until she was ready to talk about it. Returning to the living area, she sat back down and handed it over to Carson.


"What's this?" Carson opened it, using her phone to see by. "Wow, these earrings are beautiful. And this box, it looks really old. Where'd' you get this?"


"From a ghost," Kennedy replied. "Isalba's appeared to me a couple of times now."


"You never told me that." Carson sounded hurt.


"Don't be upset." Kennedy draped an arm around her, hugging her close. "The first time was only a month after we got together and I didn't want you to think I was insane or unbalanced or something. By a few days after it happened, I had myself convinced it was just a dream, and continued to believe that until this morning, when it happened again at the fort. I knew I was going to tell you about it, soon. I just wanted a little bit of time to process it. It's not everyday you see a ghost, much less one that makes you feel like you're looking in the mirror, and gives you tangible gifts as proof of their existence. It's a bit crazy-making."


"Okay, that's fair enough," Carson assured her. "Did she say anything, or just hand you this box?"


"Both times she talked and said pretty much the same thing. It's a bit strange. You up for a real ghost story?" Kennedy gave Carson a little shake.


"Sure." Carson placed the box on a nearby table and handed over one of the beers. "Here, you sound like you could use this."


"Thanks." Kennedy took a few swallows, swirling the beer around in the bottle as she spoke. "She basically confirmed that she and Megan were a couple, but she said some things – she said they were two halves of a whole – as if together they make up one, complete person. And she said something else that might be a little scary."


"I'm with you." Carson patted her leg. "Not scared."


"Okay, then." Kennedy's voice was warm and raspy, its richness floating out and over Carson. "She said that we – you and I – share their souls. Soul vessels, she called us."


"Like reincarnation?" Carson's voice rose almost to a squeak.


"Something like that." Kennedy gave her a squeeze. "In a way, it fits with things Pa has said, about us being entwined. He's hinted it's an eternal bond. Does that sound strange?"


"No." Carson leaned closer, searching Kennedy's face in the low light. "I think it sounds wonderful. I like the idea of being with you forever. It's like my ring." She held out her hand. " 'Even in death, I'll never leave you.' We know Isalba probably had our rings, way back when, and that they're even older than her time, going back to ancient Greece. Maybe whoever we were, all the way back then, maybe these rings were destined to come to us."


"Maybe." Kennedy didn't sound convinced.


"Think about it, K." Carson's toned turned persuasive. "What are the chances that in all the world, and all that distance, and over all that time, that these rings -- both of them -- would end up in an Austin antique shop right after we got engaged and were looking for rings? Way more than a coincidence, if you ask me."


"Yeah, when you put it that way, it sounds more believable." Kennedy smiled. "And makes me feel way less crazy."


"Hey, crazy lady." Carson moved in until they were almost nose-to-nose."This is all a little overwhelming, huh?"


"Yeah, it is. A lot overwhelming, actually." Kennedy smiled lazily and reached over, stroking Carson's cheek. "I'm glad I have you here to ground me. It's been a hell of a long and full day. How about we go get in that big ol' bed in there and sleep on it? Tomorrow's an at-sea day. We can laze around in bed all morning if we want to, just chill and unwind, order room service, and talk all we want to about all of this, if we feel like it."


"Sounds like heaven." Carson gave into her craving and sampled Kennedy's lips.


"Feels like it too," Kennedy responded, pulling her close and lifting her up and into her lap, cradling her in her arms.


"Oh, before I forget." Carson wrapped her arms around Kennedy's neck. "I've had enough Halloween partying for this trip. How about when we get back to the Port of Miami, we nix our plans for the insanity of South Beach on Halloween night, and just go have a nice, quiet dinner somewhere further north, maybe overlooking the water?"


"You got it." Kennedy bounced Carson up and down in her arms. "And a walk on the beach afterward." With that, she got up and with Carson in her arms, made a run for the master bedroom. With a shriek and a long string of laughter, they tumbled into bed.


THE END, for now


Note: In real life, Rosie O'Donnell has a Chihuahua named 'Missy.' And also in real life, I owe a big thank you to Missy Good. While I have actually traveled on the Norwegian Pearl, Missy's insight was invaluable in the writing of this story. J


Also, to cut some folks off at the pass, YES, I do realize this story skips past their wedding, their honeymoon, and their first time using the "toy" they've talked about wanting. This story is just for some Halloween fun. I will eventually write a novel-length story that includes the wedding, the honeymoon, and the purchase of the toy, so please be patient and don't get your shorts in a twist.


All that having been said, thanks for reading this far and I hope you enjoyed the story. Have a very happy Halloween!

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